It was astonishing what a mental "boost" a young chap gets when at last a long cherished ambition and yearning has been realized. As told in the last installment of this autobiography, I now possessed a cornet that was my own, or "mine" so long as I remained with the band, and I took mighty good care of it. However, the government's instrument was not in the best of condition when I received it. The valves did not work well and the slides were pretty well corroded, but the instrument being "approximately" fine, I at once set about remedying these defects and soon had them bettered. Even though only a boy, I knew that the instrument must have been accumulating dust and dirt in the band storeroom for quite a length of time; this, and the fact that I did not know who was the last fellow before me to use the cornet, made it advisable for me to give it a thorough cleaning, inside and outside.
To do this I poured strong ammonia into the cornet, but phew! The ammonia was so strong that when I blew it through the instrument the overpowering fumes nearly strangled me, and my eyes became blinded for a short time. Perhaps it would be better to leave it to the readers imagination as to what came out with the ammonia; but if there were any microbes lingering in that cornet at the time it came into my possession I certainly had killed them before using it, or rather the ammonia had done so. Anyway, it now surely was clean on the inside but how about the outside! The powerful solution had turned that part of the instrument into a beautiful (?) oxidized blue and I thought it was ruined, but after treating it to a good hot-water bath, followed by a vigorous shining up, that old cornet had the appearance of a new one - a condition in which I kept the instrument during the whole time it was in my possession.
It is not at all difficult for anyone to keep an instrument in first-class condition, if he only will take as good care of it as he does of his body, and yet I know of scores of players who never use water to cleanse the inside of their instrument - at least not for months, sometimes not for years. The genus "hobo" is too lazy and careless to use water for ablutionary purposes, but are there not many instrumental "hoboes" in the music world?
BAND DUTY IN FULL REGIMENTALS AND BELOW ZERO
After attending band rehearsals regularly for several weeks, the strangeness of my new environment wore off and I began to gain confidence in myself, together with a broader sense of freedom. Then by becoming used to my surroundings in the band room and getting acquainted with the members of the band, who were all good fellows, I began to enjoy the rehearsals. Being only a boy no one paid any particular attention to me, for which I was glad and with my entire being filled and thrilled by the music itself. I even forgot my own identity at times. Then came the eventful moment when orders were read for the band to report with the regiment at the armory on a certain day to perform guard duty at the opening of the Canadian Parliament, which came in the afternoon of that same date. Of course I had to be excused from school, but only with the understanding that the lost lessons must be made up on the following day.
In one of the Gilbert-Sullivan operas the captain of the English Heavy Dragoons sings with pride of the time "When I first put this uniform on," and probably I experienced the same sort of emotion when at last the opportunity came for me to put on my regimental uniform and parade as a "real soldier"; furthermore, I doubt if anyone even can imagine the pride I felt in being immaculate when "all dressed up" in full regalia. I reported at the armory that day on time with the rest of the band, and when the bugle sounded the call to fall in, I stood proudly erect and responded to my name in the roll call like a full grown man. Then followed inspection, which of course was another new experience for me, and I fairly trembled as the officer inspected my uniform from the neck down, I even tried to stretch up a little taller than usual fearing to be called from the ranks as being only a boy fourteen years of age.
I AGE RAPIDLY
As a passing word, at the time when I was "sworn in" to the regiment and had to state my age, the officer in command asked: "What is your age?" "Fourteen, Sir", I said. "You are eighteen!" he said in a tone that would admit of no contradiction. This was the legal age for enlistment, and although too scared to open my mouth, much less to contradict, I was not too frightened to realize that my good friend, Sergeant Young, had "fixed" things for me.
The regiment was formed into line and also carefully inspected, and after a few words to the men from Colonel Otter, the officer in command, the bugle again sounded - this time for Advance! The doors of the armory were then thrown open and I started forth on my first march as a boy-soldier. The parliamentary opening occurred in the month of February, which is quite cold, however, for believe me I was at fever heat with joy and pride. I was so greatly elated that had a bullet gone through me it is doubtful if I would have minded it at the moment.
My troubles began when the band reached the outside air and commenced playing. It was with difficulty that I kept the mouthpiece in place at all while marching, and even at that it slipped and "skidded" so much all around my lips that it was impossible for me to produce a tone. I wonder if any of my readers recall the first time they ever tried to play an instrument while marching in parade line. Well, I did my best and blew as hard as I knew how, but no sound could be induced to come from my cornet. I kept at it, however, working harder than any man in the band, but without results. The other members were used to such kind of work in such sort of weather, and as there were eleven cornetists in the band besides myself (and all playing) my deficiencies were not noticed.
When the first selection was finished the bugle section took up the marching music and carried it on while the band rested, but during the interval of rest (and owing to the intense cold) the valves of my cornet froze so that I could not press any of them down. This frightened me, for in my ignorance of such matters I thought that some dire accident must have happened to the instrument to put it so completely "out of business," and I felt responsible to the Government for the cornet going wrong. I meant to have stated before this that the streets were filled with ice and snow to such an extent that when I tried to march my feet slipped so that it was all I could do to stand up and walk, not to mention playing an instrument at the some time.
But the worst was yet to come, for when the bugle section had finished and the signal was given for the band to start another march, I naturally placed my cornet in position to play. To my consternation the mouthpiece at once stuck to my lips and when trying to take the instrument away from my mouth the skin on my lips came with it, and stuck to the mouthpiece. This of course put me "out of business" as well as the cornet, but I had been taught a great lesson, namely; when playing out of doors in cold weather keep the mouthpiece warm by holding it in the mouth when not playing and never let it get cold. Of course the older members of the band were used to playing under such conditions, and being wise to the predicament that might result protected themselves against it.
The Parliament Building was reached at last, where as Guard of Honor the regiment and band were drawn up in line outside at Present Arms until the ceremonies inside were over, then marched back to the armory for dismissal. The Government pay for this "job" was only fifty cents a man, but whether much or little it was not so much the pay for which I cared as the honor of being permitted to play (or, in this instance, hold) a cornet in the band of this eminent regiment.
The march to and from the Parliament building did not tire me, neither did the extreme cold nor loss of skin from my lips greatly affect me. I was so proud to wear the uniform that nothing else mattered, and I felt greater than any king. Oh how our pride upholds us! I remember of meeting my father when on the way home, but instead of affectionately greeting him as a son naturally should, I simply saluted him and - walked on.
A few of my schoolmates also were with me, and proud to walk with one of the Queen's Own Regiment. But they did not know that I had not played a note during the entire march, nor did I enlighten them. For some days afterwards my poor lips were pretty sore from the loss of skin and I could not practice comfortably. Nevertheless, I had learned several great lessons during the day, and that in a way compensated for the secret humiliation of knowing I had not earned that fifty cents for the parade.