Thursday, May 15, 2014

Millionaire Nurse

By Katherine Foreman, ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel
$1,160,303.54 is a fortune any way you look at it. And that’s what penniless young Andrea Corbury discovered she’d inherited—just minutes after receiving the R.N. degree she’d struggled so long for. Andrea faced a hard and fateful decision. Would she practice the profession she was dedicated to? Or would she live the life of a gay society heiress—and earn the scorn of the handsome young doctor who loved her?
“He had been a country doctor of the old school, and it was his astonishing contention that the only two things essential to the performance of a successful operation were a surgeon and a patient. All else sank into comparative unimportance. A surgeon’s task was to get results by any means at hand, and how he got them was of no great concern to the patient. A good surgeon, he maintained, should be able to do a good job whether he did it in the most modern hospital or on a kitchen table in a farmhouse. Kitchen surgery had taught him invaluable facts, chief among them being the lesson that clean and swift operating did more to minimize infection than all the bothersome face masks and white gowns ever made. Yes, in his later years he had worked in some very find hospitals, but some of his best work had been done in farm kitchens, in his shirt sleeves, with a few boiled instruments in a dishpan. He hadn’t much use for assistants. They got in the way.”
“It’s against nature for a woman to take no pride in her looks!”
Through great personal hardship and dedicated perseverance, Andrea Corbury has received her nurse’s degree—and no sooner is the papyrus is placed in her hand than she is whisked to a meeting with the attorney of her recently deceased Uncle Jefferson. He had loaned her money for her studies, to be repaid, of course—but now it seems the old geezer was loaded and left it all to her if she actually made it through nursing school. So now the whopping sum of $1,160,303.54 is hers.
Naturally, she and her sister, 17-year-old Joan, go completely to pieces. They buy a huge mansion, renovate it to the latest tastes, outfit themselves in sables and satins, and spend their nights partying at the country club. Much to the disappointment of Andrea’s long-time beau, Dr. Fred Falk, who feels she has thrown away her values; this he tells her when she proposes to him shortly after the interior decorators have had their way with her new mansion. So she starts seeing other men. When she meets society playboy Gerald Maitland at the country club, where the likes of Fred Falk cannot afford to go, she finds Gerald “coldly unapproachable,” and she was “a little frightened of him.” A minor incident with a drunk in which Gerald knocks the poor sap out shows her that Gerald is “a dangerous man,” and that “the polished manners cloaked a tiger.” Naturally he becomes her main beau. What is wrong with these women?
He proposes, but eventually she wises up and turns him down, instead becoming infatuated with Lee Archer, a painter newly returned from Paris who is being pressured by his father to take up the family business. The question of his talent is at best dubious: His canvases haven’t arrived yet from France, the “atmosphere” of Texas is not conducive to painting, and he protests a bit too loudly that art is his true calling! Like all serious artists, though, he spends a lot of time drinking, but Andrea feels that Lee is so in love with her that he cannot leave Grenville, and it’s the torture of being denied his art that causes him to drink, so “to that extent, she was responsible for his drinking.” To save him, then, she decides to marry him, so they can go anywhere and he can start painting again. And believe it or not, Andrea marries Lee before the book is half over.
But at the reception Lee becomes blindingly drunk and scoffs loudly that now he has all the money he needs, and he can go back to Paris and Marie: “All I needed was t’ catch a millionaire sucker,” he sneers. So that’s the end of that marriage—fortunately, we are reminded later, never consummated. And soon he’s been killed in a communist uprising that he has joined somewhere in South America.
So now it’s back to Gerald, who has become a meeker, nicer beau. And meanwhile, Andrea is getting worried: Gosh, if Gerald won’t have her, she’ll die a lonely old maid. What would she do to fill her time without him? If only she “could discover in herself an all-absorbing interest,” she thinks. “She could think of nothing that would fulfill her own urge toward worthwhile endeavor.” Nursing never enters her mind, the dumb twit. So when Gerald finally pops the question, she is so relieved! But not three minutes later, the old bossy Gerald resurfaces with a bound; he’d just been holding his breath under the surface all this time. He plans a cocktail party at which they will announce their engagement, where he preens and struts, staring at Andrea “in cold possession. In his regard she became a chattel.” Fortunately, though, if Andrea was a dolt to fall for Lee, she is a wiser widow now, and turns Gerald down flat in front of everyone: “She would not be robbed of her will and become a slave to his.” Gerald responds by knocking out Andrea’s hired man, fleeing the state, and eventually turning himself in to the authorities, where he is found to be psychotic and committed to the state asylum. Let that be a lesson to you, boys: Be nice to your girlfriends.
After this last setback, Andrea, instead of rejoicing over her narrow escape, instead lapses into a deep depression. And the only thing that pulls her out of it is when she discovers something that she can devote her life to with selflessness and joy—that’s right, another man. Once she has him in hand, then she can turn her attention to other things—like transforming the house, yet again, this time into a cottage hospital, and maybe working on its staff. It will cost about a million dollars to get the hospital built, but apparently she and Joan only spent $160,303.54 in all their sprees, so it’s all good! Especially with Uncle Jefferson smiling down from heaven on the newly wise heiress: “Knowing that the true worth of money lay in the wise use of it, he had balanced her strength of character against the pitfalls of misusing it; and she had almost failed his trust. If he could see and hear her now, he would know that she had finally won through to glorious rewards far more precious than money.” So if you should happen to inherit a million dollars, heed Andrea Corbury’s advice, and don’t go falling for controlling, money-hungry men; just give it all away—starving nurse novel bloggers would be particularly worthy charities—and you will be so much the happier for it.

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