By Peggy Gaddis
(pseud. Erolie Pearl (Gaddis) Dern), ©1953
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire
“Your reasons for coming to Shellville are your own affair and I have no desire to know them,” Nurse Nora Courtney told the new young doctor—but she knew she lied both to him and to herself. Everything about Doctor Owen Baird interested her for she knew she was hopelessly and passionately in love with him. And when beautiful Lillian Halstead set her cap for the young doctor, Nora realized she must make him see her as a desirable woman as well as an efficient nurse. How Nora achieved her purpose and what these three handsome young people made of their lives is thrilling reading, growing to an unexpected and satisfying climax.
“You’ve been my brother for a good many years and I’m very fond of you. Within reason, of course. But when a man your age who has been a country doctor for forty years suddenly is turned out to pasture and starts kicking up his heels, I fear for the future.”
“Secretly he had been relieved that she had not wanted to be ‘a female doctor,’ because he was old-fashioned enough to object to ‘women medics,’ though torture would not have forced him to admit it.”
“Women have an instinct about other women that is as sure as death and taxes.”
“Come off that lofty peak of disdain, my good woman, and mingle with your betters.”
“Don’t let your profession blind you to the fact that the greatest happiness the world can offer anyone is love and companionship. In being a fine nurse, don’t forget that being a fine wife and mother is an even greater profession.”
“Those white uniforms are so becoming, and I love that crazy little cap!”
“Oh, well, gal-young-’uns ain’t so bad. Reckon wimmen is useful same as men, even if they cain’t plow as good.”
“Lily was a disease that ran rampant, unchecked, because so far nobody had been able to dream up a cure for women like her!”
“Oh, she’s got the usual number of features assembled nicely and all that, but I don’t know that I’d call her beautiful.”
“I told you if you went off like that by yourself you’d make a fool of yourself. And now look at you—running around in slacks, for Heaven’s sake, and that awful shirt, and not even tucked into your pants.”
Orphan Nora Courtney (VNRN heroines, like Disney characters, are frequently orphans) lives with her grandfather, country doctor John Courtney, and his spinster sister, Susan. Dr. John is getting long in the tooth at 65, and is looking to go on vacation. Enter another orphan, Dr. Owen Baird. He is honored to be stepping into Dr. John’s practice—and Nurse Nora, who runs the office, does her best on his first day to make him feel that he’s made the right choice. “To find a doctor with your qualifications who is willing to come to a place like Shellville, when there are so many richer and more varied fields open to ambitious men in your profession—” she begins, but he cuts her off. “I didn’t murder a patient in an absent-minded moment and have to take it on the lam and hide out here, Miss Courtney,” he snipes. She’s insulted, and tells him so, but before they can smooth things over, in breezes Lily Halstead, the dreamiest belle in all of Georgia. “Dr. Baird sort of melted and ran into the usual gooey consistency of men seeing the beauteous Lily for the first time,” she later reports to her great-aunt.
As gorgeous as she is on the outside, it turns out that Lily is actually an ice-hearted conniving tramp with her eye on the fortune of Dick Blayde, who hired her mother as his housekeeper when Lily’s father was killed in his mill. Dick deserves his name, apparently, and runs Lily and her mother ragged, but he’s conveniently at death’s door. Only the women in town see Lily for the gold-digging tramp she really is, but they can’t tell the men that, because the dopes just think the women are jealous. Nora also realizes that if she reports what Lily actually says, no one will believe her and she herself will end up looking bad. This is a bit of a problem because shortly after Owen tumbles for Lily, Nora realizes that she is desperately in love with Owen.
There’s not too much in the way of plot in this book, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s a fun ride regardless. The banter between Dr. John and his sister is always amusing, and the camp factor is pretty good. We visit a few patients, including the de rigueur white trash family with a wife-beating drunk for a husband, and a brow-beaten young woman who is healed when Dr. Baird convinces her to stand up to her overbearing mother. We catch Lily out at a seedy diner at 4 a.m. with a ferret-faced flashy wanna-be gangster, but she slips into the bathroom and hides until Nora and Dr. Baird have finished their eggs and bacon (don’t get any ideas, now; they were on their way home from delivering a baby). The chief fun of the story is following Lily’s scheming and Nora’s increasing frustration that Owen is such a chump. We witness some gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on Nora’s part, but not too much to make it overly nauseating when it comes along. Whenever I open a Peggy Gaddis book, it is with caution; from Dr. Merry’s Husband to Leota Foreman RN, you just never know what you are going to get. This book, happily, is her best so far.