Adventures and Letters of RHD
by Richard Harding Davis

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In a general way, I cannot remember that our life as boys
differed in any essential from that of other boys. My brother
went to the Episcopal Academy and his weekly report never
failed to fill the whole house with an impenetrable gloom and
ever-increasing fears as to the possibilities of his future.
At school and at college Richard was, to say the least, an
indifferent student. And what made this undeniable fact so
annoying, particularly to his teachers, was that morally he
stood so very high. To "crib," to lie, or in any way to cheat
or to do any unworthy act was, I believe, quite beyond his
understanding. Therefore, while his constant lack of interest
in his studies goaded his teachers to despair, when it came to
a question of stamping out wrongdoing on the part of the
student body he was invariably found aligned on the side of
the faculty. Not that Richard in any way resembled a prig or
was even, so far as I know, ever so considered by the most
reprehensible of his fellow students. He was altogether too
red-blooded for that, and I believe the students whom he
antagonized rather admired his chivalric point of honor even
if they failed to imitate it. As a schoolboy he was
aggressive, radical, outspoken, fearless, usually of the
opposition and, indeed, often the sole member of his own
party. Among the students at the several schools he attended
he had but few intimate friends; but of the various little
groups of which he happened to be a member his aggressiveness
and his imagination usually made him the leader. As far back
as I can remember, Richard was always starting something--usually
a new club or a violent reform movement. And in school or
college, as in all the other walks of life, the reformer must,
of necessity, lead a somewhat tempestuous, if happy,
existence. The following letter, written to his father when
Richard was a student at Swarthmore, and about fifteen, will
give an idea of his conception of the ethics in the case:


I am quite on the Potomac. I with all the boys at our table
were called up, there is seven of us, before Prex. for
stealing sugar-bowls and things off the table. All the youths
said, "O President, I didn't do it." When it came my turn I
merely smiled gravely, and he passed on to the last. Then he
said, "The only boy that doesn't deny it is Davis. Davis, you
are excused. I wish to talk to the rest of them." That all
goes to show he can be a gentleman if he would only try. I am
a natural born philosopher so I thought this idea is too
idiotic for me to converse about so I recommend silence and I
also argued that to deny you must necessarily be accused and
to be accused of stealing would of course cause me to bid
Prex. good-by, so the only way was, taking these two
considerations with each other, to deny nothing but let the
good-natured old duffer see how silly it was by retaining a
placid silence and so crushing his base but thoughtless
behavior and machinations.


In the early days at home--that is, when the sun shone--we
played cricket and baseball and football
in our very spacious back yard, and the programme of our
sports was always subject to Richard's change without notice.
When it rained we adjourned to the third-story front, where we
played melodrama of simple plot but many thrills, and it was
always Richard who wrote the plays, produced them, and played
the principal part. As I recall these dramas of my early
youth, the action was almost endless and, although the company
comprised two charming misses (at least I know that they
eventually grew into two very lovely women), there was no time
wasted over anything so sentimental or futile as love-scenes.
But whatever else the play contained in the way of great
scenes, there was always a mountain pass--the mountains being
composed of a chair and two tables--and Richard was forever
leading his little band over the pass while the band, wholly
indifferent as to whether the road led to honor, glory, or
total annihilation, meekly followed its leader. For some
reason, probably on account of my early admiration for Richard
and being only too willing to obey his command, I was
invariably cast for the villain in these early dramas, and the
end of the play always ended in a hand-to-hand conflict
between the hero and myself. As Richard, naturally, was the
hero and incidentally the stronger of the two, it can readily
be imagined that the fight always ended in my complete
undoing. Strangulation was the method usually employed to
finish me, and, whatever else Richard was at that tender age,
I can testify to his extraordinary ability as a choker.