BETWEEN YOU AND ME
SIR HARRY LAUDER
Author of "A Minstrel in France" NEW YORK
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY 1919
This book is dedicated to the Fathers and Mothers of the Boys who went and those who prepared to go.
"ONE OF THE BOYS WHO WENT"
Say, Mate, don't you figure it's great To think, when the war is all over, And we're thro' with the mud— And the spilling of 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 very last penny is spent, We'll still have a thought, if that's all we've got: Well, I'm one of the boys who went.
Perhaps, later on, when the wild days are gone And you're 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— Then, when a few years have flown And you've got "chicks" of your own And you're happy, and snug, and content, Man, it will make your heart glad When they boast of their Dad— My Dad—He was one of the boys who went.
BETWEEN YOU AND ME
It's a bonny world, I'm tellin' ye! It was worth saving, and saved it's been, if only you and I and the rest of us that's alive and fit to work and play and do our part will do as we should. I went around the world in yon days when there was war. I saw all manner of men. I saw them live, and fight, and dee. And now I'm back from the other side of the world again. And I'm tellin' ye again that it's a bonny world I've seen, but no so bonny a world as we maun make it—you and I. So let us speer a wee, and I'll be trying to tell you what I think, and what I've seen.
There'll be those going up and doon the land preaching against everything that is, and talking of all that should be. There'll be others who'll say that all is well, and that the man that wants to make a change is no better than Trotzky or a Hun. There'll be those who'll be wantin' me to let a Soviet tell me what songs to sing to ye, and what the pattern of my kilts should be. But what have such folk to say to you and me, plain folk that we are, with our work to do, and the wife and the bairns to be thinkin' of when it comes time to tak' our ease and rest? Nothin', I say, and I'll e'en say it again and again before I'm done.
The day of the plain man has come again. The world belongs to us. We made it. It was plain men who fought the war—who deed and bled and suffered in France, and Gallipoli and everywhere where men went about the business of the war. And it's plain men who have come home to Britain, and America, to Australia and Canada and all the other places that sent their sons out to fight for humanity. They maun fight for humanity still, for that fight is not won,—deed, and it's no more than made a fair beginning.
Your profiteer is no plain man. Nor is your agitator. They are set up against you and me, and all the other plain men and women who maun make a living and tak' care of those that are near and dear to them. Some of us plain folk have more than others of us, maybe, but there'll be no envy among us for a' that. We maun stand together, and we shall. I'm as sure of that as I'm sure that God has charged himself with the care of this world and all who dwell in it.
I maun talk more about myself than I richt like to do if I'm to make you see how I'm feeling and thinking aboot all the things that are loose wi' the world to-day. For, after all, it's himself a man knows better than anyone else, and if I've ideas about life and the world it's from the way life's dealt with me that I've learned them. I've no done so badly for myself and my ain, if I do say it. And that's why, maybe, I've small patience with them that's busy always saying the plain man has no chance these days.
Do you ken how I made my start? Are ye thinkin', maybe, that I'd a faither to send me to college and gie me masters to teach me to sing my songs, and to play the piano? Man, ye'd be wrong, an' ye thought so! My faither deed, puir man, when I was but a bairn of eleven—he was but thirty-twa himself. And my mither was left with me and six other bairns to care for. 'Twas but little schoolin' I had.
After my faither deed I went to work. The law would not let me gie up my schoolin' altogether. But three days a week I learned to read and write and cipher, and the other three I worked in a flax mill in the wee Forfarshire town of Arboath. Do ye ken what I was paid? Twa shillin' the week. That's less than fifty cents in American money. And that was in 1881, thirty eight years ago. I've my bit siller the noo. I've my wee hoose amang the heather at Dunoon. I've my war loan stock, and my Liberty and Victory bonds. But what I've got I've worked for and I've earned, and you've done the same for what you've got, man, and so can any other man if he but wull.
I do not believe God ever intended men to get too rich and prosperous. When they do lots of little things that go to make up the real man have to be left out, or be dropped out. And men think too much of things. For a lang time now things have been riding over men, and mankind has ceased riding over things. But now we plain folk are going again to make things subservient to life, to human life, to the needs and interests of the plain man. That is what I want to talk of always, of late—the need of plain living, plain speaking, plain, useful thinking.
For me the great discovery of the war was that humanity was the greatest thing in the world. I had to learn that no man could live for and by himself alone. I had to learn that I must think all the time of others. A great grief came to me when my son was killed. But I was not able to think and act for myself alone. I was minded to tak' a gun in my hand, and go out to seek to kill twa Huns for my bairn. But it was his mither who stopped me.
"Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord. I will repay." She reminded me of those words. And I was ashamed, for that I had been minded to forget.
And when I would have hidden myself away from a' the world, and nursed my grief, I was reminded, again, that I must not. My boy had died for humanity. He had not been there in France aboot his own affairs. Was it for me, his father, to be selfish when he had been unselfish? Had I done as I planned, had I said I could not carry on because of my ain grief, I should have brought sorrow and trouble to others, and I should have failed to do my duty, since there were those who, in a time of sore trouble and distress, found living easier because I made them laugh and wink back the tears that were too near to dropping.
Oh, aye, I've had my share of trouble. So when I'm tellin' ye this is a bonny world do not be thinkin' it's a man who's lived easily always and whose lines have been cast only in pleasant places who is talking with ye. I've as little patience as any man with those fat, sleek folk who fold their hands and roll their een and speak without knowledge of grief and pain when those who have known both rebel. But I know that God brings help and I know this much more—that he will not bring it to the man who has not begun to try to help himself, and never fails to bring it to the man who has.
Weel, as I've told ye, it was for twa shillin' a week that I first worked. I was a strappin' lout of a boy then, fit to work harder than I did, and earn more, and ever and again I'd tell them at some new mill I was past fourteen, and they'd put me to work at full time. But I could no hide myself awa' from the inspector when he came around, and each time he'd send me back to school and to half time.
It was hard work, and hard living in yon days. But it was a grand time I had. I mind the sea, and the friends I had. And it was there, in Arboath, when I was no more than a laddie, I first sang before an audience. A travelling concert company had come to Oddfellows' Hall, and to help to draw the crowd there was a song competition for amateurs, with a watch for a prize. I won the prize, and I was as conceited as you please, with all the other mill boys envying me, and seein', at last, some use in the way I was always singing. A bit later there was another contest, and I won that, too, with a six-bladed knife for a prize. But I did not keep the knife, for, for all my mither could do to stop me, I'd begun even in those days to be a great pipe smoker, and I sold the knife for threepence, which bought me an ounce of thick black—a tobacco I still like, though I can afford a better now, could I but find it.
It was but twa years we stayed at Arboath. From there we went to Hamilton, on the west coast, since my uncle told of the plenty work there was to be found there at the coal mines. I went on at the pitheads, and, after a week or so, a miner gave me a chance to go below with him. He was to pay me ten shillings for a week's work as his helper, and it was proud I was the morn when I went doon into the blackness for the first time.
But I was no so old, ye'll be mindin', and I won't say I was not fearsome, too. It's a queer feelin' ye have when ye first go doon into a pit. The sun's gone, and the light, and it seems like the air's gone from your lungs with them. I carried a gauze lamp, but the bit flicker of it was worse than useless—it made it harder for me to see, instead of easier. The pressure's what ye feel; it's like to be chokin' ye until you're used to it. And then the black, damp walls, pressin' in, as if they were great hands aching to be at your throat! Oh, I'm tellin' ye there's lots of things pleasanter than goin' doon into a coal pit for the first time.
I mind, since then, I've gone doon far deeper than ever we did at Hamilton. At Butte, in Montana, in America, I went doon three thousand feet—more than half a mile, mind ye! There they find copper, and good copper, at that depth. But they took me doon there in an express elevator. I had no time to be afeared before we were doon, walkin' along a broad, dry gallery, as well lighted as Broadway or the Strand, with electric lights, and great fans to keep the air cool and dry. It's different, minin' so, to what it was when I was a boy at Hamilton.
But I'm minded, when I think of Butte, and the great copper mines there, of the thing I'm chiefly thinking of in writing this book.
I was in Butte during the war—after America had come in. 'Deed, and it was just before the Huns made their last bid, and thought to break the British line. Ye mind yon days in the spring of 1918? Anxious days, sad days. And in the war we all were fighting, copper counted for nigh as much as men. The miners there in Butte were fighting the Hun as surely as if they'd been at Cantigny or Chateau-Thierry.
Never had there been such pay in Butte as in yon time. I sang at a great theatre one of the greatest in all the western country. It was crowded at every performance. The folk sat on the stage, so deep packed, so close together, there was scarce room for my walk around. Ye mind how I fool ye, when I'm singin', by walkin' round and round the stage after a verse? It's my way of givin' short measure—save that folk seem to like to see me do it!
Weel, there was that great mining city, where the copper that was so needed for munitions was being mined. The men were well paid. Yet there was discontent. Agitators were at work among them, stirring up trouble, seeking to take their minds off their work and hurt the production of the copper that was needed to save the lives of men like those who were digging it out of the ground. They were thinkin', there, in yon days, that men could live for themselves and by themselves.
But, thank God, it was only a few who thought so. The great lot of the men were sound, and they did grand work. And they found their reward, too—as men always do when they do their work well and think of what it means.
There were others in Butte, too, who were thinking only of themselves. Some of them hung one of the agitators, whiles before I was there. They had not thought, any more than had the foolish men among the workers, how each of us is dependent upon others, of the debts that every day brings us, that we owe to all humanity.
Ye'll e'en forgie me if I wander so, sometimes, in this book? Ye'll ken how it is when you'll be talkin' with a friend? Ye'll begin about the bit land or the cow one of you means to sell to the other. Ye'll ha' promised the wife, maybe, when ye slipped oot, that ye'd come richt back, so soon as ye had finished wi' Sandy. And then, after ye'd sat ye doon together in a corner of the bar, why one bit word would lead to another, and ye'd be wanderin' from the subject afore ye knew it? It's so wi' me. I'm no writin' a book so much as I'm sittin' doon wi' ye all for a chat, as I micht do gi'en you came into my dressing room some nicht when I was singin' in your toon.
It's a far cry that last bit o' wandering meant—from Hamilton in my ain Scotland to Butte in the Rocky Mountains of America! And yet, for what I'm thinkin' it's no so far a cry. There were men I knew in Hamilton who'd have found themselves richt at hame among the agitators in Butte. I'm minded to be tellin' ye a tale of one such lad.
The lad I've in mind I'll call Andy McTavish, which'll no be his richt name, ye'll ken. He could ha' been the best miner in the pit. He could ha' been the best liked lad in a' those parts. But he was not. Nothin' was ever good enough for Andy. I'm tellin' ye, had he found a golden sovereign along the road, whiles he went to his work, he'd have come to us at the pit moanin' and complainin' because it was not a five pound note he'd turned up with his toe!
Never was Andy satisfied. Gi'en there were thirty shillin' for him to draw at the pit head, come Saturday night, he'd growl that for the hard work he'd done he should ha' had thirty-five. Mind ye, I'm not sayin' he was wrong, only he was no worse off than the rest, and better than some, and he was always feeling that it was he who was badly used, just he, not everyone. He'd curse the gaffer if the vein of coal he had to work on wasn't to his liking; he knew nothing of the secret of happiness, which is to take what comes and always remember that for every bit of bad there's nearly always a bit o' good waitin' around the corner.
Yet, with it all, there wasn't a keener, brighter lad than Andy in all Lanarkshire. He had always a good story to crack. He was handy with his fists; he could play well at football or any other game he tried. He wasn't educated; had he been, we all used to think, he micht ha' made a name for himself. I didn't see, in those days, that we were all wrong. If Andy'd been a good miner, if he'd started by doing well, at least, as well as he could, the thing he had the chance to do, then we'd have been right to think that all he needed to be famous and successful was to have the chance.
But, as it was, Andy was always too busy greetin' over his bad luck. It was bad luck that he had to work below ground, when he loved the sunshine. It was bad luck that the wee toon was sae dull for a man of his spirit. Andy seemed to think that some one should come around and make him happy and comfortable and rich—not that the only soul alive to whom he had a right to look for such blessings was himself.
I'll no say we weren't liking Andy all richt. But, ye ken, he was that sort of man we'd always say, when we were talking of him: "Oh, aye— there's Andy. A braw laddie—but what he micht be!"
Andy thought he was better than the rest of us. There was that, for ane thing. He'd no be doing the things the rest of us were glad enough to do. It was naught to him to walk along the Quarry Road wi' a lassie, and buss her in a dark spot, maybe. And just because he'd no een for them, the wee lassies were ready to come, would he but lift his finger! Is it no always the way? There'd be a dozen decent, hard working miners who could no get a lassie to look their way, try as they micht—men who wanted nothing better than to settle doon in a wee hoose somewhere, and stay at home with the wife, and, a bit later, with the bairns.
Ye'd never be seein' Andy on a Saturday afternoon along the ropes, watchin' a football game. Or, if ye did, there'd be a sneer curling his lips. He was a braw looking lad, was Andy, but that sneer came too easily.
"Where did they learn the game" he'd say, turning up his nose. "If they'd gie me a crack I'd show them——"
And, sure enough, if anyone got up a game, Andy'd be the first to take off his coat. And he was a good player, but no sae good as he thought himself. 'Twas so wi' all the man did; he was handy enough, but there were aye others better. But he was all for having a hand in whatever was going on himself; he'd no the patience to watch others and learn, maybe, from the way they did.
Andy was a solitary man; he'd no wife nor bairn, and he lived by his lane, save for a dog and a bantam cock. Them he loved dearly and nought was too good for them. The dog, I'm thinkin', he had odd uses for; Andy was no above seekin' a hare now and then that was no his by rights. And he'd be out before dawn, sometimes, with old Dick, who could help him with his poaching. 'Twas so he lost Dick at last; a farmer caught the pair of them in a field of his, and the farmer's dog took Dick by the throat and killed him.
Andy was fair disconsolate; he was so sad the farmer, even, was sorry for him, and would no have him arrested, as he micht well have done, since he'd caught man and dog red handed, as the saying is. He buried the dog come the next evening, and was no fit to speak to for days. And then, richt on top of that, he lost his bird; it was killed in a main wi' another bantam, and Andy lost his champion bantam, and forty shillin' beside, That settled him. Wi' his two friends gone frae him, he had no more use for the pit and the countryside. He disappeared, and the next we heard was that he'd gone for a soldier. Those were the days, long, long gone, before the great war. We heard Andy's regiment was ordered to India, and then we heard no more of him.
Gi'en I had stayed a miner, I doubt I'd ever ha' laid een on Andy again, or heard of him, since he came no more to Hamilton, and I'd, most like, ha' stayed there, savin' a trip to Glasga noo and then, all the days of my life. But, as ye ken, I didna stay there. I'll be tellin', ye ken, hoo it was I came to gang on the stage and become the Harry you're all so good to when he sings to ye. But the noo I'll just say that it was years later, and I was singing in London, in four or five halls the same nicht, when I met Andy one day. I was fair glad to see him; I'm always glad to see a face from hame. And Andy was looking fine and braw. He'd good clothes on his back, and he was sleek and well fed and prosperous looking. We made our way to a hotel; and there we sat ourselves doon and chatted for three hours.
"Aye, and I'll ha' seen most of the world since I last clapped my een on you, Harry," he said. "I've heard much about you, and it's glad I am to be seein' you."
He told me his story. He'd gone for a soldier, richt enough, and been sent to India. He'd had trouble from the start; he was always fighting, and while that's a soldier's trade, he's no supposed to practice it with his fellows, ye ken, but to save his anger for the enemy. But, for once in a way, Andy's quarrelsome ways did him good. He was punished once for fighting wi' his corporal, and when his captain came to look into things he found the trouble started because the corporal called him, the captain, out of his name. So he made Andy his servant, and Andy served wi' him till he was killed in South Africa.
Andy was wounded there, and invalided home. He was discharged, and said he'd ha' no more of the army—he'd liked that job no better than any other he'd ever had. His captain, in his will, left Andy twa hunder pounds sterlin'—more siller than Andy's ever thought to finger in his life.
"So it was that siller gave you your start, Andy, man?" I said.
"Oh, aye!" he said. "And came near to givin' me my finish, too, Harry. I put the siller into a business down Portsmouth way—I set up for a contractor. I was doin' fine, too, but a touring company came along, and there was a lassie wi' 'em so braw and bonnie I'd like to have deed for love of her, man, Harry."
It was a sad little story, that, but what you'd expect. Andy, the lady killer, had ne'er had een for the lassies up home, who'd ha' asked nothin' better than to ha' him notice them. But this bit lass, whom he knew was no better than she should be, could ha' her will o' him from the start. He followed her aboot; he spent his siller on her. His business went to the dogs, and when she'd milked him dry she laughed and slipped awa', and he never saw her again. I'm thinkin', at that, Andy was lucky; had he had more siller she'd maybe ha' married him for it.
'Twas after that Andy shipped before the mast. He saw Australia and America, but he was never content to settle doon anywhere, though there were times when he had more siller than he'd lost at Portsmouth. Once he was robbed; twa or three times he just threw his siller away. It was always the same story; no matter how much he was earning it was never enough; he should always ha' had more.
But Andy learned his lesson at last. He fell in love once more; this time with a decent, bonnie lass who'd have no dealings wi' him until he proved to her that she could trust him. He went to work again for a contractor, and saved his siller. If he thought he should ha' more, he said nothing, only waited. It was no so long before he saved enough to buy a partnership wi' his gaffer.
"I'm happy the noo, Harry," he said. "I've found out that what I make depends on me, not on anyone else. The wife's there waiting for me when I gang hame at nicht. There's the ane bairn, and another coming, God bless him."
Weel, Andy'd learned nothing he hadn't been told a million times by his parents and his friends. But he was one of those who maun learn for themselves to mak siccar. Can ye no see how like he was to some of them that's makin' a great name for themselves the noo, goin' up and doon the land tellin' us what we should do? I'm no the one to say that it should be every man for himself; far from it. We've all to think of others beside ourselves. But when it comes to winning or losing in this battle of life we've all got to learn the same lesson that cost poor Andy so dear. We maun stand on our ain feet. Neither God nor man can help us until we've begun to help ourselves.
In the beginnin' I was no a miner, ye ken, in the pit at Hamilton. I went doon first as a miner's helper, but that was for but the one week. And at its end my gaffer just went away. He was to pay me ten shillings, but never a three-penny bit of all that siller did I see! It was cruel hard, and it hurt me sore, to think I'd worked sae long and so hard and got nothing for it, but there was no use greetin'. And on Monday I went doon into the pit again, but this time as a trapper.
In a mine, ye ken, there are great air-tight gates. Without them there'd be more fires and explosions than there are. And by each one there's a trapper, who's to open and close them as the pony drivers with their lurches that carry the mined coal to the hoists go in and out. Easy work, ye'll say. Aye—if a trapper did only what he was paid for doing. He's not supposed to do ought else than open and close gates, and his orders are that he must never leave them. But trappers are boys, as a rule, and the pony drivers strong men, and they manage to make the trappers do a deal of their work as well as their ain. They can manage well enough, for they're no slow to gie a kick or a cuff if the trapper bids them attend to their own affairs and leave him be.
I learned that soon enough. And many was the blow I got; many the time a driver warmed me with his belt, when I was warm enough already. But, for a' that, we had good times in the pit. I got to know the men I worked with, and to like them fine. You do that at work, and especially underground, I'm thinking. There, you ken, there's always some danger, and men who may dee together any day are like to be friendly while they have the chance.
I've known worse days, tak' them all in all, than those in Eddlewood Colliery. We'd a bit cabin at the top of the brae, and there we'd keep our oil for our lamps, and leave our good coats. We'd carry wi' us, too, our piece—bread and cheese, and cold tea, that served for the meal we ate at midday.
'Twas in the pit, I'm thinkin', I made my real start. For 'twas there I first began to tak' heed of men and see how various they were. Ever since then, in the days when I began to sing, and when my friends in the audiences decided that I should spend my life so instead of working mair with my twa hands, it's been what I knew of men and women that's been of service to me. When I come upon the idea for a new song 'tis less often a bit of verse or a comic idea I think of first—mair like it's some odd bit of humanity, some man a wee bit different from others. He'll be a bit saft, perhaps, or mean, or generous—I'm not carin', so long as he's but different.
And there, in the pit, men showed themselves to one another, and my een and my ears were aye open in those days. I'd try to be imitating this queer character or that, sometimes, but I'd do it only for my ain pleasure. I was no thinkin', in yon days, of ever singing on the stage. How should I ha' done so? I was but Harry Lauder, strugglin' hard to mak siller enough to help at home.
But, whiles I was at my work, I'd sing a bit song now and again, when I thought no one was by to hear. Sometimes I was wrong, and there's be one nearer than I thought. And so it got aboot in the pit that I could sing a bit. I had a good voice enough, though I knew nothing, then, of how to sing—I've learned much of music since I went on the stage. Then, though, I was just a boy, singing because he liked to hear himself sing. I knew few and I'd never seen a bit o' printed music. As for reading notes on paper I scarcely knew such could be done.
The miners liked to have me sing. It was in the cabin in the brae, where we'd gather to fill our lamps and eat our bread and cheese, that they asked me, as a rule. We were great ones for being entertained. And we never lacked entertainers. If a man could do card tricks, or dance a bit, he was sure to be popular. One man was a fairish piper, and sometimes the skirl of some old Hieland melody would sound weird enough, as I made my way to the cabin through a grey mist.
I was called upon oftener than anyone else, I think.
"Gie's a bit sang, Harry," they'd say. Maybe ye'll not be believing me, but I was timid at the first of it, and slow to do as they asked. But later I got over that, and those first audiences of mine did much for me. They taught me not to be afraid, so long as I was doing my best, and they taught me, too, to study my hearers and learn to decide what folk liked, and why they liked it.
I had no songs of my own then, ye'll understand; I just sang such bits as I'd picked up of the popular songs of the day, that the famous "comics" of the music halls were singing—or that they'd been singing a year before—aye, that'll be nearer the truth of it!
I had one rival I didn't like, though, as I look back the noo, I can see I was'na too kind to feel as I did aboot puir Jock. Jock coul no stand it to have anyone else applauded, or to see them getting attention he craved for himself. He could no sing, but he was a great story teller. Had he just said, out and out, that he was making up tales, 'twould have been all richt enough. But, no—Jock must pretend he'd been everywhere he told about, and that he'd been an actor in every yarn he spun. He was a great boaster, too—he'd tell us, without a blush, of the most desperate things he'd done, and of how brave he'd been. He was the bravest man alive, to hear him tell it.
They were askin' me to sing one day, and I was ready to oblige, when Jock started.
"Bide a wee, Harry, man," he said, "while I'll be tellin' ye of a thing that happened to me on the veldt in America once."
"The veldt's in South Africa, Jock," someone said, slyly.
"No, no—it's the Rocky Mountains you're meaning. They're in South Africa—I climbed three of them there in a day, once. Weel, I was going to tell ye of this time when we were hunting gold——"
And he went on, to spin a yarn that would have made Ananias himself blush. When he was done it was time to gang back to work, and my song not sung! I'd a new chorus I was wanting them to hear, too, and I was angry with puir Jock—more shame to me! And so I resolved to see if he was as brave as he was always saying. I'm ashamed of this, mind ye— I'm admitting it.
So, next day, at piece time, I didn't join the crowd that went to the auld cabin. Instead I did without my bread and cheese and my cold tea— and, man, I'm tellin' ye it means a lot for Harry to forego his victuals!—and went quickly along to the face where Jock was working. It happened that he was at work there alone that day, so I was able to make my plans against his coming back, and be sure it wouldna be spoiled. I had a mask and an old white sheet. On the mask I'd painted eyes with phosphorus, and I put it on, and draped the sheet over my shoulders. When Jock came along I rose up, slowly, and made some very dreadful noises, that micht well ha' frightened a man as brave even as Jock was always saying to us he was!
Ye should ha' seen him run along that stoop! He didna wait a second; he never touched me, or tried to. He cried out once, nearly dropped his lamp, and then turned tail and went as if the dell were after him. I'd told some of the miners what I meant to do, so they were waiting for him, and when he came along they saw how frightened he was. They had to support him; he was that near to collapse. As for me, there was so much excitement I had no trouble in getting to the stable unseen, and then back to my ain gate, where I belonged.
Jock would no go back to work that day.
"I'll no work in a haunted seam!" he declared, vehemently. "It was a ghost nine feet high, and strong like a giant! If I'd no been so brave and kept my head I'd be lying there dead the noo. I surprised him, ye ken, by putting up a fight—likes he'd never known mortal man to do so much before! Next time, he'd not be surprised, and brave though a man may be, he canna ficht with one so much bigger and stronger than himself."
He made a great tale of it before the day was done. As we waited at the foot of the shaft to be run up in the bucket he was still talking. He was boasting again, as I'd known he would. And that was the chance I'd been waiting for a' the time.
"Man, Jock," I said, "ye should ha' had that pistol wi' ye—the one with which ye killed all the outlaws on the American veldt. Then ye could ha' shot him."
"That shows how much you know, young Harry Lauder!" he said, scornfully. "Would a pistol bullet hurt a ghost? Talk of what ye ha' some knowledge of——"
"Aye," I said. "That's good advice, Jock. I suppose I'm not knowing so much as you do about ghosts. But tell me, man—would a ghost be making a noise like this?"
And I made the self-same noise I'd made before, when I was playing the ghost for Jock's benefit. He turned purple; he was clever enough to see the joke I'd played on him at once. And the other miners—they were all in the secret began to roar with laughter. They weren't sorry to see puir Jock shown up for the liar and boaster he was. But I was a little sorry, when I saw how hard he took it, and how angry he was.
He aimed a blow at me that would have made me the sorry one if it had landed fair, but I put up my jukes and warded it off, and he was ashamed, after than, wi' the others laughing at him so, to try again to punish me. He was very sensitive, and he never came back to the Eddlewood Colliery; the very next day he found a job in another pit. He was a good miner, was Jock, so that was no matter to him. But I've often wondered if I really taught him a lesson, or if he always kept on telling his twisters in his new place!
I stayed on, though, after Jock had gone, and after a time I drove a pony instead of tending a gate. That was better work, and meant a few shillings a week more in wages, too, which counted heavily just then.
I handled a number of bonnie wee Shetland ponies in the three years I drove the hutches to and from the pitshaft. One likable little fellow was a real pet. He followed me all about. It was great to see him play one trick I taught him. He would trot to the little cabin and forage among all the pockets till he found one where a man had left a bit of bread and cheese at piece time. He'd eat that, and then he would go after a flask of cold tea. He'd fasten it between his forefeet and pull the cork with his teeth—and then he'd tip the flask up between his teeth and drink his tea like a Christian. Aye, Captain was a droll, clever yin. And once, when I beat him for stopping short before a drift, he was saving my life. There was a crash just after I hit him, and the whole drift caved in. Captain knew it before I did. If he had gone on, as I wanted him to do, we would both ha' been killed.
After I'd been in the mine a few years my brother Matt got old enough to help me to support the family, and so, one by one, did my still younger brothers. Things were a wee bit easier for me then; I could keep a bit o' the siller I earned, and I could think about singing once in a while. There were concerts, at times, when a contest was put on to draw the crowd, and whenever I competed at one of these I usually won a prize. Sometimes it would be a cheap medal; it usually was. I shall never forget how proud I was the night a manager handed me real money for the first time. It was only a five shilling piece, but it meant as much to me as five pounds.
That same nicht one of the other singers gave me a bit of advice.
"Gae to Glasga, Harry," he said. "There's the Harmonic Competition. Ye're dead certain to win a prize."
I took his advice, and entered, and I was one of those to win a medal. That was the first time I had ever sung before total strangers. I'd always had folk I knew well, friends of mine, for my audience before, and it was a nerve racking experience. I dressed in character, and the song I sang was an old one I doubt yell ha' heard-"Tooralladdie" it was called. Here's a verse that will show you what a silly song it was:
"Twig auld Tooralladdie, Don't he look immense? His watch and chain are no his ain His claes cost eighteenpence; Wi' cuffs and collar shabby, 0' mashers he's the daddy; Hats off, stand aside and let Past Tooralladdie!"
My success at Glasgow made a great impression among the miners. Everyone shook hands with me and congratulated me, and I think my head was turned a bit. But I'd been thinking for some time of doing a rash thing. I was newly married then, d'ye ken, and I was thinkin' it was time I made something of myself for the sake of her who'd risked her life wi' me. So that night I went home to her wi' a stern face.
"Nance!" I said. "I'm going to chuck the mine and go in for the stage. My mind's made up."
Now, Nance liked my singin' well enough, and she thought, as I did, that I could do better than some we'd heard on the stage. But I think what she thought chiefly was that if my mind was made 'up to try it she'd not stand in my way. I wish more wives were like her, bless her! Then there'd be fewer men moaning of their lost chances to win fame and fortune. Many a time my wife's saved me from a mistake, but she's never stood in the way when I felt it was safe to risk something, and she's never laughed at me, and said, "I told ye so, Harry," when things ha' gone wrong—even when her advice was against what I was minded to try.
We talked it all over that nicht—'twas late, I'm tellin' ye, before we quit and crept into bed, and even then we talked on a bit, in the dark.
"Ye maun please yersel', Harry," Nance said. "We've thought of every thing, and it can do no harm to try. If things don't go well, ye can always go back to the pit and mak' a living."
That was so, ye ken. I had my trade to fall back upon. So I read all the advertisements, and at last I saw one put in by the manager of a concert party that was about to mak' a Scottish tour. He wanted a comic, and, after we'd exchanged two or three letters we had an interview. I sang some songs for him, and he engaged me, at thirty- five shillings a week—about eight dollars, in American money—a little more.
That seemed like a great sum to me in those days. It was no so bad. Money went farther then, and in Scotland especially, than it does the noo! And for me it was a fortune. I'd been doing well, in the mine, if I earned fifteen in a week. And this was for doing what I would rather do than anything in the wide, wide world! No wonder I went back to Hamilton and hugged my wife till she thought I'd gone crazy.
I had been engaged as a comic singer, but I had to do much more than sing on that tour, which was to last fourteen weeks—it started, I mind, at Beith, in Ayrshire. First, when we arrived in a town, I had to see that all the trunks and bags were taken from the station to the hall. Then I would set out with a pile of leaflets, describing the entertainment, and distribute them where it seemed to me they would do the most good in drawing a crowd. That was my morning's work.
In the afternoon I was a stage carpenter, and devoted myself to seeing that every thing at the hall was ready for the performance in the evening. Sometimes that was easy; sometimes, in badly equipped halls, the task called for more ingenuity than I had ever before supposed that I possessed. But there was no rest for me, even then; I had to be back at the hall after tea and check up part of the house. And then all I had to do was what I had at first fondly supposed I had been engaged to do—sing my songs! I sang six songs regularly every night, and if the audience was good to me and liberal in its applause I threw in two or three encores.
I had never been so happy in my life. I had always been a great yin for the open air and the sunshine, and here, for years, I had spent all my days underground. I welcomed the work that went with the engagement, for it kept me much out of doors, and even when I was busy in the halls, it was no so bad—I could see the sunlight through the windows, at any rate. And then I could lie abed in the morning!
I had been used so long to early rising that I woke up each day at five o'clock, no matter how late I'd gone to bed the nicht before. And what a glorious thing it was to roll right over and go to sleep again! Then there was the travelling, too. I had always wanted to see Scotland, and now, in these fourteen weeks, I saw more of my native land than, as a miner, I might have hoped to do in fourteen years—or forty. Little did I think, though, then, of the real travelling I was to do later in my life, in the career that was then just beginning!
I made many friends on that first tour. And to this day nothin' delights me more than to have some in an audience seek me out and tell me that he or she heard me sing during those fourteen weeks. There is a story that actually happened to me that delights me, in connection with that.
It was years after that first tour. I was singing in Glasgow one week, and the hall was crowded at every performance—though the management had raised the prices, for which I was sorry. I heard two women speaking. Said one:
"Ha' ye heard Harry sing the week?"
The other answered:
"That I ha' not!"
"And will ye no'?"
"I will no'! I heard him lang ago, when he was better than he is the noo, for twapence! Why should I be payin' twa shillin' the noo?"
And, do you ken, I'm no sure she was'na richt! But do not be tellin' I said so!
That first tour had to end. Fourteen weeks seemed a long time then, though, the last few days rushed by terribly fast. I was nervous when the end came. I wondered if I would ever get another engagement. It seemed a venturesome thing I had done. Who was I, Harry Lauder, the untrained miner, to expect folk to pay their gude siller to hear me sing?
There was an offer for an engagement waiting for me when I got home. I had saved twelve pounds of my earnings, and it was proud I was as I put the money in my wife's lap. As for her, she behaved as if she thought her husband had come hame a millionaire. The new engagement was for only one night, but the fee was a guinea and a half—twice what I'd made for a week's work in the pit, and nearly what I'd earned in a week on tour.
But then came bad days. I was no well posted on how to go aboot getting engagements. I could only read all the advertisements, and answer everyone that looked as if it might come to anything. And then I'd sit and wait for the postie to come, but the letters he brought were not for me. It looked as though I had had all my luck.
But I still had my twelve pounds, and I would not use them while I was earning no more. So I decided to go back to the pit while I waited. It was as easy—aye, it was easier!—to work while I waited, since wait I must. I hauled down my old greasy working clothes, and went off to the pithead. They were glad enough to take me on—gladder, I'm thinkin', than I was to be taken. But it was sair hard to hear the other miners laughing at me.
"There he gaes—the stickit comic," I heard one man say, as I passed. And another, who had never liked me, was at pains to let me hear his opinion, which was that I had "had the conceit knocked oot o' me, and was glad tae tak' up the pick again."
But he was wrong, If it was conceit I had felt, I was as full of it as ever—fuller, indeed. I had twelve pounds to slow for what it had brought me, which was more than any of those who sneered at me could say for themselves. And I was surer than ever that I had it in me to make my mark as a singer of comic songs. I had listened to other singers now, and I was certain that I had a new way of delivering a song. My audiences had made me feel that I was going about the task of pleasing them in the right way. All I wanted was the chance to prove what was so plain to me to others, and I knew then, what I have found so often, since then, to be true, that the chance always comes to the man who is sure he can make use of it.
So I plied my pick cheerfully enough all day, and went hame to my wife at nicht with a clear conscience and a hopeful heart. I always looked for a letter, but for a long time I was disappointed each evening. Then, finally, the letter I had been looking for came. It was from J. C. MacDonald, and he wanted to know if I could accept an engagement at the Greenock Town Hall in New Year week, for ten performances. He offered me three pounds—the biggest salary anyone had named to me yet. I jumped at the chance, as you may well believe.
Oh, and did I no feel that I was an actor then? I did so, surely, and that very nicht I went out and bought me some astrachan fur for the collar of my coat! Do ye ken what that meant to me in yon days? Then every actor wore a coat with a fur trimmed collar—it was almost like a badge of rank. And I maun be as braw as any of them. The wife smiled quietly as she sewed it on for me, and I was a proud wee man when I strolled into the Greenock Town Hall. Three pounds a week! There was a salary for a man to be proud of. Ye'd ha' thought I was sure already of making three pounds every week all my life, instead of havin' just the one engagement.
Pride goeth before a fall ever, and after that, once more, I had to wait for an engagement, and once more I went back to the pit. I folded the astrachan coat and put it awa' under the bed, but I would'na tak' off the fur.
"I'll be needin' you again before sae lang," I told the coat as I folded it. "See if I don't."
And it was even so, for J. C. MacDonald had liked my singing, and I had been successful with my audiences. He used his influence and recommended me on all sides, and finally, and, this time, after a shorter time than before in the pit, Moss and Thornton offered me a tour of six weeks.
"Nance," I said to the wife, when the offer came and I had written to accept it, "I'm thinkin' it'll be sink or swim this time. I'll no be goin' back to the pit, come weal, come woe."
She looked at me.
"It's bad for the laddies there to be havin' the chance to crack their jokes at me," I went on. "I'll stick to it this time and see whether I can mak' a living for us by singin'. And I think that if I can't I'll e'en find other work than in the mine."
Again she proved herself. For again she said: "It's yersel' ye must please, Harry. I'm wi' ye, whatever ye do."
That tour was verra gude for me. If I'd conceit left in me, as my friend in the pit had said, it was knocked out. I was first or last on every bill, and ye ken what it means to an artist to open or close a bill? If ye're to open ye have to start before anyone's in the theatre; if ye close, ye sing to the backs of people crowdin' one another to get out. It's discouraging to have to do so, I'm tellin' ye, but it's what makes you grit your teeth, too, and determine to gon, if ye've any of the richt stuff in ye.
I sang in bigger places on that tour, and the last two weeks were in Glasgow, at the old Scotia and Gayety Music Halls. It was at the Scotia that a man shouted at me one of the hardest things I ever had to hear. I had just come on, and was doing the walk around before I sang my first song, when I heard him, from the gallery.
"Awa' back tae the pit, man!" he bellowed.
I was so angry I could scarce go on. It was no fair, for I had not sung a note. But we maun learn, on the stage, not to be disconcerted by anything an audience says or does, and, somehow, I managed to go on. They weren't afraid, ever, in yon days, to speak their minds in the gallery—they'd soon let ye know if they'd had enough of ye and yer turn. I was discouraged by that week in old Glasgow. I was sure they'd had enough of me, and that the career of Harry Lauder as a comedian was about to come to an inglorious end.
But Moss and Thornton were better pleased than I was, it seemed, for no sooner was that tour over than they booked me for another. They increased my salary to four pounds a week—ten shillings more than before. And this time my position on the bill was much better; I neither closed nor opened the show, and so got more applause. It did me a world of good to have the hard experience first, but it did me even more to find that my confidence in myself had some justification, too.
That second Moss and Thornton tour was a real turning point for me. I felt assured of a certain success then; I knew, at least, that I could always mak' a living in the halls. But mark what a little success does to a man!
I'd scarce dared, a year or so before, even to smile at those who told me, half joking, that I might be getting my five pound a week before I died. I'd been afraid they'd think I was taking them seriously, and call me stuck up and conceited. But now I was getting near that great sum, and was sure to get all of it before so long. And I felt that it was no great thing to look ahead to—I, who'd been glad to work hard all week in a coal mine for fifteen shillings!
The more we ha' the more we want. It's always the way wi' all o' us, I'm thinkin'. I was no satisfied at all wi' my prospects and I set out to do all I could, wi' the help of concerts, to better conditions.
There was more siller to be made from concerts in yon days than from a regular tour that took me to the music halls. The halls meant steady work, and I was surer of regular earnings, but I liked the concerts. I have never had a happier time in my work than in those days when I was building up my reputation as a concert comedian. There was an uncertainty about it that pleased me, too; there was something exciting about wondering just how things were going.
Now my bookings are made years ahead. I ha' been trying to retire—it will no be so lang, noo, before I do, and settle doon for good in my wee hoose amang the heather at Dunoon on the Clyde. But there is no excitement about an engagement now; I could fill five times as many as I do, if there were but some way of being in twa or three places at once, and of adding a few hours to the days and nichts.
I think one of the proudest times of my life was the first Saturday nicht when I could look back on a week when I had had a concert engagement each night in a different town. It was after that, too, that for the first time I flatly refused an engagement. I had the offer of a guinea, but I had fixed a guinea and a half as my minimum fee, and I would'na tak' less, though, after I'd sent the laddie awa' who offered me the guinea, I could ha' kicked myself.
There were some amusing experiences during those concert days. I often appeared with singers who had won considerable fame—artists who rendered classical numbers and opertic selections. I sometimes envied them for their musical gifts, but not seriously—my efforts were in a different field. As a rule I got along extremely well with my fellow performers, but sometimes they were inclined to look down on a mere comedian. Yell ken that I was making a name for myself then, and that I engaged for some concerts at which, as a rule, no comic singer would have been heard.
One night a concert had been arranged by a musical society in a town near Glasgow—a suburb of the city. I was to appear with a quartet soprano, contralto, tenor and bass. The two ladies and the tenor greeted me cheerfully enough, and seemed glad to see me—the contralto, indeed, was very friendly, and said she always went to hear me when she had the chance. But the bass was very distant. He glared at me when I came in, and did not return my greeting. He sat and scowled, and grew angrier and angrier.
"Well!" he said, suddenly. "The rest of you can do as you please, but I shall not sing to-night! I'm an artist, and I value my professional reputation too highly to appear with a vulgarian like this comic singer!"
"Oh, I say, old chap!" said the tenor, looking uncomfortable. "That's a bit thick! Harry's a good sort—I've heard him——"
"I'm not concerned with his personality!" said the bass. "I resent being associated with a man who makes a mountebank, a clown, of himself!"
I listened and said nothing. But I'll no be sayin' I did no wink at my friend, the contralto.
The other singers tried to soothe the bass down, but they couldn't. He looked like a great pouter pigeon, strutting about the room, and then he got red, and I thought he looked like an angry turkey cock. The secretary of the society came in, and the basso attacked him at once.
"I say, Mr. Smith!" he cried. "There's something wrong here, what! Fancy expecting me to appear on the same platform with this—this person in petticoats!"
The secretary looked surprised, as well he micht!!
"I'll not do it!" said the basso, getting angrier each second. "You can keep him or me—both you can't have!"
I was not much concerned. I was angry; I'll admit that. But I didna let him fash me. I just made up my mind that if I was no allowed to sing I'd have something to say to that basso before the evening was oot. And I looked at him, and listened to him bluster, and thought maybe I'd have a bit to do wi' him as well. I'm a wee man and a', but I'm awfu' strong from the work I did in the pit, and I'm never afraid of a bully.
I need ha' gie'n myself no concern as to the secretary. He smiled, and let the basso talk. And I'll swear he winked at me.
"I really can't decide such a matter, Mr. Roberts," he said, at last. "You're engaged to sing; so is Mr. Lauder. Mr. Lauder is ready to fulfill his engagement—if you are not I don't see how I can force you to do so. But you will do yourself no good if you leave us in the lurch—I'm afraid people who are arranging concerts will feel that you are a little unreliable."
The other singers argued with him, too, but it was no use. He would no demean himself by singing with Harry Lauder. And so we went on without him, and the concert was a great success. I had to give a dozen encores, I mind. And puir Roberts! He got no more engagements, and a little later became a chorus man with a touring opera company. I'm minded of him the noo because, not so lang syne, he met me face to face in London, and greeted me like an old friend.
"I remember very well knowing you, years ago, before you were so famous, Mr. Lauder," he said. "I don't just recall the circumstances— I think we appeared together at some concerts—that was before I unfortunately lost my voice——"
Aweel, I minded the circumstances, if he did not, but I had no the heart to remind him! And I "lent" him the twa shillin' he asked. Frae such an auld friend as him I was lucky not to be touched for half a sovereign!
I've found some men are so. Let you succeed, let you mak' your bit siller, and they remember that they knew you well when you were no so well off and famous. And it's always the same way. If they've not succeeded, it's always someone else's fault, never their own. They dislike you because you've done well when they've done ill. But it's easy to forgie them—it's aye hard to bear a grudge in this world, and to be thinkin' always of punishin' those who use us despite-fully. I've had my share of knocks from folk. And sometimes I've dreamed of being able to even an auld score. But always, when the time's come for me to do it, I've nae had the heart.
It was rare fun to sing in those concerts. And in the autumn of 1896 I made a new venture. I might have gone on another tour among the music halls in the north, but Donald Munro was getting up a concert tour, and I accepted his offer instead. It was a bit new for a singer like myself to sing at such concerts, but I had been doing well, and Mr. Munro wanted me, and offered me good terms.
That tour brought me one of my best friends and one of my happiest associations. It was on it that I met Mackenzie Murdoch. I'll always swear by Murdoch as the best violinist Scotland ever produced. Maybe Ysaye and some of the boys with the unpronounceable Russian names can play better than he. I'll no be saying as to that. But I know that he could win the tears from your een when he played the old Scots melodies; I know that his bow was dipped in magic before he drew it across the strings, and that he played on the strings of your heart the while he scraped that old fiddle of his.
Weel, there was Murdoch, and me, and the third of our party on that tour was Miss Jessie MacLachlan, a bonnie lassie with a glorious voice, the best of our Scottish prima donnas then. We wandered all over the north and the midlands of Scotland on that tour, and it was a grand success. Our audiences were large, and they were generous wi' their applause, too, which Scottish audiences sometimes are not. Your Scot is a canny yin; he'll aye tak' his pleasures seriously. He'll let ye ken it, richt enough, and fast enough, if ye do not please him. But if ye do he's like to reckon that he paid you to do so, and so why should he applaud ye as weel?
But so well did we do on the tour that I began to do some thinkin'. Here were we, Murdoch and I, especially, drawing the audiences. What was Munro doing for rakin' in the best part o' the siller folk paid to hear us? Why, nothin' at all that we could no do our twa selves—so I figured. And it hurt me sair to see Munro gettin' siller it seemed to me Murdoch and I micht just as weel be sharing between us. Not that I didna like Munro fine, ye'll ken; he was a gude manager, and a fair man. But it was just the way I was feeling, and I told Murdoch so.
"Ye hae richt, Harry," he said. "There's sense in your head, man, wee though you are. What'll we do?"
"Why, be our ain managers!" I said. "We'll take out a concert party of our own next season."
At the end of the tour of twelve weeks Mac and I were more determined than ever to do just that. For the time we'd spent we had a hundred pounds apiece to put in the bank, after we'd paid all our expenses— more money than I'd dreamed of being able to save in many years. And so we made our plans.
But we were no sae sure, afterward, that we'd been richt. We planned our tour carefully. First we went all aboot, to the towns we planned to visit, distributing bills that announced our coming. Shopkeepers were glad to display them for us for a ticket or so, and it seemed that folk were interested, and looking forward to having us come. But if they were they did not show it in the only practical way—the only way that gladdens a manager's heart. They did not come to our concerts in great numbers; indeed, an' they scarcely came at a'. When it was all over and we came to cast up the reckoning we found we'd lost a hundred and fifty pounds sterling—no small loss for two young and ambitious artists to have to pocket.
"Aye, an' I can see where the manager has his uses," I said to Mac. "He takes the big profits—but he takes the big risks, too."
"Are ye discouraged, man Harry!" Mac asked me.
"Not a bit of it!" said I. "If you're not, I'm not. I'll try it again. What do you say, Mac?"
We felt the same way. But I learned a lesson then that has always made me cautious in criticizing the capitalist who sits back and rakes in the siller while others do the work. The man has his uses, I'm tellin' ye. I found it oot then; they're findin' it oot in Russia now, since the Bolsheviki have been so busy. I'm that when the world's gone along for so many years, and worked out a way of doing things, there must be some good in it. I'm not sayin' all's richt and perfect in this world —and, between you and me, would it be muckle fun to live in it if it were? But there's something reasonable and something good about anything that's grown up to be an institution, even if it needs changing and reforming frae time to time. Or so I think.
Weel, e'en though I could see, noo, the reason for Munro to be gettin' his big share o' the siller Mac and I made, I was no minded not to ha' another try for it myself. Next season Mac and I made our plans even more carefully. We went to most of the same towns where business had been bad before, and this time it was good. And I learned something a manager could ha' told me, had he liked. Often and often it's necessary to tak' a loss on an artist's first tour that'll be more than made up for later. Some folk go to hear him, or see him, even that first time. An' they tell ithers what they've missed. It was so wi' us when we tried again. Our best audiences and our biggest success came where we'd been most disappointed the time before. This tour was a grand success, and once more, for less than three months of work, Mac and I banked more than a hundred pounds apiece.
But there was more than siller to count in the profits of the tours Mac and I made together. He became and has always remained one of my best and dearest friends—man never had a better. And a jollier companion I can never hope to find. We always lived together; it was easier and cheaper, too, for us to share lodgings. And we liked to walk together for exercise, and to tak' our amusement as well as our work in common.
I loved to hear Mac practice. He was a true artist and a real musician, and when he played for the sheer love of playing he was even better, I always thought, than when he was thinking of his audience, though he always gave an audience his best. It was just, I think, that when there was only me to hear him he knew he could depend upon a sympathetic listener, and he had not to worry aboot the effect his playing was to have.
We were like a pair of boys on a holiday when we went touring together in those days, Mac and I. We were always playing jokes on one another, or on any other victims we could find usually on one another because there was always something one of us wanted to get even for. But the commonest trick was one of mine. Mac and I would come down to breakfast, say, at a hotel, and when everyone was seated I'd start, in a very low voice, to sing. Rather, I didn't really sing, I said, in a low, rhythmical tone, with a sort of half tune to it, this old verse:
"And the old cow crossed the road, The old cow crossed the road, And the reason why it crossed the road Was to get to the other side."
I would repeat that, over and over again, tapping my foot to keep time as I did so. Then Mac would join in, and perhaps another of our company. And before long everyone at the table would catch the infection, and either be humming the absurd words or keeping time with his feet, while the others did so. Sometimes people didn't care for my song; I remember one old Englishman, with a white moustache and a very red face, who looked as if he might be a retired army officer. I think he thought we were all mad, and he jumped up at last and rushed from the table, leaving his breakfast unfinished. But the roar of laughter that followed him made him realize that it was all a joke, and at teatime he helped us to trap some newcomers who'd never heard of the game.
Mac and I were both inclined to be a wee bit boastful. We hated to admit, both of us, that there was anything we couldna do; I'm a wee bit that way inclined still. I mind that in Montrose, when we woke up one morning after the most successful concert we had ever given, and so were feeling very extra special, we found a couple o' gowf balls lyin' around in our diggings.
"What do ye say tae a game, Mac?" I asked him.
"I'm no sae glide a player, Harry," he said, a bit dubiously.
For once in a way I was honest, and admitted that I'd never played at all. We hesitated, but our landlady, a decent body, came in, and made light of our doots.
"Hoots, lads," she said. "A'body plays gowf nooadays. I'll gie ye the lend of some of our Jamie's clubs, and it's no way at a' to the links,"
Secretly I had nae doot o' my bein' able to hit a little wee ball like them we'd found so far as was needful. I thought the gowf wad be easier than digging for coal wi' a pick. So oot we set, carryin' our sticks, and ready to mak' a name for ourselves in a new way.
Syne Mac had said he could play a little, I told him he must take the honor and drive off. He did no look sae grateful as he should ha' done, but he agreed, at last.
"Noo, Harry, stand weel back, man, and watch where this ball lichts. Keep your een well doon the coorse, man."
He began to swing as if he meant to murder the wee ba', and I strained my een. I heard him strike, and I looked awa' doon the coorse, as he had bid me do. But never hide nor hair o' the ba' did I see. It was awesome.
"Hoots, Mac," I said, "ye must ha' hit it an awfu' swipe. I never saw it after you hit it."
He was smiling, but no as if he were amused.
"Aweel, ye wouldna—ye was looking the wrong way, man," he said. "I sort o' missed my swing that time. There's the ba'——"
He pointed, and sure enough, I saw the puir wee ba', over to right, not half a dozen yards from the tee, and lookin' as if it had been cut in twa. He made to lift it and put it back on the tee, but, e'en an' I had never played the game I knew a bit aboot the rules.
"Dinna gang so fast, Mac," I cried. "That counts a shot. It's my turn the noo."
And so I piled up a great double handfu' o' sand. It seemed to me that the higher I put the wee ba' to begin with the further I could send it when I hit it. But I was wrong, for my attempt was worse than Mac's. I broke my club, and drove all the sand in his een, and the wee ba' moved no more than a foot!
"That's a shot, too!" cried Mac.
"Aye," I said, a bit ruefully. "I—I sort o' missed my swing, too, Mac."
We did a wee bit better after that, but I'm no thinkin' either Mac or I will ever play against the champion in the final round at Troon or St. Andrews.
I maun e'en wander again from what I've been tellin' ye. Not that in this book there's any great plan; it's just as if we were speerin' together. But one thing puts me in mind o' another. And it so happened that that gay morn at Montrose when Mac and I tried our hands at the gowf brought me in touch with another and very different experience.
Ye'll mind I've talked a bit already of them that work and those they work for. I've been a laboring man myself; in those days I was close enough to the pit to mind only too well what it was like to be dependent on another man for all I earned and ate and drank. And I'd been oot on strike, too. There was some bit trouble over wages. In the beginning it was no great matter; five minutes of good give and tak' in talk wad ha' settled it, had masters and men got together as folk should do. But the masters wouldna listen, and the men were sair angry, and so there was the strike.
It was easy enough for me. I'd money in the savings bank. My brothers were a' at work in other pits where there was no strike called. I was able to see it through, and I cheered with a good will when the District Agents of the miners made speeches and urged us to stay oot till the masters gave in. But I could see, even then, that, there were men who did no feel sae easy in their minds over the strike. Jamie Lowden was one o' them. Jamie and I were good friends, though not sae close as some.
I could see that Jamie was taking the strike much more to heart than I. He'd come oot wi' the rest of us at the first, and he went to all the mass meetings, though I didna hear him, ever mak' a speech, as most of us did, one time or another. And so, one day, when I fell into step beside him, on the way hame frae a meetin', I made to see what he was thinking.
"Dinna look sae glum, Jamie, man," I said. "The strike won't last for aye. We've the richt on our side, and when we've that we're bound to win in the end."
"Aye, we may win!" he said, bitterly. "And what then, Harry? Strikes are for them that can afford them, Harry—they're no for workingman wi' a wife that's sick on his hands and a wean that's dyin' for lack o' the proper food. Gie'en my wife and my bairn should dee, what good would it be to me to ha' won this strike?"
"But we'll a' be better off if we win——"
"Better off?" he said, angrily. "Oh, aye—but what'll mak' up to' us for what we'll lose? Nine weeks I've been oot. All that pay I've lost. It would have kept the wean well fed and the wife could ha' had the medicine she needs. Much good it will do me to win the strike and the shillin' or twa extra a week we're striking for if I lose them!"
I'm ashamed to say I hadn't thought of the strike in that licht before. It had been a grand chance to be idle wi'oot havin' to reproach myself; to enjoy life a bit, and lie abed of a morn wi' a clear conscience. But I could see, the noo Jamie talked, how it was some of the older men did not seem to put much heart into it when they shouted wi' the rest of us: "We'll never gie in!"
It was weel enough for the boys; for them it was a time o' skylarkin' and irresponsibility. It was weel enough for me, and others like me, who'd been able to put by a bit siller, and could afford to do wi'oot our wages for a space. But it was black tragedy for Jamie and his wife and bairn.
Still ye'll be wonderin' how I was reminded of all this at Montrose, where Mac and I showed how bad we were at gowf! Weel, it was there I saw Jamie Lowden again, and heard how he had come through the time of the strike. I'll tell the tale myself; you may depend on't that I'm giving it to ye straight, as I had it from the man himself.
His wife, lying sick in her bed, always asked Jamie the same question when he came in from a meeting.
"Is there ony settlement yet, Jamie?" she would say.
"Not yet," he had to answer, time after time. "The masters are rich and proud. They say they can afford to keep the pits, closed. And we're telling them, after every meeting, that we'll een starve, if needs must, before we'll gie in to them. I'm thinkin' it's to starvin' we'll come, the way things look. Hoo are ye, Annie—better old girl?"
"I'm no that bad, Jamie," she answered, always, affectionately. He knew she was lying to spare his feelings; they loved one another very dearly, did those two. She looked down at the wee yin beside her in the bed. "It's the wean I'm thinkin' of, Jamie," she whispered. "He's asleep, at last, but he's nae richt, Jamie—he's far frae richt."
Jamie sighed, and turned to the stove. He put the kettle on, that he might make himself a cup of tea. Annie was not strong enough to get up and do any of the work, though it hurt her sair to see her man busy about the wee hoose. She could eat no solid food; the doctor had ordered milk for her, and beef tea, and jellies. Jamie could just manage the milk, but it was out of the question for him to buy the sick room delicacies she should have had every day of her life. The bairn was born but a week after the strike began; Jamie and Annie had been married little more than a year. It was hard enough for Annie to bring the wean into the world; it seemed that keeping him and herself there was going to be too much for her, with things going as they were.
"She was nae strong enough, Jamie, man," the doctor told him. "Yell ha' an invalid wife on your hands for months. Gie her gude food, and plenty on't, when she can eat again let her ha' plenty rest. She'll be richt then—she'll be better, indeed, than she's ever been. But not if things go badly—she can never stand that."
Jamie had aye been carefu' wi' his siller; when he knew the wife was going to present him wi' a bairn he'd done his part to mak' ready. So the few pound he had in the bank had served, at the start, weel enough. The strikers got a few shillings each week frae the union; just enough, it turned out, in Jamie's case, to pay the rent and buy the bare necessities of life. His own siller went fast to keep mither and wean alive when she was worst. And when they were gone, as they were before that day I talked wi' him, things looked black indeed for Jamie and the bit family he was tryin' to raise.
He could see no way oot. And then, one nicht, there came a knocking at the door. It was the doctor—a kindly, brusque man, who'd been in the army once. He was popular, but it was because he made his patients afraid of him, some said. They got well because they were afraid to disobey him. He had a very large practice, and, since he was a bachelor, with none but himself to care for, he was supposed to be almost wealthy—certainly he was rich for a country doctor.
"Weel, Jamie, man, and ho's the wife and the wean the day?" he asked.
"They're nane so braw, doctor," said Jamie, dolefully. "But yell see that for yersel', I'm thinkin'."
The doctor went in, talked to Jamie's wife a spell, told her some things to do, and looked carefully at the sleeping bairn, which he would not have awakened. Then he took Jamie by the arm.
"Come ootside, Jamie," he said. "I want to hae a word wi' ye."
Jamie went oot, wondering. The doctor walked along wi' him in silence a wee bit; then spoke, straight oot, after his manner.
"Yon's a bonnie wean o' yours, Jamie," he said. "I've brought many a yin into the world, and I'm likin' him fine. But ye can no care for him, and he's like to dee on your hands. Yer wife's in the same case. She maun ha' nourishin' food, and plenty on't. Noo, I'm rich enough, and I'm a bachelor, with no wife nor bairn o' my ain. For reasons I'll not tell ye I'll dee, as I've lived, by my lain. I'll not be marryin' a wife, I mean by that.
"But I like that yin of yours. And here's what I'm offerin' ye. I'll adopt him, gi'en you'll let me ha' him for my ain. I'll save his life. I'll bring him up strong and healthy, as a gentleman and a gentleman's son. And I'll gie ye a hundred pounds to boot—a hundred pounds that'll be the saving of your wife's life, so that she can be made strong and healthy to bear ye other bairns when you're at work again."
"Gie up the wean?" cried Jamie, his face working. "The wean my Annie near died to gie me? Doctor, is it sense you're talking?"
"Aye, and gude, hard sense it is, too, Jamie, man. I know it sounds dour and hard. It's a sair thing to be giving up your ain flesh and blood. But think o' the bairn, man! Through no fault o' your ain, through misfortune that's come upon ye, ye can no gie him the care he needs to keep him alive. Wad ye rather see him dead or in my care? Think it ower, man. I'll gie ye two days to think and to talk it ower wi' the wife. And—I'm tellin' ye're a muckle ass and no the sensible man I've thought ye if ye do not say aye."
The doctor did no wait for Jamie to answer him. He was a wise man, that doctor; he knew how Jamie wad be feelin' just then, and he turned away. Sure enough, Jamie was ready to curse him and bid him keep his money. But when he was left alone, and walked home, slowly, thinking of the offer, he began to see that love for the wean urged him nigh as much to accept the offer as to reject it.
It was true, as the doctor had said, that it was better for the bairn to live and grow strong and well than to dee and be buried. Wad it no be selfish for Jamie, for the love he had for his first born, to insist on keeping him when to keep him wad mean his death? But there was Annie to think of, too. Wad she be willing? Jamie was sair beset. He didna ken how to think, much less what he should be doing.
It grieved him to bear such an offer to Annie, so wan and sick, puir body. He thought of not telling her. But when he went in she was sair afraid the doctor had told him the bairn could no live, and to reassure her he was obliged to tell just why the doctor had called him oot wi' him.
"Tak' him away for gude and a', Jamie?" she moaned, and looked down at the wailing mite beside her. "That's what he means? Oh, my bairn—my wean——!"
"Aye, but he shall not!" Jamie vowed, fiercely, dropping to his knees beside the bed, and putting his arms about her. "Dinna fash yersel', Annie, darling. Ye shall keep your wean—our wean."
"But it's true, what the doctor said, that it wad be better for our bairn, Jamie——"
"Oh, aye—no doot he meant it in kindness and weel enow, Annie. But how should he understand, that's never had bairn o' his own to twine its fingers around one o' his? Nor seen the licht in his wife's een as she laid them on her wean?"
Annie was comforted by the love in his voice, and fell asleep. But when the morn came the bairn was worse, and greetin' pitifully. And it was Annie herself who spoke, timidly, of what the doctor had offered. Jamie had told her nothing of the hundred pounds; he knew she would feel as he did, that if they gave up the bairn it wad be for his ain sake, and not for the siller.
"Oh, Jamie, my man, I've been thinkin'," said puir Annie. "The wean's sae sick! And if we let the doctor hae him he'd be well and strong. And it micht be we could see him sometimes. The doctor wad let us do sae, do ye nae think it?"
Lang they talked of it. But they could came tae nae ither thought than that it was better to lose the bairn and gie him his chance to live and to grow up than to lose him by havin' him dee. Lose him they must, it seemed, and Jamie cried out against God, at last, and swore that there was no help, even though a man was ready and willing to work his fingers to the bone for wife and bairn. And sae, wi' the heaviest of hearts, he made his way to the doctor's door and rang the bell.
"Weel, and ye and the wife are showing yer good sense," said the doctor, heartily, when he heard what Jamie had to say. "We'll pull the wean through. He's of gude stock on both sides—that's why I want to adopt him. I'll bring a nurse round wi' me tomorrow, come afternoon, and I'll hae the papers ready for ye to sign, that give me the richt to adopt him as my ain son. And when ye sign ye shall hae yer hundred pounds."
"Ye—ye can keep the siller, doctor," said Jamie, suppressing a wish to say something violent. "'Tis no for the money we're letting ye hae the wean—'tis that ye may save his life and keep him in the world to hae his chance that I canna gie him, God help me!"
"A bargain's a bargain, Jamie, man," said the doctor, more gently than was his wont. "Ye shall e'en hae the hundred pounds, for you'll be needin' it for the puir wife. Puir lassie—dinna think I'm not sorry for you and her, as well."
Jamie shook his head and went off. He could no trust himself to speak again. And he went back to Annie wi' tears in his een, and the heart within him heavy as it were lead. Still, when he reached hame, and saw Annie looking at him wi' such grief in her moist een, he could no bear to tell her of the hundred pounds. He could no bear to let her think it was selling the bairn they were. And, in truth, whether he was to tak' the siller or not, it was no that had moved him.
It was a sair, dour nicht for Jamie and the wife. They lay awake, the twa of them. They listened to the breathing of the wean; whiles and again he'd rouse and greet a wee, and every sound he made tore at their heart strings. They were to say gude-bye to him the morrow, never to see him again; Annie was to hold him in her mither's arms for the last time. Oh, it was the sair nicht for those twa, yell ken withoot ma tellin' ye!
Come three o' the clock next afternoon and there was the sound o' wheels ootside the wee hoose. Jamie started and looked at Annie, and the tears sprang to their een as they turned to the wean. In came the doctor, and wi' him a nurse, all starched and clean.
"Weel, Jamie, an' hoo are the patients the day? None so braw, Annie, I'm fearin'. 'Tis a hard thing, my lassie, but the best in the end. We'll hae ye on yer feet again in no time the noo, and ye can gie yer man a bonnier bairn next time! It's glad I am ye'll let me tak' the wean and care for him."
Annie could not answer. She was clasping the bairn close to her, and the tears were running down her twa cheeks. She kissed him again and again. And the doctor, staring, grew uncomfortable. He beckoned to the nurse, and she stepped toward the bed to take the wean from its mither. Annie saw her, and held the bairn to Jamie.
"Puir wean—oh, oor puir wean!" she sighed. "Jamie, my man—kiss him— kiss him for the last time——"
Jamie sobbed and caught the bairn in his great arms. He held it as tenderly as ever its mither could ha' done. And then, suddenly, still holding the wean, he turned on the doctor.
"We canna do it, Doctor!" he cried. "I cried out against God yesterday. But—there is a God! I believe in Him, and I will put my trust in Him. If it is His will that oor wean shall dee—dee he must. But if he dees it shall be in his mither's arms."
His eyes were blazing, and the doctor, a little frightened, as if he thought Jamie had gone mad, gave ground. But Jamie went on in a gentler voice.
"I ken weel ye meant it a' for the best, and to be gude to us and the wean, doctor," he said, earnestly. "But we canna part with our bairn. Live or dee he must stay wi' his mither!"
He knelt down. He saw Annie's eyes, swimming with new tears, meeting his in a happiness such as he had never seen before. She held out her hungry arms, and Jamie put the bairn within them.
"I'm sorry, doctor," he said, simply.
But the doctor said nothing. Without ane word he turned, and went oot the door, wi' the nurse following him. And Jamie dropped to his knees beside his wife and bairn and prayed to the God in whom he had resolved to put his trust.
Ne'er tell me God does not hear or heed such prayers! Ne'er tell me that He betrays those who put their trust in Him, according to His word.
Frae that sair day of grief and fear mither and wean grew better. Next day a wee laddie brocht a great hamper to Jamie's door. Jamie thocht there was some mistake.
"Who sent ye, laddie?" he asked.
"I dinna ken, and what I do ken I maun not tell," the boy answered. "But there's no mistake. 'Tis for ye, Jamie Lowden."
And sae it was. There were all the things that Annie needed and Jamie had nae the siller to buy for her in that hamper. Beef tea, and fruit, and jellies—rare gude things! Jamie, his een full o' tears, had aye his suspicions of the doctor. But when he asked him, the doctor was said angry.
"Hamper? What hamper?" he asked gruffly. That was when he was making a professional call. "Ye're a sentimental fule, Jamie Lowden, and I'd hae no hand in helpin' ye! But if so be there was some beef extract in the hamper, 'tis so I'd hae ye mak' it—as I'm tellin' ye, mind, not as it says on the jar!"
He said nowt of what had come aboot the day before. But, just as he was aboot to go, he turned to Jamie.
"Oh, aye, Jamie, man, yell no haw been to the toon the day?" he asked. "I heard, as I was comin' up, that the strike was over and all the men were to go back to work the morn. Ye'll no be sorry to be earnin' money again, I'm thinkin'."
Jamie dropped to his knees again, beside his wife and bairn, when the doctor had left them alone. And this time it was to thank God, not to pray for favors, that he knelt.
Do ye ken why I hae set doon this tale for you to read? Is it no plain? The way we do—all of us! We think we may live our ain lives, and that what we do affects no one but ourselves? Was ever a falswer lee than that? Here was this strike, that was so quickly called because a few men quarreled among themselves. And yet it was only by a miracle that it did not bring death to Annie and her bairn and ruin to Jamie Lowden's whole life—a decent laddie that asked nowt but to work for his wife and his wean and be a good and useful citizen.
Canna men think twice before they bring such grief and trouble into the world? Canna they learn to get together and talk things over before the trouble, instead of afterward? Must we act amang ourselves as the Hun acted in the wide world? I'm thinking we need not, and shall not, much longer.
The folks we met were awfu' good to Mackenzie Murdoch and me while we were on tour in yon old days. I've always liked to sit me doon, after a show, and talk to some of those in the audience, and then it was even easier than it is the noo. I mind the things we did! There was the time when we must be fishermen!
It was at Castle Douglas, in the Galloway district, that the landlord of our hotel asked us if we were fishermen. He said we should be, since, if we were, there was a loch nearby where the sport was grand.
"Eh, Mac?" I asked him. "Are ye as good a fisherman as ye are a gowfer?"
"Scarcely so good, Harry," he said, smiling.
"Aweel, ne'er mind that," I said. "We'll catch fish enough for our supper, for I'm a don with a rod, as you'll see."
Noo, I believed that I was strictly veracious when I said that, even though I think I had never held a rod in my hand. But I had seen many a man fishing, and it had always seemed to me the easiest thing in the world a man could do. So forth we fared together, and found the boat the landlord had promised us, and the tackle, and the bait. I'll no say whether we took ought else—'tis none of your affair, you'll ken! Nor am I making confession to the wife, syne she reads all I write, whether abody else does so or nicht.
The loch was verra beautiful. So were the fish, I'm never doubting, but for that yell hae to do e'en as did Mac and I—tak' the landlord's word for 't. For ne'er a one did we see, nor did we get a bite, all that day. But it was comfortable in the air, on the bonny blue water of the loch, and we were no sair grieved that the fish should play us false.
Mac sat there, dreamily.
"I mind a time when I was fishing, once," he said, and named a spot he knew I'd never seen. "Ah, man, Harry, but it was the grand day's sport we had that day! There was an old, great trout that every fisherman in those parts had been after for twa summers. Many had hooked him, but he'd got clean awa'. I had no thocht of seeing him, even. But by and by I felt a great pull on my line—and, sure enow, it was he, the big fellow!"
"That was rare luck, Mac," I said, wondering a little. Had Mac been overmodest, before, when he had said he was no great angler? Or was he——? Aweel, no matter. I'll let him tell his tale.
"Man, Harry," he went on, "can ye no see the ithers? They were excited. All offered me advice. But they never thocht that I could land him. I didna mysel'—he was a rare fish, that yin! Three hours I fought wi' him, Harry! But I brocht him ashore at last. And, Harry, wad ye guess what he weighed?"
I couldna, and said so. But I was verra thochtfu'.
"Thirty-one pounds," said Mac, impressively.
"Thirty-one pounds? Did he so?" I said, duly impressed. But I was still thochtfu', and Mac looked at me.
"Wasna he a whopper, Harry?" he asked. I think he was a wee bit disappointed, but he had no cause—I was just thinking.
"Aye," I said. "Deed an' he was, Mac. Ye were prood, the day, were ye no? I mind the biggest fish ever I caught. I wasna fit to speak to the Duke o' Argyle himsel' that day!"
"How big was yours?" asked Mac, and I could see he was angry wi' himself. Do ye mind the game the wee yins play, of noughts and crosses? Whoever draws three noughts or three crosses in a line wins, and sometimes it's for lettin' the other have last crack that ye lose. Weel, it was like a child who sees he's beaten himself in that game that Mac looked then.
"How big was mine, Mac?" I said. "Oh, no so big. Ye'd no be interested to know, I'm thinking."
"But I am," said Mac. "I always like to hear of the luck other fishermen ha' had."
"Aweel, yell be makin' me tell ye, I suppose," I said, as if verra reluctantly. "But—oh, no, Mac, dinna mak' me. I'm no wantin' to hurt yer feelings."
"Tell me, man," he said.
"Weel, then—twa thousand six hundred and fourteen pounds," I said.
Mac nearly fell oot o' the boat into the loch. He stared at me wi' een like saucers.
"What sort of a fish was that, ye muckle ass?" he roared.
"Oh, just a bit whale," I said, modestly. "Nowt to boast aboot. He gied me a battle, I'll admit, but he had nae chance frae the first——"
And then we both collapsed and began to roar wi' laughter. And we agreed that we'd tell no fish stories to one another after that, but only to others, and that we'd always mak' the other fellow tell the size of his fish before we gave the weighing of ours. That's the only safe rule for a fisherman who's telling of his catch, and there's a tip for ye if ye like.
Still and a' we caught us no fish, and whiles we talked we'd stopped rowing, until the boat drifted into the weeds and long grass that filled one end of the loch. We were caught as fine as ye please, and when we tried to push her free we lost an oar. Noo, we could not row hame wi'oot that oar, so I reached oot wi' my rod and tried to pull it in. I had nae sort of luck there, either, and broke the rod and fell head first into the loch as well!
It was no sae deep, but the grass and the weeds were verra thick, and they closed aboot me the way the arms of an octopus mich and it was scary work gettin' free. When I did my head and shoulders showed above the water, and that was all.
"Save me, Mac!" I cried, half in jest, half in earnest. But Mac couldna help me. The boat had got a strong push from me when I went over, and was ten or twelve feet awa'. Mac was tryin' to do all he could, but ye canna do muckle wi' a flat bottomed boat when ye're but the ane oar, and he gied up at last. Then he laughed.
"Man, Harry, but ye're a comical sicht!" he said. "Ye should appear so and write a song to go wi' yer looks! Noo, ye'll not droon, an', as ye're so wet already, why don't ye wade ower and get the oar while ye're there?"
He was richt, heartless though I thought him. So I waded over to where the oar rested on the surface of the water, as if it were grinning at me. It was tricksy work. I didna ken hoo deep the loch micht grow to be suddenly; sometimes there are deep holes in such places, that ye walk into when ye're the least expecting to find one.
I was glad enough when I got back to the boat wi' the oar. I started to climb in.
"Gie's the oar first," said Mac, cynically. "Ye micht fall in again, Harry, and I'll just be makin' siccar that ane of us twa gets hame the nicht!"
But I didna fall in again, and, verra wet and chilly, I was glad to do the rowing for a bit. We did no more fishing that day, and Mac laughed at me a good deal. But on the way hame we passed a field where some boys were playing football, and the ball came along, unbenknownst to either of us, and struck Mac on the nose. It set it to bleeding, and Mac lost his temper completely and gave chase, with the blood running down and covering his shirt.
It was my turn to laugh at him, and yell ken that I took full advantage o't! Mac ran fast, and he caught one of the youngsters who had kicked the ball at him and cuffed his ear. That came near to makin' trouble, too, for the boy's father came round and threatened to have Mac arrested. But a free seat for the show made him a friend instead of a foe.
Speakin' o' arrests, the wonder is to me that Mac and I ever stayed oot o' jail. Dear knows we had escapades enough that micht ha' landed us in the lock up! There was a time, soon after the day we went fishing, when we made friends wi' some folk who lived in a capital house with a big fruit garden attached to it. They let us lodgings, though it was not their habit to do so, and we were verra pleased wi' ourselves.
We sat in the sunshine in our room, having our tea. Ootside the birds were singing in the trees, and the air came in gently.
"Oh, it's good to be alive!" said Mac.
But I dinna ken whether it was the poetry of the day or the great biscuit he had just spread wi' jam that moved him! At any rate there was no doot at a' as to what moved a great wasp that flew in through the window just then. It wanted that jam biscuit, and Mac dropped it. But that enraged the wasp, and it stung Mac on the little finger. He yelled. The girl who was singing in the next room stopped; the birds, frightened, flew away. I leaped up—I wanted to help my suffering friend.
But I got up so quickly that I upset the teapot, and the scalding tea poured itself out all over poor Mac's legs. He screamed again, and went tearing about the room holding his finger. I followed him, and I had heard that one ought to do something at once if a man were scalded, so I seized the cream jug and poured that over his legs.
But, well as I meant, Mac was angrier than ever. I chased him round and round, seriously afraid that my friend was crazed by his sufferings.
"Are ye no better the noo, Mac?" I asked.
That was just as our landlady and her daughter came in. I'm afraid they heard language from Mac not fit for any woman's ears, but ye'll admit the man was not wi'oot provocation!
"Better?" he shouted. "Ye muckle fool, you—you've ruined a brand new pair of trousies cost me fifteen and six!"
It was amusing, but it had its serious side. We had no selections on the violin at that night's concert, nor for several nights after, for Mac's finger was badly swollen, and he could not use it. And for a long time I could make him as red as a beet and as angry as I pleased by just whispering in his ear, in the innocentest way: "Hoo's yer pinkie the noo, Mac?"
It was at Creetown, our next stopping place, that we had an adventure that micht weel ha' had serious results. We had a Sunday to spend, and decided to stay there and see some of the Galloway moorlands, of which we had all heard wondrous tales. And after our concert we were introduced to a man who asked us if we'd no like a little fun on the Sawbath nicht. It sounded harmless, as he put it so, and we thocht, syne it was to be on the Sunday, it could no be so verra boisterous. So we accepted his invitation gladly.
Next evening then, in the gloamin', he turned up at our lodgings, wi' two dogs at his heel, a greyhound and a lurcher—a lurcher is a coursing dog, a cross between a collie and a greyhound.
He wore dark clothes and a slouch hat. But, noo that I gied him a closer look, I saw a shifty look in his een that I didna like. He was a braw, big man, and fine looking enough, save for that look in his een. But it was too late to back oot then, so we went along.
I liked well enow to hear him talk. He knew his country, and spoke intelligently and well of the beauties of Galloway. Truly the scenery was superb. The hills in the west were all gold and purple in the last rays of the dying sun, and the heather was indescribably beautiful.
But by the time we reached the moorlands at the foot of the hills the sun and the licht were clean gone awa', and the darkness was closing down fast aboot us. We could hear the cry of the whaup, a mournful, plaintive note; our own voices were the only other sounds that broke the stillness. Then, suddenly, our host bent low and loosed his dogs, after whispering to them, and they were off as silently and as swiftly as ghosts in the heather.
We realized then what sort of fun it was we had been promised. And it was grand sport, that hunting in the darkness, wi' the wee dogs comin' back faithfully, noo and then, to their master, carrying a hare or a rabbit firmly in their mouths.
"Man, Mae, but this is grand sport!" I whispered.
"Aye!" he said, and turned to the owner of the dogs.
"I envy you," he said. "It must be grand to hae a moor like this, wi' dogs and guns."
"And the keepers," I suggested.
"Aye—there's keepers enow, and stern dells they are, too!"
Will ye no picture Mac and me, hangin' on to one anither's hands in the darkness, and feelin' the other tremble, each guilty one o' us? So it was poachin' we'd been, and never knowing it! I saw a licht across the moor.
"What's yon?" I asked our host, pointing to it.
"Oh, that's a keeper's hoose," he answered, indifferently. "I expect they'll be takin' a walk aroond verra soon, tae."
"Eh, then," I said, "would we no be doing well to be moving hameward? If anyone comes this way I'll be breaking the mile record between here and Creetown!"
The poacher laughed.
"Ay, maybe," he said. "But if it's old Adam Broom comes ye'll hae to be runnin' faster than the charge o' shot he'll be peppering your troosers wi' in the seat!"
"Eh, Harry," said Mac, "it's God's blessings ye did no put on yer kilt the nicht!"
He seemed to think there was something funny in the situation, but I did not, I'm telling ye.
And suddenly a grim, black figure loomed up nearby.
"We're pinched, for sure, Mac," I said.
"Eh, and if we are we are," he said, philosophically. "What's the fine for poaching, Harry?"
We stood clutching one anither, and waitin' for the gun to speak. But the poacher whispered.
"It's all richt," he said. "It's a farmer, and a gude friend o' mine."
So it proved. The farmer came up and greeted us, and said he'd been having a stroll through the heather before he went to bed. I gied him a cigar—the last I had, too, but I was too relieved to care for that. We walked along wi' him, and bade him gude nicht at the end of the road that led to his steading. But the poacher was not grateful, for he sent the dogs into one of the farmer's corn fields as soon as he was oot of our sicht.
"There's hares in there," he said, "and they're sure to come oot this gate. You watch and nail the hares as they show."
He went in after the dogs, and Mac got a couple of stones while I made ready to kick any animal that appeared. Soon two hares appeared, rustling through the corn. I kicked out. I missed them, but I caught Mac on the shins, and at the same moment he missed with his stones but hit me instead! We both fell doon, and thocht no mair of keeping still we were too sair hurt not to cry oot a bit and use some strong language as well, I'm fearing. We'd forgotten, d'ye ken, that it was the Sawbath eve!
Aweel, I staggered to my feet. Then oot came more hares and rabbits, and after them the twa dogs in full chase. One hit me as I was getting up and sent me rolling into the ditch full of stagnant water.
Oh, aye, it was a pleasant evening in its ending! Mac was as scared as I by that time, and when he'd helped me from the ditch we looked aroond for our poacher host. We were afraid to start hame alane. He showed presently, laughing at us for two puir loons, and awfu' well pleased with his nicht's work.
I canna say sae muckle for the twa loons! We were sorry looking wretches. An' we were awfu' remorsefu', too, when we minded the way we'd broken the Sawbath and a'—for a' we'd not known what was afoot when we set out.
But it was different in the morn! Oh, aye—as it sae often is! We woke wi' the sun streamin' in our window. Mac leaned on his hand and sniffed, and looked at me.
"Man, Harry," said he, "d'ye smell what I smell?"
And I sniffed too. Some pleasant odor came stealing up the stairs frae the kitchen. I leaped up.
"'Tis hare, Mac!" I cried. "Up wi' ye! Wad ye be late for the breakfast that came nigh to getting us shot?"
Could go on and on wi' tales of yon good days wi' Mac. We'd our times when we were no sae friendly, but they never lasted overnicht. There was much philosophy in Mac. He was a kindly man, for a' his quick temper; I never knew a kinder. And he taught me much that's been usefu' to me. He taught me to look for the gude in a' I saw and came in contact wi'. There's a bricht side to almost a' we meet, I've come to ken.