Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.
It was a chilly Spring morning in early March when Gloria woke feeling that perhaps today was the day her baby was to greet the world. Waking her family quickly, they all tumbled out of the house and into the wagon to take her into town. She was wearing a pretty pink gown with lace at the neck, fashioned by her darling Ann, especially made for this day of days.
Stephen Mantell was born only six hours later, a healthy beautiful baby boy.
Ten minutes after Stephen was born, Philip Mantell stood outside the hospital with a thoughtful look on his face, paying a small fee to the errand boy who had passed on the news.
When coming outside for a well-deserved cigar, Brian saw Philip. Swallowing his disgust he walked slowly over to his son-in-law. Philip looked rather nervous, thought Brian. Mind you, he had complied with all Gloria's conditions without a murmur over the past three weeks. All visits had been conducted on neutral territory with various members of her family as chaperones. Philip had been sober and courteous, even asking after Gloria's sisters and the farm labourers.
'Have you come to see the boy?' asked Brian tensely.
'Yes, and my wife,' replied Philip in as positive tone as he could muster.
'Well then,' said Brian. 'You may as well come back in with me. But first,' he paused and put his hand in his pocket 'to celebrate your son's arrival.'
He passed the second cigar to Philip and proffered his matchbook. Philip lit his cigar and drew deeply. He was going to need strength for what he was about to do - and alcohol was out of the question. The cigar was eagerly accepted. The whole ceremony of lighting the cigars and puffing on the flavoursome smoke took the spotlight from Philip and the tense conversation. Each man stood thoughtfully smoking, physically close yet miles apart.
'You ready?' asked Brian, mashing his cigar butt under his boot heel.
'To see my son? Always,' joked Philip, but a tone in his voice made Brian cast a sideways glance.
'The visiting conditions still apply,' he warned. 'Gloria was most insistent. You will never be alone with her or the child. She doesn't trust you.'
'That is sadly understandable,' replied Philip. 'Although, I do hope to change her opinion of me in the future.'
'That's as may be,' grunted Brian. 'But for now - you will be chaperoned around my family.'
With that he strode back into the hospital with Philip at his heels and entered Gloria's room. Gloria lay in bed, surrounded by female members of her family, her small son at her side, swaddled gently in blankets. A small purple face peered out inquisitively and little fingers flexed, where one small hand had fought free of the swaddling. Watery blue eyes gazed unfocused as Philip bent over the small baby.
'He's beautiful,' he said with a tinge of awe in his voice. 'Absolutely perfect.'
Gloria smiled tiredly and lifted the child.
'Mother, please hold him for Philip. He has a right to see his son.'
Beatrice took the baby and held his towards Philip. Philip studied the infant carefully and then looked at Gloria with a smile.
'Ten fingers, ten toes?' he asked with an attempt at light-heartedness. The usual joky query sounded almost dull from his lips, as though he had carefully rehearsed what to say to his wife after her confinement.
Gloria nodded, attempting to keep a tone of normality in her voice.
'Ten fingers, ten toes,' she said. 'All as gorgeous as he is.'
Philip smiled. He stroked the child's face and then turned to take his leave. The room was silent, as if statues, waiting to see what Philip Mantell would do.
'I will await your message as usual,' he said gruffly and smartly took his leave.
'Well, I never,' said Beatrice, laying the baby back in his mother's arms. 'I thought he was going to try something on. He's been that good and quiet the last three weeks that I was sure he was scheming!'
Gloria and Brian nodded, and Ann shook her head gently where she sat by the bed. They were, indeed, all surprised that Philip had not tried to take - or even hold - the baby and no mention of changing the visiting conditions were made. Although Gloria was relieved, Brian couldn't help feeling that Philip Mantell was still up to something. He had no idea what, but he got the nasty feeling whatever it was wouldn't be nice.
But Gloria was tired, and Brian had no intention of upsetting his daughter or the rest of his family needlessly. However, as Brian looked at his daughter gently slipping off to sleep and his grandson already sleeping peacefully, his lips pursing gently, he swore to himself that Philip Mantell would never be in a position to hurt either of them - ever again.