And then she heard the sound of his car coming and her heart quickened. He was coming! The color sprang to her cheeks and a light to her eyes, though she had no intention of looking like the personification of joy, and wouldn’t for anything have had him know how glad she was to see him.
But he saw it, and his own heart was filled with a great joy, which was all quite wrong for a soldier about to go back to camp, and no knowledge of where he was to be sent, or if he would ever come back again. Well, at least this joy was his to keep and remember when he had nothing else.
I can’t for the life of me find the website where I first saw Grace Livingston Hill’s books mentioned, but I believe the opinion was that they were squeaky-clean old-fashioned romances and pretty good as long as you didn’t mind very proper characters, Christian morals, and eventual repetitiveness of plot. I have a feeling that that reader is probably correct. Crimson Mountain didn’t quite have the drama of an Emilie Loring or Louise Platt Hauck romance, but it was pleasant and very sweet.
Lovely young Laurel Sheridan grew up in Carrollton near Crimson Mountain with her wealthy parents. Since their deaths and the loss of most of the money, she has been staying with cousins in the city, whom she fears are planning on marrying her off to one of their well-to-do friends. Laurel doesn’t mind the partying crowd but also doesn’t feel completely comfortable with them, even Adrian Faber who has been paying her special attention. She decides to try earning her own living and heads back to Carrollton to interview for a substitute teaching position. While taking the scenic route across the mountain, her car breaks down along a cattle track. Luckily, Phil Pilgrim is also passing along the road, and after saving her from being trampled by cattle he feels bound to help her out the rest of the way as well.
Phil also grew up in Carrollton, but had only known Laurel to see her because he was a few years older and had a less happy story. He lived with his grandfather on Crimson Mountain and worked at the local filling station. After his grandfather died he put himself through college for mechanics on athletics scholarships and is now in the army, home to sell the farm to be used as a munitions plant before shipping off to camp.
Though Phil is only around for two days, he offers to chauffeur Laurel around while her car is repaired. The two of them spend a good portion of the time apologizing for inconveniencing each other, and feeling like they’ve know each other their whole lives, which is only true technically. Eventually, however, Phil must leave, and Laurel promises to write to him. She is less than thrilled when Adrian Faber arrives the following week to attempt to claim her affections. Two other men she knew in the city also appear at the same boarding house. One night, Laurel overhears a conversation about a plot to blow up the munitions plant. Can she stop worrying about Phil and get the information to the right people in time?
I genuinely liked both Phil and Laurel, and their attraction to each other was sincere and sweet, a blend of love at first sight and childhood sweethearts. They are the kind of people everyone loves to love–Laurel the kind, unspoiled society girl, and Phil the honest, hard-working man who wants to make something of himself. If handled differently they could have easily been obnoxious, but instead they come across as role models.
Part of this is due to the religious elements in the books. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t mind Christian fiction as long as it’s not heavy-handed or overly doctrinal. Crimson Mountain gets a bit close to that boundary at times, but not enough to give me something to disagree with, and still comes across as sincere rather than preachy. Surprisingly, one of my favorite passages is when Laurel realizes that letting God’s glory shine through her means “keeping everything clean and fine about you,” like being patient with the men in the boarding house even if she’d just rather dream about Phil. It reminded me of A Little Princess, and Sara Crewe’s own outlook.
I almost think the book would have been better without the munitions plot, because it all seemed somewhat shadowy and necessitated focusing on the actions and thoughts of characters other than Laurel and Phil. However, the book would have had pretty much no suspense without it. It also, unfortunately, was probably a very real concern at the time.’
Crimson Mountain was written in 1942 (my Grosset and Dunlap copy has the wartime conditions paper notice in the front), and nothing quite matches a book written during the war with the war as part of its plot. Thousands of women were in Laurel’s situation watching men go off to camp without knowing if or when they would get shipped overseas. Thousands of men were like Phil, feeling guilty for encouraging a relationship when he might realistically never see her again. It’s a sobering thought, and every time I think of WWII through a romantic lens I have to remind myself that that’s not the case.
Before I even finished this I found a few more Grace Livingston Hill books Bookmooch to save for a rainy day. I starting flipping through one, and it seemed to be about a spoiled selfish girl–who wore make-up and smoked and snuck out to meet boys–who learns her lesson in life. So apparently not all of her books are for me, but if I can find any others as sweet as Crimson Mountain then I’m a fan. (Provided, of course, I make sure my literary diet consists of more substantial fare as well.)