Beckoning Trails was the first story Emilie Loring wrote after the death of her husband, Victor. They celebrated their fifty-fifth anniversary in December and his eighty-eighth birthday in January, before he died in February, 1947. They had always been good companions, and after her brother’s death, Victor had also been Emilie’s first reader, the one with whom she shared fledgling stories on the way to completed drafts.
“We were great companions, and Debby, in the last analysis, the good companion is what counts most in marriage.”
“Before my husband died I was able to provide professional care for him.”
Was it Victor’s idea that she write herself into her next novel? It was high time she updated the image she created of herself as the writer Melissa Barclay in Give Me One Summer:
Three dollars! It had seemed a fortune. She had sold something!
“I’m writing a novel. Don’t laugh.”
So she created another “MB” for this story–Molly Burton. “Molly B” is an internationally famous mystery-writer, confident, self-possessed. Others have as much to say about her writing as she does.
“She never has guests when the WOMAN AT WORK sign is out, till the manuscript is in the hands of the magazine editor or her publisher.”
“I agree with you that Molly B.’s technique of staggering the disclosures in her stories is the touch of a master craftsman.”
“My first novel made a slight stir.” “I wouldn’t call ten printings ‘slight.’”
“My study of the motives behind actions has helped me understand the human heart—at least, my fans believe I understand it—”
“I never talk of my plots or of what I am writing till the novel is in print.”
That last is advice that I heed, too. Stories begin one way, and then, for some reason, don’t work out the way you thought. In the earlier draft that became Beckoning Trails, the author’s secretary stabbed a judge to prevent him from marrying “Aunt Anastasia Stewart” and then died by suicide. The story took place in Virginia, but Emilie Loring brought it back to New England when she revised.
Knowing how autobiographical Beckoning Trails was, one passage especially piqued my curiosity:
Paintings which had been designed for the jackets of Molly Burton’s books lent color—and an occasional touch of gruesomeness—to the cool, gray walls. There were full-page ads, photographs of the author along the years, framed letters from three world-famous persons who had taken time from their crowded lives to tell her they had read all night to find the solution of a mystery only to discover that they had guessed wrong as to the murderer, letters that would be as well worth stealing for the signatures as some of her jewels.
I have one of those full-page ads, copies of her photographs, and have seen some of the original, dust-jacket paintings, but who were the “world-famous persons” who wrote to her? How I wish she had kept a diary, as both Debby Randall and Tim Grant’s mother did in this story! (Oooh! and what if she did?!)
The title, Beckoning Trails was a signal. Emilie Loring found life vitally interesting, filled with romance and mystery. Neither she nor Molly Burton had any intention of stopping.
“For Pete’s sake, forget that age obsession.”
“I have plots for ten more novels at least before I sign off.”
But this story is really about Debby Randall and Tim Grant who meet at Beechcroft, Molly B’s estate.
What fun. She hadn’t felt this sense of excitement when meeting a new man for years.
Debby and Tim team up to solve two mysteries: Who stole papers from Molly B’s safe at Beechcroft? And who shot and killed Judge Lander on the badminton court?
“From now on, so far as you and I are concerned, there is a suspect behind every bush, a clue at the end of every beckoning trail.”
Tim and Debby fall for each other, but there are complications.
“Does he think because he kissed me the other night I have forgotten the girl in the Pacific? I wish she were in the Pacific, deep in.”
How could he tell her or show that he loved her with the infernal gossip going the rounds that he was after Beechcroft?
For those of you making plans for our tea party on July 6th (see the invitation here), Debby provides a few more ideas–under duress, no less.
She unlocked the cupboard, produced a large sterno, a whistling teakettle, crackers, jam, and a package of paper napkins with not unseemly haste considering that she was functioning under the threat of shooting…
“I’m looking for tea balls. I have them. Fill the kettle with water while I set up this for Operations Tea Party.” She snapped down the legs of a card table. “We might as well enjoy a touch of elegance with our last meal on earth.”
She spread a cloth gay with printed nasturtiums, placed cups and saucers, silver teaspoons, sugar, crackers, jam and cookies slowly, trying to think of some way to send a smoke signal up the chimney…“
Molly B and Emilie Loring likely channeled the same muse, as Beckoning Trails is more mystery than romance–and a tangled, intriguing mystery at that. The clues are fair and excite breathless anticipation on the way to a surprising end.