(A need for calm, A walk in the garden, Lights and bushels, and A kiss returned)
He still paced, and oscillated, but at least he was less frenetic about it. Both his alliterative babbling and the word 'dummins' had ceased escaping his lips.
"Oh, Colonel," she sighed. "It's all right, now. She's gone. You're safe."
"That... That was... That was..." He fumbled. He finally allowed himself to rest. Slumping in his chair. "That was completely unhygienic." A shuddering breath. "She utterly put me off my food, I'm sorry."
"Maybe a walk in the sunshine might settle you," she suggested, tidying everything onto the trolley.
"Not on the streets! Not alone!" Colonel Walter blurted much too fast and much too loud. "I'm never leaving this house on my own ever again."
The worst thing she could ever to do him, right now, was laugh at him. Or call his concerns unjustified. Or, frankly, to do anything the Admiral his father had done to him for his entire life. "How about a turn around the gardens?" she suggested. "And I can walk with you."
"Oh yes," he said, measurably relieved. "There's always less to worry about when you're around."
He was, of course, at the wrong height to give her his elbow. She'd have had to promenade alongside him whilst looking like she was riding the train. Therefore, he held her hand. They walked in silence through several scenes and past some statuary. Along the paths, some of which lead to obscure corners of the estate.
"The Admiral my father hates gardens," said Colonel Walter out of the blue. "He says they're for women to look at. I don't know why."
"Your father is a perplexing man," allowed Iris. "His views on gender are... frankly baffling."
He chuckled at that. "Yes. He boggles the mind." He paused to smell one of the flowers. "I don't even know where he got it from. My grandad was the kindest, gentlest soul. Patient and understanding... And by all accounts, my grandmother was so sweet that she almost perspired candy."
Iris giggled. "Perhaps he's the black sheep of the family?" Then she remembered that Colonel Walter preferred terms of science. "A statistical outlier, or some other negligible anomaly."
He turned and stared at her as if he were seeing her for the first time. A tiny mote of his former spark had finally returned to his amazingly blue eyes. "Miss Iris, have you been hiding your light under a bushel?"
O, to be warmed by that gentle twinkle for the rest of her life... Iris felt her blush begin, and his one kiss burn anew. "Colonel, I have been taking dictation from you for some small time, now. It's only a matter of course that I would absorb some of the terminology."
"And did you have something to do with The Spine's sudden clarity of speech?"
Iris stood pinned to the spot. The twinkle in his eye said that he was pleased. The severity of his tone and words said that she might have taken liberties. "I thought it needed to be done. Most of the oil you buy for them goes dripping out his mouth. I had a look at the issue, and tried to reason a fix. I didn't mean any harm by it..."
He whisked her over to a stone bench, sitting her on one corner and himself at the other. Then he leaned towards her so their faces were even. His tiny twinkle had grown into a definite spark. "Tell me everything. Your exact procedure."
Iris was dimly aware of a flash of binoculars from one of the windows. The Admiral was watching. She inwardly prayed that he would never hear about Miss Beauregard and her disastrous visit. She let herself become captivated by Colonel Walter's sparkling eyes and took a deep breath.
Explained how she used his lab equipment to pinpoint a leak in one of The Spine's lubricant pipes, and reasoned that it needed to remain flexible so he could move his head. Told him how she used his scientific library to research the making and patching of rubber. How she mixed his chemicals and her knowledge of physic to make a form of rubber bandage. And how, with the memories of him fixing them up in the first place, she took off The Spine's jaw to not only patch the problem, but eliminate the cause.
Face burning, heart sore, Iris finished with, "Please forgive me if I've taken too many liberties." She told herself that helping The Spine would catch his notice. And now that it had, she was unsure if it was benevolent.
"Liberties? Liberties? Miss Iris, I have been trying to unriddle how to fix that leak since the day it began. And you did it all while I was out lecturing. Independent study. Applied learning. You have a quick mind to match those quick hands. You simply must write two monographs as soon as you can!"
And once again, the Colonel had foxed the Admiral's plans for legacy progeny. But the Admiral would also see what he wanted to see, what with the two of them walking hand in hand, or sitting like that on the bench. Heads so close. Just a lean away from a chaste kiss.
Impulse made her lean, and lightly lay her lips against his cheek. A quick little peck, lighter than a butterfly.
All his breath left him in a slow hiss between his teeth. His eyes wide and startled. His expression much like that of a fish out of water. "Miss Iris... Whatever was that for?"
She smiled for just him. The Admiral would never see it. "Colonel Walter, I can not help but find you increasingly delightful." She stood, still blushing, and coaxed him off the bench. "Let's go begin those monographs."