"In 1914 a motion-picture company arranged to make a feature film of the play, and Dick and I went with their outfit to Santiago de Cuba, where, twenty years earlier, he had found the inspiration for his story and out of which city and its environs he had fashioned his supposititious republic of Olancho. On that trip he was the idol of the company. With the men in the smoking-room of the steamer there were the numberless playful stories, in the rough, of the experiences on all five continents and seven seas that were the backgrounds of his published tales.
"At Santiago, if an official was to be persuaded to consent to some unprecedented seizure of the streets, or a diplomat invoked for the assistance of the Army or the Navy, it was the experience and good judgment of Dick Davis that controlled the task. In the field there were his helpful suggestions of work and make up to the actors, and on the boat and train and in hotel and camp the lady members met in him an easy courtesy and understanding at once fraternal and impersonal.
"The element that he could not put into the account and which is particularly pertinent to this page, is the author of `Soldiers of Fortune' as he revealed himself to me both with intention and unconsciously in the presence of the familiar scenes.
"For three weeks, with the exception of one or two occasions when some local dignitary captured the revisiting lion, he and I spent our evenings together at a cafe table overlooking `The Great Square,' which he sketches so deftly in its atmosphere when Clay and the Langhams and Stuart dine there. At one end of the plaza the President's band was playing native waltzes that came throbbing through the trees and beating softly above the rustling skirts and clinking spurs of the senoritas and officers sweeping by in two opposite circles around the edges of the tessellated pavements. Above the palms around the square arose the dim, white facade of the Cathedral, with the bronze statue of Anduella the liberator of Olancho, who answered with his upraised arm and cocked hat the cheers of an imaginary populace.
"Twenty years had gone by since Dick had received the impression that wrote those lines, and now sometimes after dinner half a long cigar would burn out as he mused over the picture and the dreams that had gone between. From one long silence he said: `I think I'll come back here this winter and bring Mrs. Davis with me--stay a couple of months.' What a fine compliment to a wife to have the thought of her and that plan emerge from that deep and romantic background.
"The picture people began their film with a showing of the `mountains which jutted out into the ocean and suggested roughly the five knuckles of a giant's hand clenched and lying flat upon the surface of the water.' That formation of the sea wall is just outside of Santiago. `The waves tunnelled their way easily enough until they ran up against those five mountains and then they had to fall back.' How natural for one of us to be unimpressed by such a feature of the landscape and yet how characteristic of Dick Davis to see the elemental fight that it recorded and get the hint for the whole of the engineering struggle that is so much of his book.
"We went over those mountains together, where two decades before he had planted his banner of romance. We visited the mines and the railroads and everywhere found some superintendent or foreman or engineer who remembered Davis. He had guessed at nothing. Everywhere he had overlaid the facts with adventure and with beauty, but he had been on sure footing all the time. His prototype of MacWilliams was dead. Together we visited the wooden cross with which the miners had marked his grave.
CHAPTER XIX VERA CRUZ AND THE GREAT WAR