Adventures and Letters by Richard Harding Davis - HTML preview

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The Last Days

 

After a short visit to London, Richard returned to New York in February, 1916. During his absence his wife and Hope had occupied the Scribner cottage at Mount Kisco, about two miles from Crossroads. Here my brother finished his second book on the war, and wrote numerous articles and letters urging the immediate necessity for preparedness in this country. As to Richard's usefulness to his country at this time, I quote in part from two appreciations written after my brother's death by the two most prominent exponents of preparedness.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

"He was as good an American as ever lived, and his heart flamed against cruelty and injustice. His writings form a text-book of Americanism which all our people would do well to read at the present time."

Major-General Leonard Wood said:

"The death of Richard Harding Davis was a real loss to the movement for preparedness.

Mr. Davis had an extensive experience as a military observer, and thoroughly appreciated the need of a general training system like that of Australia or Switzerland and of thorough organization of our industrial resources in, order to establish a condition of reasonable preparedness in this country. A few days before his death he came to Governors Island for the purpose of ascertaining in what line of work he could be most useful in building up sound public opinion in favor of such preparedness as would give us a real peace insurance. His mind was bent on devoting his energies and abilities to the work of public education on this vitally important subject, and few men were better qualified to do so, for he had served as a military observer in many campaigns.

"Throughout the Cuban campaign he was attached to the headquarters of my regiment in Cuba as a military observer. He was with the advanced party at the opening of the fight at Las Guasiinas, and was distinguished throughout the fight by coolness and good conduct.

He also participated in the battle of San Juan and the siege of Santiago, and as an observer was always where duty called him. He was a delightful companion, cheerful, resourceful, and thoughtful of the interests and wishes of others. His reports of the game were valuable and among the best and most accurate.

"The Plattsburg movement took a very strong hold of him. He saw in this a great instrument for building up a sound knowledge concerning our military history and policy, also a very practical way of training men for the duties of junior officers. He realized fully that we should need in case of war tens of thousands of officers with our newly raised troops, and that it would be utterly impossible to prepare them in the hurry and confusion of the onrush of modern war. His heart was filled with a desire to serve his country to the best of his ability. His recent experience in Europe pointed out to him the absolute madness of longer disregarding the need of doing those things which reasonable preparedness dictates, the things which cannot be accomplished after trouble is upon us.

He had in mind at the time of his death a series of articles to be written especially to build up interest in universal military training through conveying to our people an understanding of what organization as it exists to-day means, and how vitally important it is for our people to do in time of peace those things which modern war does not permit done once it is under way.

"Davis was a loyal friend, a thoroughgoing American devoted to the best interests of his country, courageous, sympathetic, and true. His loss has been a very real one to all of us who knew and appreciated him, and in his death the cause of preparedness has lost an able worker and the country a devoted and loyal citizen."

Although suffering from his strenuous experiences in France, and more particularly from those in Greece, Richard continued to accomplish his usual enormous amount of work, and during these weeks wrote his last short story, "The Deserter."

The following letter was written to me while I was in the Bahamas and was in reference to a novel which I had dedicated to Hope:

MOUNT KISCO--February 28, 1916.

DEAR OLD MAN:

No word yet of the book, except the advts. I enclose. I will send you the notices as soon as they begin to appear. I am so happy over the dedication, and, very proud. So, Hope will be when she knows. As I have not read the novel it all will come as a splendid and pleasant surprise. I am looking forward to sitting down to it with all the pleasure in the world.

You chose the right moment to elope. Never was weather so cold, cruel and bitter. Hope is the only one who goes out of doors.

I start the fires in the Big House tomorrow and the plumbers and paper hangers, painters enter the day after.

The attack on Verdun makes me sick. I was there six weeks ago in one of the forts but of course could not then nor can I now write of it. I don't believe the drive ever can get through. For two reasons, and the unmilitary one is that I believe in a just God. Give my love to Dai, and for you always

DICK.

P. S. I am happy you are both so happy, but those post cards with the palms were cruelty to animals.

On the 21st of March, 1916, Richard and his wife and daughter moved from the Scribner cottage to Crossroads, and a few days later he was attacked by the illness that ended in his death on April 11. He had dined with his wife and afterward had worked on an article on preparedness, written some letters and telegrams concerning the same subject and, while repeating one of the latter over the telephone, was stricken. Within a week of his fifty-third year, just one year from the day he had first brought his baby daughter to her real home, doing the best and finest work of his career in the cause of the Allies and preparedness, quite unconscious that the end was near, he left us. In those fifty-two years he had crowded the work, the pleasures, the kind, chivalrous deeds of many men, and he died just as I am sure he would have wished to die, working into the night for a great cause, and although ill and tired, still fretful for the morning that he might again take up the fight.

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