The Naulahka: A Story of West and East, by Rudyard Kipling

VII

There is pleasure in the wet, wet clay,
    When the artist’s hand is potting it;
There is pleasure in the wet, wet lay,
    When the poet’s pad is blotting it;
There is pleasure in the shine of your picture on the line
    At the Royal Acade-my;
But the pleasure felt in these is as chalk to Cheddar cheese,
    When it comes to a well-made Lie
        To a quite unwreckable Lie,
        To a most impeccable Lie,
To a water-tight, fireproof, angle-iron, sunk-hinge, time-lock,
steel-faced Lie!
        Not a private hansom Lie,
        But a pair and brougham Lie,
Not a little place at Tooting, but a country-house with shooting,
        And a ring-fence, deer-park Lie.

— Op. 3.

A common rest-house in the desert is not overstocked with furniture or carpets. One table, two chairs, a rack on the door for clothing, and a list of charges, are sufficient for each room; and the traveller brings his own bedding. Tarvin read the tariff with deep interest before falling asleep that night, and discovered that this was only in a distant sense a hotel, and that he was open to the danger of being turned out at twelve hours’ notice, after he had inhabited his unhomely apartment for a day and a night.

Before he went to bed he called for pen and ink, and wrote a letter to Mrs. Mutrie on the notepaper of his land and improvement company. Under the map of Colorado, at the top, which confidently showed the railroad system of the State converging at Topaz, was the legend, ‘N. Tarvin, Real Estate and Insurance Agent.’ The tone of his letter was even more assured than the map.

He dreamed that night that the Maharajah was swapping the Naulahka with him for town lots. His Majesty backed out just as they were concluding the deal, and demanded that Tarvin should throw in his own favourite mine, the ‘Lingering Lode,’ to boot. In his dream Tarvin had kicked at this, and the Maharajah had responded, ‘All right, my boy; no Three C.‘s then,’ and Tarvin had yielded the point, had hung the Naulahka about Mrs. Mutrie’s neck, and in the same breath had heard the Speaker of the Colorado legislature declaring that since the coming of the Three C.‘s he officially recognised Topaz as the metropolis of the West. Then, perceiving that he himself was the Speaker, Tarvin began to doubt the genuineness of these remarks, and awoke, with aloes in his mouth, to find the dawn spreading over Rhatore, and beckoning him out to the conquests of reality.

He was confronted in the verandah by a grizzled, bearded, booted native soldier on a camel, who handed down to him a greasy little brown book, bearing the legend, Please write ‘seen.’

Tarvin looked at this new development from the heated landscape with interest, but not with an outward effect of surprise. He had already learned one secret of the East — never to be surprised at anything He took the book and read, on a thumbed page, the announcement, ‘Divine services conducted on Sundays in the drawing-room of the residency at 7.30 A.M. Strangers are cordially invited to attend. (Signed) L. R. Estes, American Presbyterian Mission.’

‘They don’t get up early for nothing in this country,’ mused Tarvin. ‘Church “at 7.30 A.M.” When do they have dinner? Well, what do I do about this?’ he asked the man aloud. The trooper and camel looked at him together, and grunted as they went away. It was no concern of theirs.

Tarvin addressed a remark of confused purport to the retreating figures. This was plainly not a country in which business could be done at red heat. He hungered for the moment when, with the necklace in his pocket and Kate by his side, he should again set his face westward.

The shortest way to that was to go over to call on the missionary. He was an American, and could tell him about the Naulahka if anybody could; Tarvin had also a shrewd suspicion that he could tell him something about Kate.

The missionary’s home, which was just without the city walls, was also of red sandstone, one storey high, and as bare of vines or any living thing as the station at Rawut Junction. But he presently found that there were living beings inside the house, with warm hearts and a welcome for him. Mrs. Estes turned out to be that motherly and kindly woman, with the instinct for housekeeping, who would make a home of a cave. She had a round, smooth face, a. soft skin, and quiet, happy eyes. She may have been forty. Her still untinged brown hair was brushed smoothly back; her effect was sedate and restful.

Their visitor had learned that they came from Bangor, Maine, had founded a tie of brotherhood on the fact that his father had been born on a farm down Portland way, and had been invited to breakfast before he had been ten minutes in the house. Tarvin’s gift of sympathy was irresistible. He was the kind of man to whom men confide their heart-secrets, and the cankers of their inmost lives, in hotel smoking-rooms. He was the repository of scores of tales of misery and error which he could do nothing to help, and of a few which he could help, and had helped. Before breakfast was ready he had from Estes and his wife the whole picture of their situation at Rhatore. They told him of their troubles with the Maharajah and with the Maharajah’s wives, and of the exceeding unfruitfulness of their work; and then of their children, living in the exile of Indian children, at home. They explained that they meant Bangor; they were there with an aunt, receiving their education at the hands of a public school.

‘It’s five years since we saw them,’ said Mrs. Estes, as they sat down to breakfast. ‘Fred was only six when he went, and Laura was eight. They are eleven and thirteen now — only think! We hope they haven’t forgotten us; but how can they remember? They are only children.’

And then she told him stories of the renewal of filial ties in India, after such absences, that made his blood run cold.

The breakfast woke a violent home-sickness in Tarvin. After a month at sea, two days of the chance railroad meals between Calcutta and Rawut Junction, and a night at the rest-house, he was prepared to value the homely family meal, and the abundance of an American breakfast. They began with a water-melon, which did not help him to feel at home, because water-melons were next to an unknown luxury at Topaz, and when known, did not ripen in grocers’ windows in the month of April. But the oatmeal brought him home again, and the steak and fried potatoes, the coffee and the hot brown pop-overs, with their beguiling yellow interiors, were reminders far too deep for tears. Mrs. Estes, enjoying his enjoyment, said they must have out the can of maple syrup, which had been sent them all the way from Bangor; and when the white-robed, silent-moving servant in the red turban came in with the waffles, she sent him for it. They were all very happy together over this, and said pleasant things about the American republic, while the punkah sang its droning song over their heads.

Tarvin had a map of Colorado in his pocket, of course, and when the talk, swinging to one part of the United States and another, worked westward, he spread it out on the breakfast-table, between the waffles and the steak, and showed them the position of Topaz. He explained to Estes how a new railroad, running north and south, would make the town, and then he had to say affectionately what a wonderful town it really was, and to tell them about the buildings they had put up in the last twelve months, and how they had picked themselves up after the fire and gone to building the next morning. The fire had brought $100,000 into the town in insurance, he said. He exaggerated his exaggerations in unconscious defiance of the hugeness of the empty landscape lying outside the window. He did not mean to let the East engulf him or Topaz.

‘We’ve got a young lady coming to us, I think, from your State,’ interrupted Mrs. Estes, to whom all Western towns were alike. ‘Wasn’t it Topaz, Lucien? I’m almost sure it was.’

She rose and went to her work-basket for a letter, from which he confirmed her statement. ‘Yes; Topaz. A Miss Sheriff. She comes to us from the Zenana Mission. Perhaps you know her?’

Tarvin’s head bent over the map, which he was refolding. He answered shortly, ‘Yes; I know her. When is she likely to be here?’

‘Most any day now,’ said Mrs. Estes.

‘It seems a pity,’ said Tarvin, ‘to bring a young girl out here all alone, away from her friends — though I’m sure you’ll be friends to her,’ he added quickly, seeking Mrs. Estes’ eyes.

‘We shall try to keep her from getting homesick,’ said Mrs. Estes, with the motherly note in her voice. ‘There’s Fred and Laura home in Bangor, you know,’ she added after a pause.

‘That will be good of you,’ said Tarvin, with more feeling than the interests of the Zenana Mission demanded.

‘May I ask what your business is here?’ inquired the missionary, as he passed his cup to his wife to be refilled. He had a rather formal habit of speech, and his words came muffled from the depths of a dense jungle of beard — iron-grey and unusually long. He had a benevolently grim face, a precise but friendly manner, and a good way of looking one in the eye which Tarvin liked. He was a man of decided opinions, particularly about the native races of India.

‘Well, I’m prospecting,’ Tarvin said, in a leisurely tone, glancing out of the window as if he expected to see Kate start up out of the desert.

‘Ah! For gold?’

‘W-e-l-l, yes as much that as anything.’

Estes invited him out upon the verandah to smoke a cigar with him; his wife brought her sewing and sat with them; and as they smoked Tarvin asked him his questions about the Naulahka. Where was it? What was it? he inquired boldly. But he found that the missionary, though an American, was no wiser about it than the lazy commercial travellers at the rest-house. He knew that it existed, but knew no man who had seen it save the Maharajah. Tarvin got at this through much talk about other things which interested him less; but he began to see an idea in the gold-mining to which the missionary persistently returned. Estes said he meant to engage in placer-mining, of course?

‘Of course,’ assented Tarvin.

‘But you won’t find much gold in the Amet River, I fancy. The natives have washed it spasmodically for hundreds of years. There is nothing to be found but what little silt washes down from the quartz rocks of the Gungra Hills. But you will be undertaking work on a large scale, I judge?’ said the missionary, looking at him curiously.

‘Oh, on a large scale, of course.’

Estes added that he supposed he had thought of the political difficulties in his way. He would have to get the consent of Colonel Nolan, and through him the consent of the British Government, if he meant to do anything serious in the State. In fact, he would have to get Colonel Nolan’s consent to stay in Rhatore at all.

‘Do you mean that I shall have to make it worth the British Government’s while to let me alone?’

‘Yes.’

‘All right; I’ll do that too.’

Mrs. Estes looked up quickly at her husband from under her eyebrows. Woman-like, she was thinking.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/naulahka/chapter7.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38