Iris and Peter Get Married (Eventually) [pt 27]

Chapter Twenty-seven.
(The absence of a gentleman, A strange elation,The end of her lessons, and A permanent invitation to tea)

Sunday. Her day off. Iris dressed in her street wear and dressed her hair demurely enough for the streets of San Diego. It would have gone well, had she not run into the Colonel on her way out.

The babies instantly crowded around her, fascinated by how she'd changed. Rabbit lorded it over Three And Four, who had never seen Iris in anything but her uniform. The Spine merely lectured anyone who cared to listen about clothing and how it worked.

Colonel Walter eventually rescued her from their curious clutches and escorted her as far as the door. "Have a nice day, Miss Iris. And give your young gentleman my best regards."

Wait. What? He thought she was going to visit some swain? Who could possibly compete with his burning touch? She absently blurted, "But I haven't got a young gentleman. Or any gentleman at all."

"Oh," he said. He seemed pleasantly stunned. "Well. A very good day to you, Miss Iris."

Iris stepped out of the Walter estate with a vivid blush on her face and her heart pounding. She could not meekly wander where she whist, that Sunday. She kept finding herself skipping as if she were a child. Her face kept smiling. Giggles escaped her.

Men noticed, of course. Some followed for a block or two to see where she was going. Some greeted her cheerfully. A few even enquired about who her smiles were for.

Some passing navvies whistled at her, but she ignored them.

She was walking on air.

All the way to the little house that worked as a school. All the way through the warren of young ladies trying to find a better place in life. All the way to the little kitchen where Mrs Pembrooke was busy making tea. All the way to sunny smiles and recipe swapping and amiable chatting.

It was so nice to have companionship that was not also trapped with the Admiral in that mansion.

People in the local Catholic Church had tutted and murmured about all they knew of where she worked. They all assumed that she carried on in a wanton way. After the third sermon about the wages of sin, she stopped going.

She saw those churchgoers, now and again. Saw the way they cut her dead in the street... Heard the words they called her. There was no Christian charity in their hearts. She was better off without them or their flock. She got all the salvation she needed from a far more humble street preacher, who took her confession in the park.

"Time's running short," apologised Mrs Pembrooke. "Now that poor Miss Moreau has passed... There's immense pressure to increase your temptation ability."

Of course there was. "Miss Doctor Moreau," Iris corrected. "I've almost licked the accent. I just can't stop myself from saying 'sor', so I simply avoid it."

"Well and good enough, but I got word to teach you how to use makeup like a lady of quality."

Iris crossed herself and murmured a brief prayer. Painted like a harlot. What would the Admiral demand next? That they parade naked in front of the Colonel? "I trust these lessons will also include how to tempt a heartsick man who misses most other cues?"

"I'm a teacher, not a miracle worker. Best I can tell you is keep touching him fondly and feeding him tasty treats. The rest is up to him."

It was, as it turned out, her last lesson at the Pembrookes' little school. Not because she learned all she needed to, but because the Admiral refused to pay for any more.

Mrs Pembrooke still had her over for tea, thereafter. Every Sunday.

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