A boat with a mother-of-pearl sail drifted by slowly not far from shore. A salty breeze picked up the skipper’s voice:
“Nita, Juanita, Ask thy soul if we should part.”
“What a voice and what a song, perfect for this night,” Myles Jaffray approved.I Hear Adventure Calling
It was a very old song. Caroline Norton, “The Honorable Mrs. Norton,” published it in 1855, six years before the Civil War. By the time Emilie Loring quoted it in I Hear Adventure Calling (1948), the verses had already appeared in countless works of fiction, and the song had been performed by countless artists–most recently, Bing Crosby.
There are verses, but Emilie’s quotes come from the chorus:
Nita, Juanita, Ask thy soul if we should part. Nita, Juanita, Lean thou on my heart. Nita, Juanita, Let me linger by thy side. Nita, Juanita, Be my own fair bride.
In the story, the lines are signals between art thieves, and it doesn’t matter to the plot whether we know what the tune is or how the song continues. Even so, the songs she chose are the “musical score” of the book, which her contemporary readers would have been able to hum. They helped to set the mood and tone of the book, and we’re left out, until we know them ourselves. Click below to hear Bing’s rendition:
This was the book Emilie wrote the year after her husband’s death, giving this song choice an extra layer of meaning.
A voice singing, “You’re So Sweet to Remember” drifted from a concealed radio…I Hear Adventure Calling
You're so sweet to remember I still feel your embraces The wind whispers your name to me And I sigh... You're so sweet to remember And how welcome your face is When we meet in a memory Of joys gone by
Emilie stayed at the Marshall House in York, Maine while she worked on this novel. An orchestra played for the guests, and I imagine her making mental notes as she listened: “Fran sings this in her apartment, Myles overhears.” The scene wouldn’t make nearly the same impression, if Fran were singing, “Christian up and smite them!” as the teenage maid does in Where Beauty Dwells.
From the floor above came the music of a violin and a girl’s voice:
My young and foolish heart.
“That’s her singing,” Mrs. Digby whispered as they started up the stairs. “She turns on the radio, then sings to the music. Her voice is real pretty.” Her raised hand stopped halfway to the brass knocker. “I hope I don’t lose her trust for doin’ this.”I Hear Adventure Calling
My young and foolish heart Makes me do the things I shouldn't That nine times out of ten I wouldn't do My young and foolish heart Never lets me use discretion In my manner of expression Every time I'm with you
Emilie Loring quotes poems, too, in I Hear Adventure Calling. As her biographer, it’s interesting to observe the verses she kept in memory. As a college English major, I challenge myself to see if I can place them. As a reader, it’s just fun to see what else goes with them.
“Great morning after the storm,” Myles approved. Reminds me of those lines, let’s see, how do they go? I’ve got ’em,
Every day is a fresh beginning, Every morn is the world made new.
“Said first by one Susan Coolidge, in case you’re interested, Miss Phillips.”
“You shouldn’t be wasting your time in this Maine village, Mr. Jaffray, you belong on ‘The Invitation to Learning’ program.”I Hear Adventure Calling
I was stumped on that one. Were you, too?
The lines Myles quoted came from A Few More Verses (1889) by Susan Coolidge (Sarah Chauncey Woolsey). As often happens, her words have been erroneously attributed to later persons who quoted her. Here is a little more of her original, oft-quoted poem, available in full via Google books.
Every day is a fresh beginning, Every morn is the world made new. You who are weary of sorrow and sinning, Here is a beautiful hope for you,-- A hope for me and a hope for you. All the past things are past and over; The tasks are done and the tears are shed. Yesterday's errors let yesterday cover; Yesterday's wounds, which smarted and bled, Are healed with the healing which night has shed. . . . Every day is a fresh beginning; Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain, And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning, And puzzles forecasted and possible pain, Take heart with the day, and begin again.
Fran trails the art thieves to the top of a hill.
Another plunge, another lurch. She was on the edge of the sunny clearing. She had reached the top of the hill.
A gal who bore mid snow and ice A banner with the strange device, Excelsior!
She chanted the lines. Her giggling appreciation of her adaption of the classic frightened her. All that was needed to complete this nightmarish adventure was a touch of hysterics.I Hear Adventure Calling
The classic is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Excelsior” (1841). Through shadow and peril, a youth keeps going, “excelsior” meaning “ever higher.”
The shades of night were falling fast, As through an Alpine village passed A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, A banner with the strange device, Excelsior! His brow was sad; his eye beneath, Flashed like a falchion from its sheath, And like a silver clarion rung The accents of that unknown tongue, Excelsior!
Fran knows the outcome of that youth’s courageous quest, and it’s not good:
A traveller, by the faithful hound, Half-buried in the snow was found, Still grasping in his hand of ice That banner with the strange device, Excelsior! There in the twilight cold and gray, Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay, And from the sky, serene and far, A voice fell like a falling star, Excelsior!
Her heart zoomed and grounded and resumed its beat. Why be scared? Wasn’t this adventure, adventure in capital letters? What a story she would write to His Honor if ever she got out of this mix-up. If, that was a cheerful thought…
Curious, she had the feeling that she had left her body behind, that only her spirit was faring forth. “What’s your spirit?” Pat had asked. “Something that casts aside fear like a discarded cloak,” she could answer now.I Hear Adventure Calling
The widowed Emilie was alone in a hotel room, and if she were honest, her own physical ailments had begun to accumulate. But never mind that. She had an adventure to create.
“Excelsior!” is Fran’s–and Emilie’s–response. We might say, “Onward and upward!”
… with, of course, “happy landings!”
No sooner had I published this post than I reached for my hardback copy of I Hear Adventure Calling, and look what I found inside the cover!