Saturday, March 26, 2011

Confidential Nurse

By Diane Frazer, ©1962
Cover illustration by Jo Polseno

Linn looked over at the man in the bed. He was lying with his face turned to the wall. He was asleep, she thought, or in pain, because he did not turn his head when they came in.
Dr. Jacoby bent over the bed. “Awake or asleep?” he asked, bending over the patient. “Ah, not asleep. I brought your nurse. A pretty girl with a pretty name. Linn. Linn Morgan.”
Linn stood beside Dr. Jacoby, leaned forward and held out her hand. On her face was the smile of welcome, of cheer, the smile that was automatic.
The man lying there turned his head.
Linn stood with her hand still outstretched, the smile frozen on her lips. She stood paralyzed for the eternity of a moment, aware of Dr. Jacoby’s startled look.
The man in the bed was Ronald Adair!


“No barker he; that is, no complaining or protesting yelps marked the possible ennui of his solitary hours.”

“Passing a beautiful mansion you never knew what was going on inside, behind the drawn curtains.”

“There was no reason to make a Faith Baldwin novel out of it.”

“The only kind of gold I could dig out of you is in your teeth.”

“ ‘She’ll find a job in some tony English hospital and—I wonder what their nurses’ uniforms are like?’
“ ‘The same white tents with the same clodhopper shoes,’ Fred guessed.”

Ronald Adair has sustained “a compound fracture of the tibia besides superficial contusions and lacerations of the right side”—God forbid you just say he broke his leg—in a skiing accident. He’s laid up at the Guggenheim Pavilion, which Google informs me is at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where Linn Morgan is working. He’s British, and gorgeous, and he insists on hiring a male nurse to wash him. “You, Miss Morgan, merely have to hover ethereally over me. That will get me well,” he tells her. She, along with the entire nursing staff, is immediately swooning.

But it’s Linn he goes after. They date, going to a French bistro in the upper 50s on the West Side, for a couple of weeks, until, instead of showing up for her date, he sends her a note saying he’s gone to London and will get in touch as soon as possible. “Please trust me and wait for me. I love you,” he concludes. A month goes by … she tries to forget him …

Then, at 1:00 a.m., the phone rings. It’s a Dr. Jacoby, given her name by a doctor she works for, who needs a visiting nurse for a few weeks. Can she be ready in an hour? No prob! When the limo comes by, she’s packed and ready to go, off to a mysterious mansion on Long Island. The house, belonging to the famous and wealthy Estuengas family of Argentina, is so big Linn can never find her way around it. Dr. Jacoby is there, and he tells her that the patient has shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun. But it would be terrible publicity, so no one must know about it, or where she is, or who she is working for, and the patient must have no visitors. Right. Of course, the patient turns out to be Ronald Adair, but now so cold that poor Linn’s little heart is breaking all over again.

When not on duty, she is fending off muy macho playboy Ramon Estuengas. She also spies on Ramon’s sister Felicia, who she learns is Ronald’s fiancée, as Felicia spends a lot of time at the pool outside Ronald’s window, though she never bothers to visit Ronald. Felicia has a heart condition that could strike her dead at any moment if she gets too worked up. This has left little Felicia with a touch of madness, flirting with death by diving into the chilly pool and accusing anyone who upsets her of attempted murder. “Suicide mania, Linn diagnosed silently.” If she ever finds out that Ronald told Linn that he was in love with her, she would drop dead, surely!

Then one night, wandering in the gardens to ease her broken heart, Linn gets lost. She panics and starts running and calling out for help. Ramon is suddenly there and takes her in his arms—“You’re like a precious little bird. I could crush you, hurt you. Don’t struggle—yes, struggle. You can’t win,” he tells her. “I won’t hurt you again, I promise, not until you want me to.” She breaks away, runs back to the house, and writes a letter to her roommate Stella to come rescue her—but how will they find her? How will she mail the letter? How will she escape “the careful conspiracy which sealed the house off from the rest of the world”? But she’s not a complete shrinking violet; she walks down the two-mile-long driveway to the mailbox and waits for the mailman, who conveniently arrives about 30 minutes later.

The next morning, Stella shows up with her boyfriend Fred, and immediately starts babbling to Ramon that Linn has to leave immediately due to a crisis with her fiancé, Ronald Adair. Ramon’s eyes light up and he spirits himself away to have a chat with his sister…

This is a strange little book, part gothic in its obsession with the house and the cast of characters apparently trapped in it, and somewhat sophisticated in its witty writing and liberal use of references to the likes of Graham Greene and Gilbert and Sullivan, and quoting “Macbeth” at length. But nothing much really happens; there are many scenes of Linn sitting forlornly in Ronald’s room, punctuated by their clipped exchanges: “Close the door.” “If you wish, Mr. Adair.” Diane Frazer is a talented writer, and paints a tangible atmosphere in quiet scenes, but this plot doesn’t give her much opportunity to show off her range.

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