With startling unexpectedness the western sky crimsoned in streaks as though the sun, exasperated with the slow process of tinting, had flung his color brush straight at the heavens.
Estelle French stole a glance at her companion. He was gazing at the west, rider and horse both motionless. The man sat with hat off, his dark hair roughened by the breeze, the sunset glow coloring his face and deepening the gray of his eyes. Where were his thoughts now, she wondered. Surely not upon her. She shrugged her shoulders. Better to have the ordeal over as soon as possible. A man couldn’t become very violent on horseback, especially when on such a sensitive mount as the one ridden by Peter Berresford.
Do you recognize this story? Maybe this will ring a bell instead:
With startling unexpectedness the western sky crimsoned in streaks as though the sun, exasperated with the slow process of tinting, had flung his color brush straight at the horizon.
Beth Gilbert stood on the station platform, head tilted back on her slim throat while she watched the magnificent process, and drew a long, unsteady breath. Home, she thought. Home at last. Automatically she looked around for the Bradfords’ motorcar but it was not in sight. How could she expect it to be there when she had let no one know she was coming?
This is the beginning of My Dearest Love, published in March of 1954, three years after Emilie Loring’s death. The first lines were from her 1917 serial novel, “An Elusive Legacy,” upon which the later book was based.
In the ghostwritten novel, Beth takes a taxi to The Manor, her home for the last eight years:
“I suppose,” the driver said tactlessly, “it’s different when they aren’t your real family,” and devoted his attention to driving.
But they are my family, Beth thought. Nan–Chris–Ted–they were the only family she had. The fact that they were not related, that Chris had taken over the duty of being her guardian on the death of his father, did not make them less her family.
Beth’s backstory was complicated: Beth’s mother died eight years ago, and her father left Beth in the care of his old friend, Mr. Bradford, but he died, so his son, Chris Bradford, became her guardian. Six years later, Beth’s father returned and announced a revolutionary formula for plastic. He left on foot for the train station but got no further than the driveway of The Manor, where he was murdered. Whew! The story takes up two years after her father’s death.
I try to imagine Elinore Denniston at her desk, marking up Emilie’s manuscript–adding, deleting, and substituting.
They had been riding for an hour through the crisp October air, then reined in their horses on the top of a hill, from which could be seenAs the creaking taxi slowed for a curve at the top of a hill she could see sweeping fields divided with more or less regularity by stone walls, not scraggly and unkempt, but well laid, thrifty looking walls. The foliage was crimson and gold, making a gorgeous frame for the bay, beyond which stretched the seathe sea stretched out illimitably… Not far away a bronzed grackle pecked at the ground, fixedone yellow, bead-like eye fixed on the girl. as though in mocking interrogation. She watched it for a moment before averting her gaze with an impatient exclamation.
Home, she thought again. She would be safe here. Safe! Or perhaps the whole thing had been her imagination, that idea that she had been followed in Europe, the impression that her room had been searched repeatedly, her luggage ransacked, although nothing had been taken.
Beth arrives at The Manor in the middle of an argument between Chris and his fiancée, Evelyn. The ghostwriter altered the description to account for being indoors instead of on horseback.
Evelyn Furnas stole a glance at her companion. He stood by an open window looking out on the garden, his dark hair roughened by the breeze; the sunset glow colored his face and deepened the gray of his eyes. She shrugged her shoulders. Where were his thoughts now, she wondered. Surely not upon her. Well, better to have the ordeal over as soon as possible.
Christopher Bradford heard the quick indrawn breath and turned to look inquiringly at her.
“What is it, Evelyn? Anything troubling you?”
“There is something. Peter, I have decided that our engagement is a mistake. I want to be freed from it.”
Estelle and Evelyn have the same complaints: They don’t like sharing a fiancé “with relatives and every neighbor within a radius of twenty miles who has a fancied grievance,” they loathe “this dead and alive place,” and both insist that the ward must go.
“You know how I feel about Constance Wynne. I shall not have her in my home if I marry you.”
“An Elusive Legacy”
“I mean it, Chris. Make your choice. Either you tell Beth Gilbert she doesn’t live here any more or our engagement is at an end.”
My Dearest Love
I have my usual complaints about the difference between the ghostwritten story and Emilie Loring’s original. How does the grackle fix its eye on Beth when she’s in a taxi instead of on horseback? How does Evelyn know the gray of his eyes has deepened when he is facing away from her at the window? The sea stretches “illimitably” but isn’t mentioned again, and Chris responds to an indrawn breath that was omitted from the story. And that’s before the offending “anyhows” and the hoodlum language of the Mark Craven kidnapping scenes.
But there is so much to love in My Dearest Love that I skip over the dowdy bits to still enjoy my favorite parts.
“Sorry, Beth,” Chris laughed. He had quite regained his temper. “I suppose you and Ted will always be kids to me.”
“Will we indeed?” There was a new quality in the girl’s voice which made Anne Bradford look at her quickly. “Come on, Ted. We must get our bibs and blocks.”
“Keep your eyes on Slim. She’s out for conquest; I can see it in her off eye.”
Chris’s eyes warmed as he looked at Beth, in a soft brown wool dress and a brown hat with a tiny russet feather that matched her hair.
“Don’t listen to him, Chris,” she laughed. “I plan to be a model of deportment. What else can I do,” she added with a tragic sigh, “when I am under the stern eye of my guardian?”
“You might,” he told her, “forget for once that I am your guardian.”
Ted’s eyes flashed from one to the other and he concealed a delighted grin behind his napkin.
“An Elusive Legacy” is in the Emilie Loring collection at the Boston University archives. In addition to parts that you would recognize from My Dearest Love, there are omitted parts that feel like getting extra time with the characters. The story begins on horseback, and Peter and Estelle come upon Constance and Billy, who are out hunting.
They both carried guns and from her arm a cock pheasant dangled…
“My word, Billy, see who’s here! she whispered. “Peter and the Duchess! Now we’re in for it.”
“Gee, but you’re a sight, Sliv!” the boy exclaimed with disheartening candor as he brushed her green silk sweater and tan skirt. “Never you mind, though. Peter won’t notice how you look, and as for Estelle, well, as she couldn’t hit a Zeppelin on the wing, she’d better not cast any asparagus at you. You’re a Jim dandy shot, if you do look kind of mussy.”
“Mussy! I like that! You just ought to see yourself, Billy Berresford,” with a gurgle of laughter… “Perhaps we’d better step boldly forth and face the music. I can hear the Duchess drawl, ‘Why Peter, look at your ward!’ How I hate the word when she uses it. “Had a fine ride, Estelle?” she asked as Berresford and his companion came abreast of them. “Look, Peter!” She held up the pheasant…
“I tried for his mate, but missed her. I’m not sorry. I’ve concluded that I’m no real sport, Peter. It hurts to see a creature full of life, beauty and color one minute and pick it up a mass of bloody feathers the next.”
Estelle French’s cool, contemptuous voice interrupted, “Isn’t it rather late in the day to be so tenderhearted? The amount of damage you have done to date with your rod and gun is the admiration of all the sporting men who visit the county.”
Constance Wynne flushed hotly, but before she could answer, Billy Berresford plunged to her rescue…
It’s trademark Emilie Loring, with verbal sparring that is one part indignation and two parts wit. The publisher introduced “An Elusive Legacy” like this:
“In her new novel Mrs. Loring has given us a rare combination of an absorbing tale of home life and a detective story in one–undoubtedly the most fascinating of all the stories she has written. Half a dozen times the solution of the puzzle seems found, only to be upset by some little, unforeseen circumstance, and the seeming solution fails, to be cleared at last in the only way nobody would suspect, by–but we will leave you to find out for yourself.”
I think you’d find it worth the trip to Boston. Meanwhile, we have My Dearest Love, its cousin-once-removed, with an elusive legacy inside.