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Ch. 15: Mount Kisco

During my brother's life there were four centres from which he set forth on his travels and to which he returned to finish the articles for which he had collected the material, or perhaps to write a novel, a few short stories, or occasionally a play, but unlike most of the followers of his craft, never to rest. Indeed during the last twenty-five years of his life I do not recall two consecutive days when Richard did not devote a number of hours to literary work. The centres of which I speak were first Philadelphia, then New York, then Marion, and lastly Mount Kisco. Happy as Richard had been at Marion, the quaint little village, especially in winter, was rather inaccessible, and he realized that to be in touch with the numerous affairs in which he was interested that his headquarters should be in or near New York. In addition to this he had for long wanted a home of his very own, and so located that he could have his family and his friends constantly about him. Some years, however, elapsed between this dream and its realization. In 1903 he took the first step by purchasing a farm situated in the Westchester Hills, five miles from Mount Kisco, New York. He began by building a lake at the foot of the hill on which the home was to stand, then a water-tower, and finally the house itself. The plans to the minutest detail had been laid out on the lawn at Marion and, as the architect himself said, there was nothing left for him to do but to design the cellar.

Richard and his wife moved into their new home in July, 1905, and called it Crossroads Farm, keeping the original name of the place. In later years Richard added various adjoining parcels of land to his first purchase, and the property eventually included nearly three hundred acres. The house itself was very large, very comfortable, and there were many guest-rooms which every week-end for long were filled by the jolliest of house-parties. In his novel "The Blind Spot," Justus Miles Forman gives the following very charming picture of the place:

"It was a broad terrace paved with red brick that was stained and a little mossy, so that it looked much older than it had any right to, and along its outer border there were bay-trees set in big Italian terracotta jars; but the bay-trees were placed far apart so that they should not mask the view, and that was wise, for it was a fine view. It is rugged country in that part of Westchester County--like a choppy sea: all broken, twisted ridges, and abrupt little hills, and piled-up boulders, and hollow, cup-like depressions among them. The Grey house sat, as it were, upon the lip of a cup, and from the southward terrace you looked across a mile or two of hollow bottom, with a little lake at your feet, to sloping pastures where there were cattle browsing, and to the far, high hills beyond.

"There was no magnificence about the outlook--nothing to make you catch your breath; but it was a good view with plenty of elbow room and no sign of a neighbor--no huddling--only the water of the little lake, the brown November hillsides, and the clean blue sky above. The distant cattle looked like scenic cattle painted on their green-bronze pasture to give an aspect of husbandry to the scene."

Although Richard was now comfortably settled, he had of late years acquired a great dread of cold weather. As soon as winter set in his mind turned to the tropics, and whenever it was possible he went to Cuba or some other land where he was sure of plenty of heat and sunshine. The early part of 1906 found him at Havana, this time on a visit to the Hon. E. V. Morgan, who was then our minister to Cuba. From Havana he went to the Isle of Pines.


ISLE OF PINES, March 26th, 1906.

DEAR MOTHER:--

We are just returning from the Isle of Pines. We reached there after a day on the water at about six on Wednesday, 22nd. They dropped us at a woodshed in a mangrove swamp, where a Mr. Mason met us with two mules. I must have said I was going to the island because every one was expecting me. Until the night before we had really no idea when we would go, so, to be welcomed wherever we went, was confusing. For four days we were cut off from the world, and in that time, five days in all, we covered the entire island pretty thoroughly-- It was one of the most interesting trips I ever took and Cecil enjoyed it as much as I did. The island is a curious mixture of palm and pines, one minute it looks like Venezuela and the next like Florida and Lakewood. It is divided into two parties of Americans, the "moderates" and the "revolutionists." The Cubans are very few and are all employed by the Americans, who own nine-tenths of the Island. Of course, they all want the U. S. to take it, they differ only as to how to persuade the senators to do it. I had to change all my opinions about the situation. I thought it was owned by land speculators who did not live there, nor wish to live there, but instead I found every one I met had built a home and was cultivating the land. We gave each land company a turn at me, and we had to admire orange groves and pineapples, grapefruit and coffee until we cried for help. With all this was the most romantic history of the island before the "gringos" came. It was a famous place for pirates and buried treasures and slave pens. It was a sort of clearing house for slaves where they were fattened. I do not believe people take much interest in or know anything about it, but I am going to try and make an interesting story of it for Collier. It was queer to be so completely cut off from the world. There was a wireless but they would not let me use it. It is not yet opened to the public. I talked to every one I met and saw much that was pathetic and human. It was the first pioneer settlement Cecil had ever seen and the American making the ways straight is very curious. He certainly does not adorn whatever he touches. But never have I met so many enthusiastics and such pride in locality. To-night we reach the Hotel Louvre, thank heaven! where I can get Spanish food again, and not American ginger bread, and, "the pie like mother used to make." We now are on a wretched Spanish tug boat with every one, myself included, very seasick and babies howling and roosters crowing. But soon that will be over, and, after a short ride of thirty miles through a beautiful part of the island, we will be in Havana in time for a fine dinner, with ice. What next we will do I am not sure. After living in that beautiful palace of Morgan's, it just needed five days of the "Pinero's" to make us enjoy life at a hotel-- If we can make connections, I think I will go over to Santo Domingo, and study up that subject, too. But, even if we go no where else the trip to the I. of P. was alone well worth our long journey. I don't know when I have seen anything as curious, and as complicated a political existence. Love to all of you dear ones.

DICK.


HAVANA--April 9, 1906.

ARTHUR BARTLETT MAURICE, ESQ.

MY DEAR MAURICE:

I have just read about myself, in the April Bookman, which I would be very ungrateful if I did not write and tell you how much it pleased me. That sounds as though what pleased me was, obviously, that what you said was so kind. But what I really mean, and that for which I thank you, was your picking out things that I myself liked, and that I would like to think others liked. I know that the men make "breaks," and am sorry for it, but, I forget to be sorry when you please me by pointing out the good qualities in "Laquerre," and the bull terrier. Nothing ever hurt me so much as the line used by many reviewers of "Macklin" that "Mr. Davis' hero is a cad, and Mr. Davis cannot see it." Macklin I always thought was the best thing I ever did, and it was the one over which I took the most time and care. Its failure was what as Maggie Cline used to say, "drove me into this business" of play writing. All that ever was said of it was that it was "A book to read on railroad trains and in a hammock." That was the verdict as delivered to me by Romeike from 300 reviewers, and it drove me to farces. So, I was especially glad when you liked "Royal Macklin." I tried to make a "hero" who was vain, theatrical, boasting and selfconscious, but, still likable. But, I did not succeed in making him of interest, and it always has hurt me. Also, your liking the "Derelict" and the "Fever Ship" gave me much pleasure. You see what I mean, it was your selecting the things upon which I had worked, and with which I had made every effort, that has both encouraged and delighted me. Being entirely unprejudiced, I think it is a fine article, and as soon as I stamp this, I will read it over again. So, thank you very much, indeed, for to say what you did seriously, over your own name, took a lot of courage, and for that daring, and for liking the same things I do, I thank you many times.

Sincerely yours,

RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.


In reading this over, I find all I seem to have done in it is to complain because no one, but yourself and myself liked "Macklin." What I wanted to say is, that I am very grateful for the article, for the appreciation, although I don't deserve it, and for your temerity in saying so many kind things. Nothing that has been written about what I have written has ever pleased me so much.

R. H. D.


In the spring of 1906 while Richard was on a visit to Providence, R. I., Henry W. Savage produced a play by Jesse Lynch Williams and my brother was asked to assist at rehearsals, a pastime in which he found an enormous amount of pleasure. The "McCloy" mentioned in the following letter was the city editor of The Evening Sun when my brother first joined the staff of that paper as a reporter.


NEW YORK, May 4, 1906.

DEAR NORA:

I left Providence Tuesday night and came on to New York yesterday. Savage and Williams and all were very nice about the help they said I had given them, and I had as much fun as though it had been a success I had made myself, and I didn't have to make a speech, either.

Yesterday I spent in the newspaper offices gathering material from their envelopes on Winston Churchill, M. P. who is to be one of my real Soldiers of Fortune. He will make a splendid one, in four wars, twice made a question; before he was 21 years old, in Parliament, and a leader in BOTH parties before he was 36. In the newspaper offices they had a lot of fun with me. When I came into the city room of The Eve. Sun, McCloy was at his desk in his shirt spiking copy. He just raised his eyes and went on with his blue pencil. I said "There's nothing in that story, sir, the man will get well, and the woman is his wife."

"Make two sticks of it," said McCloy, "and then go back to the Jefferson police court."

When I sat down at my old desk, and began to write the copy boy came and stood beside me and when I had finished the first page, snatched it. I had to explain I was only taking notes.

At The Journal, Sam Chamberlain who used to pay me $500 a story, touched me on the shoulder as I was scribbling down notes, and said "Hearst says to take you back at $17 a week." I said "I'm worth $18 and I can't come for less." So he brought up the business manager and had a long wrangle with him as to whether I should get $18. The business manager, a Jew gentleman, didn't know me from Adam, and seriously tried to save the paper a dollar a week. When the reporters and typewriter girls began to laugh, he got very mad. It was very funny how soothing was the noise of the presses, and the bells and typewriters and men yelling "Copy!" and "Damn the boy!" I could write better than if I had been in the silence of the farm. It was like being able to sleep as soon as the screw starts.

DICK.


Richard Harding Davis