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, 1st February 1921
I bumped into Ravi on Charing Cross Road today. I went there to purchase the sequel to The Duke’s Folly. It’s called The Duke’s Delight. The Duke has procreated since the previous book, and his charming harum-scarum daughter has interrupted her primary occupation of getting into scrapes to become attracted to an ineligible young officer, thus repeating the mistakes of the previous generation. (My mother would say it was karma, dishing up to the Duke a fitting revenge for his unfilial actions in the first book.)
I came up the road with my brown paper parcel and there was Ravi standing next to a bin of discounted books, a Sanskrit grammar in one hand and a monograph on Ceylonese natural history in the other.
“Do you know Sanskrit, Ravi?” I said.
He started, came back down to Earth, and smiled at me.
“I’ve been making a study of it,” he said. “I learnt a little when I was a boy, but that was a very long time ago. I’m trying to pick it up again. Are you busy? Would you like to have tea with me?”
“Is it tea time already?” I said. “Oh!” I caught his wrist and covered his watch with my hand. “Now tell me what time it is.”
“It’s half past three,” said Ravi. “No–twenty-five to. And we’ve had a good month at the ORL. I am in a mood to spend my riches. Let me just acquire these books and then we will go to Fortnum & Mason.”
When he’d paid he swiped my parcel and put it under his arm with his usual unfussy courtesy. We went off down the street, happy as ducks in a bakery.
“It is precisely twenty-five to,” I said. “And you didn’t even look! Was there any indication that you would be a genius when you were born? Did your mother observe that the back of your head jutted out particularly, or did you perhaps have six toes on one foot?”
“It isn’t quite as unusual an ability as it seems to you,” said Ravi.
“Because not everyone is as stupid about time as me, you mean,” I said. “But you shan’t shake me. I shall continue to believe it is magic.”
“If you want to consider me a wizard then do by all means,” said Ravi. “But it’s nothing very mystical. I know how much time it takes me to do things. So long as I’ve looked at a clock once in a day, it’s just a matter of calculation.”
“Now that proves it’s pure magic,” I said. “If it were not for its sometimes getting dark, and for one’s getting hungry, I would never notice the passage of time.”
“Is that why I haven’t been seeing you as often as I used to?” said Ravi.
I glanced up at his face, but he was gazing at the shop windows with a mild interested look.
“Oh–it isn’t–” I said. “I’ve just been busy.”
I felt foolish. I hadn’t thought he would notice that I had stopped visiting the Oriental Literary Review office.
“Yes, I imagine the attention you received for the Mimnaugh review has kept you on your toes rather,” said Ravi. “I hope it’s been profitable as well as interesting?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “I’ve had lots of work. Publishing that article was the greatest favour you’ve ever done me.”
“I wonder,” said Ravi quietly.
What did he mean? I should have asked him, but I felt too awkward. Instead I said,
“In fact I’m so nearly rich I ought to spend some of it, just to make sure I’m not shut out of heaven by my wealth. Will you insist on its being your treat, or may I pay?”
“I believe I set out the terms when I made my offer,” said Ravi. “We’ll have no chopping and changing now, if you please.”
“You have,” I said, “an unpleasing rigidity of character, Ravi. You lack flexibility. Work on this. It is the only blemish that mars a great mind.–Oh, but I have a brilliant idea. I shall buy your tea and you shall buy mine. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
Ravi allowed that it might be acceptable. I do like a man who allows you to be chivalrous in return. Hardie never did. I suppose he was trained to think that is manners, but I like to hold doors for other people once in a while.
It was nice to be with Ravi, who is sensible. But it wasn’t the same–not quite the same as it used to be. He didn’t seem entirely natural.
I can’t bear to think he might be disappointed in me. And he doesn’t know the half of it.
We had reached Fortnum’s and sat down, and each commanded the other to order whatever we liked off the menu, price be damned. But the awkwardness, imagined or not, was gnawing at me, so I said:
“Ravi, we are friends, aren’t we?”
Ravi gave me a surprised look. He has the nicest eyes. One feels one could say anything to those eyes, and it would be understood as one would want it to be understood.
“I should like to think we are,” he said.
“You don’t think notoriety has spoilt my character, do you?”
Ravi looked very serious. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin and raised his eyes to the ceiling. He opened his mouth, but he couldn’t keep it up, and started laughing.
“You are a three-horned spotted beast,” I said. “I am serious!”
“I think,” said Ravi, “any damage to your character was already fixed by the time Mimnaugh made you famous. That is my professional opinion.”
“Well–” I hesitated. “Would you still be my friend even if I had done something you didn’t quite approve of? Something that was–that was rather foolish?”
That made him calm down and look at me properly.
“Is this about Sebastian Hardie?” he said.
“No! What makes you think that?” I said, but I could feel I’d gone a furious red. I pressed my cheeks to try to make it go away.
Ravi looked as if he regretted bringing it up. “I’ve heard … some things.”
“Oh,” I said.
I could well imagine the sort of things people have been saying. Hardie has let drop that our dalliance in Paris is not as much of a secret as I’d thought. Apparently he wrote some poems about the piquant charms of Caliban, and his friends guessed who he meant. I got quite cross and called him all sorts of names, saying he was a great big jarmouth and a child like him brought shame to his mother, but he was so apologetic that I let it drop.
Aunt Iris does not move in Bohemian literary circles, so I thought it would be all right. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ravi might hear of it.
“Were they rather awful things?” I said.
Ravi stared at the tablecloth. He seemed to be working out what to say.
“Everything I heard said more about the speaker than the spoken of,” he said. He met my eyes and smiled slightly. “I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you much about what was said. People didn’t talk about it for very long in my presence.”
“Thank you,” I said. I wanted to touch his hand, but didn’t. “I haven’t seen Hardie since Christmas anyway.”
Ravi nodded, but I knew he wouldn’t say anything more about it if I didn’t. I didn’t know what he’d heard, but I didn’t want to ask him either. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I said, “Do you mind, Ravi? I mean ….”
But I didn’t know how to say what I meant. Ravi is lovely, but probably he is like most other men, and expects good girls to be different from girls who have sex without being married or frightened.
I used to be a good girl and that was uncomplicated, but I thought complicated would be more interesting than safe.
“Shall we still be friends, do you mean?” said Ravi.
That wasn’t quite what I wanted to say, but it was close enough. I nodded.
“We shall be friends,” said Ravi, “as long as you continue to like me, and say things without stopping to think about them first, and do not insult my clothes or my poetry. Will that do?”
I rubbed my eyes.
“Do you write poetry, Ravi?” I said.
“Doesn’t everybody?” said Ravi.
“I don’t,” I said. “I feel you only ought to write poetry if you are tremendously intelligent, or terrifically in love. You are the former, of course, but I’ve never been either. Will you show me your poetry?”
“I only write poetry in Tamil, I’m afraid,” said Ravi.
“Will you teach me Tamil?”
“Perhaps,” said Ravi. “Some day.”
After that I was much happier, and I think Ravi felt more comfortable as well. He ordered a piece of sponge cake and I had trifle, and we both had interesting kinds of tea. And we talked about everything–almost everything.
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I suppose it’s for the best. I do not see Hardie till Thursday, and it’s only right that he should know first.