Saturday, September 3, 2011

Settlement Nurse

By Rosie M. Banks
(pseud. Alan Jackson), ©1959

Cover illustration by Bob Abbett

Cindy anxiously watched her delirious patient. Kenneth Randall was a new experience for her. To the older nurses from the settlement house he was just another drifter—a vagrant who moved from one cheap hotel room to another, from one misery to the next. But Cindy saw only a man who needed her as no one ever had. It was her job to save him. But from what? His past was a mystery. And what of his future? Did it depend on the show girl who had left her green stockings in his room? Suddenly Cindy was shocked to realize that she was actually jealous of a woman she had never seen. It was ridiculous—but it had happened. Cindy was falling in love with a strange man she hadn’t even spoken to!


“His was a difficult age, Henry knew, but the trouble was it looked as if that difficult age was going to last a lifetime.”

“Seventeen is an age when moral lectures are not welcome—if indeed they ever are.”

“That girl is no place for a young man.”

“The young tip well from inexperience and insecurity; Americans always tip well. Kip was both, and therefore almost more priceless than rubies to any waiter who knew his way about.”

“Cindy wasn’t tired, because she was nineteen, had just had a wonderful, perfumed hot bath, and was clad in a brand-new pink silk negligee that would cost her daddy close to a hundred dollars.”

“Surgeons and actors have got to be conceited; to be any good they have to believe they’re the best.”

“What the patient now needed was, as he often explained in his lectures, not the will to live—an amoeba probably has that—but the will to be active.”

“One of the joys of a nurse’s uniform, Cindy was discovering, was that it allowed you to speak far more frankly and at ease than would ordinarily be possible.”

“Everything’s fake about her except, I am sorry to say, her hair and figure.”

Lucinda Warren leaves the Helena Apdorf Settlement House, where she works as a visiting nurse’s aide for poor patients who aren’t sick enough to go into the hospital, and changes trains three times before ending up at a seedy garage on 51st Street between Third and Second Avenues in Manhattan. There Cindy climbs into a tobacco-brown Jaguar and drives home to her family’s estate in Manhasset on Long Island. She’s hiding her wealthy background from her fellow workers at the Settlement House because she doesn’t want them to think she’s just having some weird rich-girl fun; she’s quite serious about her work, except that she’s not actually a nurse (despite the title) and does not have any plans to become one, and she only works one day a week.

On the job she meets Kip Randall, a drunken sot who is the son of two famous movie stars. His father is deceased and his mother has recently lost every dime and so cannot support him in his alcoholic binges. He is passed out, unshaven, half-dressed (he does have his pants on), and quotes poetry (Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe) to them, and Cindy leaves the disheveled slum he lives in thinking she could fall in love with him. Despite the fact that she is unofficially engaged to Brent Harwood, Harvard grad but rather a dope; she enjoys making literary allusions to him because “he seemed never to have read a book.” He just doesn’t make her swoon, and “still a girl should be allowed a swoon now and then. And why couldn’t she swoon at the sight of her husband—just a few times at first, say? A girl has a right to swoon.”

It’s an odd match-up, and I couldn’t help watch the relationship between Kip and Cindy develop with a jaundiced eye—another miracle cure attributed to Cupid?—but in truth, Kip’s recovery from alcoholism is somewhat realistic. We’re shown several times that Kip feels he has nowhere to go but up: “He’d talked an awful lot about straightening himself out, but he’d always put it off. Now there could be no more postponement. He’d just about hit rock bottom. … and so at long last, the real and true moment of decision was present, and Kit was facing it.” He’s attracted to her, and they go out to dinner, and even kiss in the cab. But when Cindy tells him that she’s in love with him, Kip does not echo the sentiment. He could not be in love with her for a while, he thinks to himself, because he has to learn to stand on his own before he can get really involved with her. He doesn’t even sail through recovery; he has a bad patch where he starts drinking again and doesn’t show up for work for a week.

Of course, Cindy’s subterfuge about being wealthy is exposed, and she gets a stern lecture, but the head nurses really like her, so it’s all right. Then it turns out that Cindy’s father has earned his money through some shady investment deals that have come to light, and now they’re broke. This—and a new job offer writing for daytime television—gets Kip to commit to sobriety, and to Cindy. “He’s marrying me for my no money,” she tells her father.

Despite this somewhat facile ending, it’s still a cute book. The writing is quite good, and it’s a smart and an enjoyable read. It’s one of the few “nurse” romance novels that is not about a real nurse, and it ends in an actual wedding, which is surprisingly uncommon—I think I’ve seen it only once or twice before. I must again say that I am totally impressed by the fact that the author chose the pseudonym Rosie M. Banks, a fictional character who writes romantic dreck such as Madcap Myrtle and A Red, Red Summer Rose, seen in the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse. I hope to someday uncover who the real author was, apart from just his name. Until then, I have only the four books (s)he wrote to comfort me.

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