Cover illustration by Jack Harman
“He has the power to get what he wants, and he is the type who could hate to lose to anyone else …” So, in a bitter moment of defeat, had Jess Mawney summed up a complete stranger with whom she had occasion to cross swords. Little did Jess know, as she went to take up her first ‘district’ as “Queen’s Nurse,” that she would be living on the stranger’s door-step. Neither would Jess have believed it possible that, one day, she might hope that this stranger’s “power to get” would be directed towards herself.
Queen’s nurse, it turns out, does not mean nurse to the Queen, but rather a district nurse. I was a little disappointed by that, hoping this might be some roaring bodice ripper of a nurse novel, but I have to say that was almost the only disappointment in store for me once I turned past the cover of Jane Arbor’s very neat little book. Jess Mawney, age 24, is leaving the city to practice amongst the country folk—but first she must attend the auction of her recently deceased father’s estate. He had instructed in his will that everything be sold and the proceeds given to Jess, which was mostly fine with her, except there is one piece of furniture she had wanted to keep and now is forced to bid, along with the public at large, for the right to own it.
Enter the uppity rich gentleman, who is stuck with a flat just outside the auction house. While he waits for his car to be fixed, he is regaled by the mechanic of the story of the new orphan with no resources other than the proceeds from this auction and her work as a nurse. So he grandly strolls in and instantly recognizes the 17th century Welsh dresser as the only item of quality, bidding relentlessly on it—far outstripping Jess’s meager pocketbook—until he has won. After the auction, she attempts to buy it from him, but apparently this is a shameless thing to do, and he rudely brushes her off.
Imagine their surprise when, ensconced in her new position weeks later, Jess calls on the housekeeper of local squire, who has twisted her ankle—and they meet again! Muir Forester is a Mr. Rochester type, alternating kind and cold, but he and Jess soon become friends. Even more so because an orphaned young woman, Liane Hart, is a lonely waif who has been taken in by him, and wants very much to be Jess’s friend. Liane’s dead father was a very good friend of Muir’s, and Liane believes that Muir intends to marry her, despite the fact that she is not in love with him and 15 years his junior. In fact, after the housekeeper’s son, Peter, arrives home from the war in Korea, Liane quickly tumbles for that young man instead. Jess, of course, has fallen in love with Muir, but is determined to keep it a secret, knowing of his deep love for Liane. Oh, what a tangled web we weave!
There are a few additional plot lines to keep us entertained: the local busybody who is determined to see Jess fail, the young woman who wants to be a veterinarian, Jess’s would-be suitor from the city who pops in now and again to roil the waters of true love, the explosion at the beet factory. But really it’s a fairly classic setup, with many obstacles in the way of our star-crossed lovers, and every fresh misunderstanding between them—which we clearly recognize as such—brings on a pained wince as we wonder how they are going to find their way out of this one. The only disappointment was the final scene, when the pair unwind all their errors of judgment and learn the truth, which was a bit anticlimactic in the telling. But no matter: Overall this was a very good story, with humor, a thoroughly admirable heroine, and good writing. If the love interest was a bit severe for my taste, the ending too bland, and the writing not campy enough to yield any nuggets for the Best Quotes section, these are minimal quibbles that I can easily forgive when the rest of the book is this enjoyable.