Sunday, January 8, 2012

Special Nurse

By Lucy Agnes Hancock, ©1948
Cover illustration by Mark Dawson

“It’s all over, my darling.” Gently, Pete’s hand brushed her cheek. Pam was only partially conscious, but she felt that the comforting voice belonged to someone she knew and loved. When Pam awoke in the hospital, Pete was gone. But the nurse told her what had happened to him. “That young man was eloping when his car hit yours. The accident upset his plans, but it’s all right. He’s married now!” Pam couldn’t choke back her tears. She had lost him. But why had he called her “my darling”? Why had he pretended to be in love with her when he had a fiancée all the time? Pam hoped she had seen the last of the flirtatious Dr. Peter Allen. But she hadn’t—not by any means!


“Solitude is for the old and disillusioned, the ugly and neurotic.”

“First and last at head and heart, whether you acknowledge it or not, you’re a woman—a female of the species—a congenital winner of hearts—born to be the wife of one man and the mother of others.”

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to try to teach people to live sensibly.”

“What better way to get acquainted than to marry and live together?”

Like many a VNRN heroine, Pamela Ware has received a legacy from a grateful patient, and has decided to blow the $500 on a vacation. So she buys a used car and hits the road for a month, driving wherever she feels like it and camping along the way. At her first stop, at a quiet inn, a man with a puppy mistakenly barge into her room, where she is in her “lounging pajamas” reading a book. The puppy refuses to be extracted, the young man is flustered and apologetic, she is frosty and cool. It’s love at first sight. Somehow she continues to see him sporadically during her entire vacation, as he seems to be following her, initially to apologize again, then just to piss her off. She sees the MD on his car’s license plate, and this clinches her attitude toward him, as she’s sworn never to get involved with a doctor. “I detest smart-alecky internes and abhor know-it-all doctors both young and old—they’re simply impossible.” His name is Pete, and they spar verbally on numerous occasions, and then, one evening, he kisses her. It’s “a devastating kiss,” and Pam thinks about Pete often at night after that.

Then she is struck by a yellow car—the same color as Pete’s—bearing a blonde woman sitting next to the driver. In the hospital, barely conscious, she hears Pete saying to her, “It’s all over, my darling. You will sleep now.” When she wakes, she finds she’s recovering from surgery. The driver of the other car was eloping with the blonde woman at the time of the accident, but they’ve since married, Pam is told, and she makes “queer little hysterical whimpers” when she hears this news. She’s heartbroken, convinced that Pete called her darling and then ran off to marry another woman. He’s “just a common philanderer—that most detestable of all creatures, a male flirt!” Henceforth, it is commonly noted that Pam is not the usual cheery person she was when she went on vacation. But wild horses will never drag the story from her, so she tries to be happy and mopes in private.

It turns out that the nephew of the wife of the chief of staff at her hospital himself performed the unspecified surgery that saved Pam’s life. This nephew, Percival Chadwick, is coming to take the chief’s job, but hasn’t arrived yet; he just happened to be in the building when Pam came in after her accident. The nursing staff dubs him “Dear Percival,” and “they say he’s not only a wonder as a surgeon but the acme of masculine pulchritude.” You don’t need to have read hundreds of VNRNs to quickly deduce that Dear Percival is Pete, and it’s just a matter of time until they run into each other again and all is put to rights.

That doesn’t actually happen until page 127, but guess what—you won’t mind at all. In the interim, we watch Pam nurse numerous patients back to health and hang out with her roommate, Joan. Pam is a spunky gal who calls a spade a spade, tells people off when she has to, and she is kind and generous and quick-witted. Her roommate is the one of the snappy dialogue, who speaks of the time when “Dear Percival is to brighten our drab lives. […] The day draws near, Pam. Aren’t you excited?”

When they finally do meet, at a dinner at the chief of staff’s house, she is indeed. He explains that he is Percival Chadwick—but he hates to be called Percival, smart man, and so he goes by Pete—and he was not the eloping driver of the car who hit her. But she shuts him down again, because she heard a rumor that Dear Percival is in love with a woman who turned him down. Gee, who could that be? She continues to snub Pete mightily, though he tells her he loves her and wants to marry her. It’s another 40 pages until the final reconciliation, and unfortunately, from this point on, the book loses some of its spark. It’s never easy maintaining any kind of suspense about an issue that anyone else except a VNRN heroine could see right through, and Ms. Hancock doesn’t quite pull it off. But everything else about this book makes it absolutely worth reading. The relationship between Pam and Joan and the stories of the patients Pam meets at work, paint a vivid picture of this woman’s life. The writing is snappy and entertaining, and the book hums along—up until the end, but forgive Ms. Hancock this flaw and read this book nonetheless.

Alternative cover,
illustration by Barye Phillips 

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