(Miss Verity Ponsonbury, The wrong kind of beast, The wrong kind of babies, and A flight in tears)
Miss Verity Ponsonbury smiled her airy smile as she tried her hardest to work out what was going on. Her dear Papa, Sir Etherington Ponsonbury, had received a letter that morning that had made him very happy indeed.
Papa had spent a majority of the morning insisting that Verity put on her very best grownup dress - she had been saving it for her debutante dance and Coming Out party - and had her hair dressed especially for a grand occasion.
But it was weeks, yet, until her eighteenth birthday.
Then he spent the majority of the coach ride talking to her about fairy tales and princes in disguise. And about how it was every princess's duty to become a mother and a queen in her new home. And, as they pulled up to the dark facade of Walter Manor, how the Colonel Walter was more of an absent-minded scientist than a mad one.
And then she was introduced to the Admiral Walter, and she got fascinated by the whatnots in the drawing room as her dear Papa and the Admiral discussed business. Well, she assumed it was business. There was no mention princesses or fairy tales, nor anything resembling a wicked curse.
Therefore, Verity engrossed herself with the curios and souvenirs, or gained fascination with the silk and feather flowers in their ornate vases. Then, once so invited, she sat and took tea and tried to stay afloat in a conversation that she didn't have a dream of fathoming.
She concentrated mostly on sitting properly and sipping like a lady and trying her utmost to not infinitely repeat, "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, good sir," as the conversation drifted aimlessly between how many siblings she had, whether she was prone to hysteria, and what childhood diseases she had survived.
She was right in the middle of explaining how fresh, country air had frequently spared her from any city plagues when the Admiral Walter rang a bell and roared for a Mrs Clambridge. Verity spared a moment to whisper, "Was I being dull, Papa?"
"Not in the slightest," reassured her dear Papa. "Admiral Walter's being a teensy bit rude. Don't mind him, he's set in his ways. It's the son you have to train. Just like Beauty and her Beast."
She rather imagined a burly lion of a man, unkempt and needing a fair maiden's gentle attentions.
What she got was a gawky giraffe who bumped his head on the lintel. He laughed about it and mumbled, "Forgot to duck, this time." He had a slightly concussed smile and staggered about like a drunkard before collapsing into a chair and cramming four cookies into his mouth at once. "Didn't have lunch," he said around his mastication. "The Admiral my father says my sandwiches aren't for company."
"Your sandwiches aren't for humans," rumbled the Admiral. "Remember your manners, boy."
But before this stretched-out giant could possibly remember any manners at all, a maid poked her head into the room and announced, "The babies are here."
Verity had enough time to coo, "Oh, I simply adore babies," before twin metal monsters edged through the doorway. The silver one clung to the copper one, and both chirped and chittered like birds arguing with squirrels. The silver one had menacingly sharp-looking chimneys emerging from its back like a dinosaur's spikes.
Colonel Walter seemed immensely proud. "Father, Sir Ponsonbury, Miss Ponsonbury... I am proud to introduce Rabbit and The Spine. The very first of my musical metal men." He grinned like a proud father and added, "My boys."
"I Rabbit," said the copper one. It winked at Verity. Sort of. And then it whistled in what she was certain was a very rude manner. "Nice head. Wannit." It was on her in two steps and immediately tangled its fingers in her hair.
Verity screamed as she tried to extract herself from the monster's grip. Yet the machine twisted her about.
"Where bolts, Pappy?"
The Spine clung fast to dear Papa's chair and burbled nonsense through bubbles of leaking oil.
Colonel Walter had leaped up and was trying to discourage Rabbit. "Rabbit, no dear. We do not take apart people. Let's get your fingers out of there. You're scaring her."
"Wannit," argued the copper monster. "Pretty."
"Yes, Miss Ponsonbury does have very pretty hair, Rabbit. But it's stuck on tight and you should not be trying to get it loose. Let. Her. Go!"
The instant he had her free, Verity fled for the safety of her dear Papa's arms. Silver monster or no silver monster. Why, she very nearly threw a fit.
"Take me home, Papa," she bawled. "I'm frightened and I want to go home."
Admiral Walter was bellowing rage at his son. Dear Papa was hollering at the Admiral about this entire debacle. Colonel Walter was rather sternly ordering the copper monster to stand in the corner like a naughty child.
And the terrifying silver dinosaur man crawled into a different corner to emit a constant whine.
"I do apologise on their behalf, Miss Ponsonbury," said Colonel Walter through the ruckus. "They are very new to the world, and... I couldn't very well leave them on their own. They're both just hours old and they need me."
Miss Verity Ponsonbury summoned all her strength and the most uncivil words she knew. "To the devil with you and your metal monsters! I sincerely hope that I never see any of you for the rest of my life!"
Admiral Walter was still roaring at his son as dearest Papa carried her away to the safety of their carriage. And she wept bitterly all the way home.
It would be many years before she saw either Colonel Walter or his machines again. Years in which she became safely married to a much more stable and staid gentleman who adored her. And one day treated the entire family to an automaton show.
There, she saw much better behaved automatons, who played and sang and cracked jokes. And made her usually solemn daughter smile and sing along. That was the miracle that finally made her forgive them and Colonel Walter, too.