By Isabel Cabot
(pseud. Isabel Capeto), ©1957
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig
Toni Craig, student nurse at Riveredge Hospital, wanted no part of Chad Barlow. He had the reputation of being a wolf; besides, her ideal was Dr. Matt Nicoll, a brilliant, ambitious young surgeon at the hospital. But Chad refused to be discouraged even after her engagement to Matt. And then Toni began hearing disturbing rumors about her fiancé. They were saying he would stop at nothing to get ahead. And so she faced a new heart-twisting question. Could she marry a successful doctor whose practices she couldn’t respect?
“Never make a pass at a girl with a lighted cigarette in her mouth.”
If there is one thing that VNRN characters should know, it’s never let another woman “tend” to your boyfriend, no matter how briefly. Toni Craig is a nursing student in her first year of nursing school, and after the capping ceremony, which punctuates the probation period, class vixen Melita Fanning makes the grave error of pushing her boyfriend, Chad Barlow, on Toni until she can get rid of her parents. Toni’s friend Gail Sanders does her best to warn Toni of Chad’s low character, advising, “Don’t go behind any potted plants with him.” Toni needs no reminding, having met the young man in question at a previous social event in which he punched a police officer. At this meeting—under the sheltering bower of a large fern, as fate would have it—Chad rises to expectations by telling her that her uniform is “all wrong” because “it doesn’t do a thing for your figure. Now that little one-piece number that you wore at the beach party …” When she objects to this comment and to his constantly referring to her as “darling,” he drawls, “Honey, it doesn’t mean a thing. It’s like calling a guy ‘Mac.’ It saves straining your brain to remember names.” Chad is just drawing his arm around Toni when Gail appears—“I’m little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother,” she quips—and sends Toni off on an errand. Here we learn from various cryptic comments that Gail has had some encounter with Chad in the past that has hurt her deeply, but Chad apparently has no recollection of the incident. More to come later.
Five months later, Toni is working in the hospital and pining after Dr. Matt Nicoll; Ruth, the nurse’s aide who grew up with Matt, is something of an encouraging confidante, and Matt soon warms to Ruth. He asks her out for coffee, and she accepts without hesitation. (When Ruth hears of their date, her smile seems a little forced, Toni thinks.) But who should show up at the diner? Chad Barlow, of course, and when Matt suddenly realizes he’s due back at the hospital, Chad offers to walk Toni home.
After Matt has departed, Chad reveals to Toni that he only barged in because Matt’s conversation (a full-volume and in-depth review of each of their patients, and confidentiality be damned) sounded so boring. Though she agrees to allow Chad to walk her home, she doesn’t speak to him the whole way—but when he calls the next day and asks her out, she accepts, curiously just after she has told him that for him she would never be free. She ends up having a great time, or so she says, as we don’t spend much time with them on their date. When she tells Gail about it, Gail seems disgusted, and that night goes missing. Toni phones Chad for help, and he delivers Gail, passed out drunk, safely home. So when he asks her out again, she feels obliged to go. During that date, he makes the obligatory pass/assault: “With a swiftness that stunned Toni, Chad had her in his arms. His lips were on hers, bruising and demanding. Toni had to fight to break his hold. She was breathing hard as she pushed away from him to the far side of the sea. Chad started to reach for her again, but involuntarily, Toni began to cry. ‘Cut it out. You’re not hurt,’ Chad said roughly.” The next day she blames herself, of course, for having suggested they stop to look at the ocean, which apparently is akin to asking for it.
To help a doctor friend, Dr. Gus Rogers, who has an unrequited crush on Gail, Toni agrees to double-date with the couple and Chad. To put her at ease, Chad declares that Toni need not fear him; the two will just have “a strictly buddy-to-buddy relationship” from now on. They start going out regularly, but just as friends. She’s still seeing Matt as well, but growing a bit more concerned about his worship of Dr. Heally, the pompous yet successful chief of surgery who is universally disliked among the nurses (always a bad sign, even today!) for never accepting personal responsibility and for throwing everyone else under the bus if something goes wrong with his patients. Then Gail and Gus, out on another date, are in a car accident, and Gus is badly injured. It comes out that Gail had been married seven years ago, but her husband had been killed in a car accident—and the other driver was Chad Barlow. Even though Chad had been “out carousing” and speeding to get home on time, he’s forgiven, because he’d crawled a mile with a broken leg to get help, and that though he’d been “a little wild in those days, he’s done his best to make it up.” We really haven’t seen him be anything but a little wild since we were introduced to him, however, so his easy absolution doesn’t really jibe.
Soon after, Matt proposes to Toni, who is giddy with joy, though Gail doesn’t approve. Matt’s busy sucking up to Dr. Heally, though, so Toni keeps on with her buddy dates with Chad. The other nurses are starting to criticize Matt, noting that he’s the first one to laugh at Dr. Heally’s jokes: Even if Matt is a smart and excellent surgeon, his use of flattery of Dr. Heally to win a position as the chief’s main assistant is considered a very serious offense. Then there’s more trouble in paradise: Matt’s mother becomes very ill and is hospitalized for several weeks. This drains Matt’s father’s bank account of the money he was going to lend Matt to start his own practice. Matt is very upset—not about his mother, but about this setback in his plans. Then he ditches Toni for the big Winter Festival parties and insists that she go with Chad instead, and on a scavenger hunt the two are locked in an abandoned ice house for most of a night, during which Chad grabs her and kisses her hard again. Matt’s not too pleased to hear about this, and also not too pleased about his lack of funds, and hers too: “It wouldn’t hurt any if you had a little money of your own,” he says, perhaps thinking of his old friend Ruth, who has recently inherited a bundle of money and left her job as a nurse’s aide to become a very successful businesswoman, tripling her fortune in a matter of months.
The ending is abrupt, dumb, and completely what you would expect, unfortunately. While this book is not without its charms—Gail is the perfect wise-cracking sidekick, and Melita and Ruth were also enjoyable characters—but the men in the book are not so rewarding. Chad Barlow proves again and again to be an ass, so Toni’s attraction to him is puzzling, and Matt’s transformation from hero to “twenty-carat heel” is also inexplicable. Isabel Cabot’s prior offerings, Private Duty Nurse and Island Nurse, are also fairly mediocre— more so Private Duty Nurse, which is also quite rife with scenes of sexual assault cum romance. It’s positively amazing that violence toward women could have been so casually accepted—even blamed on the victims—and that these scenes of humiliation and degradation are apparently meant to be titillating. But I guess we need look no further than the enormous success of Fifty Shades of Grey to realize that maybe we haven’t come so far, after all.