Cherry Ames had never been able to stay long at No. 9. She'd had no end of interesting jobs in nursing, and they had taken her all over the United States and even to foreign countries. But No. 9 was her home base, to which she returned year after year, to catch up with Mai Lee and Josie and Gwen and the other Spencer Club girls who paid their dues and were entitled to a scrap of space in the crowded apartment whenever they were in town.
During their long tenure at No. 9, the girls of the Spencer Club had many neighbours. Many were small groups of girls, like themselves - just as often secretaries or shop assistants as nurses or teachers. But girls who were making their own way in the world, who had come to New York because of the opportunities it held. The Spencer Club tried to be good neighbours, and especially to befriend the nervous country girls just starting out in the big city who so often came to their building. And the letters sent between the absent club members were often filled with stories of the newest neighbours.
So when Cherry returned yet again to No. 9, she already knew that No. 8 had new tenants. The apartment directly across the hall was poky, and couldn't have held more than three or four girls at most. But the new occupants had to be well enough off, Gwen had told Cherry in a letter, for there were only two of them. They were recent graduates, and one, Betty, was a scandalous divorcee! But they were lovely, Gwen wrote. She'd met them when she had taken a vacation from her husband and children and the Children's Ward at Spencer for a shopping spree in the city with Mai Lee, and she had tempted Cherry herself with the observation that nice as they were, there was something of a mystery about these two girl graduates. 'And you never could pass up a good puzzle,' Gwen concluded.
Cherry herself first met them two days after she arrived in New York. Her first day had been taken up in sleeping, for she had just come off a very difficult case and was looking forward to the rest. Gwen would come up to see her at the weekend, when Mai Lee - the only Spencer Club nurse still working from No. 9, and the only one other than Cherry still unmarried - would have some time off duty. Until then, Cherry could enjoy her vacation in any way she chose, and she began that very day by going out to the market and buying up groceries to make herself (and Mai Lee, when she came home) a marvellous feast.
Coming up the steps of the building on her way back from the stores, she met a dark-haired girl with a sparkle in her eyes. She and Cherry had passed each other with no more than a pleasant smile when the girl turned back and called after Cherry, 'Excuse me, but are you from No. 9?'
Cherry stopped. 'I am. My name is Cherry. I take it you're one of the new girls in No. 8?'
'Oh, dear,' she said. 'Have we been talked about?' She held out her hand. 'My name is Giselle Levy. And yes, Betty and I live in No. 8.'
'Were you just leaving?' asked Cherry, shaking Giselle's hand. 'What I mean is, would you like to come in and have coffee? Gwen and Mai Lee have been telling me about the new neighbours, and I'd love to get to know you.'
'I'd love it. I wasn't going anywhere that can't be put off.'
'Then come on up,' exclaimed Cherry. 'I've been out shopping myself,' she explained. 'I'm living in luxury at the moment while Mai Lee is still working, so I thought I'd better plan a nice supper for her when she gets home tonight.'
'I do that for Betty sometimes,' said Giselle, following Cherry up the stairs to No. 9. 'She's working in an office right now, full time. I just pick up bits here and there when someone needs a scatterbrained secretary for a day or two.'
'You don't mind coming in the kitchen so we can talk while I put things away?' said Cherry. Giselle shook her head. 'Good,' said Cherry. 'That's far more homey. But what's this about a scatterbrained secretary. I thought Gwen told me you were Wellesley graduates?'
'My word, we have been a topic of conversation! Yes - Betty and I met up at Wellesley. Our two great pals are both married now: Joan while we were still at school, and Connie this past summer. So here we are, two single girls together in Greenwich Village.'
'But I thought - ' began Cherry, before realising how rude her question was. She busied herself with filling the coffeepot and putting it on the stove.
'You thought Betty was married, too?' asked Giselle. 'Yes, she was. They're divorced now, much to her mother's disgust. Such a scandal.' She paused. 'Bets doesn't like me talking about it, so I suppose I shouldn't have said anything.'
'I'll never mention it to a soul,' said Cherry.
'What about you and your friends?' asked Giselle. 'I must confess I don't quite understand this Spencer Club idea.'
'We were all student nurses together at Spencer Hospital a million years ago,' explained Cherry. 'There's a whole gang of us, and we all pay shares in the apartment, although all of us but Mai Lee and me are married now, or working well away from New York. But there have been new additions to the Club, so Mai Lee is never living all alone: I think the Training Office at Spencer recommends us now as a potential boarding house for graduates.'
Giselle grinned as the coffeepot began to whistle. 'I guess Betty and I are something of a two-girl Wellesley Club, in a way.'
'It's a good thing to have,' said Cherry, 'Or so I've always thought.' She brought the coffee pot to the table and filled a cup for each of them. 'And it's lovely to be able to come back here whenever I want, for a vacation in the middle of the city. We all started off as Visiting Nurses here after the war, which is when we got this apartment. And I've worked in New York a few times since.'
'Where else have you worked?' asked Giselle.
'I started off as an Army nurse in the war,' said Cherry. 'Yes, I really am that old!'
'You don't look a day of it,' exclaimed Giselle.
'I wear my age well,' said Cherry sagely, with a twinkle in her eye. 'I was in England as a flight nurse for a while, and then in the Pacific with an Army hospital. I've worked in clinics and rest homes and small towns and large cities. I was a boarding school nurse at one time,' she finished. 'Which reminds me - one of our clubites worked at Wellesley for a very long time. I wonder if you know her. You must: she's only just left the school in the last year or so.'
A guarded look passed across Giselle's face. 'What's her name?'
Giselle took a long drink from her coffee cup. 'Yes, of course I know Miss Armstrong. She... she isn't living here now, is she?'
Cherry looked closely at her guest. 'Is something the matter?'
'Miss Armstrong wouldn't want to see Betty and I; she can't know we're here.'
'Something is the matter. Amanda can't be such a dragon as you think. I've known her for years.'
Giselle put down her cup. 'I'm terribly sorry, Cherry. Miss Ames. I... thank you for the coffee.'
'... and then she just rushed out of here,' said Cherry that night when she was describing the scene to Mai Lee. 'Gwen is right, there is a definite mystery about them. But how Amanda is tied up in it all, I don't know.'
'Poor Amanda,' said Mai Lee. 'She's had such a difficult life. But I don't think there's much of a mystery here, Cherry. Or at least not the one you're seeing. Amanda was dismissed from Wellesley because of an editorial written by one of the seniors. If Giselle and Betty just graduated, perhaps it was one of them.'
Cherry sat back and thought. 'Perhaps it is. And Amanda won't be back from England for another week, so I can't ask her about it until then. But Gwen thought there was something about the girls anyway. Maybe she can elaborate when she's here at the weekend.'
'Maybe she can,' said quiet Mai Lee. 'But for now, Cherry, you'll just have to pause in your sleuthing and help me do the dishes.'
'Oh, I suppose I can do that.'
When Gwen arrived for the weekend, Cherry pounced. She had the grace to wait until Gwen was fully inside the apartment, and the door shut tight so as not to embarrass the girls in No. 8, but Cherry waited no longer than that before asking Gwen, 'What was the mystery with Betty and Giselle? I'm simply dying to know what you think you saw.'
'Heavens above!' exclaimed Gwen. 'Give a girl a chance to put her bags down.'
'Mai Lee has coffee all ready for us, and I'm simply aching to know what you meant,' continued Cherry.
'Oh, I can see that,' said Gwen, 'And I can tell you now you'll be disappointed. I simply sensed that there was something a little odd about them. Just two girls in an apartment that could fit three or four at a pinch, and the dark haired one dotes on the other as though she were a china doll.'
'Oh, you're no help at all!' said Cherry. 'All the same, there is a mystery. And now I'll have to wait until Amanda comes back before I can solve it.'
'Why, what on earth has it to do with Mandy?'
By this stage Mai Lee had joined them. 'Betty and Giselle are Wellesley graduates,' said said. 'Fairly recent, by all accounts, so they would have been there when...'
Gwen nodded in understanding. 'When Mandy was thrown out by the administration. You don't think one of them...?'
'Mai Lee thinks so,' said Cherry. 'I don't. Or at least, I don't think Giselle could have had anything to do with it. And the way she speaks about Betty, well, I can't imagine that the girl she describes could have done that to Amanda. Especially not so soon after poor Josephine died.'
Gwen opened her eyes rather wide. 'I wonder,' she said, and then paused. 'You know, that would solve my little mystery rather neatly.'
Mai Lee looked puzzled, but Cherry nodded. 'I'd rather wondered that myself.'
Gwen turned to Mai Lee. 'When do you expect Mandy back?'
'Tomorrow evening, her wire said. But for pity's sake, Cherry,' said Mai Lee, turning her attention between the other two girls, 'Don't leap on poor Mandy as you did Gwen. She'll be tired out from her flight across from London. And if Giselle's right, the news of our new neighbours may not exactly please her.'
Amanda Armstrong arrived back in Greenwich Village on a cold and cloudy day. She'd been in England for the past two months, visiting her family for the first time in many years, and when she arrived back at No. 9 she wanted nothing more than to put her feet up, close her eyes, and sleep for at least a week. Number 9 was full of cheerful, chattering women – despite her weariness Amanda greeted Gwen and Mai Lee with a smile, and hugged Cherry warmly. They offered her supper and coffee and sympathetic ears, but she refused all offers, saying that she was going straight to bed and would see them sometime tomorrow.
Amanda wasn't an original Spencer Club member. She'd met Cherry during the war, through a school-friend named Joan Worralson who'd been working as a WAF pilot while Cherry and Amanda had been nurses for the RAF. It had been Cherry who'd suggested Amanda might like to work in the United States after the war, and it had been through Cherry that Amanda had met Josephine and embarked upon the most wonderful part of her life. Since Josephine died, nothing had quite been the same, but the girls of the Spencer Club had rallied around her when she was dismissed from Wellesley, and had cosseted and cared for her in their various characteristic ways all year. Now she'd returned from England to take up a new situation at a day school in Manhattan, and she was as grateful as ever for the existence of the Spencer Club.
The next morning, refreshed by her long sleep, she went into the kitchen in search of coffee and whichever members of the Club were still present in No. 9. She found coffee on the back of the stove, and Cherry and Gwen curled up at either end of a settee in the living room, sharing the sections of the Sunday paper between them.
'Mandy, dear, you've emerged!' exclaimed Cherry on seeing her friend in the doorway. 'Feeling better?'
'Much,' said Amanda, decidedly. 'Is there anything to eat?'
'Bagels on the counter, cream cheese in the refrigerator,' said Gwen. 'Once you're fixed, bring yourself in here. Cherry's been dying to ask you about a mystery that's been puzzling her for days, and you're the only person who might answer her questions.'
Amanda and Cherry grinned at each other. 'I dread to think,' said Amanda in her clipped accent. 'After all, I know Cherry of old!' Nevertheless, she didn't linger over her breakfast preparations, and soon carried in a tray for herself and a fresh pot of coffee for all three girls. 'Now then, Cherry, let's have it.'
'Brace yourself for the worst,' said Cherry. 'It's about Wellesley.'
Amanda's shoulders slumped. 'There's no mystery there. You already know all about it.'
'The thing is,' said Cherry, 'We've got new neighbours in No 8. Girls from Wellesley, newly graduated.'
'They're bound to know me, then,' said Amanda. 'Who is it? Most of those girls, their parents would never have allowed them to come to Manhattan after graduation.'
'They - or one of them - are fairly sure you won't want to see them,' said Cherry. 'Giselle was so upset when I said your name.'
'Giselle Levy?' asked Amanda. 'I've nothing against Giselle. She's a nice enough girl once you get through her shell, but if any girl up there needed to be advised on contraception, legal or not, it was her. But who are the others? Surely not the rest of Giselle's gang.'
'There's only one other,' said Gwen.
'Actually, we rather think they are a couple. Greenwich Village is a good place for it,' said Cherry.
'Oh, you!' exclaimed Amanda. 'You always did like to drag out a story. Make a comment like that, and of course I'm desperate to know who the other girl is. I can't imagine who it might be - unless it were little Connie.'
'We've not met her yet,' admitted Cherry, 'but her name is Betty.'
'Betty Warren?' Amanda dropped a piece of bagel, and it landed on the rug, cream cheese-side down. 'Oh, bother.'
'Don't worry about it,' chorused Gwen and Cherry. Gwen jumped up and rescued the bagel from the floor, taking it out to the kitchen and returning with a damp rag to wipe up the damage.
'I simply don't believe you,' said Amanda, when they had finished their hasty cleaning. 'Betty Warren was the ultimate Wellesley girl; privileged, arrogant, and destined for marriage on graduation if not before. She simply can't be living with Giselle Levy, in a Boston marriage or otherwise.'
Cherry held up her hands in defeat. 'All we know is that her name is Betty, and that she's divorced. And she can't be more than twenty two if she's just graduated, which is awfully early to be divorced. Giselle has mentioned that their other two pals are both married: one is named Joan and the other must be the "little Connie" you mentioned.'
'Betty Warren - and her Medusa of a mother - are the ones who had me dismissed, you realise,' said Amanda.
'Then Mai Lee was right!' said Gwen. 'I'm so sorry, Mandy. I really am.'
'But I can't imagine Betty and Giselle, not as Betty-and-Giselle. It was Betty and Joan who were all in all to each other. Giselle and Connie were friends of Joan's - Betty only put up with them because Joan gave her no choice,' said Amanda, pouring herself another cup of coffee.
Cherry pondered. 'Betty doesn't sound like a very nice girl,' she said. 'But Giselle was delightful, all fresh and enthusiastic. And very caring of her Betty.'
'I can see I'm going to have to confront my past,' said Amanda, reluctantly. 'I'm not sure whether to hope that it is Betty Warren in No. 8, or not.'
'We'll back you up, Mandy,' said Cherry, loyally.
Amanda smiled. 'Dear Cherry - you've never failed me yet,' she said. 'Not even when you only had eyes for Joan Worralson.' She and Cherry - and Gwen, who alone of all the Spencer Club girls, knew the full story to which Amanda had referred - smiled together at the memory.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Amanda squared her shoulders and began to leave No. 9, to cross the hallway to No. 8 to satisfy her curiosity. At the last moment she turned back, and looked piteously at Cherry, who was at the kitchen table.
'Come with me, Cherry?'
'I'd love to,' she replied, jumping up and putting her hand on Amanda's arm. 'You'll be fine,' she said, reassuringly.
'I'm glad you're so sure,' said Amanda. 'I'm none too certain myself. Betty's mother had so much power at Wellesley, and that young lady knew it.'
'She's not at Wellesley any more,' Cherry pointed out, 'And from what Giselle says, life may have rounded off some of Betty's rough edges this past year.' She opened the door and motioned Amanda through.
It was Giselle who answered the door. She saw Cherry first, and smiled, but then her gaze shifted to Amanda, and her smile faded. She swallowed once, and then said, 'Miss Armstrong. Cherry said...,' but her voice faded away.
Amanda willed herself to smile. 'It's been a long time, Miss Levy.'
'Are you well?' asked Giselle, but Cherry interrupted.
'Won't you invite us in, Giselle? Or must we stay out here in the hallway?'
'No, of course,' said Giselle. 'Come in. Betty's - '
'Who is it, honey?' said a measured voice from No. 8's kitchen.
'Have we got coffee?' asked Giselle. 'It's Miss Ames from across the hall. And Miss Armstrong.' At Giselle's final words, Betty Warren appeared in the kitchen door, a dish towel in her hand.
'Miss Warren,' said Amanda, unable to break out of standard college etiquette.
'Technically it's Mrs Jones,' said Betty.
Amanda and Betty stared at each other, until Amanda turned away. 'This was a mistake, Cherry. I'm sorry Giselle,' she added, and hurried out of the apartment. Still in No. 8, Cherry heard the door to No. 9 shut.
'I didn't know what to say,' Betty said. 'I couldn't think, Giselle. I'm the reason she lost her situation, and I don't know how to apologise.'
Giselle crossed the room and put her arms around Betty. 'You need to try, love,' she said. She kissed Betty gently. 'I love you. I always will.'
Betty rested her head against Giselle's shoulder for a moment. Cherry turned to the window until she heard Betty speak.
'I'll try again, Giselle. Miss Ames?'
Cherry turned back to Betty. 'Just go across and knock,' she said, smiling kindly.
Giselle stayed in No. 8 with Cherry. 'It takes a lot of courage,' she said.
'I hope you're not shocked,' added Giselle. 'By Betty and I.... That kiss.'
'My dear, we're nurses. And both Amanda and I understand.'
'There's coffee in the kitchen,' said Giselle, after a moment's friendly silence. 'I could use the company while Betty's next door. Otherwise I'll be imagining all sorts of terrible things.'
'I don't think you have any reason to worry,' said Cherry.