Lovely, dark-haired Nurse Nora Kane, on temporary assignment at wild, mountainous Rebels’ Run, fought side-by-side with young Dr. Morgan Terry against the disease, ignorance and poverty besetting these proud mountain folk. How different the gruff “hillbilly g.p.” was from the suave young specialist, Dr. Tom Morrisey, waiting back home to marry Nora! Would she choose to be the wife of a fascinating, socially prominent doctor—or remain at Rebels’ Run and reap the deeper, richer rewards of her noble profession?
“There’s more to medicine than pills and powders and knowing when to prescribe them.”
Nurse Nora Kane has taken a six-month temporary job in the deep recesses of West Virginia at the request of her Uncle Jed, who’s been the local G.P. for 40 years and whose nurse has gone on maternity leave. She’s also taking a six-month break from her fiancé, Dr. Tom Morrissey, who is demanding that she quit her job after they are married. So already you know how this book is going to play out. We’ll get 80 pages of snide comments about the fiancé, interspersed with declarations of an undying love that turns out to be a complete delusion by book’s end. So let’s get right to it, beginning on page 6: “Could she give up nursing and still be happy? She loved Tom Morrisey with every fiber of her being. But was love, alone, enough? Could she, if she married Tom and did as he demanded, be utterly miserable and still make him happy, make him a good wife?” It’s curious to me that her main concern about consigning herself to a life of misery is whether she’ll make Tom happy in spite of it. Talk about peculiar priorities.
Anyway, Uncle Jed’s partner is Morgan Terry, and Nora gets off on the wrong foot with him almost at once when, trained under the grasping tutelage of Dr. Tom, Nora can’t understand why Morg, as he is unfortunately known, wouldn’t insist that a woman come to the clinic to have her baby instead of slogging out into the woods to deliver it at her squalid house. One of the first patients we meet is Miss Meliss, born in 1871 and now 90 years old, who is an avowed Confederate and asthmatic. Morg clearly respects her beliefs; “his voice softened” as he tells Nora that Meliss “continues to hold the banner of the Confederacy high.” Morg spends a few paragraphs musing what it must have been like to live in the South during the Civil War, “hated and dreaded Union soldiers riding arrogantly, searching, accusing, and, more than once when they found the Confederate they sought, capturing or killing.” War is certainly a terrible thing, and I don’t mind the depiction of the war from the Southern civilians’ point of view, but sympathy for Confederate ideals, even mildly hinted at, is a little uncomfortable.
If Morg isn’t wildly impressed with Nora, it’s curious that he’s engaged to a wealthy young socialite, whom he believes is a lot like Nora: “Miss Kane was too much like Paula—too pretty, too sure of herself, to certain that other people’s worlds moved as smoothly on their axes as her own always had.” He later thinks, when Paula disagrees with him and voices the strong opinion that he should raise his fees, “Paula needed the spankings she should have gotten as a child, when, if Paula grown up was any criterion, she certainly should have had them.”
And the book unfolds as you know it will: After a few weeks of tenderly caring for Miss Meliss in her cabin accessible only by a 2-mile footpath and all the other flea-bitten locals, Nora begins to re-evaluate her dedication to nursing. “As bone-tired as she became during the week hours of the morning, she enjoyed every minute of the time. She felt strangely at home, as she had not felt at home during a year in Tom’s elegant, modern suite of offices.” Before too long she’s “prettying up” for Dr. Terry, telling herself all the while that “he didn’t know she existed—which was the way she wanted it, she told herself with firmness,” but we know better, don’t we, readers?
Then, her time up in Rebels’ Run, Nora goes back to her home in Vermont, spurred by an announcement in the paper of Morg and Paula’s engagement. But in the interim “she had metamorphosed into a young woman for whom, now, there could only be a career—not a career and marriage, as she used to dream.” So she pouts around the hospital, and Tom tries unsuccessfully to kiss her: “The hint of savagery that been in his first, interrupted kiss was a surging passion now; it was a long, hard, hurting kiss that became angry as he sensed her lack of response.” This is not the first time I’ve come across men using a kiss as a weapon of sorts, a moderately chaste rape, to punish women who don’t love them, and needless to say I find it rather appalling. It does, however, signal the end of any pretense of a relationship between Tom and Nora. Then, when a letter arrives from Rebel’s Run saying that Morg and Paula are not married after all, so Nora decides to indulge in some “shameless chasing” and she heads back to West Virginia to be private nurse for Miss Meliss. Morg turns up the next day to check on his patient, finds Nora there, and that’s that, in a quick but relatively cute ending.
Frankly, I would have bet a lot of money that this book was written by Peggy Gaddis, because it has all her classic elements: feisty old woman, inaccessible mountain cabin, references to spanking, rich spoiled fiancée, grasping rich fiancé, good-hearted elderly G.P., pro-Southern sentiment, strong heroine who experiences a change of heart about the rubes she’s forced to care for. It’s not actually a bad story as far as nurse novels go, but the formula is so tired by this point that the fact that I can recite along with the story line is a not insignificant drawback. If you can overlook that flaw, however, it’s a book worth reading.