For our third Pinkorama, Laura and Carrie present to us… Rossio Square: The Eagle Peeps Only Once, or, Love at First Peep.
It’s the final book of the Pink Carnation series, The Lure of the Moonflower. Or, to get us in scene, it’s Lisbon, 1807. The Portuguese royal family has fled to Brazil just moments before a French army, led by General Junot, trooped in to take over.
Here, in Rossio Square, the occupying French force is asserting its power over the local population.
General Junot is basking in his victory, surrounded by assorted floozies. Note his distinctly snazzy uniform.
But, wait! That’s not a floozy. That’s our heroine, the Pink Carnation herself, cunningly disguised in a very exuberant hat and low peepoletage.
Our hero, however, does not know that… yet. He’s still waiting for someone to give him the code phrase: “The eagle peeps only once.”
Don’t you love his Zorro-esque hat and cloak? This is a peep who knows how to blend with the crowd. Also who knows how to lean nonchalently against a pillar, which is a very good skill for both secret agents and romantic heroes.
Thank you, Carrie and Laura! I am just blown away by those peeptastic costumes. And who knew a Peep could have just that right look of world-weary disdain? (I’m talking about you, Jack Reid, aka the Peepflower.)
And now, just for context, here’s the text of the scene:
The mood in the Rossio Square was nasty.
The agent known as the Moonflower blended into the crowd, just one anonymous man among many, just another sullen face beneath the brim of a hat pulled down low against the December rain. The crowd grumbled and shifted as the Portuguese royal standard made its slow descent from the pinnacle of Sao Jorge Castle, but the six thousand French soldiers massed in the square put an effective stop to louder expressions of discontent. In the windows of the tall houses that framed the square, the Moonflower could see curtains twitch, as hostile eyes looked down on the display put on by the conqueror.
The French claimed to come as liberators, but the liberated didn’t seem any too happy about it.
As the royal standard disappeared from view and the tricolore rose triumphant above the square, the Moonflower heard a woman sob, and a man mutter something rather uncomplimentary about his new French overlords.
The Moonflower might have stayed to listen—listening, after all, was his job—but he had another task today.
He was here to meet his new contact.
That was all he had been told. Proceed to Rossio Square and await further instructions. He would know his contact by the code phrase: “The eagle nests only once.”
Who in the hell came up with these lines?
Once, just once, he would appreciate a phrase that didn’t involve dogs barking at midnight or doves flying by day.
There was a cluster of French officers in the square, standing behind General Junot. They did go in for flashy uniforms, these imperial officers. Flashy uniforms and even flashier women. The richly dressed women hanging off the arms of the officers were earning dark stares from the members of the crowd, stares and mutterings.
Some were local girls, making up to the conqueror. Others were undoubtedly French imports, like the woman who stood to the far left of the huddled group, her dark hair a mass of bunched curls beneath the brim of a bonnet from which pale purple feathers molted with carefree abandon. Her clothes were all that was currently a la mode in Paris, her pelisse elaborately frogged, the fingers of her gloves crammed with rings.
A well-paid courtesan, at the top of her trade.
But there was something about her that caught Jack’s eye. It wasn’t the flashing rings. He’d seen far grander jewels in his time. No. It was the aura of stillness about her. She stood with an easy elegance of carriage at odds with all her frills and fripperies and it seemed that the nervous energy of the crowd eddied and ebbed around her without touching her in the slightest.
Her features had the classical elegance that was all the rage. High cheekbones. Porcelain pale skin, tinted delicately pink at the cheeks. Jack had been around enough to know that it wouldn’t take long for the ravages of her trade to begin to show. Those clear eyes would become shadowed; that pale skin be replaced with white lead and other cosmetics, in a desperate simulacrum of youth, a desperate attempt to catch and hold the affections of first one man and then another, until there was nothing left but the bottle—or the river.
Better, thought Jack grimly, to be a washerwoman or a fishwife, a tavern keeper or a maid. Those occupations might be hell on the hands, but the other was hell on the heart.
Not that it was any of his look-out.
The courtesan’s eyes met Jack’s across the crowd. Met and held. Ridiculous, of course. There was a square full of people between them, and he was just another rough rustic in a shapeless brown jacket.
But he could have sworn, for that moment, she was looking fully at him. Looking and sizing him up.
For what? He was hardly a likely protector for a French courtesan.
Go away, princess, Jack thought. There’s nothing here for you.
Or is there?