Sunday, October 26, 2008


The young louts, once they had adjusted to Caroline's outburst, carried the young heroine forward toward restorative shade and fresh water. This entailed some difficulty as they could not entirely agree on which direction to head.

Alice, trailing at the back, torn between politeness required to their initial benefactor and loathing for the same, attempted to make polite conversation even as the Count lagged further and further behind the eager if somewhat erratic steps of the young Englishmen.

"Hang on, Hugh! You're letting down the side!" Reggie called as the inattentive young hat rack became momentarily distracted by something shiny. Hugh recovered his footing and away they jounced poor Caroline, who looked ready to release another volley of inclemency, but held herself in check with an admirable aplomb of which her mother would be quite proud.

Well, thought Alice, she would be if the whole display athletic conviviality did not scandalize her and if the thought of her daughter half-sprung on French plonk did not render her paralyzed with alarm. Best she not know, of course.

"Tilt her round, there's a good fellow," Stephen reminded Bert, who seemed to be inclined to follow Hugh's meandering path and so produce a split in the ranks. Poor Caroline swooped with their movements and gasped for breath.

Alice found her brows to be furrowing in a manner entirely too reminiscent of her mother's habitual look and made an effort to relax her face. Nonetheless, she could not quite halt the words that wished to leap from her lips. "Do be careful, gentlemen," she said as casually as possible. "You don't want to eject poor Miss Caroline before you've had a chance to make her charming acquaintance and find out what a lovely dancer she can be."

Alice had no idea whether Caroline could in fact dance at all-- in fact was rather inclined to guess that her impulsive friend was quite probably a reckless sort on the assembly room floor --but she thought it best to give her the benefit of the doubt as a matter of politeness and as a spur to more watchful care from the eager attendants.

It seemed to do the trick. Though Caroline remained sick as a cushion, there was a very keen if friendly competition for the very next dance that might possibly come their way, along with a variety of spicy exclamations, from "Tare ' hounds!" to numerous "'Pon reps!"

Alice glanced over her shoulder at the Count who, bereft of the assistance of Tricheor and without the captive audience, was stumbling along as best he could, stopping frequently to flick another spot of ejected foodstuff from his sleeve with an air of unutterable vexation. In the heat of the afternoon sun, Alice could almost believe that the Count might just possibly burst into flames.

And it would not be the worst thing to happen, Alice said to herself with a toss of her head, which made her feel much more like her old self. The movement kept the hair out of her eyes normally, but this time it was solely to reassure Alice that there were some absolutes in the world that strange Frenchmen and kidnapping sailors could not extinguish.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The voices turned out to presage a gaggle of young English tourists. Alice careered between delight and embarrassment at the thought of their peremptory arrival. Had she known young men better -- at least the holidaying kind -- she would have saved herself the blush of embarrassment, for such young men seldom notice or abide by rules of propriety and so would be little inclined to censure Alice and Caroline for their untoward circumstances, finding themselves alone with peculiar and slightly unscrupulous Frenchman.

"What ho!" cried the floppy-fringed roisterer at the front of the pack as he caught sight of the tableau. His companions bayed in like fashion, a sound apparently expressing surprise and delight as far as Alice could discern.

So relieved was she to see fellow countrymen that Alice did not hesitate to greet them, much to the Count's displeasure. "Hello, how are you," she asked somewhat breathlessly.

"Lawks," cried another one of the lot, squinting in the sun in a most unattractive way. "An English gel!" There was much hubbub as the scrum headed en masse down the dunes toward the sheltered cove.

There was much fussy shaking of hands with the Count who icily responded to the hearty inquiries as to his health, though his frosty responses were ignored by the young men who only had eyes for the two young girls and favoured them with a tidal wave of compliments meant, no doubt, to break the ice and see if it held any water with them.

The noisy gaggle threatened to drown all the thoughts in Alice's head, but fortunately one among them seemed to be a young man of some sense. "Lud, miss," he said gazing intently at Caroline's green form, "Your friend seems to be a little worse for wear. Must be this cursed French sun, far too warm, if you ask me. We should get her to some shelter, tout de suite. Bert, Stephen, Hugh, come now. We've got a lady in distress here."

"Right-o, Reggie," the floppy haired one said cheerfully and the four crowded around Caroline who was looking quite overwhelmed by the attention as well as the wine.

"Mind if we use this case?" Reggie said, taking up the Count's little carry all. "We can use it as a kind of seat to transport the young lady to a more congenial location." The Count was clearly displeased, but said nothing and the men took his silence as assent.

In a trice, Caroline was whisked onto the case which the energetic gents raised as if to carry Cleopatra herself. Alice could not keep from clapping her hands in delight. To have her poor friend rescued so delightfully and unexpectedly from their predicament was a wonder to savour.

Caroline herself was a bit unnerved by the swiftness of the movement and the rocking motion of the well-meaning young centurions. Her pale green shade was approaching the colour of absinthe now and she convulsed suddenly, clutching her stomach.

"I feel…unwell," she murmured with as much dignity as it was possible to maintain, before suddenly and violently vomiting to the west.

"Bingo!" cried Bert.

"Heavens," said Reggie, "Awfully sorry."

The latter words were addressed to the Count who bore the brunt of the explosive ejection, itself a rather rancid ruby tint with small chunks of comestibles.

"Merde!" was all he said.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Alice cleared her throat, wondering what would be best to do. Sudden recognition struck her: she sounded just like her mother making the same noise. Was her mother doing the same thing – playing for time – when she produced that sound? Alice discovered a growing sense of surprise that there was much more to her mother than the scolding disciplinarian she had always known. Perhaps her mother had more to teach her than she had ever suspected.

A minute stab of homesickness struck Alice's heart.

Here on the overly warm beach of southern France, she very much missed the damp dreariness of home with its darkened rooms, stuffy conservatory and fussy garden. While on board the Demeter and then the Bonny Read, when home seemed irredeemably lost, Alice had not longed half as much for her distant home.

Yet safely in the hands of civilized folk and surely, soon to be on her way home – after all, Mrs. Forward had seen to it that a proper message had been sent to Alice's mother inquiring as to the preferred method of returning this wandering daughter safely – somehow Alice felt more at sea than she had even in the dark swirling waters of the raging ocean.

The heart was a rather unpredictable cauldron of emotions, Alice thought.

Perhaps it was just the effect of their present company. The Count's wolfish grin began to fill Alice with such a loathing that she found it impossible to chew her food and set the bread down on the rock beside her. She was alarmed to see Constance looking decidedly goggle-eyed and knew she must do something decisive.

"This heat is simply unbearable!" She said with a languor that belied her growing panic. "Count, would it be possible for you to arrange some sort of covering for us, perhaps a couple of those very large parasols?"

The look on his face genuinely frightened her, but within an instant it had been replaced by a bland expression allaying any sense of alarm. But Alice was not fooled. She knew she was working against time. "Oui, of course, mademoiselle. I shall send Tricheor to fetch the parasols. Tricheor!"

The servant so named wobbled slightly, uncertain whether to move under his burden or wait to be freed of it. After muttering somewhat darkly under his breath, the Count rose to remove the case from his menial's back and set it on the sand. With a peremptory gesture, he sent Tricheor off on his errand and turned back to the two young women.

Constance was looking a trifle pale. Alice did not like her shade. "Constance, are you feeling ill?" Her friend could only nod, suddenly looking a distinct shade of green. Alice moved to put her arm around her shoulders. With a sudden return of hope, she looked up to the Count with an expression her father would have recognized immediately.

"Monsieur, would you be so kind as to find some fresh water for my friend?"

Irritation spread across his countenance. Alice could see his struggle to master the occasion, but inevitably give in to his failure at this moment. "As you desire," he said with a curt bow, but before he could actually depart, Alice heard with alarm voices nearby.

They were about to be discovered!

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Alice cut some generous slices of the sweet soft bread. Even as she sliced through the creamy interior, she inhaled the fresh scent of its grains. Had food always been this good? Or had she only begun to notice such things since her dunking in the ocean. Alice shivered to think of the horrible voyage once she had been washed from the deck of the Bonny Read.

In that time, she had begun to fear that she would die upon the cresting waves. It was a wonder to sit here on the genteel strand and see the waves at a distance. For the moment, Alice found strength in the idea that she was safe and secure, despite her present company.

She sat up a little more straightly in her impromptu seat. "Count, please have a slice of bread. Constance?" Alice smiled comfortably, masking her discomfort. Constance was her responsibility and she felt compelled to protect her. The Count might be a completely benign character (although she had begun to suspect he was not), nonetheless, Alice felt a strong desire to keep Constance from the harm with which she was so clearly ill-prepared.

"What a lovely spot," Constance gushed, raising an eyebrow in the Count's countenance. His lip curled as well with an expression that suggested a measure of contempt to Alice's scrutiny.

"More wine, my dear?" The Count held the bottle at the ready for her friend. Alice noticed that Constance had indeed already imbibed her glass of wine. This would not do. Perhaps the young girl had not chanced to drink wine previously. Wine in large quantities, Alice had long ago discovered, led to drunkenness and loud speech. Both were objectionable in a man, but completely unforgivable in a young woman of breeding.

Something must be done.

"Constance, perhaps you should have a little more cheese and bread," Alice said sweetly, handing over another generous helping to her friend. The Count seemed to take this gambit into consideration as he poured Constance's glass.

"Tricheor," he said with a smile that reminded Alice of something like a crocodile, "Do fish around in my trunk for another bottle of wine. We seem to be getting near the end of this one." The crouching servant shambled over so the Count could rummage in the case balanced on the man's back.

Up close, Alice could see that Tricheor was sweating profusely and emitting a smell something like one of the less savoury cheeses they had passed up in the shop. Nonetheless, Alice felt a pang of pity for the man. Whatever had led him into the employ of the Count, surely he was suffering as much as one might in such a position.

"It's awfully warm today," Alice commented, filling the empty space of conversation with a perfectly suitable pleasantry. "I rather wish we had brought parasols along with us. I fear we may not spend long in this sun. It would be quite calamitous for our complexions."

"Never fear," the Count parried effortlessly. "I can always send Tricheor for some suitable coverings."

Alice heard the servant wheeze with effort as he adjusted his back from the Count's searching hands. Things were going to be more challenging than she had expected.