(Miss Iris learns the ropes, That which needs fixing, The dreadful sandwich, and The cheeky copper head)
Iris scurried after Mrs Cambridge, skirts held fast in both hands.
"No doubt he's told you not t' do something 'til you're fixed somehow. You can forget about that with me."
"Said I shouldn't talk, m'm. Said me accent needed fixin'."
"Uhuh. Irish. There's those who lord it over any they see as lesser, and our master the Admiral has an entire list of lessers. This whole family has something wrong with them."
And if that wasn't reason for dread, then there was the cellar. It was dark, cold, and miserable. The servant's quarters were tiny little closets with barely enough room for the rather stingy bed and, with some physical flexibility, one person to shuffle from one end of the closet to the other. There was a miserly shelf at one end of the bed and a nail for a hook at the other.
"This is yours," said Mrs Cambridge. I hope you don't have much worth keeping. There's no room and the doorman's a relentless thief."
"Ain't got nowt left but what I got on, m'm," Iris confessed. "Sold it all f'r food."
"Hnf," said Mrs Cambridge. She strode for a different closet and returned with a bundle of black and white. "This should fit. Used to be another maid your size as worked for us."
"...what happened to her?"
"The Admiral fired her in disgrace for marrying the stable boy."
Oh. Of course. He wanted grandchildren. Any maid who went off with anyone else was not obeying the Admiral's orders. Iris realised with sinking dread that she would have to be more careful about how she tread in this house than she'd ever tread before.
She had two weeks to work out what to do about her precarious situation.
"What are my duties... Upstairs?"
"The young master doesn't need much. Make sure he eats regular, gets his sleep and bathes. He gets caught up, you see. Wrapped up in his odd fancies. He's harmless. For the most part."
None of this inspired any confidence in Iris. Neither did the uniform. She hadn't worn a skirt that short since she was a child! She did her best not to catch alight from her own mortification as she emerged into the main kitchen. There, she couldn't help but notice, all the women who were young and pretty enough wore the same short skirts.
Mrs Cambridge did all the talking. "This is Miss Iris, the new hire for him upstairs. She's very shy."
Iris nodded eagerly, keeping her gaze solidly on her saviour.
"You start simple, Miss Iris. Just take the tray up to the young master on the top floor. Tom will show you how the elevator works."
One look at Tom was all she needed to tell that her new Master hired exclusively from the greater pool of the desperate and starving. He saluted Mrs Cambridge and gestured for Iris to follow.
Iris curtsied to the maid who gave her the covered tray, and Mrs Cambridge, and to Tom before she scurried along to the elevator. Tom marched smartly along, despite his uniform being a trifle too large for his skinny frame. And once they were both within the ominous cage, he kept his eyes firmly upwards.
Iris didn't need to guess out loud that his uniform's former occupant had been fired for ogling the scantily clad maids. He even turned to face the controls when it was her turn to leave.
The Admiral had not been lying when he said that his son had taken over the top floor. Everywhere was strange cables and mysterious, twitching clock faces, half blacked out with tape and coloured with paint.
She peeked through open doorways to find scenes from out of the Penny dreadfuls. Benches and shelves full to the brim with bizarre gadgets and preserved pieces of the dead.
After four such chambers, the household clocks chiming midday gave her such a start that she yelped. Only clocks. Not monsters or fiends in the dark shadows.
"In here," said a distant voice. "Third door due south."
She assumed he meant in the direction she was already going, and fortune decreed she was right for a change. Though fortune did not declare that Iris earn respite from the terrifying contents.
This room contained a veritable charnel house of body parts, all in metal. Including an eerie copper skull hooked up to more cables on one bench. Its startling blue eyes swivelled to watch her and it chirped a wolf whistle.
She almost didn't see the man until he spoke.
"Ignore my experiment. One of the staff taught it that. Put the tray on the little table. Thanks."
Iris tried to find it. The entire room was awash with notebooks and loose pieces of paper and metal body parts and grimy tools. "Er...." She said.
"Uh oh," said the head. "Uh oh!"
The young master turned in his chair to reveal not a very young master at all. He was Thirty if he was a day! All over grease and ink and quite haggard from lack of sleep. "Oh dear. Yes." He rose from his desk.
He untangled himself from his desk. Unfolded like a yardstick to reveal a gangling giant of at least six feet in height.
"Terribly sorry," he said, and scooped an entire pile of mess off of what must have been the little table. He deposited the pile on top of a steel rib cage and wiped his hands on what was once a white coat.
She blocked his access to the covered tray and folded her arms. Evidently, her first job was to teach this man some manners.
"What?" He took a moment before he realised the reason for her glare. "Oh! Yes. I should wash, yes?"
Iris gave him a 'good boy' nod.
Iris had once paid a penny to see a newborn giraffe at the zoo. The young master's panicked scrambling reminded her of that junior beast lolloping after its more graceful mother. She waited in her place, following the young master's progress by the symphony of his collisions with random, unstable piles of gizmos and gadgets.
This entire floor needed a few decades worth of spring cleanings.
The crashing cacophony of the young master's return gave her enough time to wipe the smirk off her face and ensure a stern affect. Just in time for him to present both clean white coat and pristine hands.
The clothing visible underneath left much to be desired, but this much was a start. Iris moved his chair to the table and seated him. What laid underneath the silver cover was... Two sandwiches, each made with slices of horsebread, and a small pot of coffee with a clean cup.
Iris stepped back and took a more careful look at the piles around the room. She spotted at least five cups and half a dozen plates. Which meant there were many more lurking in the other piles. Iris began to tidy the papers into a neat stack near the head. Which repeatedly attempted to wink at her.
The young master glared at it and rumbled, "Behave yourself."
The head grumbled incoherently and shut its eyes. Sulking. Iris let it sulk and continued her work on the young master's mess. She got as far as three piles in and five cups and plates uncovered, before the young master noticed anything.
"What the--?" He said, mouth full of sandwich and coffee. "Hey! Whoa, there. I have a system!"
Iris, forbidden from talking, picked up the stack of plates and a handful of filthy cups and raised her eyebrow at him.
"Oh. Um. Right. Those... aren't part of the system." He tackled another hunk of sandwich. "Maybe a little tidying might... be in order."
She gave him another 'good boy' nod. And tried not to wince as he crammed the last of his sandwiches into his mouth and chased it with the last of his coffee. At least he left the tray so she could take everything back.
Mrs Cambridge was happy to see the crockery. "Now there's something I like to see. Last maid was terrified of upstairs and ran for her life. Lost three trays to that mess before I caught on and sent her up with just the plate and a cup. No doubt the trays are now part of some mechanical monstrosity."
There was no-one else around, so she whispered, "I'll still try to find them."
"Bless you, Miss Iris." Mrs Cambridge bestowed a rare smile on her and added, "Since you want to perform miracles, maybe you can try getting the young master presentable for dinner. The Admiral prefers formal attire, even at private meals."
The Admiral was starting to sound like a world class bully.