Suddenly the white cloud shot up, then, as if exasperated by its own vacillation, dropped with incredible speed, dragged the man clinging to it, collapsed and spread over him…
Suppose instead of being safe and secure at Karrisbrooke, Aunt Ellen’s North Carolina home, in this month of September 1941, she were in England? She wouldn’t be standing stiff as a robot wondering whether friend or foe would crawl from under, she would be making tracks for the house and a gun. Rainbow at Dusk
Rainbow at Dusk takes us to the time of uncertainty before the United States entered World War II–the same time in which Emilie Loring was writing. In Boston that September of 1941, she began the sixth-month process to deliver her twenty-second novel to the publisher. Emilie Loring rarely specified a date in a novel, and I suspect she added this one later, for reasons that were about to emerge.
Europe is at war, and the United States is teetering on the edge. Jessamine Ramsay, named for the yellow-flowering vine, visits her great-aunt Ellen Marshall whose North Carolina estate is being used by the military for war preparedness. After his parachute accident, Major Vance Trent investigates possible bootlegging and sabotage at Karrisbrooke.
“I’ve been seeing quite a bit of the old-timers in this part of North Carolina and I’m amazed to find that in spite of the influx of rich Northerners, life is as slow and dignified as it was claimed to be eighty years and more ago.”
“Eighty years ago” was the beginning of the Civil War. Emilie’s brother-in-law fought with the Thirty-first Massachusetts at New Orleans, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. Forty years later, Emilie’s sons went to the World War. Now, only twenty years later, the world was again at war. It’s hard to tell which foreshadowing Emilie Loring might have added later and which she felt that tumultuous fall.
“The United States is powerful, Philip. It is also smug with a complacent sense of superiority which is terrifying when one thinks of the vastness of the problem it may be called upon to solve, in the flash of a gun.”
… It did seem incredible that any nation in its right mind would attack the United States. Right mind? There were mad nations on the loose, weren’t there?
Emilie’s story developed through September, October, November, and we know what’s coming, but Emilie didn’t at the time. Maybe this would be another “war may come but not yet” novel, like Where Beauty Dwells and Stars in Your Eyes. Or maybe it wouldn’t.
“As the situation abroad gets more critical there’s a lot of talk about raising the age-limit of the draft.”
“Do you realize that the largest, most complete military maneuvers ever undertaken in this country are going on here, now? They are using 350,000 soldiers drawn from all over the country.”
In other countries men and women on roofs were watching for bombs, while she could look up at the stars and think only of the majestic beauty of the heavens, of the brilliance of Jupiter which, at the moment, was outshining Mars and Saturn. How long would the sense of security last?
Life at Karrisbrooke had gone on as usual to the accompaniment of world news of fighting, killing, the tragic waste of life and property; proposition after proposition for a basis for settlement of peace in the Pacific between the United States and Japan.
“It makes one realize how little one’s life counts when nations across the ocean are being shattered by brutality and hate. Sometimes I wonder if the tragic chaos will end before the world is torn to shreds.”
And then it came:
Vance Trent’s grave voice sent a little shiver of apprehension along Jessamine’s nerves. Even in the dim light she could see the whiteness of his face. “Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor. It looks like war at last.”
“It’s come,” Ellen Marshall said. “Now we know where we stand—united—or we won’t stand.”
My mother was fourteen when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Straightaway, her eldest brother enlisted in the Army Air Corps which became the United States Army Air Forces. Like Vance Trent, Herb trained as a paratrooper. His younger brother had to wait for his birthday before he could sign up, but then he joined the Army, too.
“Astounding, isn’t it, what times like these do to people. They call this the mechanistic age. No machine ever has been invented that will equal the human spirit when it is confident that there are wrongs to be righted and glory to be achieved.”
“It’s like being born again to many. We must all do more to help, stand like an invincible army behind our fighting men. I lie awake nights thinking how I can more fully justify my reason for living in the most critical period in the history of civilization.”
Threats at home were real. Civilians watched for German U-boats offshore and enemy airplanes overhead.
“First the Allen Jackson went down in a sea of flames. [18 January 1942] The Malay’s rudder was shot away. She foundered. [19 January] Two other ships followed her to the bottom. [Norvana, 19 January; Venore, 24 January]“
…it’s a terrifying responsibility to take on when one realizes that quick, accurate identification of hostile aircraft may depend upon a spotter’s ability to recognize the sounds as well as the outlines of different types of planes.
Vance gets orders to head a parachute division at Pensacola, the “Annapolis of the air.”
“There is nothing more important now than training pilots unless it’s making planes for them to fly.”
Historically, this was when my doctoral field of study, motor learning, got its start. The Army Air Forces began with a ready supply of trained pilots, but as their numbers were depleted, new recruits had to be trained to take their places, and some didn’t make the grade. Was it possible to figure out which recruits could be good pilots and which would not? And could training be streamlined to take less time but still produce competent, skilled pilots? (Short answers: No to the first, yes to the second)
Like Aunt Ellen, Emilie Loring had been “an interested, keen, fairly intelligent observer of the human comedy for a great many years.” Just try to read these lines without hearing them or forming an opinion; it can’t be done.
“You poor boy, of course I will.” She settled into the chair beside him in a faint aura of perfume. “I adore fussin’ over a man. What can I do for you?”
I can feel Vance’s confusion after his fall from the sky:
…his head had been clear enough then, if now it felt like a thick wad of absorbent cotton full of red-hot splinters of disconnected thoughts.
The original title for this book was Rainbow at Night:
“Rainbow at night, sailor’s delight… It means to the sailor that the day of storm is behind him, that he may confidently look forward to the favoring winds and sunshine of a fair tomorrow.”
Was “Rainbow at Dusk” an artistic choice, I wonder, or was it a message that the storm was not yet behind, that victory could not be taken for granted? Dusk is the final light of twilight, before night descends–it must have felt that way as we entered again into war.
Why, why had this savage war had to happen? A war which pulled men of all ages, in all countries, up by the roots to fling them, their families, homes, businesses, creative talents, into the maelstrom of blood and destruction? . . . The waste, the tragic waste of it.
She impatiently dashed her hand across drenched lashes. “Why stand here just thinking? Why not do something about it all?… If Johnny can go forward to what he knows lies ahead with that gay, ‘So long, kid,’ the least you can do is to smile and keep up your chin.”
Emilie delivered her manuscript in February, 1942, and the fictional Vance Trent left for “Destination Unknown.” My Uncle Herb shipped off with the 509th Airborne to Britain and then to North Africa.
Rainbow at Dusk was published in September, 1942. According to a book plate on the inside cover, my copy belonged to a woman in Michigan named Jayne. Three weeks after the book’s publication, Jayne’s husband, Fred, completed basic training and joined the Navy’s Construction Battalion, the “Seabees,” in Davisville, Rhode Island. Then he shipped off to North Africa, where my Uncle Herb was fighting, and remained there a dangerous twenty months, a machinist’s mate, second class.
Vance, Herb, and Fred all made it back. Herb served until the end of the war, married, and raised his family in northern California. Jayne and Fred raised their family in Michigan, and the lighthouse on Jayne’s tombstone seems right, somehow, for a Navy wife and an Emilie Loring reader, although I never knew her.
Vance, of course, married Jess Ramsay.
“Look! A rainbow! Nothing so perfect as a rainbow at dusk. See how the colors melt into the darkening sky. It means a fair tomorrow, doesn’t it?”