It was New Year's morning, and I lay thinking of my boy, and wondering what this year would bring him. It was early in the morning before I slept. And it seemed to me that I had scarce been asleep at all when there came a pounding at the door, loud enough to rouse the heaviest sleeper there ever was.Sir Harry Lauder, "A Minstrel In France". Captain John Lauder was their only son.
My heart almost stopped. There must be something serious indeed for them to be rousing me so early. I rushed to the door, and there was a porter, holding out a telegram. I took it and tore it open. And I knew why I had felt as I had the day before. I shall never forget what I read :
"Captain John Lauder killed in action, December 28. Official. War Office."
It had gone to Mrs. Lauder at Dunoon first, and she had sent it on to me. That was all it said. I knew nothing of how my boy had died, or where - save that it was for his country. But later I learned that when Sir Thomas Lipton had rung me up the previous night he had intended to condole with me. He had heard on Saturday of my boy's death. But when he spoke to me, and understood at once, from the tone of my voice, that I did not know, he had not been able to go on. His heart was too tender to make it possible for him to be the one to give me that blow - the heaviest that ever befell me.
It was on Monday morning, January the first, 1917, that I learned of my boy's death. And he had been killed the Thursday before ! He had been dead four days before I knew it ! And yet I had known. Let no one ever again tell me that there is nothing in presentiment. Why else had I been so sad and uneasy in my mind ? Why else, all through that Sunday, had it been so impossible for me to take comfort in what was said to cheer me ? Some warning had come to me, some sense that all was not well.
Realization came to me slowly. I sat and stared at that slip of paper, that had come to me like the breath of doom. Dead! Dead these four days ! I was never to see the light of his eyes again. I was never to hear that laugh of his. I had looked on my boy for the last time. Could it be true ? Ah, I knew it was. And it was for this moment that I had been waiting, that we had all been waiting, ever since we had sent John away to fight for his country and do his part. I think we had all felt that it must come. We had all known that it was too much to hope that he should be one of those to be spared.
The black despair that had been hovering over me for hours closed down now and enveloped all my senses. Everything was unreal. For a time I was quite numb. But then, as I began to realize and to visualize what it was to mean in my life that my boy was dead, there came a great pain. The iron of realization slowly seared every word of that curt telegram upon my heart. I said it to myself, over and over again. And I whispered to myself, as my thoughts took form, over and over, the one terrible word : " Dead ! '. I felt that for me everything had come to an end with the reading of that dire message. It seemed to me that for me the board of life was black and blank. For me there was no past and there could be no future. Everything had been swept away, erased, by one sweep of the hand of a cruel fate.
Oh, there was a past, though ! And it was in that past that I began to delve. It was made up of every memory I had of my boy. I fell at once to remembering him. I clutched at every memory, as if I must grasp them and make sure of them; lest they be taken from me as well as the hope of seeing him again that the telegram had for ever snatched away. I would have been destitute indeed in that event. It was as if I must fix in my mind the way he had been wont to look, and recall to my ears every tone of his voice, every trick of his speech. There was something left of him that I must keep, I realized, even then, at all costs, if I was to be able to bear his loss at all. There was a vision of him before my eyes. My bonnie Highland laddie, brave and strong, in his kilt and the uniform of his country, going out to his death with a smile on his face.
And there was another vision that came up now, unbidden. It was a vision of him lying stark and cold upon the battlefield, the mud on his uniform. And when I saw that vision I was like a man gone mad and possessed of devils who had stolen away his faculties. I cursed war as I saw that vision, and the men who caused war. And when I thought of the Germans who had killed my boy, a terrible and savage hatred swept me, and I longed to go out there and kill with my bare hands, until I had avenged him or they had killed me too.
But then I was a little softened. I thought of his mother back in our wee hoose at Dunoon. And the thought of her, bereft even as I was, sorrowing, even as I was, and lost in her frightful loneliness, was pitiful, so that I had but the one desire and wish-to go to her, and join my tears with hers, that we who were left alone to bear our grief, might bear it together and give one to the other such comfort as there might be in life for us. And so I fell upon my knees and prayed, there in my lonely room in the hotel. I prayed to God that He might give us both, John's mother and myself, strength to bear the blow that had been dealt us, and to endure the sacrifice that He and our country had demanded of us.
Oh, Well Played...
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