As they approached the gaily colorful tent, Alice could divine that there was already a considerable crowd within from the vigorous conversation that bubbled across the strand to her ears. Again she blanched at the thought of exposing poor Constance to such a throng (and to so much potential irregularities of politeness) but there was little hope for avoiding it.
Besides, anything was preferable to their close encounter with the Count. Alice sneaked a glance in his direction and was pleased to see that he was perspiring freely and looking rather worse for the travel. Suits him, she thought with a measured toss of her head. She was more certain than ever that he had been about nefarious intentions.
"Hey ho!" One of the celebrants within had noticed the approach of their inelegant train. "Reggie, what's this?"
"Rescue mission, lads, with some of our finest flowers here," Reggie nodded to indicate Alice, at which she colored up prettily. It was very pleasant to be receiving compliments again.
"And this one?" another asked appearing to indicate the faltering Constance. "A bit tap-hackled, eh?"
"Sick as a cushion," Reggie affirmed as they looked around for a place to set their burden. "Too much sun, poor little gel."
Alice was very grateful to the steady young man who even at that moment was helping his boisterous colleagues to lower Constance next to a reasonably comfortable looking chair. She smiled at him to show her approval, but he was too busy settling her friend into the chair to see her approval. Alice could not help but think that it was rather irritating to try to do something nice for someone and not have them notice, but she decided that she would not hold it against their rescuer, and thus made another stride into the frightening world of adulthood.
Had she known, Alice would have backed away at once, but it is in the nature of these things that we seldom notice the steps until they have long passed into memory.
Because her friend was still sagging with exhaustion and illness, curious eyes turned upon Alice for answers to burning questions. While they were far too mindful of propriety to ask the direct question, "Who are you?" they had no problem asking embarrassing questions like "Are collars worn looser this year in Bath?" and "Have you a lace edged handkerchief with Belgian lace?"
Alice found herself beset on all sides by eager young men, which in other circumstances (a genteel drawing room or an overly warm solarium) might have proved quite enjoyable, but at that moment was quite suffocating.
"Enough, enough," Reggie at last intervened. Having sorted out Constance with a bevy of enthusiastic admirers fanning her -- indeed they were well in the way of putting her in some danger of being blown off course -- he turned his attentions to Alice and her circle of well-intended interlocutors. "You must proceed one at a time and wait a sufficient time for an answer before advancing to the next question.
Alice smiled gratefully up at him and was gratified to see him notice.
It is hard work being a heroine, she sighed to herself before turning her attention to the young man inquiring as to the state of morning glories back in their native land.