(Surprising domesticity, Lost genius, True love’s kissykiss, and A scientific fairytale)
Iris scampered back to the kitchen with the rest of the prime steaks. If Colonel Walter or the Admiral noticed, nothing was said. Mrs Cambridge seemed used to it, and laid a place at the table as if it was no trouble a all.
Many maids drew straws to serve the Admiral his courses, whilst Colonel Walter received his piping hot and fresh from the stove.
He seemed more than at home, here. With his tie undone and his collar loosened. He chatted amiably about trivia before he asked her, "How were the children, today?"
Iris almost became struck dumb from the effect of such casual domesticity falling amiably from his handsome lips. "They were learning instruments for the most part," she said. "Rabbit can't be trusted with anything breakable and his fingers are too sharp for strings, so he's staying with keyboards and accordions. The Spine and Unit Three are learning all the strings fairly well, but poor little Four has been having a lot of trouble with everything. He can barely even hold a rhythm. Some of the others are teasing him for it."
"I'll have a look at his algorithms, later. I don't think I was in my full mind when I made him..." Colonel Walter calmly continued with his meal. "I don't know half of what I did with Three and Four. It's very bad science."
"You didn't make notes?" asked Prudence.
"Oh, I did. But my handwriting at the time was so terrible, even I can't read it," he had a warm smile and a hearty chuckle. "Pity you couldn't take dictation, Miss Iris."
"I couldn't anyway, Colonel," she smiled in return. "You were raving a lot. I could barely understand you."
"Oh? Oh. Drat." He shrugged and ate more vegetables. "Maybe I can divine something from some examinations. Tomorrow, no doubt. They're all resting, by now. Right?"
"Pretending to," allowed Iris. "There was some hubbub about wanting to see you."
A small laugh. "Ah, my dear boys. Mrs Cambridge? I think I'll forgo dessert. My children are expecting me."
Iris tried not to sigh out loud. When that man found himself the wife of his dreams, he was going to be a devoted husband and father. And he was always going to be something of an imp. She saw him filch a slice of that dratted horsebread on his way out.
At least he was taking food that promised to knock his teeth out via pure abrasion, rather than cavities. Iris whipped herself up a more amenable sandwich and crept upstairs after him.
The babies had left their beds to create a giant, steaming cuddle-pile in the middle of one of their rooms again. Iris arrived just in time to hear four sleepy automatons greeting their Pappy. She hid herself in a sconce so she could listen in.
"Now, my dear boys, you mustn't shut down all bunched up on the floor. It's going to be bad for your joints."
"Don't like lonely," gurgled The Spine.
"Like hugs," said Four.
"I know, my darlings. But you can hug when it's daytime. Night time is for dreaming, and for good automatons to rest their busy gears."
"Pappy," said Rabbit. "When you gonna kissykiss Ma?"
"Yahyahyah," said Three. "Wanna see truluv kissykiss."
"Boys..." Colonel Walter soothed. "Miss Iris is a lovely lady, I know. But true love is more complicated than a handsome gentleman and a lovely lady becoming entranced at first sight. It needs a lot of work. A lot of time." He coughed. Clearing his throat. "Besides, I have yet to find my true love, and I'm certain Miss Iris already has a young man who makes her very happy."
"Never seen him," argued Rabbit. "Not real."
Colonel Walter began telling them about how he discovered Blue Matter. How he had never seen anything like it before. Iris smiled as she crept away. His story would tell the automatons that, just because something wasn't seen, that didn't mean that it couldn't be discovered.
She went back to the kitchen, and through the kitchen, into the cellar and into her tiny closet of a bedroom. Iris stripped out of her uniform and held her pillow to her chest. Hugged it tight. And wished, just a little, that she was a lady, or he wasn't a gentleman. That there wasn't worlds of difference between their classes.
She wanted him to be hers. She wanted to be his. At least here, in the privacy of her own room, inside her own head. The Admiral was her biggest obstacle to becoming open about her feelings. If he knew, he would sour all her efforts with ambitious talk about begetting.