“So... my niece tells me that you have been studying abroad in an establishment for talented young women?” Sir Gustus prompted a more serious discussion after tea had been brought in and pleasantries had been exchanged.
Lexa spied the smallest of flickers in Miss Griffin's eyelashes as she hurriedly took a sip of her tea, quite possibly to compose herself for an answer. She made a mental note to observe her new acquaintance's facial expressions more closely to ascertain what that flicker meant for in her experience it most often belied confusion or deception. 'Miss Griffin did not seem like the kind prone to deception... I wonder....'
“Well, it was not so much an establishment but rather a private tutor” Miss Griffin explained in a composed tone. “My father has a very close friend on the continent who took an interest in my education.”
Lexa was aware that she was staring at their guest with an interest that perhaps seemed almost inappropriate but she felt herself inexplicably incapable of tearing her eyes away. 'There it was again. That quick flicker of her lashes when she blinks too rapidly. I must know what is causing it.' Lexa thought. Momentarily distracted, she just barely managed to make use of the short spell of silence and speak up before her uncle did.
“Uncle Gustus, do be a dear and ring for Ryder please?* I very much wish to go outside into the fresh air.” Lexa entreated, hopeful that her show of enthusiasm for the fresh air would, if not necessarily distract, but at least persuade her uncle to refrain from cross-questioning Miss Griffin.
Uncle Gustus' heavy gaze only settled on Lexa for a moment before he nodded slowly, seemingly making up his mind, and he rang for Ryder. Lexa chanced a glance in Miss Griffin's direction who tactfully pretended to preoccupy herself with buttering a scone while her hosts exchanged words. She noted a strained determination in her eyes as she appeared to be entirely focused on spreading the appropriate amount of butter perfectly over the top of the scone, quite clearly avoiding returning the gaze she would have otherwise seen turned in her direction.
“Miss Griffin, I hope a bit of fresh air sounds agreeable to you?” Lexa asked in order to break the silence before it became too uncomfortable. “My uncle is quite adamant that I never get enough of it and I just agreed to indulge his desire today before you called. I would be quite happy if you would accompany me for a short tour around our grounds.” Lexa offered not so subtly highlighting the fact that she wished only the two of them to go.
Clarke felt herself relax and she was sure that there were visible signs she could not prevent her hosts from seeing. Her shoulders slumped somewhat as tension suddenly left them and strive as she might she could not help exhale the breath she had been unconsciously holding in. She hoped that she at least managed the latter in a somewhat collected manner.
“By all means, Miss Woods.” Clarke replied, politely smiling and nodding. “I have heard about your lovely grounds from my cousin quite a bit.” She felt grateful for the change of topic. In yet another bid to stall for time she gently bit into her previously buttered scone. Adverse as she was to social games she far from inept at them. She knew that she had just allowed her opportunity to steer the conversation to her liking to pass, choosing to put her faith in Miss Woods to come to her rescue again.
Lexa acknowledged Miss Griffin's acceptance with an automatic smile that didn't quite reach her eyes which were, to her confusion, fixated on the way the blonde woman's lips gingerly wrapped around the scone for a moment. Dismissing the odd way Miss Griffin's movements seemed to distract her as a symptom of truly needing fresh air she quickly collected herself and stood from the armchair she had been occupying.
Both young women had been infinitely relieved when Sir Gustus declined the necessarily extended invitation to join them on their stroll, although they would later find that their motivations had been entirely different. Lexa knew that her uncle would likely prefer to continue with his reading where he left off seeing how she had kept him from it all afternoon. It was her great fortune that her uncle was such a man of regular habits. She dearly wished to secure a moment of privacy with Miss Griffin for by this time a dread had formed in pit of her stomach regarding what she perceived as possible conceit. She absolutely needed to sort out any falsehood before she allowed any emotional attachment to form with her new acquaintance.
Clarke, on her part, was simply relieved that her interrogation by Sir Gustus, as well-meaning as it was, would not continue. She desperately hated lying about her education but it was the one condition on which her mother would allow her to escape her sight.
“Miss Griffin” Lexa said eventually, when they had wandered a safe distance away from the house. He tone was somewhat sharp for she marshalled her emotions to a calm collectedness before addressing the problem she assumed was at hand. “Kindly correct me if I am wrong but I perceived a degree of nervousness in your person that I did not see during our previous encounter. Your eyes appeared to have twitched quite nervously when my uncle asked about your time in France.” She stated her case with uncanny precision but attempted to force some degree of warmth into her voice lest she should offend the young woman now staring at her with wide eyes. “I may be entirely wrong and you might perceive me to be quite beastly for being so blunt.” She added almost apologetically. “Or else I might be quite out of bounds to ask for such intimate details about your character but I really must know. Is there some sort of secret in your history that must be concealed?”
Clarke had not seen this turn of events coming and she was shocked by the brunette's forwardness. She felt infinitely fortunate when Sir Gustus seemed to have approved of their friendship and anticipated a pleasant walk with the wonderful creature she was growing so fond of. She couldn't decide if the fact that Miss Woods caught onto her telling facial expressions made her admire the woman or be weary of her keen eyes. 'Well... I assume now would be the appropriate time to come clean to her if I expect this friendship to go any further.'
Lexa had taken the long minute of silence from Miss Griffin as a sign that she may have taken offence. She contemplated whether she had the right to interrogate this unknown woman standing in front of her. It was certainly not unheard of for people of higher rank to want to make sure that any lady they were allowing into their good graces was of a reputable nature. However, in her desire to avoid another scandal Lexa realized that she may have overstepped. Just as she was about to apologize, however, Miss Griffin spoke up.
“There is. Not by my own desire, however.” Clarke said, deciding that bravery and honesty made her character more commendable than pride. “My mother. My mother is ashamed of my education and wishes to keep its details well-hidden from people connected to her family.” Clarke said solemnly. She herself was certainly not ashamed of it and she decided to put on a brave face. If her new friend was to disappoint her by sharing her mother's sentiments it was all the better that she find out about it early in the acquaintanceship.
Lexa blinked several times in surprise. It was certainly not the answer she had anticipated. Her wild imagination had conjured images of a dark secret, possibly a wrong done either to or by Miss Griffin that necessitated her departure from the islands. The fact the woman was forced into deceiving her family's acquaintances over something as mundane as education made her blood suddenly boil. 'God, why must you will womankind to suffer the inequalities of our society so...'
“My apologies, Miss Griffin. I did not mean to intrude upon your privacy. I have to admit that my imagination ran away with me and I anticipated something horrid must be forcing you to a life of deception.” Lexa said sincerely, gently laying her hand on the other woman's arm.
Clarke noted with some interest that the genuine tone of Miss Woods had a calming effect on her incensed mood despite the slight offensiveness of what she was actually revealing. She found herself smiling at the brunette woman and felt the playfulness of it reach her eyes.
“Well, Miss Woods. How about we continue our walk and I will tell you all the decidedly boring details of my conundrum... if you promise to tell me the horrid things you had imagined of me.” She said the last words with a toothy grin and she could feel mischief bringing her eyes to life.
Clarke couldn't help the incredulous laughter that bubbled from her lips as Miss Woods revealed to her that she fairly imagined her to have committed a very gross indecency. She also noted that Miss Woods had the good grace to at least blush a very flattering shade of red upon her admission. Being the middle of summer the sun still high enough in the sky to provide them with warmth and light and the way the sun's rays danced on the expanse of Miss Woods' cascade of dark hair made for an attractive contrast.
“Really, Miss Woods? A pregnancy? And with a married man, no less?” Clarke asked, laughter and disbelief still colouring her voice but there was definitely mirth in it as well.
“I did apologise for my unruly imagination, Miss Griffin.” Lexa answered somewhat sheepishly. “I will admit that I may be guilty of overindulging in the romance novels found in my uncle's library.”
Clarke's laughter bubbled again for she knew quite well the type of novels her friend seemed to enjoy. The ghastly things were extremely long and the ladies were always in so much extreme trouble it was a wonder any prince could measure up to the challenge of saving their beloved ladies.
“My life if certainly not all that exciting, Miss Woods.” Clarke eventually said. “My father is a very kind-hearted man and a great thinker. He is very much ahead of our time and believed that if I enjoyed learning I should be allowed to do it.” She began her story and noted that Miss Woods whole demeanour completely changed. She sat up on the blanket they shared and leaned a little closer, rapt with attention.
“I wanted to learn anatomy but my mother would not hear of it. She fretted that me having an education would make me unmarriable.” Clarke said sourly. “Father was supportive of my desires and when Girton college was opened he was open to enrolling me. A proper education in anatomy was of course still impossible but I would have been allowed to take some classes. Mother, however, was all in tears about it. I'm told words were exchanged and the compromise was that I would tell everyone that I've been studying in France under a private tutor. And by everyone I mean my mother included.”
The mirth they had shared minutes ago melted under the heavy weight of Clarke's words. She saw how Miss Woods' forest green eyes filled with compassion and empathy. The brunette scooted closer and draped an arm around her shoulder in a show of solidarity.
“I am truly sorry, Miss Griffin. I will not pretend to have even the faintest idea of what that must feel like, being forced to keep secrets from your own mother. Not only because I do not remember mine but also because I am quite blessed with uncle Gustus.” Lexa said.
“Miss Griffin?” Clarke questioned the use of her name in such a formal way. Her general countenance was still filled with sorrow but there was also a shy smile pulling at her lips. “With your leave, I would consider ourselves past beyond such formalities? Clarke will do.” She offered hopefully.
“Only if you will call me Lexa in return.” Lexa said with an answering smile of her own. “And never Alexandra.” She added with a roll of her eyes.
“Thank you, Lexa.” Clarke said warmly, raising her hand to squeeze the one on the end of the arm still draped over her shoulders.
“Thank you, Clarke. For trusting me despite me coming after you so bluntly.” Lexa said, her fingers tightening around Clarke's in return. It was a good day in Lexa's books for she had made a new friend, one who was not only vastly entertaining but also seemed to be of very sound character.