Cherry Ames stood under a palm tree somewhere in the Pacific, the day after Christmas. The officer who had just helped her off the plane said, “Stay here in the shade. Now if you will please excuse me for a minute — ” and walked away. Cherry watched him go and squinted through the heat haze at the parked Army bomber which had brought her here this afternoon. “Of all places for me to be spending Christmas!” she thought. “I’ve crossed the international date line and lost a day, so I’ll count today Christmas. But of all the un-Christmas-y places! I’ve read about romantic tropic isles, but I never thought I’d get to one this way!”
She pulled down the trim jacket of her nurse’s olive drab uniform, and set the jaunty cap more firmly on her black curls. Cherry’s eyes were black too, large and sparkling, thoughtful but full of fun — brilliant red cheeks and lips and a warmhearted smile lived up to the lively promise of those eyes. She knew perfectly well, of course, that a nurse, and especially an Army nurse, can, in the course of duty, nonchalantly pop up in any corner of the world. “But I wish,” she thought, “that someone would kindly tell me what I’m here for!”
“Cherry! Cher-ry! Come Quick! It’s here!”
A sparkling, dark-haired girl suddenly popped out on the upstairs landing and hung over the staircase. Her cheeks were as red as her sweater and her black eyes shone with excitement. She took one look at her mother, gingerly holding up an envelope; another at her young friend Midge, hopping up and down with a strange lack of dignity for a fifteen-year-old.
That’s — it!” Midge cried. “Hurry up!”
Cherry swooped down the stairs and seized the official-looking envelope.
“What does it say?” Midge begged. Mrs. Ames, too, was trying to glimpse the letter over Cherry’s shoulder.
“Here,” Cherry said, absorbed, and allowed Midge to hold the empty envelope.
Midge read aloud the address in the left-hand corner with awe in her voice, “‘War Department, Official Business.’ Jiminy!”
“What does it say?” Mrs. Ames echoed Midge. She was a small, youthful, brown-eyed woman.
Cherry looked up and grinned. “This is what I’ve been waiting for every day of this two weeks’ vacation! Harumph! You will please stand at attention while I read it to you.” Cherry herself stood erect and read earnestly:
“By direction of the President, Cherry Ames is with her consent ordered to active duty with the Army of the United States, and assigned to the hospital unit as indicated…” On graduating, Cherry had signed up with her whole nursing class to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. She already had indicated that she was available immediately and willing to serve overseas, and had sent her photo, application, school record and State Board Examination record. Cherry took a deep breath and hurried on, “…and will proceed on 21 September this year to station specified for temporary duty pending activation Spencer Gen. unit.”
There was another notice, too. “You are ordered to report to the Service Command at Wabash City…for Army physical examination!” … “Oh, gosh!” exclaimed Cherry.
“You have to weigh at least a hundred pounds and a lot of other things,” Midge warned her.
“She’ll pass,” Mrs. Ames said, smiling at Cherry, “even the Army’s rigid examination.” Cherry’s red cheeks and lips, her shining dark eyes, her eager, lively, pretty face, even her dancing black curls, fairly radiated vitality. She sparkled with youth and high spirits.
The rising bell clanged, Cherry carefully wrapped the covers around her ears, turned over and went back to sleep.
When she awoke again, her eyes fell on the clock and she leaped wildly out of bed. She had overslept a whole half-hour! It was really late! Half-asleep, she dashed automatically for the maple chest of drawers and collided with a chair instead. Then Cherry remembered. Of course — this wasn’t her old room — this was her new room in Crowley, the residence for seniors and graduate nurses! Starting this morning she was a senior — and she was late! Cherry scrambled into her clothes as the clock ticked loudly and warningly. She ran to the closet and pulled out a crisp blue and white striped uniform, with black chevrons on the shoulder. Late or not, Cherry stopped for breath and a moment’s gloating over those senior chevrons.
Then she dashed over to the mirror and slammed her nurse’s cap on her head. A breathless girl of twenty looked back at her — a slim, lovely girl with black eyes and black curls, and cheeks and lips so red they had earned her her name. She struggled to get her apron tied, but the bow balked. Outside in the corridor, instead of the usual bedlam of nurses, there was a pronounced silence — they all had left for breakfast long ago! “It’s still me,” Cherry marveled at her reflection. “Cherry Ames, from Hilton, Illinois, a senior and not changed a bit! Still tardy!”
Cherry sat cross-legged on her suitcase and tugged. There! The two stubborn locks finally clicked shut. This would make her new uniforms look like accordions and she mourned for the new blue dance dress. But at least they were in. Cherry puffed and with a toss of her head sent the dark brown curls off her glowing cheeks. Then she sat bolt upright on the suitcase and gasped.
“How do I look?” said Midge from the doorway. Billowing over her small figure was Cherry’s gray probationer’s uniform and crackling white apron, miles too big for her. From around the collar, her freckled face peered out, grinning impishly.
“Midge Fortune!” Cherry exploded. “You thirteen-year-old hazard! Unhand that uniform right away! Do you want to make me miss my train?” She darted after Midge and wormed her out of the dress. “And now I’ll have to battle with that suitcase again!” she groaned. She gave the squirming Midge a little shake. “Honestly, if you weren’t Dr. Joe’s daughter, I’d cut you up for stew and feed you to my worst enemy!”
“You haven’t got a worst enemy,” Midge pointed out calmly. She folded the garments with care and bravely attacked the suitcase. “And besides,” Midge went on, with a fine disregard for any connection, “your new red suit is the best-looking thing in Hilton.” She looked at Cherry admiringly.
And Cherry was well worth admiring. She was slender and healthy and well-built; she moved with a proud erect posture that made her seem beautifully tall and slim. Her eyes and her short curly hair were very dark, almost black — the clear-cut black that glistens. Groomed to crisp perfection, Cherry was as vivid as a poster in her red wool sports suit. And her face fairly sparkled with warmth and humor.
Staff Nurse Hilary Bell was rather disappointed when, after a bout of illness, she had to give up nursing for a year and take a ‘light duty’ job as first aid nurse in a big department store.
But Hilary was the kind of girl who always does her best in any job — and she was to get a splendid reward!