Aunt Jane's Nieces in The Red Cross - Synopsis


The novel opens on 7 September 1914; the continuing characters Patsy Doyle, Beth De Graf, and their uncle John Merrick are reading a newspaper account of the end of the Siege of Maubeuge and the German victory. Both of the girls are intensely concerned with the war news; Beth in particular is a partisan of the French cause.

The protagonists are soon re-united with "Ajo" Jones and the movie star Maud Stanton, two characters from the previous book in the series, Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West. (Baum arrived at Maud Stanton's name by combining his wife's first name, Maud, with his mother's maiden name, Stanton.) Maud Stanton takes the place of the third of the trio of cousins, Louise Merrick, who does not appear in the final book.

Both Maud and Ajo have come to New York; Maud is one her way to Europe to serve as a nurse. (She trained in nursing before becoming a film actress.) Patsy and Beth are struck with admiration for her action, and are eager to follow her example. When Uncle John finds that he cannot dissuade them, he resolves to back their effort; he uses his wealth and influence to form a connection with the American Red Cross. Jones, also enthusiastic for the cause, volunteers his ocean-going yacht, the Arabella, for conversion to a hospital ship. Uncle John pays for its refitting and for two ambulances to carry the wounded.

Merrrick's money and the girls' enthusiasm work wonders; by the end of September the Arabella, painted with large red crosses, is in Dunkirk. Among their staff is a talented surgeon, Doctor Gys. He is "an eccentric, a character...erratic and whimsical," an adventurer who has been from the Arctic to the Yucatán, and in the process has been badly disfigured by various hard-luck accidents (involving icebergs and poisoned cacti). Gys calls himself a coward, but also sees death as a release from his disfigured body; he wonders what kind of death would be preferable, and has a morbid interest in confronting the violence of the War. The Americans also acquire a Belgian chauffeur named Maurie as an ambulance driver; he provides comic relief for the book, in somewhat the same way as the chauffeur Wampus does in Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.

The protagonists cope with military bureaucracies and confront the horrors of the battlefield — though Baum, "in keeping with his Van Dyne persona...kept his descriptions mild." Beth has previously had a year of nursing training; but Patsy is a neophyte who is shocked at the conditions she encounters. Doctor Gys reacts with paralyzing fear on his first exposure to combat, but his medical discipline soon takes over and he functions effectively.

In the climax of the story, Patsy is injured but recovers, but Dr. Gys is killed on the battlefield. Though Gys had repeatedly proclaimed his cowardice, his death is heroic.

The Americans lose the confidence of the French authorities at Dunkirk when a German prisoner they are treating escapes their custody; fewer wounded come to their ship as a result, and it appears that their usefulness is limited. After three months of service, the girls return to the United States. Uncle John tells them that "You have unselfishly devoted your lives for three strenuous months to the injured soldiers of a foreign war, and I hope you're satisfied that you've done your full duty."

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