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Ch. 17: A London Winter

From the fall of 1907 to that of 1908 Richard divided his time between Mount Kisco, Marion, and Cuba. In December of 1908 he sailed for London where he took Turner the artist's old house in Chelsea for the winter.


Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

December 25. Christmas Day.

DEAR MOTHER:

We are settled here in Darkest Chelsea as though we had been born here. I am thinking of putting in my time of exile by running for Mayor. Meanwhile, it is a wonderful place in which to write the last chapters of "Once Upon a Time." The house is quite wonderful. In Spring and Summer it must be rarely beautiful. It has trees in front and a yard and a garden and a squash court: a sort of tennis you play against the angles of walls covered smooth with cement. Also a studio as large as a theatre. Outside the trees beat on the windows and birds chirp there. The river flows only forty feet away, with great brown barges on it, and gulls whimper and cry, and aeroplane all day. I have a fine room, and about the only one you can keep as warm as toast SHOULD be, and in England never is.

Cecil has engaged a teacher, and a model and he is coming here to work. He is twenty years old, and called the "boy Sargent." So, as soon as the British public gets sober, we will begin life in earnest, and both work hard. I need not tell you how glad I am to be at it. I was with you all in heart last night and recited as much as I could remember of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," which always means Dad to me, as he used to read it to us. How much he made the day mean to us. I wish I could just slip in for a kiss, and a hug. But tonight we will all drink to you, and a few hours later you will drink to us. God bless you all.

DICK.


December 29th.

DEAR MOTHER:

A blizzard has swept over London. The last one cost the City Corporation $25,000!! The last man who contracted to clean New York of snow was cleaned out by two days of it, to the tune of $200,000. Still, in spite of our alleged superiority in all things, one inch of snow in Chelsea can do more to drive one to drink and suicide than a foot of it "on the farm." At the farm we threw a ton of coal against it, and lit log fires and oil lamps, and were warm. Here, they try to fight it with two buckets of soft chocolate cake called Welch coal, and the result is you freeze. Cecil's studio is like one vast summer hotel at Portland Maine in January. You cannot go near it except in rubber boots, fur coats and woolen gloves. My room still is the only one that is livable. It is four feet square, heavily panelled in oak and the coal fire makes it as warm as a stoke hole. So, I am all right and can work nicely. Janet Sothern came to lunch today and Cecil and she in furs went picture gazing. Tomorrow we have Capt. Chule to dinner. He came up the West coast with us and is accustomed to a temperature of 120 degrees.

New Year's eve we spend with Lady Lewis where we dine and keep it up until four in the morning. We will easily be able to get back here but how we can get a hansom from here to the great city, I can't imagine. I have seen none in five days. It is fine to be surrounded by busts of Carlyle, Whistler, Rosetti and Turner's own, but occasionally you wish for a taxicab. Tomorrow I am going on a spree to the great city of London. The novel goes on smoothly, and all is well. I am still running for Mayor of Chelsea.

Love to you all.

DICK.


LONDON--January 1, 1909.

DEAR MOTHER:

I drank your health and Noll's and Charley's last night and so we all came into the New Year together. I hope it will be as good for me as the last. Certainly Chas. is coming on well with another book. It is splendid. I am so very, very glad. Some of the very best stories anybody has written will be in his next book.

We dined at the Lewis's. There were 150 at dinner and as we live in Chelsea now--one might as well be in Brooklyn--we were a half hour late. Fancy feeling you were keeping 150 people hungry. I sat at Lady Lewis's table with some interesting men and one beautiful woman all dressed in glass over pink silk, and pearls, and pearls and then, pearls. She said "Who am I" and I said "You look like a girl in America, who used to stand under a green paper lamp shade up in a farm house in New Hampshire and play a violin." Whereat there was much applause, because it seemed she was that girl, the daughter of a Mrs. Van S----, who wrote short stories. Her daughter was L---- Van S---- now the wife of a baronet and worth five million dollars. The board we paid then was eight dollars a week. Now, we are dining with her next Monday and as I insisted on gold plate she said "Very well, I'll get out the gold plate." But wasn't it dramatic of me to remember her after twenty two years?

DICK.


LONDON-February 23, 1909.

DEAR MOTHER:

George Washington's health was celebrated by drinking it at dinner. I had been asked to speak at a banquet but for some strange reason could not see myself in the part. The great Frohman arrived last night and we are all agitated until he speaks. If he would only like my plays as some of the actors do, I would be passing rich. Barrie asked himself to lunch yesterday and was very entertaining. He told us of a letter he received from Guy DuMaurier who wrote "An Englishman's Home" which has made a sensation second to nothing in ten years. He is an officer stationed at a small post in South Africa. He wrote Barrie he was at home, very blue and homesick, and outside it was raining. Then came Barrie's long cable, at 75 cents a word, saying his play was the success of the year. He did not know even it had been ACCEPTED. He shouted to his wife, and they tried to dance but the hut was too small, so they ran out into the compound and danced in the rain. Then he sent the Kaffir boys to the mess to bring all the officers and all the champagne and they did not go to bed at all. The next day cables, still at three shillings a word came from papers and magazines and publishers, managers, syndicates. And, in his letter he says, still not appreciating what a fuss it has made, "I suppose all it needs now is to be made a question in the House," when already it has been the text of half a dozen speeches by Cabinet Ministers, and three companies are playing it in the provinces. What fun to have a success come in such a way, not even to know it was being rehearsed. Today Sargent is here to see what is wrong with Cecil's picture of Janet. He came early and said he couldn't tell until he saw Janet, so now he is back again, and both Janet and Cecil are shaking with excitement. He is the most simple, kindly genius I ever met. He says the head is very fine and I guess Cecil suspected that, before she called him in. He says she must send it to the Royal Academy. I am now going out to hear more words fall from the great man, and so farewell. Seymour and I began work yesterday on the Dictator. It went very smooth. All my love to Noll and to you.

DICK.


Read the other letter first and then, let me tell you that when I went out to see Sargent, I found Cecil complaining that she could not understand just how it was he wanted Janet to pose. Whereat she handed him a piece of chalk and he made a sketch of Janet as exquisite as the morning and rubbed his hands of the charcoal and left it there! It's only worth a hundred pounds! Can you imagine the nerve of Cecil. I was so shocked I could only gasp. But, he was quite charming and begged her to call him next time she got in a scrape, and gave her his private telephone number.

Fancy having Sargent waiting to be called up to make sketches for you. I left Janet and Cecil giggling with happiness. Janet because she had been sketched by him and Cecil because she has the sketch. It's a three fourths length three feet high, and he did it in ten minutes. I am now going to ask her to invite the chef of the Ritz in, to give us a sketch of cooking a dinner.

DICK.


Richard Harding Davis