Now, the VOA Special English program, American Stories.
Today we complete the story "Paul's Case." It was written by Willa Cather.
Here is Kay Gallant with the story.
Paul was a student with a lot of problems. He hated school. He
didn't like living with his family on Cordelia Street in the industrial city of
Paul wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things. He loved his part-time job
as an usher at the concert hall. He helped people find their seats before the
concert. Then he could listen to the music and dream of exciting places.
Paul also spent a lot of time at the local theater. He knew many of the
actors who worked there. He used to do little jobs for them. And they would let
him see plays for free.
Paul had little time left for his studies. So he was always in trouble with
his teachers. Finally, Paul's teachers complained again to his father. His
father took him out of school and made him take a job in a large company. He
would not let Paul go near the concert hall or the theater.
Paul did not like his job as a messenger boy. He began to plan his escape.
A few weeks later, Paul's boss, Mister Denny, gave Paul a large amount of money
to take to the bank. He told Paul to hurry because it was Friday afternoon. He
said the bank would close soon and would not open again until Monday. At the
bank, Paul took the money out of his pocket. It was five thousand dollars. Paul
put the money back in his coat pocket. And he walked out of the bank.
He went to the train station and bought a one way ticket for New York City.
That afternoon Paul left Pittsburgh forever.
The train traveled slowly through a January snowstorm. The slow movement made
Paul fall asleep. The train whistle blew just as the sun was coming up. Paul
awoke, feeling dirty and uncomfortable. He quickly touched his coat pocket. The
money was still there. It was not a dream. He really was on his way to New York
City with five thousand dollars in his pocket.
Finally the train pulled into Central Station. Paul walked quickly out of the
station and went immediately to an expensive clothing store for men.
The salesman was very polite when he saw Paul's money. Paul bought two suits,
several white silk shirts, some silk ties of different colors. Then he bought a
black tuxedo suit for the theater, a warm winter coat, a red bathrobe, and the
finest silk underclothes. He told the salesman he wanted to wear one of the new
suits and the coat immediately. The salesman bowed and smiled.
Paul then took a taxi to another shop where he bought several pairs of
leather shoes and boots. Next, he went to the famous jewelry store, Tiffany's,
and bought a tie pin and some brushes with silver handles. His last stop was a
luggage store where he had all his new clothes put into several expensive
It was a little before one o'clock in the afternoon when Paul arrived at the
Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The doorman opened the hotel's glass doors for Paul and
the boy entered. The thick carpet under his feet had the colors of a thousand
jewels. The lights sparkled from crystal chandeliers.
Paul told the hotel clerk he was from Washington, D.C. He said his mother and
father were arriving in a few days from Europe. He explained he was going to
wait for them at the hotel.
In his dreams Paul had planned this trip to New York a hundred times. He knew
all about the Waldorf-Astoria, one of New York's most expensive hotels. As soon
as he entered his rooms, he saw that everything was perfect--except for one
thing. He rang the bell and asked for fresh flowers to be sent quickly to his
When the flowers came, Paul put them in water and then he took a long, hot
bath. He came out the bathroom, wearing the red silk bathrobe. Outside his
windows, the snow was falling so fast that he could not see across the street.
But inside, the air was warm and sweet. He lay down on the sofa in his sitting
It had all been so very simple, he thought. When they had shut him out of the
theater and the concert hall, Paul knew he had to leave. But he was surprised
that he had not been afraid to go. He could not remember a time when he had not
been afraid of something. Even when he was a little boy. But now he felt free.
He wasn't afraid anymore. He watched the snow until he fell asleep.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when Paul woke up. He spent nearly an
hour getting dressed. He looked at himself often in the mirror. His dark blue
suit fit him so well that he did not seem too thin. The white silk shirt and the
blue and lilac tie felt cool and smooth under his fingers. He was exactly the
kind of boy he had always wanted to be.
Paul put on his new winter coat and went downstairs. He got into a taxi and
told the driver to take him for a ride along Fifth Avenue. Paul stared at the
As the taxi stopped for a red light Paul noticed a flower shop. Through the
window, he could see all kinds of flowers. Paul thought the violets, roses, and
lilies of the valley looked even more lovely because they were blooming in the
middle of winter.
Paul began to feel hungry so he asked the taxi driver to take him back to the
hotel. As he entered the dining room, the music of the hotel orchestra floated
up to greet him. He sat at a table near a window. The fresh flowers, the white
tablecloth, and the colored wine glasses pleased Paul's eyes. The soft music,
the low voices of the people around him and the soft popping of champagne corks
whispered into Paul's ears.
This is what everyone wants, he thought. He could not believed he had ever
lived in Pittsburgh on Cordelia Street! That belonged to another time and
place. Paul lifted the crystal glass of champagne and drank the cold, precious,
bubbling wine. He belonged here.
Later that evening, Paul put on his black tuxedo and went to the opera. He
felt perfectly at ease. He had only to look at his tuxedo to know he belonged
with all the other beautiful people in the opera house. He didn't talk to
anyone. But his eyes recorded everything.
Paul's golden days went by without a shadow. He made each one as perfect as
he could. On the eighth day after his arrival in New York, he found a report in
the newspaper about his crime. It said that his father had paid the company the
five thousand dollars that Paul had stolen. It said Paul had been seen in a New
York hotel. And it said Paul's father was in New York. He was looking for Paul
to bring him back to Pittsburgh.
Paul's knees became weak. He sat down in a chair and put his head in his
hands. The dream was ended. He had to go back to Cordelia Street. Back to the
yellow-papered bedroom, the smell of cooked cabbage, the daily ride to work on
the crowded street cars.
Paul poured himself a glass of champagne and drank it quickly. He poured
another glass and drank that one, too.
Paul had a taxi take him out of the city and into the country. The taxi left
him near some railroad tracks. Paul suddenly remembered all the flowers he had
seen in a shop window his first night in New York. He realized that by now every
one of those flowers was dead. They had had only one splendid moment to
A train whistle broke into Paul's thoughts. He watched as the train grew
bigger and bigger. As it came closer, Paul's body shook. His lips wore a
frightened smile. Paul looked nervously around as if someone might be watching
When the right moment came, Paul jumped. And as he jumped, he realized his
great mistake. The blue of the ocean and the yellow of the desert flashed
through his brain. He had not seen them yet! There was so much he had not seen!
Paul felt something hit his chest. He felt his body fly through the air far
and fast. Then everything turned black and Paul dropped back into the great
design of things.
You have just heard the American story "Paul's Case." It was written by
Willa Cather. Your storyteller was Kay Gallant. Listen again next week at this
time for another American story told in Special English on the Voice of America.
I'm Steve Ember.