On the first of October he brought home a box of toy soldiers. They were British Tommies, little soldiers and machine gunners, cast from lead by a German toy maker.
Dad dropped the box on the floor. "You might as well have these, Johnny," he said. "No one's going to buy them now, and that's damned certain."
He never swore. So my mother gave him a dark look, and he turned very red.
"Well, they're not," he said. "If it comes from Germany, nobody wants it. No one will touch it, except to smash it. I saw a man go out of his way--clear across Baker Street--to kick at a dachshund a lady was walking."
"But we are at war," said Mum, trying to console him. "Those little lead soldiers might only be toys to you, but to other men they're something worth fighting about."
Dad scowled but didn't argue back. He sat in his chair, staring through the window at the buildings and the sky. It was just a few days later when he went off to his shop in the morning, and came home in a uniform. He had joined the British Army.
"They lowered the height!" he cried. "It's five foot five. I'll be a giant among the next batch of men."
His uniform didn't fit him very well. It drooped around him like a lot of greenish brown sacks, and the funny puttees--wound too many times round his legs--were held in place with his bicycle clips.
I laughed when I saw him like that. But Mum cried. She went at him with a mouthful of pins, tucking him all into shape like one of his little felt dolls. And all the time, as she nipped and tucked, she cried great tears that poured from her without any sound.
Dad softened his voice. "I have to do my bit. We have to lick the Germans."
He packed his things in a little bag. He sat on the floor and packed a book to read, and his carving set, his paints and inks. Mum smiled when she saw him doing that. She looked terribly sad, but she smiled. Then she bent down and kissed the top of his head.
Dad looked surprised. He gathered the rest of his things in a hurry, then stood up with his little bag. "I won't be gone for long," he said. "I'll be home in time for Christmas."
That was ten weeks away; it seemed forever.
"No tears, now," said Dad. "The time will pass before you know it." He hugged me. "I'll see you at Christmas."
He said the same thing at the railway station, and he shouted it from a window as the train started down the track. "Bye-bye, Johnny," he said. "See you at Christmas." A thousand men leaned from the windows, every one dressed in khaki, all waving their arms. They looked like a forest sliding down the platform, drawing away in blasts of steam. They left us all behind, a crowd of children and women and old, gray men. The platform was littered with rose petals.
We waved; we cheered and shouted until the train clattered across a point and the last carriage slipped around the bend. Then there was a silence that made the air seem thick and heavy. Nobody wanted to leave, but no one would look at anybody else. My mother covered her mouth with her handkerchief, took my hand, and pulled me away.
Excerpted from Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence Copyright 2001 by Iain Lawrence. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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