Harry Lauder, the music hall entertainer travelled around the rural areas of Scotland performing in small venues. On one of his tours he stayed with an elderly couple in Gatehouse of Fleet. He tells about them in his autobiography, Harry Lauder, at Home and on Tour, published in 1907.
The Gatehouse Granny and the Wag at the Wa'
When Mackenzie Murdoch and I lodged together on our tours there were generally "wigs on the green" and uproarious fun of one kind or another. Now on this Galloway tour it was remarkable that the first time we were separated I should have taken part in a little drama of the most affecting description. At Gatehouse-of-Fleet in Kirkcudbrightshire circumstances caused me to lodge alone over night with an aged couple who lived in an ivy-bowered cottage not far from the rolling waves of the Solway Firth. I arrived about four o'clock in the afternoon, and, as is usual with me wherever I go, I engaged in a "hamely crack" with the old landlady and her white-haired Darby.
They were a delightful old pair — quiet, pawky and, like all the people in that part of the lowlands, overflowing with kindness to the "stranger within their gates." Here, thought I, was a typical old Scottish couple, spending the evening of their days in peace and comfort, alone, it was true, but probably supported in their frailty by loving sons and daughters scattered over the face of the globe. We were just beginning to get "chief," as we say north of the Border, when the outside door was burst open and five rosy-cheeked children rushed to the old lady's side.
"Gie's a piece, granny," they shouted, "we're awfu' hungry —" and then they noticed me and drew back hesitatingly.
"A piece, ma lambies!" fondly exclaimed "grannie," her eyes glistening as she beheld her young brood, "but ye'll get that; ay, ye'll get that." And soon the youngsters were despatched, each munching a huge slice of bread and jam.
"Fine bairns these," I remarked, following their movements through the window as they scampered along in the direction of the river.
"Ay," quietly replied the old man, bestowing a secret glance on his wife, who was wiping her eyes with the comer of her apron. Nothing was said for a moment or two, and. as I had no desire to probe into the affairs of the old couple I slipped out of the house and went for a walk till tea would be ready. When the children were all in bed that night and the three of us were seated round the kitchen fire, the old lady, with tears trickling down her furrowed cheeks, told me the following story.
"The bairns are no mine, sir, as ye can judge for yersel'. They're oor dochter Lizzie's. She's in service noo at a big hoose some miles frae here; God kens whaur her husband is — he hasna' been heard o' for five years. He was a bit hally-rackit when they were mairried, but he got worse after that and turned out a worthless rake. He was a sailor chap belongin' tae the district, and though the auld man and I never thocht very much o' him we fain belived he wad settle doon if he got a fair chance, so we spent the savin's o' oor life — nearly twa hunder pounds — in buyin' him a wee coastin' schooner. His first trip was fairly successful, but his second saw the Rosie wrecked on the rocks at Gairlieston. This was a great misfortune for us a', but it was nae excuse for the lad refusin' tae work ony mair an' quarterin' himsel' and his wife on the auld folks wha had already gien him everything they had.
Things went frae bad tae worse wi' ---- , and after a few miserable years for a' concerned the faither there and I were gled tae gie him twenty pounds that we had saved up for a rainy day. Aff he set tae Liverpool, and we've never cas'en eyes on him since. An' yet oor dochter believes in him an' says he'll come back some day. Dae ye see the wee lassie at the far side o' the bed there — her wi' the black hair an' the bonny red cheeks? Well, she was born six months after her faither went awa' an' she's her mother's favourite. Oor's tae, if the truth were telt, for she's jist a wee darlin'. But they're a' gettin' on fine wi' the auld folks, an' though they're a struggle tae feed an' claith the hoose wad be dull an' drear withoot them!"
In the bedroom where I slept there was an old-fashioned wag-at-the-wa' with a curiously-shaped little china face. It took my fancy, and next morning I offered the old couple a good price for it. They did not want to take what I offered, but I knew that neither of us was being cheated, so I carried off the clock with me when I left a few hours later. It wags awa' in my bedroom to this day, and every time I look at it I wonder if the wandering sailor has ever returned to compensate dear old "granny" at Gatehouse-of-Fleet.