Many of you have asked me what has become of Jane Wooliston since The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. We catch a glimpse of her in the Christmas novella, Ivy & Intrigue, informing Amy that she might be taking a trainee from the Selwick spy school, Laura Grey, over to France. Other than that, Jane has been– well, elusive.
Here’s the scoop.
In early 1804, while Charlotte is trying to figure out just how mad the madness of King George can be and Penelope is getting herself shipped off to India, Jane and Miss Gwen have returned to France to consolidate the fledgling League of the Pink Carnation. Jane is pretty good at this for an amateur, but she’s still learning the ropes, playing by trial and error.
Jane’s biggest break so far is her friendship with Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense. Hortense’s friendship and Jane’s classical good looks have gained her acceptance in all the most fashionable drawing rooms of Paris. She’s made it into the inner circle– but can she stay there?
Unlike operatives like Augustus Whittlesby and Miles Dorrington, who are employed directly by the English government, Jane collaborates with the authorities but isn’t answerable to them. In some ways, this a boon to her– when French operatives discover those lists of undercover agents in France, Jane won’t be on them. It does mean, however, that she has to build up her own network of informers and agents from scratch, all without jeopardizing her own position.
The first agent Jane sends into the field is Laura Grey, planted as a governess in the household of a French official. In the scene below, from The Orchid Affair, we see Jane in action, through Laura’s eyes.
Someone moved to stand beside her. Laura instinctively moved aside, making room.
There was a whisper of muslin as the lady followed, sidestepping as Laura sidestepped.
Laura moved again.
The lady moved with her.
Frowning, Laura glanced sideways, prepared to glare down the person intruding upon her space. She might be plainly garbed, but art was for everyone, and she didn’t mean to be rushed.
She encountered an elegant, classical profile and one dangling blue enamel and seed pearl earring. The lady continued to gaze straight ahead, ostensibly examining the painting on the easel in front of them.
“An intriguing composition, is it not?” said the Pink Carnation.
* * *
Laura concentrated on the painting in front of her, keeping her eyes squarely on the canvas.
Next to her, the Pink Carnation tilted her head, scrutinizing the painting on the easel. “A very bold use of color,” she commented, as if to herself.
It was a historical allegory, commemorating some significant Roman moment or other. It was the sort of painting Julie Beniet had become famous for, but it had been executed without her skill. The painted figures’ limbs looked stiff and unnatural, their togas like—well, like bedsheets.
“I find it overdone,” said Laura stiffly. “There’s no life to it.”
Were they speaking in code? If so, Laura wasn’t sure what the code was meant to be. She didn’t know what to make of the fact that they were speaking at all.
The Pink Carnation nodded thoughtfully, setting her earrings swaying.
It would be very easy to hate her, thought Laura. Miss Jane Wooliston was the very image of the style currently in vogue—tall and slender, with a face that might have been modeled off an antique cameo. Her jewelry was muted, only a small gold locket on a blue silk ribbon and a pair of blue enamel earrings decorated with seed pearls, but it made the toilettes of the other women look overdone and gaudy. No wonder she was an ornament of Bonaparte’s court. Nature had given her so much. Not only beauty, but the wit to employ it to good purpose.
It would have been easier to tolerate her if she had been beautiful but dim; or clever and plain. One could respect clever and plain. But to be beautiful and clever seemed like an oversight on the part of the gods.
She was young, too, this Pink Carnation. So close, Laura could see the smoothness of her skin, none of the creases in her forehead or lines down the side of her mouth that Laura saw every time she looked in her own mirror.
How old was the Pink Carnation? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? A good decade younger than Laura in any event. It made Laura feel tired and more than a little depressed that this debutante, this marble creature in white muslin, should have achieved so much with so seeming little effort, while Laura, with all her struggle and strife, had managed so little.
The Pink Carnation tilted her head, examining the painting as if weighing Laura’s opinion. “I agree,” she said at last. “This one may be more in the current style, but I prefer that one.”
She gestured to the next easel over, which held a much smaller painting in tones of green and brown, depicting a stretch of woods on a cloudy day.
Laura obediently moved to stand in front of it. “It’s very . . . pastoral.”
What in heaven’s name was she trying to tell her?
The Pink Carnation gazed at the painting, her elegant profile serene. “Sometimes, among the bustle of town, it can be pleasant to lose yourself in a bit of greenery. It’s so peaceful among the trees. So quiet.” Without any change of inflection, she continued, “I often go walking in the Jardins du Luxembourg. I like to go in the morning, while the mist is still fresh on the ground. So refreshing, wouldn’t you agree?”
Without waiting for an answer, she turned away.
Next week’s Teaser Tuesday: Whatever happened to Augustus Whittlesby?