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.
Monday, 16th August 1920
I did the stupidest thing today! My ears still burst into flames every time I think of it. Why is it that embarrassment afflicts me so much more than any other emotion? It must be an indication of a very unenlightened nature. I have forgotten all the passions of my youth, but I still remember the time at school when I absent-mindedly called Sister Mary “Mother” and the whole class laughed. Those were girls who had not absorbed the Christian lessons of loving kindness.
It was setting up to be such a good day as well. Ravi asked me to see him about my review of the terrible Mimnaugh book, so I went to Bloomsbury in trembling and fear.
I like Ravi’s office: it’s so small and box-like and like a room in a dollhouse. It’s infernally hot in the summer and antarctic-cold in the winter. And Ravi in it, with his ink-stained hands and perpetually unfocused eyes, looks like the high-minded scholar he is. It is the twentieth-century equivalent of the poet’s garret.
I was worried he would give me helpful critique, which I would have to listen to because Ravi’s judgment is unerring. Instead, after shaking hands, he leant over the table and said to me,
“I’d like to publish your essay. We could do with another review in the next issue, and it’s very sharp. But I want to be sure that you’re prepared for what might follow.”
Perhaps my parents were wrong in thinking I was clever. I hadn’t the least idea what he was talking about.
“What might follow?” I said.
“Well,” said Ravi, “there might be something of an uproar. You do realise Hardie is rather well thought of by the establishment? In fact, you might say he was the establishment.”
I nodded, trying to look intelligent.
“It might pay off,” said Ravi. “People will certainly read it, and that will attract interest in the journal. And it could be wonderful for you–you’ll certainly get a reputation out of it. The question is whether that reputation would be one you’d want. Even the most venerable public intellectual is human, and the problem with offending a famous author is that his friends write for the TLS.”
Ravi looked charming: he was so serious and concerned.
“Are you worried for my career?” I said. “D’you think the Bloomsbury harpies would leap on me and carry me off to have my insides for dinner?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t think they’d do more than peck you around the head a trifle,” said Ravi. “But you are young, you’re only just starting out, and you aren’t ….” He didn’t need to say ‘English’. We looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking.
“It’s just a risk,” said Ravi. “I wanted you to understand that so you could make the decision yourself.”
“I am very grateful,” I said. I touched his hand lying on the table. “It’s good of you to think of me. But I haven’t really got a reputation to destroy. With the money you’ll give me for this and the money I’ll get from my article on ‘What The Well-Dressed Woman Is Wearing’, I should be able to pay this month’s rent and get a new dress. You don’t know how I’ve been wanting a new dress. It’s a terrible hunger.”
Ravi grinned. “What is the well-dressed woman wearing?”
“Whatever she is wearing, she has got much more money than me to get it with,” I said. “No, I’m happy to run the risk, if it is a risk. But I shouldn’t think anyone of importance will read it.”
Ravi’s mouth quivered.
“Thank you,” he said. “It’s good to know you’re excited about being published again in the journal.”
“Oh, you know that’s not what I meant!” I said. “It’s an honour to be published in the Oriental Literary Review–you should have seen my face when I received the first issue with an article by me in it–oh, you are laughing. You are a beast! No, but seriously, Ravi, you must say when I offend you. I never stop to think about what I say before I say it. It’s a very bad habit.”
“I hope you never lose it,” said Ravi. “It’s one of my favourite things about you.”
“Anyway, it isn’t just the money,” I said. “Whatsisname deserves a thorough vivisection. I’ve read some of his earlier works and those were quite good, but he’s lost his grip in this Mimnaugh. It’s sentimental posturing–inelegant language, ridiculous conclusions.”
“That’s candour,” said Ravi approvingly. “Now that’s the Jade Yeo I know.”
I did that silly thing I do where I cover my mouth when I smile. I don’t know where I learnt it from. It’s a horrible affectation, as if I were some innocent little schoolgirl.
“I confess I don’t know very much about the literary elite of London,” I said, so Ravi wouldn’t notice it. “Is Sebastian Hardie terrifically important?”
“He’s well regarded,” said Ravi. “Well off, well connected, but also a genuinely serious thinker. I’ve attended a couple of his lectures. He’s an excellent speaker, and has something of a following. And he knows absolutely everybody who matters.”
“Something of a sacred cow, then,” I said without thinking.
“I wouldn’t quite put it in those terms,” said Ravi carefully.
Of course he is Hindu! He was very nice about it; the next thing he said was, “But yes, in effect.”
But I felt dreadful about it. I haven’t the faintest idea, come to think of it, whether the term comes from the golden calf in the Bible, or whether it is the British being rude about Hinduism. The problem is that it might very well be the latter, and either way it was an unfortunate thing to say.
The rest of the interview went smoothly enough, but I went home feeling foolish. Ravi is the last person in the world I should want to offend. He is one of the few kind people I know who are also interesting.
Well–I will write him a letter tomorrow, or the day after, and perhaps time will heal my wound. Really it is me and not him I am worrying about, because I do not like to think of him thinking ill of me.
I am sorry, Ravi!