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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XV - I PLAY FOR ROYALTY


DURING this trip the American papers were once more exceedingly kind to me. Had I paid thousands and thousands of dollars I could not have secured a tenth part of the publicity they gave me. This is where my lucky star has always come to my aid. Quite apart from any quality of freshness and originality which may have been in my "act," the U. S. A. press helped to make me a public character. If I was asked to visit the Mayor in his civic parlour there was a column about it next morning. If I attended a Caledonian function of any kind the fact was reported—with photographs of me in my kilt shaking hands and smiling my broadest smile. If I went to a hospital ward and entertained the inmates, the youngest child in the place was "introduced" to me and again the flashlight brigade was in action to a man! I honestly never asked for all this publicity and I do not think Will Morris had much to do with it either at that time. Later, of course, he pulled all sorts of stunts in subsequent tours and I remember that I used to become thoroughly tired of the way he worked me quite apart from my stage business. But during this first trip under his wing both press and public seemed to lionize me of their own accord. Indeed at the end of the fourteen weeks I was glad to get back again to Britain for some rest and recreation.

So my career went on for several years. I would play a few months at home filling old contracts and making new ones—at prices which made the managers take deep breaths as they nervously attached their names—and then would whisk off to the States for three, four, or six months according to how I could arrange releases from my engagements in England. Often I had to pay sweetly for the privilege of postponing some of my bookings. Tom and Foster generally carried through these negotiations between them and that combination of Scot and Jew achieved marvellous results even in cases where I had sorrowfully made up my mind that parleying was useless. While Tom put over the rough stuff—and no man ever had a servant so absolutely devoted to his master's interests as I have had in Tom Valiance— Foster provided the oil of suavity—the "smoosh." Naturally the British managers hated to have any of their Lauder dates interfered with but most of them had begun to realize that it was better to have me for a friend than an enemy and so they made possible for me my now yearly trips to America. Not only so but the more discerning of them actually agreed to substantial increases of salary when I did fill in dates for them. A few days ago I met my old friend Sir Walter de Freece at a dinner in London and he was reminding me of an incident in this connection which made me laugh very heartily.

"Don't you remember, Harry," he said, "coming up to my office one day with a hank of red flannel round your neck and coughing as if the tomb was waiting for you? You wanted to postpone certain engagements in the Midlands which you had with my firm so that you could get away to America sooner than you otherwise would have done. There were two weeks' bookings in between my dates and I asked you what you were going to do about them. 'Oh, I can't postpone these,' you replied. 'I'm getting twice the money there that you're paying me.' And don't you remember how your cough vanished immediately when I began to speak about doubling your contract-price?" Sir Walter's story was not strictly true but there was enough accuracy in it to make me chuckle and offer to buy him a drink—of lemonade.

In the New Year season of 1910-11, I played another Glasgow pantomine. That was an ever-.memorable engagernent for me because on the opening night I sang "Roamin' in the Glomin'" for the first time. If "I Love a Lassie" had been a great success under similar circumstances five years before this new lyric was a triumph. It captivated the public ear as no other song of mine has ever done—or will do until I come to sing "Flower o' the Heather." I had kept it up my sleeve for a year or two before producing it. I rehearsed it ten thousand times; I worked on it every day and often in my bed at night. I tried a dozen different costumes before I decided how I would dress for it. I studied each and every syllable of the words, every note and intonation of the music. The song was an obsession with me for months and months. I remember crossing on the Lusitania once with Lord Northcliffe. and among the many interesting things this amazing man told me was a little story I have never forgotten. It was about a small shoemaker who invented the tags for bootlaces and made a fortune out of his notion. "How did you come to hit on the idea of putting steel points to the ends of laces?" Lord Northcliffe asked the shoemaker on meeting him many years afterwards. "By thinking of nothing else than boot laces for twenty years!" replied the inventor.

Well, I thought about nothing else than this song from the evening, a year or two previously; the title came suddenly to my mind. I had been out strolling in the cool of a fine summer night near my house at Dunoon. Every now and then I happened across a couple of lovers linked close together as they slowly "dandered" along the road to Inellan in the gathering dusk. They were oblivious to everything save the sweet nothings they whispered into each other's ears. The words of Burns came back to me as I passed first one pair and then another:

If heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale
'Tis when a loving, youthful, modest pair
In other's arms breathe out the tender tale
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.

There they go, bless them! I said to myself. The old, old story. The ever new, entrancing story. What a perfect night, what a picturesque road, for love-making! No time so sweet for amorous dalliance as in the gloaming. Roaming in the gloaming! Suddenly I stopped dead. Roarnin' in the Gloamin'. If ever a phrase deserved a song this did! What a title for a love lyric! Instead of going home I went up the hill behind Laudervale and hewed out a rough verse and chorus. Next day I had the song complete, words and melody, but months and months elapsed before I had all the "trim mings"—the patter, the expressions of the face, the essential etceteras---just to my liking. I tell you all this about "Roamin' in the Gloamin" because people in every corner of the world seem to like it best of all my purely love songs and have asked me how I came to hit upon such a simple but eternally appealing theme.

In September, 1909, I had the great honour of my first Royal command performance. Curiously enough I was playing at the old Paragon, in the Mile-End Road, London, when the royal communication reached me so that the situation was evolved of a Scotsman singing to Jews—practically all the Paragon patrons were drawn from the ancient race— being commanded to sing before our King at one of the oldest and most noble palaces in the country. King Edward was on a visit to Lord and Lady Savile at Ruord Abbey. The host and hostess suggested to his majesty that perhaps he would like to be entertained by a leading artiste one evening during his visit. "Tell Harry Lauder to come and sing to us!" said King Edward. So down I went to Rufford Abbey, taking my son John with me as accompanist. We were most hospitably received by Lady Savile to whom I submitted my programme. In her turn she submitted it to King Edward. It contained a list of my songs and I had imagined that perhaps his majesty would indicate those numbers he would like to hear. Imagine my astonishment when her ladyship returned with the Royal command that I had "just to begin at the beginning of the list and his majesty would tell me when to stop!"

My concert took place in what seemed to me to be one of the greatest underground vaults of the turreted castle. As there was a big house party at the Abbey for Doncaster Races the audience numbered forty or fifty people. The King sat well forward in the "Stalls" beside his host and hostess; near them were many lords and ladies and other members of the British aristocracy while in the rear seats were gath ered the officials, esquires, lacquays, butlers, footmen, and maidservants down to—I presume—the humble dishwashers and stable grooms. There was a nice little stage with a piano in one corner to which John tremblingly advanced when Lady Savile gave us the signal to begin. I began with "I Love a Lassie," went on with "Tobermory," "We Parted on the Shore," "Stop Yer Ticklin', Jock!" and before I knew where I was, so to speak, I had sung half a dozen songs. But still there was no indication from the great personage in the "front of the house" that he had had enough. So I just went on to sing every song that I had jotted down on the list, ten in all, and ending with "When I Get Back Again to Bonnie Scotland." That number finished I went to the footlights, bowed several times and nodded to John to leave the piano. "And that's all I can sing tonight," I announced, "because I have no more music with me!" As a matter of fact I was completely exhausted.

A few minutes later I was having a rub-down in the dressing-room when a Royal equerry came to say that his majesty wanted to see me. "Like this?" I asked jocularly, indicating the state of nakedness in which I was at the moment. The official laughed, said he would explain to the King and that perhaps his majesty would wait for me. He did so—and I can truthfully say that I am one of the few men in the world who ever kept a King waiting! A few minutes afterwards I was making my obeisance to his majesty and he was pleased to tell me that he had thoroughly enjoyed my performance as well as the playing of my son at the piano. King Edward was not only a great monarch but he was a man through and through.

I have also sung to King George and Queen Mary several times. The first occasion was when, as Prince and Princess of Wales, they were visiting an East-end district of London for some charitable object. A special concert was organized in the local town hail and I was one of the stars asked to assist. Later, when they had succeeded to the throne, they came to hear me at the Palace Theatre, London and only three years ago I was commanded to give a special performance at Balmoral Castle, that comparatively small but beautiful royal residence on lovely Deeside. Their majesties were exceedingly gracious to Lady Lauder and myself and gave us, amongst other mementoes of the occasion, two handsomely framed photographs, each of them autographed. They are on the piano in my drawing-room at Laudervale and, needless to say, I hold these photographs in very high esteem.

Writing about my meetings with British royalty reminds me of an altogether unique incident which occurred at the Palace Theatre the night King George and Queen Mary came to see my performance. Mr. George Ashton, the well- known London concert agent, who usually manages all such outings on behalf of British royalty, came round to the dressing-room and said that their majesties desired to have a chat with me in the Royal box. Of course I went up at once and remained with the King and Queen for perhaps seven or ten minutes. They were keenly interested in my American experiences for one thing and for another they asked me all about my songs, how I got the ideas for them, and how long I practised them. On making my way back to the dressing- room Mr. Ashton appeared in the corridor and with him was the Duke of Connaught. I was introduced to his royal highness and was standing speaking to him when Ashton moved off up the corridor. "Well, good-night, George," I shouted after him, "and good-luck!" Before the words left my mouth the King had emerged into the corridor from his box. With a broad smile on his face he turned in my direction and cried out, "And good-night and good-luck to you, Harry!" I was overwhelmed with confusion at the awful thought that I might be held as taking jocular liberties with the King-Emperor and stood riveted to the spot. But King George went off laughing very heartily at his own joke.

The Prince of Wales I have had the honour of meeting several times. In fact we are quite good friends. I have had him in my dressing room more than once. He is a splendid fellow and easily the most popular young man in Britain— aye, in the wide world. No wonder he is such a favourite wherever he goes for there is absolutely no "swank" in his make-up. Sunny-natured, with great freedom of manner and devoid of every semblance of hauteur, he has won the love and affection of the common people as no prince has ever done in the history of our land. Over in the States, too, he is just as big a success; I always say that we ought to send him across the Atlantic for a few months every year. He would do more good in the glorious cause of Anglo-American friendship than a dozen ambassadors no matter how skilfully chosen! Once the Prince came to the London Hippodrome when I was "on the Bill" there. It was at a time when rumours were unusually rife in London as to his forthcoming engagement and naturally everybody was dying to know just who the lucky girl was. He sat in a box and was so enthusiastically entering into the evening's fun that before I left the stage he cried out, "I Love a Lassie, Harry!" joining with others in the audience in the request for this old favourite. Quick as lightning I looked up at him and replied, "Yes, I know you do, but we all want to know who she is!" The people rocked with merriment while his royal highness also lay back and laughed heartily. Once when I was speaking to him privately I expressed the hope that he would follow the excellent example of his brother the Duke of York and marry a Scottish bride. "I might do worse, Harry!" was all he would commit himself to. Amongst my collection of twisted sticks which I use in my different character studies is one brought home from Japan by his royal highness specially for presentation to myself. When the Prince saw this stick out there he said, "I must take it home to Harry Lauder!" And he did.

After an unusually long engagement in the States I was entertained at a welcome-home banquet in London. Lord Dewar was the chief man behind the scenes in arranging this function and he himself took the chair. As usual be made a most witty speech the key-note of which was that Harry Lauder and Dewar's whisky were the greatest cementers of Anglo-American friendship. As an after-dinner speaker I think I would rather listen to Lord Dewar than any other man in the world, although an old United States Consul in London, a gentleman by the name of Griffiths, once had the reputation of running him very hard. Lord Dewar is an unfailing mine of wit and wisdom whenever he gets on his feet. I have seen and heard dozens of London audiences rock with laughter at his brilliant epigrams and quaint, sardonic philosophy. He has just the slightest impediment in his speech—it is not that exactly but rather a mannerism of hissing certain words—which makes his utterance all the more attractive. Not one of the ordinary tricks of the orator is exploited by Lord Dewar; he makes his points by sheer intellectual ability and by a sense of humour unsurpassed in any living man.

It is one of the greatest pleasures of my life that I am on terms of intimate personal friendship with his lordship. I often go down for a week-end to his wonderful country seat in Sussex where he has hundreds of acres given over entirely to what I call his menagerie. There are farms wholly devoted to horses, poultry, goats, and pigs, kennels for greyhounds, lofts for pigeons, ponds full of water-fowl; you could spend a week at East Grinstead and never see half of the animals within its borders! There must be thousands of them—and every one thoroughbred. There is no room on Lord Dewar's estate for any horse, cow, dog, or fowl of low degree! They are the aristocrats of the British animal and feathered world. Perhaps the favourite of all this multifarious collection in the eyes of their owner is the sultan of the racing stud, Abbot's Trace. This horse was leading in the Derby of his year when he fell coming up the home straight after showing terrific speed for fully a mile. Every- body thought he was dead but he got on his feet after all the other horses had passed him and walked back to the paddock. His owner was bitterly disappointed for he thought "the Trace" was sure to win the Blue Ribbon of the English turf. Trainers and other owners told Lord Dewar that his horse was no good and strongly advised him to sell Abbot's Trace. That he would ever be a famous sire was a proposition they laughed to scorn. But his noble owner had faith in the horse. He kept him because he loved him! And his belief in the quality of the old horse has been more than justified for his sons and daughters won more races last year than the progeny of any other sire, including some of the most important races in the calendar. Even in America a son of Abbot's Trace heads the list of winning racehorses down Kentucky way. Nothing gives Lord Dewar so much delight as to note that an Abbot's Trace colt or filly has again caught the judge's eye. Not even the report that America was giving up prohibition would please him better than to see one of his old favourite's sons winning a future Derby.

His lordship once played a very mean trick on me. Admiring his pigeons one day at East Grinstead I threw out the suggestion that a few of the lovely birds would look very nice flying round my eaves and turrets at Glen Branter, the West Highland estate I bought just before the war. His lordship said he would be delighted to send me a pair of his very best birds.

"In case you may forget," I replied pawkily, "I'll just take them with me; I am going up to Scotland tomorrow." So the birds were put in a basket there and then and next day they travelled with me to the north. I put them in a beautiful "dookit" which I had ordered by telegram to be prepared for them. But the moment they were given their liberty they disappeared. They were homing pigeons and were back at Lord Dewar's place before he got my letter complaining bitterly of the joke he had played on me. That's the kind of present one Scot gives to another!

Many are the good stories told about Lord Dewar. All sporting Britain was chuckling a few weeks ago over a letter he wrote to one of the racing papers. A correspondent had been taking him to task for naming so many of his horses Abbot's Smile, Abbot's Remorse, Abbot's Speed, Abbot's Frown, etc. It simply led to hopeless confusion on the part of backers, said the correspondent, and was quite as bad as the situation which evolved on the English turf some years ago when a famous sire named Bachelor's Button had a hundred sons and daughters running under the name of Bachelor's This or That. In his reply to the complaint Lord Dewar admitted the confusion but neatly urged that surely an Abbot had as much right to boast of his progeny as a Bachelor!

At a recent big London function Lord Dewar found himself seated next to a very pretty girl with the hyphened surname of Porter-Porter. Whether his lordship had not caught the double name or was disinclined to use it I don't know but the story goes that after being addressed as Miss Porter several times the young lady turned tartly to Lord Dewar and pointed out that, "my name, if you please, is Porter-Porter with a hyphen!" "Ah!" swiftly retorted his lordship, "just as mine is Dewar-Dewar with a syphon!"

When Will Rogers—whose unofficial letters from Europe to the President of the United States were to my mind, the most amusing things I ever read—was in London some months ago it was the aim of dinner promoters to get Lord Dewar and Rogers on the same "bill." The result was a duel of wits unexcelled in the history of after-dinner oratory on this side of the Atlantic. They said the most cruel and disgraceful things about each other but in such clever language that the diners were convulsed with laughter. At one function where Lord Dewar had first innings he frankly asserted that the first time he heard Rogers he was convinced that the man was not "all there" but later in the evening Will completely turned the tables by stating that the first time he heard Dewar speaking in public he was certain that "this lordship bird" was "soused to the ears!" Unluckily for the entertainment of London society Will Rogers had to return to the States after a very brief visit and the battle between the two wits is suspended—temporarily only, it is hoped.


 


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