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The look on his face genuinely frightened her, but within an instant it had been replaced by a bland expression allaying any sense of alarm.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!