For a nurse, she knew, a first assignment like this one could be the most decisive step in her life…
Another week in October, another Whitman girls’ series by Jean Kirby, AKA Jinny McDonnell AKA Virginia Bleecher McDonnell.
Background: I’ve noted before the reasons for the enduring popularity of Nursing as profession for YA heroines, so it’s no surprise that in the mid-1960s Whitman would take a pass at the genre. To their credit, they came up with a rather ingenious marketing concept: three young-adult daughters of a world-famous widower-surgeon, who each answer the calling. The Scott sisters- Coleen (called Kelly), Penny, and Tracy, each star in their own adventures, which Whitman has conveniently color-coded for us in (respectively) turquoise, yellow, and pink covers.
The Plot: Possibly, I misunderstood the correct way to read this series. It probably would have made more sense to pick up the next turquoise/Kelly volume and find out what she was up to next in Chicago, with her former nemesis, the former wicked bee-otch Rhoda Faulkner as they find solve the mystery of what is the deal with Linda Koenig?
Instead, I picked up the actual volume two, which features middle sister Penny (who was already established in her career in Kelly’s book) and sends us back in time to Penny’s graduation from nursing school in Denver.
Penny, pictured on the cover as a psychotic clone of Mary Tyler Moore, takes pride in being the most like her father, the widowed surgeon Dr. Timberlake Scott. So, after getting straight-As and graduating at the top of her class, she smarts when he questions her decision to take a bit of a vacation before taking on her first case and choosing a specialty. She especially is frustrated by his implying that she may not have the heart for the profession:
“I’ve learned to handle myself in emergencies and to keep a cool head. That’s certainly part of dedication. I don’t think a nurse has to sit and hold a patient’s hand to be dedicated. I’m not the type anyway.”
“Right,” he agreed promptly. “Just be careful that you don’t leave a chill in the sickroom while you’re at it.”
SICK DAD BURN, DR. S!
Penny does go on from Denver to her family’s farm in New York’s North Country for a rest, hiking in the woods and playing tennis with Carl, her childhood friend and son of the Scotts’ caretakers. But mere days later she gets a call from her father, insisting that she take a position as a live-in nurse with one of his patients, a wealthy industrialist named John Lynly, who needs someone to enforce bedrest after a heart attack. Penny doesn’t want the job and tries to pawn it off on any other nurse, but her father insists.
Installed in Lynly’s Manhattan townhouse, Penny finds the old man every bit as difficult as she was promised (he impertinently addresses her as “Squirt”), and makes the acquaintance of the Burkses, the long suffering married couple that serves as his cook and chauffer, and his MYSTERIOUS son, Edward.
Penny is attracted to Edward, even though he is constantly trying to pull shady business on his father (like give himself power of attorney) and riles him up every time his visits. Also, what was he doing fooling with his father’s medications? While Penny continues to grant Ed an occasional tennis date, she still takes the precaution of keeping Mr. Lynly’s prescriptions on her at all times.
More mysterious happenings as Mr. Lynly hires what is obviously a private detective that he is very tight-lipped about, and the Burkses let it slip that he has a long-lost, disinherited older son named Eric.
Just as Penny is finally making good progress in the old man’s recovery, Mr. Lynly announces he’s packing up the townhouse and moving for the foreseeable future to rural Eagle Mountain, in the Arkansas Ozarks, where he has kept a summer house. He expects everyone to go with him, shocking Penny and the Burkses, who refuse to go. He promptly fires all of them.
Penny is shocked, but she finds the Burkses taking it in stride. It seems they have been impulsively fired with regularity whenever they don’t go along with Mr. Lynly’s schemes. And sure enough, he is soon contrite, agreeing to keep the Burkses on to manage his city house. At Dr. Scott’s behest he apologizes to Penny, who under pressure from her father, agrees to go along to Arkansas for a while.
So, pretty normal career-girl mystery stuff. But don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Once we get to Eagle Mountain this thing is going to JUMP THE RAAAAAAAAAAILS.
Upon his arrival, Mr. Lynly is extremely insistent about been seen specifically by Dr. Larison, the head of the local clinic. We shall not waste a lot of time on this mystery:
Mr. Lynly had come to Eagle Ridge with a purpose, and that purpose had to do with Dr. Larison. A nurse, or anybody, would be stupid if she did not put two things together and come out with the fact that Larison was Mr. Lynly’s elder son.
Thanks, ‘Jean Kirby’. I was just congratulating myself for solving that mystery before it was revealed, but apparently no one’s impressed.
Mr. Lynly and Eric reconcile decades of bad blood in about 5 minutes.
Which leaves Penny plenty of time to befriend A FERAL CHILD!
Yup, while out taking her many healthful walks and banging tennis balls against the side of a quarry, Penny meets a straight-up feral hillbilly child! She leaves him apples and sandwiches, eventually gaining his trust enough to hand-feed him a deviled egg. When she mentions this to Mr. Lynly’s new local housekeeper, Mrs. Akers (“I got scalloped pertaters with ham, a tossed salad jist the way New Yorkers like it an’ I’m makin’ a blueberry pie”), she informs Penny that it must be Sam-Boy, who is the “deaf and dumb” albino offspring of the amazingly named Amos Tudbrink, the preacher at the local “camp meeting”.
Mrs. Akers is not a fan of getting up in people’s business, nor of the Tudbrinks, nor the fact that Sam-Boy starts hanging around the Lynly house with a loaded rifle.
“I tole you!” Mrs. Akers shrilled. “That boy’s ha’nted!”
Penny eventually meets Mrs. Tudbrink, who shares that her husband believes Sam Boy was touched by God and doesn’t want outsiders to have anything to do with him, especially if they are going to teach him sign language, which Penny has taken it upon herself to do.
Penny is going to ignore this fact and meddle her way right into the middle of the Tudbrinks’ domestic problems… at least until she accepts a date with Eric Larison/Lynly, and on the way home she has the opportunity to observe one of Tudbrink’s camp meetings from a safe distance:
Before long, figures here and there began swaying. The cries began, the words indistinguishable, but sounds of agreement, of exaltation. Tudbrink’s motions were pronounced and powerful now. He strode up and down the rock stage. His strong voice was loud enough now for Penny to catch an occasional word. Now and then he pointed at one of his listeners. The swaying increased; the cries became a jerky mass of sound coming up the bluff.
The tall man’s voice threatened now, became menacing, the pointing finger aimed now here, now there. In response, some ran forward, flung themselves face down in front of the stage. The whole audience rocked and shouted.
Eric’s tone was dry. “That’s Tudbrink’s idea of a religious gathering… Tudbrink is a religious fanatic who’s found himself a captive audience among simple hill people.”
Penny rose. “I’ve seen enough. Let’s go.”
So, now Penny’s on the wrong side of the local hillbilly cult leader.
She’s also on the wrong side of Ed Lynly, when she discovers that he’s going to extraordinary lengths to prevent his father from re-writing his will and putting Eric back in. When some long-awaited paperwork arrives from Lynly’s New York lawyer and goes mysteriously missing, she takes it upon herself to search Ed’s room, finding the letter. But when Ed corners her, she has to Judo-chop herself out of his grasp, revealing Ed’s scam to Mr. Lynly, who works himself up into quite a state about the whole thing.
A few days later Mrs. Akers abruptly quits, leaving Penny alone to run the household and run interference with Ed, as Eric is working non-stop at the clinic after a disastrous bus crash injures most of the town.
Penny finally gets some relief when a local comes with a message from Eric and offers to stay and help… but then he tries to burn down the house with Mr. Lynly inside of it. The old man can NOT take any more of this excitement!
Edward has one more trick up his sleeve to drive his father to a heart attack before he can change the will, as he summons Tudbrink’s entire cult to the house, complete with flaming torches, having been told that Sam-Boy is hiding out there:
She could make out the words in the chant now. “My son! I want my son!”
Tudbrink did not even pause. He shoved the flaming figure eight almost into her face. Penny staggered back, crying out, and he passed her and advanced to the bed. “I want my son!”
Penny recovered, seeing the whole scene with remarkable clearness, Tudbrink holding the flame above the bed, Edward standing quietly out in the hall, Sam-Boy behind the chair, and most clearly of all, Mr. Lynly trying to struggle up in bed.
There were running footsteps in the hall outside, a scuffle, then the report of a gun filled the room.
The trigger was pulled by the long-suffering Mrs. Tudbrink. Penny hastily pushes Tudbrink’s corpse aside, setting the bed on fire with his torch, but she’s on a mission: she knows that she has to start that new-fangled CPR on Mr. Lynly before he wakes up with brain damage!
Eric shows up (jeez, no hurry, dude!) to help with the chest compressions, saving his father. While it is noted that in the aftermath Sam-Boy shall be sent to the state school for the deaf to get a proper education, it is left up to the reader’s imagination what will happen with either Mrs. Tudbrink (justifiable homicide?) or Ed (takes over the cult?); Penny’s main concern is whether to stay in Eagle Mountain and become Mrs. Dr. Eric Larison/Lynly.
After talking things over with her father, who warmly congratulates her on the maturity she has gained through judo-chopping murderous heirs, befriending feral children and fighting off an entire cult, she decides to go back to Denver to think things over and see where her next assignment will take her.
Wow, that cover really does look like Mary Tyler Moore in her Laura Petrie days! The Dick Van Dyke show was running when this book was published — I wonder if the resemblance was intentional, or subliminal?!
Right? I would just chalk it up to being a popular look of the day… but that is really a very Laura Petrie-like pose she is striking!
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