Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nurse in Love

By Jane Arbor, ©1953
Cover illustration by Paul Anna Soik

What is a woman to do when she finds herself in love with a man who not only does not love her but has been cruelly prejudiced against her even before they met? The problem is made more difficult when they are brought together every day by their work as nurse and doctor. Kathryn’s solution was to take refuge behind a façade of pride—but she found it a very inadequate defence.


This book was among the handful I acquired in my first purchase of VNRNs, yet it has remained unread all these years, due in part to its shabby condition and odd cover illustration. It may well be, however, the best of that initial lot (which also included Dr. Merry’s Husband, Congo Nurse, and Nurse Kathy). Kathryn Clare is a 25-year-old nurse on the children’s ward at Wardrop Hospital in Surrey. In her past is one declined proposal, from Dr. Steven Crendall, for whom she felt nothing but friendship when he asked her to marry him before leaving for a post in Nigeria. His heart was broken, and his catty and beautiful sister Thelma assiduously circulated the idea that it was this that led him to contract a tropical disease and return home in some disgrace, having been revealed as not made of stern enough stuff to succeed overseas.

Now there’s a new MD on the ward, Adam Breve, whom Kathryn meets for the first time when coming to the aid of a five-year-old boy who has been hit by a bus. She rushes in to keep uninformed Samaritans from moving the child and possibly injuring his spine, only to be rudely chastised by Dr. Breve, who pushes his way in and sharply lectures her about “the public’s well-meant efforts with accidents” and tells her, “You can rarely leave ill alone, but must do your misinformed best to make it worse,” before patronizingly instructing her to run off and call for an ambulance. The next day on the ward—though he doesn’t even recognize her, much less apologize for his rude assumptions—he is brusque, but she is inexplicably smitten: “She was seeing him not now so much as a welcome colleague as with an instant’s electric awareness of him as a man.”

He is soon revealed as Steven Crendall’s best friend, so he despises Kathryn on sight for her rejection of Steven, clearly believing Thelma’s lies that Kathryn had encouraged Steven but turned him down because she did not want to live in Africa. Kathryn, insulted by Adam’s rude judgment and verbal assault, is too proud to tell him her true, noble reason for declining Steven—that she did not love him. She continues to adore Adam, however, though he ill deserves her: “She loved a man whose friendship and understanding thought might be for others, but were rarely for her. From her he kept them as private territories to be guarded with words that were edged with reserve, and even with scorn. He did not love her in return. He merely despised her.”

Thelma, a divine shrew, is meanwhile plotting to win Adam for herself and even push Kathryn back to Steven so as to dispose of a rival for Adam’s affections. Steven is offered another position, this time in South Africa with the deliciously named Sir Pirbright Chaffen, and Thelma works the gossip mill like a seasoned professional to get Steven to accept the post and take Kathryn with him; Adam believes the wild rumors and coldly insists that Kathryn accept Steven should he propose again.

Misunderstanding compounds misunderstanding, fortified by pride and prejudice, and you wonder how all is going to come to rights in the end. But it does, of course, and rewardingly so, to the point where I can almost overlook the fact that I did not like Adam Breve one bit in the book’s first 75 pages or so. Fleshing out the story are the trials of Kathryn’s friends, who are a largely comfortable, enjoyable lot, and the viciously fabulous Thelma. If there are no Best Quotes, author Jane Arbor has a quiet, pleasant, and occasionally humorous writing style, which I also encountered in My Surgeon Neighbour (though I found the plot there less satisfying). If it’s not a firecracker of a story, it’s certainly thoroughly enjoyable, and makes for a comfortable afternoon in a cozy chair.

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