Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wayneston Hospital

By Elizabeth Kellier (pseud. Elizabeth Kelly),
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Wayneston was a very small village hospital, having only one resident doctor, the young Chief of Staff, Ian Collington-King. And when Susan Brent came to work there as a staff nurse, the enigmatic doctor immediately roused her curiosity. Susan’s puzzlement grew after she confided her feelings to her fiancé, handsome Brian Draycott. For Brian was sure a scandal was attached to Dr. King’s name, and for his own purposes Brian was anxious to uncover it. Why had the brilliant young surgeon chosen to hide away in Wayneston? What had Brian to gain by discovering Dr. King’s secret? And why did Susan find herself in the storm center of an emotional battle between two men in her life?


“Am I interrupting one of those important female confabs?”

When the story opens, Susan Brent has just graduated from nursing school, not an uncommon affliction for heroines of vintage nurse romance novels. (It seems that once you graduate from school, the only next logical step for a gal is to get married.) Susan has left her home in London and moved to a small town in Dorset to work at the hospital and to be near her fiancé, Brian Draycott. Brian is a partner in his uncle’s development firm, and he is in charge of buying real estate so the firm can put ticky tacky houses on it. He’s hoping to buy a lot of land that’s coming up for sale soon for himself and build a house on it, and then he and Susan will get married. In the meantime, they’ll go to dinner at his stuffy parents’ house and to the movies a lot. And after they’re married, “you’ll be able to quit work altogether,” as she’s told several times in the book’s first few pages, which she receives with nary a peep.

She first meets Ian Collington-King, the limping doctor who today would be called a hospitalist, at the local pub, almost colliding with him, and it was only his “quick action … that prevented her from being thrown off balance,” as he seizes her elbow. His companion, Mr. Treverly, who runs a house in the country nearby for retired gardeners, “did not appear to like Brian. But why not? she wondered.” Such are the mysteries of vintage nurse romance novels.

But there are more! At work Dr. King, as he is mercifully called, is mum about his private life. “Nobody seems any wiser about him now than on the day he arrived eighteen months ago. In some ways, he’s a real mystery,” another nurse tells Susan. He lets it slip to Susan that he was in Rhodesia when he was in the army, and naturally she tells Brian this. Brian thinks he has heard the name before, and with Susan’s tip he soon remembers that a Major Collington-King was “cashiered” (I had to look this up, it means dishonorably discharged) from the army for embezzling money from the mess funds to support “a particularly expensive wife” and spent six months in prison for it.

In person, however, Dr. King is a kind, benign gentleman. Susan feels “surprisingly at ease” with him, and when he gives her a lift back to town, she admires how he handles the idiosyncrasies of his battered old automobile, and she feels like she did as a child in her father’s car, “so wonderfully safe.” This is in sharp contrast to Brian’s shiny new Sunbeam, a powerful racecar that he drives too fast for Susan’s liking. We are given a tour of Dr. King’s superior surgical skills, and the de rigueur enthusiastic appraisal of his hands: Susan thinks he is “a more than efficient surgeon. His slim, long-fingered hands moved with an instinctive skill, almost as if they had no need to be controlled by his brain. … She once more admiringly acknowledged his expert adroitness.”

Brian’s godfather, Mr. Chadwick, is a crotchety unmarried wealthy old man with a blood disease that brings him to the hospital on a regular basis. Who is he going to leave his money to? Brian despises the old man’s relatives who hang around like flies but then uses Susan to get him onto the floor to see Mr. Chadwick after visiting hours are over. Susan resents this, but does it anyway.

Brian begins to suspect that Dr. King is trying to get Mr. Chadwick’s money and seems to become a little unhinged in his obsession with the idea. Even after they have a heated discussion about it in which he snarls at her for her “touching faith in [Dr. King’s] integrity,” she runs to tell Brian of an outing Mr. Chadwick took on his own one afternoon, arranged by Dr. King, and then about a letter that Mr. Chadwick asks her to mail for him to his lawyers. Brian becomes furious with each news bulletin and snaps at her, “I notice you’re quick enough to jump to the defense of Collington-King again.”

In the book’s climax, Brian makes a scene at a local dance, accusing Dr. King of assisting his godfather of buying the lot of land he wanted out from under him and donating it to Mr. Treverly’s charity, and then drives Susan home too fast and gets into an accident. But since she’s unconscious for most of it, the accident is not really exciting or interesting; it’s just over in three sentences.

This is a fairly plodding, quiet story. Not much really happens, and then it ends. It’s not hard to start mentally ticking off the boxes as we pass the obligatory milestones in the plot: Steadying hand on the elbow? Check. Deft surgeon’s fingers? Check. Warm smile and blushing cheeks? Check. It’s not badly written, but our heroine, Susan Brent, has a mere fraction of the starch of her nurse’s cap, and I do tire of hearing about her “well-shaped head” or her outfits replete with “tiny pearl earrings that set off the small ears and the fine shape of her head.” Her eventual rapprochement with—this should not be much of a spoiler—Dr. King isn’t much of a reward, since their previous relationship has been completely pedestrian apart from him twinkling his blue eyes at her. The cover is really the best thing about this book, so after you’ve admired that for a minute or so, just put it aside and be done with it.

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