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.
Wednesday, 16th February 1921
What I did today! I have not got words bad enough to describe myself. Of all the most absurd heedless silly romantic nincompoops–
But this calling myself names is to no purpose. I shall try to record my misdeeds in as straightforward a fashion as I can. I have decided that this journal is to be an instructive text for my grandchildren, so that they may learn by my example not to be the addlebrainedest blunderer who ever lived. (I must remember to redact the bits about Hardie’s parts.)
I went to see Ravi in the Oriental Literary Review office to bid him goodbye. I found him standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by packing cases. His curls were in disarray and there was a great black ink-blot on his shirtfront. He looked as flustered as I have ever seen him, but he was very hospitable.
“Jade! This is an unexpected treat. Do sit down.”
He glanced at his chair, as a man lost in the desert for many days might gaze at an unattainable oasis. It was barricaded against us by pillars of reading material.
“I’m afraid the chair is out of reach,” he said, “but here is a pile of New Statesmans. Or there is a stack of the Athenaeum. It looks reasonably comfortable.”
“Either will do,” I said. “Are you moving, Ravi?”
“The ORL is moving,” said Ravi. “Kamal Masood is taking over as editor and he’s rented a larger set of offices in Richmond. Rather out of the way, but with Kamal at the helm, I don’t think the ORL need worry about lapsing into obscurity. He’s even going to hire a secretary.”
I made an impressed noise. “We are moving up in the world. But what are you going to do if Kamal’s taking your job?”
“A friend’s asked if I’d like to teach at the School of Oriental Studies,” said Ravi. “Nothing’s been confirmed yet, but they’ve pretty nearly made me an offer.”
I was about to congratulate him–I knew it was precisely what Ravi has been working towards–but he paused and gave me the oddest look. At the time I thought he looked wistful, of all things, but of course I see now that he must have been feeling sorry for me.
“But I might not take it,” he went on, as if he had not stopped. He picked up a dictionary and dropped it in a case. “I’m thinking of going home.”
A cold hand wrapped around my heart.
“Going home?” I said.
Ravi didn’t look at me.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said.
“But your parents will make you get married,” I said.
Ravi’s parents are not quite as importunate as mine because he is a man, but I knew they had accumulated a list of likely candidates and that was one of the reasons he’d stayed in London instead of going home.
“Would that be so bad?” said Ravi.
I must have looked exquisitely silly at this, for Ravi looked up and laughed.
“I always meant to marry eventually,” he said. “I’m twenty-eight years old. At my age, my father had two children. It might be time I started thinking about settling down.”
“I thought you said you wanted to choose a wife without your family’s interference,” I said.
“I’m afraid my attempts to choose for myself haven’t been altogether successful,” he said. He smiled at me. “But that’s all right. I’ve not had much practice. Some parental assistance might be just what I need.”
He lifted a case onto his desk and started putting things in it.
“I suppose I feel I’ve had my fun,” he said. “I’ve been in England for such a long time. My grandmother’s been asking when I mean to come home for years now. Perhaps it’s time.”
It wasn’t a sad thing in itself, what he was saying, but something in his voice made my heart go out to him. He looked so tired.
“Ravi, you haven’t been working yourself too hard?” I said. “I know your brain takes up an awful lot of energy, but you ought to consider the rest of yourself. It must be a dreadful strain on your body, trying to keep pace with your mind.”
“I eat plenty of porridge and do my exercises in the morning, as you told me to,” said Ravi. “Don’t worry, my–” he coughed–“my friend. I’m simply rather tired of porridge, and begin to want parotta.”
I went up to him and held his face between my hands, so I could look into it. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing. I only wanted to be sure that Ravi was well.
“There, you are coughing,” I said accusingly. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Quite all right,” said Ravi. He touched my hair gently, as if he were comforting an upset child.
He smelt of old books and soap. Perhaps pregnancy has meddled with my intellects–perhaps having a baby makes you soft-headed as well as soft-hearted. I already knew my loving Ravi was a hopeless case and would have been even if I hadn’t destroyed any prospect of a decent marriage by my pursuit of an artistic education. Even though it feels as if we are the same kind of person, we are not, of course. I can’t imagine the face my mother would make if I brought Ravi home as a son-in-law, and I expect the expression on Ravi’s parents’ faces would be just as bad.
But none of that matters, because my silliness with Hardie has put anything of the sort out of the question. I knew that perfectly well. So I ought to have been safe–quite safe.
“You have been a brick, Ravi,” I said. “You must look after yourself when you’ve gone home. And we will stay friends, won’t we? I’ll write you, and you must write back, when you’re not too busy. Will you?”
“I haven’t yet decided to go,” said Ravi in a low voice.
I can remember his face so clearly. I can see it before me now, every line of it, and his beautiful eyes. I didn’t understand the look in them. It was almost as if he were frightened of me.
I suppose he had good reason to be, considering how I behaved!
“Jade,” Ravi said, and I kissed him.
I can’t think why I did it. I didn’t go for to do it. It just seemed to happen.
And he kissed me back, I know he did. I shall remember every detail of it for the rest of my life–the stubble on his chin, his hot breath on my cheek, the pressure of his hand on the back of my head. Perhaps he kissed me back out of courtesy, or curiosity, but Ravi ought to know better than that. Oh hear me, here I am blaming the poor man when I was the one who pounced on him like a ravening tiger.
He was the one who stopped it. He pulled back and took my hands away from his face, and held my wrists.
All he said was: “That was not right, Jade.”
“I know,” I said. “I am sorry.”
It was dreadful: I was weeping. I grow hot and cold all over when I think of it, it is so embarrassing.
Ravi was not angry, but stern and distant, like a schoolmaster. He gave me his handkerchief and waited till I’d wiped my eyes and blown my nose. When I was done he said, very gently,
“I’m sorry to have put you in this position. You’re not to blame. But you’ve got other people to consider.”
My heart stopped. I thought for a wild moment that Hardie had written a poem about Caliban having a baby and it had got out, and Ravi knew. But Ravi went on to say,
“Hardie can be difficult, I know, but he means well. Are you happy with him?”
I wanted to explain how things were with Hardie and Diana, but if I spoke at any length I knew I would start crying again. I was in that foolish sort of mood that overtakes one sometimes, in which one is profoundly impressed by the potential for sorrow in all things. The world seemed unspeakably sad.
“I have no complaints,” I said, gulping.
Ravi looked at me with a horrible compassion in his eyes. I don’t want him to pity me. I want him to like me. I want him always to think of me as happy and careless and his friend, not as a sopping clinging wreck who is idiotically in love with him.
“It is hard,” said Ravi. “I know. But perhaps it’s worth it. After all, what do we live for, if not for the impractical and the beautiful? What is more beautiful and impractical than unrequited love?”
Hardie might say that sort of thing and be serious, but Ravi wasn’t. He smiled at me, trying to share the joke. I smiled back at him in a watery sort of way.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Really, it’s all right.”
He took my hand and pressed it.
“Thank you,” I said in a small voice. He nodded, not looking up from our joined hands.
I remembered what I had come to tell him.
“I’m going away for a while, Ravi,” I said. “Aunt Iris insists that I visit her in the countryside, to keep her company while my cousins are away. I’ll be out of London for a few months. Will you be gone by the time I return?”
“Do you think it’d be better if I was?” said Ravi. Before I could reply, he smiled. “I’ll wait. I meant to buy us both tea at Fortnum’s, remember? You owe me another go.”
He was perfectly normal for the rest of my visit. We talked as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
I was too sodden and confused at the time to understand what Ravi meant when he was going on about unrequited love, but I’ve thought about it and I know what he was trying to say now.
It was my stupidity in kissing him. He knows how I care for him and he was trying to tell me that it was all right, that he would think of me as his friend just as he’s always done. It ought to make no difference, because I already knew that he didn’t love me as anything but a friend. But somehow the thought that he knows and is sorry for me makes me feel even more wretched.
I am still glad I saw him. How I’ll miss him when he’s gone. It’s a jolly good thing I’m going away. I shall have to get used to missing him all the rest of my life.
How melodramatic! I expect I would stop missing him when I was seventy. Oh dear, I can’t wait till I am old and past all unholy passions. When I am old I shall become an itinerant poet and wear a straw hat and never worry about love again.