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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER II - BOYHOOD'S YEARS SLIP AWA'


THE story of how I came to be christened Henry will draw a smile to the faces of many Scottish people who remember how serious a matter was the naming of the children in a Scottish household up till within the past few years. Indeed, it still is, in many districts, the immemorial custom for the oldest boy of a family to be called after his father's father. Only exceedingly sound reasons must prevail for any departure from this rule. I have known family relation ships to be split asunder for ever because the parents of the infant refused to be bound by tradition and bestowed on him some fancy "handle."

It was the grandfather's honour and privilege to have the "namin' o' the wean." Correspondingly, if the child was a girl the grandmother on the mother's side exercised her right. The more or less rigid adherence to this cast-iron rule, of course, had its drawbacks. You would often find six or eight or ten Johnnies, or Jamies, or Sandies of the same surname in the same village. This applied also to the Maggies or Marys or Leebs or Jeans. In my own family circles, the Lauders and the Vallances, there are so many of the same name that I have often to work out just who is referred to when any one of them is mentioned in conversation. My own opinion is that the system is all wrong. It leads to hopeless confusion.

Nowadays parents are not so stupid, and grandparents less touchy. But I would most certainly have been christened John Lauder had it not been for the fact that my father had had a bit of a "tirravee" (dispute) with his father shortly before I was born. So in revenge he insisted that I should be called after my mother's father, Henry MacLennan. Old Henry died in our house. He had lived with his married daughter for some years, being very frail and unable to work. He was a typical old Highlander in looks, speech, and general behaviour. I remember him sitting at the ingle-neuk reading his Gaelic Bible and telling me to be a "goot poy an' fear the Lord." He and my mother were thoroughly religious people and both took a great interest in teaching me my prayers. Almost as soon as I was able to lisp I learned the stock prayer of every Scottish infant.

As I lie down this night to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul may keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul may take.

Note how the Calvinistic element of gloom and sudden death was instilled into the Scottish infant of fifty or sixty years ago! Well do I remember lying in bed night after night thinking with horror of the prospect of never wakening up again and wondering why the Lord should want to come to Musselburgh and take away the soul—whatever that meant—of a poor wee boy like me! But whatever the suitability of the prayers and the religion of these days to the very tender minds of youth there can be no doubt that they implanted themselves deeply on the mind. I am not at all ashamed to confess that I still repeat each night the little prayer I learned at my mother's knee.On Sundays no work was done in our house. The food for that day was cooked overnight. The blinds were "drawn." The "auld folk" went to church and, when I was old enough, I was sent to Sunday School. In the evening my mother gathered us round and told us a story about the Covenanters or David Livingstone or read a tale from the Old Testament. Yes, Sunday was "the Lord's Day" in very truth. But to morrow would be Monday!

At this stage of my early memories my mind goes bad to the first money I ever earned. You see how the Adam in Harry Lauder asserts itself. If I am ever stumped for a story or a subject in this book I can always turn on the moneymaking tap. It will never fail me. Perhaps this is only to be expected in the life story of a man who is supposed to think more of "siller" than the average Scotsman and who is popularly reputed to have collected—and kept—more than his fair share of it all over the world! But, in the meantime, we'll "let that flea stick to the wa' !" It has been a grand advertisement for me all my life and why should I complain of the best free advertisement any public man ever had anywhere, at any time?

I would be about eight years of age when a well-known worthy in the village called Wattie Sandilands gave me the opportunity of earning my first few coppers. He kept a large number of pigs. The "soocraes" at Wattie's place had a peculiar fascination for me and many an hour I spent watching their inmates. One day the old man said that if I would help him to feed the pigs he would give me sixpence a week. Would I? I could scarcely answer him for the thumping of my heart. Sixpence a week for doing a job which I would gladly have done for nothing! So the bargain was struck. Each night for a fortnight I slipped along to Wattie's, helped him to unload the refuse from the tins in which he collected it all over the town, mix it and dump it in the troughs. For two Saturdays I got my sixpence and proudly took it home to my mother. She was not exactly enamoured of my first job, not because of its humble nature, but owing to the fact that Wattie had the reputation of being a very short-tempered man and quick with his hands. My father, when consulted, only laughed and said that if I was feeding pigs I was being kept out of mischief in other directions. "Besides," he added, "Harry may be a farmer some day and the experience will do him good." (The words were prophetic. I was a farmer many years afterwards but any experience I had as an assistant pig-feeder did not prevent me making a colossal failure of the business.) Alas, my weekly sixpence did not continue after the fortnight for one of Wattie's pigs choked itself to death through trying to eat a piece of hard dumpling which had been thrown away by some housewife. Probably it was the first she had ever made. In any case, the pig died and old man Sandilands blamed me for letting the pig eat it in the first instance and for not immediately acting as veterinary surgeon when I saw that it was in difficulties. I was sacked on the spot. To add to the injustice I was unable to sit down with any degree of comfort for a week or ten days.

My next job was to help a market gardener pick strawberries. The chief qualification for this job was the ability to whistle. No boys were engaged that couldn't whistle. They were supposed to whistle all the time they were picking the strawberries and the gardener walked round the beds watch ing and listening. The boy who was working alongside rue was an expert whistler. In fact he whistled so loud that occasionally I left off—and had a good feed of strawberries. The pay was fourpence a day. I managed to get away with two days' pay, but on the third I fell into a trap laid by the gardener. He had evidently been suspicious of my honesty because he creeped down the side of my strawberry bed and pounced out on me when I was "gobbling" the best and biggest of the berries and making a hopeless attempt to whistle at the same time. Once more the parting between employer and employed was of a painful nature. I have never liked strawberries from that day to this. They make me feel ill whenever I see them on the fruit-stall or on the table.

In between these various—and vicarious—jobs, I was a caddie on Müsselburgh Links, at that time the great golfing resort of the Edinburgh gentry. We boys used to meet the golfers at the train and bombard them with requests to be allowed to "cairry yer clubs, sir, balls an' all, sir!" Although I was very small I could generally do my fair share of shouting and elbowing at the station and I got my "cairries" with the best of them.

There were no caddie-masters in those days. The contract was a simple one between golfer and boy, the price twopence a round. An understanding ruled, however, that if the caddie did his work faithfully and well and lost no balls he got an extra penny at the end of the round. Many a day I earned sixpence or ninepence as a caddie. My mother got the money as a rule, but occasionally I was tempted to spend some of my earnings in sweets or ladies' twist. This was a sort of tobacco rolled up into long oval balls and a penny worth would represent ten or twelve inches of material for all the world like a length of rough string. I do not know how I became thus early introduced to the nicotine habit. Probably I had seen the older boys buying it. In any event I learned to chew the tobacco and for years afterwards ladies' twist was always a temptation and an addiction.

The caddie-boys at Müsselburgh had another way of se- curing pocket-money. The golfers of that time had no Dun lop, or Silver King or Spalding balls to smack up the middle for two hundred and fifty yards. They played with the old gutta ball, a pill which had to be well and truly hit if the golfer's arms and spine were not to be shattered by a stonelike hitting. These guttas sometimes split in two when struck by the club. This was a joyful sight to the caddies for we were allowed to collar the pieces and put them in our pockets. At home we got hold of our mother's stew-pans and boiled the remnants of the balls until they were soft. Then the soft and "claggy" mass was rolled out on the kitchen table and shaped into whips which we sold to the miners' pony-drivers in the Carbery Coal Pits near Müsselburgh. When I became a miner myself a few years later I used to regret my financial transactions in this direction for the whips were vicious things and could give cruel blows to the puir wee horses working in the damp and eternal darkness of the mines.

I learned to hit a golf-ball before I was eight or nine years of age. Little did I then think that in the years to come I would myself play golf all over the world, or that my name would be associated with so many golf stories exemplifying the "nearness" of the Scottish race! Some of the best of these tales I shall tell against myself in their proper place during the course of these reminiscences. I must have a better collection of golf stories than any other golfer in the world.—and most of them are true, seeing they are mostly told against myself.

Sport played quite a prominent part in my early boyhood days at Müsselhurgh. My father took a keen interest in foot- racing. He had been a runner himself, but after marriage he confined his interests to training the runners of the district. Sprints, half-mile, mile, and long-distance races were tremendously popular in the midlands of Scotland about this time. Wee Johnnie Lauder had the reputation of being a peculiarly clever trainer and to get into his "stable" was considered something of an honour. He trained the winners of many races, including one Powderhall Handicap. Up till a few days ago I could not have told you the name of this victor in the historic Scottish race, but—so curiously do events work out—I have before me at this moment a letter written by an old man of seventy-one, now living in Buckie, Banffshire, telling me that he was trained by my father when he won a big Edinburgh Handicap in 1877. He signs the letter "William Young" and in it he says he has just noticed in the papers my return from America and took the notion to write me after all these years. I need quote only one sentence from Mr. Young's letter, a sentence that made a lump rise in my throat as I remembered the father whom I only knew as a little boy, "Johnnie Lauder was a straight, honest man and a thorough sportsman—what a pity he didn't live to see your success, Sir Harry !"

And so my boyhood's years slip awa'! I am not twelve years of age, not very big, but broad and strong and as healthy as a young animal. There are seven boys and girls in the Lauder family, and I am my mother's mainstay for nursing, running messages, and generally assisting in the house. I can cook a meal, bathe a baby, and do a household washing if need be. There is great excitement one evening. My father comes home with the information that he has been offered a good situation in Pearson's Pottery at Whittington Moor, Derbyshire.

A Council of Ways and Means and Future Prospects is immediately called. The pros and cons are studied and dis cussed. My mother is very silent and undemonstrative all through; she does not like the idea of leaving Scotland for the "wilds of England." All her sentiments and affections are for her "ain folk" and for the land she knows and loves. I do not know it at the time, but in after years she confesses that "her heart was never in the shift." The Highland strain in her make-up foresees danger and disaster ahead; she has a premonition of impending fate. But my father is full of the bigger wages he has been offered. He thinks there will be better chances for the bairns in England. His enthusiasm wins the day. In less than a month the family packs up and we find ourselves at Whittington Moor near Chesterfield.

The few weeks we spent there seem like a dream to me now. I can only remember clearly the one big event which shattered the whole world for a poor young woman and her brood of seven children—the sudden death of my father from pneumonia. And one scene stands out, cameo-like, from the drama. It is the picture of my mother coming out, moaning, from the little room in which my father was lying. She catches me to her arms and sobs out "Oh, Harry, Harry, yer faither's deid, yer dear faitlier's been ta'en from us. What'll I dae, ma son, mu puir wee laddie? God help us a' in His mercy an' compassion!'

There is no need to enlarge upon the scene and the grim tragedy of the whole situation. I was very, very young— not yet twelve years of age—but I did my best to comfort my weeping mother by telling her I loved her, that I would never leave her and that soon I would be able to work for her and my wee brothers and sisters. My father had been insured for £15 and this sufficed to bury him in the little churchyard at Whittington and leave a balance over, along with what the pottery people gave us, to take the family back to Scotland. My mother had relatives living in Arbroath, a little town in Forfarshire, and it is here that I again take up the story of my individual life once more.

Arbroath at that time was, and still is, a fairly prosperous township. It had quite a number of industries such as flax-mills, engineering works, tanneries, boot factories, and fishing. A good deal of shipping used the little harbour in my time, steamers of fair size landing cargoes of raw flax from Russia and the Baltic countries.

I had no difficulty in getting a job as half-timer in Gordon's Mill at the Brothick Brig. There are no half-timers in Scotland now; the law put a stop to this form of child-labour many years ago. But forty or fifty years ago it was common all over the country, particularly in the large manufacturing districts. A half-timer was so called because he put in one day at the mill and one day at the school; in other words he would toil from morning till night on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the factory, while on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays he would attend a school run by his employers in connection with the establishment. It may have been the other way round so far as the days of the week were concerned, but you get the idea.

Well, my task at Gordon's Mill was to be a "towie." That is, collecting the tow after it had passed through the heckling machinery and stamping it into a bag or a large tin receptacle. The "towie" had to be very careful not to break the tow in its passage from the machine to the bag or the tin. When one receptacle was filled, carefully pressed down in coils or layers, another took its place and so the job went on, changeless and mechanical, all day. The only relief came by thinking that tomorrow there would be no work to do and that school, even under such a schoolmaster as Auld "Stumpie" Bell, was far, far better than handling an endless film of tow from six till six.

There were perhaps fifty half-timers in Gordon's. Their educational requirements were attended to by the said Mr. Bell, a "character" if ever there existed one among the dominies of Scotland. He was a little man with a shrivelled leg so much shorter than the other than he wore an iron standard on his boot. This certainly brought both limbs on something like equality for length but I always thought that the leg with the ironwork attached to it was easily the more useful of the two! Because he used it with deadly effect upon my anatomy more than once! My first impressions of "Stumpie"—the nick-name was, of course, inspired by his infirmity—were that he regarded each and every one of his pupils as a child of Satan, choke-full of the most terrible kind of original sin. He was the sternest disciplinarian I have ever come across in my life. He ruled us with a rod—and a foot!—of iron. Only the slightest provocation roused his temper and it was God help the poor kid who came under the storm of his wrath. He walloped the life out of us boys day in and day out. But we loved him. He was just. He was hard but he was fair. And he earned the respect of every boy who passed through his drastic curriculum.

Curiously enough, his educational ideas were pretty much on a par with those of Mr. Fraser, the Müsselburgh teacher of whom I have already written. Not because he believed implicitly in the "fundamentals"—.-the good old three R's again---but because he was another fervent Scot to whom the rest of the world didn't matter. Scottish history meant far more to him than the story of the Incas in Peru or the building up of the German Empire. And the geography of Forfarshire, including such a fact that the Bloody Graham of Claverhouse had his castle just outside of Dundee, was of more vital importance than the coast-line of Japan or the latitude of the Andaman Isles. For his own town of Arbroath he had a warm admiration. He abjured us to honour it all our lives and never, under any circumstances, allow anybody to say a word against it. Thus did he instil into his pupils a sense of local patriotism in the same way as his brother-dominie Fraser had inspired me with a sense of national pride.

There was a little public-house not far away from the school in the Applegate. To this house of refreshment "Stunipie" was wont occasionally to repair at the lunch hour, and whenever any of us detected the teacher coming out of its kindly doors we sent round the word that "Stumpie" had had a "hauf or twa," This meant that we must all be on our best behaviour for the rest of the day. For if the teacher was a taskmaster when sober, he was a tyrant with a couple of drinks in him! Woe betide any of the half-timers who gave a wrong answer to Maister Bell under these conditions! I have seen him work himself into a state of the most ungovernable fury, blinking his eyes, licking his teeth and lips, snorting with rage and keeping his iron-heel constantly on the move as if he were only waiting for a chance to bring it into action on a pupil's shin or—well, higher up! The class sat trembling, each boy as quiet as a mouse, until the dominie calmed down a bit, which he always did very soon.

One day Ord's circus came to town and spread its tents on the Common. The visit of this "mammoth combination" —ten vans of "raging, tearing man-eaters and other beasts of prey"—caused a sensation among the half-timers. We held a meeting in the playground the night before and it was decided that a committee of the bays should approach "Stumpie" in the morning and ask for a day off to see the circus. I was one of the committee. When the morning came I, for one, rued my appointment and the other two members of the deputation did the same. You see, we knew our "Stumpie" and we had all come to the conclusion that there wasn't a thousand to one chance of him listening favourably to the request. We trooped into school and the circus was never mentioned. But at the dinner hour we held another meeting and ten or a dozen of us decided to take the bull by the horns and play truant for the rest of the day.

We had a glorious time on the Common among the circus tents. When the evening performance came along I burrowed my way underneath the canvas and had a spell-binding view of the proceedings for about half an hour. Suddenly the spell was broken by aij attendant gripping me by the nape of the neck, bending me over his knee and administering severe corporal punishment with a horse brush. Then he flung me towards the canvas and ordered me to clear out the way I had come in. No snake ever wriggled quicker through the jungle than I did below the flapping canvas. Sore but satisfied, I was a hero among the other chaps for days after the circus had departed. This it did on a Sunday evening. We boys followed the cavalcade as it wound its way out of town to the north. The wooden sides of a van containing several lions were still down and naturally this was the vehicle which focussed our fascinated attention. Once, out of bravado, I dashed up close to the side of the "cage" and yelled fearsomely at the lions. One of these snarled at me and stuck an angry paw through the bars. I received such a fright that I fell, and in failing I spiked my hand against a projecting bit of iron on the wheel-rim of the next caravan. The mark is there to this day.

The sequel to our playing truant is worth telling. We had to work in the mill the following day, but next morning "Stunipie" was waiting for us in a condition of bottled-up rage. Like Tam O'Shanter's wife he had been nursing his wrath to keep it warm! I was supposed to be the bravest of the boys who had "skulked the schule," and it was decided that I should be the first of the miscreants to enter the classroom. I didn't like the job at all, but I put as good a face on it as possible and made a dash for my desk. But "Stunipie," moving with unwonted alacrity, caught me before I got there or had time to utter a word. He gave me a tremendous clout on the jaw. Fortunately, it knocked me clean underneath a desk, otherwise I would have caught a swinging kick with his iron-heel and that might have been the end of me.

The master never uttered a word. His breath was going and coming in gasps, his eyes were glaring with fury. He tried several times to voice the anger which was consuming him, but he couldn't get the words out of his mouth. After settling my "hash" he went for several of the other boys. The class was in an uproar. Two or three of the younger pupils began to cry and others, thinking that Maister Bell had gone mad, made their escape from the room and the building. I cannot imagine a scene of such a turbulent nature to have taken place in any school anywhere since education of the young began. It was an epic contest. One of the fellows upset the master's desk in the struggle, while I emerged from my place of temporary security and threw a slate which just missed Bell's head by inches. Suddenly "Stumpie" shouted out, "We'll now take the Scripture lesson!" Peace was gradually restored. And if my recollection is trustworthy the lesson that morning began with the text, "Suffer the little children to come unto me!"

Dear old "Stumpie" Bell! He had a difficult task with us half-timers, as wild and deil-may-care a bunch as you could have found in a day's march, but he left his imprint on our minds as well as on our bodies. Years after I went back to Arbroath as a "lion comique." Before going to the concert hail in the evening, I went out to hunt up my old schoolmaster, but to my immense regret I learned that he had died a year or two before. I don't mind telling you that I shed a tear or two for his memory that evening.

My pay as a half-timer was 2/Id. per week. My mother worked at whatever odd jobs she could get. She would "mind" a family for a day while the parents took a holiday or she would go out "washing" for the more prosperous of the town's lady citizens. She was willing to do anything at all and her geniality and determination to earn food for her children made her a general favourite wherever she went. I was the only member of the family old enough to do a "hand's turn." Naturally we had a thoroughly hard time of it but we always had something to eat. Indeed, out of my wages I got the odd penny as pocket money. This invariably went in tobacco; by this time I was a slave to the weed. The "ladies' twist" did not last long. It was usually consumed by the Sunday evening, and I had just to wait until the week-end, or until I had picked up a penny elsewhere, before I could satisfy my craving for more tobacco. Later, I got taken on as one of a gang of boys to deliver the Arbroath Guide on Saturday mornings. I started out as early as five o'clock and finished up in time to go to school. For deliver ing probably 150 copies of the paper I earned as much as ninepence. This meant a most substantial increase to the family resources.

Occasionally I got my brother Matthew to assist me in my news-vending activities. At first I thought he wanted to do me out of my job, but I discovered that all he wanted was to learn to smoke, like me. So I arranged that if he would help me to deliver the papers I would teach him to smoke. From one of the printers at the Guide office I got a chunk of "thick black" one morning. This tobacco is not very well known to smokers outside of Scotland and Ireland. It is a peculiarly pungent brand much beloved of dock-labourers, blacksmiths, and coal-miners, you must be a strong man to tackle it either for chewing or smoking purposes. I had long desire to graduate from the more or less insipid ladies' twist to this "Man's stuff." Here was a chance to try it out. If Matt could stand it-well, it would be all right for me. So one Saturday afternoon I filled up a clay pipe with the thick black, took Matt out to the Common and made him get busy with his first smoke. In about half a minute he became violently sick, groaned and rolled his eyes, cried bitterly and threatened to go home and tell my mother. "Matt," said I, shaking a warning finger at my wretched brother, "if you tell on me I'll tell on you! If you dinna say a word I'll gie ye three brandy balls when I get my penny on Saturday !" The brandy balls carried the clay. Matt lay on the Common for a long time and crawled home, a sick and sorry boy, about eight o'clock at night when he knew our mother would be out baking scones for one of the millowners' wives.


 


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