By Sharon Heath, ©1969
Terry Chisholm made her prime concern the health of the delicate children she took care of at Sunshine House. Young and lovely, she considered no future for herself outside of her career as nurse. Even her best friend’s concern could not make Terry slacken her pace—until romance unexpectedly intervened. For when a youthful doctor and a handicapped sculptor misunderstood each others’ intentions, it was left to Terry to smooth out the emotional tangle. And once she had intervened, it was her own heart that became inextricably involved …
“Perhaps he would discover that a blonde could be every bit as attractive as a redhead!”
“You mean that your pleasure at seeing me was not simply for my sake? Disillusioned and hurt, I maintain my usual exquisite courtesy.”
Sunshine House, set down in the English countryside, is “a convalescent home for children whose parents can’t afford to take them away after a severe illness or operation.” The idea is, the parents meet Terry at the train station in London and hand over their sick children (including one boy diagnosed with “nervous deviltry and maladjustment”), who will be taken back to Sunshine House for weeks or months until they are deemed well enough to return home again, with apparently not one visit from their parents in the meantime. I cannot believe anyone ever thought this was a good idea.
A large cast of characters populates this book. Linda is a good friend of Terry’s who got sick and requires a place to go while she recuperates, and later while her boss is off honeymooning. Adrian Brooke is the indolent nephew of Lady Eskerton, who is a patron of Sunshine House. Adrian is a sculptor, but he injured his hand and now can’t work, so he spends his days flirting with Verity Gale, who is betrothed to Linda’s boss. Jonathan Hensley is a physician and the son of old Dr. Hensley, who cares for Sunshine House’s prepubescent occupants. Benjy is a four-year-old boy that Terry and her mother are raising after his parents died and his only living relatives didn’t want him. Bessie Hargreaves is a scullery maid with a sordid past—she married a man who she discovered, when she was about to give birth to their first child, was already married to someone else, and she lost the baby. Now she moons over three-year-old Maida, whose wretched, poverty-stricken mother dies while Maida is at Sunshine House, leaving her an orphan. Bessie wants to adopt Maida, but first she needs a husband and a home. Wait, there’s Ted Larkin, the gardener!
The two eligible bachelors (neither Terry nor Linda is a Lady Chatterley type, going for the gardener) are clearly destined for the two ladies. Of course, it’s a circuitous route to get them safely to the altar. Terry wants to help Adrian with his hand, and the two are always getting caught together by Jonathan Hensley, who incomprehensibly turns cold toward Terry. Linda insults Adrian, who incomprehensibly becomes infatuated with her. In the end, we have three engagements to celebrate, what with Bessie and Ted also hooking up. (Yes, this makes them eligible to adopt Maida.) Curiously, however, Jonathan doesn’t put the moves on Terry until after Benjy’s aunt and uncle from Australia turn up to claim him after all, when it turns out they can’t have kids of their own. “As long as you had Benjy to think of and love, I was afraid I wouldn’t stand a chance,” he tells her. “When I heard he was leaving you, I began to hope again.” A tad bit Oedipal to be jealous of a four-year-old boy; what’s he going to do when he and Terry have children of their own?
I suppose the re-telling can be a bit confusing, but the book itself is easy to follow and a decent enough read. You’ll occasionally come across some snappy dialogue, such as when Linda tells Adrian that she suspects that his girlfriends are “legion.” He replies, “Like the wedding presents in the newspaper reports. Both numerous and costly.” If you’re snowed in over Christmas break, it’s a pleasant afternoon on the couch.