As Lexa expected, driving around the countryside turned out to be a considerably more entertaining outing now that Miss Griffin was present to give her a fresh perspective on all the greenery she knew much too well.
They were now comfortably sat in the back seat of a four wheeler, facing forward. In the absence of a driver, owing to Mrs. Collins' call on one of her close friends, Mr. Collins had been courteous enough to offer to drive the carriage for them. Lexa did not fail to notice a spark of defiance in Miss Griffin's eye upon first suggestion and she almost expected the woman to actually voice her displeasure. However, Miss Griffin's engaging blue eyes transformed almost instantaneously and she bowed in acceptance. For a moment the flash of her icy pale eyes appeared to Lexa as if Miss Griffin was conceding some sort of privilege.
“Alas, I am quite fond of horses and handling them, for a moment I was loathe to give up the opportunity.” Clarke explained her behaviour somewhat sheepishly. She felt green eyes on her almost constantly as if Miss Woods were analysing her and she felt a great desire to prove herself. To what end she had no notion but she felt it was quite necessary. “But of course Finn's generosity will allow me to indulge in the beauties the area has to offer.” She gave Miss Woods a warm smile, her eyes twinkling, as she explained her sudden change of heart. “And in the mean time we can better acquaint ourselves?”
“By all means.” Lexa replied without thinking much about it. She was quite taken with the young woman she just met. She was halfway up the carriage steps when she paused, wondering about the blonde woman's words. They seemed so innocent coming from her. Yet, had Mr. Collins said same thing she probably would have taken offence, assuming that he was being impolitely bold and attempting to take to undue liberties with her. 'How odd words are, that they should have so vastly different meaning merely because they had been uttered by different sexes.' The idea that men and women could mean such words in similar ways was quite inconceivable to Lexa, therefore she put the matter wholly out of her mind as she settled comfortably in the plush seat of the carriage. She arranged the many layers and folds of her dress neatly around herself as Miss Griffin sat down beside her, legs comfortably crossed at the knees, taking care to raise the leg that would be facing away from her dress.
“Finn, do you remember that secret place we once snuck off to when we were children?” Clarke asked when they stopped at a place that seemed suitable for a picnic. Childhood memories were flooding her mind and she longed to explore her old haunts. She stole a sideways glance at Miss Woods who was busy unfolding the blanket they had brought with them while she retrieved one of the picnic baskets from the storage space at the back of the carriage.
Her cousin had been tending to the horse when Clarke snapped him out of his own thoughts. He gave her a quizzical look as he raked his memories. “Vaguely” Finn said finally, a frown appearing between his eyebrows. “But I believe it is some distance away from here.” He said confidently as he hauled the other basket out of the trunk.
'Hmpf... some distance away...it would only be a short walk from the river not far away...' Clarke thought with some amusement, allowing a smirk to form on her lips.
“I also do not think that Miss Woods is appropriately dressed for such an excursion.” He added with some disapproval in his tone, almost as if he was displeased that his cousin would even bring up that memory. “Assuming that she would even be interested...” The finality of his tone implied that he had put the matter wholly out of question on authority of having known Miss Woods the longest of the two of them.
'Oh cousin....you are still an insufferable stickler for propriety I see....' Clarke thought sourly, recalling some less than pleasant memories from their childhood. She followed Finn silently towards Miss Woods whom they found comfortably sat on the blanket, her face turned slightly upwards to enjoy the warm rays of the sun hitting her skin.
“Oh I do hope the maid packed some of Samuel's delightful cheesecakes, I remember having been so fond of them whenever I visited” Clarke said excitedly as they started unpacking the baskets the kitchen maid had hastily prepared for them upon request.
To everyone's delight there were strips of cold roast beef, pieces of lamb, half a roast fowl, half a veal-and-ham pie, some lettuce and cucumbers on the side and even a small lobster. Clarke cringed her nose at the ugly looking red fruit of the sea but a sideways stolen glance in Miss Woods' direction told her that her new acquaintance was of a contrary opinion. She was sure she saw her eyes flash in delight when she saw the beast emerge from the basket. Clarke made sure that she placed it between Miss Woods and Finn, herself not caring much for seafood.
Further items were unpacked from stewed fruit to pastry biscuits, a small portion of cold plum pudding, some fresh fruits, various cheeses, breads and rolls, some butter and finally three pieces of cheesecake. Clarke clapped her hands once with enthusiasm and barely suppressed the noise of delight that threatened to spill from her lips. It had been years since she last attended a proper English picnic. The French altogether had very different ideas of a picnic. 'Not that those were bad...just so vastly different.'
When Clarke glanced at both of her companions she saw a restrained polite interest in Miss Woods' surveying eyes and a pleased smile spread across her cousins soft features. She had always found it remarkable how soft his jawline was, almost feminine. But what Finn's facial features lacked in angular masculinity he more than made up for with his presence and determination. Or so Clarke remembered from their childhood.
Finn was the first to grab the large cutting knife and he proceeded to cut chunky bits of the roast fowl and a piece of the veal pie. He passed over the vegetables altogether and turned his attention to the ridiculous looking red lobster situated at his elbow. After cutting the beast open he scooped a healthy portion of its belly onto his plate. After some hesitation his hand moved in the direction of the sea beast again and Clarke could not help but intervene. Although had she been cross-questioned she could not have immediately explained her reasoning.
“Cousin, surely you are not going to pass over Samuel's roast beef?” Clarke said, attempting to control the earnestness in her voice as she thrust the plate of beef stripes upon his person. “Here. I was served it yesterday, it is quite wonderful.” When she chanced a glance in Miss Woods' direction she saw the brunette had one of her eyebrows cocked, giving her a silent look before modestly looking away.
Clarke suddenly felt embarrassed at her actions and busied herself with her own plate, opting to secure one of the cheesecakes for herself early on. Afterwards, luncheon was a quiet affair. They made some pleasant remarks, praising the Collins' chef for his brilliant cooking skills. When it appeared that eating was drawing to a close the blonde spied that Miss Woods' had not touched her portion of the cheesecake but refrained from commenting, only sparing it a brief longing glance.
“Miss Griffin, you were so quick to praise the cheesecake, would you like the last piece?” Lexa asked, her voice laced with an innocent tone. “I wanted a taste after your fond recommendation but I dare say I overindulged on the lobster and plum pudding.”
Clarke looked at her in surprise for a moment but wrote it off as a happy coincidence and gladly accepted the offering
“Have we brought any cards with us?” Finn asked after he smoked his obligatory post-meal pipe. He was comfortably stretched along the blanket, his head resting near Miss Woods' ankles but taking care not to impose on her personal space. “We could play a few rounds of Snap if you are agreeable?” He asked, hope clearly written across his features.
'Ah, snap...yes, it was one of his favourite pastimes growing up.' Clarke remembered as she rummaged in the picnic basket to see if they were provided for with entertainment. To everyone's pleasure they were and they passed the next few hours playing amicably.
When it grew cold enough that Miss Woods was forced to adjust the shawl across her shoulders to fend off the cooling air Clarke was about to suggest perhaps packing up. She turned towards her cousin only to see him glancing in Miss Woods' direction as well and his eyes filled with recognition and compassion. He spoke up before she had the chance, coming to the same conclusion. 'Well...he may have been an oaf at luncheon but at least he is not neglecting his duty to care for his guest in other ways.'
Once they were all seated in the carriage Clarke suggested that Miss Woods might like to wrap the blanket around her shoulders as well, seeing how her shawl would likely not be protection enough against the wind of the carriage. When Miss Woods asked if she would like to share the blanket she politely declined, assuring her that her riding habit was more than well equipped to fend of the chill of the air.
They were well over halfway home when Lexa remembered something and scooted closer on the bench to be able to whisper into Miss Griffin's ear. “Thank you, Miss Griffin, for your kind intervention during luncheon. I am fairly sure Mr. Collins meant no harm but it was very considerate of you to save some of the lobster for me. I was especially grateful that you managed it without embarrassing the poor soul.” Lexa felt quite touched at her new friend's attentiveness and a surge of fondness overcame her.
“You are quite welcome, Miss Woods. It was mere chance that I spotted your look of delight when I took it out of the basket and wanted to make sure you were not disappointed. My cousin must have missed your excitement. But you have more than repaid my kindness when you offered me your cheesecake.” Clarke offered Miss Woods an explanation that would excuse her cousin as well.
After their exchange the ride home was a quiet affair and there was not much time for pleasantries for Finn was adamant that he would take Miss Woods home himself after he stopped by the gate to drop Clarke off. Knowing when she was being dismissed Clarke obliged and dismounted the carriage, somewhat saddened by the end of the pleasant outing. Her sullen mood was somewhat alleviated when Miss Woods quickly presented her with a visiting card and impressed upon Clarke her desire for their continued friendship, entreating her to visit quite soon at Woodfield.