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A Minstrel in France
Chapter 2


IT was on the twenty-ninth day of March, in that year of 1914 that dawned in peace and happiness and set in blood and death and bitter sorrow, that we landed in Sydney. Soon I went to work. Everywhere my audiences showed me that that great and wonderful reception that had been given to me on the day we landed had been only an earnest of what was to come. They greeted me everywhere with cheers and tears, and everywhere we made new friends, and sometimes found old ones of whom we had not heard for years.

And I was thinking all the time, now, of my boy. He was on his way. He was on the Pacific. He was coming to me, across the ocean, and I could smile as I thought of how this thing and that would strike him, and of the smile that would light up his face now, and the look of joy that would come into his eyes at the sudden sighting of some beautiful spot. Oh, aye—those were happy days when each one brought my boy nearer to me.

One day, I mind, the newspapers were full of the tale of a crime in an odd spot in Europe that none of us had ever heard of before. You mind the place? Serajevo! Aye—we all mind it now! But then we read, and wondered how that outlandish name might be pronounced. A foreigner was murdered—what if he was a prince, the Archduke of Austria? Need we fash ourselves about him?

And so we read, and were sorry, a little, for the puir lady who sat beside the Archduke and was killed with him. And then we forgot it. All Australia did. There was no more in the newspapers. And my son John was coming—coming. Each day he was so many hundred miles nearer to me. And at last he came. We were in Melbourne then, it was near to the end) of July.

We had much to talk about—my son, and his mother and I. It was long months since we had seen him, and we had keen and done so much. The time flew by. Maybe we did not read the papers so carefully as we, might have done. They tell me, they have told me since then, that in Europe and even in America, there was some warning after Austria moved on Serbia. But I believe that down there in Australia they did not dream of danger; that they were far from understanding the meaning of the news the papers did print. They were so far away!

And then, you mind, it came upon us like a clap of thunder. One night it began. There was war in Europe—real war. Germany had attacked France and Russia. She was moving troops through Belgium. And every Briton knew what that must mean. Would Britain be drawn in? There was the question that was on every man's tongue.

'What do you think, son?" I asked John.

"I think we'll go in," he said. "And if we do, you know, Dad—they'll send for me to come home at once. I'm on leave from the summer training camp now to make this trip."

My boy, two years before, had joined the Territorial army. He was a second lieutenant in a Territorial battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It was much as if he had been an officer in a National Guard regiment in the United States. The Territorial army was not bound to serve abroad—but who could doubt that it would, and gladly? As it did—to a man, to a man.

But it was a shock to me when John said that. I had not thought that war, even if it came, could come home to us so close—and so soon.

Yet so it was. The next day was the fourth of August—my birthday. And it was that day that Britain declared war upon Germany. We sat at lunch in the hotel at Melbourne when the newsboys began to cry the extras. And we were still at lunch when the hall porter came in from outside.

"Leftenant Lauder!" he called, over and over. John beckoned to him, and he handed my laddie a cablegram.

Just two words there were, that had come singing along the wires half-way around the world.

"Mobilize. Return."

John's eyes were bright. They were shining. He was looking at us, but he was not seeing us.

Those eyes of his were seeing distant things. My heart was sore within me, but I was proud and happy that it was such a son I had to give my country.

"What do you think, Dad?" he asked me, when I had read the order.

I think I was gruff because I dared not let him see how I felt. His mother was very pale.

"This is no time for thinking, son," I said. "It is the time for action. You know your duty."

He rose from the table quickly. "I'm off!" he said. "Where?" I asked him.

"To the ticket office to see about changing my berth. There's a steamer this week—maybe I can still find room aboard her."

He was not long gone. He and his chum went down together, and he came back smiling triumphantly.

"It's all right, Dad," he told me. "I go to Adelaide by train and get the steamer there. I'll have time to see you and mother off; your steamer goes two hours before my train."

We were going to New Zealand. And my boy was going home to fight for his country. They would call me too old, I knew; I was forty-four the day Britain declared war.

What a turmoil there was about us ! So fast were things moving that there seemed no time for thought, John's mother and I could not realize the full meaning of all that was happening. But we knew that John was snatched away from us just after he had come, and it was hard—it was cruelly hard.

But such thoughts were drowned in the great, surging excitement that was all about us. In Melbourne, and I believe it must have been much the same elsewhere in Australia, folks didn't know what they were to do, how they were to take this war that had come so suddenly upon them. And rumours and questions flew in all directions.

Suppose the Germans came to Australia? Was there a chance of that? They had islands, naval bases, not so far away. They were Australia's neighbours. What of the German Navy? Was it out? Were there scattered ships, here and there, that might swoop down upon Australia's shores and bring death and destruction with them?

But even before we sailed, next day, I could see that order was coming out of that chaos. Everywhere recruiting offices were opening, and men were flocking to them. No one dreamed, really, of a long war—though John laughed sadly when some one said it would be over in four months. But these Australians took no chances they would offer themselves first, and let it be decided later whether they were needed.

So we sailed away. And when I took John's hand, and kissed him good-bye, I saw him for the last time in his civilian clothes.

"Well, son," I said, "you're going home to be a soldier, a fighting soldier. You will soon be commanding men. Remember that you can never ask a man to do something you would no dare to do yourself!"

And, oh, the braw look in the eyes of the bonnie laddie as he tilted his chin up to me!

"I will remember, Dad!" he said.

And so long as a bit of the dock was in sight we could see him waving to us. We were not to see him again until the next January, at Bedford, in England, where he was training the raw men of his company.

Those were the first days of war. The British Navy was on guard. From every quarter the whimpering wireless brought news of this German warship and that. They were scattered far and wide, over the Seven Seas, you ken, when the war broke out. There was no time for them to make a home port. They had their choice, most of them, between being interned in some neutral port and setting out to do as much mischief as they could to British commerce before they were caught. Caught they were sure to be. They must have known it. And some there were to brave the issue and match themselves against England's great naval power.

Perhaps they knew that few ports would long be neutral! Maybe they knew of the abominable war the Hun was to wage. But I think it was not such men as those who chose to take their one chance in a thousand, who were sent out, later, in their submarines, to send women and babies to their deaths with their torpedoes!

Be that as it may, we sailed away from Melbourne. But it was in Sydney Harbour that we anchored next—not in Wellington, as we, on the ship, all thought it would be ! And the reason was that the navy, getting word that the German cruiser Emden was loose and raiding, had ordered our captain to hug the shore, and to put in at Sydney until he was told it was safe to proceed.

We were not much delayed, and came to Wellington safely. New Zealand was all ablaze with the war spirit. There was no hesitation there. The New Zealand troops were mobilizing when we arrived, and every recruiting office was besieged with men. Splendid laddies they were, who looked as if they would give a great account of themselves. As they did—as they did. Their deeds at Gallipoli speak for them and will for ever speak for them—the men of Australia and New Zealand.

There the word Anzac was made—made from the first letters of these words: Australian New Zealand Army Corps. It is a word that will never die.

Even in the midst of war they had time to give me a welcome that warmed my heart. And there were pipers with them, too, skirling a tune as I stepped ashore. There were tears in my eyes again, as there had been at Sydney. Every laddie in uniform made me think of my own boy, by now well on his way home to Britain and the duty that had called him.

They were gathering, all over the Empire, those of British blood. They were answering the call old Britain had sent across the Seven Seas to the far corners of the earth. Even as the Scottish clans gathered of old, the greater British clans were now gathering. It was a great thing to see that in the beginning; it has comforted me many a time since, in. a black hour, when news was bad and the Hun was thundering at the line that was so thinly held in France.

Here were free peoples, not held, not bound, free to choose their way. Britain could not make their sons come to her aid. If they came they must come freely, joyously, knowing that it was a right cause, a holy cause, a good cause, that called them. I think of the way they came; of the way I saw them rising to the summons, in New Zealand, in Australia, later in Canada. Aye, and I saw more; I saw Americans slipping across the border, putting on Britain's khaki there in Canada, because they knew that it was the fight of humanity, of freedom, that they were entering. And that, too, gave me comfort later in dark times, for it made me know that when the right time came America would take her place beside old Britain and brave France.

New Zealand is a bonnie land. It made me think, sometimes, of the Hielands of Scotland. A bonnie land; and braw are its people. They made me happy there, and they made much of me.

At Christchurch they did a queer tiling. They were selling off, at auction, a Union Jack—the flag of Great Britain. Such a thing had never been done before, or thought of. But here was a reason and a good one. Money was needed for the laddies who were going—needed for all sorts of things. To buy them small comforts, and tobacco, and such things as the Government might not be supplying them. And so they asked me to be their auctioneer.

I played a fine trick upon them there in Christ-church. But I was not ashamed of myself, and I think they have forgi'en me, those good bodies at Christchurch!

Here was the way of it. I was auctioneer, you ken; but that was not enough to keep me from bidding myself. And so I worked them up and on; and then I bid in the flag for myself for a hundred pounds—five hundred dollars of American money.

I had my doots about how they'd be taking it to have a stranger carry their flag away. And so I bided a wee. I stayed that night in Christchurch, and was to stay longer. I could wait. Above yon town of Christchurch stretch the Merino Hills. On them graze sheep by the thousand —and it is from those sheep that the true Merino wool comes. And in the gutters of Christchurch there flows, all day long, a stream of water as clear and pure as ever you might hope to see. And it should be so, for it is from artesian wells that it is pumped.

Aweel, I bided that night, and by nest day they were murmuring in the town, and their murmurs came to me. They thought it wasna richt for a Scotsman to be carrying off their flag, though he'd bought it and paid for it. And so at last they came to me, and wanted to be buying back the flag. And I was agreeable.

"Aye, aye—I'll sell it back to ye!" I told them. "But at a price, ye ken—at a price! Pay me twice what I paid for it and it shall be yours!"

There was a Scots bargain for you ! They must have thought me mean and grasping that day. But out they went. They worked for the money. It was but just a month after war had been declared, and money was still scarce and shy of peeping out and showing itself. But, bit by bit, they got the siller. A shilling at a time they raised, by subscription. But they got it all, and brought it to me, smiling the while.

"Here, Harry, here's your money!" they said. "Now give us back our flag!"

Back to them I gave it—and with it the money they had brought, to be added to the fund for the soldier boys. And so that one flag brought three hundred pounds sterling to the soldiers. I wonder did those folk at Ohristchurch think I would keep the money and make a profit on that flag?

Had it been another time I'd gladly have stayed in New Zealand a long time. It was a. friendly place, and it gave us many a new friend. But home was calling me. There was more than the homebound tour that had been planned and laid out for me. I did not know how soon my boy might be going to France. And his mother and I wanted to see him again before he went, and to be as near him as might be.

So I was glad as well as sorry to sail away from New Zealand's friendly shores, to the strains of pipers softly skirling: "Will ye no come back again?"

We sailed for Sydney on the Minnehaha, a fast boat. We were glad of her speed a day or so out, for there was smoke on the horizon that gave some anxious hours to our officers. Some thought the German raider Emden was under that smoke. And it would not have been surprising had a raider turned up in our path. For just before we sailed it had been discovered that the man in charge of the principal wireless station in New Zealand was a German, and he had been interned. Had he sent word to German warships of the plans and movements of British ships ? No one could prove it, so he was only interned.

Back we went to Sydney. A great change had taken place since our departure. The war ruled all deed and thought. Australia was bound now to do her part. No less faithfully and splendidly than New Zealand was she engaged upon the enterprise the Hun had thrust upon the world. Every one was eager for news, but it was woefully scarce. Those were the black, early days, when the German rush upon Paris was being stayed, after the disasters of the first fortnight of the war, at the Marne.

Everywhere, though there was no lack of determination to see the war through to a finish, no matter how remote that might be, the feeling was that this war was too 'huge, too vast, to last long. Exhaustion would end it. War upon the modern scale could not last. So they said—in September, 1914! So many of us believed; and this is the autumn of the fourth year of the war, and the end is not yet in sight.

Sydney turned out, almost as magnificently as when I had first landed upon Australian soil, to bid me farewell. And we embarked again upon that same old Sonoma that had brought us to Australia. Again I saw Paga-Paga and the natural folk, who had no need to toil nor spin to lire upon the fat of the land, and be arrayed in the garments that were always up to the minute in style.

Again I saw Honolulu, and, this time, stayed longer, and gave a performance. But, though we were there longer, it was not long enough to make me yield to that temptation to cuddle one of the brown lassies! Aweel, I was not so young as I had been, and Mrs. Lauder—you ken that she was travelling with me ?

In the harbour of Honolulu there was a German gunboat, the Geier, that had run there for shelter not long since, and had still left a day or two, under the orders from Washington, to decide whether she would let herself be interned or not. And outside, beyond the three-mile limit that marked the end of American territorial waters, were two good reasons to make the German think well of being interned. There were two cruisers, squat and ugly and vicious in their grey war paint, that watched the entrance to the harbour, as you have seen a cat watching a rat-hole.

It was not Britain's white ensign that they flew, those cruisers. It was the red sun flag of Japan, one of Britain's allies against the Hun. They had their vigil in vain, had those two cruisers. It was valour's better part, discretion, that the German captain chose. Aweel, you could no blame him ! He and his ship would have been blown out of the water so soon as she poked her nose beyond American waters, had he chosen to go out and fight.

I was glad indeed when we came in sight of the Golden Gate once more, and when we were safe ashore in San Francisco. It had been a nerve-racking voyage in many ways. My wife and I were torn with anxiety about our boy. And there were German raiders loose; one or two had, so far, eluded the cordon the British fleet had flung about the world. One night, soon after we left Honolulu, we were stopped. We thought it was a British cruiser that stopped us, but she would only ask questions—answering those we asked was not for her!

But we were ashore at last. There remained only the trip across the United States to New York and the voyage across the Atlantic home.


 


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