On Mystery by Jules
“OK, how about this: what do you think is the greatest mystery?”
“God save the queen.”
“Come on, Bing. OK, Colls, your question is interesting but unfocused. Shall I suggest we narrow the mystery down to that one written about again and again by all from the most esteemed poets to the commonest hacks. Why don’t we solve the great mystery about sex. Who wants it more?"
After I shocked them all with my question, I quietly concentrated on loading a sliver of venison with a slice of parsnip and a shaving of carrot on my fork before mopping in the gravy. Mrs B made the most delicious gravy.
Everyone knew the right thing was for Lizzie to answer my question first, if Lizzie didn't take up the challenge quickly enough Bing was sure to make a witty remark, we would all laugh and the conversation would turn to the weather, or the next party at Netherfield, or the current fashion. Or Colls might bore us with a word on what he deemed to be the greatest mystery, ten or twenty minutes of that word was usual for him. I wasn't sure why he had been invited to dinner, it was all Lizzie’s doing.
"You do like to say things to shock, Mister Darcy, perhaps someone ought to say something that shocks you ." Janie smiled at me almost conspiratorially, what had Lizzie and her been talking about? She was right, saying things that shocked to force people to examine their prejudices was my new indulgence, and that was Lizzie's doing. Or perhaps her undoing would be a more accurate way of putting it. I didn’t reply to Janie accusation so Bing jumped in.
“I imagine you are quoting the Lady, my dear Janie.”
Bing was right too, though I could not possibly tell him so, even though there had been a dozen witnesses when I had rather foolishly blundered into the tea party with the announcement of the engagement. It had been the start of a string of uncharacteristic lapses of decorum on my part, a string that can be followed back to that moment I stared into the fire place while the fire in my heart raged at Lizzie’s refusal. A log fell, sending a squall of sparks up the chimney, then suddenly it was gone, the log had broken and the fire glowed gently about the exposed black wound. I was calmed for long enough to realise I had to make sure Lizzie understood all the facts, for complete understanding had been my one aim in that conversation. I had chosen not to flatter her outrageously but to talk honestly about the depth of my feelings, and of my struggle to get to the point of proposal. In retrospect, perhaps it would have gone more smoothly if I had lavished her with praise over all her lovelinesses, but honesty is, they say, always better in the end. And it did turn out as it should have, if I hadn’t been honest with her she might not have been honest with me. She might not have told me the reasons for her initial rejection then I might not have been able to put her right regarding Wicks. I spoke slowly and long about the matter, I first imagined what I would say were I to write her a letter about it, then I spoke, I detailed Wicks’s duplicitous and dishonorable behaviour and gradually I could see her believe me. The more facts I told her the more she understood how Wicks had fooled them all. Then I talked about her sister, about how I had discouraged Bing only for the reason that Janie did not seem to be truly in love him. But she assured me Janie was sincere in her feelings for Bing, so here we are, an intimate dinner party to allow Janie and Bing a chance.
“No, no, I started the conversation I would like to take it on, not that I am in any way boasting but as a married man perhaps I have more experience than some. I believe that if you ask me I would say I want it more than my wife, but if you ask her, she would say she wants it more than me. I would say the answer in the question does not lie in a physical or practical reason but in perception. Indeed the question itself is a demonstration of the perception. Why is there necessarily a difference between men and women in their desires? But if there is a difference it is because we have learned of the difference and, indeed, we are taught to expect a difference. Perhaps we could consider that men are conditioned to think they want it more while women are conditioned to think they want to withhold the favour.”
“Blaming the victim is a tedious argument purported by victors the world over. You are of course right, women have so many ways of belittling their fellow sex, while you men have so many ways of praising each others actions, be they praiseworthy or no.”
There is was, the boldness in speaking her mind and the depth of her thought, that was why I had fallen in love with her.
“But surely there are differences between men and women?”
“Beyond the obvious?”
“And a fine distinction you are.”
I tried to frown surreptitiously at Bing. I had spoken to him at length of the need to listen to the meaning of Janie’s words. If he wanted to win back her heart from the disappointment he, and I, caused he had to show her more than simple flirtation. Janie had said something that was not merely a compliment, clearly she was heeding LIzzie’s advice to show her intelligence.
“One must speak bluntly, even uncouthly, when addressing these matters, so I hope you, all of you, will forgive me if I offend you.” It was better that Colls took on the conversation, if it had been me the conversation might have lapsed into a performance between Lizzie and myself. “We have to begin with the mystery of childbirth, though not so much a mystery any more. I have not heard a word in all my conversations that differs between men and women. Every man and every woman has expressed the same desires in the issue. And indeed the same ambitions and hopes for their offspring.”
“As I have recently read in the History of the Nut and Bolt Industry in America, there are circumstances where the bolt is driven into the nut, and others in which the nut is fitted over the bolt. Whichever the circumstance the important issue is the fastness of the bind. I am glad we have spoken about prodigy as it is out of the way. Like the fastness of the bolt it is not in doubt the mystery of sex does not lie in the issue of descent.”
The nuts and bolts comment had been my showpiece. My comment to silence the party. A comment I had told Bing I would say, a comment he should be prepare for, but instantly, as if she knew I what I had intended to say, Janie evocatively replied.
“I am sure you are not suggesting we examine every fastening individually.”
The silence that followed as the party enjoyed my embarrassment was intermimable before Colls began a word that gradually took us away from the dangerous precipice I had brought us to. I did not dare attempt any more provocation in what must be called a delightful dinner enjoyed by all. Bing had not taken any of the opportunities on offer. I was disappointed that he had once again just bent with the direction the conversation took, disappointed he did not try to impress Janie, even after I had prepared him by letting him know what provocations I had planned.
I sat in the drawing room enjoying my brandy while Lizzie and Janie played a game at the card table. As had been arranged, Bing had given Colls and Charlie a lift while Janie was staying with us. I was thinking of retiring but enjoyed watching the women with the lighthearted stillness that can come with the right amount of brandy.
“Do you think he is thinking about his nuts and bolts again?”
Lizzie’s question was to Janie but undoubtedly I was the intended audience. The correct answer would have been to allude to my singular interest in a particular fastener but in my relaxed state I found myself simply sighing.
“Perhaps he is dreaming of his very own demonstration of fastening devices, a comparison, perhaps, of the relative benefits of a pair of nuts.”
“I dare say he would not be able to cope with it.”
“Do you think that would stop his shocking ways?”
“It would be an interesting experiment.”
“It should all be noted down properly.”
“Of course, do you have a notebook?”
“Oh yes, I have the perfect one, I will show you.”
Lizzie stood, held her hand out for Janie who stood too. Hand in hand they walked passed me each dropping their kerchiefs at my feet. I watched them leave then reached down for the invitations. Each had a distinctive smell as I held them to my nose. I wondered what surprise they would have for me when I retired to the boudoir. I expected to find just Lizzie but I couldn’t help fantasising about Janie joining us in the bedroom. I wondered if it would be dishonorable for me just to imagine such a fantasy. I did not linger on this thought too long, not out of an honourable feeling towards my best friend, merely out of realism. Perhaps if I had been to different clubs, perhaps if I had kept different company I would have expected the unusual, but I was always taught to be the gentleman, to be respectful, to cling to a code of honour that did not involve ravishing one’s sister-in-law.
But sometimes the unexpected does occur.
I paused for a moment to listen at our bedroom door. I could not work out anything from the sounds, the clink, the bump. There was no conversation, there was no giggling. I continued on to the water closet before returning to the bedroom, without listening at the door. I should have as I would have heard a warning that my wife was not alone in the room. I walked in on Janie helping Lizzie to undress, Janie was already in her chemise. A delightful new nightshirt that she must have worn with the intention of impressing Bing. I would like to say I felt a moment of guilt in seeing Janie undressed but the feeling was excitement and disbelief. The pair of vixens both turned and smiled at me, Janie behind Lizzie unfastening her corset. I stood without a word. It was my position to say something, to express my pleasure but, as has so often been my habit, I said nothing when I couldn’t quite find the right words. Thankfully Lizzie stepped into the breach, she stood away from Janie, reached for her hand and spun her about. Her chemise floated freely from her body, like an angel, like a faerie. Like a bewitching spirit.
I was besotted, I was overwhelmed.
Lizzie left Janie as she stood, clothed in my gaze and little else. She took my hand and led me to the bed. I was an automaton, I moved only under her guidance my mind still frozen in the moment Janie’s chemise floated so wild and so free.
I sat as Lizzie held up her hair for Janie to complete the task of loosening her corset. She let it drop to the floor, and while Janie placed it on the chair, Lizzie spun about causing her chemise to float as her sister’s had.
In that moment my mind was returned to a more ordered state. Lizzie was mine. I knew how to behave with Lizzie in the boudoir, in our bed we were equals, as equal as a man and a woman could be. I held out my hand to Lizzie and she came. She came holding one hand out to me and with the other she led Janie. I started to unbutton my frock coat. Lizzie’s hands joined mine, loosening, removing, dropping items of cloth onto the bed. I felt like a butterfly escaping its cocoon. Lizzie had one leg on the bed, one on the floor. I rested my hand on her thigh, gently scraping my fingers against her soft skin of her inner thigh. I pushed my hand a little further to brush against her pubis, I explored with my finger and I easily slipped into her. I gave her a triumphant smile and she gave me a coy look. But I didn’t have long to explore her sex as she was loosening my riding breeches, which I always wore in the county even when I spent the day indoors.
Janie had stood next to Lizzie as she had undressed me. She must have seen my hand slip beneath Lizzie’s chemise but I only noticed Janie when she moved to remove my boots. Lizzie pushed me onto my back and straddled me while Janie pulled my boots off. I was horrified, I wished I had had the composure when I had first been confronted with the confirmation that Janie was indeed my temptation, that I had taken a moment to prepare myself. It would have been better to remove my own clothing and to powder my body. To powder my feet, they had been constricted all day now their potency was being released on Janie. I tried to keep an eye on Janie’s reaction, I pulled Lizzie’s chemise aside and was satisfied that, at least, Janie was being polite as her countenance hid any discomfort.
I looked back at Lizzie who smiled at me comically. She kissed me and smiled at me again. It took me a moment to realise she was responding to my moving her chemise. I realised her bottom and her sex were completely uncovered and pointed directly at Janie. I had created another situation, caused her embarrassment.
No, I realised, she was not embarrassed, they were sisters, as they grew up together each other’s naked form would not be a mystery, even at the most intimate. And nor would it be an excitement.
As Janie started to pull down my breeches I realised my action had been an invitation for her to strip my lower half completely, to make me as naked as Lizzie. Pulling down the breeches had the effect of pulling down my undershirt. When my breeches were down my undershirt created a tent which I could do nothing about as Lizzie had placed her hands on my wrists and was kissing me again, still with the smile on her lips. I wonder at that smile. It was joyful. It was impulsive. It was confident. It was the opposite to how I was feeling. I was a tumble of insecurity. I did not know what was expected of me from either Lizzie or Janie. I felt, perhaps wrongly, that the two of them had a confidence in each other’s expectations. That they had spent their youth planning this moment. First, they would have discussed whom would marry first, though I am sure Janie would have never chosen me. Then they would have discussed what married life would be like. And how they would continue to share, after all, they had shared everything in their life so far.
The two of us lay inseparably entwined, although Lizzie was holding me down I felt like I was somehow clinging to her hands with my wrists. Then I felt Janie’s tentative touch on my undershirt, allowing it to lift allowing my stiff sex to rise up. Exposed. Her touch was more assured as her fingered curled about my sex, pointing it towards Lizzie’s sex, rubbing the two sexes together to spread Lizzie’s moisture about. Something I will remember for the future. And Lizzie enclosed me. I wondered at what Janie saw, I have seen sex many times in the fields, but never between and man and a woman.
After a while Janie came and sat on the bed next to us. I turned to look at her. I freed my hand closest to her and bravely reached my hand to stroke down her chemise, like I had so often done with Lizzie. She shifted herself so she was no longer sitting on her chemise allowing my hand to adventure beneath her chemise. Lizzie nuzzled her face into the nape of my neck, pressing her body down on mine, rotating her hips in that exciting way. My hand still roamed over Janie’s body. Over her breasts. Down between her legs until I slipped a finger into her sex. I could just rub it a little, the position was too awkward to allow much penetration. And I was not brave enough to try to make any changes.
This was how we rode it to the end.
Lizzie got up to blow out the candles while Janie and I got under the covers. Lizzie joined us in the bed, I was in the middle. Lizzie was lying curled up using my left arm as a pillow while my right hand continued to explore Janie’s body.
I lay awake for a long time while the two sisters fell asleep almost immediately. I was wondering about the evening. Wondering if I had done the right thing, wondering if it had been a test, and if I had passed or failed. At one point Janie was lying on her side facing away from me and I had tried to rub my sex against hers, as she had done for me with Lizzie’s sex earlier. But she pushed me away.
I don’t think she was asleep.
Much later I took myself out of the bed and fell asleep on the divan. When I woke late in the morning, I looked across at the bed but it was empty.
To this day nothing has been spoken about that evening. I certainly wouldn’t say anything to Bing now that he has, eventually, married Janie. I don’t know if she has forgotten about it, but for me I cannot see Janie without remembering those intimate moments and but I always pretend to have forgotten.