There was a tingle twitching through his veins; a quiver of anticipation, and of excitement, and of fear. Tristan had not stopped to reflect upon it since he’d heard the news, but now, in the shady half-dark beneath the yew hedge, he had time to think, to consider, to tremble at his thoughts.
Great Britain Declares War On Germany
A shiver, chill across his shoulders and arms, as he remembered the headline. War! A real, actual war. It was all he had talked about with his friends, ever since the fighting started on the Continent, but now it was here and it seemed…unreal, like a heavy dream lingering long after dawn.
Oh hark, the drums are beatin’, no longer can I stay…
His friends had anticipated it gleefully. They had sung songs of heroism, of victory; Heart of Oak, Ye Sons of Albion, even though he had pointed out that they were allies with France, not fighting them this time. But the mood of triumph had infected even him and had stirred up his heart and he had talked boldly of fighting, when the time came.
And now it was here, and in the hovering twilight he sat, tremulously aware of what fighting would mean. He knew the songs, of course - not just the patriotic ones, but those that told the other, the darker side of war - and now he was feeling, not jubilation, not exultation, but trepidation and, to his shame, a trace of fear.
Of course he would go. There was no question of that. He had not the slightest intention of remaining behind while others went out to fight for their country. But he had none of the equanimity his friends had shown in their glorious boasting, for he knew that war was as grubby as it was glorious, and he had no faith that he would return as he had left.
Oft in dreams I see thee lying on the battle plain,
Lonely, wounded, even dying, calling, but in vain.
Mother didn’t like the idea of him going away. She had been in a curious mood since they heard the news, quiet and irritable, and he wanted to comfort her. But nothing he could say would make it better, for her boys would fight, and she hated it, hated the war before it had even begun. And Sarah was looking at him oddly, as if she was already seeing him dead or injured on some battlefield, and he wished they would just be sensible about it all, for it would not help him to say goodbye, when the time came, not one little bit.
Of course, it wouldn't just be him. His village had several boys around the right age, and very soon he knew they would all march away together to France, for England and St George…for a brief moment, he found himself wondering how many of them would come back. He thought of their families, waiting for news of their sons; he thought of Mother and Sarah, waiting for news of him, and he shivered in the darkness.
For Tower Hill is crownéd
With mothers weeping sore,
For their sons have gone to face the foe
Where them plund’rin’ cannon roar.