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In Vermont, Kipling's Bedtime Stories

Sunday, February 1, 2004

WHAT: Naulakha, Rudyard Kipling's American home, available for overnight accommodations.

WHERE: Just outside Brattleboro, Vt., 2½ hours north of Boston.

WHY: Because the author of "The Jungle Book" and "Kim" searched the world for the perfect home -- and found it here.

Perched along a meadow and overlooking the gentle hills of the Connecticut River Valley, Rudyard Kipling's American home enjoys a setting little changed from when the British writer resided here more than 100 years ago.

Kipling, who was wildly popular in the early 1900s for his stories of Indian and African life, named the estate Naulakha after one of his early novels, and today travelers can venture the three miles out of Brattleboro and rent it for short-term stays.

There's no kitchen staff, no turndown service, no concierge. When I arrived on a sunny afternoon, there was only David Tansey, the amiable caretaker of the property, to greet me and show me around.

Tansey, an architectural historian, is the director of the Landmark Trust USA, an offshoot of the British charity that specializes in restoring historical buildings and renting them to the public. It was largely his work that restored Naulakha in the early 1990s, after the 11-room, 3,600-square-foot home sat largely ramshackle for more than 50 years.

He led me around with the friendly fussiness of a proud homeowner, apologizing for anything out of place and pointing out the home's splendors."I can actually talk about this place for 10 hours or a half an hour, whatever you want," Tansey said.

Kipling had Naulakha built in 1892 after returning from his honeymoon and moved into the home in August 1893. While the author is more closely associated with England and India, it was here that he wanted to stay for the rest of his life, and likely would have had a family squabble not driven him back to England in 1896.

To read his letters from his days at Naulakha is to see the great pleasure Kipling got from his rural hideaway. He wrote about sleigh rides and climbing stonewalls, jumping headfirst into snow banks and tending his small English garden. He described the place as a "joy and a delight."

Today, it still fits that description.

During my visit, the lingering smell of varnish and wood smoke was strong throughout the house. Both the first floor and second floor hallways were long and narrow and lined with pictures -- animal drawings, British soldiers -- I could easily envision hanging in Kipling's day.

They're not original, but much of the furniture and woodworking is. Workers were able to restore the home's original wood railings, balusters and paneling.

Kipling's austere master bedroom, with its two walk-in closets, still holds his brass twin beds. A second-floor bedroom, which served as a nursery for Kipling's daughter and a guest room for the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, also has two twin beds, along with a sunny sitting room with a drop-leaf desk, sofa and veranda.

The pool table that dominates the third-floor recreation room is original, as are many of the furnishings throughout the dining room, loggia and book-lined study. A porcelain bathtub was one of the author's secret pleasures, in which he "luxuriously parboiled himself, beholden to no man," as he once wrote.

Most visitors to Naulakha stay for at least a week, making it a base for excursions throughout southern Vermont. I just stayed the night. (I'd arrived without reservations and lucked out -- a group had canceled at the last minute, so Tansey let me bunk overnight for $100.)

After a few more minor asides and the giddying instruction that I could sleep in any room I chose, Tansey departed.

I walked a bit through the house and then out onto the sprawling property, past Vermont's first tennis court, admiring the well-tended shrubbery and footpaths.

Later, I flopped on a red leather couch in Kipling's study and took in the walls lined with dusty books. It was here that Kipling, working daily from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., wrote many of his most famous works, including his two "Jungle Books," "Captains Courageous" and "The Seven Seas."

With night approaching, I chose a bedroom -- not Kipling's but the nursery next door. It's Tansey's favorite room. "If I owned this house," he said, "this would be my space." I agreed. It was large and airy and afforded the best views.

I stepped out on the veranda, drank a beer and took in the same view Conan Doyle would have seen during his visit, the countryside quiet and bathed in a soft light.

-- Jeffrey White

Naulakha is in Dummerston, Vt., near Brattleboro -- 21/2 hours north of Boston and five hours from New York City. Rates range from $1,433 to $3,505 for seven nights. During off-peak times, you can rent the home for a minimum of three nights for about $971 to $1,386. Peak season runs Sept. 25- Oct. 22. Details: Landmark Trust in England, 802-254-6868 (U.S. contact), www.landmarktrust.co.uk.

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