This post was written by Miss Eliza.
Sussex, 2005: Colin and Eloise are setting up for their wedding, which happens to be tomorrow at Selwick Hall, and nothing is where it is supposed to be. The idea to have the wedding at the house that brought them together in a roundabout manner seemed like a good idea at the time; that is till relatives started descending on them from various parts of the globe and there are no port-a-loos yet. Oh, and Eloise’s face is covered in mud. At least the mud she can lie at the feet of her friend Pammy, but should beauty treatments itch? Why didn’t they hire a wedding planner? Orchestrating the event feels more and more like herding cats just to get Eloise’s Four Weddings and a Funeral moment when she sees Colin in his morning suit. Eloise abandons the thankless task of tying bows to chairs, complete with her little sister’s mocking commentary, upon the arrival of a mysterious chest in the front hall. Its placement smack dab in the middle of the hall is an accident waiting to happen, but then again a do-it-yourself obstacle course for the wedding guests might cull the herd and Colin’s ancestor Amy Selwick would approve, she made the house into a Spy School after all. The only person she can think it could be from is Aunt Arabella, but she already gave them a rather hefty silver tea service. But Arabella knows that this chest would be treasured by Eloise because it once belonged to the Pink Carnation.
Eloise feels her blood thrumming at the idea that she is finally in possession of an item that belonged to the Pink Carnation. She might have chucked aside her career in academia for more prosaic prose, turning the exploits of Jane Wooliston into fiction, but she has never lost her interest in Jane, despite the dead end she reached in her research. This trunk might just reveal what happened to Jane after she came to Sussex in 1805 and disbanded her league. Just as Eloise is about to open the chest she gets what she thinks is a prank call from the errant best man Nick on Colin’s cell phone. It’s not a prank. Someone has kidnapped Colin’s Great-Aunt Arabella and is holding her for ransom! Rushing through the house in a frantic need to find Colin as her mud flakes everywhere Eloise eventually locates him at the abandoned tower on the hill, which is always farther away than she thinks. She rushes to tell him everything she knows, the phone call, the demand for “the box,” and the rendezvous, that night at Donwell Abbey. Eloise thinks the only logical conclusion could be that Colin’s cousin Jeremy is up to no good again, after behaving so well. But she doesn’t want to think that Arabella’s grandson would kidnap her for nefarious reasons, more for Colin’s peace of mind than her own. But Colin then drops a bomb. Eloise might have been right thinking his family never left the spy business, though she was wrong about Colin, his inability to dissemble would have killed him, but the truth is Aunt Arabella is a spy.
Or rather was a spy. At first Eloise rebels at this thought but then everything starts to click into place and she realizes that this is not only entirely plausible but the truth. Together they realize that the likely candidate for “the box” is the wedding present just delivered to them from Aunt Arabella. With their rehearsal dinner in a few short hours they rush into the house to get a better look at this chest. There is a secret catch and the trunk pops open, it was designed to be a puzzle, much like the Pink Carnation herself. Eloise wants to savor each and every letter and garment in this treasure trove but realizes that time is of the essence. At the very bottom under a hidden panel they find notebooks. Modern notebooks. In code. This must be what the mysterious voice wants in exchange for Aunt Arabella. It looks like they have a rendezvous to keep. Why did this have to happen the night before their wedding?
Lisbon, 1807: The man known as a black sheep, turncoat, renegade, and occasionally the Moonflower, Jack Reid, is blending into the crowd. Currently working for the British his contact is to approach him in Rossio Square with the ludicrous phrase: “The eagle nests only once.” The French are making a big scene of lowering the Portuguese royal standard and raising the Tricolour at the pinnacle of São Jorge Castle and the crowd is getting restless. The French claim to be liberators, but the liberated don’t seem too happy with this public exhibition of dominance after their Queen and her Regent fled to Brazil and were replaced by the Portuguese Regency Council. The crowd is angry and danger is brewing. If his contact doesn’t appear soon Jack will have to leave; the reason he’s survived this long is his instinct for self-preservation. Jacks gaze lingers on one of the courtesans with the French soldiers. There is something striking about her. She has a stillness to her. The crack of a musket goes off and Jack is about to leave when this turned-out and ruffled girl approaches him and proceeds to strike him dumb by uttering “you know that the eagle nests only once.” He can’t believe this is his contact but she’s drawing too much attention to them, they stage a scene and depart Rossio Square. As he flings her over his shoulder he realizes that she’s not as she seems, or so the gun in her stays would indicate. Her lodgings are also the opposite of what Jack imagined, spare when he expected opulence for this fair princess. Yet she is more than astute as she rattles Jack with his personal history. He attempts to analyze her in return, logic warring with incredulity as she reveals herself to be the Pink Carnation.
Jane didn’t expect to be laughed at, yet Jack is finding her revelation of her nom de guerre very amusing. But telling Jack that she is the Pink Carnation is a calculated risk. She is hoping the myth that has grown greater than her will work to her advantage with this man who has a talent for defying expectations as well as orders. For her mission she needs Jack and his local knowledge and by sharing her secret she hopes to engender his trust. She has been sent to Portugal because, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Queen did not depart for Brazil and is still in the country. If Queen Maria, in all her insanity, were to fall into French hands it would be disastrous. Napoleon has his sights on more than just Portugal, all of the Peninsula is in his sights. Jack finds Jane’s theory incredulous and tells her to go home, this isn’t the kind of work he was paid for. His orders are purely observational, not babysitting a spy who claims she’s the Pink Carnation yet doesn’t even speak Portuguese. Jane is rankled that everything appears to come down to money with Jack. He doesn’t think of the outcome of his actions, such as sending a dragon’s hoard of jewels to his sister in Bath, he just thinks of the monetary advantages. He unknowingly turned her life upside down from a continent away. She is used to obedience not riposte, and Jack changing her plans will not work. But she will begrudgingly admit he knows what he is doing so she will let him go to the bar and apply libations to the Queen’s household that was left behind instead of storming the fortress of Queluz. Who knows? It might even work.
Jack is down at a bar in the port in his well-honed performance as Alarico the town drunk; when in doubt add a little vomit to your hair for verisimilitude. People will often tell the town drunk what they wouldn’t even tell their confessor and Jack is learning some interesting things from one of the Queen’s household, the undercook Bernardo, including the odd fact that the Queen had acquired a new confessor in the weeks before the French arrived. Of course it could all be false hope found at the bottom of a bottle, but there’s something about the talk of “when the Queen comes again” that has Jack going all nostalgic. And contemplative. He realizes that what makes Jane different and far more dangerous than him is that she actually believes in what she is doing. Yet through his nostalgia his mind starts to see the ploy in which Queen Maria could have been spirited away in plain sight with the help of the Bishop of Porto. It’s deceptively simple. As his informant relocates to the floor right below the table Jack realizes it might be time to move on as the French dragoons have rowdily taken over a nearby table. He recognizes one of the French dragoons as someone whom he conned the previous week in his other disguise as Rodrigo the horse trader. Sneaking out in a faux drunken stupor to answer the call of nature a young dragoon warns him there is about to be trouble. The young dragoon is That Woman, aka the Pink Carnation.
So far in their brief acquaintance she’d managed to fool him twice. Jack didn’t like those odds. The Pink Carnation gets Jack out of this sticky situation by the expedient of attacking him before the real French dragoon or his thug can. Jack is more than a little put out by her high-handed manner and he eventually deigns to return to her rooms to discuss their next move, after all, she might actually be the bloody Pink Carnation from all that he’s seen. He lays out what he thinks happens, that the Bishop of Porto is raising a rebellion and Queen Maria was snuck out of Lisbon in a religious procession, they are so common that no one pays them the least bit of attention. From Jack’s point of view the Pink Carnation’s decision to try to follow them to Porto is foolhardy, he cannot guarantee their safety. She has no idea what the terrain is like, she is an urban creature of the drawing room, and then it dawns on him. This had been her plan all along. The scene in the bar, the dressing up as French dragoon, all of it was just to prove her bona fides. She had planned all along to infiltrate the French ranks and go by river to Porto, or wherever the Queen looked most likely to be. But she hadn’t planned on Jack. He refuses to put on a uniform that is not his because he would feel the lie. They reach a compromise. Jack will be her batman on what he views as a crazy and dangerous excursion.
Jane isn’t used to her plans going wrong, but this one went wrong almost immediately. Posing as Lieutenant Jean de Balcourt her and Jack were to get a boat and travel the two days by river to Porto and rescue Queen Maria. Instead there are no boats to be had and they fall into a depleted group of French soldiers barely equipped and heading north lead by a Captain Moreau. Jack insists that they would move faster with just the two of them over the rough terrain, but Jane points out the two of them would be easy pickings for bandits and with her enemy uniform they have a target on them. Plus she doesn’t want to leave her fate in the hands of Jack, no matter how capable those hands might actually be, which prove very capable one night in their tent as he massages her leg. She is used to being lonely and self-reliant, she is not used to having an inconvenient man in her tent. Nor is she used to hours and hours in the saddle making almost no progress. By the end of the first week she knows she made the wrong decision. But she refuses to admit defeat, despite their snail’s pace. Jack has withdrawn into himself, he is compliant and competent, but not a comrade. There is no cooperation between them. If things couldn’t be worse the unthinkable happens. The Chevalier de la Tour d’Arget, now the Comte de Brillac, appears in camp and back in Jane’s life. Nicolas had always refused to behave as an enemy ought and that makes him dangerous. He had once had the power to disarm her, to fool her into believing that there might be something more between them. Nicolas and Moreau are fast friends bonding over love lost, but has Nicolas told Moreau that he is referring to Jane? Jane doesn’t know what Nicholas is up to or if he will unmask her. She must warn Jack of Nicolas’s probable intentions. Nicolas has been so much to her in her life, friend, enemy, lover, but Jack would know him as the Gardener.