(The happy mask of an angry man, A need for more than legacy, Taking a stand, and Going to feed the ducks)
Iris was glad she had finished the current document that the Colonel had dictated. The Admiral's booming greeting nearly scared her out of her skin.
Especially since it was a genial, "There you are, my dear boy," he cheered as if Colonel Walter was a favoured rich relative. "So nice to see this place coming to order. And I see Miss Iris is helping you. Marvellous, marvellous. You've made such helpful automatons."
Colonel Walter nearly fell out of his chair to stand at attention and blurted out, "Aye, sir."
Iris put her pen down and escorted Three away from the Admiral. "Thank you for being so very helpful. The others are in the music room. You can go and play, now."
Three ran off with a cheerful whoop. He was safe from the Admiral, for now. Iris returned to the scientific library, where the Admiral was still trying to butter up Colonel Walter.
"I've always admired your capacity for invention, son," the Admiral cooed. Startling Colonel Walter into a corner. "You know me. I don't like being at anyone's mercy. Depending on Mrs Clambridge for everything? It's a nightmare. All I ask for is a little convenience."
Iris, standing behind the basket chair, urgently caught Colonel Walter's attention and equally urgently made no-no motions. She could instantly picture what the Admiral would be like if he had mobility.
Colonel Walter was evidently pondering the same image. He eyed the Admiral with clear suspicion. "Sir, you have never been this benevolent to me in your life. Ma even told me that you wanted to engineer a case of crib death because I looked weak. I do believe that this is the first time I've ever seen you smile at me."
"Bygones, dear boy. There was a revelation. I need you..."
Light dawned on Colonel Walter's face. "That's why you're playing nice. You need me for more than your legacy. You want what you can get and nothing more. The instant you get it? You'll be back to your old ways and despising me again."
The Admiral laughed in a genial fashion. The most fake laugh that Iris had ever heard. "Nonsense, dear boy. Nonsense. Of course I'll be grateful. We need each other..."
Colonel Walter almost fell for it. Almost listened to the words and not the intent. He caught himself up short and rang for Mrs Cambridge.
The Admiral's demeanour changed in an instant. From sunny pleasantness to vile hatred. "You mutinous whelp, I was right to try and strangle you in the crib. Weakling waste of skin and air! I only wish I had succeeded! Useless! You're useless! I should cut you off without a penny!"
"That would require leaving your fortune to charity, sir. Charity which you despise." He made a show of tidying himself and standing apart from both wall and furniture. "Might I suggest my dear sister Penelope's hospital? She could live out her days in relative comfort. For a change."
And here Iris was, thinking that Colonel Walter was the last survivor of his family. A sudden sister in a hospital meant something that the Admiral likely saw as shameful. Something disfiguring or disabling, no doubt. Maybe both.
"To hell with you both," he snarled. "I knew I should have started fresh with another wife."
"You can't," said Colonel Walter. "You're still married to Lady Ebigail, as I recall. Can't be seen to divorce her, can you. Even though she ran away inside of two weeks worth of matrimonial bliss."
"You want dirty laundry, boy? I could tell them all about your so-called friend Thaddeus. What I caught the two of you at?"
"Why, father," singsonged Colonel Walter, "that would sabotage any of your plans to have heirs at all."
The Admiral fell to insults fit to turn the air blue. His face went quite red, more so when Mrs Cambridge appeared to wheel him out of the area. Colonel Walter stood stock still until the last traces of the old man's voice were gone.
"...oh god..." breathed Colonel Walter, and fell to his knees on the floor. He was trembling. Weeping. When he looked up at her, his pupils were pinpoints.
Iris didn't know what else to do. She knelt with him and held him close. Let him hold her if he so wished. Murmured soothing noises for him until his shudders stilled.
Colonel Walter recovered himself in due course. Mere minutes had passed. He let her go and retreated into stiff formality. "Do forgive me, Miss Iris. I seem to have lost control of myself for a moment."
She helped set him upright. "Given how he threatened, Colonel, anyone would lose control of themselves."
He was still trembling. Shaking his hands as if they were wet. Pacing nervously in circles. So long as he was not harming himself, Iris let him do his little dance. "He's going to be so very mad with me..."
"By the time he can do something, he may well forget. We'll all make sure he stays apart from you." An airy promise. Something she'd have to discuss with her fellow maids. And if anything else failed, she'd make sure he had enough of his 'special' snuff to keep his attentions solely on the fairies.
There were snuffboxes locked away with the wine, since the safe was full. So far, Martin the doorman had yet to try to sell them anywhere. She could encourage Mrs Cambridge to render the Admiral harmless via chemical intervention. Maybe.
They would have to plan strategies, now that all of them were in danger.
If she was overtly friendly towards Colonel Walter, especially within sight of the Admiral... she might yet save the other maids as well as herself. The Colonel wouldn't notice. He had no spark in his eyes for her. No spark at all.
His gyrations grew more agitated. He needed something more meditative. Something to get him away from his circling thoughts. "We've been far too long shut up inside. Come along, Colonel. You and I can show the babies how to feed the ducks."
Confusion brought him out of his shaking. "Why would they need to know how to feed the ducks?"
"I think some time outside will do everyone some good," she said. And she knew that Mrs Cambridge frequently left the Admiral with a good vantage over the duck pond. Him seeing her out with Colonel Walter, even locally in the estate bounds, would probably quell his nastier plans for a while.