Dear J. — When 'The Man Who Would Be King' was germinating in R. K.'s mind he was lunching with us. Suddenly he demanded names for his characters. A. promptly said, 'Well, the queerest name I ever heard was that of a missionary I met in the Himalayas when we were both tramping—"Peachey Taliaferro Wilson."' Of course Rudyard seized that at once. I could think of no name to give, so R. said, 'Well, who was the most prominent man in your home town?' Of course you know that I replied 'Mr. Dravo,' and sure enough he used these very names, adding a t to Dravo.
Later he was sitting at a desk busily writing. A. was in a big chair and I was near by. His custom was to push off a sheet from the pad as fast as he had filled it with his tiny fine writing, letting it fall to the floor. A. picked up the sheets, read and passed them to me, our one complaint being that we could read this thrilling story faster than the author furnished it.
Speaking of 'His Majesty the King,' R. K. said he had a very tender comer in his heart for little children, but there was not often an opportunity for showing it.
I never saw anyone more devoted to children, and alas there are so few in this station; all old enough have been sent to England, but Dr. and Mrs. J. Murray Irwin have a darling little girl who is my godchild. When she comes to the house there is nothing that R. will not do to amuse her. He plays bear, crawling over the floor, and he will endure every sort of teasing. On her birthday he wrote to accompany my small gift a gay little verse beginning:—
Imperious wool-booted sage,
Tho' your years as men reckon are three,
You are wiser than ten times your age
And your faithfulest servants are we.
At last R. K. is coming into his own, for he is permitted to collect the stories he has written for the Week's News into a more permanent form to be published by Wheeler, in the Railway Edition. The covers are to be a grayish blue and the pater is designing them.
The first one, of Soldiers Three, came for inspection and has been severely criticized by Ruddy. Mulvaney is not smart enough in the way he stands, and the barracks are not just right. I shall keep the pencil sketch, as it will be interesting to compare.
What a life he leads, all among the babblings of the Chamber of Commerce and the unsavory detail of the days among the dockets, departmental orders, and the queer expositions of human frailty, vanity, greed, and malice that a newspaper offers. With it all he watches for suggestive ideas for his tales. For instance:—
'The Judgment of Dungara' had its origin in a statement that A. made at the dinner table concerning the Nilgiri nettle, which has most persistent stinging qualities. R. made use of every item of information he could gain, and in a few days the story of the great God Dungara appeared in the Week's News. It has a vivid description of the loneliness of a mission station in the interior. 'Isolation that weighs upon the waking eyelids and drives you by force headlong into the labors of the day.' The missionary, besides giving his flock the Bread of Life, had taught them to weave white cloth from the glossy fibres of a plant that grew near by. The Civil Service official was due, and the converts, usually naked, were to appear for the first time clothed in their new garments, made, alas, from this terrible nettle. It was woven fire that ran through their limbs and gnawed into their bones. Needless to say, they broke ranks and rushed to the river, 'writhing, stamping, twisting and shedding garments, pursued by the thunder of the trumpet of the God Dungara."