Constance Sturwood sat beneath a parasol. One could never be too careful. This hot sun will make me look ghastly, she thought. She dabbed a handkerchief to her lips. Her three brothers were playing croquet on the west lawn. Peter and Edward were going easy, letting Willie gain more points than he should. He suspected this but ignored his suspicions; glad that for once he was not being totally annihilated.
Constance sipped her lemonade. Despite the ice chinking in the glass the lemonade was beginning to get warm. She rang the little bell on the table and its clear noise tinkled across the lawn to where Jackson was polishing the cutlery for the dinner-party. He put down a knife and began to make his way towards her. She saw him pause. The boy, Billings, had come into the room and was talking earnestly to him. Jackson took a piece of paper from his hand, read it and stared out of the window. Constance wondered vaguely what might be the problem.
Jackson stepped onto the lawn. He did not, however, go towards his young mistress to see what she wanted. He walked across to the young gentlemen. His pace was not his usual calm tread; he hurried and he seemed agitated.
‘Master Peter,’ he said. ‘I have just learned that we have declared war.’
Peter stood with his mallet resting on his shoulder and stared at Jackson. Edward shook his head as if he did not believe his ears.
‘Hooray,’ cried Willie.
Constance stood up, her chair toppling over onto the lawn. She hurried to her brothers.
‘What does this mean?’ she asked.
‘It means, little sister,’ said Peter with a grin, ‘that Edward and I shall go off to enlist.’
‘What about me?’ cried Willie.
‘You’re too young,’ said Peter. He strode over and plucked up his blazer. ‘Come on Ed,’ he said. ‘Not a minute to lose. We want to be first in line.’
‘Will I get a chance?’ asked Willie.
‘I’m afraid not,’ said Edward. ‘It will all be over by Christmas.’
Constance placed her hand on Willie’s shoulder and watched as her brothers raced off to the motor-car.
Jackson turned towards her. ‘I believe you rang, Miss.’
‘Yes.’ She ran her fingers through her hair. ‘I wanted some ice. But it doesn’t seem to matter now.’
‘I shall bring it immediately.’
‘It’s not fair,’ said Willie. ‘I’m sixteen. I’m old enough to fight.’
‘You’re still at school,’ Constance told him.
‘But Edward’s at Cambridge.’
Constance gave him an exasperated look. It was lost on him because at that moment he spotted his father striding towards him.
‘Father,’ Willie cried. ‘We’ve declared war on France.’
‘Not France. Germany.’ He turned towards Constance. ‘Where are Peter and Edward?’
‘They’ve gone to the village. To enlist.’
His hand went to his mouth. He stared at her in silence. She saw his eyes moisten. He nodded and walked towards the house.
Three days later, Constance’s best friend Dora, called.
‘They say it will be over by Christmas,’ Constance said as she poured Dora a cup of tea.
‘That’s not what Lord Kitchener thinks,’ Dora said. She pulled out a leaflet asking for volunteers. ‘My Uncle Claude, the colonel, says that Lord Kitchener thinks it will last three years.’
Dora shrugged. ‘Well it’s made a few of us girls decide that we should do our bit.’
‘In what way?’
‘By encouraging all the young men to enlist. I’ve persuaded three already. Are you game for it?’
Constance opened her mouth to answer but could not find any words. She wondered what her father would think of it. She thought of Peter and Edward who had already enlisted. She realised that Dora was still talking.
‘And if it lasts three years then boys like Willie will be able to do their bit.’
‘No,’ said Constance. ‘He’s just a child.’
Dora shrugged and sipped her tea.
‘I’ve persuaded three and Edith and Jane have persuaded two. If you want to take part you’d better get your skates on.’
Constance thought about how keen her brothers had been to do their bit. And Willie. Even Willie wants to go and fight. She frowned. If enough men joined up now then maybe he wouldn’t have to.
‘It’s only right,’ said Dora. ‘It’s for King and Country.’
‘You’re right,’ said Constance. ‘I’m game for it.’
This story is the first of three stories about World War 1 in my collection ‘For King and Country.’
The stories focus on the Home Front, life in the trenches and in an observation balloon. It is available from all e-book retailers.