After fielding the inquiry regarding British flora, Alice was pelleted with further questions on collars, horse racing, quince jelly recipes and fireworks, which she answered with as much knowledge and good will as she could muster, however little that might be (particularly in the case of fireworks of which she could claim no knowledge whatsoever). She at last made an escape from the knot of well-meaning if entirely too boisterous young men by claiming the role of friend to young Constance who suffered yet.
The young men graciously gave way while visibly admiring Alice's gentle and caring spirit. Alice herself was relieved to no longer face the firing line of rapid-fire questions about trivial matters that once enraptured her shallow heart.
Once again she felt a pang of longing for her parted cousin. Where, oh where could dear Lizzie be at this moment? Was she already home and safe back in Mangrove Hall? When would she at last join her there?
Mrs. Forward had written to her mother, so in all likelihood the time would come with appreciable suddenness, but at present Alice felt an entirely understandable longing for safety, comfort and cocoa that all heroines must sooner or later encounter.
Alice was pleased to note that Constance was looking more like her usual self. Under the overly energetic fanning of her companions she had recovered her lively colour and some animation. It was a relief to see her friend looking like herself again.
"Alice," she called out, catching sight of her friend. "There you are."
Alice smiled seraphically as she had once seen Lady Hibbert do when the chrysanthemums had reached their peak of perfection on a warm summer day, although her heart was yearning to be immersed in just such a day instead of here on this harsh foreign strand. She could take comfort in the thought that her unexpected travels were near an end.
"Whatever will Mother say?" Constance whispered fearfully when at last Alice was within close confines with the fluttering younger girl. "Should she know?"
Alice hesitated before answering, which allowed the seemingly always attentive Reggie to offer an opinion.
"If you do not mind my saying so, Miss," he said with an air of confidentiality that in no way presupposed any untoward familiarity, "It may be helpful to point out some persons of interest in this somewhat unruly crowd."
"Indeed," Alice responded, hoping she included precisely the right balance of polite disregard and fervid interest in her tone.
"Yes, over there," Reggie nodded indicating a pallid youth of ungainly proportions, "You will see young Viscount Brackley and over there," he turned to indicate a rather toothy individual hard at work at the buffet table, "you will find Sir Eliot Walter, a baronet, as is our friend Bertie, known in polite circumstances as Sir Bertram Thomas."
"How enlightening, you are, Reggie," Alice said with genuine warmth. "We are much obliged. Thank you."
"A delight, I assure you," Reggie said with ease as he glided away into the throng.
A most useful man, Alice reflected. She decided it would be most advantageous to know the whole of his name and write him gracious words of thanks when she returned home.
Before she could rise to pursue the question further, Alice felt an unpleasant tug at her hem and turned to see the objectionable Tricheor scraping away at a grovel. She tried unsuccessfully to disguise her revulsion at the sight of his abjectness, but at last inquired somewhat sharply, "Yes, what is it?"
Tricheor scraped even lower and said, "My master bids you attend him for a swift moment outside."
"Why does he not come in?" Alice said shortly.
"He wishes to return an item belonging to your friend that ah, how do you say, would be best returned without scrutiny."
Alice was both puzzled and alarmed. What on earth could Constance have dropped on the beach? Better not to contemplate, she thought with a sudden blanch. "All right."
Tricheor led her to an opening in the side of the tent. Out in the bright midday sun, Alice blinked uncertainly and lifted up a hand to shade her eyes.
All at once, every thing went black as a gunny sack was slipped over her head and hasty hands propelled her forward. Alice heard the sound of horses as she was thrust into a carriage roughly, the door slammed shut behind her.
"Kidnapped again," she thought with surprising sanguinity. "Will this ordeal never end?"