Happy Friday, one and all! Before I turn this post over to Miss Eliza for our recap, let’s congratulate the winner of the signed copy of The Orchid Affair: Daniele K! Daniele, if you will send your address to firstname.lastname@example.org, I will get your prize in the mail to you ASAP. Now over to Miss Eliza!
Prologue and Chapters 1-7: “There was no such thing as a silver orchid”
Paris, 2004: You would think Eloise and Colin would be excited to get away to Paris for a long weekend; but sadly that long weekend is being organized by Colin’s step-father, and estranged cousin, Jeremy, as a birthday celebration for Colin’s mother. Yes, family gatherings with the Selwick family tend to run to the awkward, but as Colin says, it saves on Christmas cards when your cousin runs off with you mother on your father’s deathbed and eventually marries her. In an attempt to not let Jeremy micromanage every second they are in Paris, Colin and Eloise have cancelled their reservations at the George V, like they could afford that, and checked into the Minerve, which is certainly cute, and pink, and very very tiny.
The ostensible reason for their hotel change is that Eloise wants to get some research done on her dissertation while in Paris and the George V is too far away. What better place to research “Aristocratic Espionage during the Wars with France, 1792-1815” then the very hotbed of espionage, circa 1804? Colin wasn’t sure if this was a ruse for Jeremy’s benefit or not. But when a rather irate Eloise storms off to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police to look into their papers to corroborate information she found in Colin’s family’s archive, and in particular the spy the Silver Orchid, one of the first graduates from the Selwick Spy School, Colin isn’t left in any doubt. As to why Colin is still at the hotel and not walking arm and arm with Eloise down the Seine eating marzipan pigs? When Colin added his sister Serena to their hotel, he might have added them to their room, not to her own room.
Paris, 1804: Laura Grey has been a governess for half her life, sixteen long years. After seeing her latest charge married off she is given an interesting opportunity. She is invited to train at the Selwick’s Spy School by none other than that most famous of spies, the Pink Carnation herself! Laura has an innate ability to blend into her surroundings, coupled with the fact she was born and raised in France, she would be the perfect undercover operative. André Jaouen is the assistant to the Prefect of Police. All information about suspected spies and royalists, people the Pink Carnation hopes to save, flows through Jaouen’s papers as he works indirectly for the chief of police, Fouché, who happens to be his relative through marriage. Unfortunately Jaouen often has to work with the detestable Delaroche as well, who is none too happy with Jaouen, and in particular his connection to Fouché. With men like Delaroche circling, Jaouen knows that Paris isn’t safe with all his dreams of a republic dashed. It’s the last place that children should be, but what was Jaouen to do? His beloved father-in-law died and his children had nowhere else to go.
Seizing the opportunity of the arrival of Jaouen’s two children , Gabrielle and Pierre-André, Jane takes full advantage of this opening to place a spy in Jaouen’s house. Dubbed the Silver Orchid, this is the perfect job for Laura Grey, or Laure Griscogne as she is now known. Who better to pretend to be a governess then Laura with her sixteen years of experience? Surly she can suffer through the ignominy of being a governess one more time if it means that she never has to be a governess again; slowly hardening into the role and losing more and more of herself as each day passes. Hired after the most perfunctory of interviews, Laura leaves the crumbling Hôtel de Bac to collect her possessions while Jaouen, unaware of what he has done in hiring Laura, heads to the Abbaye Prison to draw out of an inmate a kidnapping plot against the First Consul, Napoleon, with Delaroche circling.
The next day Laura isn’t greeted by her charges with open arms. Well, Pierre-André did have open arms, but they were only open in an attempt to find candy about her person. Gabrielle, like the nursery maid Jeanette and the surly man of all work Jean, is almost openly hostile to Laura’s presence. Laura decides she must just get on with her work and to this end she takes the children out to a bookshop. To any outsider, taking her charges to a bookshop looks unsuspicious, little do they know that the bookshop is also her point of contact with the Pink Carnation. She feels invigorated that she makes first contact and gets the code word and knows to look for her message in a Latin copy of Aesop’s Fables she will receive later in the week and then everything goes pear shaped.
Laura isn’t caught, but into the bookshop walks the Pink Carnation herself with Miss Gwen and A BONAPARTE! They are loud and command attention, especially as Augustus Whittlesby, that most atrocious of poets, is there declaiming to the world about his Muse, Jane! Laura doesn’t know why they are there. Did she do something wrong? Why is Jane so friendly with a Bonaparte? But in amongst the conversation she notices there are certain words Jane is emphasizing to Laura, all without even looking at her. The Pink Carnation needs to know what Jaouen learned at the Abbaye Prison the night before as soon as possible, this message couldn’t wait to be encrypted and handed off, hence the break in protocol. More disturbing than the risk of searching Jaouen’s study is the mysterious man who solicitously offers them a ride back to the Hôtel de Bac, who turns out to be none other than Jaouen’s openly contentious co-worker Delaroche!
The night isn’t done with mysterious men though. After getting a drubbing down from Jaouen about taking the children outside the house, Laura solicitously makes a cup of coffee, sleeping draft included, for Jaouen. At this juncture a mysterious stranger arrives at the study door as Laura is attempting to leave, disgruntled by the coffee going cold and the wasted sleeping draft. It happens to be Jaouen’s handsy cousin Philippe that she was previously warned of. The two men go off into the house and Laura takes the opportunity to find out the information that Jane so desperately needed from the interrogation at the prison the night previously. Could the conspiracy against Napoleon be royalist in nature? Well Jane will never get Laura’s message if she is trapped in the house at all times, because who could rely on Jean to get a message out, though she gamely tried.
Girding her loins, Laura decides to just be the governess she is supposed to be until such a time that she sees fit to temporarily flee her prison and make contact with the Pink Carnation. In order to entertain the children she decides they should explore the massive and extremely empty house they live in. It will appeal to any child with the least bit of imagination and will hopefully win some points with Gabrielle, whose love of dreadful novels will easily find something of interest looking for hidden chambers in the monstrous mansion. What the children finally stumble on in one of the rooms is all their possessions from Nantes, still boxed up. And in one of the boxes Laura finds something from her own past, a book her mother had written back when Laura was a child and her home was made up of the fashionable salons of authors and artists. But in the margins she finds drawings that at first she finds as a desecration, but soon realizes are just another artistic expression of the longing of the poems. Laura comes to the startling realization that the children’s mother and Jaouen’s dead wife is the famous artist Julie Beniet. Artists aside, she has spycraft to worry about. Laura has a rendezvous with an agent of the Pink Carnation on Sunday! Surprisingly Jean can deliver messages, he’ll just get them to you days late and read by everyone in the household.