(Love blooms under a bushel, Visions both pleasant and dire, A quick study, and The automaton school)
Peter had to wonder if hot flushes were an effect of the blue matter or if they were simply an effect of Miss Iris. She had a unique knack of making him unsure of his footing, yet completely at ease with such a situation.
And he did admire brilliant women. That had not changed. Was he entranced with her like he had been enchanted by Delilah? Was this a distant infatuation? He couldn't really tell. He could number his affections towards the opposite sex on one hand, with fingers to spare. He knew he craved closeness. That was a natural extension of being both alive and human.
And did Miss Iris deserve his fumbling attempts at romantic overtures?
Peter followed her back to his floor, trying to think about what would charm her, anyway. Clockwork finches? No, they would very likely cause even more mess than the boys. Attempting to fly on copper wings would only end with them smashing themselves on the ground. It would break her heart.
Best to keep the little candle he had burning for her well under his own bushel. Remain civil, oh yes. Be kind, definitely. And keep all thoughts about snatching her up and covering her with kisses firmly inside his own head.
And pray that the Admiral his father would not cause her to run away.
He loaned Miss Iris his writing desk, and had to adjust a seat too low for his long legs with a cushion so she could write comfortably. She wrote a draught in pencil. Typical for a student putting their thoughts in line for the first time. Pencil bore corrections with mercy. Her hand was neat, as always. And she had to stop him looming over her words in naked curiosity. Several times.
It took her an hour and a half. Her aspect whilst deep in study might echo the calm of a fine bronze statue. Though he knew Miss Iris preferred to have more clothes on. An artistic daydream conquered his thoughts. Miss Iris' supple brown flesh, exposed to his pleased audience. Well, not entirely exposed. Draped in something silken and partially transparent.
He forced his mind away from such sordid fantasies. No. He knew his luck with love. Father would drive her away. Or she would take offense at some words that tripped unwittingly from his lips. Or she would find someone easier to relate to. Or...
A more dread vision filled his head. Miss Iris, her skin pale, her body unnaturally still. Her lips sewn shut. Lying in peace in a simple black box. His imagination supplied a bridal gown, alabaster cotton complimenting her lovely brown skin.
"Here, now. My writing can't be that atrocious..."
Peter startled back into reality. "Sorry. My... imagination got away with me. I involuntarily pictured some dreadful event." He dashed his tears away and focussed on her words.
Almost completely perfect. With barely a trace of correction, and only a slim need for any improvement.
"Miss Iris, I would not expect such perfection from my students until their third year. You're astonishing." He checked it through again. "Your work only needs a few minor corrections, and you're ready for the press."
"Really? I just tried to put it how you put it in the papers you dictated to me."
"My dear lady, some students don't absorb the format until they're on the very cusp of their final thesis. You have a brilliant mind. And you're a quick study. Which I find to be a luxurious privilege."
She blushed so prettily. Dimpled magnificently when she smiled. "I never went to much of a real school," she murmured. "Nothing much was ever expected of me."
"Miss Iris," he said, believing every syllable, "I have no doubt that you could aim yourself at the stars and subsequently conquer them."
She looked a little entranced, herself. Iris whispered, "Oh, Colonel..."
Peter felt like he was on the very edge of something magnificent. No woman in the world had ever looked at him like Miss Iris looked at him. It had to mean something. He was just about to ask about her meaning...
But a huge crash down the hall distracted them both. Miss Iris flew away with only, "Oh, bother it!" In lieu of a farewell.
Well, it made a welcome change from the ample perplexity and swift excuses he had received in the past. He would see her again at dinner time. Assuming that she wasn't immediately fleeing for the safety of the outside world.
Peter put his mind off it, touring around to check on his metal sons. Their music lessons were over for the day, and now they had set up a parody of a classroom, and three of them were attempting to teach Unit Four their bird-like speech.
And they were, according to Miss Iris' notes, doing it all wrong.
Peter leaned on the doorway frame and whistled his own interpretation of an interrupting query. Which startled the heck out of Rabbit.
"Whoah... You speak Robutt real weird, Pappy."
"Well, my ability to make sounds is a little more... Limited than yours," he allowed. "You're teaching words and phrases. Nobody learns like that. Think back to when you started speaking Robutt. How did you begin?"
"The clocks say 'hello'," said The Spine.
Peter made himself a seat by Four. "Let's try and all learn together," he said.