"'Bout time you came in from your night on the tiles." The rich cockney voice of Lugg carried down the stairs to the front door of Bottle Street. "Is Mister Luke with you?"
Albert Campion looked up and said, "Inspector Luke has just gone. I can catch him before he gets to the corner."
"You do that, cock. Your lady just called, and he's about to be a dad. Time we get him to Sweethearting."
Campion met his eyes, and said, "Bring the Lagonda around. I'll go get him."
As Lugg shut and locked the door of the upper apartment, Campion walked swiftly to the corner and called out for his friend.
Luke came back to the glow of the police lamp when he heard Campion call his name. "Don't tell me. Superintendent Oates already has another case for us and thought he could find me with you?"
"Better than that. Amanda called while we were out catching our crazed crime lord, and Prune's gone into labor." He heard the sound of his car's well-tuned engine. "Let's get you up to Sweethearting."
Luke's animated countenance stilled for a moment, and Campion wondered privately, at how few times he'd seen Charlie Luke completely gobsmacked. Then the animation flooded back into him, all at once, he seemed bigger, brighter, and bounced on the balls of his feet. "Just let me nip into the division and call Oates. He'll let me have the time, but he'd never forgive me if I didn't tell him."
Campion's eyes flashed a smile behind his benign horn rims. "No, Stanislaus can be very unforgiving if you neglect good news."
With Campion, who by now knew this countryside like the back of his hand, doing the driving, they made it from central London to the rolling country lanes in less than two hours. He turned left in front of The Beckoning Lady, and found the sign to the county hospital. They were less than ten miles away at this point, and Lugg had finished his grumbling from the back seat and replaced it with rhythmic snoring.
Luke spoke quietly from the passenger seat, "What was it like for you? When Lady Amanda had her lying in?"
"It was during the war, Charles. I knew nothing about it -- seriously, Amanda, the most sensible of creatures, became somewhat morbidly superstitious while she was carrying Rupert -- she was afraid that if she told me, something bad would happen. The first I knew that she was pregnant was her letter telling me our son had been born." Campion said. His voice had none of its usual fatuousness. With Luke, he could be serious, in spite of the twenty year age difference between them.
"So when did you get leave to see him?"
"My kind of war didn't allow leave." Campion spoke quietly. "He was nearly two when I saw him for the first time, just after the war. He was trying to fit a shoe into a water filled footprint."
"A detective like his dad, then," Luke said.
"Or an engineer like his mother." Campion smiled to himself. "She was right. I would have worried had I known."
He parked the car in the small lot for patients and woke Lugg up while Luke went ahead. "We're here. Come on, then."
Lugg stared at him. ""S bad enough to leave London so late. You don't have to be cheerful about it."
Campion left him to his own devices and went into the small country hospital.
His wife greeted him with her triangular smile and a sweet, "Hello, Orph."
"Hello, Lieut." He took her hand and stood close beside her. "Any news?"
"I was just telling Charlie that she's been in labor about eleven hours now, and the doctors think it may be several more."
"Have you been here all that time?" Campion gave his wife one of his rare honest grins.
"Well, her mother is a bit dithery, so I thought I'd better organize things. Rupert's having a grand time with Minnie and Tonker and the troop of kids over there, so we needn't worry."
"Rupert is enjoying time with Tonker. My dear girl, that is exactly the time to worry. Tonker is capable of anything."
Her smile toward him widened, and she went to put her hand on Luke's shoulder. "I should sit and rest as much as possible, now. It will be hours before you can see her."
Luke turned at her touch and seemed to expand to fill the whole room. "Couldn't sit for all the tea at Lyons'."
She shook her head. "Of course you can't."
Campion held out his hand to her, and they sat together listening to Charlie Luke tell stories and watching him pace.
By the time dawn broke, Prunella was gone. Her body had been broken by the hard work of bringing a new life into the world. Her daughter, hair already as black and curly as her father's, was kicking solemnly in her crib behind the glass in the hospital nursery.
Campion found Luke standing with his hand on the glass staring at his daughter. For once, Luke didn't seem larger than life.
Their eyes met in the glass and Campion came to stand at his shoulder. "I'm sorry, old man."
"I had five years with her. Some men never get a day." Even Luke's voice was subdued. "I saw her. She was a dead body, like any other corpse we see in the line of duty."
Campion closed his eyes behind his glasses. "Yes. You of all people would notice that."
Luke focused intently on the bassinet on the other side of the glass. "She was my wife." And for a moment, Luke's gift of mimicry brought Prune's mild face to life.
"I'm not the man to be father to a daughter. A son, I'd know what to do with, but I need her beside me to bring up a girl." Luke unconsciously tilted his head to the same angle as his child's.
"I think you're just the man to be the father to this daughter. She may inherit Prune's nose, but even with only two hours in this world to her credit -- I can already see your spirit." Campion hoped his words could pierce and help.
"And you can always ask for help, you know." Amanda's voice carried clearly as she walked over to her husband and stood between them. "Lugg's coming back with me in my car. We're picking up Rupert and staying with Val and Alan for a day or two. Alan and I are in the midst of this new engine, and…" she cast a significant glance at Charlie Luke, "you'll have other things on your mind."
Her hand once again rested on Luke's arm. "I was never a normal girl, but Val was and my sisters were. Plus, Albert's right, with you as her father, she'll be just fine."
Luke closed his eyes against the tears pricking. "Thank you, Lady Amanda."
She stepped away and tugged her husband's hand. They stood outside the room and she said quietly, "He needs you. Look after him -- in any way that he might need to be looked after."
Campion's eyes went wide behind his glasses. "Amanda."
"I mean it, Albert."
He kissed her forehead. "You always are the most practical and comforting person I've ever known. How did I not sweep you off your feet when we first met?"
"I was seventeen, and you needed to grow up," she said. "I think he'll heal, if he lets her into his life."
He nodded. "I'll do my best, my love. Go now. Say hello to everyone for me."
Amanda glanced at Luke's back. "I'll call you tonight, Orph."
He followed her gaze and nodded his acquiescence. "I wish I'd liked Prune better," he said quietly.
"It's enough that you love her husband and her daughter." She stood on tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss.
Campion kissed her back and let his best lieutenant go and keep their lives running smoothly. He turned his attention back to his friend and went to stand, once again, at his shoulder.