“Mystery – Love – Thrills – Adventure” promises the ad for Emilie Loring’s third novel, A Certain Crossroad. Heiress Judith Halliday runs away from an impulsive marriage to Doctor Neil Peyton only to run into him again in a small, Maine village.
“Do you ever think back and wonder what would have happened had you taken the right turn instead of the left at a certain crossroad?”
Kept apart by their past and competition from two attractive villagers, Judith and Neil solve a mystery involving liquor smuggled in blueberry cans and struggle to right their relationship.
“To be frank, if perhaps discourteous, I don’t care for quitters. They leave me cold. I haven’t time to think about the past. My work here is absorbing and the few friends for whom I have time are eminently satisfying.”
He felt the girl beside him stiffen as she retorted crisply: “That speech is too long and too neatly phrased to be impromptu. I suspect that you have been rehearsing the last sentence since yesterday. It is a masterpiece of its kind. I suppose Diane is first among the favored few?”
Emilie wrote A Certain Crossroad in the year after her sister’s death. Rachel Baker Gale was eight years older than Emilie, a suffragist playwright and the family’s energetic dynamo. The loss brought Emilie and her husband, Victor, especially close, which, in turn, inspired both the character Neil Peyton and Emilie’s dedication of the book to Victor:
“But always the Knight kept the Lady’s hand close in his and always he stepped forward firmly, shining eyes straight ahead, for even in the gloom all was sharp-cut and clear to his vision.”
Once again, Emilie set her story in Blue Hill, Maine, renamed “Seaboard.” Boats are moored in an inner harbor with cottages along its shore. Beyond, in the outer harbor, are the vague outlines of distant hills, hiding places for criminal vessels. This was during Prohibition, and there really were rum-runners and bootleggers in the area.
The story begins with Judith easing out along the branch of an oak tree to better observe unusual goings-on in the inner bay. I think I may have found that tree–or its descendant–a weathered oak that sits right at the edge of a sandy cliff, above the pebbly beach where Judith lands.
“I fared forth all by my lonesome for adventure. I saw the bleached oak, writhed out along the trunk the better to see—the view. All would have gone merry as a marriage bell had I not been inspired to stretch while still astride the tree. I lost my balance and—turn to your own line-a-day book for the continuation of the story. “
According to the book’s advertising, Judith is “a girl who knows how to handle a boat, a man, and herself.” She also knows how to start a plane, which is why the original cover shows her in flying togs, adventurous and bold. By the sixties, I’m afraid there had been a regression in women’s images. Bantam’s edition shows a clingy blonde (Judith had brown hair with highlights of mahogany) looking pleadingly up at a man who holds her in his protective arms. Ugh.
Thankfully, the story remains unchanged. Judith “rescues” a cuddly bear cub with near-disastrous consequences:
Judith felt her color recede as she looked down at the red dripping mouth, at the snapping eyes, the clutching claws below. Into her mind flashed Gretchen’s realistic description of the neat way in which bears stripped a sheep and left the skin in a nice little roll.
And Boris Stetson provokes the jealous ardor of Neil Peyton.
“You permit Boris to kiss you? Well, the more the merrier. If he—why not I?” He caught her in his arms. The girl could feel the heavy pounding of his heart in the instant before he crushed her lips under his.”
It’s a quick read, a scant 319 pages in the original, 169 in paperback. But when you want Mystery – Love – Thrills – Adventure, A Certain Crossroad delivers.