Adventures and Letters by Richard Harding Davis - HTML preview
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The years 1896--1897 were probably the most active of Richard's very active life. In the space of twelve months he reported the Coronation at Moscow, the Millennial Celebration at Budapest, the Spanish-Cuban War, the McKinley Inauguration, the Greek-Turkish War and the Queen's Jubilee. Although this required a great deal of time spent in travelling, Richard still found opportunity to do considerable work on his novel "Captain Macklin," to which he refers in one of his letters from London.
As correspondent of the New York American, then The Journal, Richard went from Florence, where he was visiting me, to Moscow. He was accompanied by Augustus Trowbridge, an old friend of my brother's and a rarely good linguist. The latter qualification proved of the greatest possible assistance to Richard in his efforts to witness the actual coronation ceremony. To have finally been admitted to the Kremlin my brother always regarded as one of his greatest successes as a correspondent.
En route--May 1896.
The night is passed and with the day comes "a hope" but during the blackness I had "a suffer"-- I read until two--five hours--and then slept until five when the middle man who had slept on my shoulder all night left the train and the second one to whom Bernardi was so polite left me alone and had the porter fit me up a bed so that I slept until seven again-- Then the Guardian Angel returned for his traps and I bade him a sleepy adieu and was startled to see two soldiers standing shading their eyes in salute in the doorway and two gentlemen bowing to my kind protector with the obsequiousness of servants-- He sort of smiled back at me and walked away with the soldiers and 13 porters carrying his traps.
So I rung up the conductor and he said it was the King's Minister with his eyes sticking out of his head--the conductor's eyes--not the Minister's. I don't know what a King's Minister is but he liked your whiskey-- I am now passing through the Austrian Tyrol which pleases me so much that I am chortling with joy-- None of the places for which my ticket call are on any map--but don't you care, I don't care-- I wish I could adequately describe last night with nothing but tunnels hours in length so that you had to have all the windows down and the room looked like a safe and full of tobacco smoke and damp spongey smoke from the engine, and bad air. That first compartment I went in was filled later with German women who took off their skirts and the men took off their shoes.
Everybody in the rear of the car is filthy dirty but I had a wash at the Custom house and now I am almost clean and quite happy. The day is beautiful and the compartment is all my own-- I am absolutely enchanted with the Tyrol-- I have never seen such quaint picture book houses and mills with wheels like that in the Good for Nothing and crucifixes wonderfully carved and snow mountains and dark green forests-- The sky is perfect and the air is filled with the sun and the train moves so smoothly that I can see little blue flowers, baby blue, Bavarian blue flowers, in the Spring grass. Such dear old castles like birds nests and such homelike old mills and red-faced millers with feathers in their caps you never saw out of a comic opera-- The man in here with me now is a Russian, of course, and saw the last Coronation and knows that my suite is on the principal Street and attends to my changing money and getting an omelette-- I can survive another night now having had an omelette not so good as Madam Masi's but still an omelette-- I have now left Munich and the Russian and a conductor whom I mistook for a hereditary prince of Bavaria, with tassels down his back, has assured me he is going to Berlin, and that I am going to Berlin and much else to which I smile knowingly and say mucho gracia, wee wee, ya ya, ich ich limmer and other long speeches ending with "an er--"
May 15th, 1896. Moscow.
We left Berlin Monday night at eleven and slept well in a wagon-lit. That was the only night out of the five that I spent in the cars that I had my clothes off, although I was able to stretch out on the seats, so I am cramped and tired now. At seven Monday morning the guard woke us and told us to get ready for the Custom House and I looked out and saw a melancholy country of green hills and black pines and with no sign of human life. It was raining and dreary looking and then I saw as we passed them a line of posts painted in black and white stripes a half mile apart on each side of the train and I knew we had crossed the boundary and that the line of posts stretched from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea and from the Pacific to the Caucasus Mountains and the Pamirs. It gave me a great thrill but I have had so many to-day, that I had almost forgotten that one. For two days we jogged along through a level country with meanthatched huts and black crows flying continually and peasants in sheepskin coats, full in the skirt and tight at the waist, with boots or thongs of leather around their feet. The women wore boots too and all the men who were not soldiers had their hair cropped short like mops. We could not find any one who understood any language, so as we never knew when we would stop for food, we ate at every station and I am of the opinion that for months I have been living on hot tea and caviar and hash sandwiches. The snow fell an inch deep on Wednesday and dried up again in an hour and the sun shone through it all. So on the whole it was a good trip and most interesting. But here we are now in a perfect pandemonium and the Czar has not yet come nor one-fifth even of the notables. It is a great city, immense and overpowering in its extent. The houses are ugly low storied and in hideous colors except the churches which are like mosques and painted every color. I confess I feel beaten to night by the noise and rush and roar and by so many strange figures and marvellous costumes. Our rooms are perfect that is one thing and the situation is the very best. If the main street were Fifth Avenue and Madison Square the Governor's Square, his palace would be Delmonico's and our rooms would be the corner rooms of the Brunswick, so you can see how well we are placed. We can sit in our windows and look down and up the main street and see every one who leaves or calls upon the Governor. We are now going out for a dinner and to one of many cafe-chantants and I will tell you the rest tomorrow, when I get sleep, for after five nights of it I feel done up, but I feel equally sure it is going to be a great experience and I cannot tell you how glad 1 am that I came. Love to you all and to dear Florence in which Trowbridge, who is a brick, joins me.
There was a great deal to tell when I shut down last night, but I thought I would have had things settled by this time and waited, but it looks now as though there was to be no rest for the weary until the Czar has put his crown on his head. The situation is this: there are ninety correspondents, and twelve are to get into the coronation, two of these will be Americans. There are five trying for it.
Count Daschoff, the Minister of the Court, has the say as to who gets in of those five. T. and I called on him with my credentials just as he was going out. Never have I seen such a swell. He made us feel like dudes from Paterson, New Jersey. He had three diamond eagles in an astrakan cap, a white cloak, a gray uniform, top boots and three rows of medals. He spoke English perfectly, with the most politely insolent manner that I have ever had to listen to; and eight servants, each of whom we had, in turn, mistaken for a prince royal, bowed at him all the brief time he talked over our heads. He sent us to the bureau for correspondents, where they gave me a badge and a pocketbook, with my photo in it. They are good for nothing, except to get through the police lines. No one at the bureau gave us the least encouragement as to my getting in at the coronation. We were frantic, and I went back to Breckenridge, our Minister, and wrote him a long letter explaining what had happened, and that what I wrote would "live," that I was advertised and had been advertised to write this story for months. I dropped The Journal altogether, and begged him to represent me as a literary light of the finest color. This he did in a very strong letter to Daschoff, and I presented it this morning, but the Minister, like Edison, said he would let me know when he could see me. Then I wrote Breck a letter of thanks so elegant and complimentary that he answered with another, saying if his first failed he would try again. That means he is for me, and at the bureau they say whichever one he insists on will get in, but they also say he is so good-natured that he helps every one who comes. I told him this, and he has promised to continue in my behalf as soon as we hear from Daschoff.
The second thing of importance is the getting the story, IF WE GET IT, on the wire. That, I am happy to say, we are as assured of as I could hope to be. I own the head of the Telegraph Bureau soul, body and mind. He loves the ground T. and I spurn, and he sent out my first cable today, one of interrogation merely, ahead of twelve others; he has also given us the entree to a private door to his office, all the other correspondents having to go to the press-rooms and undergo a sort of press censorship, which entails on each man the cutting up of his story into three parts, so as to give all a chance. I gave T. three dictums to guide him; the first was that we did not want a fair chance--we wanted an unfair advantage over every one else. Second, to never accept a "No" or a "Yes" from a subordinate, but to take everything from head-quarters. Third, to use every mouse, and not to trust to the lions. He had practise on the train. When he told me we would be in Moscow in ten hours, I would say, "Who told you that," and back he would go to the Herr Station Director in a red gown, and return to say that we would get there in twenty hours. By this time I will match him against any newspaper correspondent on earth. He flatters, lies, threatens and bribes with a skill and assurance that is simply beautiful, and his languages and his manners pull me out of holes from which I could never have risen. With it all he is as modest as can be, and says I am the greatest diplomat out of office, which I really think he believes, but I am only using old reporters' ways and applying the things other men did first.
My best stroke was to add to my cable to The Journal, "Recommend ample recognition of special facilities afforded by telegraph official"--and then get him to read it himself under the pretext of wishing to learn if my writing was legible. He grinned all over himself, and said it was. After my first story is gone I will give him 200 roubles for himself in an envelope and say Journal wired me to do it. That will fix him for the coronation story, as it amounts to six months' wages about. But, my dear brother, in your sweet and lovely home, where the sun shines on the Cascine and the workmen sleep on the bridges, and dear old ladies knit in the streets, that is only one of the thousand things we have had to do. It would take years to give you an account of what we have done and why we do it. It is like a game of whist and poker combined and we bluff on two flimsy fours, and crawl the next minute to a man that holds a measly two-spot. There is not a wire we have not pulled, or a leg, either, and we go dashing about all day in a bath-chair, with a driver in a bell hat and a blue nightgown, leaving cards and writing notes and giving drinks and having secretaries to lunch and buying flowers for wives and cigar boxes for husbands, and threatening the Minister with Cleveland's name.
John A. Logan, Jr., is coming dressed in a Russian Uniform, and he wore it on the steamer, and says he is the special guest of the Czar and the Secretary of the visiting mission. Mrs. P. P. is paying $10,000 for a hotel for one week. That is all the gossip there is. We lunched with the McCooks today and enjoyed hearing American spoken, and they were apparently very glad to have us, and made much of T. and of me. We only hope they can help us; and I am telling the General the only man to meet is Daschoff, and when he does I will tell him to tell Daschoff I am the only man to be allowed in the coronation. I wish I could tell you about the city, but we see it only out of the corner of our eyes as we dash to bureau after bureau and "excellency" and "royal highness" people, and then dash off to strengthen other bridges and make new friends. It is great fun, and I am very happy and T. is having the time of his life. He told me he would rather be with me on this trip than travel with the German Emperor, and you will enjoy to hear that he wrote Sarah I was the most "good-natured" man he ever met. God bless you all, and dear, dear Florence. Lots of love.
I have just sent off my coronation story, and the strain of this thing, which has really been on me for six months, is off. You can imagine what a relief it is, or, rather, you cannot, for no one who has not been with us these last ten days can know what we have had to do. The story I sent is not a good one. It was impossible to tell it by cable, and the first one on the entry was a much better one. I do not care much, though; of course, I do care, as I ought to have made a great hit with it, but there was no time, and there was so much detail and minutia that I could not treat it right. However, after the awful possibility, or rather certainty, that we have had to face of not getting any story at all, I am only too thankful. I would not do it again for ten thousand dollars. Edwin Arnold, who did it for The Telegraph, had $25,000, and if I told you of the way Hearst acted and Ralph interfered with impertinent cables, you would wonder I am sane. They never sent me a cent for the cables until it was so late that I could not get it out of the bank, and we have spent and borrowed every penny we have. Imagine having to write a story and to fight to be allowed a chance to write it, and at the same time to be pressed for money for expenses and tolls so that you were worn out by that alone. The brightest side of the whole thing was the way everybody in this town was fighting for me. The entire town took sides, and even men who disliked me, and who I certainly dislike, like C. W. and R---- of the Paris Embassy, turned in and fought for my getting in like relations. And the women--I had grand dukes and ambassadors and princes, whom I do not know by sight, moving every lever, and as Stanhope of The Herald, testified "every man, woman and child in the visiting and resident legation is crazy on the subject of getting Davis into the coronation." They made it a personal matter, and when I got my little blue badge, the women kissed me and each other, and cheered, and the men came to congratulate me, and acted exactly as though they had got it themselves.
It was a beautiful sight; the Czarina much more beautiful and more sad-looking than ever before. But it was not solemn enough, and the priests groaned and wailed and chanted and sang, and every one stood still and listened. All that the Czar and Czarina did was over ten minutes after they entered the chapel, and then for three hours the priests took the center of the stage and groaned. I was there from seven until one. Six solid hours standing and writing on my hat. It was a fine hat, for we were in court costume, I being a distinguished visitor, as well as a correspondent. That was another thing that annoyed me, because Breckinridge, who has acted like a brick, did not think he could put me on both lists, so I chose the correspondents' list, of course, in hopes of seeing the ceremony, but knowing all the time that that meant no balls or functions, so that had I lost the ceremony I would have had nothing; but he arranged it so that I am on both lists. Not that I care now. For I am tired to death; and Trowbridge did not get on either list, thanks to the damned Journal and to his using all his friends to help me, so that I guess I will get out and go to Buda Pest and meet you in Paris. Do not consider this too seriously, for I am writing it just after finishing my cable and having spent the morning on my toes in the chapel. I will feel better tomorrow. Anyway, it is done and I am glad, as it was the sight of the century, and I was in it, and now I can spend my good time and money in gay Paree. Love to all.
From Moscow Richard went direct to Buda Pest, where he wrote an article on the Hungarian Millennial.
BUDA PEST, May 8th, 1896.
I have just returned from the procession of the Hungarian Nobles. It was even more beautiful and more interesting than the Czar's entry than which I would not have believed anything could have been more impressive-- But the first was military, except for the carriages, which were like something out of fairyland--to-day, the costumes were all different and mediaeval, some nine hundred years old and none nearer than the 15th Century. The mis en scene was also much better. Buda is a clean, old burgh, with yellow houses rising on a steep green hill, red roofs and towers and domes, showing out of the trees-- It is very high but very steep and the procession wound in and out like a fairy picture-- I sat on the top of the hill, looking down it to the Danube, which separates Buda from Pest-- The Emperor sat across the square about 75 yards from our tribune in the balcony of his palace. We sat in the Palace yard and the procession passed and turned in front of us-- There were about 1,500 nobles, each dressed to suit himself, in costumes that had descended for generations--of brocade, silk, fur, and gold and silver cloth-- Each costume averaged, with the trappings of the horse, 5,000 dollars. Some cost $1,000, some $15,000. Some wore complete suits of chain armor, with bearskins and great black eagle feathers on their spears just as they were when they invaded Rome-- Others wore gold chain armor and leopard or wolf skins and their horses were studded with turquoises and trappings of gold and silver and smothered in silver coins-- It would have been ridiculous if they had not been the real thing in every detail and if you had not known how terribly in earnest the men were. There is no other country in the world where men change from the most blase and correct of beings, to fairy princes in tights and feathers and jewelled belts and satin coats-- They were an hour in passing and each one seemed more beautiful than the others-- I am very glad I came although I was disappointed at missing the accident at Moscow. It must have been more terrible than Johnstown. I found the ----s quite converted into the most awful snobs but the people they worship are as simple and well bred as all gentle people are and I have had the most delightful time with them. It is so small and quiet after Moscow, and instead of being lost in an avalanche of embassies and suites and missions, I have a distinct personality, as "the American," which I share with "the" Frenchman and four Englishmen. We are the only six strangers and they give us the run of all that is going on-- At night we dine at the most remarkable club in the world, on the border of the Park, where the best of all the Gypsey musicians plays for us-- The music is alone worth having come to hear, and the dear souls who play it, having been told that I like it follow me all around the terrace and sit down three feet away and fix their eyes on you, and then proceed to pull your nerves and heart out of you for an hour at a time-- One night a man here dipped a ten thousand franc note in his champagne and pasted it on the leader's violin and bowed his thanks, and the leader bowed in return and the next morning sent him the note back in an envelope, saying that the compliment was worth more than the money-- The leader's name is Berchey and the Hungarians have never allowed him to leave the country for fear he would not be allowed to come back-- He is a fat, half drunken looking man, with his eyes full of tears half the time he plays. He looks just like a setter dog and he is so terribly in earnest that when he fixes me with his eyes and plays at me, the court ladies all get up and move their chairs out of his way just as though he were a somnambulist--
I leave here Wednesday and reach Paris Friday MORNING the eleventh-- You must try to meet me at the Cafe de la Paix at half past nine-- Wait in the corner room if you don't wish to sit outside and as soon as I get washed I will join you for coffee. It will be fine to see you again and to be done with jumping about from hotel to hotel and to be able to read the signs and to know how to ask for food. Russian, German and Hungarian have made French seem like my mother tongue--