Saturday, November 30, 2019

Nurse Camden’s Cavalier

By Louise Ellis, ©1967

“Perhaps I’d like to work in the maternity ward because it’s about the one place in the hospital where I won’t run into the new S.S.R.” Camilla Camden confided to her partner at the hospital Fancy Dress Ball. It was just as well Camilla didn’t realize just who she was talking to!


“She had too arresting a face for a nurse.”

“She could deal with the medical students when they insisted on proposing. They were young, they fell in and out of love without getting hurt and they seemed rather relieved when they were turned down.”

“Women always seemed to make more fuss and more work for the nurses than the men did.”

“Nurses are always hungry.”

I have to say that I feel reluctant to pick up a Harlequin VNRN, mostly because their look is unmistakable and I’m reluctant to have everyone on the train know I’m reading a romance novel. As a result I’d built up a large backlog of Harlequin novels, so this year I’ve been working hard to overcome my prejudice—who cares what other people think, anyway?—and push through them. And I have to say that overall they are a high-quality product, which an especial relief since they run half again as long as the usual VNRN (180 pages to other publishing houses’ 120). If the job titles are a little confusing (S.S.R., home sister, sister tutor, almoner), the heroines tend to be a spunky lot, the British slang is fun, and the men never obey the Casey Theory.

Here in Nurse Camden’s Cavalier, I feel like I have the product of several other Harlequin novels: the feisty outspoken nurse with an undeserved loose reputation from the most excellent Paper Halo, the heroine’s confusion about who she has feelings for with as in Wrong Doctor John, someone is not whom they appear to be like in The Two Faces of Nurse Roberts. Here we have Camilla Camden, who “never did anything by halves, bless her!” She “just happily blundered on, shooting out her thoughts as she went.” At the hospital costume ball, she is dressed as a Stuart lady, and is quickly swept up by a masked man dressed as a Stuart cavalier, which means they are wearing matching costumes for that particular period. Though she knows nothing about him, including what he looks like under that mask, her chemistry runs away with her the minute he clasps her by the waist: “She felt totally unable to speak. She was choked with excitement and a curious kind of upset feeling that she didn’t understand.” They spend the evening together, but when she finally arrives back at the nurse’s dorm all out of breath, she realizes she has not learned his name or much at all about him, really, except that he likes sailing. She, on the other hand, has given up all sorts of information, including her opinion of the incoming S.S.R., who everyone says is a stuffy martinet and is likely to ruin everything good about the hospital. Her date takes it all in stride, though, laughing loudly and insisting they will be seeing more of each other. Soon, of course, she learns that he is the S.S.R.! Darn the luck!

In the hospital, Dr. Sebastian Winters is a reserved, hard-working surgeon who insists on discipline and engages in a completely proper, formal, professional relationship with Camilla. Outside, however, it’s another story! He’s an outgoing joker who kisses her “special and private,” who’s “done something awful to her heart, so that it behaved in the oddest way and made her feel sick and ill when even his name was mentioned,” which curiously is not the same name he uses in the hospital, but instead is George. He buys a ring from an antique dealer who is a friend of Camilla’s, but unfortunately this turns up on the finger of April Sherwood, who is hospitalized for appendicitis. Camilla, shocked, wants to stop seeing George, who laughs off her objections: “Do you have to let people know who  you’re spending your free time with? Let’s keep it a deep dark secret,” he says, suggesting that the engagement with April is not real and though he will not break off the engagement because that would be rude, she will soon fall for someone else and dump him. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, everyone is starting to admire Dr. Winters, strict as he may be, because he is honorable, tough but fair, and an outstanding surgeon, but not at all the kind of man who would go to a fancy dress ball. “He is a different man, off hospital premises,” Camilla agrees, and at her first real encounter with Dr. Winters at the hospital, when she tells him she is not going to see him again despite the arguments he’d made on their last date, he tells her he has no memory of this conversation. The penny is starting to drop for the reader, but even when her antique dealer friend Maurice tells her, “Indeed, if I believed in doubles, I would have been inclined to say that it wasn’t the same person,” Camilla is not picking up what the author is putting down. George insists she go out with him one more time so he can try to convince her that even though he is dating other women she should still go out with him, but while they are arguing in a pub, in walks George’s identical twin, Sebastian. You’d think as a human being, much less as a nurse, she would have heard of twins, but the concept appears a complete shock to poor Camilla, made worse as she relives every embarrassing encounter with George as the doctor and the doctor as George. And that’s the end of her relationship of George, even if she continues to squirm with the memory of his emotion-twisting kisses.

Soon Sebastian is asking her out to try to explain the situation and put her a little more at ease over the whole affair. “She didn’t feel that shot of excitement as she did when George took her arm, and quite without reason she felt relieved. Sebastian was a person to lean on, but one with whom one could be comfortable, not worry about the pace of one’s pulse or the way one’s heart behaved.” On the other hand, “not for the first time she saw how kind that mouth of his was, and that kindness was the one thing that was missing from George’s mouth.”

You know where this is going, and it gets there with a literal bang; a gas explosion destroys the antique shop when Camilla is rooting around its attic. This book is a pleasant trip, and even a little thought-provoking, as we consider the intense physical attraction you might have for an ass, and the deeper emotional connection you might have with a truly good person, although it’s curious that we never see Camilla physically attracted to Sebastian and are given the idea that that’s OK. The characters are well drawn, and I believed them all. I even believed the transfer of Camilla’s feelings from George to Sebastian, though the ending does give us a somewhat easy cop out in that regard. Overall, though, Harlequin again delivers a pleasant story that deserves the time and a half.

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