JOHN'S mother, his sweetheart and I, all saw him off
at Glasgow. The fear was in all our hearts, and I think it must have
been in all our eyes, as well; the fear that every father and mother and
sweetheart in Britain shared with us in these days whenever they saw a
boy off for France and the trenches. Was it for the last time %
Were we seeing him now so strong and hale and hearty, only to have to go
the rest of our lives with no more than a memory of him to keep ?
Aweel, we could not be telling that. We could only
hope and pray! And we had learned again to pray, long since. I have
wondered, often, and Mrs. Lauder has wondered with me, what the fathers
and mothers of Britain would do in these black days without prayer to
guide them and sustain them. So we could but stand there, keeping back
our tears and our fears, and hoping for the best. One thing was sure: we
might not let the laddie see how close we were to greetin'. It was for
us to be so brave as God would let us be. It was hard for him. He was no
boy, you ken, going blindly and gaily to a great adventure; he had need
of the finest courage and devotion a man could muster that day.
For he knew fully now what it was that he was going
back to. He knew what the Huns had made of war; which had been bad
enough, in all conscience, before they introduced the horrors that make
it worse than hell. And he was highly strung. He could live over, and I
make no doubt he did, in those days after he had his orders to go back,
every grim and dreadful thing that was waiting for him out there. He had
been through it all, and he was going back. He had come out of the
valley of the shadow, and now he was to ride down into it again.
And it was with a smile he left us. I shall never
forget that. His thought was all for us whom he was leaving behind. His
care was for us, lest we should worry too greatly and think too much
"I'll be all right," he told us. "You're not to fret
about me, any of you. A man does take his chances out there; but they're
the chances every man must take these days, if he's a man at all. I'd
rather be taking them than be safe at home."
We did our best to match the laddie's spirit and be
worthy of him. But it was cruelly hard. We had lost him. and found him
again, and now he was being taken from us for the second time. It was
harder, much harder, to see him go this second time than it had been at
first, and it had been hard enough then, and bad enough. But there was
nothing else for it. So much we knew. It was a thing ordered and
inevitable. And it was not many days before we had slipped back into the
way things had been before John was invalided home.
It is a strange thing about life, the way that one
can become used to things. So it was with us. Strange things, terrible
things, outrageous things, that, in time of peace, we would never have
dared so much as to think possible, came to be the matters of every day
for us. It was so with John. We came to think of it as natural that he
should be away from us, and in peril of his life every minute of every
hour. It was not easier for us. Indeed, it was harder than it had been
before, just as it had been harder for us to say good-bye the second
time. But we thought less often of the strangeness of it. We were really
growing used to the war, and it was less the monstrous, strange thing
than it had been, in our daily lives. War had become our daily life and
portion in Britain. All who were not slackers were doing their part,
every one. Man and woman and child were in it, making sacrifices. The
happy days of peace lay far behind us, and we had lost our touch with
them and our memory of them was growing dim. We were all in it. We had
all to suffer alike, we were all in the same boat, we mothers and
fathers and sweethearts of Britain. And so it was easier for us not to
think too much and too often of our. own griefs and cares and anxieties.
John's letters began to come again in a steady
stream. He was as careful as ever about writing. There was scarcely a
day that did not bring its letter to one of the three of us. And what
bonnie, brave letters they were! They were as cheerful and as bright as
his first letters had been. If John had bad hours and bad days out
there, he would not let us know it. He told us what news there was, and
he was always cheerful and bright when he wrote. He let no hint of
discouragement creep into anything he wrote to us. He thought of others
first, always and all the time; of his men, and of us at home. He was
quite cured and well, he told us, and going back had done him good
instead of harm. He wrote to us that he felt as if he had come home. He
felt, you ken, that it was there, in France and in the trenches, that
men should feel at home in those days, and not safe in Britain by their
It was not easy for me to be cheerful and comfortable
about him, though. I had my work to do. I tried to do it as well as I
could, for I knew that that would please him. My band still went up and
down the country, getting recruits, and I was speaking, too, and urging
men myself to go out and join the lads who were fighting and dying for
them in France. They told me I was doing good work; that I was a great
force in the war. And I did, indeed, get many a word and many a
handshake from men who told me I had induced them to enlist.
"I'm glad I heard you, Harry," man after man said to
me. "You showed me what I should be doing, and I've been easier in my
mind ever since I put on the khaki!"
I knew they'd never regret it, no matter what came to
them. No man will, that's done his duty. It's the slackers who couldn't
or wouldn't see their duty that men should feel sorry for ! It's not the
lads who gave everything and made the final sacrifice.
It was hard for me to go on with my work of making
folks laugh. It had been growing harder steadily ever since I had come
home from America and that long voyage of mine to Australia, and had
seen what war was and what it was doing for Britain. But I carried on,
and did the best I could.
That winter I was in the big revue at the Shaftesbury
Theatre, in London, that was called "Three Cheers." It was one of the
gay shows that London liked, because it gave some relief from the war
and made the Zeppelin raids that were beginning to be frequent now, a
little easier to bear. And it was a great place for the men who were
back from France. It was partly because of them that I could go on as I
did. We owed them all we could give them. And when they came back from
the mud and the grime and the dreariness of the trenches, they needed
something to cheer them up; needed the sort of production we gave them.
A man who has two days' leave in London does not want to see a serious
play or a problem drama, as a rule. He wants something light, with lots
of pretty girls and jolly tunes and people to make him laugh. And we
gave him that. The house was full of officers and men, night after
One day word came from John that he was to have
leave, just after Christmas, that would bring him home for the New
Year's holidays. His mother went home to make things ready; for John was
to be married when he got his leave. I had my plans all made. I meant to
build a wee hoose for the two of them, near our own hoose at Dunoon, so
that we might be all together, even though my laddie was in a home of
his own. And I counted the hours and the days against the time when John
would be home again.
While we were playing at the Shaftesbury, I lived at
a hotel in Southampton Bow called the Bonnington. But it was lonely for
me there. On New Year's Eveit fell on a SundayTom Vallance, my
brother-in-law, asked me to tea with him and his family in Clapham,
where he lived. It is a pleasant place, a suburb of London on the
south-west, and I was glad to go. And so I drove out with a friend of
mine, in a taxicab, and was glad to get out of the crowded part of the
city for a time.
I did not feel right that day. Holiday times were
bad, hard times for me then. We had always made so much of Christmas,
and here was the third Christmas that our boy had been away. And so I
was depressed. And then, there had been no word for me from John for a
day or two. I was not worried, for I thought it likely that his mother
or his sweetheart had heard, and had not time yet to let me know. But,
whatever the reason, I was depressed and blue, and I could not enter
into the festive spirit that folk were trying to keep alive despite the
I must have been poor company during that ride to
Clapham in the taxicab. We scarcely exchanged a word, my friend and I. I
did not feel like talking, and he respected my mood, and kept quiet
himself. I felt, at last, that I ought to apologize to him.
"I don't know what's the matter with me," I told him.
"I simply don't want to talk. I feel sad and lonely. I wonder if my boy
is all right?"
"Of course he is!" my friend told me. "Cheer up,
Harry. This is a time when no news is good news. If anything were wrong
with him they'd let you know."
Well, I knew that, too. And I tried to cheer up, and
feel better, so that I would not spoil the pleasure of the others at Tom
Vallance's house. I tried to picture John as I thought he must be well,
and happy, and smiling the old, familiar boyish smile I knew so well. I
had sent him a box of cigars only a few days before, and he would be
handing it around among his fellow officers. I knew that. But it was no
use. I could think of John, but it was only with sorrow and longing. And
I wondered if this same time in a year would see him still out there, in
the trenches. Would this war ever end? And so the shadows still hung
about me when we reached Tom's house.
They made me very welcome, did Tom and all his
family. They tried to cheer me, and Tom did all he could to make me feel
better, and to reassure me. But I was still depressed when we left the
house and began the drive back to London.
"It's the holidayI'm out of gear with that, I'm
thinking,'' I told my friend.
He was going to join two other friends, and, with
them, to see the New Year in in an old-fashioned way, and he wanted me
to join them. But I did not feel up to it; I was not in the mood for
anything of the sort.
"No, no, I'll go home and turn in," I told him. "I'm
too dull to-night to be good company."
He hoped, as we all did, that the New Year that was
coming would bring victory and peace. Peace could not come without
victory; we were all agreed on that. But we all hoped that the New Year
would bring boththe new year of 1917. And so I left him at the corner
of Southampton Row, and went back to my hotel alone. It was about
midnight, a little before, I think, when I got in, and one of the
porters had a message for me.
"Sir Thomas Lipton rang you up," he said, "and wants
you to speak with him when you come in."
I rang him up at home directly.
"Happy New Year, when it comes, Harry ! " he said. He
spoke in the same bluff, hearty way he always did. He fairly shouted in
my ear. "When did you hear from the boy % Are you and Mrs. Lauder
"Aye, fine," I told him. And I told him my last news
"Splendid!" he said. "Well, it was just to talk to
you a minute that I rang you up, Harry. Good night: Happy New Year
I went to bed then. But I did not go to sleep
for a long time. It was New Year's morning, and I lay thinkng of my boy,
and wondering what this year would bring him. It was early in the
morning before I slept. And it seemed to me that I had scarce been
asleep at all when there came a pounding at the door, loud enough to
rouse the heaviest sleeper there ever was.
My heart almost stopped. There must be something
serious indeed for them to be rousing me so early. I rushed to the door,
and there was a porter, holding out a telegram. I took it and tore it
open. And I knew why I had felt as I had the day before. I shall never
forget what I read:
"Captain John Lauder killed in action, December 28.
Official. War Office."
It had gone to Mrs. Lauder at Dunoon first, and she
had sent it on to me. That was all it said. I knew nothing of how my boy
had died, or where save that it was for his country.