Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nurse with Wings

By Marguerite Mooers Marshall, ©1952

Anne was engaged to mary Dr. “Staff” Stafford, ambitious young New York society doctor who demanded that she give up the career she loved. Then, one storm-tossed night, her plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness, and the whole pattern of her life was swept out of her control. For as she sought to save her passengers from the burning wreckage, she found a stranger working skillfully by her side. He was Dr. Paul Roy, a young Canadian doctor. Back in New York in Staff’s possessive arms Anne Austin tried to forget the quiet, masterly young Canadian.


“Some women steal spoons. Others, if they get the chance, steal the fillings out of your teeth or the man who is your man.”

“I’ve known her for a long time, which may be the reason I should never consider her anything except a former associate and acquaintance, certainly not a friend.”

“Hadn’t someone said a woman’s husband is simply the oldest of her children?”

“Every rule has exceptions between friends.”

“Pity is a beautiful virtue but no basis for lifelong happinss in marriage. A woman wants to look up to her husband, not look after him.”

“A girl gets used to realizing the nicest men she meets are almost always married.”

Nurse with Wings opens with a bit of a literal bang: Anne Austin, stewardess and registered nurse, is assisting her passengers off her plane—which has just crashed in a field in Quebec. She’s trying to get a baby boy untangled from a smashed seat and his dead mother, but “she was no Amazon,” and it’s only the assistance of passenger Dr. Paul Roy that frees the boy. Once out, she and Dr. Roy agree to drive the baby to his father’s house, several hours away. On the drive they impress each other with their patriotism, their love of flying, their interest in “mercy flights” bringing remote, ill people to hospitals. They soon discover they are both bilingual, French and English, and binational, with one American and one Canadian parent. And she trained at the Quebec City hospital where he now works as an eye, nose and throat surgeon. When they part on page 23, “Anne, with the queer feeling of losing not a new but an old friend, gently freed herself from the strong, sensitive surgeon’s fingers still holding hers.”

Back at home, she has a fiance, Dr. William Lee Stafford, waiting for her, and he manages to irk in the very sentence in which we first meet him when he kisses Anne “proprietorially,” and then it’s all downhill from there. He’s pissy about the years he was drafted into the army during World War II, which he feels were a waste—nevermind about the waste of Anne’s brother Doug, who was killed in the same war. He’s described as brusque, suspicious, petulant, bitter and sullen, and this is all on the first page we spend in his company. Then we learn that “Staff” is constantly nagging Anne to quit her job, though she loves it, is well-paid, and has to work half the hours she would in a hospital, which gives her time to care for her ailing mother. He is such a complete ass that it’s extremely hard to figure out why Anne puts up with him. She is clearly an intelligent woman—she went to Vassar, after all—so her stupidity on this score is quite baffling. Fortunately, Staff is one of those guys who won’t marry until he can support his wife, regardless of the fact that she makes a decent salary and is self-supporting, so she’s unable to ruin her life by chaining herself to this loser just yet.

Mrs. Austin, Anne’s mother, has terrible migraines induced by the summer heat in their New York city apartment, so Anne takes her on vacation to their New Hampshire home on Great Pond in Belltown—Mrs. Marshall was born and raised in Kingston, N.H., which hosts a pond of the same name—and she invites Staff to join them. Soon after his arrival, she takes him to Great Boar’s Head, a rocky promontory in the real-life Hampton (named “Campton” in this book), where the wind is so ferocious that it almost sweeps Anne off the rock into the water. At that moment, rather than grab for her, Staff pushes her off him so as to avoid being pulled in as well. She recovers her balance in time, but she can never quite look at him the same way after that. But soon he decamps, lured away by the promise by a comely young nurse of a job in a sanitorium outside of New York City catering to the ubiquitous wealthy neurotic women. She’s not happy about it, but decides it’s not her place to criticize his choice of career—perhaps forgetting that he has no qualms about doing the same to her.

In the meantime, cataracts are eroding Mrs. Austin’s eyesight. Anne calls Staff, and he gives her the names of two eye doctors in New York. But he makes no effort to help her by calling these doctors, who might be inclined to offer a discounted fee to family of another doctor. The consultations are a complete bust: One doctor refuses to see her out of hand, and the other demands more than $1,000 for his services. So her thoughts turn to the eye surgeon Dr. Roy. What a difference a Canadian makes. While her American fiance offers next to nothing when asked for help, a letter from Dr. Roy magically arrives the day after she thinks of writing to him, offering his services if she should ever be in need of them. After she writes back of her mother’s situation, he sends a telegram offering his surgical services, and soon she and Mrs. Austin are en route to Quebec City. And this is not an isolated incident; time and again, Dr. Roy offers up something Anne and her mother need even before they can ask for it.

Anne is under the impression that Dr. Roy is married—he speaks of two children at home that he has brought up—and at the same time, he tells her that he expects to be paid for the surgery he performed on Mrs. Austin, though he won’t name an amount. Well, we savvy VNRN aficionados completely understand what is going on here, even if the couple in question does not. Then there’s her engagement to Staff in the way as well—

This book has quite a few of the same ingredients we savored in the other book we’ve met by Ms. Marshall, Wilderness Nurse: New Hampshire, New York City, Quebec, bilingual main characters. I enjoyed them all the first time around (and not just because I’m from the same area of New Hampshire), and they’re almost as well done in this book. The picture she paints of a summer cottage in rural New Hampshire is bucolic and beautiful, something you feel you are experiencing with Anne and her mother. The heroine is spunky, independent and likeable, if slow to realize that her fiance is a total dolt. It’s a gentle, easy-flowing book, well-written and intelligent. Its only real flaw is that the plot never really offers up much excitement; this story is more of a pleasant walk along a pretty garden path than any wild ride. So while I did enjoy it, it’s not quite as stellar as Wilderness Nurse.

1 comment:

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