Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doctor’s Wife

By Maysie Greig, ©1937
Two women loved Dr. Bob Bradburn. Natalie Norris had always loved him. Hers had been an idealized love when she was fourteen, and then, as she grew older and worked side by side with him, a love that made her long to be part of his hopes, his discouragements, his triumps. Hers had been more than the ordinary hero-worship of a young girl, and more than a nurse’s infatuation for a handsome doctor. But there had to be many moments when she could not share in Dr. Brad’s life. He was married to Marjorie Daw, a beautiful, spoiled child of a girl who knew how to fill his leisure hours with gayety and excitement. Into the story that tells which one was to give him the more lasting happiness, Maysie Greig has woven drama, thrills, tragedy—all the many colored aspects of true romance.
“When you’re dealing with unintelligent people you should never lose your temper.”
“That’s what makes life pleasant and at the same time possible—that we do forget.”
“It’s important for a girl to have a job which will enable her to meet decent men. I suppose I mean, by that, men with money. It’s more imprtant really than getting good pay. You don’t get much fun out of life otherwise.”
“Women, after all, belonged to the lighter side of a man’s life. Bob had rather old-fashioned ideas about women. They were a man’s recreation—gay, delightful creatures to turn to when the day’s work was done, to share vacations with, to go out to parties with, to be at home when one wished to relax. It never occurred to Bob that there could be a woman who could enter into the other side of his life, who could share his ambition, his work, who could become so much a part of his every waking thought that it would be impossible to go on without her.”
“I shouldn’t have said you were looking haggard. I know it’s the unpardonable thing to say to a woman.”
“Perhaps there wasn’t quite so much thrill in a husband as there was in a lover. At least, not the sort of thrill that made you want to spend every available moment alone with him.”
“It’s so pleasant to feel you’re a martyr. It gives you nice little prickles of virtue all the way up your spine.”
“You can always excuse what you do yourself; it is not so easy to excuse what someone else does.”
“Women like to be treated badly. It’s the old slave complex coming out in them.”
“You should never be sorry for anyone who can genuinely feel an emotion, whatever it is. You should be sorry only for those people who have lost all capacity for feeling anything.”
After a long drought, I offer you Doctor’s Wife as a gentle rain on a thirsty desert. Natalie Norris is just 14 when we meet her; her grandmother has just died and left her alone in the world, and Dr. Robert Bradburn, 24 and just starting his career, is advising her to go into an orphanage, though she is fighting with the condescending charity maven who has swooped in to do what’s “right” for the young waif. On her own, Bob suggests, she will not be able to finish her education and will never be more than a shop girl; if she goes to the orphanage, she will be able to go to nursing school and so embark upon a satisfying and well-paying (relatively speaking) career that will maximize her brains and talent. Natalie reluctantly agrees to the proposal, as long as Dr. Bob will hire her when she finishes nursing school, which he agrees to do.
Cut to six years later, and Natalie is finally a nurse when she runs into Bob in the hospital—or rather, faints dead away when the nurse she is with mentions that Bob is about to be married to socialite Marjorie Daw. Once roused, she reminds Bob of his promise, and now she’s working in his office and stirring up the jealousies of the frivolous young thing who has become the doctor’s wife. And with good reason: Marjorie will “always be a child,” Bob tells Natalie. “She makes you forget your cares and enter the world she lives in. It’s an unreal world, of course, a make-believe world, but it’s very pleasant.” Natalie, a serious, deep individual who likes to read literature, immediately understands: “She is champagne,” she replies, and Bob is startled into seeing her as a human being, one with far greater possibilities than his wife.
Marjorie likewise understands that there is much in her husband that she will never access: “She knew that there were depths to him she couldn’t reach, that despite his frequent laughter and the humorous twinkle that, every now and then, lighted his eyes, there was a deep seriousness to his nature she couldn’t altogether appreciate or understand.” She is a social butterfly fond of parties, but as time passes she becomes increasingly discontent with this role as the happy housewife, because she realizes her superficiality and its limited attractiveness to her husband but is at the same time powerless to change her intrinsic nature. She becomes increasingly resentful of Natalie, especially after she demands to see Bob in his office when he is with a patient and Natalie forbids it, and when Natalie crashes a party at Bob’s house to tell him that his patient is dying and requires immediate surgery; it turns out that Marjorie has intentionally turned off the phone (by jamming paper between the clapper and the bells to muffle the ringer, quaintly enough) to keep Bob at home for the event (and needless to say, this always spells certain doom to a relationship in a VNRN).
Now Bob is awakening to Natalie’s charms, and to the fact that his initial attraction to his simple wife has dried up. Marjorie decides to go to sailing in Cuba, and now Bob is free to take Natalie out to dinner and dancing. One evening he confesses that he loves her, but now she insists that they must part, because there must be no temptation or divorce to ruin his career. She’s given her notice when Bob gets a call that a very important patient is in Havana—where Marjorie is sailing!—and needs his surgical services immediately. Natalie must go with him to Cuba to assist in the surgery, and Marjorie soon learns that Bob and Natalie have checked into the Hotel Carlos. She storms to the hotel, where doctor and nurse are enjoying a cocktail after having performed “one of the most skillful and courageous operations in medical records.”  Marjorie stages an absolute superlative of a scene and then whirls out in a hysterical fury, driving a “great, powerful, supercharged Dusenberg”—and surely I don’t need to tell you what happens from this point on.
The final chapter is a bit of a letdown, but it’s only five pages, and since we’ve had such a beautiful ride through the first 200, it’s not too difficult to forgive author Maysie Greig. This is one of those charming older nurse novels that reads like it were wrapped in the airiest of chiffons. What it’s about doesn’t really even matter; it’s a lovely read, light yet filling, and it’s a rare joy to find a VNRN like this one. The characters are real and well-drawn—even silly Marjorie is a sympathetic character—and the writing is far more than the minimum required to get the job done. It seems the author has penned several other VNRNs, including the pleasant enough Overseas Nurse under the pen name Jennifer Ames, so I’ll be doing a little shopping in the near future, particularly for her earlier works. But it will be hard to find one that tops this delightful little book.

The Doctor’s Wife

By Peggy Dern (pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1966
For two years, R.N. Ivy Carter had been engaged to Dr. Gerald Larrimore, a brilliant young surgeon and cardiologist. Despite the fact that Gerry was studying and doing research in a large Northern city, Ivy continued her nursing in a small town in the South while she awaited his return. But when he came back, it was not alone—it was with a new bride, one who seemed bent on corrupting Gerry’s professional integrity. Overcome by shock and heartache, Ivy refused to be comforted by Murray Blake, the intern who had long secretly and hopelessly adored her, or by Gary Whitman, the millionaire playboy who found in Ivy the one woman he had been searching for. Could Ivy work alongside the man she loved day by day and watch him being manipulated and destroyed by a scheming woman? Could she accept the fact that the man was out of her life forever and accept love from another?
“In Oakhaven servants were hard to come by. The new dress factory, about which the county seat town had been little less than ecstatic, had drained off the women and girls who were normally available as maids and cooks. It was a not so funny joke among the more prosperous women that in Oakhaven there was no servant problem, because there were no servants available.”
“I like to feel that, professional house guest though I may be, I’m not quite a gigolo.”
“You want to be the big provider who goes out and slays dragons and pulls them home by the tail to show the little woman, huddling in the cave to which you brought her.”
“My Pop says that people that live uptown don’t fight. Must be kinda dull, don’t you think, Nurse? I kinda like a good fight, with people screaming and folks heaving things at each other.”
“I look like the breaking up of a long, hard winter, and you doctors should surely know it, since you had a lot to do with the way I look.”
“I’ll have fun doing over the house, and then at night when you come home, we’ll be together. And no woman in her right mind could want more out of life!”
It’s a real pity about the cover of this book, because this illustrator’s work makes me cringe in horror, but it’s one of the best Peggy Gaddis novels I’ve read. So unless I can find it in a different edition with a better cover, we’re just going to have to bear it.
The book opens with the kindly supervisor of nursing giving Ivy the cruel news, that her fiancé of several years—who just wrote to her not three weeks ago to assure her of his love and interest in the plans for their upcoming wedding, the skunk—is turning up after a two-year stint in a New York hospital sporting a ring on his left hand and a wife on his arm. After tumbling from the supervisor’s office, Ivy walks blindly into Dr. Murray Blake and tells him the reason for her pale visage. This being a Peggy Gaddis cum Dern book, you know there has to be a threatened spanking in here somewhere, and Gaddis mercifully gets it over early on, when Murray warns Ivy,  “If you start defending the so-and-so, I’ll probably turn you across my knee and wham you!” From this low there is nowhere to go except to the stalker-like profession of undying love, so Murray offers it up with a thick frosting of darlings, but Ivy isn’t moved, curiously.
Denise Larrimore, the new wife of Dr. Gerry, arrives in due time, and she is “small, shy, demure, and unbecomingly dressed.” She straightaway offers more patented Gaddis treacle, to wit: “I’ll always be happy anywhere you are, and unhappy anywhere unless you are there,” she coos to her new husband. But we soon discover it’s all an act, for reasons unknown: “Being a clinging vine had really paid off, she told herself exultantly,” she says after having won an argument by crying and flinging her arms around his neck. “She’d put it over again!” Denise, who is quite wealthy in her own right and therefore has little need of a man to support herself, proves to be quite the conniver, worming her way into the most important social circles in town—that would be the Garden Club and the Civic Center and the Hospital Auxiliary. I’m not quite sure what made Gerry ever think this woman was shy and demure, because apart from her gushing at him, she certainly never acts like a shrinking violet; she in fact was the one who proposed marriage, not Gerry.
We’re alerted to the fact that “her whole campaign of marriage had been aimed at establishing him as a ‘luxury doctor,’ to whom the people she knew would come when they needed medical advice.” He’s adamantly opposed to the idea, though he feels guilty that he has dragged Denise from her sophisticated city life to a backwater southern town. But it’s not clear why Denise wants this of him, and I’m not really sure if she even loves him, though she repeatedly tells everyone else she does, because in her conversations with him she see-saws between scorn and syrup, and we’ve already been shown that her overblown sentiment is a fiction.
Indeed, it isn’t long before Denise is neglecting to pass on messages that a patient of Gerry’s is dying (“He asked for you before he went into a coma,” Ivy tells the good doctor the next day), spitting at him that she hates this “dizzy, weird little town,” and looking “chic if a bit overpowering in gold lame pants and a black and gold top.” Of course, after gliding down the stairs, she collapses in a puddle and begs Gerry not to divorce her, and the dolt laps it up—and when she’s smiling and satisfied with herself, he suddenly realizes “how little he really knew her. The real Denise, hidden behind her façade of shyness, was demure, retiring. But, he told himself, she wasn’t really like that at all. She was a determined woman who had every intention of getting exactly what she wanted, and if anyone got in the way—well, that was just too bad.” He tells her that he doesn’t know her, but she isn’t at all perturbed: “After all, darling, we have all our lives to get acquainted with each other. And isn’t that a beautiful, frabjous thought?” I’m sorry to report this is not the only time Denise uses the word frabjous.
As Denise mindlessly chatters and watches Gerry eat turnip greens she’s cooked, the recipe for which she’s scoured the town (recipes for turnip greens apparently being very difficult to come by in the South), “her mind was busy. Some day, and not too far off, she would accomplish her purpose for him! She would get him away from that silly little town and back to where he would be appreciated for the very fine cardiologist he was. She would have to move very slowly, very cautiously. She couldn’t afford another misstep.” Just then he interrupts her interior monologue to ask if she is happy and she replies, “I’ve always told you that wherever you were, that was where I wanted to be, and that all I ever want is your happiness.” She gives him a “radiant” smile. “But even as she was convincing him of her happiness there, she was visualizing him in a swank Park Avenue office, beautifully and expensively equipped, with a list of patients that came straight from the top drawer of New York’s most exclusive families. The time would come. Of that she had no doubt.” Slow curtain, and that’s the last we see of this most interesting couple.
Back to the central—and less interesting—pair: When we’re not witnessing Denise’s machinations, we follow Ivy around the hospital as she cares for her patients (including a young boy who has been abused by his mother). She dates Murray, who goes on—with a bit less syrup than Denise—about how much he loves her. “I do so wish that I loved you, Murray,” she tells him heartlessly. For his part, he’s begging, “Maybe some day you’ll discover that you could use my comfort permanently?” Eventually, over dinner, they have an endless argument after she tells him she loves him after all, and then finally come to kisses and the sighing declaration that her love for Gerry was a mistake, and that “you are really the only man I’ve ever wanted to marry.” For good measure we’re told that Gerry has changed. “Now he’s—well, arrogant, and cocksure and self-important,” though we really haven’t seen him acting that way at all.
I can’t help wishing this book had been about Gerry and Denise—it’s pretty clear that Peggy Gaddis found them the more appealing pair, which in point of fact they are, to the point that the book is named for Denise. Ivy is a strong, assertive woman who largely stands up for herself, even with Murray, and her patients are interesting, their stories complex, not facile, and not always with happy endings. We are certainly left with a big question mark regarding Denise’s motivation and her eventual success, which I actually find enjoyable, for once not having the obvious ending plodding toward its inevitable conclusion—sort of like Murray and Ivy’s story. The ongoing debate about whether Denise is demure or outspoken is a bit stupid: How can you be “inwardly” shy if you’re out bending half the town to your will? Isn’t one’s actual behavior the determining criterion? And does inward shyness, if indeed Denise has some, excuse her manipulative actions or make her a more sympathetic character, as Gerry seems to think? The central questions—whether she actually loves Gerry, what drives her to marry him, and whether succeeding in her attempts to re-create him will make her happy—are completely ignored, though this is not necessarily a detriment to the book. Leaving the fate of the Larrimores, and the contents of the heart of the Mrs., completely unresolved is in large part what makes this an interesting story. If there is a fair amount in this book to feel annoyed with, there’s enough here that’s alluring and new to make it well worth reading.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Nurse to Remember

By Teresa Holloway, ©1970

Against her better judgment, Adair Davis let herself be talked into becoming nurse on Dr. Garnett’s secret government project. In that ancient isolated house where it was being conducted, she was both attracted and frightened by the doctor’s assistant, the tall, handsome young doctor, Sam Lennox, whose hostility was coupled by a concealed concern. The phones were tapped, the house harbored mysteries, strangest of which was the unseen presence of a mysterious woman somewhere in an upstairs bedroom. But it was Adair’s feminine heart that was to be the major traitor to her planned flight.
"Even the oxygen tubes in the strong, aristocratic nose did not deter him."
"I always thought the description of the beautiful girl who tended the dwarfs [in Snow White] had far more imagery than anything Shakespeare wrote."
"She had the feeling, and she didn’t like it, that the eye of the Kremlin was fixed on them."
"Here was buried, it related, the body of a little girl, preserved at death in a keg of rum by a father who’d promised the mother to bring her home intact from a journey abroad. When the child died of the plague, the father true to his promise bought a keg of the ship’s spirits, knocked off the head, placed the girl inside and refixed the head to the keg. ‘American ingenuity,’ Adair marveled. ‘And understandably comforting to the poor bereft mother.’ "
"Inwardly, she was reacting violently to the super-saturation of adrenal fluid his voice had generated."
" ‘I’m a husky American girl,’ she reasoned. ‘I can do it.’ "

Early on, I found myself thinking that this was one of the more boring VNRNs I’ve read. Later, I found myself thinking that it was one of the dumbest. I guess I’ll take dumb over boring, but neither makes for a great read.
Adair Davis has taken a job as a nurse for Dr. McGregor Garnett, an aging scientist with metastatic pancreatic cancer living and working in a rambling old house in Beaufort, North Carolina, an actual town on the Inner Banks. She didn’t really want the job, but she was pressured to take it with the encouragement, "You’ll be useful to your country if you go." She’s been selected for the job because she’s good at chemistry and "had a few hours of college pharmacology in her freshman year," because a few hours of pharmacology is all you really need; just ask any pharmacist who’s finished their six-year PhD program.
While unpacking in her room—she’s brought several Dresden figurines, a paperweight of a Kennedy half-dollar, and a signed photograph of the President with her, curiously—she meets Edwina Jernigan, who works in the bank nearby and has been invited to stay in the house, apparently as a sort of chaperone while Adair is there, and Dr. Mac’s young assistant, Dr. Sam Lenox. She’s quickly inducted into the top secret project, and if "only a half a dozen people in North Carolina know about Project Beaufort," that number is going to grow exponentially the way these guys blab. The boys are under the impression that the most important contribution that science could make to the world (it’s not a cure for cancer, because "that’s in the works," she’s told) is to create a pill that would enable a person to remember anything that’s ever happened to them. This, somehow, is going to put an end to "sheer unadulterated illiteracy." "Think, if you can, of what such a drug will do to empty the ghettos, to close the ‘genius gap’ between our country and Russia, if it exists," Dr. Lenox tells her, and never mind that a person would have had to actually do the studying in the first place in order to be able to remember it later on. Adair dubs their invention a "recall pill," and the boys light on the name as if it’s the greatest contribution their project could have. "She’s everything they said! They’ve sent us a woman who thinks!" crows Dr. Mac, apparently unacquainted with many such oxymoronic creatures.
The scientists also ask her if she wouldn’t mind popping a pill or two, because "we need to make a couple of experiments that will be woman oriented." She’s fervently against the idea, which sets the project back a bit since they will now have to find another woman to experiment on; Edwina is never considered, for some unexplained reason. They have given the pills to a female cat, which caused it to completely freak out. They ascribe this reaction to recalled memories of a time when the cat was caught and nearly killed by a dog, though how they can be so sure of what the cat was feeling is not explained. "It is our theory that perhaps a woman, being primarily an emotional being, will recall a dominant emotional episode at the outset of reaction," explains Dr. Lenox. Adair, mercifully, is not taken in: "What does a male cat recall?" she retorts.
Then Adair receives a late-night phone call directing her to be at the bus station the next day. Off she dutifully trots, and after she has been waiting around for several hours, Dr. Lenox pulls up to claim her just as a strange man approaches her, and the man runs off. At this point the boredom wears off the book and exciting events occur every two or three pages: There’s an explosion at a paint factory, and Adair and Dr. Lenox are pressed into service at the hospital; Adair gets a flat tire in her car and discovers the spare is also flat; she tours a cemetery at Eddie’s suggestion and encounters the bus station fellow—whom she now unfortunately refers to as "The Man from ‘They’ "—who pulls a gun but kindly runs off to fetch a cup of water when she begins to faint and doesn’t return when Dr. Lenox again arrives at the opportune moment. All of which happens on the same day.
The next isn’t any better: Hurricane Janelle approaches the island in a fury, Adair discovers that her Kennedy souvenirs—engagement gifts from Bill, a man who is no longer her fiancé, we learn—have been taken from her room, and she finds the butler unconscious on the stairs as well as a trip wire that had been set up to send someone plunging. Ben has a severe concussion, but there’s an x-ray machine in the basement, so Dr. Lenox takes some pictures with it and then gives the plates to Adair to deliver to the radiologist in town, though how the diagnosis will help when the patient is stranded at the house is unclear. Adair drives through an increasingly ferocious storm, the winds up to 70 mph and downed power lines snapping at her car. Needless to say, the radiologist is not in his office, so she takes the plates to the police station and, after severely spraining her ankle getting out of her car, insists that the solitary officer there deliver the plates at once! Then, back in her car, she drives back to the house using her left foot on the accelerator the whole way, only to find that Ben has died in the interim. Damn!
Home again, events continue to pile up: Adair learns that Edwina’s husband, CIA man Frank Taylor, has been secretly living in the spare bedroom next to hers. Dr. Mac needs a hypodermic after all the excitement, but the syringes have vanished from their usual spot in the locked medicine cabinet, and the key has gone missing as well! Two pages of kerfuffle about that and what everyone is going to have for lunch, and the key turns up under the pile of wet clothes Adair had changed out of. She’s anxious to "fix her face," so she dumps out her handbag’s contents on the bed and finds a stack of bills, $2,500. Instantly she’s under the suspicion of Frank the CIA man, and Dr. Lenox tells her that with Ben’s murder, she will be a prime suspect if she can’t explain the money. If you can connect those dots, let me know, because I’m just not seeing it. The money, Adair decides, was put there to "discredit" her, and that’s another leap that I don’t follow, but if she could only remember where she’s seen Frank before, and when she left her purse unattended, everything would be great!
So she hobbles down the hall on her sprained ankle to Dr. Mac’s room and collects a little purple pill, because "it’s only right for a nurse to remember," and let’s all groan together about the lame association with the book’s title. She swallows the pill on the spot, and fortunately for her, the side effects of nausea and dizziness don’t come on until after she’s back in bed with a tape recorder, so as to document her experience. There she gratuitously recollects her encounter with President Kennedy during "that desperate hour in the White House. She’d been in Bill’s office waiting for him to finish work, when the President had come in, gray-faced with worry. Only later did she associate his tension with the ill-fated Bay of Pigs affair, unknown to her at the time."
Edwina comes in to report that she’s found the hypodermics, and that Adair must have forgotten that she’d put them in a different location. You’d think this would lead to some revelation about the syringes being tampered with—a possibility that Adair herself mentions—but instead she remembers leaving her bag for a minute at the bus station to buy a paper, and finding it slightly misplaced when she returns to it. She mentions this to Dr. Lenox, and then remembers that she met Frank while out on a date with Bill years ago, only then he’d been named Francis Talenov and was working at the Russian embassy, and he’d been accompanied by "The Man from ‘They’ "! Rather than tell anyone this, she allows Dr. Lenox to shoot her up with one of the suspect syringes and turns out the lights so she can get some sleep. A while later, Frank enters her room and tries to smother her with a pillow, but for the third time, Dr. Lenox turns up, this time with a gun, to save the day. Frank begins swearing in Russian, and Adair hops over to the dresser to retrieve—and I am not kidding—her red, white, and blue scarves to tie up the bad guy. This is the moment that Dr. Lenox decides to announce to the room that he and Adair are going to be married, but Dr. Mac stops into the room to cut him off, saying that he’s decided to give Adair his house, so she and Dr. Lenox, who has decided to quit lab work and become a GP in town, can live and work there.
Seldom has so much happened to a VNRN heroine in the span of two days, and seldom do so many loose ends remain dangling: What was the deal with the hypodermics? And the flat tires in Adair’s car, which she’d previously blamed on Edwina? Who put the money in Adair’s bag, and why? Who killed Ben the butler? What happened to the Kennedy souvenirs? And "The Man from ‘They’ "? The improbable plotting is equally unfortunate, and the writing also sloppy—at one point Frank’s outfit is described while he’s on the other side of a door, knocking to be admitted. Which is sad, because early on in the book—when the plotting was a lot duller—the writing was actually almost fine in places, such as, "the racket she’d made with the knocker seemed somehow discourteous." If you approach this book ready to poke fun, it’s a perfect vehicle for your mockery, but beyond that, it has little use unless it’s to prop up a wobbly table.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Nurse for Rebels’ Run

By Jane Scott (pseud. Adeline McElfresh), ©1960
Lovely, dark-haired Nurse Nora Kane, on temporary assignment at wild, mountainous Rebels’ Run, fought side-by-side with young Dr. Morgan Terry against the disease, ignorance and poverty besetting these proud mountain folk. How different the gruff “hillbilly g.p.” was from the suave young specialist, Dr. Tom Morrisey, waiting back home to marry Nora! Would she choose to be the wife of a fascinating, socially prominent doctor—or remain at Rebels’ Run and reap the deeper, richer rewards of her noble profession?
“There’s more to medicine than pills and powders and knowing when to prescribe them.”
Nurse Nora Kane has taken a six-month temporary job in the deep recesses of West Virginia at the request of her Uncle Jed, who’s been the local G.P. for 40 years and whose nurse has gone on maternity leave. She’s also taking a six-month break from her fiancé, Dr. Tom Morrissey, who is demanding that she quit her job after they are married. So already you know how this book is going to play out. We’ll get 80 pages of snide comments about the fiancé, interspersed with declarations of an undying love that turns out to be a complete delusion by book’s end. So let’s get right to it, beginning on page 6: “Could she give up nursing and still be happy? She loved Tom Morrisey with every fiber of her being. But was love, alone, enough? Could she, if she married Tom and did as he demanded, be utterly miserable and still make him happy, make him a good wife?” It’s curious to me that her main concern about consigning herself to a life of misery is whether she’ll make Tom happy in spite of it. Talk about peculiar priorities.
Anyway, Uncle Jed’s partner is Morgan Terry, and Nora gets off on the wrong foot with him almost at once when, trained under the grasping tutelage of Dr. Tom, Nora can’t understand why Morg, as he is unfortunately known, wouldn’t insist that a woman come to the clinic to have her baby instead of slogging out into the woods to deliver it at her squalid house. One of the first patients we meet is Miss Meliss, born in 1871 and now 90 years old, who is an avowed Confederate and asthmatic. Morg clearly respects her beliefs; “his voice softened” as he tells Nora that Meliss “continues to hold the banner of the Confederacy high.” Morg spends a few paragraphs musing what it must have been like to live in the South during the Civil War, “hated and dreaded Union soldiers riding arrogantly, searching, accusing, and, more than once when they found the Confederate they sought, capturing or killing.” War is certainly a terrible thing, and I don’t mind the depiction of the war from the Southern civilians’ point of view, but sympathy for Confederate ideals, even mildly hinted at, is a little uncomfortable.
If Morg isn’t wildly impressed with Nora, it’s curious that he’s engaged to a wealthy young socialite, whom he  believes is a lot like Nora: “Miss Kane was too much like Paula—too pretty, too sure of herself, to certain that other people’s worlds moved as smoothly on their axes as her own always had.” He later thinks, when Paula disagrees with him and voices the strong opinion that he should raise his fees, “Paula needed the spankings she should have gotten as a child, when, if Paula grown up was any criterion, she certainly should have had them.”
And the book unfolds as you know it will: After a few weeks of tenderly caring for Miss Meliss in her cabin accessible only by a 2-mile footpath and all the other flea-bitten locals, Nora begins to re-evaluate her dedication to nursing. “As bone-tired as she became during the week hours of the morning, she enjoyed every minute of the time. She felt strangely at home, as she had not felt at home during a year in Tom’s elegant, modern suite of offices.” Before too long she’s “prettying up” for Dr. Terry, telling herself all the while that “he didn’t know she existed—which was the way she wanted it, she told herself with firmness,” but we know better, don’t we, readers?
Then, her time up in Rebels’ Run, Nora goes back to her home in Vermont, spurred by an announcement in the paper of Morg and Paula’s engagement. But in the interim “she had metamorphosed into a young woman for whom, now, there could only be a career—not a career and marriage, as she used to dream.” So she pouts around the hospital, and Tom tries unsuccessfully to kiss her: “The hint of savagery that been in his first, interrupted kiss was a surging passion now; it was a long, hard, hurting kiss that became angry as he sensed her lack of response.” This is not the first time I’ve come across men using a kiss as a weapon of sorts, a moderately chaste rape, to punish women who don’t love them, and needless to say I find it rather appalling. It does, however, signal the end of any pretense of a relationship between Tom and Nora. Then, when a letter arrives from Rebel’s Run saying that Morg and Paula are not married after all, so Nora decides to indulge in some “shameless chasing” and she heads back to West Virginia to be private nurse for Miss Meliss. Morg turns up the next day to check on his patient, finds Nora there, and that’s that, in a quick but relatively cute ending.
Frankly, I would have bet a lot of money that this book was written by Peggy Gaddis, because it has all her classic elements: feisty old woman, inaccessible mountain cabin, references to spanking, rich spoiled fiancée, grasping rich fiancé, good-hearted elderly G.P., pro-Southern sentiment, strong heroine who experiences a change of heart about the rubes she’s forced to care for. It’s not actually a bad story as far as nurse novels go, but the formula is so tired by this point that the fact that I can recite along with the story line is a not insignificant drawback. If you can overlook that flaw, however, it’s a book worth reading.

A Nurse on Horseback

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1959
When Nora Williams completed her nurse’s training and went home to the lawless West, she was determined to stay in this remote country where a nurse was so desperately needed. But then one day, on a lonely mountain trail, as Nora was riding to a sick child, the silence was shattered by the bark of a gun. Suddenly Nora knew that the bullet was meant for her! Who was trying to keep this dedicated young nurse from her task of helping the poor and defenseless in this wild country?
“Every young girl likes to pretty-up at the end of the day for the evening ahead.”
“I should think such a beautiful girl could demand for more. And having a professional career is not altogether what I had in mind, though probably that will lead to marriage, too—which must be what you most desire for her.”
It’s true, as advertised on the back cover blurb above, that this book starts off with a fairly literal bang when someone takes a shot at nurse Nora Williams as she ride—horseback, of course—to see a patient not long after arriving in the west to live out her days on her Aunt Til’s ranch. She believes, though, that the shot was made by a hunter, and she’s more concerned about the fact that her horse threw her and then ran off, leaving her with several miles to walk before reaching her destination. And it’s really not much more than a device to place her into close contact with the cowboy who comes riding down the path, Dan Corby. Naturally, Nora draws a gun on him and accuses him of having fired the shot “at my mare—or at me!” which is not what she had just been thinking a few moments earlier. He offers her a look at his gun to show it hasn’t been fired, and when it’s clean, she asks him for a ride and swings up behind him onto his own horse, the floozy.
Anyway, all that and her nursing visit over, Dan takes her home and is promptly hired to be ranch foreman. The ranch is in financial trouble, of course, and the mortgage is owned by banker Burt McCulley, who is pressing Til to sell the ranch. But Til has a trick up her sleeve; a young man who invested all her life’s savings for her is coming to deliver the enormous profits he’s reaped in a week. The day Thomas Jeffries is due on the ranch, Til rides out to meet him, but comes back alone, and Thomas never shows up—until a week later, when he is found murdered in the desert. And it’s discovered that he’d lost all Til’s money to boot! Which means that Til won’t be able to pay off the mortgage, and is a suspect for murder!
To solve both these problems, Nora lies to the sheriff about Til’s whereabouts that day and then dates banker Bart, who proposes on the first date: “I might remind you that if you marry me, all your worries—your aunt’s worries—will be over,” he tells her, the suave lothario. To reassure her that he is not motivated to propose because of her aunt’s property, he points out that she will make a good mistress of his own huge ranch since “you come from good stock.” To her credit, Nora thinks, “You might have thought he was picking out the finest breed of cattle,” but she winds up accepting him anyway, and the fact that this will make her essentially a whore isn’t discussed.
Then Aunt Til fires Dan, for reasons she fails to explain. And starts coughing a lot, and staying in bed, and talking about dying. And confesses that it was she who shot at Nora, because she wanted Nora to go back to the East Coast and never find out that the ranch was heading into foreclosure. It’s an overly lame note that could have been avoided, and it doesn’t even make sense—how could Til possibly hide the fact that the ranch had been lost to the rest of her family, no matter where they are, when she has to find another place to live?
Things go from bad to worse for Nora and her beaux: Dan is arrested for the murder of Thomas Jeffries, because apparently he’d been riding the range that night as well, and Jeffries’ saddlebag is found in Dan’s bunk. And Bart’s unimpressive reputation is further sullied when Nora learns that Bart’s men are burning down the ranches of farmers who won’t sell out to Bart. Then the sheriff shows up at the ranch with Nora’s little gun—the one she’d threatened Dan with in the first chapter, remember?—which was discovered near where Thomas Jeffries’ body had been discovered, and has been found to be the murder weapon. The sheriff is about to arrest Nora when Til—hold onto your hats, friends—confesses to the murder. Before the sheriff can drag her off to jail, however, Til conveniently collapses and dies in Nora’s arms. To top off one perfunctory, obvious scene with another, the final chapter finds Nora nearly drowning in a river, to be rescued by Dan and discovered to have broken off her engagement to Bart.
The problem with this book is that it bitterly disappoints: Early on it manages to depict Dan and his interest in Nora in a completely believable and appealing way, only to totally squander your emotional investment with a whole host of absurd and obvious scenarios that dot the remaining three-fourths of the book. I truthfully mourned the book that could have been. So while I can easily recommend that you pick up this book, I have to also suggest that you strongly consider putting it down again after page 30.