A MINSTREL IN FRANCE
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED SON CAPTAIN JOHN LAUDER
First 8th, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders Killed in France, December 28, 1916
Oh, there's sometimes I am lonely And I'm weary a' the day To see the face and clasp the hand Of him who is away. The only one God gave me, My one and only joy, My life and love were centered on My one and only boy.
I saw him in his infant days Grow up from year to year, That he would some day be a man I never had a fear. His mother watched his every step, 'Twas our united joy To think that he might be one day My one and only boy.
When war broke out he buckled on His sword, and said, "Good-bye. For I must do my duty, Dad; Tell Mother not to cry, Tell her that I'll come back again." What happiness and joy! But no, he died for Liberty, My one and only boy.
The days are long, the nights are drear, The anguish breaks my heart, But oh! I'm proud my one and only Laddie played his part. For God knows best, His will be done, His grace does me employ. I do believe I'll meet again My one and only boy.
by Harry Lauder
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS Harry Lauder and His Son, Captain John Lauder
"I did not stop at sending out my recruiting band. I went out myself"
"'Carry On!' were the last words of my boy, Captain John Lauder, to his men, but he would mean them for me, too"
"Bang! Went Sixpence"
"Harry Lauder preserves the bonnet of his son, brought to him from where the lad fell, 'The memory of his boy, it is almost his religion.'—A tatter of plaid of the Black Watch. on a wire of a German entanglement barely suggests the hell the Scotch troops have gone through"
"Captain John Lauder and Comrades Before the Trenches in France"
"Make us laugh again, Harry!' Though I remember my son and want to join the ranks, I have obeyed"
"Harry Lauder, 'Laird of Dunoon.'" —Medal struck off by Germany when Lusitania was sunk"
Yon days! Yon palmy, peaceful days! I go back to them, and they are as a dream. I go back to them again and again, and live them over. Yon days of another age, the age of peace, when no man dared even to dream of such times as have come upon us.
It was in November of 1913, and I was setting forth upon a great journey, that was to take me to the other side of the world before I came back again to my wee hoose amang the heather at Dunoon. My wife was going with me, and my brother-in-law, Tom Valiance, for they go everywhere with me. But my son John was coming with us only to Glasgow, and then, when we set out for Liverpool and the steamer that was to bring us to America he was to go back to Cambridge. He was near done there, the bonnie laddie. He had taken his degree as Bachelor of Arts, and was to set out soon upon a trip around the world.
Was that no a fine plan I had made for my son? That great voyage he was to have, to see the world and all its peoples! It was proud I was that I could give it to him. He was—but it may be I'll tell you more of John later in this book!
My pen runs awa' with me, and my tongue, too, when I think of my boy John.
We came to the pier at Dunoon, and there she lay, the little ferry steamer, the black smoke curling from her stack straight up to God. Ah, the braw day it was! There was a frosty sheen upon the heather, and the Clyde was calm as glass. The tops of the hills were coated with snow, and they stood out against the horizon like great big sugar loaves.
We were a' happy that day! There was a crowd to see us off. They had come to bid me farewell and godspeed, all my friends and my relations, and I went among them, shaking them by the hand and thinking of the long whiles before I'd be seeing them again. And then all my goodbys were said, and we went aboard, and my voyage had begun.
I looked back at the hills and the heather, and I thought of all I was to do and see before I saw those hills again. I was going half way round the world and back again. I was going to wonderful places to see wonderful things and curious faces. But oftenest the thought came to me, as I looked at my son, that him I would see again before I saw the heather and the hills and all the friends and the relations I was leaving behind me. For on his trip around the world he was to meet us in Australia! It was easier to leave him, easier to set out, knowing that, thinking of that!
Wonderful places I went to, surely. And wonderful things I saw and heard. But the most wonderful thing of all that I was to see or hear upon that voyage I did not dream of nor foresee. How was a mortal man to foresee? How was he to dream of it?
Could I guess that the very next time I set out from Dunoon pier the peaceful Clyde would be dotted with patrol boats, dashing hither and thither! Could I guess that everywhere there would be boys in khaki, and women weeping, and that my boy, John——! Ah, but I'll not tell you of that now.
Peaceful the Clyde had been, and peaceful was the Mersey when we sailed from Liverpool for New York. I look back on yon voyage—the last I took that way in days of peace. Next time! Destroyers to guard us from the Hun and his submarines, and to lay us a safe course through the mines. And sailor boys, about their guns, watching, sweeping the sea every minute for the flash of a sneaking pirate's periscope showing for a second above a wave!
But then! It was a quiet trip, with none but the ups and doons of every Atlantic crossing—more ups than doons, I'm telling you!
I was glad to be in America again, glad to see once more the friends I'd made. They turned out to meet me and to greet me in New York, and as I travelled across the continent to San Francisco it was the same. Everywhere I had friends; everywhere they came crowding to shake me by the hand with a "How are you the day, Harry?"
It was a long trip, but it was a happy one. How long ago it seems now, as I write, in this new day of war! How far away are all the common, kindly things that then I did not notice, and that now I would give the world and a' to have back again!
Then, everywhere I went, they pressed their dainties upon me whenever I sat down for a sup and a bite. The board groaned with plenty. I was in a rich country, a country where there was enough for all, and to spare. And now, as I am writing I am travelling again across America. And there is not enough. When I sit down at table there is a card of Herbert Hoover's, bidding me be careful how I eat and what I choose. Ay, but he has no need to warn me! Well I know the truth, and how America is helping to feed her allies over there, and so must be sparing herself.
To think of it! In yon far day the world was all at peace. And now that great America, that gave so little thought to armies and to cannon, is fighting with my ain British against the Hun!
It was in March of 1914 that we sailed from San Francisco, on the tenth of the month. It was a glorious day as we stood on the deck of the old Pacific liner Sonoma. I was eager and glad to be off. To be sure, America had been kinder to me than ever, and I was loath, in a way, to be leaving her and all the friends of mine she held—old friends of years, and new ones made on that trip. But I was coming back. And then there was one great reason for my eagerness that few folk knew—that my son John was coming to meet me in Australia. I was missing him sore already.
They came aboard the old tubby liner to see us off, friends by the score. They kept me busy shaking hands.
"Good-by, Harry," they said. And "Good luck, Harry," they cried. And just before the bugles sounded all ashore I heard a few of them crooning an old Scots song:
"Will ye no come back again?"
"Aye, I'll come back again!" I told them when I heard them.
"Good, Harry, good!" they cried back to me. "It's a promise! We'll be waiting for you—waiting to welcome you!"
And so we sailed from San Francisco and from America, out through the Golden Gate, toward the sunset. Here was beauty for me, who loved it new beauty, such as I had not seen before. They were quiet days, happy days, peaceful days. I was tired after my long tour, and the days at sea rested me, with good talk when I craved it, and time to sleep, and no need to give thought to trains, or to think, when I went to bed, that in the night they'd rouse me from my sleep by switching my car and giving me a bump.
We came first to Hawaii, and I fell in love with the harbor of Honolulu as we sailed in. Here, at last, I began to see the strange sights and hear the strange sounds I had been looking forward to ever since I left my wee hoose at Dunoon. Here was something that was different from anything that I had ever seen before.
We did not stay so long. On the way home I was to stay over and give a performance in Honolulu, but not now. Our time was given up to sight seeing, and to meeting some of the folk of the islands. They ken hospitality! We made many new friends there, short as the time was. And, man! The lassies! You want to cuddle the first lassie you meet when you step ashore at Honolulu. But you don't—if the wife is there!
It was only because I knew that we were to stop longer on the way back that I was willing to leave Honolulu at all. So we sailed on, toward Australia. And now I knew that my boy was about setting out on his great voyage around the world. Day by day I would get out the map, and try to prick the spot where he'd be.
And I'd think: "Aye! When I'm here John'll be there! Will he be nearer to me than now?"
Thinking of the braw laddie, setting out, so proud and happy, made me think of my ain young days. My father couldna' give me such a chance as my boy was to have. I'd worked in the mines before I was John's age. There'd been no Cambridge for me—no trip around the world as a part of my education. And I thanked God that he was letting me do so much for my boy.
Aye, and he deserved it, did John! He'd done well at Cambridge; he had taken honors there. And soon he was to go up to London to read for the Bar. He was to be a barrister, in wig and gown, my son, John!
It was of him, and of the meeting we were all to have in Australia, that I thought, more than anything else, in the long, long days upon the sea. We sailed on from Honolulu until we came to Paga-Paga. So it is spelled, but all the natives call it Panga-Panga.
Here I saw more and yet more of the strange and wonderful things I had thought upon so long back, in Dunoon. Here I saw mankind, for the first time, in a natural state. I saw men who wore only the figleaf of old Father Adam, and a people who lived from day to day, and whom the kindly earth sustained.
They lived entirely from vegetables and from clear crystal streams and upon marvelous fish from the sea. Ah, how I longed to stay in Paga-Paga and be a natural man. But I must go on. Work called me back to civilization and sorrow-fully I heeded its call and waved good-by to the natural folk of Paga-Paga!
It was before I came to Paga-Paga that I wrote a little verse inspired by Honolulu. Perhaps, if I had gone first to Paga-Paga— don't forget to put in the n and call it Panga-Panga when you say it to yourself!—I might have written it of that happy island of the natural folk. But I did not, so here is the verse:
I love you, Honolulu, Honolulu I love you! You are the Queen of the Sea! Your valleys and mountains Your palais and fountains Forever and ever will be dear to me!
I wedded a simple melody to those simple, heart-felt lines, and since then I have sung the song in pretty nearly every part of the world— and in Honolulu itself.
Our journey was drawing to its end. We were coming to a strange land indeed. And yet I knew there were Scots folk there—where in the world are there not? I thought they would be glad to see me, but how could I be sure? It was a far, far cry from Dunoon and the Clyde and the frost upon the heather on the day I had set out.
We were to land at Sydney. I was a wee bit impatient after we had made our landfall, while the old Sonoma poked her way along. But she would not be hurried by my impatience. And at last we came to the Sydney Heads—the famous Harbor Heads. If you have never seen it I do not know how better to tell you of it than to say that it makes me think of the entrance to a great cave that has no roof. In we went— and were within that great, nearly landlocked harbor.
And what goings on there were! The harbor was full of craft, both great and sma'. And each had all her bunting flying. Oh, they were braw in the sunlight, with the gay colors and the bits of flags, all fluttering and waving in the breeze!
And what a din there was, with the shrieking of the whistle and the foghorns and the sirens and the clamor of bells. It took my breath away, and I wondered what was afoot. And on the shore I could see that thousands of people waited, all crowded together by the water side. There were flags flying, too, from all the buildings.
"It must be that the King is coming in on a visit—and I never to have heard of it!" I thought.
And then they made me understand that it was all for me!
If there were tears in my eyes when they made me believe that, will you blame me? There was that great harbor, all alive with the welcome they made for me. And on the shore, they told me, a hundred thousand were waiting to greet me and bid me:
The tramways had stopped running until they had done with their welcome to inc. And all over the city, as we drove to our hotel, they roared their welcome, and there were flags along the way.
That was the proudest day I ha d ever known. But one thing made me wistful and wishful. I wanted my boy to be there with us. I wished he had seen how they had greeted his Dad. Nothing pleased him more than an honor that came to me. And here was an honor indeed—a reception the like of which I had never seen.
It was on the twenty-ninth day of March, in that year of 1914 that dawned in peace and happiness and set in blood and death and bitter sorrow, that we landed in Sydney. Soon I went to work. Everywhere my audiences showed me that that great and wonderful reception that had been given to me on the day we landed had been only an earnest of what was to come. They greeted me everywhere with cheers and tears, and everywhere we made new friends, and sometimes found old ones of whom we had not heard for years.
And I was thinking all the time, now, of my boy. He was on his way. He was on the Pacific. He was coming to me, across the ocean, and I could smile as I thought of how this thing and that would strike him, and of the smile that would light up his face now and the look of joy that would come into his eyes at the sudden sighting of some beautiful spot. Oh, aye—those were happy days When each one brought my boy nearer to me.
One day, I mind, the newspapers were full of the tale of a crime ill an odd spot in Europe that none of us had ever heard of before. You mind the place? Serajevo! Aye—we all mind it now! But then we read, and wondered how that outlandish name might be pronounced. A foreigner was murdered—what if he was a prince, the Archduke of Austria? Need we lash ourselves about him?
And so we read, and were sorry, a little, for the puir lady who sat beside the Archduke and was killed with him. And then we forgot it. All Australia did. There was no more in the newspapers. And my son John was coming—coming. Each day he was so many hundred miles nearer to me. And at last he came. We were in Melbourne then, it was near to the end of July.
We had much to talk about—son, and his mother and I. It was long months since we had seen him, and we had seen and done so much. The time flew by. Maybe we did not read the papers so carefully as we might have done. They tell me, they have told me, since then, that in Europe and even in America, there was some warning after Austria moved on Serbia. But I believe that down there in Australia they did not dream of danger; that they were far from understanding the meaning of the news the papers did print. They were so far away!
And then, you ken, it came upon us like a clap of thunder. One night it began. There was war in Europe—real war. Germany had attacked France and Russia. She was moving troops through Belgium. And every Briton knew what that must mean. Would Britain be drawn in? There was the question that was on every man's tongue.
"What do you think, son?" I asked John.
"I think we'll go in," he said. "And if we do, you know, Dad—they'll send for me to come home at once. I'm on leave from the summer training camp now to make this trip."
My boy, two years before, had joined the Territorial army. He was a second lieutenant in a Territorial battalion of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. It was much as if he had been an officer in a National Guard regiment in the United States. The territorial army was not bound to serve abroad—but who could doubt that it would, and gladly. As it did—to a man, to a man.
But it was a shock to me when John said that. I had not thought that war, even if it came, could come home to us so close—and so soon.
Yet so it was. The next day was the fourth of August—my birthday. And it was that day that Britain declared war upon Germany. We sat at lunch in the hotel at Melbourne when the newsboys began to cry the extras. And we were still at lunch when the hall porter came in from outside.
"Leftenant Lauder!" he called, over and over. John beckoned to him, and he handed my laddie a cablegram.
Just two words there were, that had come singing along the wires half way around the world.
John's eyes were bright. They were shining. He was looking at us, but he was not seeing us. Those eyes of his were seeing distant things. My heart way sore within me, but I was proud and happy that it was such a son I had to give my country.
"What do you think, Dad?" he asked me, when I had read the order.
I think I was gruff because I dared not let him see how I felt. His mother was very pale.
"This is no time for thinking, son," I said. "It is the time for action. You know your duty."
He rose from the table, quickly.
"I'm off!" he said.
"Where?" I asked him.
"To the ticket office to see about changing my berth. There's a steamer this week—maybe I can still find room aboard her."
He was not long gone. He and his chum went down together and come back smiling triumphantly.
"It's all right, Dad," he told me. "I go to Adelaide by train and get the steamer there. I'll have time to see you and mother off—your steamer goes two hours before my train."
We were going to New Zealand. And my boy was was going home to fight for his country. They would call me too old, I knew—I was forty-four the day Britain declared war.
What a turmoil there was about us! So fast were things moving that there seemed no time for thought, John's mother and I could not realize the full meaning of all that was happening. But we knew that John was snatched away from us just after he had come, and it was hard—it was cruelly hard.
But such thoughts were drowned in the great surging excitement that was all about us. In Melbourne, and I believe it must have been much the same elsewhere in Australia, folks didn't know what they were to do, how they were to take this war that had come so suddenly upon them. And rumors and questions flew in all directions.
Suppose the Germans came to Australia? Was there a chance of that? They had islands, naval bases, not so far away. They were Australia's neighbors. What of the German navy? Was it out? Were there scattered ships, here and there, that might swoop down upon Australia's shores and bring death and destruction with them?
But even before we sailed, next day, I could see that order was coming out of that chaos. Everywhere recruiting offices were opening, and men were flocking to them. No one dreamed, really, of a long war—though John laughed, sadly, when someone said it would be over in four months. But these Australians took no chances; they would offer themselves first, and let it be decided later whether they were needed.
So we sailed away. And when I took John's hand, and kissed him good-by, I saw him for the last time in his civilian clothes.
"Well, son," I said, "you're going home to be a soldier, a fighting soldier. You will soon be commanding men. Remember that you can never ask a man to do something you would no dare to do yourself!"
And, oh, the braw look in the eyes of the bonnie laddie as he tilted his chin up to me!
"I will remember, Dad!" he said.
And so long as a bit of the dock was in sight we could see him waving to us. We were not to see him again until the next January, at Bedford, in England, where he was training the raw men of his company.
Those were the first days of war. The British navy was on guard. From every quarter the whimpering wireless brought news of this German warship and that. They were scattered far and wide, over the Seven Seas, you ken, when the war broke out. There was no time for them to make a home port. They had their choice, most of them, between being interned in some neutral port and setting out to do as much mischief as they could to British commerce before they were caught. Caught they were sure to be. They must have known it. And some there were to brave the issue and match themselves against England's great naval power.
Perhaps they knew that few ports would long be neutral! Maybe they knew of the abominable war the Hun was to wage. But I think it was not such men as those who chose to take their one chance in a thousand who were sent out, later, in their submarines, to send women and babies a to their deaths with their torpedoes!
Be that as it may, we sailed away from Melbourne. But it was in Sydney Harbor that we anchored next—not in Wellington, as we, on the ship, all thought it would be! And the reason was that the navy, getting word that the German cruiser Emden was loose and raiding, had ordered our captain to hug the shore, and to put in at Sydney until he was told it was safe to proceed.
We were not much delayed, and came to Wellington safely. New Zealand was all ablaze with the war spirit. There was no hesitation there. The New Zealand troops were mobilizing when we arrived, and every recruiting office was besieged with men. Splendid laddies they were, who looked as if they would give a great account of themselves. As they did—as they did. Their deeds at Gallipoli speak for them and will forever speak for them—the men of Australia and New Zealand.
There the word Anzac was made—made from the first letters of these words: Australian New Zealand Army Corps. It is a word that will never die.
Even in the midst of war they had time to give me a welcome that warmed my heart. And there were pipers with them, too, skirling a tune as I stepped ashore. There were tears in my eyes again, as there had been at Sydney. Every laddie in uniform made me think of my own boy, well off, by now, on his way home to Britain and the duty that had called him.
They were gathering, all over the Empire, those of British blood. They were answering the call old Britain had sent across the seven seas to the far corners of the earth. Even as the Scottish clans gathered of old the greater British clans were gathering now. It was a great thing to see that in the beginning; it has comforted me many a time since, in a black hour, when news was bad and the Hun was thundering at the line that was so thinly held in France.
Here were free peoples, not held, not bound, free to choose their way. Britain could not make their sons come to her aid. If they came they must come freely, joyously, knowing that it was a right cause, a holy cause, a good cause, that called them. I think of the way they came—of the way I saw them rising to the summons, in New Zealand, in Australia, later in Canada. Aye, and I saw more—I saw Americans slipping across the border, putting on Britain's khaki there in Canada, because they knew that it was the fight of humanity, of freedom, that they were entering. And that, too, gave me comfort later in dark times, for it made me know that when the right time came America would take her place beside old Britain and brave France.
New Zealand is a bonnie land. It made me think, sometimes, of the Hielands of Scotland. A bonnie land, and braw are its people. They made me happy there, and they made much of me.
At Christchurch they did a strange thing. They were selling off, at auction, a Union Jack—the flag of Britain. Such a thing had never been done before, or thought of. But here was a reason and a good one. Money was needed for the laddies who were going—needed for all sorts of things. To buy them small comforts, and tobacco, and such things as the government might not be supplying them. And so they asked me to be their auctioneer.
I played a fine trick upon them there in Christchurch. But I was not ashamed of myself, and I think they have forgi'en me—those good bodies at Christchurch!
Here was the way of it. I was auctioneer, you ken—but that was not enough to keep me from bidding myself. And so I worked them up and on—and then I bid in the flag for myself for a hundred pounds—five hundred dollars of American money.
I had my doots about how they'd be taking it to have a stranger carry their flag away. And so I bided a wee. I stayed that night in Christchurch, and was to stay longer. I could wait. Above yon town of Christchurch stretch the Merino Hills. On them graze sheep by the thousand—and it is from those sheep that the true Merino wool comes. And in the gutters of Christchurch there flows, all day long, a stream of water as clear and pure as ever you might hope to see. And it should be so, for it is from artesian wells that it is pumped.
Aweel, I bided that night and by next day they were murmuring in the town, and their murmurs came to me. They thought it wasna richt for a Scotsman to be carrying off their flag—though he'd bought it and paid for it. And so at last they came to me, and wanted to be buying back the flag. And I was agreeable.
"Aye-I'll sell it back to ye!" I told them. "But at a price, ye ken— at a price! Pay me twice what I paid for it and it shall be yours!"
There was a Scots bargain for you! They must have thought me mean and grasping that day. But out they went. They worked for the money. It was but just a month after war had been declared, and money was still scarce and shy of peeping out and showing itself. But, bit by bit, they got the siller. A shilling at a time they raised, by subscription. But they got it all, and brought it to me, smiling the while.
"Here, Harry—here's your money!" they said. "Now give us back our flag!"
Back to them I gave it—and with it the money they had brought, to be added to the fund for the soldier boys. And so that one flag brought three hundred pounds sterling to the soldiers. I wonder did those folk at Christchurch think I would keep the money and make a profit on that flag?
Had it been another time I'd have stayed in New Zealand gladly a long time. It was a friendly place, and it gave us many a new friend. But home was calling me. There was more than the homebound tour that had been planned and laid out for me. I did not know how soon my boy might be going to France. And his mother and I wanted to see him again before he went, and to be as near him as might be.
So I was glad as well as sorry to sail away from New Zealand's friendly shores, to the strains of pipers softly skirling:
"Will ye no come back again?"
We sailed for Sydney on the Minnehaha, a fast boat. We were glad of her speed a day or so out, for there was smoke on the horizon that gave some anxious hours to our officers. Some thought the German raider Emden was under that smoke. And it would not have been surprising had a raider turned up in our path. For just before we sailed it had been discovered that the man in charge of the principal wireless station in New Zealand was a German, and he had been interned. Had he sent word to German warships of the plans and movements of British ships? No one could prove it, so he was only interned.
Back we went to Sydney. A great change had come since our departure. The war ruled all deed and thought. Australia was bound now to do her part. No less faithfully and splendidly than New Zealand was she engaged upon the enterprise the Hun had thrust upon the world. Everyone was eager for news, but it was woefully scarce. Those were the black, early days, when the German rush upon Paris was being stayed, after the disasters of the first fortnight of the war, at the Marne.
Everywhere, though there was no lack of determination to see the war through to a finish, no matter how remote that might be, the feeling was that this war was too huge, too vast, to last long. Exhaustion would end it. War upon the modern scale could not last. So they said —in September, 1914! So many of us believed—and this is the spring of the fourth year of the war, and the end is not yet, is not in sight, I fear.
Sydney turned out, almost as magnificently as when I had first landed upon Australian soil, to bid me farewell. And we embarked again upon that same old Sonoma that had brought us to Australia. Again I saw Paga-Paga and the natural folk, who had no need to toil nor spin to live upon the fat of the land and be arrayed in the garments that were always up to the minute in style.
Again I saw Honolulu, and, this time, stayed longer, and gave a performance. But, though we were there longer, it was not long enough to make me yield to that temptation to cuddle one of the brown lassies! Aweel, I was not so young as I had been, and Mrs. Lauder— you ken that she was travelling with me?
In the harbor of Honolulu there was a German gunboat, the Geier, that had run there for shelter not long since, and had still left a day or two, under the orders from Washington, to decide whether she would let herself be interned or not. And outside, beyond the three mile limit that marked the end of American territorial waters, were two good reasons to make the German think well of being interned. They were two cruisers, squat and ugly and vicious in their gray war paint, that watched the entrance to the harbor as you have seen a cat watching a rat hole.
It was not Britain's white ensign that they flew, those cruisers. It was the red sun flag of Japan, one of Britain's allies against the Hun. They had their vigil in vain, did those two cruisers. It was valor's better part, discretion, that the German captain chose. Aweel, you could no blame him! He and his ship would have been blown out of the water so soon as she poked her nose beyond American waters, had he chosen to go out and fight.
I was glad indeed when we came in sight of the Golden Gate once more, and when we were safe ashore in San Francisco. It had been a nerve-racking voyage in many ways. My wife and I were torn with anxiety about our boy. And there were German raiders loose; one or two had, so far, eluded the cordon the British fleet had flung about the world. One night, soon after we left Honolulu, we were stopped. We thought it was a British cruiser that stopped us, but she would only ask questions—answering those we asked was not for her!
But we were ashore at last. There remained only the trip across the United States to New York and the voyage across the Atlantic home.
Now indeed we began to get real news of the war. We heard of how that little British army had flung itself into the maw of the Hun. I came to know something of the glories of the retreat from Mons, and of how French and British had turned together at the Marne and had saved Paris. But, alas, I heard too of how many brave men had died—had been sacrificed, many and many a man of them, to the failure of Britain to prepare.
That was past and done. What had been wrong was being mended now. Better, indeed—ah, a thousand times better!—had Britain given heed to Lord Roberts, when he preached the gospel of readiness and prayed his countrymen to prepare for the war that he in his wisdom had foreseen. But it was easier now to look into the future.
I could see, as all the world was beginning to see, that this war was not like other wars. Lord Kitchener had said that Britain must make ready for a three year war, and I, for one, believed him when others scoffed, and said he was talking so to make the recruits for his armies come faster to the colors. I could see that this war might last for years. And it was then, back in 1914, in the first winter of the war, that I began to warn my friends in America that they might well expect the Hun to drag them into the war before its end. And I made up my mind that I must beg Americans who would listen to me to prepare.
So, all the way across the continent, I spoke, in every town we visited, on that subject of preparedness. I had seen Britain, living in just such a blissful anticipation of eternal peace as America then dreamed of. I had heard, for years, every attempt that was made to induce Britain to increase her army met with the one, unvarying reply.
"We have our fleet!" That was the answer that was made. And, be it remembered, that at sea, Britain was prepared! "We have our fleet. We need no army. If there is a Continental war, we may not be drawn in at all. Even if we are, they can't reach us. The fleet is between us and invasion."
"But," said the advocates of preparedness, "we might have to send an expeditionary force. If France were attacked, we should have to help her on land as well as at sea. And we have sent armies to the continent before."
"Yes," the other would reply. "We have an expeditionary force. We can send more than a hundred thousand men across the channel at short notice—the shortest. And we can train more men here, at home, in case of need. The fleet makes that possible."
Aye, the fleet made that possible. The world may well thank God for the British fleet. I do not know, and I do not like to think, what might have come about save for the British fleet. But I do know what came to that expeditionary force that we sent across the channel quickly, to the help of our sore stricken ally, France. How many of that old British army still survive?
They gave themselves utterly. They were the pick and the flower of our trained manhood. They should have trained the millions who were to rise at Kitchener's call. But they could not be held back. They are gone. Others have risen up to take their places—ten for one—a hundred for one! But had they been ready at the start! The bonnie laddies who would be living now, instead of lying in an unmarked grave in France or Flanders! The women whose eyes would never have been reddened by their weeping as they mourned a son or a brother or a husband!
So I was thinking as I set out to talk to my American friends and beg them to prepare—prepare! I did not want to see this country share the experience of Britain. If she needs must be drawn into the war— and so I believed, profoundly, from the time when I first learned the true measure of the Hun—I hoped that she might be ready when she drew her mighty sword.
They thought I was mad, at first, many of those to whom I talked. They were so far away from the war. And already the propaganda of the Germans was at work. Aye, they thought I was raving when I told them I'd stake my word on it. America would never be able to stay out until the end. They listened to me. They were willing to do that. But they listened, doubtingly. I think I convinced few of ought save that I believed myself what I was saying.
I could tell them, do you ken, that I'd thought, at first, as they did! Why, over yon, in Australia, when I'd first heard that the Germans were attacking France, I was sorry, for France is a bonnie land. But the idea that Britain might go in I, even then, had laughed at. And then Britain had gone in! My own boy had gone to the war. For all I knew I might be reading of him, any day, when I read of a charge or a fight over there in France! Anything was possible—aye, probable!
I have never called myself a prophet. But then, I think, I had something of a prophet's vision. And all the time I was struggling with my growing belief that this was to be a long war, and a merciless war. I did not want to believe some of the things I knew I must believe. But every day came news that made conviction sink in deeper and yet deeper.
It was not a happy trip, that one across the United States. Our friends did all they could to make it so, but we were consumed by too many anxieties and cares. How different was it from my journey westward—only nine months earlier! The world had changed forever in those nine months.
Everywhere I spoke for preparedness. I addressed the Rotary Clubs, and great audiences turned out to listen to me. I am a Rotarian myself, and I am proud indeed that I may so proclaim myself. It is a great organization. Those who came to hear me were cordial, nearly always. But once or twice I met hostility, veiled but not to be mistaken. And it was easy to trace it to its source. Germans, who loved the country they had left behind them to come to a New World that offered them a better home and a richer life than they could ever have aspired to at home, were often at the bottom of the opposition to what I had to say.
They did not want America to prepare, lest her weight be flung into the scale against Germany. And there were those who hated Britain. Some of these remembered old wars and grudges that sensible folk had forgotten long since; others, it may be, had other motives. But there was little real opposition to what I had to say. It was more a good natured scoffing, and a feeling that I was cracked a wee bit, perhaps, about the war.
I was not sorry to see New York again. We stayed there but one day, and then sailed for home on the Cunarder Orduna—which has since been sunk, like many another good ship, by the Hun submarines.
But those were the days just before the Hun began his career of real frightfulness upon the sea—and under it. Even the Hun came gradually to the height of his powers in this war. It was not until some weeks later that he startled the world by proclaiming that every ship that dared to cross a certain zone of the sea would be sunk without warning.
When we sailed upon the old Orduna we had anxieties, to be sure. The danger of striking a mine was never absent, once we neared the British coasts. There was always the chance, we knew, that some German raider might have slipped through the cordon in the North Sea. But the terrors that were to follow the crime of the Lusitania still lay in the future. They were among the things no man could foresee.
The Orduna brought us safe to the Mersey and we landed at Liverpool. Even had there been no thought of danger to the ship, that voyage would have been a hard one for us to endure. We never ceased thinking of John, longing for him and news of him. It was near Christmas, but we had small hope that we should be able to see him on that day.
All through the voyage we were shut away from all news. The wireless is silenced in time of war, save for such work as the government allows. There is none of the free sending, from shore to ship, and ship to ship, of all the news of the world, such as one grows to welcome in time of peace. And so, from New York until we neared the British coast, we brooded, all of us. How fared it with Britain in the war? Had the Hun launched some new and terrible attack?
But two days out from home we saw a sight to make us glad and end our brooding for a space.
"Eh, Harry—come and look you!" someone called to me. It was early in the morning, and there was a mist about us.
I went to the rail and looked in the direction I was told. And there, rising suddenly out of the mist, shattering it, I saw great, gray ships—warships—British battleships and cruisers. There they were, some of the great ships that are the steel wall around Britain that holds her safe. My heart leaped with joy and pride at the sight of them, those great, gray guardians of the British shores, bulwarks of steel that fend all foemen from the rugged coast and the fair land that lies behind it.
Now we were safe, ourselves! Who would not trust the British navy, after the great deeds it has done in this war? For there, mind you, is the one force that has never failed. The British navy has done what it set out to do. It has kept command of the seas. The submarines? The tin fish? They do not command the sea! Have they kept Canada's men, and America's, from reaching France?
When we landed my first inquiry was for my son John. He was well, and he was still in England, in training at Bedford with his regiment, the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. But it was as we had feared. Our Christmas must be kept apart. And so the day before Christmas found us back in our wee hoose on the Clyde, at Dunoon. But we thought of little else but the laddie who was making ready to fight for us, and of the day, that was coming soon, when we should see him.
It was a fitting place to train men for war, Bedford, where John was with his regiment, and where his mother and I went to see him so soon as we could after Christmas. It is in the British midlands, but before the factory towns begin. It is a pleasant, smiling country, farming country, mostly, with good roads, and fields that gave the boys chances to learn the work of digging trenches—aye, and living in them afterward.
Bedford is one of the great school towns of England. Low, rolling hills lie about it; the river Ouse, a wee, quiet stream, runs through it. Schooling must be in the air of Bedford! Three great schools for boys are there, and two for girls. And Liberty is in the air of Bedford, too, I think! John Bunyan was born two miles from Bedford, and his old house still stands in Elstow, a little village of old houses and great oaks. And it was in Bedford Jail that Bunyan was imprisoned because he would fight for the freedom of his own soul.
John was waiting to greet us, and he looked great. He had two stars now where he had one before—he had been promoted to first lieutenant. There were curious changes in the laddie I remembered. He was bigger, I thought, and he looked older, and graver. But that I could not wonder at. He had a great responsibility. The lives of other men had been entrusted to him, and John was not the man to take a responsibility like that lightly.
I saw him the first day I was at Bedford, leading some of his men in a practice charge. Big, braw laddies they were—all in their kilts. He ran ahead of them, smiling as he saw me watching them, but turning back to cheer them on if he thought they were not fast enough. I could see as I watched him that he had caught the habit of command. He was going to be a good officer. It was a proud thought for me, and again I was rejoiced that it was such a son that I was able to offer to my country.
They were kept busy at that training camp. Men were needed sore in France. Recruits were going over every day. What the retreat from Mons and the Battle of the Marne had left of that first heroic expeditionary force the first battle of Ypres had come close to wiping out. In the Ypres salient our men out there were hanging on like grim death. There was no time to spare at Bedford, where men were being made ready as quickly as might be to take their turn in the trenches.
But there was a little time when John and I could talk.
"What do you need most, son?" I asked him.
"Men!" he cried. "Men, Dad, men! They're coming in quickly. Oh, Britain has answered nobly to the call. But they're not coming in fast enough. We must have more men—more men!"
I had thought, when I asked my question, of something John might be needing for himself, or for his men, mayhap. But when he answered me so I said nothing. I only began to think. I wanted to go myself. But I knew they would not have me—yet awhile, at any rate. And still I felt that I must do something. I could not rest idle while all around me men were giving themselves and all they had and were.
Everywhere I heard the same cry that John had raised:
"Men! Give us men!"
It came from Lord Kitchener. It came from the men in command in France and Belgium—that little strip of Belgium the Hun had not been able to conquer. It came from every broken, maimed man who came back home to Britain to be patched up that he might go out again. There were scores of thousands of men in Britain who needed only the last quick shove to send them across the line of enlistment. And after I had thought a while I hit upon a plan.
"What stirs a man's fighting spirit quicker or better than the right sort of music?" I asked myself. "And what sort of music does it best of all?"
There can be only one answer to that last question! And so I organized my recruiting band, that was to be famous all over Britain before so very long. I gathered fourteen of the best pipers and drummers I could find in all Scotland. I equipped them, gave them the Highland uniform, and sent them out, to travel over Britain skirling and drumming the wail of war through the length and breadth of the land. They were to go everywhere, carrying the shrieking of the pipes into the highways and the byways, and so they did. And I paid the bills.
That was the first of many recruiting bands that toured Britain. Because it was the first, and because of the way the pipers skirled out the old hill melodies and songs of Scotland, enormous crowds followed my band. And it led them straight to the recruiting stations. There was a swing and a sway about those old tunes that the young fellows couldn't resist.
The pipers would begin to skirl and the drums to beat in a square, maybe, or near the railway station. And every time the skirling of the pipes would bring the crowd. Then the pipers would march, when the crowd was big enough, and lead the way always to the recruiting place. And once they were there the young fellows who weren't "quite ready to decide" and the others who were just plain slackers, willing to let better men die for them, found it mighty hard to keep from going on the wee rest of the way that the pipers had left them to make alone!
It was wonderful work my band did, and when the returns came to me I felt like the Pied Piper! Yes I did, indeed!
I did not travel with my band. That would have been a waste of effort. There was work for both of us to do, separately. I was booked for a tour of Britain, and everywhere I went I spoke, and urged the young men to enlist. I made as many speeches as I could, in every town and city that I visited, and I made special trips to many. I thought, and there were those who agreed with me, that I could, it might be, reach audiences another speaker, better trained than I, no doubt, in this sort of work, would not touch.
So there was I, without official standing, going about, urging every man who could to don khaki. I talked wherever and whenever I could get an audience together, and I began then the habit of making speeches in the theatres, after my performance, that I have not yet given up. I talked thus to the young men.
"If you don't do your duty now," I told them, "you may live to be old men. But even if you do, you will regret it! Yours will be a sorrowful old age. In the years to come, mayhap, there'll be a wee grandchild nestling on your knee that'll circle its little arms about your neck and look into your wrinkled face, and ask you:
"'How old are you, Grandpa? You're a very old man.'
"How will you answer that bairn's question?" So I asked the young men. And then I answered for them: "I don't know how old I am, but I am so old that I can remember the great war."
"And then"—I told them, the young men who were wavering—"and then will come the question that you will always have to dread—when you have won through to the old age that may be yours in safety if you shirk now! For the bairn will ask you, straightaway: 'Did you fight in the great war, Grandpa? What did you do?'
"God help the man," I told them, "who cannot hand it down as a heritage to his children and his children's children that he fought in the great war!"
I must have impressed many a brave lad who wanted only a bit of resolution to make him do his duty. They tell me that I and my band together influenced more than twelve thousand men to join the colors; they give me credit for that many, in one way and another. I am proud of that. But I am prouder still of the way the boys who enlisted upon my urging feel. Never a one has upbraided me; never a one has told me he was sorry he had heard me and been led to go.
It is far otherwise. The laddies who went because of me called me their godfather, many of them! Many's the letter I have had from them; many the one who has greeted me, as I was passing through a hospital, or, long afterward, when I made my first tour in France, behind the front line trenches. Many letters, did I say? I have had hundreds—thousands! And not so much as a word of regret in any one of them.
It was not only in Britain that I influenced enlistments. I preached the cause of the Empire in Canada, later. And here is a bit of verse that a Canadian sergeant sent to me. He dedicated it to me, indeed, and I am proud and glad that he did.
"ONE OF THE BOYS WHO WENT"
Say, here now, Mate, Don't you figure it's great To think when this war is all over; When we're through with this mud, And spilling o' blood, And we're shipped back again to old Dover. When they've paid us our tin, And we've blown the lot in, And our last penny is spent; We'll still have a thought— If it's all that we've got— I'm one of the boys who went! And perhaps later on When your wild days are gone, You'll be settling down for life, You've a girl in your eye You'll ask bye and bye To share up with you as your wife. When a few years have flown, And you've kids of your own, And you're feeling quite snug and content; It'll make your heart glad When they boast of their dad As one of the boys who went!
There was much work for me to do beside my share in the campaign to increase enlistments. Every day now the wards of the hospitals were filling up. Men suffering from frightful wounds came back to be mended and made as near whole as might be. And among them there was work for me, if ever the world held work for any man.
I did not wait to begin my work in the hospitals. Everywhere I went, where there were wounded men, I sang for those who were strong enough to be allowed to listen, and told them stories, and did all I could to cheer them up. It was heartrending work, oftentimes. There were dour sights, dreadful sights in those hospitals. There were wounds the memory of which robbed me of sleep. There were men doomed to blindness for the rest of their lives.
But over all there was a spirit that never lagged or faltered, and that strengthened me when I thought some sight was more than I could bear. It was the spirit of the British soldier, triumphant over suffering and cruel disfigurement, with his inevitable answer to any question as to how he was getting on. I never heard that answer varied when a man could speak at all. Always it was the same. Two words were enough.
As I went about the country now, working hard to recruit men, to induce people to subscribe to the war loan, doing all the things in which I saw a chance to make myself useful, there was now an ever present thought. When would John go out? He must go soon. I knew that, so did his mother. We had learned that he would not be sent without a chance to bid us good-by. There we were better off than many a father and mother in the early days of the war. Many's the mother who learned first that her lad had gone to France when they told her he was dead. And many's the lassie who learned in the same way that her lover would never come home to be her husband.
But by now Britain was settled down to war. It was as if war were the natural state of things, and everything was adjusted to war and those who must fight it. And many things were ordered better and more mercifully than they had been at first.
It was in April that word came to us. We might see John again, his mother and I, if we hurried to Bedford. And so we did. For once I heeded no other call. It was a sad journey, but I was proud and glad as well as sorry. John must do his share. There was no reason why my son should take fewer risks than another man's. That was something all Britain was learning in those days. We were one people. We must fight as one; one for all—all for one.
John was sober when he met us. Sober, aye! But what a light there was in his eyes! He was eager to be at the Huns. Tales of their doings were coming back to us now, faster and faster. They were tales to shock me. But they were tales, too, to whet the courage and sharpen the steel of every man who could fight and meant to go.
It was John's turn to go. So it was he felt. And so it was his mother and I bid him farewell, there at Bedford. We did not know whether we would ever see him again, the bonnie laddie! We had to bid him good-by, lest it be our last chance. For in Britain we knew, by then, what were the chances they took, those boys of ours who went out.
"Good-by, son—good luck!"
"Good-by, Dad. See you when I get leave!"
That was all. We were not allowed to know more than that he was ordered to France. Whereabouts in the long trench line he would be sent we were not told. "Somewhere in France." That phrase, that had been dinned so often into our ears, had a meaning for us now.
And now, indeed, our days and nights were anxious ones. The war was in our house as it had never been before. I could think of nothing but my boy. And yet, all the time I had to go on. I had to carry on, as John was always bidding his men do. I had to appear daily before my audiences, and laugh and sing, that I might make them laugh, and so be better able to do their part.
They had made me understand, my friends, by that time, that it was really right for me to carry on with my own work. I had not thought so at first. I had felt that it was wrong for me to be singing at such a time. But they showed me that I was influencing thousands to do their duty, in one way or another, and that I was helping to keep up the spirit of Britain, too.
"Never forget the part that plays, Harry," my friends told me. "That's the thing the Hun can't understand. He thought the British would be poor fighters because they went into action with a laugh. But that's the thing that makes them invincible. You've your part to do in keeping up that spirit."
So I went on but it was with a heavy heart, oftentimes. John's letters were not what made my heart heavy. There was good cheer in everyone of them. He told us as much as the censor's rules would let him of the front, and of conditions as he found them. They were still bad—cruelly bad. But there was no word of complaint from John.
The Germans still had the best of us in guns in those days, although we were beginning to catch up with them. And they knew more about making themselves comfortable in the trenches than did our boys. No wonder! They spent years of planning and making ready for this war. And it has not taken us so long, all things considered, to catch up with them.
John's letters were cheery and they came regularly, too, for a time. But I suppose it was because they left out so much, because there was so great a part of my boy's life that was hidden from me, that I found myself thinking more and more of John as a wee bairn and as a lad growing up.
He was a real boy. He had the real boy's spirit of fun and mischief. There was a story I had often told of him that came to my mind now. We were living in Glasgow. One drizzly day, Mrs. Lauder kept John in the house, and he spent the time standing at the parlor window looking down on the street, apparently innocently interested in the passing traffic.
In Glasgow it is the custom for the coal dealers to go along the streets with their lorries, crying their wares, much after the manner of a vegetable peddler in America. If a housewife wants any coal, she goes to the window when she hears the hail of the coal man, and holds up a finger, or two fingers, according to the number of sacks of coal she wants.
To Mrs. Lauder's surprise, and finally to her great vexation, coal men came tramping up our stairs every few minutes all afternoon, each one staggering under the weight of a hundredweight sack of coal. She had ordered no coal and she wanted no coal, but still the coal men came—a veritable pest of them.
They kept coming, too, until she discovered that little John was the author of their grimy pilgrimages to our door. He was signalling every passing lorrie from the window in the Glasgow coal code!
I watched him from that window another day when he was quarreling with a number of playmates in the street below. The quarrel finally ended in a fight. John was giving one lad a pretty good pegging, when the others decided that the battle was too much his way, and jumped on him.
John promptly executed a strategic retreat. He retreated with considerable speed, too. I saw him running; I heard the patter of his feet on our stairs, and a banging at our door. I opened it and admitted a flushed, disheveled little warrior, and I heard the other boys shouting up the stairs what they would do to him.
By the time I got the door closed, and got back to our little parlor, John was standing at the window, giving a marvelous pantomime for the benefit of his enemies in the street. He was putting his small, clenched fist now to his nose, and now to his jaw, to indicate to the youngsters what he was going to do to them later on.
Those, and a hundred other little incidents, were as fresh in my memory as if they had only occurred yesterday. His mother and I recalled them over and over again. From the day John was born, it seems to me the only things that really interested me were the things in which he was concerned. I used to tuck him in his crib at night. The affairs of his babyhood were far more important to me than my own personal affairs.
I watched him grow and develop with enormous pride, and he took great pride in me. That to me was far sweeter than praise from crowned heads. Soon he was my constant companion. He was my business confidant. More—he was my most intimate friend.
There were no secrets between us. I think that John and I talked of things that few fathers and sons have the courage to discuss. He never feared to ask my advice on any subject, and I never feared to give it to him.
I wish you could have known my son as he was to me. I wish all fathers could know their sons as I knew John. He was the most brilliant conversationalist I have ever known. He was my ideal musician.
He took up music only as an accomplishment, however. He did not want to be a performer, although he had amazing natural talent in that direction. Music was born in him. He could transpose a melody in any key. You could whistle an air for him, and he could turn it into a little opera at once.
However, he was anxious to make for himself in some other line of endeavor, and while he was often my piano accompanist, he never had any intention of going on the stage.
When he was fifteen years old, I was commanded to appear before King Edward, who was a guest at Rufford Abbey, the seat of Lord and Lady Sayville, situated in a district called the Dukeries, and I took John as my accompanist.
I gave my usual performance, and while I was making my changes, John played the piano. At the close, King Edward sent for me, and thanked me. It was a proud moment for me, but a prouder moment came when the King spoke of John's playing, and thanked him for his part in the entertainment.
There were curious contradictions, it often seemed to me, in John. His uncle, Tom Vallance, was in his day, one of the very greatest football players in Scotland. But John never greatly liked the game. He thought it was too rough. He thought any game was a poor game in which players were likely to be hurt. And yet—he had been eager for the rough game of war! The roughest game of all!
Ah, but that was not a game to him! He was not one of those who went to war with a light heart, as they might have entered upon a football match. All honor to those who went into the war so—they played a great part and a noble part! But there were more who went to war as my boy did—taking it upon themselves as a duty and a solemn obligation. They had no illusions. They did not love war. No! John hated war, and the black ugly horrors of it. But there were things he hated more than he hated war. And one was a peace won through submission to injustice.
Have I told you how my boy looked? He was slender, but he was strong and wiry. He was about five feet five inches tall; he topped his Dad by a handspan. And he was the neatest boy you might ever have hoped to see. Aye—but he did not inherit that from me! Indeed, he used to reproach me, oftentimes, for being careless about my clothes. My collar would be loose, perhaps, or my waistcoat would not fit just so. He'd not like that, and he would tell me so!
When he did that I would tell him of times when he was a wee boy, and would come in from play with a dirty face; how his mother would order him to wash, and how he would painstakingly mop off just enough of his features to leave a dark ring abaft his cheeks, and above his eyes, and below his chin.
"You wash your face, but never let on to your neck," I would tell him when he was a wee laddie.
He had a habit then of parting and brushing about an inch of his hair, leaving the rest all topsy-turvy. My recollection of that boyhood habit served me as a defense in later years when he would call my attention to my own disordered hair.
I linger long, and I linger lovingly over these small details, because they are part of my daily thoughts. Every day some little incident comes up to remind me of my boy. A battered old hamper, in which I carry my different character make-ups, stands in my dressing room. It was John's favorite seat. Every time I look at it I have a vision of a tiny wide-eyed boy perched on the lid, watching me make ready for the stage. A lump rises, unbidden, in my throat.
In all his life, I never had to admonish my son once. Not once. He was the most considerate lad I have ever known. He was always thinking of others. He was always doing for others.
It was with such thoughts as these that John's mother and I filled in the time between his letters. They came as if by a schedule. We knew what post should bring one. And once or twice a letter was a post late and our hearts were in our throats with fear. And then came a day when there should have been a letter, and none came. The whole day passed. I tried to comfort John's mother! I tried to believe myself that it was no more than a mischance of the post. But it was not that.
We could do nought but wait. Ah, but the folks at home in Britain know all too well those sinister breaks in the chains of letters from the front! Such a break may mean nothing or anything.
For us, news came quickly. But it was not a letter from John that came to us. It was a telegram from the war office and it told us no more than that our boy was wounded and in hospital.
"Wounded and in hospital!"
That might have meant anything. And for a whole week that was all we knew. To hope for word more definite until—and unless—John himself could send us a message, appeared to be hopeless. Every effort we made ended in failure. And, indeed, at such a time, private inquiries could not well be made. The messages that had to do with the war and with the business of the armies had to be dealt with first.
But at last, after a week in which his mother and I almost went mad with anxiety, there came a note from our laddie himself. He told us not to fret—that all that ailed him was that his nose was split and his wrist bashed up a bit! His mother looked at me and I at her. It seemed bad enough to us! But he made light of his wounds—aye, and he was right! When I thought of men I'd seen in hospitals—men with wounds so frightful that they may not be told of—I rejoiced that John had fared so well.
And I hoped, too, that his wounds would bring him home to us—to Blighty, as the Tommies were beginning to call Britain. But his wounds were not serious enough for that and so soon as they were healed, he went back to the trenches.
"Don't worry about me," he wrote to us. "Lots of fellows out here have been wounded five and six times, and don't think anything of it. I'll be all right so long as I don't get knocked out."
He didn't tell us then that it was the bursting of a shell that gave him his first wounded stripe. But he wrote to us regularly again, and there were scarcely any days in which a letter did not come either to me or to his mother. When one of those breaks did come it was doubly hard to bear now.
For now we knew what it was to dread the sight of a telegraph messenger. Few homes in Britain there are that do not share that knowledge now. It is by telegraph, from the war office, that bad news comes first. And so, with the memory of that first telegram that we had had, matters were even worse, somehow, than they had been before. For me the days and nights dragged by as if they would never pass.
There was more news in John's letters now. We took some comfort from that. I remember one in which he told his mother how good a bed he had finally made for himself the night before. For some reason he was without quarters—either a billet or a dug-out. He had to skirmish around, for he did not care to sleep simply in Flanders mud. But at last he found two handfuls of straw, and with them made his couch.
"I got a good two hours' sleep," he wrote to his mother. "And I was perfectly comfortable. I can tell you one thing, too, Mother. If I ever get home after this experience, there'll be one in the house who'll never grumble! This business puts the grumbling out of your head. This is where the men are. This is where every man ought to be."
In another letter he told us that nine of his men had been killed.
"We buried them last night," he wrote, "just as the sun went down. It was the first funeral I have ever attended. It was most impressive. We carried the boys to one huge grave. The padre said a prayer, and we lowered the boys into the ground, and we all sang a little hymn: 'Peace, Perfect Peace!' Then I called my men to attention again, and we marched straight back into the trenches, each of us, I dare say, wondering who would be the next."
John was promoted for the second time in Flanders. He was a captain, having got his step on the field of battle. Promotion came swiftly in those days to those who proved themselves worthy. And all of the few reports that came to us of John showed us that he was a good officer. His men liked him, and trusted him, and would follow him anywhere. And little more than that can be said of any officer.
While Captain John Lauder was playing his part across the Channel, I was still trying to do what I could at home. My band still travelled up and down, the length and width of the United Kingdom, skirling and drumming and drawing men by the score to the recruiting office.
There was no more talk now of a short war. We knew what we were in for now.
But there was no thought or talk of anything save victory. Let the war go on as long as it must—it could end only in one way. We had been forced into the fight—but we were in, and we were in to stay. John, writing from France, was no more determined than those at home.
It was not very long before there came again a break in John's letters. We were used to the days—far apart—that brought no word. Not until the second day and the third day passed without a word, did Mrs. Lauder and I confess our terrors and our anxiety to ourselves and one another. This time our suspense was comparatively short-lived. Word came that John was in hospital again—at the Duke of Westminster's hospital at Le Toquet, in France. This time he was not wounded; he was suffering from dysentery, fever and—a nervous breakdown. That was what staggered his mother and me. A nervous breakdown! We could not reconcile the John we knew with the idea that the words conveyed to us. He had been high strung, to be sure, and sensitive. But never had he been the sort of boy of whom to expect a breakdown so severe as this must be if they had sent him to the hospital.
We could only wait to hear from him, however. And it was several weeks before he was strong enough to be able to write to us. There was no hint of discouragement in what he wrote then. On the contrary, he kept on trying to reassure us, and if he ever grew downhearted, he made it his business to see that we did not suspect it. Here is one of his letters—like most of them it was not about himself.
"I had a sad experience yesterday," he wrote to me. "It was the first day I was able to be out of bed, and I went over to a piano in a corner against the wall, sat down, and began playing very softly, more to myself than anything else.
"One of the nurses came to me, and said a Captain Webster, of the Gordon Highlanders, who lay on a bed in the same ward, wanted to speak to me. She said he had asked who was playing, and she had told him Captain Lauder—Harry Lauder's son. 'Oh,' he said, 'I know Harry Lauder very well. Ask Captain Lauder to come here?'
"This man had gone through ten operations in less than a week. I thought perhaps my playing had disturbed him, but when I went to his bedside, he grasped my hand, pressed it with what little strength he had left, and thanked me. He asked me if I could play a hymn. He said he would like to hear 'Lead, Kindly Light.'
"So I went back to the piano and played it as softly and as gently as I could. It was his last request. He died an hour later. I was very glad I was able to soothe his last moments a little. I am very glad now I learned the hymn at Sunday School as a boy."
Soon after we received that letter there came what we could not but think great news. John was ordered home! He was invalided, to be sure, and I warned his mother that she must be prepared for a shock when she saw him. But no matter how ill he was, we would have our lad with us for a space. And for that much British fathers and mothers had learned to be grateful.
I had warned John's mother, but it was I who was shocked when I saw him first on the day he came back to our wee hoose at Dunoon. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes very bright, as a man's are who has a fever. He was weak and thin, and there was no blood in his cheeks. It was a sight to wring one's heart to see the laddie so brought down— him who had looked so braw and strong the last time we had seen him.
That had been when he was setting out for the wars, you ken! And now he was back, sae thin and weak and pitiful as I had not seen him since he had been a bairn in his mother's arms.
Aweel, it was for us, his mother and I, and all the folks at home, to mend him, and make him strong again. So he told us, for he had but one thing on his mind—to get back to his men.
"They'll be needing me, out there," he said. "They're needing men. I must go back so soon as I can. Every man is needed there."
"You'll be needing your strength back before you can be going back, son," I told him. "If you fash and fret it will take you but so much the longer to get back."
He knew that. But he knew things I could not know, because I had not seen them. He had seen things that he saw over and over again when he tried to sleep. His nerves were shattered utterly. It grieved me sore not to spend all my time with him but he would not hear of it. He drove me back to my work.
"You must work on, Dad, like every other Briton," he said. "Think of the part you're playing. Why you're more use than any of us out there—you're worth a brigade!"
So I left him on the Clyde, and went on about my work. But I went back to Dunoon as often as I could, as I got a day or a night to make the journey. At first there was small change of progress. John would come downstairs about the middle of the day, moving slowly and painfully. And he was listless; there was no life in him; no resiliency or spring.
"How did you rest, son?" I would ask him. He always smiled when he answered.
"Oh, fairly well," he'd tell me. "I fought three or four battles though, before I dropped off to sleep."
He had come to the right place to be cured, though, and his mother was the nurse he needed. It was quiet in the hills of the Clyde, and there was rest and healing in the heather about Dunoon. Soon his sleep became better and less troubled by dreams. He could eat more, too, and they saw to it, at home, that he ate all they could stuff into him.
So it was a surprisingly short time, considering how bad he had looked when he first came back to Dunoon, before he was in good health and spirits again. There was a bonnie, wee lassie who was to become Mrs. John Lauder ere so long—she helped our boy, too, to get back his strength.
Soon he was ordered from home. For a time he had only light duties with the Home Reserve. Then he went to school. I laughed when he told me he had been ordered to school, but he didna crack a smile.
"You needn't be laughing," he said. "It's a bombing school I'm going to now-a-days. If you're away from the front for a few weeks, you find everything changed when you get back. Bombing is going to be important."
John did so well in the bombing school that he was made an instructor and assigned, for a while, to teach others. But he was impatient to be back with his own men, and they were clamoring for him. And so, on September 16, 1916, his mother and I bade him good-by again, and he went back to France and the men his heart was wrapped up in.
"Yon's where the men are, Dad!" he said to me, just before he started.
John's mother, his sweetheart and I all saw him off at Glasgow. The fear was in all our hearts, and I think it must have been in all our eyes, as well—the fear that every father and mother and sweetheart in Britain shared with us in these days whenever they saw a boy off for France and the trenches. Was it for the last time? Were we seeing him now so strong and hale and hearty, only to have to go the rest of our lives with no more than a memory of him to keep?
Aweel, we could not be telling that! We could only hope and pray! And we had learned again to pray, long since. I have wondered, often, and Mrs. Lauder has wondered with me, what the fathers and mothers of Britain would do in these black days without prayer to guide them and sustain them. So we could but stand there, keeping back our tears and our fears, and hoping for the best. One thing was sure; we might not let the laddie see how close we were to greeting. It was for us to be so brave as God would let us be. It was hard for him. He was no boy, you ken, going blindly and gayly to a great adventure; he had need of the finest courage and devotion a man could muster that day.
For he knew fully now what it was that he was going back to. He knew the hell the Huns had made of war, which had been bad enough, in all conscience, before they did their part to make it worse. And he was high strung. He could live over, and I make no doubt he did, in those days after he had his orders to go back, every grim and dreadful thing that was waiting for him out there. He had been through it all, and he was going back. He had come out of the valley of the shadow, and now he was to ride down into it again.
And it was with a smile he left us! I shall never forget that. His thought was all for us whom he was leaving behind. His care was for us, lest we should worry too greatly and think too much of him.
"I'll be all right," he told us. "You're not to fret about me, any of you. A man does take his chances out there—but they're the chances every man must take these days, if he's a man at all. I'd rather be taking them than be safe at home."
We did our best to match the laddie's spirit and be worthy of him. But it was cruelly hard. We had lost him and found him again, and now he was being taken from us for the second time. It was harder, much harder, to see him go this second time than it had been at first, and it had been hard enough then, and bad enough. But there was nothing else for it. So much we knew. It was a thing ordered and inevitable.
And it was not many days before we had slipped back into the way things had been before John was invalided home. It is a strange thing about life, the way that one can become used to things. So it was with us. Strange things, terrible things, outrageous things, that, in time of peace, we would never have dared so much as to think possible, came to be the matters of every day for us. It was so with John. We came to think of it as natural that he should be away from us, and in peril of his life every minute of every hour. It was not easier for us. Indeed, it was harder than it had been before, just as it had been harder for us to say good-by the second time. But we thought less often of the strangeness of it. We were really growing used to the war, and it was less the monstrous, strange thing than it had been in our daily lives. War had become our daily life and portion in Britain. All who were not slackers were doing their part— every one. Man and woman and child were in it, making sacrifices. Those happy days of peace lay far behind us, and we had lost our touch with them and our memory of them was growing dim. We were all in it. We had all to suffer alike, we were all in the same boat, we mothers and fathers and sweethearts of Britain. And so it was easier for us not to think too much and too often of our own griefs and cares and anxieties.
John's letters began to come again in a steady stream. He was as careful as ever about writing. There was scarcely a day that did not bring its letter to one of the three of us. And what bonnie, brave letters they were! They were as cheerful and as bright as his first letters had been. If John had bad hours and bad days out there he would not let us know it. He told us what news there was, and he was always cheerful and bright when he wrote. He let no hint of discouragement creep into anything he wrote to us. He thought of others first, always and all the time; of his men, and of us at home. He was quite cured and well, he told us, and going back had done him good instead of harm. He wrote to us that he felt as if he had come home. He felt, you ken, that it was there, in France and in the trenches, that men should feel at home in those days, and not safe in Britain by their ain firesides.
It was not easy for me to be cheerful and comfortable about him, though. I had my work to do. I tried to do it as well as I could, for I knew that that would please him. My band still went up and down the country, getting recruits, and I was speaking, too, and urging men myself to go out and join the lads who were fighting and dying for them in France. They told me I was doing good work; that I was a great force in the war. And I did, indeed, get many a word and many a handshake from men who told me I had induced them to enlist.
"I'm glad I heard you, Harry," man after man said to me. "You showed me what I should be doing and I've been easier in my mind ever since I put on the khaki!"
I knew they'd never regret it, no matter what came to them. No man will, that's done his duty. It's the slackers who couldn't or wouldn't see their duty men should feel sorry for! It's not the lads who gave everything and made the final sacrifice.
It was hard for me to go on with my work of making folks laugh. It had been growing harder steadily ever since I had come home from America and that long voyage of mine to Australia and had seen what war was and what it was doing to Britain. But I carried on, and did the best I could.
That winter I was in the big revue at the Shaftesbury Theatre, in London, that was called "Three Cheers." It was one of the gay shows that London liked because it gave some relief from the war and made the Zeppelin raids that the Huns were beginning to make so often now a little easier to bear. And it was a great place for the men who were back from France. It was partly because of them that I could go on as I did. We owed them all we could give them. And when they came back from the mud and the grime and the dreariness of the trenches, they needed something to cheer them up—needed the sort of production we gave them. A man who has two days' leave in London does not want to see a serious play or a problem drama, as a rule. He wants something light, with lots of pretty girls and jolly tunes and people to make him laugh. And we gave him that. The house was full of officers and men, night after night.
Soon word came from John that he was to have leave, just after Christmas, that would bring him home for the New Year's holidays. His mother went home to make things ready, for John was to be married when he got his leave. I had my plans all made. I meant to build a wee hoose for the two of them, near our own hoose at Dunoon, so that we might be all together, even though my laddie was in a home of his own. And I counted the hours and the days against the time when John would be home again.
While we were playing at the Shaftesbury I lived at an hotel in Southampton Row called the Bonnington. But it was lonely for me there. On New Year's Eve—it fell on a Sunday—Tom Vallance, my brother-in-law, asked me to tea with him and his family in Clapham, where he lived. That is a pleasant place, a suburb of London on the southwest, and I was glad to go. And so I drove out with a friend of mine, in a taxicab, and was glad to get out of the crowded part of the city for a time.
I did not feel right that day. Holiday times were bad, hard times for me then. We had always made so much of Christmas, and here was the third Christmas that our boy had been away. And so I was depressed. And then, there had been no word for me from John for a day or two. I was not worried, for I thought it likely that his mother or his sweetheart had heard, and had not time yet to let me know. But, whatever the reason, I was depressed and blue, and I could not enter into the festive spirit that folk were trying to keep alive despite the war.
I must have been poor company during that ride to Clapham in the taxicab. We scarcely exchanged a word, my friend and I. I did not feel like talking, and he respected my mood, and kept quiet himself. I felt, at last, that I ought to apologize to him.
"I don't know what's the matter with me," I told him. "I simply don't want to talk. I feel sad and lonely. I wonder if my boy is all right?"
"Of course he is!" my friend told me. "Cheer up, Harry. This is a time when no news is good news. If anything were wrong with him they'd let you know."
Well, I knew that, too. And I tried to cheer up, and feel better, so that I would not spoil the pleasure of the others at Tom Vallance's house. I tried to picture John as I thought he must be—well, and happy, and smiling the old, familiar boyish smile I knew so well. I had sent him a box of cigars only a few days before, and he would be handing it around among his fellow officers. I knew that! But it was no use. I could think of John, but it was only with sorrow and longing. And I wondered if this same time in a year would see him still out there, in the trenches. Would this war ever end? And so the shadows still hung about me when we reached Tom's house.
They made me very welcome, did Tom and all his family. They tried to cheer me, and Tom did all he could to make me feel better, and to reassure me. But I was still depressed when we left the house and began the drive back to London.
"It's the holiday—I'm out of gear with that, I'm thinking," I told my friend.
He was going to join two other friends, and, with them, to see the New Year in in an old fashioned way, and he wanted me to join them. But I did not feel up to it; I was not in the mood for anything of the sort.
"No, no, I'll go home and turn in," I told him. "I'm too dull tonight to be good company."
He hoped, as we all did, that this New Year that was coming would bring victory and peace. Peace could not come without victory; we were all agreed on that. But we all hoped that the New Year would bring both—the new year of 1917. And so I left him at the corner of Southhampton Row, and went back to my hotel alone. It was about midnight, a little before, I think, when I got in, and one of the porters had a message for me.
"Sir Thomas Lipton rang you up," he said, "and wants you to speak with him when you come in."
I rang him up at home directly.
"Happy New Year, when it comes, Harry!" he said. He spoke in the same bluff, hearty way he always did. He fairly shouted in my ear. "When did you hear from the boy? Are you and Mrs. Lauder well?"
"Aye, fine," I told him. And I told him my last news of John.
"Splendid!" he said. "Well, it was just to talk to you a minute that I rang you up, Harry. Good-night—Happy New Year again."
I went to bed then. But I did not go to sleep for a long time. It was New Year's, and I lay thinking of my boy, and wondering what this year would bring him. It was early in the morning before I slept. And it seemed to me that I had scarce been asleep at all when there came a pounding at the door, loud enough to rouse the heaviest sleeper there ever was.
My heart almost stopped. There must be something serious indeed for them to be rousing me so early. I rushed to the door, and there was a porter, holding out a telegram. I took it and tore it open. And I knew why I had felt as I had the day before. I shall never forget what I read:
"Captain John Lauder killed in action, December 28. Official. War Office."
It had gone to Mrs. Lauder at Dunoon first, and she had sent it on to me. That was all it said. I knew nothing of how my boy had died, or where—save that it was for his country.