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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XIV - WILL MORRIS COMES FOR ME


I HAVE always thoroughly enjoyed my provincial tours in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Wherever I go I get real good entertainment during the day fishing, golfing or shooting. After Edinburgh and Glasgow on the trip of which I am writing I played Southport, in Lancashire. One day I had gone out with a friend to have a round of golf forgetting that George Foster, my agent, and a London manager named Harry Masters, were coming up to see me on an important business matter. When they arrived and were informed that I had gone golfing they said they would like to see what sort of a game this golf business really was. Neither of them had ever played it or seen it. As a matter of fact golf had not then taken England by storm as it has since done. There were lots of courses but comparatively few players. So Foster and Masters did not think they were doing anything amiss when they marched on to Formby Golf Course in silk hats, frock coats, and white spats. By the time they walked out across the links and made up to us we were playing the fifth or sixth hole. I told them to walk behind with Tom and "watch how the game was played." But I don't think they paid much attention until Tom, always keen on a practical joke, noticed that the pocket-strap of my golf bag was unfastened and that a fine new ball—one of two I had bought at the professional's shop before setting out—had dropped on to the fairway. "Hullo," said Tom on coming up with the ball, "somebody has lost a ball here. Better pick it up, George. It's worth two bob and Harry is always willing to buy a good ball cheap—he'll maybe give you a shilling for it!"

Foster did as he was told, never suspecting that his leg (to say nothing about mine) was being pulled. "I've just found this new ball, 'Arry," he said. "Is it worth a shilling to you?" I took the ball, examined it, and decided that it was worth all of that amount. Foster took his shilling and fell back to join Masters and Tom. A few holes later Harry Masters came to rue with another new ball, said he had found it on the course, and asked me what I would give him for it. "The same as George got!" I replied, forking out another shilling and congratulating both silk-hatted gentlemen on their ball-finding proclivities. "In fact," I added, "I think I'll stop playing and have a look round myself for balls; the Formby golfers seem to lose a lot !" At this stage Tom, as he told me afterwards, was on the point of explaining the "joke" when another ball trickled between Foster's legs. It had been driven by one of the plus-2 men of the club playing a game behind us. Foster instantly stooped down, picked up the ball and promptly offered it to me for another shilling. As I had not seen the ball coming, being too intent on my own game, I took it from him and was examining it with a view to purchase when loud yells from the rear caused us to look round. One of the Formby members was waving his driver in the air and saying words which sounded to rue tolerably like an outburst of general cursing. As I pocketed the "found" ball and was dipping into my trouser-pocket for still another shilling to pass over to Foster the player behind came dashing up with wild oaths directed not to any one of us but to, as he phrased it, "the whole damned thieving bunch of you!"'

Tom, the scoundrel, turned away choking with laughter. Foster, rather a dignified person at all times, turned upon the stranger with a speech beginning "How dare you?" But he got no further for the Formby member—one of the most fluent and original specialists in swearing I have come across in a long life-time--denounced us singly, and as a company, for the most contemptible and villainous gang of thugs and outsiders that had ever had the nerve to spoil the landscape of a respectable golf course. Foster and Masters he described as a "couple of damned quack-doctors from the beach at Blackpool" while I was "worse than the caddies who stole balls from a player's bag because I was at least dressed like a golfer and ought to know better than buy balls picked up by my overdressed friends before they ;had stopped rolling!"

By this time I deemed it expedient to take a hand in the argument but the information, given in what was intended by me to be convincing and dramatic style, that "I was Harry Lauder and ought to explain that my friends from London did not ken much about golf"—rather added fuel to the fire of the Formby man's wrath and off he started again. He passed some particularly pungent and personal remarks about myself, hinted that he was more than disposed to credit all the stories he had heard about me in view of the first-hand knowledge he now had as to how I got my golf-balls, and vowed that the local police should be called in to deal with the whole disgraceful situation.

Had it not been for Tom I do not know what the end of it all would have been. He came forward, still laughing hilariously, and explained the joke he had played not only on Foster and Masters but on myself. Immediately I heard the staggering news that I had been buying my own golf- balls I hastily opened the pocket of my bag, assured myself that it was true, and rounded on Fostr and Masters with vocabulary second only in quality and selectness to that of the Formby member. Having now something to laugh at himself, the edge of his anger was turned and an hour later the episode was declared ended and all wounds were healed it the nineteenth hole.

One golf story leads to another and while I am at it I ay as well tell you what happened to me at the Auckland Course in New Zealand. The first time I played here some years ago I had the same caddie for two days running but on the third day a strange boy came up to the first tee and handed me my driver. "Hullo," said I, "you're not the same boy as I had yesterday and the day before—is he ill?"

"No, Sir Harry," said the lad, "he's quite well!"

"Then why is he not caddying for me today?" I asked.

"Well, sir, we tossed for it today--I mean we tossed which of us should carry for you," replied the boy, looking just a bit sheepish or sulky--I wasn't sure which. I must confess that I felt a little elated that the New Zealand caddies should toss among each other for the honour of carrying my clubs.

"So you won, did you?" I went on.

"No, sir," came back the prompt answer, "I lostI" Think it over, folks!

They tell a good story about me at an Australian course through which a railway runs. At one of the holes you have to drive over the rails. I had a very nice game with two or three "birdies" in the round and was feeling so good that I perhaps erred on the side of generosity in the way of a tip to my caddie at the finish. Immediately on returning to the "pen" he was asked by the other caddies what I had given him. "Five shillings," he proudly remarked and showed the two half-crowns. "Gee!" exclaimed one of his companions, "you must have saved his life at the railway crossing!"

Of the hundreds of golf courses all over the world on which I have played I think my own home course at Kim, in Argyllshire, is the loveliest from a scenery point of view. The vistas of mountain, moor, and loch which you get from many of the tees there are unexcelled. Every time I play a round at Kirn it takes me about four hours because I simply have to stop after every other shot and lose myself for a few minutes in a spell-bound admiration of scenes of majestic loveliness. The golf, too, is quite hard enough for me. If I shoot anything round 90 I think I have played above myself. Of course there are no railway engines to help me at Kirn as there are at Monifieth in Forfarshire, that little golf-mad town which has sent so many professionals to earn fame and fortune in America. Once I was playing a game there with Willie Blackwood. The first hole runs alongside the railway track its entire distance. On this occasion I drove off, sliced my ball so badly that the driver of a slow goods train saw it coming, caught it in his hands and dropped it out on the first green. It was lying "dead" when I came up to it and I got a two at a pretty hard four hole! How's that for an untrue golf story?

But this one is really true. Only a few days ago I went over with Blackwood to his club at Oxhey, that beautiful course near London presided over—professionally--by the genial giant, Ted Ray. As we had booked a time by 'phone the news leaked out that I was going to perform and there was quite a group of members of both sexes round the tee when we arrived. Before leaving Harrow, however, we got hold of a very old and filthy golf-ball which Black- wood's dog had been playing with in his garden for perhaps a couple of months. Unless this ball was used in association with a club of some kind nobody would have been able to tell what it was. It wasn't even round. Arrived at the tee I solemnly took this monstrosity from my pocket, handed it to the caddie and ordered him to tee it up. The lad started to laugh but I was as solemn as a judge. "What the devil are you laughing at, boy?" I asked sternly. "The b-b-ball, sir," stammered the caddie. "What's wrong with the ball, boy?" I demanded. "I've played with it for four years Put it down—a good high tee!" The caddie teed up and, wonderful to relate, I hit a beauty with it, the unshapely, dirty mass hurtling through the air for a good hundred and fifty yards. As "Wuilie" and I moved off, not the semblance of a smile on our faces, we heard gasps, titters and "Well, I'm damned !'s" from the astonished Oxhey members and I know for a fact that it took "Jock" Anderson, the popular Scottish captain of Oxhey who was in the know of our prank, quite a long time to prevail on the hor rified members that I really put down a clean ball after the first shot!

But to revert back to my stage work. As the months went on I began again to think about America and how nice it would be to get back there again and touch some real money. I had kept in correspondence with Will Morris since my return. Every letter I had from him contained a sentence or two about my great success there and a hint that I had only to say the word and he would fix me up for a much longer tour at a salary which would make my earnings at home look like chicken-feed. Then all at once, without even saying he was coming, Will walked into my dressing-room at Liverpool. We shook hands. Will said, "When shall we sail?" I said, "Just as soon as you can prevail on my British managers to release me--and that'll be never!" But Morris and George Foster between them managed the apparently impossible—at a price! I forget just how much "consolation money" we had to pay certain managers for their agreement to release me but I remember that the sum made my blood boil and it was only the thought that I would come out all right on balance that induced rue to make the trip.

While saying this I must at the same time admit that the call of America was very strong. There is an electrical something in the air of the United States and the great Dominion of Canada which, once it inoculates one's blood, cannot easily be resisted. Perhaps it is the freshness, the vitality, the Spirit of Youth which animates the peoples of the New World. If it is not these things I cannot define the lure—quite apart, believe me, from monetary considerations—America has always had for me. I have been going over there for more than twenty years now and although my work is harder, much more strenuous, across the water, I feel a new inspiration every time I land in New York or Montreal for still another tour. Yes, as I write these lines in Dunoon I find my mind wandering all over North America and I see rising before my eyes familiar forms and faces that I have come to love very much. This "America Calling" urge reminds me of the story about the Scottish minister who had accepted, in ecclesiastical language, "a call from God to another sphere of usefulness." His leading elder, discussing the vacancy thus created in the local church, remarked to the senior deacon that "it was a funny thing that God aye seemed to call his meenisters awa' to a bigger steepend!"

My second trip lasted for fourteen weeks. On this occasion I played ten weeks in New York and a week each in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. I thought my previous experience of New York had taught me all there was to know about the States and its people. What a terrible mistake! One only gets to know the soul of a nation when one begins to work outward from its great towns and cities. So you will realize how interested I was in visiting the four wonderful cities I have mentioned. The week I spent in each of them convinced me that my American education was only beginning. Chicago is as different from New York as London is from Edinburgh; Boston might be on another continent so far as its comparison with Pitts burg is concerned! While Philadelphia is again completely different from every other American city. It is more like a British city than any other place in the United States and that is probably the reason why many British visitors have told me they feel perfectly at home there. I always do—but then I have travelled America so thoroughly, and am a "freeman" of so many of its chief cities that I am and feel quite at home in any place from coast to coast. It is not my intention in these memoirs to embark on any sort of "appreciation" of the United States, its towns, their inhabitants and their characteristics. For one thing I could not do justice to such an important and fascinating subject and even if I attempted it I am no Will Rogers on such a lay and the result, while it would be flattering to my friends the Ameri can people, would be extremely disappointing judged as a literary effort. The only real thought behind this paragraph is my suggestion that it is always a dangerous thing hastily to judge a people or a country from a flying visit to one or two of the big centres. After my first trip to New York I was under the impression that America was an open book to me and that I, shrewd fellow, had not taken long to weigh up its people, their mannerisms, their characteristics, their amazingly numerous good points and—well, their weak nesses. This extended tour the following autumn only served to show me how little I knew and to embue me with the desire to become better and better acquainted with a country the vastness, the richness, the variety, the resources and possibilities of which made a tremendous impression on my mind. In later years and under exceedingly difficult circumstances the knowledge I acquired of America and the Americans during my earlier trips was to stand me in good stead when I became an unofficial ambassador of Britain—a Britain stricken, gasping, but defiantly determined to see a Big Thing through.

From a professional point of view my second vaudeville engagement in the States was even more successful than my first. The audiences took me and my songs to their hearts; I was as happy as a king—a lot happier than most kings I have met! And there was a smile on Will Morris's face that became broader and broader as the nightly "returns" were handed to him. Frequently I would "keek ower his shouther" to have a look at the figures for myself and what I saw made distinctly good reading, mind I'm tellin' ye. Often I would nervously ask Will if he thought the Lauder vogue would last in the States.

"Last, Harry!" he would exclaim, "Why, we have only started to scratch the soiface; we ain't got down to the real gold-vein yet. We'll be diggers for ten years to comet" Saying which Will would show his white teeth and blink his eyes so rapidly that you couldn't tell the colour of them!

While the native Americans certainly rolled up in their thousands, encouraged to do so by the extraordinarily kind criticisms of my performances which constantly appeared in the newspapers, there is no doubt in my mind that the exiled Scots in the States had more to do with my success than many people imagined. We are easily the most "clannish" race In the world. We love each other even if we don't trust each other. Wherever we scatter ourselves over the Seven Seas we seem to smell each other out and gravitate as surely as Newton's law operates. Let one Scot be attacked in a wilderness or on a cannibal island and another will pop up from nowhere to his rescue. Put a Scot in the Mayor's chair of any city in the world and he'll have to spend more than half his time finding jobs for people from his own home town. Rustle a bag of money anywhere and the Scot will beat the Jew to it every time. The expatriated Caledonians sure rallied to my support during my earlier trips to Dollar Land. Not only so, they turned up at my shows in all manner of Scottish costumes—in kilts, with Balmoral bonnets, wearing tartan ties, and many of them brought their bagpipes with them. They imparted an enthusiastic atmosphere to my appearances everywhere; their weird shouts and "hoochs" and skins provided good copy for the journalists and next-day talking points for the natives. In the first twenty weeks I spent in the States I must have met personally ten thousand people who claimed acquaintance with me in "the auld days in Hamilton, Harry !"—or Glasgow, or Arbroath, or Portobello, as the case might be. I shook hands with them all, lied fluently when I told them I recognized them, and presented signed post-cards to one at least out of every fifty!

Apropos of this rallying of the Scotties to my banner one of the most affecting incidents of my life occurred on the opening night of my second tour in New York. Before going on the stage I was handed a note signed by a Scot who said he had come all the way from Klondyke to hear me. He had a personal message from five hundred miners up there to deliver to me—would I give him a few minutes after my turn was over? Of course I told Tom to wait at the stage door and bring him round. In due course the man from Klondyke appeared, a big, burly, rough-and-ready chap hailing originally from Ayrshire. The tale he told me made the tears come to my eyes. There were many Scots in the mining camp he came from and when they heard that Harry Lauder was to appear in New York they decided to organize a sweepstake the winner of which would have all his expenses paid to New York and back again. The only conditions laid down were that the lucky winner should secure the full words of all my songs (and as much of the melodies as possible of the unpublished numbers) and bring back a signed photo of myself to prove that the delegate had had actual personal contact with me. My visitor had drawn the lucky number and had arrived in New York the previous Friday after being on the road fully a fortnight. He told me that in addition to the Scots who organized the sweepstake hundreds of other miners had taken tickets and it was not until all the tickets had been sold that the awful thought arose in the minds of the promoters—what if an American, or an Irishman, or a Pole or a German won the prize? "Fortunately my name came out of the bag first," said the Ayrshire man, "and here I am. Gosh, but I've had the time o' ma life, Mr. Lauder. And now I'll go back happy!" I got Tom to give him notes of all the songs and lyrics which were not on sale and secure copies of those that were. I also prevailed on him to wait another night or two, which he did, and I got him a seat in the wings during my performances. The song he liked best was "We Parted on the Shore." The chorus he shouted so loudly from his place in the wings that I could scarcely hear myself singing it! He left for the frozen north-west a few days later and I never heard from him again.


 


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