(The dreadful sandwich reappears, An attempt at a decent meal, A close call, and A good tidying)
Early to bed and early to rise, it is said, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Once Admiral Reginaldfield Chesterpot Walter had achieved the 'wealth' part of that trio, he completely surrendered any efforts to accomplish the rest. He didn't rise until after ten and didn't leave his bedchamber much before noon.
Mrs Cambridge saw to his wants.
Which gave Iris plenty of time to learn about the dreadful sandwiches that the Colonel apparently lived on.
Sliced horsebread, of all things. Full of seeds and oats and whole meal. He said it was necessary for vital energy. Each slice had to be generously buttered, before peanut butter and marmalade were applied. He said the peanut butter provided protein and the marmalade prevented scurvy.
It must have. He had been evidently consuming very little else for at least a decade with no visible ill effect. Certainly, he could use some meat on his overly-long bones... but according to other maids, he had always been on the skinny side.
Iris cooked him up a more fortifying breakfast. Mushrooms and tomatoes and eggs and a fried slice of the awful horsebread.
"He'll complain," noted a fellow maid as she prepared coffee. "The young master prefers those awful sandwiches. He's going to make a fuss, and ring for Mrs Cambridge. That'll put the Admiral in a tizzy, and he'll go and bully the entire house. At least bring along a spare sandwich in your pinny pocket. Please. You haven't seen the Admiral having a fit."
Iris grumbled to herself, but still made the horrible sandwich and wrapped it in a clean cloth before she shoved it into her pocket. She might yet be able to bribe him into eating real food.
He wasn't in his bedchamber, but a scatter of debris indicated that the Colonel had risen early and rushed for one of his labs.
Iris found him working on some metal assembly on the little table. Which was now all over grease and grime. She growled at the sight.
He grinned at her. "I think I've cracked the learning algorithm! The key is to use the core as memory storage!"
The copper head wolf-whistled her again.
Iris glared at Colonel Walter. Juggled the tray and cleared her throat meaningfully.
He looked at her, his work, and over his laboratory. Twice. "Oh. Oh! Right. Yes. Sorry."
"Uh oh," said the head. "Uh oh... uh oh..."
"Hush," cooed Colonel Walter. "I got... excited. Sorry." He moved his work to another surface and laid a kerchief over the stains with a nervous rictus on his handsome face.
This man needed a mother more than he needed a wife. Iris put the tray down and revealed its contents with a proud smile.
Colonel Walter was not impressed. He boggled at the plate before him. "Where's my sandwiches? I have sandwiches."
Iris slowly shook her head and offered him a seat at his new meal.
He sat with a doubtful grumble. "I want my sandwiches."
Iris sighed and wrapped his lanky hands around the knife and fork. Actively helped him slice off a piece of mushroom. Made encouraging little coos at him.
"Still want my sandwiches," he mumbled, but ate it anyway. "This is slower," he said around his mouthful. "Sandwiches are far more efficient."
Iris backed away, unable to stop her pout. The entire house was going to get tipped sideways and it was all her fault.
"Don't cry? It is delicious. Truly. It's just that I really like the sandwiches. I can call Mrs Cambridge. She'll explain it."
Panicked, Iris yelped and wielded the horrid, wrapped sandwich like a shield. She held it like it was offensive to her very soul, which was not far from the truth.
Colonel Walter frowned. "Is this one of the Admiral's initiatives?"
Iris urgently shook her head. She dreaded dropping the dratted thing, yet despised holding it.
"One of Mrs Cambridge's?"
She shook her head again.
"I can show you some studies, you know. Horsebread is better for a human body than most other breads on the market."
Iris whimpered, shaking her head once more.
"Oh... Oh! You want more time to tidy, right? That's why you made this? So you don't risk bumping into the Admiral?"
Well that worked too. She allowed a nod. More time in this creepy charnel house and pig sty meant more time isolated from the Admiral and his even more unpleasant attentions. She had to admit that she dreaded regular duties where she might fall under the Admiral's avaricious eyes.
Mrs Cambridge could not be after him at all hours.
Colonel Walter made an exaggerated show of sitting to eat. "Then I shall take my time. Tidy to your heart's content."
Iris focused on doing a solid job, and ignoring the copper head as it whistled, clicked, or tried to wink at her. Pile by pile, sorting task by sorting task, she beat some order out of the chaos.
And extracted half a China shop's worth of lost crockery. It was a sort of relaxation, bringing such order out of chaos. What baffled her most about the papers were the cryptic scribbles that seemed to be impersonating handwriting. And she could not yet ask about it.
She almost jumped out of her skin when she realised that he had long since finished his food, including the dreadful sandwich she had left by that cheeky head. Colonel Walter had not interrupted her, but sat watching.
Not in any kind of fascination for her. But in fascination with her process. "I always find new ideas more interesting than tidying. How do you do it?"
Iris could only boggle at him as if he had just arrived from Mars.