Saturday, October 20, 2012

Palm Beach Nurse

By Peggy Gaddis,©1953
Also published as Moon of Enchantment

Julia Blake was not only a very good nurse and an extremely attractive woman but, most important, people trusted and confided in her. And so she knew:
Why Joseph Smith, her patient and a promising violinist, was brutally beaten but not quite murdered
Why Alice Jerome, who was not only rich but kind, brought Joseph to America from his native Italy
Why Isobel Cartwright, the young, beautiful heir to Miss Jerome’s fortune pretended to be in love with Joseph 
And it was certainly because of her warmth and sincerity that Kent Harper, Miss Jerome’s lawyer and advisor, was deeply in love with Julia, but sometimes not as attentive as she would have liked. Julia finds her job in Palm Beach the most exciting one she has ever had … one which combines the challenge of nursing with mystery and romance.


“Julia’s crisp white uniform was very becoming, and the perky cap that crowned her crisp, shining hair was tilted at exactly the correct angle for a smart, efficient and very pretty registered nurse.”
“As much as she could see of his face, beneath the bandages about his head, she liked.”
“No fancy dress designer in the world had ever been able to dream up a costume as becoming as a nurse’s uniform.”
“It always amuses me that men are so sure that the sole purpose of a girl’s life is to find some hapless male to pay her bills and keep a roof over her head. No matter what her profession is, or how happy she may be in it, or how successful, she’s supposed to be only ‘marking time’ until a man she can snare comes along.”
“I yearn to turn her across my knee with the business end of a slipper in my strong right hand!”
“The three things that make life worth living are, first of all, someone to love; something to hope for; and last but terribly important, something to do.”
“It’s the sort of life I want, too. A small white house, a garden, a tree or two, a sand-box for the kids. Me with a job, coming home late in the afternoon to find you waiting for me at the gate.”
Julia Blake has traveled to Palm Beach in the customary VNRN fashion: One of her patients in her Atlanta hospital needed a nurse to accompany her home and stay with her, and Julia took the job. But that patient is well now, so she accepted an assignment as a special at the hospital—“very, very special indeed, if I may say so,” says the patient’s doctor when he sees her—a young man who was beaten and is now in a coma. On her first day, she walks into the patient’s room to find three people there, despite the no visitors sign posted on the door. So she throws them out—and then discovers that the older woman is Alice Jerome, one of the hospital’s major benefactors.
Miss Jerome has asked to see Julia at her home, and Julia is obliged to put her head in the lion’s mouth—but when she arrives at Miss Jerome’s beachfront villa, Miss Jerome doesn’t decapitate her, she hires Julia to care for the patient when he is well enough to return to Miss Jerome’s home, and installs her in the large suite upstairs with views of the ocean. The patient—an Italian named, strangely, Joseph Smith—is a violinist whom Miss Julia brought home with her from the Continent last year, and she is intent on training him to become a world-class musician, apparently purely out of the goodness of her heart.
Also out of the goodness of her heart, Miss Jerome has raised Isobel Cartwright from infancy, giving the girl everything she wants. Unfortunately, Isobel has not responded with the same gratitude that Joseph shows, and instead displays her true colors by marching into Julia’s room without knocking and telling Julia, “You are to leave my men alone.” This means not just Joseph but also Kent Harper, Miss Jerome’s 30-year-old attorney, who was in the party that Julia ejected from Joseph’s hospital room. Isobel goes on to explain to Julia that she really has a thing for Kent, but is engaged to Joseph on the off-chance that Miss Jerome decides to leave him a lot of money when she dies—which is bound to be soon, because she’s really old and besides, this is a Peggy Gaddis VNRN—so she will have claim to it, since all that money rightfully belongs to her.
Kent, however, has other ideas, which occur to him almost immediately upon clapping eyes on the beautiful Julia in her breathtaking nylon uniform. He takes her out on dates and kisses her—then abruptly stops asking her out, telling her that he loves her and wants to marry her, but he can’t see her for now: “Wait until I can explain a lot of things that you are going to feel need explanations. Will you trust me, darling?” This is not the only mystery Julia grapples with, but the only one she is unsuccessful at solving. The two other main mysteries in this book, i.e. why Miss Jerome is so devoted to Joseph, and why was Joseph beaten up, are soon explained away, when the person who knows the answer decides out of the blue to unburden themselves to Julia. She should have considered a career as a police detective. But she shouldn’t feel too badly about the one answer that got away, as in fact the reader never gets any explanation for this, either.
Joseph, it turns out, is the grandson of a man whom Miss Jerome fell in love with as a young girl, but since the man was merely a violin teacher, and Italian to boot, her family not only rejected the match but drove the man out of the United States. Miss Jerome had tracked down the young Joseph, the last remaining descendent of her true love, and ensconced him at her house, but her attentions to him are ironically his undoing, as they brought him to the notice of an Italian syndicate. His attackers are desperately trying to bring an Italian woman named Vera into the United States. They believe that if Joseph tells Miss Jerome he wants to marry Vera, Miss Jerome, with her money and power, will get Vera into the states without an extensive background check, which would apparently reveal Vera as a bad seed. But Joseph, who cannot betray Miss Jerome, refuses to do this. Unfortunately, he has a weak spot: He’s afraid that the gang will discover that he’s in love with this woman in Italy, Lucia, and that the gang will harm her in some way.
It’s a lot of back story, but eventually we get some action: One night, Julia hears a noise from Joseph’s room, and enters to see a man bending over Joseph with a knife. She screams, the man runs off, and the entire house turns up in his bedroom. She’s a bit embarrassed that all she could manage in this moment of crisis was a shriek: “What a terrible way for a nurse to behave,” she says. When she tells everyone what she saw, Joseph looks them all in the eye and tells them that Julia was dreaming and that there was no man. Finally she gets the hint and agrees she was dreaming, though Kent isn’t buying it. He posts a guard outside Joseph’s windows—and Julia’s, lest the man she saw come back for her, too—but one night Joseph is able to give the guards the slip and escape the house. His body is found on the beach the next morning—and his suicide note is on his pillow, and a scrap of paper with Lucia’s name and address on it is under Julia’s pillow.
His reason for doing himself in, apparently, is to prevent the bad guys from finding Lucia, which is what Julia tells Miss Jerome in an attempt to console her when Joseph’s death leaves her prostrate with grief. Julia wants to track down Lucia in Italy to help her—what this help might be remains unclear—but if she goes racing off to Italy, the bad guys will follow her and find Lucia, and maybe wreak some vengeance. She needs a cover, and what better excuse for her to go to Italy, Miss Jerome decides, than to go on a honeymoon? So two days later, Julia finds herself marrying Kent in Miss Jerome’s bedroom. Isobel is late for the ceremony, and shows up just as the happy bride and groom are kissing—and stomps up to Julia and slaps her to the ground. This is just too much for Miss Jerome, who promptly expires.
But Miss Jerome has one last secret—and you’ll never guess what’s coming—Isobel has been written out of the will, and the estate (after generous legacies to the devoted staff) is to be divided between Kent and Julia. In the meantime, Kent and Julia spend a lot of time discussing, in public places and with numerous people, their top secret mission to find Lucia and prevent the bad guys from discovering her as well. Though we never actually find out how that goes, my guess is that Lucia is doomed.
On the whole, this was a fun and enjoyable book. There is a good amount of camp, and the characters, though straight out of the usual Peggy Gaddis playbook, are entertaining, and for once the ungrateful young rich girl doesn’t see the light, so that was something new. Julia is feisty, competent, and likable, though I was disappointed by her abrupt change in attitude once she has a ring on her finger. She early on declares that she would never give up her job for a man—and after she and Kent marry, they decide she will keep working “until the babies start coming, anyway”—but all the independent spirit she possesses at the beginning of the book is tossed away with the wedding bouquet and she says, “Honestly, Kent, it’s going to be your job to make important decisions. I’d like anything that you’d like. It’s always going to be like that.” After Kent and Julia are married, the book spends about 30 pages treading water as everyone waits for the will to be read, squandering the liveliness it’s had up to this point and slowly fizzling out. It doesn’t pay to look too hard at some of the details of the book—would the mob think that the best way to get Vera into the U.S. is to have Joseph marry her? would Joseph really leave Lucia’s address behind if he’s killing himself to protect her?—but this is, after all, just a silly nurse novel, and in the end it’s still better than most.

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