Kipster, Kippington, the ol’ Kipperino … These are some of the names by which Rudyard Kipling was not known during his residency in Dummerston, Vermont. Picture an abrupt and hard-boiled little Englishman, fearsomely mustached—and then ask yourself why Vermonters never quite got comfortable with him. He appeared among them in 1892, a privacy-seeking writer whose global celebrity would soon oblige the government to provide him with his own post office, and built himself a big weird house on the way up to Black Mountain. “Naulakha,” he called it, Hindi for “precious”; with his wife, Carrie, who had family in the area, he intended to make it his home. “Except to buy things we have no dealings with the aborigines,” he wrote cheerfully to a friend. “Nobody comes to interrupt; nobody wants to see me and I can work as long as ever I please.” Four years later he was gone, having been drawn into a mortifyingly public ruckus with a local character—one Beatty Balestier, who also happened to be his brother-in-law.
Naulakha still floats there on the slope; large and green-shingled, with Indian-bungalow-style eaves, it combines the aspect of a country stronghold with something vaguely oceangoing. You can’t visit, but you can, if you’re feeling moderately fat in the pocket, stay. The Landmark Trust USA, which purchased the property in 1992 after a 50-year abandonment, has restored it beautifully and now rents it out (minimum: three nights, $325 to $425 a night). The rural-intellectual citadel of Brattleboro is but a five-minute drive away, and should you need an office chair or a bucket of fried chicken, there’s an exemplary tract of American retail sprawl at the bottom of the hill. Walking through Naulakha’s front door with your bags, hearing the warm wooden spaces of the house salute you from right and left, you can’t quite believe your luck. Rudyard Kipling lived here! Upstairs is his toilet, its cistern bearing the terrifying legend This is Rudyard Kipling’s toilet. It is 113 years old. Further up is his attic, from which can be seen, on a clear day, the far-off, reproving face of Mount Monadnock. And here’s his study, for God’s sake, its window looking down a dense tunnel of rhododendron bushes. This is where Kipling—industrially prolific as always—churned out Captains Courageous, both Jungle Books, uncounted poems, the short-story collection The Day’s Work, and the beginnings of Kim. You sit in the study, in an armchair or at the desk, repeating these titles to yourself in a kind of mantra of astonishment.