Emilie Loring published more in 1938 than any other time. Instead of one novel per year, she produced two, Today Is Yours and High of Heart, and she wrote this short story, unusual for her by that time. I’m always on the lookout for clues to her romance with Victor, and perhaps you are, too. That is a mystery we want solved!
You may notice, then, that there is an eight-year difference in age between Gay and Jim in this story, as there was between Emilie and Victor, and the Lorings had a long association with a “Dr. Barnes” in Boston. I’ve wondered if she had an earlier engagement, as that device pops up yet again here–common enough, of course, but… did she?
Emilie Loring’s characters are not inexperienced in love. Indeed, they frequently have another suitor or two waiting in the wings as a story begins. It’s so easy to be carried along on someone else’s plans, but that has an expiration date. The man who is a genuine companion, who respects and asks for her opinion is the man who wins her love. It’s a story as old as relationship; was it Emilie’s story in real life?
We won’t solve that today. Let’s enjoy this 1938 story and wait for Happy Landings to answer the mystery.
She Didn’t Like Flying:
The Story of a Girl With Two Minds
The first intimation Gay Latimer had of danger was Eric Crane’s quick shake of the stick and seizure of the controls. She had been about to make a landing. She had done it a dozen times.
Had she blundered? She looked back at him. Impatiently he pushed his goggles up on his helmet, an infallible sign of concentration. His gray eyes were eagle keen, his thin lips tense, his face was drained of color under the tan.
The lump which always hopped to Gay’s throat at the first throb of the plane’s motor swelled to choking proportions as she looked over the edge of the cockpit. On the landing field men were frantically waving their arms. One was holding up something. A wheel!
She knew what that meant. A wheel of the plane was missing. Was this to be her last flight? the end of her rigid self-discipline since she had been engaged to Eric? If this was her last flight never again could her mother accuse her of being odd.
Why had Eric Crane, son of a British nobleman and an American mother, hero of a spectacular streak across the Pacific from Australia to California, singled her out from among the hundreds of girls who were openly adoring him?
Never mind why, the fact remained that he had chosen her and she, determined no longer to be “odd,” thrilled by his achievement, flattered by his devotion, had told him she would marry him. She had sworn to herself that she would become air-minded or perish in the attempt.
It looked at the present moment as if it might be perish. If only she had a tight hold of Jim Carroll’s hand! In times of stress she had clutched it–figuratively speaking–since he, a boy of 10, had led her, aged two, into his mother’s garden. Since her engagement to Eric, Jim had seemed as far away as the man dangling from the parachute in the distance.
The plane banked. Just over the heads of the shouting men Crane throttled the motor, shouted: “Which wheel? Which wheel?”
“Left! Left!” they yelled in reply.
His voice sounded in the earphones under Gay’s helmet: “Put the cushions round you. Wrap my big coat about your head and shoulders. No danger. I’ve landed on one wheel 50 times.”
They were flying close to the ground. The plane was taxiing over the field. Crack! A face-about whirl. The plane whipped over like a gigantic cart wheel.
A bubble coming up for air. A puff of consciousness, descent into smothering darkness. Up again! She clung tightly to something. Something warm, throbbing. It felt like–she was sinking again.
“Don’t let me go! It–it smothers–“
“I’m holding you, Gay, you’re safe, dear.”
Jim’s voice. Jim’s hands. She was safe. She opened her eyes.
“Hulloa, Gay!” greeted a voice. A hand gripped hers. “Hold tight to old Doc Barnes, child. He brought you into the world. I guess he can hold you in as well as Jim Carroll.”
The mist was clearing. She was in her own room. The twin lamps with rose shades had been given to her by her sister Gloria for an engagement present–engage–Eric–they had been landing in the plane–
She caught the doctor’s sleeve, whispered “Eric? Eric?”
“Fine and dandy. Mean wrench to his ankle which will keep him in his room for a day or so, otherwise not a scratch.”
Gay dropped back on the pillows. “Am I much s-scratched?”
“Neither scratched nor broken, child. Don’t try to sit up yet. You may lie on the couch in the next room, but don’t go downstairs till I say the word. All the ills of the world are not of the body. I’ve had my eye on you, young woman.
“You’ve been flying against the wind. Got your life all at sixes and sevens, haven’t you? Take time now to think things through. Give your heart a chance to grow wings and remember that the good things of life are the real things of life. Keep out of a plane for the present. Fool round in your roadster for a while.”
When next she opened her eyes it was bright daylight in the chintz-hung room. She stretched carefully. Dr. Barnes had said that she could lie on the couch in the next room.
She pulled herself up with the aid of a chair. For an instant her head went merry-go-round. She crossed the room slowly. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she passed. Her wavy black hair and dark eyes intensified her pallor. It must have been some crack-up to make her look like that!
The couch in the upstairs living room looked as inviting as a bed of down when she reached it. Doc Barnes had told her to think things through. Why had she become engaged to Eric Crane? She liked him, of course. He was unspoiled by admiration, prodigal with money, kind, but–he didn’t know the first letter of the word tenderness.
His mother and her mother had been school friends. After landing in San Francisco from his daring flight, Eric had flown across the country and had come to the Latimer home with a letter of introduction. He had stayed on and on.
Why had he chosen her, Gabrielle Latimer–Gay to her friends–from among all the girls who were crazy about him? Her mother had had difficulty in suppressing her exultation when Eric had asked her consent to the engagement. Gay remembered her voice, her eyes, as after he had gone she said:
“I can’t realize that for once in your life you haven’t set yourself against me, Gay. You’ve always been such an odd stick. You are a throwback to the romantic age. You are your father’s child, not mine.”
Perhaps if Jim Carroll had not been away he would have held her against the tide of excitement which had swept her into the engagement. She remembered his eyes when upon his return from South Africa she had told him that she was to marry Eric Crane. They had blazed as he demanded: “Why did you do it, Gay? Why didn’t you wait until I came home?”
Hurt to the soul by his voice and manner, she had flung back, “Wait for you. All my life you have put on the big brother act, you’ve told me what I should do. You and Mother! Eric was my chance to break away from both of you dictators.”
He had been livid as he demanded furiously: “And you think Crane isn’t one? That’s the joke of the month. I went away hoping you would realize that it wasn’t a brother you were missing. My mistake. Well, you’ve broken away. I wish you joy of your freedom.”
She hadn’t spoken to Jim since. He had been frigidly courteous when they met. Something in him drew her, something in her defied his indifference and neglect.
She just couldn’t live without him, that was all. But she had gone on, laughing, flying. She was good at hockey, a near champion at tennis, an expert swimmer, why should she knuckle to her fear of the air?
Flying against the wind, Doc Barnes had said. How had he known that she was flying against the wind of love? If the bushels of letters Eric received, the appeals for his photograph were a criterion, she was the only girl in the world who wouldn’t go mad with joy at the prospect of hopping off into matrimony with him.
“Better, Gay?” Her mother’s question wrecked Gay’s train of thought. Mrs. Latimer followed her inquiry into the room and closed the door behind her. Gay flinched. That closed door meant battle.
Perfectly groomed, smartly tailored, Elizabeth Latimer reminded her daughter of a hard-shell beetle. “What has happened between you and Eric?” she demanded.
“Happened? Nothing but the crack-up, which didn’t amount to anything.”
“Then will you tell me why, with the first glimmer of consciousness, you begged Jim Carroll to hold your hand–tight?”
“Was Jim here when I–?”
“Here! He brought you home. He was on the field when Eric’s plane turned over. Didn’t you know that he had a pilot’s license? He flew thousands of miles while he was away. He picked you out of the wreck, brought you home and sat beside you for hours.
“Fortunately Eric was taken to the Club. I shudder to think of the consequences if he had seen you clinging to Jim Carroll. He would have broken the engagement.”
“That sounded as if you hoped he would. Don’t dare tell me that you are going odd about Eric Crane. Think of his fame. His every move is radioed from one end of the country to the other. He is in line for a title. He has a fortune. He is good looking, entertaining. What more can you want?”
“Have I said that I wanted more?”
“No, but remember that if anything happened to break your engagement I should die of mortification. Think of the headlines! Forget Jim Carroll. He has encouraged you to be different from other girls. Thank heaven he is caught at last. Jim is tagging at the heels of a visiting girl. She is beautiful, smart. Time he married.
“He is old enough, rich enough, but he persists in living alone in that beautiful old house of his with those two Filipino boys for servants. Sara will serve tea here at 5. I thought Eric might hobble over. I’ll lower the blinds. Better go to sleep. Bye-bye.”
Of course Gay couldn’t sleep, but it was a relief just to close her eyes and shut out the room and the sunshine.
When she opened them again the lamp was lighted. The flame under the silver kettle on the tea tray was a spear of green. She must have slept for hours. Her heart tripped, raced on. Was that really Jim Carroll standing with one arm on the mantel? She wasn’t dreaming. Those were Jim’s straight-gazing gray eyes, that was Jim’s firm mouth with its lovable twist as he smiled as he used to smile before–
“Had I known that a boy friend was coming to tea I would have made myself gorgeous. You seem terribly far off. Come nearer. I won’t bite.”
“Don’t try to pull yourself up. I’ll do it.” He lifted her gently.
She leaned her head back against him. “Give me a couple of kind words, Jim. I’m sorry. I–I didn’t mean that about breaking away.”
She saw the color come into his bronzed face, his eyes darken. Then he was replying casually. “That’s all right. Presume I overdid the dictator act. When will Doc Barnes let you go out? Here’s your tea. You don’t take sugar, do you?”
Gay felt as if he had bolted a door between them. She felt a babyish urge to put her head on his shoulder and cry. Instead she answered his question: “If I am very good I am to go downstairs tomorrow.”
“Didn’t Doc Barnes tell you to stop flying?”
“Or words to that effect. But I shan’t. I have one more landing to make and then–solo.” she made a sudden foray into enemy country. “Mother says that a visiting girl is your present heartbeat, Jim.”
His eyes seemed to plumb her heart as he answered. “Did she say that? Well, I am in love. Can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Can’t think of much but–the girl.”
The huskiness of the last two words caught at Gay’s throat. She asked unsteadily: “Why haven’t you told me? We–“
There was the sound of a labored step on the stairs. Eric Crane’s voice. “Righto. I can hobble up. I know the way, Sara.”
Jim Carroll rose, motioned toward the hall. “That’s why I haven’t told you, Gay.”
Three days later just before dawn Gay adjusted her helmet with a hand which shook slightly, and climbed into the forward cockpit of Crane’s plane. He encouraged:
“The only thing to do after a crack-up, Gay, is to take the ship up again at once. Morning is the best time. Few air pockets. Besides, we’ll get ahead of the newsreel men and the reporters. All set?”
The rush of air took her breath. Up! Up! Up!
“Climb!” commanded a voice in her ear.
Gay carried on like an automaton. How could anything so numb as she, live? If only the numbness would extend to her mind so that she couldn’t remember Jim’s voice, Jim’s eyes as he had said, “I am in love.”
She sent the plane skyward. Something seemed to snap within her as it soared. “Give your heart a chance to grow wings,” Doc Barnes had said. Was that what she felt? Wings sprouting?
A wild sense of freedom set her pulses racing. Marry Eric? Why should she? She was cheating herself, cheating him. Would he want to marry a girl who didn’t love him? Of course not. Conditions wre exactly as they had been yesterday, it was her point of view which had shifted. Order and conviction had come out of confusion.
The world was wide awake as she banked. The plane landed with the buoyancy of a bird, gave a little bounce before it taxied smoothly and stopped. Gay drew a sigh of relief. That was behind her!
“Rippin’ landing,” Eric’s voice dripped pride in his pupil. “Next time you’ll go solo. Shut off the switches. Enough for today.”
His air of colossal authority did something to Gay. In a flare of reckless and desperate courage she contradicted: “No, it isn’t. I’ll do that solo now. Hop out, Eric, Quick.”
Crane swung to the ground.
Gay shut her teeth hard in her under lip and rammed the throttle wide open. The plane’s prompt resonse to her hand on the controls stopped the pounding of her heart. Why should she be afraid? She had flown this ship any number of times. Quite suddenly she felt Jim Carroll’s presence behind her, heard his voice: “Steady, lady, steady!”
Eric had his arms out before the plane stopped. He lifted her from the cockpit. His face was white, but his voice was exultant.
“You’ll get your pilot’s license for that. You grand person! The moment I saw your mouth I knew you had courage and nerve; that’s why I fell in love with you. What have you done to your lips? They’re bleeding. What’s the matter?”
He touched her cheek with his ungloved hand. “You’re like ice. You didn’t have enough on for an early morning flight. The next time–“
Gay’s eyes met his below the helmet. She said unevenly: “There won’t be any next time, Eric. I’m through.”
“What d’you mean–through? You’re a pilot now.”
She pulled his ring from her finger, forced it into his hand. He looked at it, then at her. “What does this mean?”
“It means that I like you enormously, but I don’t love you enough to marry you, Eric. I was thrilled, proud that you should want me. I made myself fly with you–but–I can’t make myself air-minded. I can’t marry you. Your wife should be crazy about flying. I hate it.”
Dumb with amazement, he caught her shoulders. “That crackup upset you, Gay. You’ll feel differently after a few more flights.”
“No. Mother says that I am ‘an odd stick.’ I must be when any other girl in my world would be thrilled to death to have you care for her. But–but–it’s no use, Eric. I love someone else. Goodbye.”
She heard the roar of his plane, saw it zoom into the air. He would be horribly hurt for awhile, but he liked the adoration of women. Free, he would be surfeited with it. Free! Eric free. So was she. Her mother would be furious.
She collided with someone standing directly in her path. She looked up. Caught at a button on a tweed coat. Implored, “Jim! Jim! What shall I do? I’ve broken my engagement. I’ve just this minute thought of the blast of publicity which will follow. Where shall I go to get away from it? You’re white. Do you hate helping me?”
He slipped his arm within hers. “Hate it! We’ll take that up later. I thought I’d lose my mind when I learned you were up in that plane alone. I was with you in spirit every minute. Thought you’d never land. Come along to my roadster. A camera hound is parking near yours.”
When they reached the low-slung green car he picked her up and deposited her in the seat. The look in his eyes, the touch of banditry in the action set her heart pounding. He swung in behind the wheel. As the car shot forward Gay asked anxiously: “Where are we going, Jim?”
“We’re going where you’ll escape publicity, lady. Settle back and relax. You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
Eyes on the white road he demanded: “Doc Barnes told you to keep out of a plane, didn’t he? He told me that if you didn’t keep out of the air for a while he couldn’t be responsible for the consequences. He has the idea that you are forcing yourself to like flying. ‘Can’t you stop her, Jim?’ he growled. I allowed that I could.”
He pulled a folded paper from his pocket, opened it with one hand and pointed to the printed lines: “Know what this is?”
A marriage license! Gay’s senses whizzed like a fiery pinwheel. Jim and the visiting girl? The car stopped with a jerk. Carroll flung an arm about her shoulders and asked with husky tenderness, “My dearest dear! Does the thought of marrying me make you look like that?”
The world steadied. Gay tried desperately to keep the thrill from her voice. “Marrying you! It was the thought of you marrying the visiting girl–“
He drew her close and held her until she looked up into his eyes. Later, some time later, she asked, “What will Mother say, Jim?”
“She won’t have a chance to say anything. The other day when you leaned your head against me and asked for ‘a couple of kind words’ I knew that at last the brother stuff was out. I’ve sent one of the Filipino boys to my Maine camp to round up the guides and provision it for us. Engaged a publicity-proof clergyman and waited for this minute.”
“This minute! Jim you don’t mean–“
“But look at me! In riding breeches and leather jacket and a helmet for a hat!”
“I’m trying not to look at you. I shall kiss you again if I do. I’ll bet these bushes are full of cameras. Think of the publicity I’ll get! I, the man who has dared supplant an international aviator hero. Can’t you hear the newsboys shouting, ‘Extra! Extra! Famous English Aviator’s Fiancee Elopes!’
“We’ll stop in New York where Mrs. Jim Carroll may shop until luncheon. There’s a suitcase in the rumble Sara packed for you. Just before we start for the woods I’ll wire your mother. We will be out of reach before the news gets about.”
Her fingers tightened on his sleeve. “We’ll get in touch with Mother before we’re married, Jim.”
“She’ll make a row and insist upon your coming back.”
“I won’t go. I’m no longer afraid of her, of anything. I found myself this morning above the clouds.” She looked up as a plane thrummed high above them.
“That’s Eric. Alone. I–I’m sorry.”
Jim Carroll caught her close. “Sorry that you are down here with me instead of up among the stars with–him?”
Every pulse in Gay’s body responded to the look in his eyes, to the caressing softness of his voice. Her mouth was traitorously unsteady as she answered: “Sorry! You know I’m not. But I’ll adore flying with you, Jim.”
“Adore it! Look at me. Do you mean it? Doc Barnes and I were sure you hated it.”
“You and Doc Barnes!” she mocked in sheer, gorgeous happiness. “I’ll tell you two boys, darling, that it isn’t what you do, it’s with whom you do it that counts.”