From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1932 –
An Old-Fashioned Romance
By Nora McKay Stevenson
“Main Street! Main Street!” called the conductor on the First South Street car, a snowy Christmas Eve about thirty years ago.
“First South and Main!” he repeated loudly.
A group of young people, all university seniors, excepting David Jones, who had been compelled to work instead of entering the fall quarter, started to their feet. One of them, a young man wearing a heavy fur-trimmed coat addressed the conductor angrily:
“Say! What’s the matter with you? You didn’t even come in to collect our fares. I told you we wanted to get off at the theater. Now we’ll have to walk back in the snow. I could report you for this.”
“Oh, never mind, Art!” one of the girls interposed. “It’s only a block. Besides, we ought to have been looking out for ourselves. The conductor was busy with that woman who had so many children.”
“It’s David’s fault,” laughed Margaret Haines. “He shouldn’t have been telling us such interesting things about his work in the lumber camp. I hope he wants to take a girl back with him when he goes.”
“If he does it won’t be you,” jeered Ruth, the pretty blonde. “Can’t you see he’s through with frivolous women?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I heard him humming, ‘Two Little Girls in Blue.’”
They all laughed. And the girls gathered up long skirts ready to step down into the snow.
“I’m glad he did take us too far,” said Julia White cheerily. “A walk in this lovely storm will do us good.”
Julia, a serious-minded, black-eyed, pretty girl of nineteen had not felt so happy since the evening Art had asked her to marry him, as she did tonight. She had told Art to wait until Christmas for his answer. The girl had not been sure that she was not a little in love with David Jones until she saw the two men together.
How poorly dressed and unpolished David was in comparison. His tie did not match his suit, his hands were rough, and his fingernails broken. He was always slow to pick up a girls’ handkerchief, and careless about helping with coats and troublesome rubbers.
Julia’s mother had always said: “When it comes to choosing between young men, always choose the finer gentleman.”
“I’ll do that,” Julia thought, as David helped her off the car. “I’ll marry Art in the spring.”
Art could have helped Julia off the car far less clumsily, but he was telling the conductor that he really had no right to charge them any fare. Finally Art thrust his gloved hand deep into his pocket with angry vehemence.
“There’s your money,” he said. “And be quick about the change. If we miss the first of the opera I’ll surely report you.”
The conductor handed out the change with stiff red fingers, closed his lips firmly as if to keep back an obvious rejoinder, rang up six fares with careful accuracy, and gave the signal to go ahead. The car went on into the drifting storm.
David wanted to keep hold of Julia’s hand but she broke away and picked up a handful of snow to throw at Art as he was stepping from the car.
But Art was not in a playful mood. He brushed the snow from his beaver collar absently as he counted the money in his palm.
“Say!” Art shouted at last catching up with the others on the curb. “We are in luck! That simple conductor gave me a five dollar gold piece instead of a nickel. I gave him a dollar and should have had seventy cents change, but I have five dollars and sixty-five cents.”
“Can’t you stop him?” cried Julia, as they all instinctively turned to look for the car.
“What’s the use, Julia?” laughed Art. “He’ll make it up before he gets to the end of the line, you may be sure of that. Those chaps don’t lose anything.”
“That’s right, Art,” said one of the other young men. “Why, the other day, I gave a conductor a quarter, and he went off as cool as you please. ‘Where’s my change,’ I said. ‘You gave me a nickel,’ said he. And there was no one to swear that I didn’t except myself, and I did not count.”
“But that does not make any difference,” insisted Julia. “Because one conductor was dishonest, we need not be. Art, I think it is just like stealing to keep that money.” Her round chin protruded firmly, and there was a serious look in her dark eyes.
“Oh, come along!” said Art, ignoring her protest, and with an easy laugh dropped the money into his pocket. “Just because it is Christmas you are letting sentiment run away with you. The streetcar company will not go without dinner tomorrow. Let’s forget about it.”
“All right,” conceded Julia, laying her hand on Art’s arm. “I guess that is all we can do.”
No one noticed the look of disappointment on David’s face. It was not like Julia to give in calmly without making Art promise to return the money.
“Did anyone notice the conductor’s number?” David ventured.
“How stupid of me,” said Art stopping short. “I meant to report the fellow, yet I forgot to take his number! Oh, well, my temper is so short lived I most likely would have forgotten it by tomorrow anyway.”
“I wasn’t thinking of making a complaint,” stammered David.
But already they were laughing and talking about something else, and did not hear what he said. He walked soberly along scarcely noticing the trend of the conversation, or that Ruth Parmlee was trying to keep step at his side. David had never felt more alone at the logging camp miles and miles from any other human being. What was wrong? Had they all changed, or had he? It seemed that in the few months he had been away he had forgotten to speak their language. Of course he never had spent much time running around with the crowd, and he couldn’t keep up a conversation of small talk.
“Julia has always been beside me before,” David thought. “That is what is wrong. I shouldn’t have let myself think of her as being my girl – my future wife.” A tightness came in his throat that made it hard to swallow. “We are like strangers. She has changed.”
The great door of the Salt Lake Theater was just ahead. In a moment the party was within its friendly shelter, stamping off the snow.
“Good gracious, look at me!” giggled Ruth, surveying herself in the mirror. “My hair hangs out like the fringe on Grandma’s shawl.”
“Anybody got any talcum?” whispered Margaret Haines as they entered the dressing room. “My nose is as red as a beet.”
“I’ve got a little cornstarch in my handkerchief,” answered Ruth. “It’s a good thing my bob is in the right place on top of my head to hold my hat on,” Ruth continued. “I lost both my hat pins in the snow. They were good ones, too.”
“Straighten my collar, will you please, Margaret?” asked Julia. “One of the whale bones is sticking straight into my neck.”
“You know, I wish that conductor hadn’t given us too much money,” remarked Margaret, as the girls joined the boys in the lobby. “I’ve heard they have to make up their accounts if they make a mistake, and maybe that poor man will have nothing left for Christmas.”
“Cheese it, girl! Cheese it!” hissed Art, taking off his overcoat. “You’ll make me wish I’d never treated you to this swell show.”
Properly squelched, the girl said no more, but quietly led the way down the aisle.
“It’s a mistake,” David reflected, as he followed the rest and slumped into an aisle seat next to Ruth. “I shouldn’t have joined the party at the last minute – just as I got into town.” It was humiliating to find his seat paid for by his rival, and realize that all of them, even Julia, would have had just as good a time without him.
“We just think David is here,” laughed Julia once, leaning toward him. “We see him with our eyes, but we never hear him.”
“David did all his talking in the car,” said Art.
“I think he’s lonesome for the hum of the sawmill,” declared Ruth.
Just then the soft strains of the overture to “Lohengrin” filled the theater. David loved music. It spoke to him tonight of happy days in the logging camp when he had been thinking of Julia. It brought to his mind long nights in the open when he had dreamed of the girl as his wife. It hummed sadly, of unsatisfied longings, of endless, empty, lonely years.
Mournfully David looked at Julia, to see if she felt as he did, and discovered that under cover of a hat Art had taken cool possession of her hand. A frenzy of jealous passion shook him.
Once when David’s eyes met Julia’s he had the sensation of sitting there entirely alone with her. Then the music and voices grew on his ears and the figures of the others again took shape on every side.
“Gosh, I’m crazy!” he muttered to himself. “I’d better get out of here.” Silently David slipped from his seat and fled up the aisle.
Out in the night with the storm beating on his hot face he felt better, kicking snow savagely before him David walked thoughtfully toward Main Street. Steeped in wretchedness the man belittled himself.
“Shucks! Who am I, anyway? I’ve got no money. I can’t finish my education. I’m nobody. No wonder Julia couldn’t love me. Why was I fool enough to come home for Christmas? It’s a sure thing I’m not wanted here. I might have known when her letters got so scarce that something was wrong. I’d better clear out – and stay out.”
Holiday cheer was in the air. Even tired women dragging tired children through the slush were smiling instead of grumbling. Here and there a harassed looking man with perhaps a single package it had taken him the whole afternoon to select plodded stolidly along. All had the same tolerant good humor. But David did not notice.
As the young man neared Main Street the clanging of a street car drew his attention. Was it the same car? He started running.
The car stopped. The conductor, reaching the rear platform after taking up the fares, peered through the door wondering why the person they had stopped for did not get on. Through the whirling snow he saw the red unsmiling face of a young man. With hand on the signal strap the conductor called, “All aboard! We can’t wait all night.”
“Here’s your change,” David said in a lifeless tone. “You remember, you gave a fellow with a fur collar a five dollar gold piece instead of a nickel.” David held out the money to the conductor, who took it like one in a daze.
“Thank you, sir. Thank you. I haven’t had time to count up,” he stammered. “It would have been terrible if it had been gone. That five dollars means Christmas for my family.”
“I thought it might be like that,” answered David. “A fellow needs all he earns. Here’s a little present for the wife,” he added as an afterthought. “Tell her Merry Christmas for me.”
Before the conductor could protest David had gone.
“Merry Christmas!” called the conductor, gazing in the direction David had taken. “Merry Christmas to you.”
“Say, what we waitin’ for?” shouted the motorman from the front platform. “We’re way behind schedule now.”
The conductor, looking at the money in his hand, automatically rang the bell, and the car went on into the night.
The curtain had risen for the second act when David resumed his seat in the theater.
“Oh, Davie, what made you miss it?” whispered Ruth.
“I think you very foolish to let anything make you miss even a tiny bit of this wonderful opera,” said Julia.
“There are some people who just can’t appreciate good music,” smiled Art sarcastically.
David said nothing, but their words did not hurt him. His walk in the storm had given him fortitude.
The music had changed to a merrier tone. David bowed pleasantly to people near whom he had not noticed before. He remembered that when he was a small boy he had sat in a box with his father and mother. How different life might have been, he thought, if his parents had lived. If they could see him now. David hoped they would not know how lonely he felt.
The moon and stars were shining when the opera was over, and the crowd went to Franklin’s for cocoa and cake.
“Going to be busy tomorrow afternoon?” David said in an undertone to Julia, when he thought no one would hear.
“I don’t know, why?”
“I’d like to come over,” he smiled into her eyes. “What did you think of Margaret’s suggestion that I take a girl back to the lumber camp?”
“I hadn’t thought of it,” Julia answered. “I will be busy all day tomorrow.”
“Oh!” David murmured.
He noticed the little brown ringlets around Julia’s pink ear, and the slim figure moving like a fragment of silk animated by a spirit.
“She’s much too lovely for a fellow like me. Art can take better care of her. I want her to be happy,” he thought and he sighed deeply.
When Julia reached home after the opera her parents were still unwrapping packages, and filling boxes to be delivered as soon as they were up next morning. They were the kind of people who never miss a chance to contribute to a worthy cause, or to a needy person.
“There’s a box to fill with jelly and things for Ellen Grow,” said Mrs. White, bustling back and forth between pantry and kitchen. “Maybe you’ll help with it, Julia. I have a few more pin-feathers to get out of this turkey.”
“You mean Ellen, who used to work for us? I thought she went to Idaho,” remarked Julia, absently picking out the best apples and oranges to put in the box.
“She did. It was just an accident that we found out she is back. Pa saw her husband. He’s a street car conductor. The name is Murdock. Ellen and one of the babies have been sick. Poor Ellen. She always did seem more like a daughter than just a hired girl. Fill the box as full as you can.”
Julia scarcely heard what her mother said. Her mind was full of her own affairs. Tomorrow Art would come to dinner. Afterward he would take her for a sleigh-ride, and she would promise to marry him. Next Christmas she would be wrapping packages in her own home. Would Art enjoy helping her? She was filling nuts into the small corners of the box.
“I’ll get my twin dolls,” the girl said to herself. “Ellen’s children will like them. No use to keep them now, just because David and I used to play with them.”’
“There! That pesky bird is ready for stuffing,” Mrs. White said, hanging the turkey on the screened porch. “I believe it’s going to be tender. My! How late it is. Merry Christmas, Pa. Merry Christmas, Julia. Let’s go to bed. I’m dead tired.”
But Julia was not disposed for sleep. She walked to the window and drew aside the curtain. The moon was shining brightly on the snow. The city was sleeping quietly in the white radiance – a tranquil hour in a turbulent world. She almost wished the night might never end. With a sigh Julia left the window and walked across the room. Where was the elation which belonged to a girl about to become engaged? Art will make a substantial husband– no doubt about that – but David – it was just a year ago he had playfully called her sweetheart. What had been the matter with him at the theater? Why had he missed a whole act?
Even as the girl was thinking of him, David, with his world tumbling about him, was wandering aimlessly about in the snow, dragging himself with detailed memories of the happy hours he had spent with her. And trying to realize what life would be like without Julia. It was not easy. One minute he burned with rebellion, and the next, overflowed with bitterness. David grew calmer as fatigue overpowered him. He went to his room, and sat motionless in a chair near the window. It was a long night. When he heard his aunt’s family about, looking for Christmas presents and calling “Merry Christmas” to each other, he threw himself miserably on the bed, and must have fallen into a troubled sleep for the next thing he knew his aunt was calling him to dinner.
Appearing as cheerful as possible, David joined the family. There were gifts he wanted to give, and some he must receive. It was all mechanical.
He exclaimed heartily over the toys Santa Claus had brought the children, and over their thoughtful remembrances for him. David helped his aunt bring in the food from the kitchen, and carved the turkey with a flourish that deceived them all. But while they were eating a sudden resolve crystallized in his mind.
“I’m leaving for the logging camp again this afternoon,” he announced decidedly.
There was a chorus of “don’ts” from the youngsters, with a recital of all the festivities they planned, and a sincere protest from his aunt, for David was a favorite with the family. But in spite of them all he went to his room at the finish of the meal and began throwing things into his suitcase.
Meanwhile, Julia, tucked snugly beside her father in the cutter was delivering boxes and baskets. Young George White, with the red sleigh Santa had brought, trailed the cutter at the end of a long rope. Julia loved to hear the horses’ sharp-shod feet on the crisp snow, the jingle of the sleigh-bells, and her brother’s happy laughter behind them.
Ellen’s was the last place they had to call.
They drew up before the uninviting little house. Scarcely a thread of smoke showed above the chimney. And when Julia opened the door, the bareness of the room momentarily drove all her cheerfulness from her. Fortunately her lack was fully made up by the pale Ellen, wrapped in a blanket beside the little stove, who exclaimed excitedly:
“Oh, my dear! my dear! There isn’t a soul in the world I’d sooner see this lovely morning than my little Julia. My, how you’ve bloomed! Turn around and let me look at you. Darling, you are beautiful.” Ellen turned to Mr. White. “How do you keep the boys from running off with her?” She gave him no time to answer, but ran on talking rapidly until Julia wondered if she were delirious.
“We’ve just had a terrible time. John was out of work so long. We couldn’t even buy the eggs and milk the doctor said was necessary if we wanted the children to be well. But thank goodness the children are better, and I’m nearly well. And John has a job, and last night some young man made John a present of some money. Then the company let him off early and he came home loaded with all the good things he could carry. This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had. On top of it all, I’m so happy to see you.” She stopped for breath and Julia hurriedly said:
“Mother wanted to come herself, but she couldn’t leave this morning. We brought a few things for the children.” Mr. White was already peeling an orange for the little boy. “Mother is anxious to see you. She always was fond of you, Ellen, and is glad you are back in town. She was–.” Julia stopped short, as the back door opened and a man came in carrying a bucket of coal.
“This is my husband,” Ellen said quickly, “John, this is Mr. White and Julia, of whom you have heard me talk so much.”
“Mr. White and I already know each other,” John said, as he stepped across the floor to shake hands. “How do you do, Miss Julia.” He smiled.
“Why, why – you are the conductor,” Julia stammered, giving him a limp hand.
“Yes. And you are one of the young people I took past the theatre,” he laughed. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know that I had made a mistake in the change until the young man brought the five dollars back. I could hardly have lived through such a loss. It was mighty fine of that rich chap in the fur coat to send it back so promptly. And the one who brought the money – I’ll never forget him. Insisted on my taking a five as a Christmas present for my wife.” John looked affectionately at Ellen. “The fellow was tall, with a very tanned face, and made me feel as if he were in some sort of trouble himself.”
Julia was bewildered. She knew well that Art had not sent the money back – David! It must have been David! He had left the opera just to go out to find that conductor! And they had all said rude things to him when he returned. How could she have been so thoughtless? A lump gathered in her throat. Not another word did she hear although Ellen and her father were both talking when she interrupted to say, “I – I think we had better go, Father. Mother will wonder where we are so long.”
On the way home Mr. White looked questioningly at his daughter, but she did not speak. Neither the horses’ hoofs nor the sleigh-bells made any impression on her thoughts. It was as if a great light had been switched on in her brain. The worry of indecision had vanished, and she saw plain as day what she wanted to do more than anything else in the world – what she had always wanted to do. She wanted to marry David. She could never marry anyone but David.
She went straight to her desk when they reached home. Quickly as possible she wrote two notes.
“Here, George, take this note to David Jones. It’s important,” Julia said, handing her young brother one of the missives.
But even as she was writing to David, that young man stood on his aunt’s porch, suitcase in hand.
“You’ll know, Aunt Clara, if you don’t hear from me that I’m all right. No news is good news. There comes the car.” He was through the gate. “Good-bye,” he called running rapidly toward First South.
“Davie! Hey, Davie Jones!” shouted George, as he rounded the corner in time to see David getting onto the car.
George ran with all his might and shouted with every step, but David did not turn and the car gathered speed.
“Now what’ll I do?” George asked himself. “Sis said it was important.” Then his eyes fell upon a farmer driving along in a bob-sleigh.
“Hey, Mister!” George called running toward the man, “I gotta catch a guy on that car.”
The farmer looked uncomprehendingly at the boy.
“I wantta catch that car!” George repeated, climbing in.
“Oh.” The man seemed to understand. “Gidd-up,” he said, clicking calmly at the team.
George saw the distance between themselves and the street car steadily increase. David would be on the train before they were halfway to town.
Picking up the farmer’s whip, George lashed the surprised horses. They tore down the street, leaving a cloud of flying snow and ice behind them.
“You mean little whelp,” the driver muttered sawing on the lines.
The car didn’t stop at Fourth East or at Third, but at Second there were people waiting to get on.
George began yelling. The horses were galloping.
Just as the passengers entered the car, the bob-sleigh raced past.
“Davie! Davie!” George was shouting at the top of his voice, and waving the letter. Everyone in the car looked out to see what was up.
The farmer got the team under control. They slowed down, and George jumped out at Main Street.
David got off the car, face red.
“What in the devil do you want? I’ll miss my train,” he growled.
“Here’s a letter from your girl,” George grinned. “But whew! what a chase I’ve had. Let a feller read it will you?” And he started walking backward, letter behind him. “I deserve to read it. I need experience with wimmen, too,” he teased. “Us men ought to stick together.”
David made one sudden lunge at the youngster, and took the note from his grasp.
It took the second reading to make David quite sure of the meaning of the written words.
“Dear David,” he read, “I’m curious to know who’s going back to the logging camp with you.
“P.S. I’ll be home all the rest of the day.–J.W.”