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Roamin' in the Gloamin'

BRITISH readers of my Memoirs may be inclined to complain that I have dealt at too great length with my American experiences and impressions. But they must not forget that quite a large proportion of my life has been spent in the United States and in the British Dominions overseas. I have indeed been a persistent wanderer for more than twenty years and it is difficult for me to tell anything like a comprehensive story of my life without these frequent wanderings into other lands and among other people. Besides, my "home supporters" should remember also that there were always very substantial inducements of a financial nature dangling at the end of every other voyage across the foam, I could have remained and worked the British halls for nine or ten months in each year, earning enough to keep the wol from the door. But I found that the oftener I went away for an extended period the greater was my welcome back in London and the Provinces. In London alone I used to play seasons of six or eight weeks in one theatre and all old professionals will tell you that this is a most comfortable and pleasant way of working—if you are sufficiently popular to fill the house at every performance.

For another thing the joy of getting home again after a long and arduous foreign tour has always been very real, so far as I am concerned. The last day or two on the steam ship ploughing her way nearer and nearer Southampton or Liverpool have invariably seen me in a highly excited condition as in fancy I once again trod the heather hills of Argyllshire or strolled through the West-end of dear old London. Yes, even such a trick as Blackwood played on me recently at Waterloo Station could not damp the wild enthusiasm with which I always return to my own country. The incident I mention took place just outside the station. There was a whole bunch of camera men wanting to snap me but for some curious reason they saved their "ammunition" until we got near a cab-rank. The boys posed me right up against the front of a taxi and asked me to smile my broadest smile at the same time pointing with one finger in the direction of a placard stuck on the front window of the cab. I did as I was told never troubling to read the placard and it was not until next morning that I discovered the real significance of the photograph prominently displayed in every London newspaper. There was Harry Lauder standing beside a taxi-cab and gleefully pointing to a notice "Great Reduction in Fares." In response to a request for something special from the press photographers the jocular Blackwood had hit upon this amusing idea, well knowing that it would go down with the public as a "characteristic Lauder touch!"

I had fairly long spells at home both in 1917 and 'i8. There were many contracts waiting to be worked off in different towns all over the country but I did manage to get an occasional spell at Dunoon or Glen Branter. Up till the time of John's death his mother and I were exceedingly fond of our Highland estate. It was a wild but a bonnie place. I had farms and moorland and hills, with fine stretches of fishing in the rivers and on Loch Eck. The house itself was large and comfortable, with every possible modern convenience, and Invernoaden, close by, had been put into thorough repair against the time when John and his bride would come home to it. John's death at the front knocked all our schemes and our dreams on the head. The Glen became tenanted with ghosts. At every turn we were reminded of our dear lad; what might have been was ever uppermost in our thoughts. One spot we fondly loved in spite of the shattering of all our hopes. It was a beautiful knoll on the north side of the main road from Dunoon to Strachur. From its summit we could look right across the glen to the two houses, and the vista, no matter whether the sun smiled or the Highland mist was hanging low over the hills, always made a strong appeal to my wife and I. Here, we resolved, would be set up a monument to John's memory. And in due time a simple but striking redstone monolith crowned the top of the grassy knoll. Inside the iron railings surrounding John's memorial we left sufficient room for a grave on either side—one for Nance and the other for myself. [(Lady Lauder is buried on the right-band side of the monument to the memory of her son.)]

Frankly, I do not think that I was ever fated to settle down as a Highland "laird." Certainly I was never meant to be a farmer; of that I am now convinced. But conviction only came after my experiences had cost me a tremendous amount of money. To begin with I bought Glen Branter on the "top of the market" for properties of this description. It was so far from civilization (I merely use the phrase in its popular sense for, make no mistake, the people of our Highland glens are among God's elect not only for kindliness of heart but in character and intellectual equipment) that building, alterations and improvements generally were on a very costly scale. Moreover my luck as an agriculturist always seemed to be dead out. If I bought five thousand sheep at four, pounds a head, hoping they would soon be worth five with a general food shortage prevalent all over Great Britain, I was to discover a few weeks later that the price had gone down instead of rising. If I purchased another two thousand at three pounds a head to "level up" the next advice I had from my manager was that sheep values had dropped to "ten bob a leg." If I planted ten thousand young trees in the faith and hope that some day they would grow into valuable timber, or at least lend a picturesque aspect to an otherwise uninteresting piece of land, the ravenous deer came down from the hills overnight and devoured every shoot! If I built a dam across a stream to make a reservoir "the rain descended and the floods came" sweeping away the labour of months. If I paid a hundred and twenty pounds each for a pair of Clydesdales I found they were only worth half the money a month or two later. Again, if I reared a pedigree foal of considerable potential value it was sure to fall and break a leg; if I acquired half a dozen aristocratic much cows at an aristocratic price four of them—at least!—were almost certain to die of some mysterious disease never before known in that part of Scot- land. And if I set out, as I did, to build a few new roads through the estate I very speedily discovered that it would have been cheaper to construct a couple of residential thoroughfares through the busiest parts of London!

All my life, right up to the time I became one myself, I had envied the "landed gentleman" with his life of freedom in the open-air, his horses, his cattle, his dogs, his fruitful fields—everything "yielding its increase" even while he slept. Don't you believe a word of it. The picture is all wrong. I know. I've had some. I was lucky to get out of Glen Branter with my leather leggings and a haunch of preserved venison! Fortunately the Forestry Commission of the British Government came along with an offer soon after the war to take over the Glen for afforestation purposes. With bankruptcy staring me in the face, or at least, shall I say, peering its ugly head round the corner, I accepted the offer. My farming and stock-breeding ambitions were dead. I might be a good enough comedian, I told myself, but I had proved a rank failure as a prosperous country squire!

Joking apart, however, we would never have left the Glen had John lived. It is situated in one of the loveliest parts of Argyllshire, a county which I adore beyond all others in Scotland. It grows the finest larch trees and lug shrubs in Great Britain. Its sweeping hills are populated by the blue hare, the fox, the raven, the black-cock and the buzzard-hawk. "Bunny" roams and multiplies everywhere in spite of the presence of its natural enemy, the "whutterit," to employ our old Scots word for the weasel and stoat. I still have my home in Dunoon, and when my time arrives to pass over I shall go to rest beside John's monument on the top of the little hill "up the Glen."


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