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It was about damned time.

The proud new father received the news with as much civility as his impatience and anxiety would muster, and pushed past the nurse to stride down the corridor.

Six years, it had taken. Six years and as many failed pregnancies before his wife had finally presented him with a son.

He'd have put up with a daughter if he had to. But his family had never produced many daughters, thank God. He could remember how the twanging tension had snapped when the scan had finally confirmed that the foetus was male and viable.

Mary was sitting propped up against the pillows, waxen with exhaustion. The baby was in the cot beside her rather than in her arms. At least she'd remembered that he didn't want this child brought up soft. A pampered upbringing wouldn't produce a fine officer for the Royal Navy to follow the family tradition. The boy was going to be brought up with proper discipline right from the start.

He bent over the cot.

So small!

He'd never taken that much interest in babies. It was women's business to pass them round and coo over them and make all that nonsense talk over whom they resembled – personally he'd never seen any resemblance to anyone in any of the infants at whose faces he had dutifully glanced. He therefore wasn't expecting to see anything different in the face that stared back at him with wide-open, hazy blue eyes, and he wasn't surprised. Just another baby.

But if the fates had seen fit to make him wait this long, couldn't they at least have sent him a strapping, healthy-looking son instead of this skinny little thing that lay there in silence and inspected him with an air of vague apprehension?

Staring down at the rather disappointing result of all those months of anticipation, he made the necessary adjustment. The boy might be small, but that would help to toughen him up. He'd have to fight his way up in the pack. He'd have to learn that his size and frailty would buy him nothing.

Gingerly he picked up the newborn infant. The head lolled perilously and he supported it with an impatient finger.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a sudden movement from his wife. What did she think he was likely to do with something he'd waited for this long – drop it?

"Are you pleased?"

"Yes. Yes, of course." He made no effort to soften the begrudging note.

"You've got the little boy you always wanted." Damn fool woman, she did have this tiresome sentimental streak. If the child had by some misfortune inherited that he'd better lose it – fast.

'Little' was an undeservedly kind adjective to describe the scrawny scrap. Rearing was going to take some doing unless the boy was a whole lot tougher than he looked.

Weren't newborn babies supposed to cry? Kick? Show some signs of life other than that stare and the tiny, fumbling movements of the minute fingers crumpled over the top of the shawl? Well, he supposed things could have been worse; after all, it was a little boy (always supposing they'd checked that when he was born), but it hardly qualified as the one you wanted. The most enthusiasm he could summon up for a runt like this was he'll do till we get something better.

But until or unless that happened, he'd have to make the best of it.

He turned abruptly to the window. Outside a sou'westerly wind was beating up the Channel, driving the white-crests in serried ranks. Even the ships in port were shifting at their moorings. But a Royal Navy officer wouldn't be afraid of a stiff gale. If he hadn't regarded talk of omens as so much sentimental poppycock, he might have thought there was an omen here.

He lifted the baby, turning him towards the window. Might as well start the way he meant to go on. "That's where you'll spend your life, young man," he said, trying to introduce a suitably bracing note into his voice. "In the service of Her Majesty's Navy. And who knows where you'll end up? We might have an admiral in the family yet." Not that it was likely that a boy with this build would get very far. The Navy required strong, determined men to lead others. He couldn't see this bundle of stick-limbs ever amounting to anything much.

An infant barely five minutes old has an intense interest in its surroundings, but the vast vista of the English Channel could be no more than an inapprehensible blur of colour and sound to the baby here. Nevertheless the misty blue eyes that would one day be the same colour as those stormy seas outside widened. The tiny fingers clenched on the soft wool.

For a very tiny baby, Malcolm Reed had a very good pair of lungs indeed.

The End.


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