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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER I - WEE HARRY


"WHEN are you going to retire, Harry?"'

That people all over the world should persist in asking this question of a young and strong fellow only anxious to get on with his job of work and save a shilling or two for his old age annoys me very much! I don't know how this rumour about my retiral got abroad but if I knew who started it I would have something serious to say to him. It's not fair to a youthful comedian with a future before him and anxious to earn an honest but precarious living!

Only a few months ago when I was stepping on the gang.. way of the Berengaria at New York for one of my occasional visits home from the country that has been so good to me during the past twenty years a man edged his way through the crowd at the dock, seized me by the hand, and started to wring it like a pump-handle.

"Good-bye, Sir Harry," he exclaimed, "Good-bye and God bless you! My grandfather was one of your greatest admirers and so was my father. I've heard you myself all over the States and would have liked my boys to see and hear you. But that'll never be now, I suppose. Good-bye, good-bye!"

I felt bewildered. I was stunned. I was tongue-tackit, as we say in Scotland. Not so much by the evident emotion of the fellow's farewell, but by a dawning realization of the fact that I have come to be regarded as the Methuselah of the theatrical artistes of the world. What I ought to have done was to bend my hoary old back, stagger up the gang- way with "mony a cough an' clocher," and wave a palsied hand in a long, last adieu to the American people. Actually I dashed up the steps, two at a time, took up a good position at the rail and started to yell to my old crony, Colonel Walter Scott, "Here's tae us, Wattle! Wha's like us? Dell a yin!! See ye again next year!"

Me retire! How do the people that ask me the question know that I have made enough money to retire on? Do they not stop to think that if I retired I would have to spend a lot of money without earning any? And that such a prospect, if all the tales about Harry Lauder be true, would be altogether too dreadful for him to contemplate?

I will go the length of admitting that I have been seriously considering the cutting down of my annual farewell tours! These have been going on for quite a number of years now but the people at home and in America and Australia and South Africa and New Zealand continue to give me so much encouragement—and this is one of those words that can be written either in letters or figures Iv—that I sometimes think I will just carry on "to the end of the road." One of these days, however, I'm afraid I'll be writing a letter to Will Morris in New York, or Sir Alfred Butt in London, or the Tait Brothers in Melbourne, or, dear old Ted Carroll anywhere, saying that I won't be leaving Dunoon and the heather hills o' Scotland for any more professional engagements. Perhaps! On the other hand—perhaps not!!

Honestly why should I retire? I like my work. I am happiest when on the stage—I mean by that that my whole heart is in my job. I never tire of it. If I lie off for a few weeks, as I shall have to do occasionally now if lam to write this book of my life and wanderings, I gradually get more and more restless and the only thing that pulls me together is to know that I "open" at such-and-such a place on such and-such a date. Never a day elapses either when I am at borne or "on tour" but I spend some hours of it singing and tilting and humming and strumming. And it has been the same with me for fifty years. In the mill, in the mine, in my bed, in my bath, in the train, on the steamboat, fishing, golfing, or shooting—I seem to be singing all the time.

I think singing must be a sort of disease with me. But in my case it has been both a pleasant and profitable disease, and you can't say that about any other disease! One day I began to calculate the number of times I have sung each of my famous songs. I began, I say, but I never finished—the numbers ran into millions! An eternal spring of simple melody has welled in my head ever since I was a little fellow at my mother's knee. Even today if I suddenly get a new tune or a new twist to an old one I cannot rest until I have evolved words to fit it, and if I hit upon a phrase or a couplet or an idea which appeals to me I must wed the words to a tune before I lay my head on the pillow.

It is not at all unlikely, however, that the writing of my memoirs—these roamin's in the gloamin's of a crowded professional life—will drive some of the liltin' an' singin' out of my head for a month or two. A man cannot write and sing at the same time—as I am now beginning to find out-- but there's nothing to prevent me throwing down my Waterman every now and then and bursting into song. In this joyous occupation I shall have the company of the larks and mavises and the "blackies" who sing all day long in my garden on the bonnie bank o' Clyde. Yes, we'll all make melody together because we love to sing, and a simple song is the finest tonic and brain-reviver in the world. When Harry Lauder can sing no more there will be no more Harry Lauder!

I wish all my readers could see the scene upon which I gazed with an almost holy rapture a few minutes ago. I had gone upstairs and strolled through the open window on to the balcony of Laudervale which overlooks the water. (To be perfectly frank, I was in sair need of inspiration as to how lest to begin these memoirs and thought I might get it from still another glimpse of dear and familiar scenes.) It is a lovely evening in early June, the close of a day so perfectly heavenly that even on Clydeside we have only a few such in the very best of summers. The sun is going down in a glory of crimson and gold and the spreading sweeps of the Firth of Clyde are bathed in the splendour of its slow-fading beams. There is not a ripple on the waters for the wind has died down with the turn of the tide, leaving all the white-sailed yachts like tiny fairy ships dotted between the Cünibraes and Craigendoran, and from my own bit of foreshore to the coasts of Renfrew and Ayr opposite.

Only two moving things are in the picture—the last boat for Glasgow drawing away from Dunoon pier with its load of trippers, and a new red-funnelled Atlantic liner doing her last trial run over the measured mile from the Cloch lighthouse to Wemyss Bay. The wooded hills behind me and their fellows rising from the picturesque bends of the Firth to left and right are full of a silent majesty, for the birds have gone to sleep long ago in readiness for the early chorus with which they shall waken me tomorrow. In the clear calm air I range my eyes up and down across the Firth for many many miles, picking out all the delightful landmarks I know so well. Suddenly a girl's merry laugh from the riverside road below me breaks the enchantment —and yet it does not, for me, break it altogether because she and her lover are "Roamin' in the gloamin' on the bonnie banks o' Clyde." Oh, but it's a braw, braw scene; the wide world o'er which I have wandered for twenty years can offer me none so fair or heart-warming.

Back once more at my desk—built, by the way, like the parquet flooring of my den, of wonderfully beautiful mahogany brought back with me from the Philippines on one of my passing visits—I again take up the pen and wonder where and how to begin the real story of my life. For I feel that thus far I have been wandering about the stage looking for a spotlight in which to open my performance.

Yes, here I am, standing on the stage, ready and anxious to begin. But the visions that crowd upon my brain prevent me writing the words that will form, as my spoken words have always done hitherto, the spark of vital and immediate contact between myself and my audience. I see a very hum ble home in Scotland, a mere "but-and-ben" inhabited by a father and mother and seven young children of whom Harry is the eldest. A short but sturdy fellow of nine or ten years of age. The little household is never far from the line dividing poverty from penury. Father and mother are hard-working, God-fearing folks, honest, independent, but always dreading the hour when disaster and hunger may assail them and their brood of weans. I see the day when the bread-winner is suddenly cut off and the weeping wife and bairns are thrown, penniless, upon the world. I see the oldest of the boys, not yet twelve years of age, working as a half-timer in a flax mill on the east-coast of Scotland. In the evenings, he and his mother toil in the little kitchen from six o'clock till ten tearing old ropes and twine and hawsers into "tow," their four hours' labour bringing them a few much-needed coppers. Later, I see Harry go down the coal-pit in Lanarkshire as a miner's boy, and, kissing his mother good-bye on that first raw November morning, I hear him say, "Mither, Mither, dinna greet! I'll work for you and the wee yins as hard as ever I can !" And again I see the still very youthful miner winning his first prize as a comedian at a village "soiree," and I remember his dreams of a London appearance and the plaudits of the multitude— of fame! Yes, I can see in my mind's eye that first memorable night in a London music ball when the "wee Scotch comic" held up the "show" for over half an hour and became a stage celebrity in a night. The visions begin to tumble over each other now. There are so many of them; they press themselves forward in swift and kaleidoscopic array. They carry me to "a' the airts the wind can blaw" to all the ends of the earth. They are peopled by kings and queens and princes and presidents; by great and famous men and women, by potentates ,and perS6nalities whose names are as household words wherever the English language Is spoken. My head is in a whirl. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all this can actually have happened to me? Surely I must be dreaming. I'll fill my pipe and rest awhile. I feel that I must come back to earth because if I let my mind linger on these visions and these memories I am afraid I shall never get down to the mental state in which I can tell a coherent story of a life which has been full of incident, full of fun, full of amazing experiences, full of striving and planning and earning and saving, but fullest of all, of downright hard work!

I was born in Portobello, a mile or two from Edinburgh, on the fourth of August, 1870. My father, John Lauder, was a potter, He worked in a small pottery in Müsselburgh where the principal output was jelly-jars and ginger-pop bottles. His father was also John Lauder, a working carpenter, and I well remember him in my childhood's years. He was a big impressive man with a personality which he carried with a good deal of dignity. He was very proud of being a Lauder of Lauderdale, a district of the borders famous in Scottish history, song, and story. The old Lauders, so far as I have been able to make out, must have had some connection with the Bass Rock, that bluff and rocky island that stands sentinel-like at the southern side of the Firth of Forth. Because I can remember my grandfather, perhaps when he had had a glass of beer on a Saturday night, solemnly tapping his chest and telling my father, "John, I'm a Lauder of the Bass! So are you! Never forget that you are a Lauder!"

Even as a very small boy I recollect wondering what good the gaunt and grim Bass Rock can ever have been to the ancient Lauders. Later I discovered that it was reputed in the old days to have been the haunt and hiding place of a nest of villainous Scottish pirates. This thought pleased me much; every time I looked at the weather-beaten rock I pictured my ancestors as bold buccaneers setting forth from their caves on the rock to harry and rob the English and any other nation--but particularly the English. This pleasant task is still popularly supposed to be one of the principal occupations of Scotland!

My mother was a MacLennan. She came of real Highland stock. Her full name was Isabella Urquhart MacLeod MacLennan. Her people came from the Black Isle in Ross- shire. She was a splendid woman in every respect and I hold her memory in reverence. Like all Highland women she had a great strain of romance and mysticism in her make-up. She was full of superstition and believed implicitly in "signs and portents." She had a never-ending fund of stories about witches and war-locks and fairies and water-kelpies; when her family grew more numerous I can remember us sitting round her knee listening, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, with many a nervous look over our shoulders, to tales of supernatural happenings on the mountains or in the glens or on the lochs and rivers of the Black Isle. The request, "Tell us a story, Mither!" never found her wanting. She would stop her housework at any minute of the day to spin us youngsters a tale of romance or chivalry or mystery or horror. I loved her stories from my earliest years. She had all the Scottish Clan histories at her tongue's tip and nothing de lighted me more than tales of the MacLennans, the Urqu- harts, the Logan, s, or the MacLeods. Thus did I become imbued with Highland lore and romance. Today whenever I sing "Sure, by Tuxnmel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go," my blood boils in a sort of "Hielan' ecstasy" compared with which there is no other similar emotion in the world.

I don't remember the "flittin'" from Portobello to Mis selburgh where we moved so as to be nearer the pottery where my father was employed. But I do remember that the family circle seemed to grow very rapidly. Every year another "wean" appeared on the scene. Almost as soon as I was able to walk I began to act as a sort of infant nurse to the others and this continued all through my early boyhood. For many hours I was wrapped in a "plaid" which not only contained me but a wee brother or sister unable to walk—I was a sort of gypsy mother with an infant strapped to me. My parents used to say that Wee Harry was as good as any professional nurse. That's as it may be, but all my life I have been very fond of children. All my brothers and sisters grew up to manhood and womanhood, and, with the exception of George, who died some years ago at Dunoon, they are alive and kicking in different parts of the world. Matt is in California. He has three sons who all fought in the war and got back safe and sound. Jock is in Newcastle, New South Wales, while Alec has settled down as a business man in Hamilton after several years on the stage. Bella, Jean, and Mary are all married and are still living in "the West." I see them from time to time and many's the happy hour we spend together recalling the old days.

When I was about five years of age I was sent to a little school not far from the pottery where my father worked. My recollections of the "penny bookie".—the first primer of every Scottish child—are rather hazy. But I do remember that the teacher was another Highlander, named Fraser, and that he was rather a fearsome man with a stubby, sandy beard. In these days there was no kindergarten nonsense about the cheaper Scottish schools, The dominies focussed on what was known as the essentials—the three R's—reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. That I was either a bright or a promising pupil I cannot assert, in fact I think I must have been rather a dull boy to begin with because the only thing that really interested me was the daily lesson in Scottish history. Mr. Fraser was one of those perfervid Scots—and they still exist—who evidently thought that there was only one country and one nation in the world, his own. The history lesson was not so much an inculcation of dates and facts about the happenings in the world as a laudation and glorification of all things Scottish, its kings, its national heroes, its poets, its soldiers and its ministers. Wallace and Bruce, Rabbie Burns, Walter Scott and David Livingstone all came automatically into the daily "oration"; we boys were urged to revere and worship their names as the noblest and most wonderful men that had ever been born. The geography lesson was pretty much on the same lines. We learned all about the Scottish counties and cities, the mountains and streams, the bens and the glens of our native land. Scotland was the best and the bonniest place in the whole world; indeed no other country mattered a groat!

I may be doing an injustice to the memory of Dominie Fraser in drawing this picture of his scholastic methods, but these are the impressions he left upon my youthful mind. I can remember as well as if it had been yesterday sitting at the little narrow desk, looking up at our teacher with staring, fascinated eyes and thinking how- fortunate I was to be born a Scot and not an English boy, or an Irish, or a German, or a Hottentot.

Whatever fault may be found with Fraser's method of teaching the young idea how to shoot there can be no doubt that one, at least, of his pupils became fired with a devouring passion and patriotism for his native land. There was one English boy in the school and I remember him one afternoon, as we were trooping out to the playground, saying something derogatory about Scotland and the teacher's constant references to it as the greatest country in the world. "England's a far better place!" he concluded. For a few sec onds I was too stricken with anger to do or say anything, but then I leaped at him like a wild cat. He was bigger and older than me and I got the worst of the argument, but as I wandered down the lane nursing my injuries I felt within me a throbbing of pride that I had been able to strike my first blow for the country I adored.

Fifty years have gone by since then. The flame of love for "Scotland's name and Scotland's fame" still burns as fiercely in my breast.

There is a great bit of the natural "fechter" in every Scot and when this tendency is fanned by native song or the skirl of the bagpipes he begins to hold up his head and cast his eye round for any trouble there may be around requiring settlement. It doesn't matter very much if it is his own affair or not—sing "Annie Laurie" and he'll greet, whistle "The Campbells Are Comin"' and he'll throw out his chest, let him hear the pipers play "Up WI' The Bonnets" and he'll search out at once for the nearest recruiting office if there happens to be a little war on anywhere! The emotion roused in the heart of a Scot under either or all of these circumstances has reacted in the same way for centuries. It inspired the victors of Bannockburn; the Scots who marched to the relief of Lucknow; it made the Fifty-first Division (The Highland Brigade) the most dreaded Division by the enemy on the Western front and inspired the Kaiser to issue a special "hymn of hate" against the lads who were proud to wear the tartans of that immortal Division.


 


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