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Roamin' in the Gloamin'

LOOKING back on these days in dear old Arbroath I think the one thing that stands out in my memory was the wonderful spirit of my dear mother. Never a word of com plaint crossed her lips. She was leal to the core of her in- trepid Scottish heart. How she fed us and clothed us and kept a roof over our heads I cannot imagine. But she did it. If ever there was what the Bible calls a "mother in Israel" she was one. Brave soul! Thank God she lived long enough to share in my success and spend a few years in real comfort.

I had to work hard at the mill every other day, but the days in between were glorious—after school hours! One task, and one only, I hated with all my soul. Each week my mother and I had to tease a hundred-weight of old ropes and string, ship's rigging, etc., into "tow." This stuff was sent round from one or other of the factories to the houses of the very poorest people. When teased out into yarn it was mixed up with the flax and woven into canvas or other material. The price allowed was one shilling and sixpence a hundred weight It took my mother and I an hour or two every night of the week, with the exception of Saturday, to reduce this dreadful stuff into tow. Both her fingers and mine were often bleeding. Many and many a time I cried with the pain and the awful monotony of the job. But my mother's cheery, indomitable, uncomplaining nature was a great encouragement to us both and always, when the night's proportion was tackled—sometimes very late in the evening when the ropes and hawsers had been more difficult to tease than usual—we kissed each other and "cuddled up" out of sheer thankfulness.

It was while we were living in Arbroath that I started to sing. Like many more people in the world I have always been rather fond of hearing my own voice! Even as a very small boy I used to imitate my father when he hummed or sang some of the old Scottish lyrics. I cannot say that my father was a good vocalist because I don't remember. But he was aye croonin' awa' at some snatch of melody. One day he turned to my mother and said, "This wean's going to be a singer, Isa !" And he thereupon began to teach me the words and melody of "Draw the Sword, Scotland." I had as much idea of what drawing a sword for Scotland meant as of Greek Iambics—and if I was on the scaffold today I couldn't tell you what these are, but I saw the words in a book I happened to pick up yesterday! So I learned this song and one or two others, including a most melancholy ditty entitled, "I'm a Gentleman Still." The tune to which this song was set had an extremely sorrowful wail about it and it became a sort of obsession with me. It never left me for years. I would start singing or humming it at any time and in any circumstances. You know the sort of thing I mean—a tune takes hold of you to such an extent that you simply can't get it out of your head. You begin to hate the damnable iteration of its cadences. You try your best to forget it. But it is impossible. That's how it was with me so far as this song was concerned. And one night an event happened which was to focus this dreadful song even more firmly in my mind.

My mother had insisted on my joining the Band of Hope. Probably she had noted very early symptoms of depravity in me in the way of an affection for tobacco And thought that I would be safeguarded from other vices by "signing the pledge" and coming under the influence of the Blue Ribbon Army. In these days the Scottish teetotallers and the Band of Hope boys all wore a blue ribbon to demonstrate to the world their detestation of strong drink. If you were an abstainer you were a member of the Blue Ribbon Army, as it was then called.

The Band of I-lope meetings I loved. They were bright and colourful. The officials were good men and women, full of high ideals. The singing at the meetings appealed to me from the start. Moody and Sankey, the American evangel ists, had left a deeply religious effect all over Britain and the hymns they sang at their revival meetings had taken a powerful grip of the people of Scotland. Their melodies were simple but swinging; they lent themselves admirably to com munity singing. I forget many of the hymns we sang at the Band of Hope, but such favourites as "Shall We Gather At the River?" "Throw Out the Life-Line," and similar haunting airs stand out in my memory. I loved every note of them and yelled them out most lustily. The old Scottish psalm tunes we occasionally sang at the Band of Hope, and also at the Sunday School I attended, likewise made an extraordi nary appeal to me. "All People That On Earth Do Dwell," to the tune of the Old Hundred; "O, God of Bethel By Whose Hand," to the tune of Martyrdom, and "Do Thou With Hysop Sprinkle Me," to the tune of St. Kilda, were among my favourites. The last mentioned melody is in a most un usual minor key. It was written by a young Scottish musician named Bloomfield who died early in life and whose body, I have often been told, is lying in an ancient cemetery in Aberdeen.

Middle-aged and elderly Scots who may happen to be reading my memoirs will remember this tune of St. Kilda and how whole congregations used to sway from side to side as they were singing its plaintive ear-haunting rhythms. And they will remember the old Precentor with his pitch- fork—before the "chists o' whistles" (the organs and harmoniums) were introduced—searching for the key and then leading off the psalmody for the assembled worshippers. His was a job second only in importance to that of the "meenister" himsel'! Other old hymns which I loved to hear announced were "Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid," by J. M. Neale, "0, Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go," by Dr. Matheson, the blind preacher, and "Lord of All Being Ti-ironed Afar"—that gorgeous bit of poetic imagery by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who would, to my mind, have been the greatest hymn-writer in the world had he only written some more. Yes, all these psalms and hymns made on me a profound impression, especially on the musical side. I feel sure they implanted in me that passion for melody which has been the supreme thing in my life.

But to return to the incident I mentioned. At the Band of Hope meetings it was the practice of the superintendent to ask any of the boys or girls to stand up and sing or recite any little thing they knew. For many weeks I was too shy to "take the floor," but one night a companion who had evidently heard me singing at the mill or in the school playground nudged me in the ribs, saying, "Go on, Harry, staun' up and dae somethin'." So up I got from my seat, walked to the little platform and modestly said that I was willing to sing a song. I had fully intended to sing "Draw the Sword, Scotland," or "Annie Laurie," or one of the other songs I had learned since leaving Müsselburgh. But could I remember, facing my first audience, that any other song existed in the world with the exception of "I'm a Gentleman Still"? No, my mind went blank of everything but this awful song and this is what I suddenly found myself singing in a high treble voice:

Though poverty daily looks in at my door
Though I'm hungry and footsore and ill,
Thank God I can look the whole world in the face
And say, I'm a Gentleman Still!

Surely no more incongruous spectacle could be imagined than the little bare-footed half-timer from Gordon's Flax Mill standing there proclaiming, in song, that though poor (God knows!) he was a gentleman still! But I got a great reception. The Band of Hope children applauded me to the echo. There has been no sweeter moment in my life than when I finished the song and made my way back to the "form" with the hand-clapping and the shouting of my comrades ringing in my ears. I wouldn't have changed places that night with Queen Victoria or the President of the United States!

A few weeks later a travelling concert-party gave a performance at the Oddfellows' Hall. A feature of the evening was a "grand amateur competition for ladies and gentlemen." Abyssinian gold (?) watches were offered as prizes. The town was plastered with placards announcing the con cert and the contest. Two pals of mine in the mill, Bob Hannah and Johnnie Yearnans—I remember their names quite well because the three of us were nearly killed together in a boiler explosion at a local sawmill—urged me to enter for the "Solid Abyssinian gold hunter watch." We glued our eyes so persistently on the pictures of the watch shown in a corner of the playbills that the three of us could not sleep for thinking of it. Bob and Johnnie, who had heard my triumph at the Band of Hope, were certain I would win the watch. I was their hero.

But their interest in the contest was not wholly impersonal it appeared, for their idea—boldly and brazenly announced—was that if I won we would sell the watch and divide the money. This suggestion got me in a tender part at once! The idea of anybody making money off me, through me, or by my efforts was highly repugnant to me then. And, to tell the truth, I don't think my views on this point have suffered any violent alteration up to the present day!

The upshot of the scheme, however, was that I entered for the competition and duly won the watch from a "field" of some ten or a dozen competitors all of whom were many years older than the trembling little half-timer who put his whole soul into the words and music of "I'm a Gentleman Still." One of the audience was the manager of the mill I was employed at and at the finish of the competition he sent round a shilling for Wee Harry Lauder. Hannah and Yea- mans were waiting for me outside. They gave me a boisterous welcome but before they could introduce the matter of selling my prize I told them bluntly that I wouldn't sell the watch for any money, but that they could have the shilling. Bob and Johnnie examined the watch most carefully, and then decided that they would take the money! The watch went splendidly for a week. Then it stopped, never to go again, as the old song says. But I still have it. I handled it lovingly only a night or two ago.

In another similar competition a month or two afterwards I again won the first prize, a six-bladed knife. As I already had a knife—one I had found in the Abbey Path when delivering papers early on a Saturday morning—I sold this knife to a man in the mills for elevenpence. We argued about the price for three days; I wanted two shillings, the purchaser offered fourpence. Ultimately, we compromised on the price stated. Had I not been by this time a hardened smoker I do not think I would have sold the prize so cheaply but elevenpence represented the price of three or four ounces of Bogey Roll, now the only tobacco with a sufficient kick in it for my thirteen-year-old palate!

After we had lived in Arbroath for about two years a brother of my mother's who had settled in the Black Country, as the coal-mining district of the west of Scotland is termed, wrote urging that she and her family should nil- grate to Hamilton. There would be more opportunities there, he pointed out, for the boys and also for the girls when they grew up a bit. With seven hungry young mouths to feed and bodies to clothe the problem that faced my poor mother at this period must have been dire indeed. I was still the only breadwinner, apart from her own tireless efforts, and my pay was only about three shillings a week. In order to add to the family income I tried several times to get em ployment as a full-timer in the mills. By telling the different managers I was over fourteen I got started more than once, but I was always caught out by the factory inspector and packed hack to half-time. How I hated that interfering official! More than once I hid myself among the bales of flax when I knew he was in the building, but if I escaped detection one day, discovery was certain sooner or later. The inspector seemed to have a special "down" on me because I once heard him asking if that damned young singin' rascal Harry Lauder was workin' here?

So it came about that when I was asked my opinion as to the suggested move to the west I was all for it. We were sorry to leave "dear old St. Tammas," as the town of Ar broath is affectionately known to its natives throughout the world, but needs must when the devil drives and the next chapter in my life begins at Hamilton, some ten or twelve miles from Glasgow. Hamilton is the centre of one of the greatest coal areas in Britain. There are dozens and dozens of pits within a mile or two of the town, or of the surround ing towns and villages such at Coatbridge, Airdrie, Cambuslang, Shotts, Larkhall, Bothwell, etc.

The Lauder family settled down in an exceedingly humble habitation in one of the poorer quarters of the town. My Uncle Sandy was a "bottomer" in Eddiewood Colliery and one of his mates agreed to give me a start as his "boy" in one of the seams of this famous colliery. My wages were to be ten shillings a week—to me an unheard-of sum and almost too good to be true. As a matter of fact, it was too good to be true, because my "gaffer" disappeared with all the money at the end of the first week, and was never seen in Hamilton again. That Saturday night I cried myself to sleep. My first week's work in the damp, dark depths of the mine had left me sore in every limb and muscle of my body. And to be done out of my week's wages to which I had been looking forward with feverish eagerness was the last straw. My mother sat on the edge of my bed and cried with me! I was a broken-hearted laddie. But we got over this terrible disaster as we had surmounted many more serious.

I went back to the pit-head on the Monday morning to look for another job. The first man I met was Gibbie (Gilbert) Pitcairn, the general manager at Eddlewood. I told him of my experience with the fraudulent miner and he clapped rue on the back, telling me to keep a stout heart and saying I would be a good collier yet. Under a rough exterior Gibbie was a splendid man; he stood four-square to the world and feared neither owner nor miner. He started me right away to help shift the wagons at the pithead Later in the day he was passing that way. He stood and watched me for a few minutes. I was evidently doing my work in a slip shod or frightened manner. "Here, you," he cried in a voice like a fog-horn, "Come here !" I advanced in terror. Looking rue up and down he asked, "Do ye ken a' that ye need, ma lad?" "No, sir," I replied. "The horns, by God !" he growled —and passed on. This indication that I was full brother to a goat left me in great tribulation, but I learned from one of the men that Gibbie's bark was far worse than his bite. In after years he was one of my greatest friends and admirers.

That week I earned nine shillings. I ran all the way home and proudly placed the money in my mother's lap. What a different Saturday night that was from the previous one! My mother and I counted the money over and over again. My brothers and sisters all had a look at it and said with bated breaths—"Harry's pey!" A shilling of the money went on 2d. Mince pies, a whole one each for the four oldest and a half each for the little ones! I was now the real head of the family, the principal breadwinner for the eight of us. My age at this time was thirteen and a half.

After a week or two at the pit-head Gibbie Pitcairn found a job for me down below as a trapper. The trapper's duty is to open and shut the wooden trap-doors controlling the air supply to admit of the hutches passing out and in. It would take too long to describe just what these air-course "traps" stand for in the matter of safety and a proper current of air hundreds of fathoms below the surface of the soil. In any case the trapper is supposed never to leave his post of duty for a moment. Occasionally, however, I helped the pony drivers with their "tubs" over bad bits of road or round awkward bends and switches. You see I was anxious to be promoted pony-driver myself and I took every opportunity of becoming versed in their work and in the control of the brave and tremendously wise little horses who were doomed to spend their lives in the black deeps of a coalmine.

I don't suppose I was any more humane in my instincts than the rest of the boys at Eddlewood but I well remember the first time I came to blows with a boy a few years older than myself. As he came through my "trap" with a load of well-filled hutches he jabbed his pony in the ribs with an iron rod he had picked up at the foot of the shaft. The little thing winced under the cruel blow. It was more than I could stand. "Hughie," I said, "if I see you do that again I'll punch you in the jaw! 1-littin' a puir wee pownie that canna hit back I" The driver didn't wait for any more "sauce" from me but landed me one on the ear. Thereon I kicked him in the stomach. The next "rake o' hutches" came along before he was able to proceed. We were the best of friends afterwards. My pay as a trapper was fifteen shillings a week -half-a-crown a day.
After a year I got the chance of a job as driver in Cadzow Colliery. The wages were a pound a week. We still lived at Eddlewood Buildings in a wee house the rent of which was three shillings a week. I had the better part of a mile to walk to and from my new job, but as the wages were so much better I did not mind this in the slightest. Besides, I was delighted to be "among the horses." What wonderful little fellows they were! Strong, game, and brimful of intelligence, the pit ponies interested me every hour of the day and night. Alas, they have no day or night; all their work is done by "shifts." But they know Saturday night when it comes along as well as the men they work beside! They are quite frisky when they are taking the last "rake" of the week to the bottom of the shaft and I am sure they would kick up their heels then if there was only room for them to do so.

I had one splendid little pony at Cadzow. He was named "Captain." He and I got to be very thick. In fact, like me and the general in "She's My Daisy," I think he was the thickest of the two! Standing eleven hands high he was a picture of health and strength although he had been "doon the dook" for several years. He knew every word that was spoken to him. His face was more expressive than many a man's I have known. I loved "Wee Captain" with my whole heart. The tricks I taught him! And the others he had picked up before he and I foregathered! He could count the number of times we had been to "the face" for a load. By what process of reasoning, or instinct, he did so none of us had the slightest idea. But if I said to him late in the shift "how many loads, Captain?" he would paw on the ground with his right foot and the number was never wrong! He also knew to within a minute or two when "lowsin' time" was due; could you have got Captain to go back for another rake of hutches after hours?—no, sir, not unless you explained to him very thoroughly just why this extra trip was necessary!

I taught my four-footed pal to steal, too. The place where the drivers leave their coats and caps is called the cabin. Into this cabin I used to take Captain and give him little tit-bits out of my own jacket and bits of bread and cheese from the "pieces" of the men on duty in different parts of the mine. All the flasks containing tea or coffee were left on the cabin floor and Captain soon learned to pick out a nice full flask, put it between his fore-hoofs and pull the cork with his teeth. This accomplished it was an easy matter for him to raise the flask and have a "swig" of tea or cof- fee! There were occasional rows about the miners' flasks being tampered with, but I said nothing. Whenever "Wee Captain" was on a foraging expedition in the cabin, he kept his ears cocked. If any other footfall than my own sounded near at hand he was out of the door like a shot and back either to his stable or his "road."

Once this dear little chap saved my life. He and I were on our way to the coal face with a "rake" of empty hutches. We had to pass a "drift"—an old working that has fallen in and been cut through, leaving above a fearsome-looking vaulty space twenty or thirty or forty feet high. I always felt creepy when we came to this great, gloomy cavern, and I think Captain did the same. In any case we always rushed it. But there came a time when the pony stopped dead just in front of the drift. Without thinking what I was doing I urged him to get on with the job in hand. He still refused. I gave him a sharp cut with my little whip. Wincing, he looked round and stared me full in the face. "What's wrong, Captain?" I asked. Simultaneously with the question I heard the most terrifying sound that can assail the miner's ears—the creak and groan of the world above him before the earth and stone comes crashing down to fill the vacuum. Captain turned completely round in his tracks, pulling one of the hutches off the rails and sought the comparative safety of the tunnel we were just about to leave. I did the same. Next moment five hundred tons of material fell with a noise like thunder into the cavern in front of us. how near we both were to disaster may be judged by the fact that the hutch pulled round off the rails by the pony was afterwards found to be filled with jagged stones and rock! Safe in the tunnel I turned and hugged and kissed Captain again and again. His sensitive ears had heard the warning before I did. He knew what to do—and in doing it he saved both our lives. Years afterwards I would have given my right hand to have been able to buy Captain and present him with his freedom in God's sunlight. But he died in the pit, as he had lived in it. Brave heart! I have forgotten many men and I'll forget many more. I shall never forget "Wee Captain!"


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