“Not to the Swift”
By Deone R. Sutherland
Synopsis: Julie Markham and her widowed mother live in Chicago, where Julie is studying music. She often sings for Church meetings and other occasions. As the end of her work at the music school approaches, Professor Craig Carlson, a member of the Church and one of the teachers, expresses his love for Julie, but her mother makes plans for Julie to obtain a scholarship in New York City.
The budding promise that was Julie’s first year at college flowered into complete happiness Julie’s last. She awoke each day with anticipation and joy. It was unbearable that the fall should slip by so swiftly, and that winter should be cradling Chicago so soon. The winds were stinging blasts of cold, but Craig insisted on driving her down into the city every day, so she escaped the walks, head bent against the blizzards, that came so frequently. Lake Michigan roared gray and unfriendly against the icy rocks and white beaches. Snug and warm inside Craig’s car, Julie refused to believe that the harsh echo of the crashing waves seemed a distant suggestion of foreboding. Julie listened only to the rhythm of Craig’s voice. They talked and talked, but never seemed quite able to finish saying all there was to say to each other.
The Christmas season brought a flood of parties at school and church, but it also brought many singing engagements for both Craig and Julie that kept them busy. But they were able to go dancing Christmas Eve, and then later to follow the Christmas-lighted streets toward home. The snow fell lightly, and the sound of occasional chains on cars made soft, dull thuds in the streets. Cars, partially buried in snow, humped the streets as far as one cared to look. The burying and digging out of cars, and sometimes simply giving up until spring, were as familiar a part of Chicago as the Merchandise Mart or the Tribune Tower.
The snow scraper had left a drift of snow in front of Julie’s apartment building. Craig parked as near to it as he could. The falling snow had covered the dirty crusted drifts like white feathers. The snow seemed to stay white for such a short time here, but the snow on the campus had seemed different from the snow she knew in the city.
Craig took her from the doorway of the car and lifted her across the snow to the sidewalk. And then, perhaps because it was Christmas Eve, he held her just a moment longer than he needed to, and leaned his cheek against her soft one for just a moment. Her hair was like a soft breath against his face as she slipped lightly to her feet. No word now in this Christmas night. Only their footsteps going upstairs, and Craig slipping into the apartment just long enough to place Julie’s present under the Christmas tree. And there was a present he was putting under the tree for her mother.
“Tomorrow,” he whispered, and the door was shut and the night lock on, and Julie was alone. Her mother had already put some gifts under the little silver tree. Julie quickly took hers out of the bottom drawer in her chest of drawers in the bathroom and piled them under the tree. It wasn’t fair to look at the other presents too closely, not even Craig’s, but it was hard to sleep after she was ready for bed. In fact, it was impossible, she assured herself. Then she lay down and fell asleep at once.
“I thought you would never wake up.” Her mother smiled at her from the kitchen doorway. “The cereal has been on as low as possible, but still it’s nearly cooked away.”
“Oh, Mother, how could I on Christmas Day?” Julie dashed into the bathroom and washed her face again and again in cold water it was so wonderfully refreshing. She combed her hair and smiled at herself in the mirror. Even if she was dressed in a three-year-old white flannel nightgown that buttoned up to her chin, her hair was pretty. I’m being so silly because it’s such a lovely morning. She grinned at herself and rushed out to put up her bed.
“What time is Craig coming for dinner?” Her mother was reading the morning paper in the armchair.
“I told him dinner was at two, so I guess he won’t come for hours. We can open the presents after he gets here later. I’m starving.”
“You’d better put a robe on; you’ll catch cold.” Her mother came to the kitchen door. Julie was spooning the sugar on her cereal. “Here’s my old blue flannel one, dear.” She laid it on the chair. “Julie, you don’t even have on your slippers …”
Julie was perched on the stool she had used as a little girl to make her taller at the table, her bare feet twined around the rungs. She was looking happily at her mother, not hearing a word her mother said. The buzzer sounded, and Julie’s mother released the front door.
“It must be a delivery,” she smiled at Julie. “Perhaps Craig left your present to the last minute.”
“No,” Julie had begun to eat her cereal, “my present is under the tree.”
Julie’s mother opened the door to Craig’s voice in the hall. “I’m not too early?”
“No, no, come in. Julie’s not quite the early bird you are …”
Julie slipped the blue flannel bathrobe around her. It was too big, and it was old, and there wasn’t one single fastener or string or belt on the whole awful bathrobe. And a white flannel nightgown! And bare feet! Her toes curled in misery on the rungs of the stool, while Craig grinned at her from the doorway.
“She’s really blushing,” Craig laughed. “You know they say you’re supposed to call on your girl early in the morning to make sure she’s as beautiful before breakfast as she was the night before.” Julie began to choke on her cereal. Craig patted her on her back. “Merry Christmas, Julie,” and he kissed her on the forehead. “You’re very lovely.”
Julie looked up quickly, but Craig wasn’t teasing her now. Then he went back into the living room, and Julie slipped into her mother’s bedroom to dress. She put on her red velvet jumper in keeping with Christmas and matched her lipstick to it. Craig was playing Christmas carols on the piano in competition with a distant carillon pealing in the cold morning air.
Craig made room for Julie on the piano bench and watched her profile while they sang duets. Julie’s mother warmed some rolls and put honey on the kitchen table. Then they all had a second breakfast.
“I can’t possibly guess,” Julie protested, placing Craig’s present in her lap. She sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the little tree and handed out the presents. Her own lay about her on the floor. She opened Craig’s last. “How beautiful,” Julie exclaimed, lifting out the necklace with matching earrings.
“They’re much too nice,” Julie’s mother said in a worried voice. “I don’t know that Julie should accept something as valuable as that.”
“Why not?” murmured Craig, but Julie had fastened the necklace around her throat and was twirling around the room admiring it. Julie’s mother lapsed into silence, but the tiny frown wrinkles between her eyes deepened.
The letter concerning the scholarship for Julie arrived with the first early rains and the melting of the snow. Julie picked up the mail from the box in the hall. Almost as her key opened the tiny window and she saw the white envelope lying there, long and important looking, she knew what it was. She examined the New York return address for a moment and then carried the letter upstairs without opening it. She placed the letter on the piano and waited for her mother to come home. Perhaps she had been refused the scholarship. She wondered if she wished that she had. I must know how I am feeling, she thought to herself. How slowly the time passed. Her mother should be home by now. The letter had become impersonal. Surely, it could have no vital bearing on her life.
“Julie, it’s come! You didn’t even open it?” Her mother tossed her purse to the couch and snatched up the letter. In a second it was open, and Julie’s mother was half crying and laughing all at once. Julie had the scholarship. She had won the golden opportunity that would lead to an important career.
“Julie, Julie!” Her mother kissed her and then sank back on the couch. Of course she had known Julie deserved the recognition. but the competition was sharp, and sometimes somebody knew somebody or something like that. In real life the deserving one didn’t always win out, but this time she had. Julie would have a secure future in a wonderful career. Mary wiped her eyes.
Julie had gone into the kitchen and was getting dinner. Mary put the letter on the piano. The room was too cold. Julie hadn’t seemed too elated. Was she worried about parting from Craig or her other young friends? Well, if Craig had any ambition, he could go to New York, too. It was a lot of nonsense the way Craig kept insisting that he was going back to teach at that University out West. Why, he made more money singing here with that quartette an evening a week than he could make teaching out there full time.
What would Julie do in a little town like that? Her talent would be wasted completely. She would always regret it. Mary took a deep breath. But as far as she knew, Craig had never even asked Julie to go out West with him. Mary shook her head slowly. She was making mountains out of molehills. Girls fell in love many times. Julie was young. She would remind Julie of what Madame Heinrich had often said. When marriage came in the window, ambition and talent and the future of an artist had a way of vanishing. It had happened to Mary herself, hadn’t it? Mary crossed to the bathroom and began washing her hands carefully. She did want Julie to be happy. Yes, above all, she wanted Julie to be happy. But couldn’t Mary’s more experienced hand guide the way?
At dinner they lighted candles to celebrate. Julie seemed happy enough to Mary now. After dinner Mary suggested Julie might want to call some of her friends to tell them the good news.
“Oh, not yet, Mother. Besides, I’m going to Mutual with Craig tonight. I’d rather tell him first, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, darling, only such a wonderful thing as this doesn’t happen to a young girl every day. Craig will be very happy for you, I’m sure.”
It was impossible for Julie’s mother to keep the news to herself very long. The minute Craig entered the room, Mary hurried to show him the letter. Julie sat in her mother’s bedroom and waited for her mother’s happy voice to subside. She was quite ready to go, and, at last, she opened the door. Craig was still offering his congratulations when she hurried across the room. Julie kissed her mother’s cheek, and they went silently down the stairs together.
The rain was washing the city clean. The last of the dirty snow was swiftly disappearing. Green shoots struggled against dark basement windows. The city shone in the rain. Craig and Julie talked about the latest events at school and current ward activities. It wasn’t until they were returning home that the scholarship was mentioned again.
“This has really been a big day for you, Julie,” Craig said. He found a parking place in front of Julie’s apartment.
Julie nodded her head. She was afraid to try to talk. Craig didn’t seem to mind at all that soon so many miles would separate them.
“I guess I didn’t use very good judgment, Julie. I bought you a present I thought I would save for a lovely spring night … I mean, when everything was perfect I was going to give you this …”
The rain tapped against the roof of the car and slid in glittering streaks down the street-lighted window. The small velvet box lay in Craig’s hand.
He opened the box and slipped the diamond on her finger. Julie felt it impossible to look up from the ring. Craig lifted her chin gently.
“I’m going to keep it, Craig, forever.”
“You won’t regret missing New York? You’re sure you want to be the wife of a music professor in a small college town? Bradley won’t be like this. Are you sure you’re really choosing the career you want?”
“You’re the career I want,” Julie murmured. “I won’t miss anything if I’m with you.”
Craig cradled her face in both his hands. In a moment they ducked their heads against the rain and ran for the apartment door. How quietly they climbed the stairs. The light fanned under the door of Julie’s apartment.
“Is it all right to come in?” Craig called from the doorway.
Mary was still up. She had set her hair for the night. She looked up into the radiant faces of Craig and Julie. Julie had not chosen the scholarship, then. How tired Mary felt. She kissed Julie and accepted Craig’s kiss on the forehead graciously. There would be other times than tonight to try to talk sense to Julie. She had all of the spring. It would be such a waste to have Julie buried as a housewife in a little town. She would ask Julie to seek advice from someone like Professor Rossi or Madame Heinrich. Maybe they could make her see what she could not.
“And we’ll be married in the temple right after graduation, Mother …”
“My family will be coming to see us get our degrees. We can all go out West together.” Craig was still holding Julie’s hand.
“We can make all the plans later,” Mary said gently. “I know how happy and excited you both are, but it’s getting late.”
Craig was at once apologetic. He and Julie said goodnight at the door. He ran down the steps two or three at a time. Someone up above opened a door at the noise and then shut it. He felt like singing something glorious at the top of his voice. He had been so worried about Julie’s mother. He knew how much she had wanted Julie to be able to go to New York. He couldn’t believe that Julie was really to be his. His family knew all about Julie from his letters, but wait until they met her. He thought of the happy letter he would write tonight. He would spend his life making Julie happy. They would have perfect happiness together. He was crazy; he was standing in the rain, and he hadn’t even noticed. He must be in love, he laughed as he started his car for the ride home.