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Roamin' in the Gloamin'

WRITING about South Africa and my restless indulgence in travel generally recalls to my mind rather an interesting fact. And it is this—I once played in no fewer than twenty of the world's principal cities within the space of twelve months. Beginning in America with San Francisco, I came east to Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, then went north to Montreal and Winnipeg; sailed home and played London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. October saw me on my way to India's coral strand—an old hymn-book phrase which has never quite left my mind. Although I played practically all the Indian cities I only include Calcutta in this list; later I found myself in Hongkong and Shanghai. Then down to Singapore in the Straits Settlements (or, to give them their right title the Federated Malay States) and so on to Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. If any artiste in the world can beat this little record he is welcome. Not a bad year's "sight-seeing" you will admit. And everywhere I went I did a job of work just to keep the pot boiling, if you understand me. I always say that a man enjoys touring the world far better when he is able to pick up his bite and sup as he goes along! And if luckily, he comes home with a shilling or two in his waistcoat pocket so much the better still!

This trip of mine to the Orient I had long and keenly looked forward to. I wanted to see whether the Mediterranean was really blue; I wanted to sail down the Red Sea —slit in two so that the Israelites could make their escape "out of the house of bondage"; I wanted to set foot in In dia, that storied land of mystery and romance first focussed on my mind by the vivid essays of Tom Macaulay on Lord Clive and Warren Hastings. How I had longed, as a boy, to have the opportunity of viewing the "barren rocks of Aden" (subject of one of our very best and liveliest bap- pipe tunes); of gazing on the peerless Taj Mahal at Agra; of wandering in historic Lucknow and noting the road by which "brave Havelock and His Highlanders" came to the rescue of the beleagured Britishers at the time of the Mutiny; of seeing the "dawn come up like thunder out o' China 'cross the bay." Well, all these dreams were realized on this trip of mine in 1925.

Earlier in these memoirs I think I said that I would like to write a book about Australia. I would like even better to write a book about India. But the objections I perceived in writing about Australia would hold quite as pointedly in any serious attempt on my part to write about India. So I will only give you some fragmentary impressions of my experiences in, and my thoughts on, the most fascinating country in all the world.

I started my Indian tour at Bombay. The moment I stepped on the stage for my first performance I sensed the eternal glamour of the East. The house was crowded from floor to ceiling. Hundreds of beautiful Parsee ladies were in the stalls and circle. Their picturesque dress and their flashing jewels helped to make up a scene the like of which I had never beheld from the stage of any theatre in the world. It almost took my breath away by its sheer colourfulness and opulence. Even while I was singing my mind was flitting back to the pages of the Arabian Nights. And if the scene inside the theatre made such an impression on me what can I say of my first visit to the home of a great Indian prince, the Nizam of Hyderabad? This famous and enlightened potentate has, I believe, many stately palaces but none can surely be more lovely than that which he has on Malabar Hill on the outskirts of, and above, Bombay! Lady Lauder and I were invited to dinner there. We thought we had indeed been transplanted into fairyland with all its per- fect embellishments of glinting moonbeams, waving palms, gorgeous flowers and multi-coloured electric lights. It was so amazingly wonderful that we were almost afraid to speak —and break the spell!

The Governor of Bombay, Sir Leslie Wilson, invited us to the Residency; indeed everywhere we went in India I was royally entertained and could not have made the acquaintance of this romantic land under better conditions. At Calcutta I attended the Christmas Party given by the Earl of Read ing, the Viceroy, and also had the satisfaction of backing the winner of the Viceroy's Cup at the Races. Orange Wilham, the horse in question, was favourite and I remember how very disappointed I was at only getting a few rupees in return for the half-crown I had invested after being assured that William was a "dead cert." This was the only time in my life that I gambled on a race-course so I can say with truth that I have never yet backed a loser!

From Bombay we sailed north to Karachi and then by railroad across the great Sind Desert to Quetta, then down to Lahore, Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, and Cawnpore. At each of these places I played in the evenings and devoted my days to wandering round the city and studying Indian life at close quarters. And an altogether fascinating study this is. The inscrutability of a million years is in every solemn face one sees. Occasionally one meets with a smile—as, for instance, when I slipped up one sultry afternoon on an unusually muddy bit of the Ganges at Benares and very nearly tumbled into the Sacred River—but, speaking generally, the natives are mostly of a grave and serious mien. Time doesn't seem to count with them at all. They are never in a hurry. They take life very leisurely indeed.

Yet they can work to beat the band when necessary. Give the shoemaker, the tailor, or the shirtrnaker, or the dressmaker—they will turn up at your bedroom door in the hotel, from nowhere it would seem, immediately you have told the head porter that you want their services—an article to copy and it will be returned to you in a few hours with its new replica down to the last stitch and with shade, shape, and style perfectly reproduced. I have ordered boots and shoes simply by giving an old pair and saying "the same" and been amazed, astounded, at the fidelity of the work and the matching of the material employed. Lady Lauder handed over an old dress as an example of the kind of thing she desired after selecting the silk from which the new garment was to be made. She forgot that in the old one the sleeves had had a slight tuck in them on account of being a trifle too long. Back came the new dress next day with the tucks in the same place and each stitch reproduced in the most exact fashion! One of the male members of our variety party thought he would like a new suit. So he passed over an old one to the trousers of which there had been a slight accident necessitating a patch on the seat. Imagine his horror—and mirth at the same time—when the native suavely presented him with a new suit and triumphantly pointed out how careful he had been to put the patch in the same place as before.

But if the Indians are tremendously slick in making boots, shoes, and wearing apparel they must spend years over some of the exquisite articles they turn out in the way of fine art. At Delhi I purchased several curios in ivory which must have taken the craftsmen who made them incalculable hours, to say nothing of almost inconceivable care. I often take one of these wonderful things into my hands today and speculate as to how it was produced at all—never mind how long it occupied the genius responsible for its existence. It is a carved ivory ornament no bigger than a golf ball but inside it are fourteen other balls all differently carved and each one completely distinct from the other. There is absolueiy no crack or join in the outside ball. Now ask yourself how this is done, by what magic instruments the task must have been accomplished and how many years the cunning hands laboured to bring this mystery to perfection!
Lahore is one of the great art-craft centres of India. Its bazaars are crowded with the output of supreme artistes in brass, silver, and gold, and inlaid ornaments such as tables, trays, cigar-boxes, lamps, screens, desk and table decorations. One is lost in profound admiration for the men, women and boys who give these rare treasures to the world at prices which appear to be altogether ridiculous in relation to the work so lovingly, so meticulously, put into them. I can truthfully say that the bazaars at Lahore are the only places of merchandise in the world where I have not tried to beat a salesman down when buying an article that appealed to me! I hadn't the heart. My own view about these Indian craftsmen is that they must spend their lives doing the wonderfut work they do for the mere love of creating beautiful things. Their material wants are small. Give them a handful of rice and they work until they are tired. Then some more rice and they start all over again. Another rest, more rice, and more work. What a life! But after all, is ours any better? I am not certain that it is.

Throughout my travels in India I made constant and persistent inquiry as to where I could see the famous rope trick. Like every other man in the world I had heard about this, the most unique feat in the repertoire of the Eastern juggler and I would have given a good deal (I can't just say off-hand how much I would have given!) to see this trick performed before my own eyes. But I met with no success. Many people told me that they themselves had seen the performance, or knew people who had, but in all the months I spent in the country I did not come across one fakir carrying a rope and attended by a wee black boy. I saw many snake-charmers, all of whom gave me the creeps by their uncanny command over deadly cobras and other vipers and I also saw, in Calcutta near the entrance to the Zoological gardens (one of the best zoos in the world, I should say) a fasting man lying on iron spikes which would most assuredly have cut to ribbons any skin not trained to this ordeal from birth, so to speak. But of the world-famous rope-trick—not a vestige.

One most extraordinary thing I did see, however, and this was a fakir at Bombay between whom and a little bird, of the size and colour of a canary, there existed a communion little short of marvellous. The fakir rested with his back against the Gateway of India, the magnificent arch erected at Bombay to commemorate the landing of the King and Queen at the time of the Durbar some years ago, and sent his little feathered companion on repeated journeys through the air to the open windows of the Taj Mahal Hotel opposite. The bird would alight on the window-sill and flutter and bow until the guest inside threw out a coin to its master. This done it would fly back and alight on the latter's shoulder or thumb. Here, in response to music played on a funny mouth instrument by the fakir the bird would perform all manner of quaint and amusing antics. Whenever a head appeared at any of the hotel windows the man would sound some understood note or two on his flute and away went the feathered messenger to ask for alms at close quarters. Between bird and master there appeared to be the most perfect understanding. I watched them for hours and never got tired of a sight so unusual and interesting.

During my stay in Calcutta I was the guest of my old friend Sir Alexander Murray, one of the great merchant princes of India. To his mansion came many of the leading Britishers and Americans in the city and I was splendidly entertained by tales of life, commerce and money-making in Bengal. Several old friendships begun in Scotland were renewed in Calcutta, which is one of the happy hunting grounds of Dundee men in search of "suer." The jute industry in Calcutta is closely allied with the same business in Dundee. In the old days the men from Tayside practically dominated the jute mills on the banks of the Hooghly and dozens of great fortunes were made at a time when Indian labour was much cheaper than it is today. I don't want to be unkind but I have a suspicion that not a few of the noble mansions in West Ferry—just outside of Dundee and reputed to be one of the wealthiest suburbs in the British Empire—were built, partly, at least, on the results of infant labour in the jute mills of India. In recent years the jute profits have not been so large although the war gave many Dundee men another chance both at home and abroad. But to their eternal credit be it said hundreds of the young Scots in India hastened home the minute war broke out and sacrificed fine prospects of fortune for the almost even-money chance of death or wounds on the field of battle. I knew quite a number of these gallant Scotto-Indians who went to France and Flanders to return no more.

His excellency Lord Lyttleton, the Governor of Bengal, came to the theatre and brought with him their royal high nesses Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught who were on a visit to the country. They all came to my dressing- room afterwards and we had a long chat about India and our various impressions. I told them that if I lived to be a thousand I could never hope to see a more magnificent scene than that of the Vice Regal procession to the races a few days previously. All the colour and romance and mystery of India were concentrated in that pageant of black and white, red and gold, splendour. And with that remark I must leave Calcutta.

At Rangoon, where I have several very dear personal friends, I remained for ten days. This city of the golden pagodas is the capital of Burma and rich, not only in everything that pertains to the East, but in commerce and industry. While at Rangoon I had a cordial invitation to visit the palace of Ling Sing, a Chinese gentleman who is known all over India as the Sugar King. He has many other business interests and is reputed to be one of the richest Chinamen in the world. Judging by his home on the outskirts of Rangoon I can easily believe it. It is the last word in Eastern opulence. Mr. Ling Sing--I sincerely hope I am spelling his name correctly—completely knocked the wind out of my sails when I was introduced to him by breaking out with, "Man, Harry, it's a braw, bricht moonlicht nicht, the nicht, is it no? Hooch, aye!" He spoke the Scottish dialect like a native of Stirling. I am not readily "stumped" but I con- fess that on this occasion I stood and stared "like ony gumph" scarcely crediting the evidence of my ears. Thoroughly enjoying my discomfiture Ling Sing started to laugh and added further to my bewilderment by remarking, "Say, Harry, ma cock, hoo wad ye like me to gie ye a blaw on the pipes—'The seventy-ninth's Farewell' or 'The Haughs o' Cromdale' ?" And without further ado he proceeded to seize a set of bagpipes from a table in the corner of the room and "tune up."

I was spell-bound. Sure enough this extraordinary Chinaman started to play the famous air he had first mentioned. Not only so but he began the "waggle walk" of the real Scottish piper. What could I do but jump in behind him and march round, chest expanded, eye flashing, and droning out the melody familiar to me since childhood? Afterwards Ling Sing explained the apparently insoluble mystery. He was not a MacDonald posing as a Chinaman but a genuine native of the Flowery Land. But his father, the original Sugar King, had always had a great admiration for Scots people and when Ling was yet a little boy he was sent to Dollar Academy, in Clackmannanshire, where he remained for several years and absorbed the customs, the language, and the characteristics of his schoolmates so thoroughly that he was more Scot than anything else by the time his education was finished and he had (almost regretfully) to return to the East! I asked him where he learned to play the pipes. "Oh," he replied, "I was so good at them that they made me Pipe-Major of the Academy pipe-band!" And then we sat down to birds'-nest soup and to eat rice and chicken with chopsticks! On leaving the palace Ling Sing slapped me on the back and remarked, in impeccable Scottish accent, "Well, well, Harry, guid nicht an' joy be wi' ye! It's been like a breath o' the purple heather to hae ye here. Hastye back again, laddie! Here's to us! Wha's like us? Damn the yin!" So saying he handed me a Deoch-an-Doris, took one himself, and Harry Lauder and Ling Sing, grand Scots both, parted the best of friends and cronies.

Afterwards, down to the Federated Malay States, perhaps the richest country on the face of the globe. They tell me that there is sufficient wealth in the Straits Settlements to pay the British National Debt twice over. In fact I heard so much of the actual and potential wealth of places like Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Port Swetenham, and Singapore that I had serious thoughts of disbanding my company and starting in on my own in an effort to get a bit before it was all gone! But I found so many Scotsmen scattered over the place that I decided the task would be stiffer than it looked on the surface! You may be pretty sure that if there are Kemps, and Symes, and McNeills, and Carmichaels, and Forbes, and McLarens in the Malay States they are not going to let a newcomer butt in without making him scratch hard for his whack! Again I listened to what some people think the most fascinating of human stories—the tales of poor men who struck the country in past years and got away with colossal fortunes. The history of the rubber and tin industries of Malay is full of romance—and, of course, of tragedy. Take the case of the young Glasgow man who discovered a tin mine up-country and got several of his Glasgow friends to finance him in its exploitation. That was about twenty years ago. Every man who stuck to his original small holding in the company is now rich beyond the proverbial dreams of avarice—a word I don't like and have never quite understood! Or the case of the young Tayside broker in Singapore who has made three fortunes in rubber, lost them all, and is now building up another. Renang and Singapore—these have been names to conjure with in financial circles for many years and so far as I am able to judge the opportunities still offered all over the Malay States are well worth the attention of young Britishers of determination and the capacity to grasp a chance when it comes along.

I spent many pleasant days on the rubber plantations and in the tin mining districts in the different States of the Peninsula and was intensely interested in the men and the methods employed in both great industries. More than once I thought how fortunate it was for Britain that she had a possession like Malay to help us pay our American debts. Without the world's best tin and rubber territory we might just as well sign over the British Empire, lock stock and barrel, to Wall Street—perhaps! And then again—perhaps not!

From Port Swetenham we sailed along the coast to Singapore on a lovely little steamer named the King. The Captain of this ship was a splendid Highlander of the name of MacGregor, who courteously welcomed every individual passenger as he stepped off the gangway on to the deck. He had such a pronounced accent that I asked him what part of the Rob Roy-territory he hailed from. "Alas, an' alack, Sir Harry," he answered. "I have never seen the dear land of my fathers and my dreams. I was born in New Zealand. All my life has been spent in these tropical seas. But soon I hope to retire and the first thing I shall do will be to go 'home' to Scotland and see the hills and the streams and the villages my father and mother loved so devotedly." These words were spoken in the soft, warm accents of the true Highlander and I could scarcely believe that the speaker had not been brought up in Callender or Baiquidder. He astonished me still further by telling me that "he had the full Gaelic" and though my knowledge of this language is small he was overjoyed when I said a few Gaelic words to him and volubly answered me in the same tongue. In his cabin he, like Ling Sing, had a set of bagpipes and he and I played many a tune on them during the passage. Some months afterwards I was shocked beyond measure to read in a New Zealand paper that Captain MacGregor had been brutally murdered by one of his own crew who had suddenly gone mad. I tell you this story as another example of the extraordinary way love of country is embedded strong in the hearts of people of Scottish descent even in cases where they have never set eyes on the "land of brown heath and shaggy wood." There is a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I write this little story of Captain MacGregor of the S.S. Kiang. I cannot help it. I am not ashamed of it. The emotion springs from that ineffable, intangible, but tremendously real thing called Scottish sentiment.

Here is another little cameo almost on a par with the tale of the Gaelic-speaking skipper who had only in his dreams "beheld the Hebrides." In our variety company we had a handsome young man called George Greig. He and his wife played Hawaiian melodies on ukuleles and also sang duets of life and love in the South Seas. Greig's grandfather had been a rover in his boyhood, after running away from school in Aberdeen. Latterly he settled down on Fanning Island and became the accepted king of that lonely sea-girt spot of land. He married a full-blooded Hawaiian girl and they had six sons, on all of whom the father bestowed good Scottish christian names. When the British Government wanted to take over Fanning Island for a cable station the Greig family sold out their rights and they all retired to New Zealand. How George came to join our company as an assisting artiste I don't know but there he was, and speaking good "Scotch" all the time with a slight American accent.

At Shanghai we had to get our passports viséd for Manila. When Tom Valiance went up to the American Consulate for his, Lady Lauder's, and mine, he took George Greig with him. Tom had no trouble, naturally, but when the official came to deal with the copper-coloured Greig certain slight difficulties developed.

"What nationality?" snaps out the official.

"Scottish," promptly responds George.

"Guess you're the first coloured Scot I've met!" comments the Consul's clerk. "Where do you hail from?"

"Tanning Island," says Greig.

"Never heard of it! Where the hell's that?"

"South Pacific!"

"A copper-coloured Scot from Fannin' Island in the South Pacific! Wal, now, can you beat it?" But Greig got his passport and in it his nationality is described as Scottish, much to his satisfaction!

I played Hongkong and Shanghai in, China and had great receptions and huge audiences at both places. But the recent Chinese trouble was just breaking out at Shanghai when I struck China so we cut our visit short. Tom saw a lot more of this town than I did because he got in tow with a British detective who promised to give him an exciting time among some of the gambling dens and opium-smoking resorts. Tom assured me that the first tour round was most interesting, the second rather exciting and the third absolutely hair-raising. On the last occasion they hit up against some pretty tidy gun-play. The detective had his hat shot off his head and Tom swears that had he not been a fast runner he would certainly have finished his world-travels in the Chinese quarter of Shanghai that night. In spite of the British boycott, in full swing about the time of our visit, I did not find the Chinese shopkeepers and hawkers at all unwilling to sell Nance and I all the fancy goods we wanted. We sent home to Dunoon large crates of art-work, ivory and ebony ornaments, bedspreads and other articles which must have taken years of painstaking and amazingly talented labour to produce. I must also hand it to the Chinese shirt and suit-makers as the world's best craftsmen in their own particular spheres of action. Some of the shirts they made for me in Shanghai I am still wearing. They are cool in warm weather and hot in cold weather. I cannot, unfortunately, say the same about their tussore suits. I have half a dozen of these stored away somewhere and will never wear them out unless I go back for long spells to the warm climates for which they are so admirably suited. I must see if I cannot sell them, even at a loss, to some traveller of my stocky build setting sail for the Orient! And I'll throw in my sun-helmet free. Now then, what offers?

I should have visited Yokohama but the appalling earthquake of the year before had practically wiped out the Japanese city and my tour of Asia came to an end with a farewell concert at Kowloon, just across the bay from Hongkong. This is one of the most beautifully situated towns I have ever seen in all my world roamings. There are lots of Scottish and English people both in Hongkong and Kowloon and when I sailed away for Manila hundreds of them assembled on the pier and sang "Will Ye No Come Back Again?"

The Philippine Islands was another part of the world I was most anxious to see and when Ted Carroll was mapping out my Eastern trip I told him to make certain of taking in Manila. He did so and the result was a most interesting ten days in America's greatest overseas possession. Like many more people I had imagined the Philippines to be a few small islands somewhere—it really did not matter where!—between China and Australia. I knew that cigars came from there and that was about all! Actually there are over three thousand islands in the group with a total area of something like a hundred and twenty thousand square miles—almost as big as Great Britain and Ireland even throwing in the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the Greater and Lesser Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde! I tell you it was an eye- opener to me because I thought that all the worth-while islands in the world belonged to us! The city of Manila, with its quarter of a million inhabitants, fascinated me greatly by reason of its lovely buildings, luxurious hotels, and the almost eternal sunshine in which it is bathed. American enterprise and American capital have done much to develop the Philippines but the thing which has done more for the islanders themselves than any other is the fact that they bred a world's champion boxer in the late Pancho Villa!

We went one night to the local Stadium where we saw a couple of fights, in one of which the redoubtable Pancho was a competitor. He had by this time won the championship by defeating our own Jimmie Wilde. His reception was terrific; the natives went absolutely mad with enthusiasm. I have never seen an audience so alert to follow every move in a boxing ring. They were like so many needles and, their excitement communicating itself to the ordinary visitors, I found myself jumping and squirming about with every left- hook or upper-cut or solar-plexus punch delivered by the fighters. The Manila Stadium must have been built by a Londoner for it is an exact replica of the Ring, in Black- friars Road, London, only ten times larger. Every young Philippino wants to become a professional boxer. When Pancho Villa died the entire nation went into mourning.

I had hoped to spend a happy day or two with my old friend General Leonard Wood, the Governor General of the Islands, but his excellency had been called home on important business to Washington. However, he left me a letter of good-will, expressing the hope that Nance and I would enjoy ourselves in Manila and indicating some of the plans he had made for our entertainment before leaving. During the war days General Wood and I had made frequent appearances on public platforms in America and I formed a very high estimate of his character and cultured attainments. All the distinguished Americans and prominent Scots and Englishmen in the islands vied with each other in extending hospitality to my party. Mr. Kennedy, one of the leading bankers, gave a banquet in my honour and Mr. Scott, the managing director of a large firm of wood exporters, pre sented me with sufficient Philippine mahogany to make a parquet floor for my hail and study in Lauderdale, Dunoon. I may be wrong in describing this beautiful wood as mahogany but in any case it is very lovely, has a delightful odour which never quite disappears, and every time I walk across it at home my mind goes back to the glorious Philippine Islands and the many kind friends I have out there beneath the ever-blue sky of the sun-kissed Pacific.


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