I am delighted to present to you the 2021 Pinkoramae!
Thank you so much to everyone for making this the tradition it has become, where every spring, as surely as the rains and the flowers, we find a magnificent rainbow of Peep dioramae. Every year, I look forward to seeing what you’ll create– and it’s always a wonderful surprise!
This year’s first Pinkorama is brought to us by the sister team of Carrie and Laura, and features one put upon governess, one intrepid spy master (spy mistress?), one thwarted poet, one parasol-mad chaperone, one stray Bonaparte, and two small moppets in a bookshop: in other word, it’s The Orchid Affair, now in glorious Peepovision.
Carrie and Laura write: Our not so intrepid (trepid?) heroine, nervous but determined, heads out with charges in tow to make her first contact in her first mission as a secret agent of the Pink Carnation. She is surprised to find her boss keeping company with a foolish prostrate poet and Bonaparte’s own step-daughter! What an adventurous little bookshop… Between Miss Gwen and The Governess, the ruckus and innuendo is kept to a dull roar. Is this the only excitement in store for Mlle Laure?
A little bell tinkled as Laura pushed open the door. The shop gave the impression of being even smaller and more cluttered than it actually was, with books piled on tables and racks and stacked in uneven towers propped against the walls. A small coal brazier burned in one corner of the shop, puffing out smoke and warmth. In summer, the windows would be open to the street, with books spilling out onto tables outside, but now the windows were shuttered tight against the January chill, making the room feel like a bibliophilic Ali Baba’s cave, dark and crowded with treasure.
What could be more innocent than a trip to the bookshop? Governesses taught. Teaching required books. Even a nasty, suspicious, French Ministry of Police-trained mind couldn’t find any fault with that.
The smell of leather, binding glue, paper, and coal dust brought back powerful memories of other bookshops. Laura paused just inside the threshold, giving her eyes time to adjust to the dim interior. There had been one place her parents had patronized, a little shop on the Left Bank, with a leathery smoky smell just such as this, where the proprietor kept coffee in the back for his favorite guests. There would be impromptu recitations and loud political arguments and above it all the smell of leather and book glue and her mother’s musk perfume.
“Owwww!” protested Gabrielle. “You poked me!”
“Did not!” Pierre-Andre was the picture of outraged innocence. Until he poked her again.
Laura came hurtling back from 1784. She wasn’t twelve years old anymore, trailing along in the lee of her parents from bookshop to atelier. She was a thirty-two year old governess and the proprietor was giving her the sort of look reserved for people who bring dangerous livestock onto the premises.
“Gentlemen,“ she said severely, relocating Pierre Andre to her other side, “do not poke their sisters.”
Pierre-Andre pouted. “But—”
“People who poke are little better than savages, and savages Do Not Get Books. Am I understood? Come on,” Laura said, taking Pierre-Andre by the hand. “Let’s see what we can find for you. Maybe the proprietor will have something to recommend.”
A long, thin table at the back served as a makeshift counter, manned by a small and thin clerk.
“Look! Look!” Pierre-Andre tugged as only a five year old knew how, yanking her off course, to where a book had been propped open on a stand. A black and white illustration portrayed an enraged Hercules whopping away at the heads of the hydra. Hercules sword was very large. The hydra looked justifiably alarmed.
Behind them, cold air gusted into the shop as the door opened, admitting another customer.
“If you behave, you can have it,” Laura bribed him shamelessly, propelling him towards the counter, determined to get there first, before the new customer could beat her out.
Pierre-Andre seized his advantage. “Can I have sweets, too?”
The newcomer wafted his way down the narrow aisle, his head tilted at an angle that implied that he was in the process of listening to divine voices that sang only to him. He came down to earth long enough to waft a languid hand at Pierre-Andre. “This shop purveys celestial sweets, dear boy. The sweets of… learning!”
He was garbed with that deliberate air of dishabille that proclaims the artist the world over. Despite the cold, he wore no jacket, only a waistcoat over his flowing white shirt, and a rough cravat knotted at the neck.
Pierre-Andre was looking perturbed again. “Are those like candied almonds?”
The poet—he could only be a poet—pressed two fine-boned hands to his chest. “Better than almonds, my lively lad. In these Elysian fields one can sup on the sugared nuggets of choicest poesy.”
All but concealed behind a display of books, Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Laura heartily concurred.
Pierre-Andre ignored Elysian fields and went straight to the important bit. “I want nuggets of posy,” he demanded. “Sugary ones.”
Laura wanted a cup of tea. Brewed black, milk, no sugar.
“In a minute,” she said, but it was already too late. The poet had ranged himself in front of the counter. He had, she realized indignantly, cut her out. She tried tapping her foot, but the poet was oblivious.
He was more likely smoking the sugary fields of Elysium than supping on them, thought Laura bitterly. The Left Bank hadn’t changed much since her parents’ day.
“What have you today for me”—the man paused dramatically, swishing his sleeves for emphasis—“in terms of poetree?”
Laura contemplated a swift kick to the knee. Preferably times three.
The shopkeeper reached beneath the counter and drew out a slim book bound in cheap paper covers. “You might want to try this, M. Whittlesby. It’s the latest from Porcelier.”
“That rubbish!” An exuberant gesture sent a full yard of white linen sleeve swooping over Pierre-Andre’s head. Pierre-Andre ducked and giggled. “The man has no feeling for the rhythm of the language, for the tripping trot of enjambed feet as they prance down that pulchritudinous path of poesy over which only the muse may rule as mistress.” The speech was made all the more impressive by the fact that the poet managed to utter it without once pausing for breath.
The shopkeeper eyed him dispassionately. “Shall I put it on your account as always, M. Whittlesby?”
The poet tucked the book up beneath one flowing sleeve, where it disappeared among the folds. “Yes, do.”
Laura waited impatiently for the poet to step away from the counter, as the shopkeeper embarked upon the seemingly endless process of recording the transaction in a dog-eared ledger. Muttering to himself in rhyme, the poet wandered to the side, his nose buried in the despised version. Laura could hear the occasional, “Ha!” emerge from between the red morocco covers.
Laura tugged Pierre-Andre out from under one of the poet’s sleeves, with which he was amusing himself by playing a private game of hide and seek among the excess fabric.
“May I have my posy now?” he demanded.
Laura put a hand on his head to quiet him. “Do you have any books appropriate for a child of five?” she asked the shopkeeper.
With Pierre-Andre beside her, the question sounded entirely natural, not at all like a set piece she had been instructed to recite.
Clicking his tongue against his teeth, the clerk rummaged about in an untidy pile of books. It was, thought Laura, an excellent performance. If it was a performance, that was. What if this wasn’t the right clerk?
Well, then, Laura told herself, keeping a grip on a squirming Pierre-Andre, the worst that would happen would be that they would have bought a book appropriate to a five year old.
The shopkeeper held up a book, squinted at it, clicked his tongue a few times more, and returned it to the pile, repeating this process before emerging triumphant with a large, ornately bound volume.
“You might want to try this,” he suggested.
No, no, no. Laura wanted to stamp in impatience. That wasn’t the right phrase. If he were her contact, he was supposed to say, “I usually recommend this for a child of seven,” or eight or nine, with the number representing the page on which she would find the key word that would then be used to decode the message.
“Oh?” said Laura. “What is it?”
Whatever it was, she hoped Pierre Andre liked it, because it obviously wasn’t going to serve any other purpose.
Placing the book flat on the counter, the shopkeeper spread it open to reveal a delicately tinted engraving of a flower.
It was a carnation.