Saturday, November 20, 2021

Nurse with a Dream

By Norrey Ford, ©1957
Cover illustration by Chapman 

When Jacqueline Clarke came from France to nurse at a Yorkshire hospital she had never known any Englishmen except her father. Soon she was to meet two very attractive ones; her farmer-cousin Guy, who ruled over his broad acres from a centuries-old farmhouse, and the distinguished surgeon of whom nurses spoke in awed whispers as “the great Mr. Broderick.” Guy fell in love and started proposing marriage almost at once, while she wasn’t supposed even to speak to Mr. Broderick—and what a sensation there was when she did! She couldn’t presume to imagine that he would ever give her a serious thought … and yet the idea of him seemed to come persistently between her and Guy.


“We’ll make a nurse of you some day. Even if we kill you.”

“We all condemn what we can’t understand.”

“No house is big enough for two women if they don’t agree.”

“He is a doctor, but only just, I’d say. I mean you could still see bits of eggshell and fluff on him.”

“Whoever heard of two weeks’ convalescence, when we’re short-staffed and you’re not actually dying?”

“Only twelve more operating days to Christmas, Nurse?”

“‘He showed me the Charleston. His grandma taught him.’ She rolled down her nylons and proudly displayed blue bruises. ‘Those old-timers must have been tough.’”

“Bad as January was, it rushed all too soon into February, and those nurses taking the examination went about with glazed eyes and moving lips.”

“If you understand children, you understand men, mostly.”

Jacqueline Clarke is a Cinderella of a nurse. Orphaned during “the war,” she has “warm youth and vitality,” “richly curved red lips and gentian-blue eyes, fine skin as delicate and rosy as a ripe, sun-warmed peach.” Her father was English and her mother French, and she was raised in France her entire life, so though her English is perfect, she speaks with “the slightest trace of accent, just enough to make her sound enchanting to English ears.” I hate perfect heroines; what’s wrong with being a normal, flawed woman? 

Anyway, Jacqueline has returned to Yorkshire, the land of her father, to learn about his home country. She says she’s never met a young Englishman, which seems hard to believe, given that she works in a hospital. Not that it matters; “I’m not interested in men. I just want to be a nurse,” she says. Then we hear about the lion surgeon Dr. Broderick, who “doesn’t care for nurses. He’s a terror and twists their heads off, like eating shrimps.” I’m betting $100 he’s starring on the last page.

On her first weekend off, she takes a trip to the moors to see the farmhouse where her father was raised, and meets a birder named Alan who takes her on a long walk with him. She’s telling him how nice her father was to her, when suddenly she gasps, realizing that “today she had been happy and comfortable with a man who had not talked down to her, or patronised, or treated her as a pretty little woman fit only for flirting; to this man, as to her father, she was a person, with a mind and ideas of her own.” Heady stuff! They talk of love, and he insists, “my love is elsewhere”—perfect grounds for a misunderstanding, as indeed there is one about his identity, which we saw coming half the moor away.

At the farmhouse, she meets her half-cousin Guy, and his mother Connie—her father’s wicked stepmother, who indeed “looked like an earthy troll”—and he is a big, handsome Guy, who makes her pulses race, but you know there has to be someone to interpose. Actually, it’s initially more complicated than that, as, when Jacky takes a stroll on the moor, she spots a dog and is then knocked unconscious. She’s soon found by Alan, however, and carried several miles to the village. She wakes in her own hospital, but the curious twist is that she has lost her memory of the day, and when Alan shows up and chews her out for being irresponsible, as he thinks she had fallen from a steep crag he had warned her about. She is livid, and spars feistily with him, even threatening him with a water jug before he ducks out the door. “As a junior nurse, I’m less than the dust, but as me I won’t be anybody’s doormat,” she declares, winning my heart instantly. And … Alan turns out to be Dr. Broderick! Who would have guessed!?!?

Of course, she can’t believe that a mighty surgeon could like her, even though they have frequent friendly and amusing exchanges. Her confusion is manipulated by Guy’s sister Deborah, who is hankering after Dr. Broderick herself, and she convinces Jacky to agree to marry Guy, so as to avoid subjecting Dr. Broderick to idle gossip that he could be involved with such a lowly creature as herself. “It was so plainly a breach of hospital etiquette to have her life saved by its most eminent surgeon! Perhaps if he had known she was a nurse, he’d have left her lying there, and saved himself and everybody else a great deal of unpleasantness!”

For his part, Guy has been pressing her for her hand—insisting, actually, in the most unpleasant and frankly alarming way. He tells her he’d like to hold her in his hand—“Slowly, keeping his gaze on his palm, he closed his muscular hand till the fingers were pressed down tightly and his knuckles showed white.” Yikes! She valiantly resists: “You can’t just say ‘that’s for me’ as if I were a cake in a confectioner’s window,” she insists, but he does anyway. He doesn’t improve his case when he says, “As if a woman’s career mattered, when she has a chance of marrying!” (To her credit, she laughs in his face, saying, “Do men think they are the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence? Do you think we’d throw anything over that we cared about, just to marry one of you?”) But she gets flustered when he kisses her, so she wonders, “Was this love, this pounding of the heart, this disturbance of the senses?” Eventually she figures out it’s not, but by then she believes it’s too late to get out of marrying Guy, which is a preposterous manifestation of honor, and I would say that it’s dishonorable to marry a man you don’t love, to yourself and to the gentleman in question.

Anyway, everything sorts out in the end, as you know it will, but the great fun is watching it all unfold. This book has some really lovely people in it, but tops is Jacky’s nurse friend Bridget, who fortunately has to recover from her own stomach troubles in the bed next to Jacky, so we have lots of time to appreciate her sense of humor. Bridget is the kind of pal who, looking down on her cafeteria tray, quips, “When I came off-duty I was hungry enough to eat a dead dog, but I didn’t think I’d have to.” Pretty much everything she says is equally glorious. Initially disappointed with Jacky’s looks, I was quickly won over with her spunk and her ability to stand up for herself, even when facing dragons like Dr. Broderick. I even liked Dr. Broderick, who really was mostly respectful of Jacky, and at one point he berates himself for his hand in the charade that was Jacky’s engagement to Guy in a way that felt honest: “Fool, fool, fool! He had not even tried—not raised a hand to stop her falling into Guy’s grasp. He’d shown too much darn self-sacrifice, too much nobility; in fact, he’d been a stuffed shirt.” The question of who clubbed Jacky over the head is a bit of unnecessary detour for the plot, though it’s not badly done, and I was left wondering until the end, and the reveal offered some interesting insights into minor characters. And the writing! So witty, so amusing, so enjoyable! Writing this good is rare enough that it must be celebrated, and I am happy to pop a cork for Norrey Ford and this lovely book.

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