Saturday, October 26, 2019

Doctor down under

By Anne Vinton, ©1964

When Nurse Kate Norwich arrived in Australia to marry her fiancé Trevor, she found him suffering from amnesia, and the wedding temporarily off, so she took a job as assistant to Doctor Rick Howleigh of the Flying Doctor Service to tide her over. But always she was conscious of Trevor, hundreds of miles away, keeping her to a promise she now wondered if she should ever have given.


“Jan was so plain and homely of countenance that she was resigned to never being a bride herself.”

“Apparently she had never heard of the word ‘love’ except as something which appeared in pop songs and rhymed with above.”

“I thought she was terribly courageous; that red hair and a red hat. It takes some doing.”

“I would have thought it pretty expensive to risk turning a pretty little filly like you loose and unlabeled among the herd.”

“Children are always getting infections and babies are insistent about coming into the world. You won’t lack employment.”

“To regret events is to regret life.”

“Nurses were so desirable as wives; their training had not only developed in them a deep and practical sympathy for afflicted souls but made them into warm personalities pre-destined to be good friends and sweet lovers.”

Nurse Kate Norwich has fallen in love with former patient Trevor Gallyard, but he’s gone off to Australia to start a new life with the plan for Kate to come join him there after he’s gotten established. Right out of the gate there’s trouble in River City, as Kate’s best friend does not like Kate’s beloved, thinking him “a bit wishy-washy”—and Kate herself, after being separated from him for a while, is forgetting his finer points. “Of course when they met again it would be wonderful once more.” Famous last words!

On the day that her ship sails for Australia, she gets a letter from Trevor saying that he doesn’t have the money to support her yet and she should postpone her voyage, “but nowadays the rules were not so rigid and couples managed to be happy sharing both the bread-winning and the running of a home.” (Of course, even today, both spouses might work, but it’s still the woman who’s doing most of the running of the home.) And Kate’s a feisty lass, to boot, so off she sails. The trouble is that she immediately meets Dr. Rick Howleigh, and they are naturally attracted to each other—but after she tells him about Trevor, his friendship cools, much to her disappointment: She finds herself “craving for Rick to look at her again as he used to do, his deep brown eyes speaking compliments which thrilled the woman in her. Now his gaze was cool, polite and impersonal. She could scarcely bear it.” She asks him why he’s changed, and he points out that she can’t eat her Rick and have her Trevor too, but then subverts his own argument by kissing her until she’s so weak-kneed she has to beg off dancing. “‘It was only animal attraction,’ she told herself somewhat desperately, ‘sex rearing its ugly head. Only—’ she turned uneasily in the bunk—‘it wasn’t at all ugly. Why didn’t I struggle, I wonder? I could have—should have struggled, at least.’”

Arriving in Australia, there’s another wrench in the works when she’s met by Trevor’s manipulative but rich aunt, who tells Kate that Trevor’s been in an accident and developed amnesia, and doesn’t remember her at all! Rather than take the next boat home, she decides to accept a job working with Rick in the outback, and stupidly agrees to honor the engagement for six months to give Trevor’s memory time to return. So off she and the good doctor go, driving and camping for days in the heart of Australia to join a crew of eight in the flying health service, delivering medical care by airplane to the European settlers in the far-flung regions.

Before 23 pages have passed, though, Kate realizes “I’m in love with Rick,” and then their plane develops engine trouble and they crash in a remote valley, stranded for days. “There are certain basic desires which, though kept decently sublimated in society, roar with a sense of urgency when man-made rules are even slightly relaxed,” Rick tells her. “If we stay here, like this, in three days it will have happened … we must move heaven and earth, if necessary, to get out of here.” Interestingly, Kate’s not in complete agreement: “The supreme capitulation, the giving and the taking, the act of love between a man and a woman. Was she supposed to be terrified? He would probably find her more than willing three days from now.” However each of them thinks of it, they are rescued with Kate’s virtue intact, and Trevor turns up to act the part of the relieved fiancé, kissing her passionately in front of Rick—and now she’s the cold one who’s forgotten the other. “Trembling with shock and mortification,” Kate “turned to look at this stranger who had dared make that show over her in public.” She decides, however, that “it would be cruel at this stage” to tell Trevor she does not love him—no, better to wait for his memory to be restored or for him to fall for her again before doing the obvious—and right—thing.

She and Rick work on side by side for a while, until Rick decides he’s had enough and resigns his contract. But then Trevor gets his memory back and Kate also leaves to fulfill her promise to marry Trevor, but fortunately Trevor with memory is not as dumb as Trevor without, and he quickly realizes that Kate does not love him, and that Rick really is her man. They end the charade on friendly terms, and Kate decides to stay on in Brisbane to work in the hospital there rather than return to England—but tell Rick she’s free? “What is a nice girl to do? No matter how much she loves somebody she has to wait to be asked.” Fortunately, Rick immediately turns up and in a disappointingly treacly paragraph they close up the book, but at least that part is done quickly.

Overall this is a pleasant story with interesting characters, only slightly weighed down by those contrived, lazy “obstacles” that force the star-crossed lovers apart (an engagement that cannot be broken, an inability to convey the news of its termination). This is one of the more frank VNRNs I’ve read on the topic of sex, which here is portrayed as something that normal, nice girls want to do, even if they shouldn’t—a unique point of view. Early on the book has a sense of humor, which sadly fades as the it progresses, and if not the most sparkling, the writing is good, and no one loves a plot line involving amnesia more than I do (a predilection that comes from years devoted to TV soap operas when I was a teen). This enjoyable book is worth an easy afternoon of armchair travel.   

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