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.