Tricheor tumbled toward the little group with an odd, crab-like walk. "Make haste," the Count nevertheless impressed upon his servant with a touch of ferociousness. Alice found herself developing a dislike for this man that trumped his carefully proper manners.
Well, apart from the carnivorous looks he turned upon the two young women. Perhaps I am imagining it, Alice thought. Mother would no doubt speak approvingly of the Count's demeanour if not their manner of meeting.
Yet Alice found herself recoiling as the Count reached for Caroline's hand to settle her on the rock with a swiftly procured wine glass. The gesture was perfectly acceptable; however, the feral look in his eyes was something that Black Ethel would note with dismay -- or perhaps, considering the pirate queen, with a drawn sword and a swift challenge.
Alice was no pirate, but she thought at that moment it would be a very useful occupation to have.
When it came to her turn to be helped to her seat, Alice smiled with what she hoped was confidence at her companion before taking the offered seat. Caroline looked entirely meek and compliant, but filled with the heady excitement of their adventure.
Close to, the Count's expression was even more predatory and Alice felt an unaccustomed sense of protectiveness toward her young friend. Perhaps adventuring was far too tedious to undertake without the proper precautions and the appropriate level of chaperonage. How Lizzie would scorn her! Not only had Alice failed to live up to expectations of excitement, but she was nearly ready to pack it in and return home in defeat.
What would a pirate do? Alice looked at the Count, now pouring himself a glass of wine without invitation and felt her jaw tighten. If there was no one to extricate the two of them from this unfortunate association, Alice would have to do it herself.
First, though, they must have their picnic.
"Shall we have some bread and cheese," Alice said with all the confident pleasantness she could muster while keeping her misgivings buried. She could not know it but at that very moment, Alice looked quite the picture of her own mother.
"Delightful!" the Count announced, turning to badger his servant once more with an abrupt pronunciation of his name and an imperious gesture. Tricheor waddled forward until the Count could reach a variety of implements that would help cut the cheese and bread. Alice blushed again to consider how ill-prepared they were for their meal, but quickly put away her doubts under a mask of pleasantness.
Could her father have seen it, he might have been grudgingly approving. It is perhaps an aspect of the spirit world that all places are one, and Lord Mangrove might well have turned up to take in the perilous adventures of his daughter. It may be telling that he chose not to do so.
"How kind you are," Alice said with acid charm as the Count handed her the platter he had produced and upon which she arranged the bread for slicing. "Do let me have your knife. I shall have the bread ready to eat in a moment."
She tried not to imagine that the Count showed some reluctance in handing over the knife, nor what that might mean. Instead Alice smiled even more winningly and thus came to understand much more of the world.