The Naulahka


Where are the rulers of Ind? – to whom shall we bow the knee?
Make thy peace with the women, and the men shall make thee L.G.
                                   Maxims of Hafiz

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IT was an opinion not concealed in Cañon City the next morning, that Tarvin had wiped up the floor with his adversary; and it was at least definitely on record, as a result of Tarvin’s speech, that when Sheriff rose half-heartedly to make the rejoinder set down for him on the programme, he had been howled back into his seat by a united public opinion. But Sheriff met Tarvin at the railway station where they were both to take the train for Topaz with a fair imitation of a nod and smile, and certainly showed no inclination to avoid him on the journey up. If Tarvin had really done Kate’s father the office attributed to him by the voice of Cañon City, Sheriff did not seem to be greatly disturbed by the fact. But Tarvin reflected that Sheriff had balancing grounds of consolation—a reflection which led him to make the further one that he had made a fool of himself. He had indeed had the satisfaction of explaining publicly to the rival candidate which was the better man, and had enjoyed the pleasure of proving to his constituents that he was still a force to be reckoned with, in spite of the mad missionary notion which had built a nest in a certain young woman’s head. But how did that bring him nearer Kate? Had it not rather, so far as her father could influence the matter, put him farther away—as far as it had brought his own election near. He believed he would be elected now. But to what? Even the speakership he had dangled before her did not seem so remote in the light of last night’s occurrences. But the only speakership that Tarvin cared to be elected to was the speakership of Kate’s heart.

He feared he shouldn’t be chosen to fill that high office immediately, and as he glanced at the stumpy, sturdy form standing next him on the edge of the track, he knew whom he had to thank. She would never go to India if she had a man for a father like some men he knew. But a smooth, politic, conciliating, selfish, easy-going rich man—what could you expect? Tarvin could have forgiven Sheriff’s smoothness if it had been backed by force. But he had his opinion of a man who had become rich by accident in a town like Topaz.

Sheriff presented the spectacle, intolerable to Tarvin, of a man who had become bewilderingly well-to-do through no fault of his own, and who now wandered vaguely about in his good fortune, seeking anxiously to avoid giving once. In his politics he carried this far; and he was a treasury of delight just at this time to the committees of railroad engineers’ balls, Knight Templars, excursions, and twilight coteries, and to the organisers of church bazaars, theatricals, and oyster suppers, who had tickets to sell. He went indiscriminately to the oyster suppers and bazaars of all denominations in Topaz, and made Kate and her mother go with him; and his collection of Baptist dolls, Presbyterian embroidery, and Roman Catholic sofa-pillows and spatter-work, filled his parlour at home.

But his universal good-nature was not so popular as it deserved to be. The twilight coteries took his money but kept their opinion of him; and Tarvin, as the opposing candidate, had shown what he thought of his rival’s system of politics by openly declining to buy a single ticket. This feeble-foolish wish to please everybody was, he understood very well, at the root of Sheriff’s attitude toward his daughter’s mania. Kitty wanted to go so bad, he supposed he’d better let her, was his slouching version of the situation at home. He declared that he had opposed the idea strongly when she had first suggested it, and Tarvin did not doubt that Sheriff, who he knew was fond of her, had really done what he could. His complaint against him was not on the score of disposition but of capacity. He recognised, however, that this was finally a complaint, like all his others; against Kate; for it was Kate’s will which made all pleadings vain.

When the train for Topaz arrived at the station, Sheriff and Tarvin got into the drawingroom car together. Tarvin did not yearn to talk to Sheriff on the way to Topaz, but neither did he wish to seem to shirk conversation. Sheriff offered him a cigar in the smoking-room of the Pullman, and when Dave Lewis, the conductor, came through, Tarvin hailed him as an old friend, and made him come back and join them when he had gone his rounds. Tarvin liked Lewis in the way that he liked the thousand other casual acquaintances in the State with whom he was popular; and his invitation was not altogether a device for avoiding private talk with Sheriff. The conductor told them that he had the president of the Three C.’s on behind in a special car, with his party.

No!’ exclaimed Tarvin, and begged him to introduce him on the spot; he was precisely the man he wanted to see. The conductor laughed, and said he wasn’t a director of the road—not himself; but when he had left them to go about his duties, he came back, after a time, to say that the president had been asking whom he could recommend at Topaz as a fair-minded and public-spirited man, able to discuss in a reasonable spirit the question of the Three C.’s coming to Topaz. The conductor told him that he had two such gentlemen on board his train at that moment; and the president sent word to them by him that he would be glad to have a little talk with them if they would come back to his car.

For a year the directorate of the Three C.’s had been talking of running their line through Topaz, in the dispassionate and impartial manner of directorates which await encouragement. The board of trade at Topaz had promptly met and voted the encouragement. It took the shape of town bonds and gifts of land, and finally of an undertaking to purchase shares of stock in the road itself, at an inflated price. This was handsome even for a board of trade; but, under the prick of town ambition and town pride, Rustler had done better. Rustler lay fifteen miles from Topaz, up in the mountains, and by that much nearer the mines; and Topaz recognised it as its rival in other matters than that of the Three C.’s.

The two towns had enjoyed their boom at about the same time; then the boom had left Rustler and had betaken itself to Topaz. This had cost Rustler a number of citizens, who moved to the more prosperous place. Some of the citizens took their houses up bodily, loaded them on a flat car and sent them over to Topaz as freight, to the desolation of the remaining inhabitants of Rustler. But Topaz now began in her turn to feel that she was losing her clutch. A house or two had been moved back. It was Rustler this time which was gaining. If the railroad went there, Topaz was lost. If Topaz secured the railroad, the town was made. The two towns hated each other as such towns hate in the West—malignantly, viciously, joyously. If a convulsion of nature had obliterated one town, the other must have died from sheer lack of interest in life. If Topaz could have killed Rustler, or if Rustler could have killed Topaz, by more enterprise, push, and go, or by the lightnings of the local press, the surviving town would have organised a triumphal procession and a dance of victory. But the destruction of the other town by any other than the heaven-appointed means of schemes, rustle, and a board of trade, would have been a poignant grief to the survivor.

The most precious possession of a citizen of the West is his town pride. It is the flower of that pride to hate the rival town. Town pride cannot exist without town jealousy, and it was therefore fortunate that Topaz and Rustler lay within convenient hating distance of each other, for this living belief of men in the one spot of all the great Western wilderness on which they have chosen to pitch their tents, contains within itself the future and the promise of the West.

Tarvin cherished this sentiment as a religion. It was nearer to him than anything in the world but Kate, and sometimes it was even nearer than Kate. It did duty with him for all the higher aspirations and ideals which beckon other men. He wished to succeed, he wished to make a figure, but his best wish for himself was one with his best wish for the town. He could not succeed if the town failed; and if the town prospered he must prosper. His ambition for Topaz, his glory in Topaz, were a patriotism—passionate and personal. Topaz was his country; and because it was near and real, because he could put his hand on it, and, above all, because he could buy and sell pieces of it, it was much more recognisably his country than the United States of America, which was his country in time of war.

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He had been present at the birth of Topaz. He had known it when his arms could almost encircle it; he had watched and fondled and caressed it; he had pegged down his heart with the first peg of the survey; and now he knew what was good for it. It wanted the Three C.’s.

The conductor presented Tarvin and Sheriff to the president when he had led them back to his private car, and the president made them both known to his young wife—a blonde of twenty-five, consciously pretty and conspicuously bridal—by whose side Tarvin placed himself with his instant perception. There were apartments in the private car before and beyond the drawing-room into which they had been shown. The whole was a miracle of compactness and convenience; the decoration was of a specious refinement. In the drawing-room was a smother of plushes, in hues of no kindred, a flicker of tortured nickel work, and a flash of mirrors. The studied soberness of the woodwork, in a more modern taste, heightened the high pitch of the rest.

The president of the embryo Colorado and California Central made room for Sheriff in one of the movable wicker chairs by tilting out a heap of illustrated papers, and bent two beady black eyes on him from under a pair of bushy eyebrows. His own bulk filled and overflowed another of the frail chairs. He had the mottled cheeks and the flaccid fulness of chin of a man of fifty who has lived too well. He listened to the animated representations which Sheriff at once began making him with an irresponsive, sullen face, while Tarvin engaged Mrs. Mutrie in a conversation which did not imply the existence of railroads. He knew all about the marriage of the president of the Three C.’s, and he found her very willing to let him use his knowledge flatteringly. He made her his compliments; he beguiled her into telling him about her wedding journey. They were just at the end of it; they were to settle in Denver. She wondered how she should like it. Tarvin told her how she would like it. He guaranteed Denver; he gilded and graced it for her; he made it the city of a dream, and peopled it out of an Eastern fairy tale. Then he praised the stores and the theatres. He said they beat New York, but she ought to see their theatre at Topaz. He hoped they meant to stay over a day or two at Topaz.

Tarvin would not praise Topaz crudely, as he praised Denver. He contrived to intimate its unique charm, and when he had managed to make her see it in fancy as the prettiest, and finest, and most prosperous town in the West, he left the subject. But most of their subjects were more personal, and while he discussed them with her he pushed out experimentally in one direction and another, first for a chord of sympathy, then for her weak point. He wanted to know how she could be reached. That was the way to reach the president. He had perceived it as soon as he entered the car. He knew her history, and had even known her father, who had once kept the hotel where he stayed when he went to Omaha. He asked her about the old house, and the changes of proprietorship since he had been there. Who had it now? He hoped they had kept the head waiter. And the cook? It made his mouth water to think of that cook. She laughed with instant sociability. Her childhood had been passed about the hotel. She had played in the halls and corridors, drummed on the parlour piano, and consumed candy in the office. She knew that cook—knew him personally. He had given her custards to take to bed with her. Oh yes! He was still there.

There was an infectious quality in Tarvin’s open and friendly manner, in his willingness to be amused, and in his lively willingness to contribute to the current stock of amusement, and there was something endearing in his hearty, manly way, his confident, joyous air, his manner of taking life strongly, and richly, and happily. He had an impartial kindness for the human species. He was own cousin to the race, and own brother to the members of it he knew, when they would let him be.

He and Mrs. Mutrie were shortly on beautiful terms, and she made him come back with her to the bow-window at the end of the car, and point out the show sights of the Grand Canon of the Arkansas to her. Theirs was the rearmost carriage, and they looked back through the polished sweep of glass, in which the president’s car terminated, at the twisting streak of the receding track, and the awful walls of towering rock. between which it found its way. They stooped to the floor to catch sight of the massy heights that hung above them, and peered back at the soaring chaos of rock which, having opened to let them through, closed again immitigably as they left it behind. The train went racketing profanely through the tumbled beauty of this primeval world, miraculously keeping a foothold on the knife-edge of space, won for it at the bottom of the canon from the river on one side, and from the rock on the other. Mrs. Mutrie would sometimes lose her balance as the train swept them around the ceaseless curves, and only saved herself by snatching at Tarvin. It ended in his making her take his arm, and then they stood and rocked together with the motion of the train, Tarvin steadying their position with outstretched legs, while they gazed up at the monster spires and sovereign hills of stone, wavering and dizzying over their heads.

Mrs. Mutrie gave frequent utterance to little exclamations of wonder and applause, which began by being the appropriate feminine response to great expressions of Nature, and ended in an awed murmur. Her light nature was controlled and subdued by the spectacle as it might have been silenced by the presence of death; she used her little arts and coquetries on Tarvin mechanically and half-heartedly until they were finally out of the canon, when she gave a gasp of relief, and taking petulant possession of him, made him return with her to the chairs they had left in the drawingroom. Sheriff was still pouring the story of the advantages of Topaz into the unattending ear of the president, whose eyes were on the windowpane. Mutrie received her pat on the back and her whispered confidence with the air of an embarrassed ogre. She flounced into her former seat, and commanded Tarvin to amuse her; and Tarvin willingly told her of a prospecting expedition he had once made into the country above the canon. He hadn’t found what he was looking for, which was silver, but he had found some rather uncommon amethysts.

‘Oh, you don’t mean it! You delightful man! Amethysts! Real live ones? I didn’t know they found amethysts in Colorado.’

A singular light kindled in her eyes, a light of passion and longing. Tarvin fastened on the look instantly. Was that her weak point? If it was—He was full of learning about precious stones. Were they not part of the natural resources of the country about Topaz? He could talk precious stones with her until the cows came home. But would that bring the Three C.’s to Topaz? A wild notion of working complimentary bridal resolutions and an appropriation for a diamond tiara through the board of trade danced through his head, and was dismissed. No public offerings of that kind would help Topaz. This was a case for private diplomacy, for subtle and laborious delicacies, for quiet and friendly manipulation, for the tact of finger-tips—a touch here, a touch there, and then a grip—a case, in fine, for Nicholas Tarvin, and for no one else on top of earth. He saw himself bringing the Three C.’s splendidly, royally, unexpectedly into Topaz, and fixing it there by that same Tarvin’s unaided strength; he saw himself the founder of the future of the town he loved. He saw Rustler in the dust, and the owner of a certain twenty-acre plot a millionaire.

His fancy dwelt affectionately for a moment on the twenty-acre plot; the money with which he had bought it had not come easily, and business in the last analysis was always business. But the plot, and his plan of selling a portion of it to the Three C.’s for a round-house, when the railroad came, and disposing of the rest as town lots by the front foot, were minor chords in the larger harmony. His dream was of Topaz. If promoters, in accord with the high plan of providence, usually came in on the ground floor when their plans went right, that was a fact strictly by the way.

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He noticed now, as he glanced at Mrs. Mutrie’s hands, that she wore unusual rings. They were not numerous, but the stones were superb. He ventured to admire the huge solitaire she wore on her left hand, and, as they fell into a talk about jewels, she drew it off to let him see it. She said the diamond had a history. Her father had, bought it from an actor, a tragedian who had met bad business at Omaha, after playing to empty houses at Denver, Topeka, Kansas City, and St. Jo. The money had paid the fares of the company home to New York, a fact which connected the stone with the only real good it had ever done its various owners. The tragedian had won it from a gambler who had killed his man in a quarrel over it; the man who had died for it had bought it at a low price from the absconding clerk of a diamond merchant.

‘It ought to have been smuggled out of the mines by the man who found it at Kimberley, or somewhere, and sold to an I.D.B.,’ she said, ‘to make the story complete. Don’t you think so, Mr. Tarvin?’

She asked all her questions with an arch of the eyebrow, and an engaging smile which required the affirmative readily furnished by Tarvin. He would have assented to an hypothesis denying virtue to the discoveries of Galileo and Newton if Mrs. Mutrie had broached it just then. He sat tense and rigid, full of his notion, watching, waiting, like a dog on the scent.

‘I look into it sometimes to see if I can’t find a picture of the crimes it has seen,’ she said. ‘They’re so nice and shivery, don’t you think so, Mr. Tarvin, particularly the murder? But what I like best about it is the stone itself. It is a beauty, isn’t it? Pa used to say it was the handsomest he’d ever seen, and in a hotel you see lots of good diamonds, you know.’ She gazed a moment affectionately into the liquid depths of the brilliant. ‘Oh, there’s nothing like a beautiful stone—nothing!’ she breathed. Her eyes kindled. He heard for the first time in her voice the ring of absolute sincerity and unconsciousness. ‘I could look at a perfect jewel forever, and I don’t much care what it is, so it is perfect. Pa used to know how I loved stones, and he was always trading them with the people who came to the house. Drummers are great fellows for jewellery, you know, but they don’t always know a good stone from a bad one. Pa used to make some good trades,’ she said, pursing her pretty lips meditatively; ‘but he would never take anything but the best, and then he would trade that, if he could, for something better. He would always give two or three stones with the least flaw in them for one real good one. He knew they were the only ones I cared for. Oh, I do love them! They’re better than folks. They’re always there, and always just so beautiful!’

‘ I think I know a necklace you’d like, if you care for such things,’ said Tarvin quietly.

‘Do you?‘she beamed. ‘Oh, where?’

‘A long way from here.’

‘Oh—Tiffany’s!’ she exclaimed scornfully. ‘I know you!‘she added, with resumed art of intonation.

‘No. Further.’



She stared at him a moment interestedly. ‘Tell me what it’s like,’ she said. Her whole attitude and accent were changed again. There was plainly one subject on which she could be serious. ‘Is it really good? ‘

‘It’s the best,’ said Tarvin, and stopped.

‘Well!’ she exclaimed.‘Don’t tantalise me. What is it made of?’

‘Oh, diamonds, pearls, rubies, opals, turquoises, amethysts, sapphires—a rope of them. The rubies are as big as your fist; the diamonds are the size of hens’ eggs. It’s worth a king’s ransom.’

She caught her breath. Then after a long moment, ‘Oh!’ she sighed; and then, ‘Oh!’ she murmured again, languorously, wonderingly, longingly. ‘And where is it?‘she asked briskly, of a sudden.

‘Round the neck of an idol in the province of Rajputana. Do you want it?’ he asked grimly.

She laughed.‘Yes,’ she answered.

‘I’ll get it for you,’ said Tarvin simply.

Yes, you will!’ pouted she.

‘I will,’ repeated Tarvin.

She threw back her gay blonde head, and laughed to the painted Cupids on the ceiling of the car. She always threw back her head when she laughed; it showed her throat.