You ought to ask her to go off night duty for a while. She’s getting very tired. . . . I want to do it but she won’t let me. The others are glad to let her have it. You might give her just a little rest. . . . Miss Van Campen spoke about you sleeping all the forenoon. . . . It would be better if you let her stay off nights for a little while. . . . [I]f you make her I’d respect you for it.
Ferguson, a Scottish nurse and Catherine Barkley’s friend, understands that Catherine and Frederic spend the nights Catherine works on night duty having sex. Although she does not approve, her main concern focuses on looking after her friend. She wants to protect both Catherine’s reputation and her health. Cleverly, she goes to the one person who can make Catherine take a break: Frederic. Her logic convinces him to give up Catherine temporarily.
Ferguson was a fine girl. I never learned anything about her except that she had a brother in the Fifty-Second Division and a brother in Mesopotamia and she was very good to Catherine Barkley. . . . “You’ll never get married. . . . You’ll fight before you’ll marry. . . . Fight or die. That’s what people do. They don’t marry.” I reached for her hand. “Don’t take hold of me,” she said. “I’m not crying. Maybe you’ll be all right you two. But watch out you don’t get her in trouble. You get her in trouble and I’ll kill you.”
Ferguson explains that she does not believe that Catherine and Frederic will marry and that she worries that Catherine will end up “in trouble,” meaning pregnant. Ferguson’s emotions as she asserts that people only fight or die and don’t marry suggest prior experience with loss, a common fact in wartime. At the same time, she refuses to acknowledge how upset she feels. She wants to appear to be a Scottish stoic, but her true sensitive nature sometimes surfaces.
“You’re a fine mess,” Ferguson said. “What are you doing here? Have you eaten? . . . What are you doing in mufti? . . . You’re in some mess. . . . I’m not cheered up by seeing you. I know just the mess you’ve gotten this girl into. You’re no cheerful sight to me. . . . I can’t stand him,” Ferguson said. “He’s done nothing but ruin you with his sneaking Italian tricks. Americans are worse than Italians. . . . You’re worse than sneaky. You’re like a snake with an Italian uniform: with a cape around your neck.”
Frederic finds Catherine and Ferguson in Stresa. After immediately recognizing that Frederic must be in trouble if he is wearing civilian clothing, Ferguson attacks him because, as she had feared, he has gotten Catherine pregnant. Strongly moral herself, Ferguson believes Catherine only slept with Frederic because he tricked her. However, even before beginning her diatribe, Ferguson asks if Frederic has eaten, instinctively caring even for the well-being of someone with whom she is furious.
Ferguson sobbed. “You mustn’t mind me, either of you. I’m so upset, I’m not reasonable. I know it. I want you both to be happy.” Ferguson cried again. “I don’t want you happy the way you are. Why don’t you get married? You haven’t got another wife have you? . . . It’s nothing to laugh about. . . . Plenty of them have other wives. . . . You should want to be married.”
After angrily denouncing Frederic for getting Catherine pregnant and Catherine for accepting her condition, Ferguson apologizes for being unreasonable. Once again her desire to be rational wars with her sensitivity. Ferguson feels dismayed that Catherine does not mind not being married, knowing an out-of-wedlock child would permanently ruin Catherine’s societal status. She wants for Catherine what Catherine doesn’t have the good sense to want for herself: a safe future.