This post was written by Abby.
While these chapters open with Eloise, I want to finish with her chapter since our final recap next week will open with an Eloise chapter. So we’ll head straight to chapter seventeen, which contains my favorite line in this book and I will let you know when we get there.
These chapters introduce several new plot twists to Blood Lily. In our last recap, Penelope realized that Freddy was having an affair with Nur Bai and her response to this discovery opens a series of reflections on the different means by which women, both high born and low, were valued and measured in the early nineteenth century. While both Penelope and Freddy were equally culpable on that balcony home in England all those months ago, only Freddy is seen as having done the honorable thing by marrying Penelope, and Freddy’s friends see Penelope as fair game for further flirtations. Desperate to demonstrate to Freddy that she is indifferent to his behavior, Penelope responds in kind to nearly every man in the room, including Alex. It is only Alex, however, who offers to walk Penelope home as a friend rather than a guardian, a point he is careful to make. Penelope wonders if her behavior will cause him to abandon their morning rides and Alex reassures her, saying that he will “be where I always am,” which, by the way, is my favorite line in this book. And while we’re on this topic, what is any of your favorite line or lines?
Penelope enters her bedroom where she finds a cobra waiting for her. Determined, self-sufficient when it comes to physical survival to the last, she finds Freddy’s pistol and shoots the cobra between the eyes. Alex hears the shot and bolts indoors to find Penelope, a smoking gun and a dead cobra. While her words are calmly nonchalant, it is clear she is anything but and Alex kisses her, a decision he regrets almost immediately afterwards. He notices the mosquito netting on her bed is missing and begins to wonder if the cobra was planted. Penelope refuses to consider the idea and insists on calling the cobra Marmaduke when discussing it (as a side note, I run across American colonists called Marmaduke every once in awhile in my research and I have trouble seeing them as anything other than cobras). During their discussion, Penelope inadvertently lets slip that her marriage to Freddy was not based on mutual love and that she is aware of a spy known as the Marigold. Penelope and Alex speculate about the identity of the Marigold and Alex mentions the missing gold of Berar. They both decide that an expedition to Berar needs to be launched immediately, which Alex feels is a bad idea for Penelope to undertake.
Alex is awake and ready to leave early the next morning, only to discover that Penelope is awake and ready to leave even earlier. Penelope again reflects on her social standing after the balcony with Freddy, telling Alex “I haven’t any reputation to lose . . . why do you think Fiske and that lot dare to treat me as they do?” In Alex’s mind, Penelope is risking too much, In Penelope’s mind, “a great deal of opprobrium- for a very small space of freedom . . . is my trade to make” and off they set. Building on my earlier posts reflecting on Penelope and Alex as friends and their ability to be among some of the few Pink Carnation characters who are “exactly as they seem,” Alex struggles with his desire to have Penelope as companion, comrade and lover and while Penelope does not put it in exactly those terms, it is clear she feels the same. In time, the attraction that has been building since the early chapters boils over and their romantic relationship begins.
Later in these chapters, Penelope returns to her reflections on women’s status in the early nineteenth century. The Reid family was a friends with a girl named Annie, whose father was an unconnected English man and whose mother was Indian. When Annie was fourteen, she was raped by Fiske and his friends who believed it would cure his syphilis and Penelope suddenly sees that “in all her days of chafing at chaperonage and thumbing her nose at convention [she had never realized] just how great were the protections that hedged her about, or how fortunate she was to have them.” The moments like this that take us out of the largely protected world of the Pink Carnation heroines are one of the reasons why I reread this book so often. Painful as this passage is, it’s a reminder of just how much else existed outside the ballrooms and country houses we usually find ourselves reading about. How did any of your respond to this section?
The 1804 chapters conclude with Penelope and Alex continuing to speculate about the identity of the Marigold while Alex confesses to Penelope that the man they had chased was not a French spy named Guignon but rather his Anglo-Indian brother Jack. Then suddenly, thuddingly, they meet up with the wagon train headed to Berar and realize that Freddy, Lord Frederick Staines, is dead.
Returning to 2004, Eloise returns from her night out with Serena and calls Colin to report on the evening. Their conversation focuses largely on Serena’s personal life, with Eloise acknowledging defeat on the topic of trying to set Serena up with Martin and reporting that Serena’s attraction to Nick is probably a lost cause. At this point, Colin advises her to drop it and they have their first real disagreement, which ends with Eloise advising Colin to stop coddling his sister. He suggests that it is time to end the conversation and that he will see her on Valentine’s day and on that note, both conversation and chapter come to a swift end, leaving Eloise wondering about the future of their relationship. What do you think of Eloise’s efforts to find a boyfriend for Serena? And Colin’s response to both Eloise and Serena? Where do you think these exchanges will take us in future chapters and future books?