The Young Kipling

In the latter part of the nineteenth century an American girl married an Englishman who had been appointed by Lord Salisbury to fill the chair of Science at the Muir Central College, Allahabad University, at Allahabad, India. The following are extracts from her diary and from letters written to her home people

April 1888

I shall never forget the glee in which R. K. came in one afternoon saying, 'What do you suppose I just came across in reading the proof of this week's English letter? Andrew Lang says, "Who is Mr. Rudyard Kipling?"' He was so pleased that they really had heard of him in England, for in all modesty he intends to make his mark in the world.

He has his trials in the office, as his articles and poems must be cut to fit. The foreman used to say, "Your po'try good sir, just coming proper length today."

One of Rudyard's stories, 'The Recrudescence of Imray,' had its origin in an incident at our home. There was a strange odor in the dining room, and by luncheon time it had become stronger and later was unbearable. As the ceilings are made of cloth to give an air chamber to cool the room, the thatch man was called, and upon investigation he discovered that a wee squirrel had died under the roof. R. studied a while and then exclaimed, 'I have it,' and the result was that terrible story of the sudden disappearance of Imray, whose body sagged on the ceiling cloth and finally tumbled down on the table. His own servant had killed him because he had called his child handsome, thus casting the evil eye on him. After I came to India one of the first things I learned was to say to a mother, in order to warn off the evil eye, "What an ugly child you have,' no matter how winning the infant.

April 16

Dear M. — Rudyard was called from Allahabad to Lahore to edit the C. & M. Gazette, so he sent us a letter expressing the great joy he has at being among his own people once more, but with sadness at the many changes. He tells of being gummed into an office chair from eight in the morning till six at night, and how he has to work after dinner with nothing in the wide world to show for it except an indigestible paper which most people throw down with the genial remark, 'Oh, nothing in the Civil and Military as usual.'

How Kipling does love those wild men of the North! He calls them his own folk. They are savage, boastful, arrogant, and hot-headed, and these vagrant loafers, snaky-lipped and vulture-eyed, come to pay their respects to him.

His description of the Indian pressroom on a hot-weather night is great. He says that it is lit by flickering dips with a hurricane lamp, here and there. The half-naked men who turn the presses look picturesque in the uncertain light as they loll against the black walls and wait for their call, the presses look mysterious and ghastly, and from the far end comes the tick-tick of the type being set up by white-sheeted yawners. They carry candles, and if they tilt them too much the grease gutters on to the type so printing is impossible. He makes the scene quite Indian-like by telling of some little boys who have not the least business there who have curled up on one of the big tables and gone to sleep.

How I do wish you might meet this interesting man!

The outcome of his being with these Ishmaelites in North India is his tale "Dray Wara Yow Dee' and he says the incident of the killing is bodily cribbed from a frontier murder case deposition.

I am quite flattered. R. K. writes that he spent the afternoon alternately browsing over a pipe and trying to hack out a causerie intime between two girls at Simla. Because he finds it is very difficult to get the hang of conversation between girls, he asks me on some idle afternoon to look over and check the thing, as he hasn't a single sympathetic soul there to discuss things with and he is choked up with a half-dozen plans and outlines of stories. The proof came with a very wide margin for my corrections. I was gullible enough to criticize what he had written. To-day he replies that he has laughed a great deal at my verdict. I do not approve of much that he writes and I'm not backward in saying so — but he goes on just the same, maligning us. He calls the story 'Poor Dear Mamma' and it is about two girls discussing a dance. One of them is in love with a man who is devoting himself to her mother. The conversation is very amusing.

Why Mr. Kipling is the recipient of many a confession I never can see, as he makes use of every item for his work that he can glean. This was clearly shown once when he was at the Lahore Club. A friend came in bubbling over with newly found love. R. sat at a table idly playing with a pencil. In reality he was taking down word for word what this gallant captain was saying — thoroughly enjoying his subtlety, for he intended to use every expression and he did that very thing, first as a story for the Week's News and then combined with other tales which made up The Story of the Gadsbys.

MUSSOORIE, May

Rudyard Kipling has arrived to stay at the Charleville Hotel for a few days. He feels that he is condescending, as this is not a fashionable place and his heart is at Simla, the seat of Government, where he meets worth-while people, grist for his writing. However, he can go nowhere in the Himalaya Mountains where he will get a better view of the snows. He is the most susceptible person I ever knew. As he came up the winding road he glimpsed a girl's head in a window, 'a golden-haired beauty,' and he has been talking about her ever since. I think I know her, so I hope they can meet at a dance. Otherwise I don't see how we shall entertain him. He is full of notions and plans for his Soldier Stories. Learoyd with his Yorkshire dialect is beyond me, though he tries to explain.

June

Rudyard is called back to the Pioneer, and we are discussing whether we should generously offer to take him in to our house for a little while rather than to let him go to the Club in this desolate season. He has his own trap — the 'Pig and Whistle,' as he calls the turnout — and his own servant, so he would not be much trouble and might prove a pleasant companion.

I don't know how we shall like it to have our home life invaded by him, but it will be impossible for him to stay at the bungalow, for the compound is dug up preparatory to making the new lawn and it is too unhealthy for anyone to live there during the rains in this age-old country. We can give him the Blue Room for his study and the guestroom with the big four-poster mahogany bed. Did I ever tell you that this bed was brought to India in the time of the East India Company? Things which came out in the old days are passed on from one to another. A friend said when she first called that she admired a certain chair and decided to buy it when I left India.

To continue, R. can have the dressing room, bath, and east verandah, so he can be very comfortable. He can write at night to his heart's content when a story takes possession of him and 'the child must be born.' These Indian bathrooms are very different from ours at home. The floor is of hard chunam (plaster), with a high partition for the tub, which is filled as needed by the bhisti from his goatskin, which is suspended from his shoulder. The Blue Room has every convenience and is quite private, with its own verandah and entrance from the hall. Kadir Baksh can take complete charge of his master and his part of the house. His man is quite a character. He is tall and commanding in appearance and is wholly dependable, which is well, as Rudyard, who lives in the clouds, needs some earthly care.

July

The Pioneer publishes a weekly paper containing, stories, poems, and sketches, a kind of supplement called the Week's News, for which the youthful editor was expected to write a story filling several columns. His first notification of this was in seeing, as he came from the north into Allahabad, a huge advertisement in the railway stations saying that 'Rudyard Kipling, author of Plain Tales from the Hills, will write a series of stories for the Week's News beginning with the next number! This did not disturb the young man, whose only difficulty was in getting time from his routine work to write out the tales with which his brain was teeming. There was no extra payment for these stories.

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