Just then the two young women heard a voice come tentatively across the sands. "I beg your pardon…"
They looked up and saw a very nice looking young man. Perfectly respectable, Alice thought, despite his ungentlemanly willingness to be helpful. Although he appeared to be French (his clothes were far too stylish for him to be a English tourist), his manner seemed admirably proper.
"I could not help but to notice that you were in search of a corkscrew. I can call my manservant at once and give you use of mine." He nodded slightly as if to acknowledge their predicament.
Constance looked to Alice, who considered the proposition. Surely Mrs. Forward would be scandalized by accepting help from a stranger at such a juncture. That decided it. "Yes, please, s'il vous plait," Alice said with a slightly haughty curtsey. "We would be delighted with the use of your implement."
Constance giggled and looked slightly dazed. Such wild adventures! Nothing like this would ever have happened at home. Alice was certain of that as well, but relieved that their adventure had not quite reached the kidnapped/pirate ship levels of surprise. This was an adventure she could manage without assistance.
The gentleman turned slightly and called out imperiously, "Tricheor! Fetch my wine case, tout de suite." In no time, a slightly hunched man appeared with a red leather case in his arms. Handing it over to his master, the man bent low. At first, Alice assumed this was a mere show of deference, but then the young man placed the case upon the man's back and popped it open.
"Forgive me for not doing so sooner, but allow me to introduce myself. I am Count Philippe de Graves." He snapped a small nod in their general direction as he rummaged in the case, at last extracting a strange looking tool. "Et voilà!"
"Thank you -- er, merci," Alice said with a curtsey expressing both her growing discomfort with this individual and the oddness of seeing another man used as a table. France was indeed a peculiar land.
The Count strode toward their picnicking area and held out his hand for the wine bottle. Alice handed it to him, smiling as if she were quite grateful for the intervention, although she was already regretting their off-hand acquaintance.
In no time, the Count had the cork removed with a pleasing pop. He handed the bottle back to Alice, allowing his eyes to make an inventory of the young women's wardrobes that Alice found most indecent, but managed to conceal her consternation. "How kind you are."
"Have you anything in which to imbibe the wine?" The Count was looking at their picnic with some amusement, Alice thought, which he ought not to do surely.
"I'm afraid not," she answered. While she was loathe to admit this failing, Alice was even more reluctant to show her uncertainty in front of Constance who even now looked with poorly concealed nervousness at the unfolding tableau. "Do you also have glasses in that charming little case?"
"Indeed I do," the Count responded with a smile that looked rather like that a tiger might wear when facing a lame deer. "Tricheor!" The hunched man walked somewhat awkwardly down the slight hill toward the three of them.
What else might this peculiar man have in that little case, Alice wondered suddenly.