Happy 100th Birthday to The Trail of Conflict by Emilie Loring!
Don’t be deceived by the somewhat drab cover art (by W.V. Chambers), this book is a massively exciting gem in my collection! Simply stated, Emilie Loring is one of the most famous romance novelists within the era I collect, and this is the first edition of her first full-length novel published under her real name. Not only is my copy the original Penn Publishing Company edition, but it’s a complete post-1921 Penn edition, meaning its original perforated bookmark is still attached to the dust jacket’s front flap.
How do I begin to explain the everlasting appeal of Emilie Loring, except to refer readers to other bibliographic resources? Loring’s entry in Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers (edited by James Vinson and published by Gale Research Company in 1982) is written by Margaret Jensen and can be found on pages 443-445. “Emilie Loring is an American writer of patriotic, moralistic romances that comment upon some of the major socio-political events occurring in the United States during the period in which they were published. Loring’s version of the romance formula has had an enduring appeal, for, although her books were written in the first half of the century, their multiple printings up to the present day attest to their continued popularity” (444). The abundance of reprintings paired with the longevity of Loring’s writing career, including her ghostwritten novels, contribute to more name recognition than most of the authors reviewed on this blog. Since The Trail of Conflict is in the public domain, it is freely available to readers today through digital repositories such as HathiTrust.
Another wonderful resource on Emilie Loring is Patti Bender’s website. It really is a must-visit website for any Loring fan. Not to be missed is her post on The Trail of Conflict, which includes the story of its publication history, from its origins in Munsey’s Magazine to Penn Publishing.
The final bibliographic citation that I would be remiss to omit is Geoffrey Smith’s American Fiction, 1901-1925. The Trail of Conflict’s entry is L-513. Now, on to the story!
Stephen Courtlandt and Jerry (short for Geraldine) Glamorgan find themselves in an old-fashioned arranged marriage, plotted over the years by Jerry’s father and hastily foisted upon the Courtlandt family by means of financial blackmail. The Courtlandt family has a longstanding ancestral line, and the Glamorgan family has recent wealth accumulated over the past few decades. Glamorgan buys up the Courtlandt estate and says he’ll kick out the elder Courtlandt unless the socially advantageous marriage takes place. Out of devotion for their fathers, Steve and Jerry agree, but have very little reason to like the arrangement. Their marriage starts out frosty and full of resentment.
The Trail of Tears doesn’t begin as a Western, but morphs into one thanks to a meddling wealthy Uncle Nicholas Fairfax. This brings up the question of why Steve’s Uncle Nick didn’t bail out the Courtlandt estate in the first place, but the convoluted answer is that he refused the money to the elder Courtlandt and didn’t know of the marriage arrangement until it was too late. Steve and Jerry continue to be pawns of their meddling elders, as they shift from living under Jerry’s fathers terms to living under the terms of Uncle Nick’s will after he passes, which states that the newlyweds must live at and manage his ranch, the Double O, in Wyoming. Also, Jerry must lose all claim to the allowance provided by her father.
Loring stacks the tropes on top of each other: first the arranged marriage (strangers to enemies to friends to love storyline!), then the complicated inheritance plot, then the Western-styled story including a potential heist and outlaws. The themes of The Trail of Conflict match Jensen’s write up of Loring fairly well. To paraphrase, Loring’s protagonists have unwavering loyalty to their family, to marriage as an institution, and finally to their country. Also, it’s clear throughout the book that because Steve and Jerry have good morals, they will triumph in the end.
Steve and Jerry’s relationship evolves throughout the book, as they slowly get to know each other while living at the Double O ranch. Jerry’s little sister, Peggy, visits the ranch, and creates a stark contrast to this with her rapid and passionate relationship with Tommy Benson, Steve’s right-hand man.
For being in remote Wyoming, there are a lot of “small world” coincidences. There aren’t many neighbors around, but the owner of the nearest ranch, named X Y Z ranch, just so happens to have been formerly engaged to Jerry. Visiting the neighboring ranch is Felice Denbigh, who contributed to the strain in Steve and Jerry’s marriage back east and was a former interest of Steve’s before he went off to serve in World War I. Speaking of WWI, several men who served alongside Steve appear in the novel, also happening to turn up in Wyoming.
The book builds up to an attempted train robbery from a disgruntled former ranch hand from the Double O named Ranlett. Steve fired Ranlett, accusing him of employing immigrants who hadn’t applied for legal status, and who in turn spoke against the government. Steve’s rant about Ranlett’s sacking (101-103) also matches Jensen’s descriptions of Loring’s themes. Anyway, Ranlett amasses a band of outlaws to rob a train that is carrying currency from the government. Steve and the patriots at Double O ranch stop the plot, helped by various veterans from Steve’s army days, including some who were mixed up with Ranlett but had a change of heart.
After foiling the train robbery, Steve and Jerry declare their love for each other. Felice Denbigh’s ex-husband got mixed up in the plot but helped provide information to foil the plot before passing away, and Felice makes one final Hail Mary pass at Steve that falls hopelessly short as he sends her packing. Jerry’s little sister writes home, “When I look up and see Steve’s eyes on Jerry my heart stampedes. I feel as though I had made the unpardonable break of opening a closed door without knocking. Jerry behaves a little better. She keeps her eyes to heel but her voice – ” (319).
The Trail of Conflict ends the same as it began, with the elder Mr. Courtlandt and Glamorgan. Only unlike their first meeting, this one is jovial and congratulatory. They read Peggy’s letter and reflect on how Uncle Nicholas Fairfax’s meddling saved Steve and Jerry’s marriage. The final sentence of the novel reads, “They stood shaking hands furiously, laughing boyishly, and patting one another’s shoulders as the lights flashed up on the river and night rang down the curtain of dusk.”
Copies of Emilie Loring’s works are available for purchase here.