Fiction: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo (Part 19 of 20)

I’m posting a section a day of my epistolary romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. You can read it online for free here (click on the “Perilous Life of Jade Yeo” category to access the other posts), or you can buy the ebook at Smashwords or Amazon. The ebook contains the complete 23,000-word novella.

 

Tuesday, 12th April 1921

It is eleven o’clock at night and I have crept to an armchair to write this surreptitiously. I love the feeling of writing in a dark room. One feels like a quiet busy rat, going about its business behind the walls while the humans slumber in their beds.

How cold it is! And it is April. But soon spring will start tapping on the window, thinking of coming in–then May–then warmth, and sunshine again.

I am so happy! Why do my feet and hands not glow with it, why is my hair is not all a-frizz with joy? I feel reborn–newly washed–leagues away from the wailing old misery I was yesterday. Let me try to recount this day in full, so that when I am old and my knees ache, I can read this to cheer myself up.

It was a grey day this morning. I opened my eyes and saw the window silver-beaded with rain. And it kept raining as I dressed and went down to breakfast, and went right on after: a miserly persevering plip-plip-plip, nothing like a proper tropical thunderstorm.

I prefer a storm with some self-respect, one that puts its back into storming. At home you could expect thunder like God rolling barrels across the floor of heaven, and rain like spears that knocked trees over and destroyed gardens.

I sat in my chair in the thin grey light and tried to distract myself with Anne Bronte, hating everyone. Margery for going away, and Ravi for making me love him, and my parents for being tiresomely attached to the idea of my marrying Ng Wai Cheong, and Hardie for implanting me with the worm, and Diana for not hating me. And my poor wormlet most of all, for numerous sins, none of which were in the least its fault.

I was in no mood to see my visitor when Miss Thompson told me I had one. I must have looked terrifically lowering when I dragged myself to the drawing room, holding Agnes Grey like a shield. I thought it must be Hardie or Diana, and rather fancied the idea of hurling the book at them.

I didn’t think it would be Ravi.

“Have you ever read David Copperfield?” I said, when I had got my breath back and he had helped me up. “Do you know the part where he goes to see his aunt, and Miss Betsey sits right down on the gravel path because she is so surprised? I was just thinking what an education Dickens is. If I hadn’t read him I wouldn’t have known that people sat down in times of astonishment, and I might have thought that there was something wrong with my knees. However, as it is, I know I am perfectly normal. It is a great comfort.”

Ravi was looking into my face. He looked as if he had found a cold drowned cat crying on his doorstep.

“Your friend Margery Hargreve told me you were here,” he said. “I’m sorry I did not find you earlier. Jade, will you come away with me?”

“Please,” I said. My throat ached. I felt as if there were a rock lodged in my chest, pressing against my ribs. “Ravi–I have been so unhappy!”

“Let’s get you away first,” said Ravi.

After that he didn’t say much, but was very efficient. I packed a bag of things I would need for the night, and then I crept down the stairs to the gate, where Ravi had a car waiting. As I jumped in and the motor started I saw Mrs. Crowther gaping at me from a window on the first floor. I waved, and we were off.

It is a bit silly now I think about it, because of course nobody was keeping me there and there was no need to stage any sort of escape. But it felt wonderfully liberating at the time. And I shan’t go back, though Hardie has paid Mrs. Crowther a six-month advance for my keep. I expect he can afford to write off the loss.

“I have something to say to you,” Ravi said when we were safely on the road.

He paused.

“I know you would never say something you did not mean, or do anything you did not want to do,” he said. “But perhaps it’s worth saying that you do not need to say yes, or give me your reply straight away. At the same time, I hope you will consider it. I think it might be the best solution, if you could bring yourself to do it.”

“What are you going on about?” I said.

“I’m getting to that, Impatience,” said Ravi. “Jade–Geok Huay–will you marry me?”

How do I describe what I felt then? I felt as if my heart had climbed out of my chest and gone a-roaming. I felt as if my spirit had leapt out of me, leaving me rudderless. A great empty space floated under my ribs, hollowed out by shock.

I said, “What did you say?”

Ravi was glaring furiously at the road.

“Don’t reply at once,” he said. “Think about it. I know it’s not what you want, and you deserve better. But I would help you as much as you let me, and be a father to your child. You wouldn’t have to live alone. I know how you must be feeling, but–”

“I’m going to have Hardie’s child,” I said, too loudly. I swallowed. “I should have told you. I’m sorry.”

Ravi blinked. He pulled over to the side of the narrow road and turned to me.

“I know,” he said.

“You know?”

“This is not a very gallant thing to say,” said Ravi. “But Jade, you’re …. ”

He couldn’t bring himself to say it, so I said it for him:

“I’m the approximate size of St. Paul’s Cathedral?”

“And I knew before I saw you,” said Ravi. “Miss Hargreve wrote to me saying she thought you needed a friend, and that I ought to come to visit you since she was leaving Mrs. Crowther’s. It didn’t take me long to work out why you were at Mrs. Crowther’s. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to see me, after what happened the last time. But I had to try.”

“Is that why you’re proposing?” I said. “Because you knew about this?” I gestured down at my belly, which for some time now had introduced a pronounced irregularity in my figure.

“Well–” said Ravi. “Jade. May I take your hand?”

I gave him my hand mutely. He held it flat against his palm and looked down at it.

“You know I love you,” he said. “I should like to look after you and your child, if you would let me. But I promise I would never expect anything more than friendship from you. I think we could rub along happily all the same. We are friends, aren’t we? Will you consider it?”

“You love me?” I said. “Did I know that?”

Ravi’s eyebrows drew together.

“I thought you knew,” he said.

“Did you tell me?” I said. “No, you didn’t tell me. I’m sure I would recall it if you had told me!”

“But–that day, when you came to see me at my office,” said Ravi. He looked confused, though he couldn’t be any more bewildered than I was. “I told you, I was thinking of letting my parents arrange a marriage for me, since I hadn’t had any luck with my choice. I said I didn’t mind being in love with you. I thought you understood. You seemed sorry for me.”

“I didn’t understand a thing,” I said.

It was beginning to dawn on me how very true this was.

“But then why did you kiss me?” said Ravi.

“Never mind that,” I said, cheeks burning. “If you liked me, why did you stop?”

“It wouldn’t have been fair to you to take advantage of your pity,” said Ravi. “I knew you loved Hardie and he had hurt you, so you were seeking comfort. I didn’t feel I could–”

“Oh, blast Hardie!” I roared. “Will you stop talking about that confounded man? I don’t give a fig for Hardie! I shouldn’t be sorry if I never saw him again!”

“What?” said Ravi.

“What?” said I.

We gazed at each other in wild surmise, like stout Cortez’s men on the peak in Darien. Then Ravi ran his hands through his hair and sat back.

“You are having a baby,” he said.

“I certainly hope it turns out to be a baby,” I agreed.

“And it is Hardie’s child.”

“It can’t very well be anyone else’s,” I said. “Biologically speaking.”

“But you didn’t have an affair with him in Paris, and he didn’t drop you afterward.”

“That is a nice way to talk about me,” I said indignantly. “As if I were a bit of paper to be dropped in the bin. No, we did have an affair in Paris, but Hardie didn’t drop me. He wanted to go on as we were. It would’ve been part of his arrangement with Diana–they have a very modern sort of marriage–but I didn’t like to. And I wouldn’t have seen him anymore, except socially, only then I found out the baby was going to come. So we decided I should go to Mrs. Crowther’s home to have the baby–discreetly, you know.”

“‘We’ decided?” said Ravi.

“Well, I did,” I said. “They wanted me to come to live with them, but can you imagine living with the Hardies? Dinner parties every other day and having to remember everyone’s lovers’ names?”

Ravi was still looking as if he’d been hit on the head with a blunt object, but he started to grin at this.

“That would be a difficult life,” he said. “On the other hand, you’d be able to have tea at the Ritz every day.”

“You know me too well,” I said sternly. “But even that couldn’t tempt me. You see, I like Diana, but Hardie is such a cad.”

“Is he?” said Ravi.

“He’s a well-meaning cad,” I said. “And he’s been decent enough to me. But that doesn’t absolve him of caddishness. Don’t you think he’s a cad?”

“The thought has crossed my mind before,” Ravi admitted. “But why did you have an affair with him if you thought so?”

I looked down at my hands, folded meekly on top of the slumbering worm.

“I was just so curious,” I said. “I wanted to know what it would be like. And he is awfully good-looking, you know. I am sorry, Ravi. You must be shocked at my lack of moral fibre.”

Ravi’s mouth worked. Then he started laughing.

“I have got hold of entirely the wrong end of the stick, I see,” he said. “You’ve got it all sorted out.”

“I thought I did,” I said glumly. “But I was really horribly unhappy at that beastly home. I didn’t know a person could be so unhappy. I was so glad to see you. It was like the sun coming out after rain. I suppose …. are you cross at me, Ravi?”

“Why would I be?” said Ravi.

“Oh, you know. For being such a fool.”

“As far as I can make out, I’m the only fool here,” said Ravi.

“If you aren’t cross at me, would you still like to marry me?” I said. “I would like to marry you, if you’re sure you asked because you like me, and not just because you thought I needed it, and wanted to save me. And if you are sure you wouldn’t mind about the baby. You must be sure you’d be kind to the baby.”

“Of course I’d be kind to the baby,” said Ravi. “I like babies. And your baby would be bound to be nicer than any other baby.”

I was pleased by this.

“I had suspected that myself,” I confided.

Ravi was pressing his fingers against his forehead. “But Jade, I’m sorry–did you say you would like to marry me?”

“Yes,” I said. “Because I love you. That’s why I kissed you, if you must know. I don’t kiss out of pity. I only kiss people if they’re good-looking, or if I’m in love with them. Or both. You’re both. Do you still love me?”

Ravi looked at me for so long I felt shy. I raised my hands to my face to cool my cheeks. Ravi reached out and took my hands before I could do it.

“You think I might have stopped since five minutes ago?” he said.

“Well,” I said. “I thought I’d best make sure.”

There is one last thing to remember. I asked Ravi how he’d known my name.

“Jade?” he said.

“No,” I said. “My real name.”

“Ah.” He smiled: the same smile he’d turned to me the first day I met him, that said, I have always known you.

“You wrote it at the end of the first letter you sent me, about the Waley article,” said Ravi. “You crossed it out and wrote Jade in its place. But I remembered.”

 

East Asian girl holding a mirror

Photograph by Panorama Media/PanoramaStock/Getty Images

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