The Troll Garden and Selected Stories HTML version

Paul's Case
A Study in Temperament
It was Paul's afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to
account for his various misdemeanors. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father
had called at the Principal's office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul
entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the
tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there
was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted
black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole. This latter adornment the
faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy
under the ban of suspension.
Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest.
His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them
in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were
abnormally large, as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter
about them which that drug does not produce.
When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there Paul stated, politely enough,
that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to
lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to
state their respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancor and
aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case, Disorder and impertinence were
among the offenses named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was scarcely possible to
put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant
manner of the boy's; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he
seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a
synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and
attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands
violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and
embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as
to be unforgettable. in one way and another he had made all his teachers, men and women
alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat
with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the
recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous
His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and
his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy, his English
teacher leading the pack. He stood through it smiling, his pale lips parted over his white
teeth. (His lips were continually twitching, and be had a habit of raising his eyebrows that
was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than Paul had broken
down and shed tears under that baptism of fire, but his set smile did not once desert him,