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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XXVI - THE END OF THE ROAD


ONCE again I returned to America by the direct sea-route Sydney to San Francisco. When I first hit "Frisco" eighteen years ago it was an exceedingly hot spot on the then rather hectic Barbary Coast. There were sights and "doin's" in the old town that would not be tolerated today; even Chicago had nothing on the great western seaport for excitement, sensation, and general lawlessness. But within recent years it has quietened down to an eminent respectability, thanks in great measure, I should say, to the wise, popular and progressive rule of my friend Mayor Rolph. For something like sixteen years now Mr. Rolph has adorned the civic chair of the city; the inhabitants refuse to give him up and thereby show their good taste and common-sense. Rolph and I are good friends and I get a most genial welcome from him every time I arrive at 'Frisco either by sea or railroad. Tom asserts that the Mayor is one of the very best men in the world but I have a suspicion that Thomas is prejudiced in his favour on account of the fact that the Mayor entertained him and his wife at a banquet in honour of their silver wedding.

Seeing that I am back again in the States I may as well take the opportunity-­1 shall not have another in these memoirs—to recall several of the more amusing experiences and incidents of my twenty years touring of a country which, to my mind—and quite apart from certain obvious reasons-- never loses its interest and fascination. Only the fact that I am getting older and thus not so keen on seeing new places and new faces prevents me from bubbling over with enthusiasm at the start of each new American "attack" by the Lauder-Morris combination of gold-diggers. But in the old days it was different. I was constantly breaking new ground. Every year I was up against fresh propositions and with no certainty that they would pan out successfully. There were whole vast tracts of the American continent where the name of Harry Lauder was unknown.

Take the case of the theatre-proprietor in Peoria, Illinois. When our advance man went up there to book the theatre for a matinee performance he found the German owner very unwilling to come to any arrangement without a sum down as a guarantee. He had been left in the cart so often, he explained, by these new guys with a New York reputation only. The advance man laughed his fears to scorn and said that "Harry Lauder was the greatest thing that has struck the American continent since Columbus." This line of tall talk settled the doubts of the German proprietor who didn't like to admit that he had never heard of Columbus, and sharing terms were fixed up forthwith. Just as our man was leaving the theatre the proprietor turned to him and re marked, "Say, young feller, you ain't never told me the name of the chap this Lauder guy's gonna fight!"

Tom himself went down from Richmond, Virginia, to fix up a flying matinée at a little town forty or fifty miles away. The arrangements were completed satisfactorily and Tom thought he might as well give the dressing-rooms the once over. He found the accommodation consisted of one large room underneath the stage. "But what about the lady artistes?" asked Tom. "You know we have several women performers—how do you keep them apart from the gentlemen?" "Apart?" said the other in a puzzled way. "Why— don't they speak? Are they not friends?" It was at Richmond, by the way, that I laughed consumedly at a notice stuck up near the stage-door. It read "To Artistes—Don't send out your washing until the management sees your act!" At a theatre in Rochester, New York, I saw posted up above the mail rack this frank notice—"If there's no mail here for you don't ask—you have been forgotten by everybody who ever knew you!"

When I first went to Butte, Montana, the principal means of transport from the station to the town, about a mile away, was an old cab driven by an aged negro. There may have been other vehicles but at all events this aged Jehu drove us both to and from the town. On the return journey I asked him irritably why it was they had built the station so far from the town. "I don't jes' know, boss," he replied, "unless it was to have depot near railroad!" And if, you can beat that as a smart answer to a stupid question you have my full permission!

The last time I was in Butte, a year or two ago, the weather was so intensely cold that the engine of our special train froze up and we were delayed half a day. Several members of the orchestra were assembled in the lounge of the hotel and one of their number remembered that he had a friend in the town who was more than likely to have a bottle or two of whisky in his hàusè. A collection was made on the spot and, armed with ten or twelve dollars, the musician in question set out on his mission of mercy. He was gone for about an hour and then returned, his face wreathed in smiles, and gripping to his bosom a brown paper parcel in the unmistakable shape of a bottle. There was an immediate rush for the returned missionary and one of his enraptured colleagues slapped him so heavily on the back that the parcel fell to the floor and was smashed into smithereens. Two of the orchestra got severely injured in the ensuing mêlée and three others had their tongues, lips, and noses badly cut by broken glass!

Nine-tenths of all the stories in America today deal, of course, with Prohibition. The Ford joke is dead—killed by the bootleggers. I always say myself that Prohibition is almost as bad as not being able to get a drink! And this reminds me of a laughable incident which occurred in my dressing-room last year at Washington, D. C. A certain well- known Congressman (you couldn't get his name from me if you paid me a dollar!) came round to have a chat and from his hip pocket he produced what we would call in Glasgow a half-mutchkin. There were no glasses in the room but I had two paper tumblers and into these he poured the contents of his flask. Just as we were about to say "Here's how .1" there was a knock at the door and another visitor came in, but not before we had concealed the tumblers behind a looking-glass. You see we didn't want to tantalize the newcomer and, moreover, we didn't feel like sharing the "blessing" with him. So we waited until he went away and then jointly dashed for the "hidie-hole." To our united horror we found that the paper tumblers had absorbed all the whisky—in fact they were practically eaten away! There they lay, wilted, drunken and repulsive objects!

At Sweetgrass on the Alberta-Dakota border our train was boarded one night by the U. S. prohibition officers. Tom, I believe, had instructed all the members of our company to come right across with the truth about any liquor they might have in their trunks or hand-bags. They all did so with the exception of the trombone player who swore he had nothing at all to declare. On leaving the train the chief officer called Tom aside and remarked, "That guy in lower-eight berth had four bottles of hooch beneath his bed. Now he ain't got any. I've got two and you'll find a couple in your small grip. See an' stick to 'em. Honesty's the best policy!"

Musicians as a class are the most extraordinary men you can meet with anywhere. I always say that every musician is a genius and it is an accepted axiom that genius is akin to madness. We had one fellow travel with us who manufactured his own gin. How he did it nobody ever found out but when we were in a place for any length of time he used to lock himself up in his room for hours on end. Sometimes he was successful in his efforts as a private distiller and sometimes he was not. But we always knew when he had "done the trick" because he started chasing himself all over the hotel or the theatre; he doped himself with his own devil's brew until he was mad as a March hare. He disappeared during one of his outbursts and we never saw him again.

Another musician in our travelling orchestra—and many of these chaps made tour after tour with the Lauder vaudeville parties—had a wholesale dread of rats and mice. Wherever he went, theatre, hotel, restaurant, train, or boat, the first question he asked was, "Any rats or mice about here?" The other boys were not slow to take advantage of his horror of these vermin and many a laugh and joke they had at his expense. But the best "lark" of all in this connection was quite unpremeditated and had originally nothing whatever to do with the fellow who hated rats and mice. Only he got mixed up in the joke as you shall see. The leader of our orchestra was a charming man whom I will call Jack Blunt and who had two outstanding characteristics—he wore a toupee and made a practice of having forty winks in the band-room every night before the show commenced. He was a practical joker himself and was very fond of stringing Tom when he got the chance, which wasn't often. So Tom determined to have his revenge. Going into the band-room one evening while Jack was asleep he tied the end of a length of black linen thread to the toupee and arranged with the drummer to hand up the other end to him, standing in the wings, after Jack had taken his place at the leader's seat. Thomas didn't dare "pull anything" while I was on the stage but waited for the next turn to mine, which was a diabolo act by the greatest expert in this line I have ever seen —Jack Ark. Ark was in the middle of his fancy work, and "Blunt" was putting in an equally fancy obligato to the performance when the latter felt his toupee suddenly jerked off his head. He immediately let bow and fiddle fall to the ground and put up his hands to discover what had happened to his thatch. Almost at the same moment the viola player two rows behind—the man who hated rats—saw something furry scurry between his legs. Bounding up from his chair with a wild shriek he seized his viola by the neck and brought it down, crash! on what he thought to be a member of the loathsome tribe of rodents. Instantly the theatre was in an uproar. The diabolist bolted off the stage; the other musicians stopped playing to let their merriment have full sway, while the audience, completely puzzled by the commotion in the band-pit, rose to their feet in alarm and many of them hurried from the theatre under the impression that several of the orchestra had all at once gone mad! Tom himself was rather upset at the too complete success of his practical joke,

At Denver one evening the demand for admission was so heavy that the management arranged some dozens of seats round the stage. The seat nearest the orchestra on the prompt side was occupied by an elderly gentleman with a long beard and a pair of chilly blue eyes and I could not help noticing that he never allowed his stern features to relax for an instant. All my patter, jokes and prancings around left him stone cold. So when I came to sing "A Wee Deoch-an-Doris" I determined to have one smile out of the guy even if I had to throw a double somersault or bat the conductor one on the bean with my crooked stick. An idea occurred to me—why not get him to join in the chorus? So at the end of the opening verse I went over to him, first holding up my hand to the audience for silence, and genially remarked, "Now, father, throw oot yer chest and join me in this chorus!" The old man got up from his seat, poked a threatening forefinger in my face and observed in a high- pitched voice audible all over the theatre, "See, here, Lauder, I ain't none o' yer bloody chorus—I paid for my seat up here. Get on with yer own job yourself!" My palpable amazement at the old man's gall made the house rock with amusement and the laughter was renewed when he rose from his seat and stalked off the stage in high dudgeon.

This incident reminds me of another which took place in a little fit-up theatre in a small mining town in Western Australia. The limes were being very badly managed by the operator in the fly and Tom was hissing instructions, mingled with maledictions, to the unseen personage who was constantly missing the vital "spot." At last Tom could stand it no longer, and, with an oath, cried up, "Heavens, man, can't you do what I'm telling you?" Suddenly a head shot out over the fly-gallery into the full view of the audience and a shrill voice exclaimed, "I'm not a man, I'm a woman, and if you speak like that to me again IT come down and knock you clean into the middle of next week, damn you !" This entirely unrehearsed interlude was much to the liking of the audience and the belligerent lime-light lady came in for a hearty round of applause.

I am often asked to say what is the funniest thing I have ever seen in the course of my world-wide wanderings. And I really think the palm must be given to an entertainment I saw one evening at the Sharkey Club in New York. Dominic Buckley took me along there many years ago when one of the items of entertainment was a fight between six niggers. I had never seen anything like this before and didn't think it could possibly be either edifying or amusing. The former, let me admit at once, it certainly was not! But amusing—I laughed until the tears rolled down my cheeks! Not until that night did I thoroughly understand the significance of the phrase—sore with laughing. It was not a case of two-and-two or three-and-three; it was each against all and all against each. Just try to imagine the scene from the gong. You'll have to imagine it because I cannot hope to describe it. But in a general way I must try. Six nervous, wary, but tremendously keen niggers suddenly leave the ropes to indulge in a general mix-up. They have no settled plan of action and it would be of no use to them if they had. They have no idea what is coming to them—or from what quarter—all they know is that they have to hit wherever, and whoever, they happen to come up against. This they start in to do with commendable energy and rapidity. Two of them, let us say, commence a nice little argument of their own and are getting along famously with it when an unexpected punch from some outside agency alters the whole course of events. Enraged beyond measure at this impertinent interference with their individual battle the original couple will turn together on the newcomer and only the advent of another stray wallop, or sudden upper-cut, will prevent him being "outed" on the spot. The black ingredients of this fistic "pudding" get all stirred up together in the most laughable way; the fray ranges from end to end, corner to corner, of the ring in amazing and kaleidoscopic fashion. There is absolutely no "fear or favour, affection or ill-will," as the Scottish lawyers have it—the six combatants slug, drive, hook, swing, jolt, upper-cut or kidney-punch with complete freedom and entire lack of prejudice. One of the black fellows may side-step a murderous blow from the right only to meet an equally devastating attack from the left. A daring frontal effort by another may have all the sting taken from it by a sudden pile-driver from the rear. If there are one or two big chaps in the sextette it is more than prob able that they will early have been signalled out for general punishment and that before the conflict has proceeded many minutes these same big chaps are heartily glad to crawl for their lives beneath the ropes.

Gradually the original six is reduced to five and then four and then two, for all the world like the six little piggies that went to market. The night I was at the Sharkey Club the battle resulted in a draw between two most valiant niggers who were so exhausted that when they finally reeled up against each other they fell to the floor in a heap—and went to sleep on the spot. Entertainments of this kind are not now allowed in America and, on the whole, I think the authorities are quite right! But I still laugh every time I think about the black mélange at the old Sharkey Club with my good pal Dominic Buckley.

Tom Valiance is one of the best fellows in the world as a rule but he has a wicked temper at times, as I myself have good reason to know. At Toronto on one occasion all our company had to be vaccinated on account of a smallpox scare. Tom had the doctor aside and told him that he had been vaccinated only a year previously. But the doctor shook his head. "I get a dollar a head for this job and every one o' you birds has to earn me a buck. There are forty o' you all told and I got forty dopes—no more an' no less. I aint takin' none back with me!" "Oh," said Tom, "if that's all your grouch you can give my share to the drummer—he an' I are not on speaking terms!" To this monstrous suggestion the medical man agreed with a nod and a wink. And the innocent drummer was off duty for a fortnight! I only heard the story a week later and I wasn't feeling so good myself that I could take the trouble to dress Tom down.

Once we had to wait until three o'clock in the morning to catch a train out of Chicago for a town in Indiana. Most of us went to an all-night picture show to pass the time. The second picture thrown on the screen was a war-time scenario supposed to have been taken in Germany and the main inci dent in which was the actual declaration of war by the Ger- man cabinet. A very snappy scene depicted the Kaiser slowly and dramatically getting to his feet, raising his hand and announcing, per title, "I Declare For War, Gentlemen !" We had with us at the time a little Italian piccolo-player who had just returned nursing some nasty wounds, from serving as a soldier on the Piave. He was seated about four places from me in the row immediately behind. When he saw the Kaiser make his melodramatic pronouncement his emotions got the better of him and, whipping out a pistol, he fired point-blank at the Kaiser's head. The audience ducked as one man and hundreds started a scramble on all fours for the nearest exits. Even in Chicago they don't like their pictures interlarded with actual gun-play. The place was instantly in a commotion. A "cuppla bulls" enjoying the show near the Italian pounced upon him and lugged him off to the station. He was fined twenty-five dollars and told by the magistrate that he was "damned lucky not to have shot the President of the United States!"

And now I must face the difficult task of drawing these Roamin's in the Gloarnin' of my life to a close. When I was a wee boy attending church every Sunday in Arbroath I used to think the Minister's "Lastly, my brethren" the most wearisome part of the whole service. How I wished he would hurry up and get it over. My readers who have followed me thus far might feel the same way about my final paragraphs. From a stage point of view an exit is much more important than an entrance and personally I have always tried to leave the stage with the audience wanting just a little bit more. I have an idea that it should be the same way now. Yet how am I to plan it? I am about to say farewell to the greatest and most critical audience before which I have ever appeared in my life and I am anxious not to make a mistake. Because there will be no "next show" to provide me with an opportunity of rectifying my error. In this respect I am like the Aberdeen man who was walking down Union Street in company with the only Jew who ever managed to earn a living in the northern capital of Scotland. All at once the Jew bent down and picked up half-a-crown from the pavement in front of the Aberdonian's feet. The latter said nothing—but hurried off to have his eyesight tested at an oculist's. Afterwards he explained to his friends that he couldn't afford to make the same mistake twice!

So, rehearsals in leave-taking being out of the question, how shall I end these memories and stories of a career which often astonishes me when I fall into reflective mood at "ma ain fireside," in my bed, in the train or on the ocean liner, at home or abroad? Perhaps I may be able to convey something of what is in my mind if I say that, had I to live my life all over again, there is really little in it from a purely personal standpoint that I would like to alter. God knows the difference it would have made to me had my only boy been spared from the ravages of war, but the mysterious workings of Providence ought not to be taken into consideration when a man is weighing up his own life and actions. All such regrets and longings put aside, however, I cannot see where I would have had the course of my life changed in any way. Certainly not the early poverty and hardships, the bitter fight for bread as a mill-boy and a miner; certainly not the dawning ambitions and the determined strivings after their attainment; most assuredly not the years of clash, clamour and conflict, with their gradual building up of what people call "fame and fortune." No, these are the real things in any man's life—up to a point. They are the things truly worth living and fighting for—up to a point. Then comes the point. And it is here that every man must answer certain questions for himself. There is no compulsion upon me publicly to answer all the questions that occasionally arise in my own mind and I do not propose to do so.

But one or two of them I shall not hesitate to discuss. Perhaps I ask myself if I have always been scrupulously honest and straightforward in my dealings with my fellows men, if my word has been as good as my bond, if I have ever let a friend down, if I have ever owed one penny. piece, if I have in all my life wilfully done an unkind or a cruel act—and I tell myself that my conscience is clear on all these things. Have I forgiven much of insult, approbrium, of injustice, of false report, of malicious lies, of many thousands of pounds lent and never returned and I reply--yes, freely. Have I raised by my own efforts and downright hard work great funds for war and charitable purposes all over the world, and again I say to myself—"Yes, Harry, that is SO." Am I entitled to all the money I have earned? Surely I am as much entitled to it as the managers and proprietors who made thousands and thousands off me when they were paying me a hundredth part of what I was worth to them? In any case (I argue to myself) the Socialists can have no possible quarrel with me for I never compelled people to pay to hear me; all that I have today has been a freewill offering on the altar of any talent I may possess or any pleasure I may have been able to bestow.

But have I done all that I might have done? Have any of us done all that we might have done? Have I been as sympathetic, as gracious, as kindly, as ready to open my purse to all-comers as a man of my income ought to be, according to popular belief? Have I not hardened my heart to the needs and the claims of others just a bit too much? Have I carried the totally undeserved reputation for Scottish "carefulness" to a line bordering on the excessive? Have I failed to realize, in fact, that money was "made to go round"? Well, perhaps I have. But will you let me make a confession? Money, purely as money, has meant very little indeed to me all my life. My wants are small; they have always been small and will continue to be small. It's the fighting for it that has intrigued me, the pulling of it "into the house," the knowledge that white, black, brown, and yellow men have been willing to pay it, out to hear me and see me and cheer me! And, after that, the cosy feeling that there's enough in the bank for all eventualities is not to be sneezed at! There I am joking when I really meant to be serious. What remains to be said? Very little, I think. I am not going to retire yet a while; I would only be miserable if I had no work to do and at the moment Will Morris and I are planning still another farewell tour of America. After that I shall settle down at Dunoon for a bit and then, perhaps about 1929, make a long summer trip to all the Scottish towns in which I established the basis of my reputation thirty years ago. This is a project I have long had in mind and already I am looking forward to it with great joy and keen anticipation for the memories it will revive. Still plotting and planning—you will say. I cannot help it. It's in my blood and will, I suppose, be there right on till the End of the Road.

Keep right on to the end of the road
Keep right on to the end.
If the way be rough let your heart be strong
Keep right on round the bend.
Though you're tired and weary still journey on
Till you come to that happy abode
Where all you've loved and been longing for
Will be there—at the End of the Road!

THE END

 


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