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Now the Special English program American Stories.
Our story today is called "Prelude". It was written by Edgar Valentine Smith. Here is Kay Gallant with the story.
Salina Joe Hutshel was born in a cabin that had two rooms, one small window, and a dirt floor. Her parents, Shag and Marty Hutshel, built the little house in one day with the help of their families and friends.
Salina Joe began to talk when she was one-year old. By the time she was seven, her parents couldn't answer any of her questions. Salina Joe's big black eyes were full of curiosity, but her mind stayed hungry. Her parents sent her to school for six months. They took her out as soon as she learned to read and write. Her parents had never learned.
Salina Joe had to work on the farm. She planted corn and sweet potatoes in the hard red earth. She fed the cows and built fences. She cleaned the cabin and chopped wood. She did all the cooking and washed all the clothes.
Her parents spent most of their time with the uncles, aunts and cousins in the family who lived nearby. All the Hutshels were like Salina Joe's parents. They couldn't read or write. They didn't like to work and they never took baths.
One Sunday when Salina Joe was sixteen years old, her parents took her to the town of East Field. As they walked down the street, Salina Joe heard someone behind her whisper, "Those are part of the Hutshel family. They are all dirty, lazy people who never work."
A few days later, Salina went back alone to East Field. She went into one of the stores. It was only a simple country store. But to Salina Joe, it seemed like a wonderful place. She looked at silk ribbons and soft leather shoes. Salina Joe had never owned a pair of shoes or a silk ribbon. In the back of the store, she found a dress. It was made of red cotton material with little snow white squares on it. Salina Joe couldn't stop touching the dress. She asked the store's owner, "How much the dress cost?"
"Five dollars," he said, "but I'll sell it to you for three."
That evening after dinner, she told her father about the dress. Shag's face got red. "Are you crazy?" He yelled, "Do you think I would buy you that dress?"
"But Pa," Salina Joe said, "it only costs three dollars. I work hard and I have never asked you for anything before, besides, I'm gonna pay for it myself."
"How?" Her father laughed.
"I'm going to get a job in Mr. Pruwit's paint factory."
"Oh, no, you are not," her father yelled, "you are going to stay right here and work on the farm." Her father got up from his chair and took off his heavy leather belt. "You are not getting the job or the dress", he said, "but I'm gonna give you a beating you'll never forget."
A long knife lay on the kitchen table. Salina Joe's fingers found its handle. She didn't move. Her serious dark eyes never left her father's face. "Pa," she said softly, "if you touch me with that belt, I'll cut your heart out." Shag hustled, dropped the belt, and slowly back away from his daughter.
The next day, Salina Joe went to work in Pruwit's paint factory. She carried heavy pails of paint from morning to night. The smell gave her headaches, the paint got on her skin and in her hair. After three months, she went to the store and bought her dress, a pair of white leather shoes, some silk stockings and a hat made of white lace. Salina Joe left the store with her beautiful new clothes wrapped in paper. She began walking home. She stopped when she came to the road that led to the large town of Dothan, 15 kilometers away. Salina Joe turned and began walking to Dothan without looking back once toward the cabin where she was born.
She reached Dothan five hours later. It was two o'clock in the afternoon. She found a small pond of water outside of town. Salina Joe took off her dirty farm clothes. She washed herself in the pond, dried with the paper from her package, and put on her fine new clothes. Then, she entered the town. No one in Dothan knew she was from a Hutshel family. When she walked down the street, people smiled at her and said "Hello".
As she walked around the town, she came to a large house with a black iron fence surrounded. The house had two floors and was painted a sparkling white. In front of it were oak trees that made shadows on the green grass. Girls dressed in clean white blouses and blue skirts sat under the trees.
Just then a lady passed by and stopped to smile at Selina Joe.
"What is that building?" Selina Joe asked the woman.
"That's the state reformatory for girls." The woman answered. "That's where the state puts the girls who break the law. Before the girls can leave, they have to show that they have changed for the better."
"Changed..." Selina Joe whispered, still staring at the reformatory. "Different from what they were? Do they go to school there?"
"Yes，" said the woman.
"Would they take a girl who only had six months of school?" She asked softly.
The woman laughed. "You don't understand." She said. "The reformatory only takes bad girls. A girl like you would never go there."
Selina Joe sighed.
She spent the afternoon, watching the big white house, its wide windows, and the girls sitting under the trees. When it was dark, Selina Joe went around to the back of the house. She climbed over the black iron fence and looked into one of the windows. Two girls her own age sat at the table, reading books.
"Can I come in?" Selina Joe whispered to them.
The two girls were surprised, but one of them said, "Sure. Step right in."
She told them she wanted to stay at the reformatory and go to school there. She wanted to be changed. The girls liked the idea. They thought it would be a good joke on the reformatory's head teacher Marry Shane. Everyone called her Old Iron Jaw, because she never smiled.
The girls gave Selina Joe a skirt and a blouse. They hid her under their bed that night when Old Iron Jaw came to inspect the rooms. The next morning, they shared their breakfast with her. But Marry Shane, the head teacher, had good eyes. Right after breakfast, Selina Joe felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into the serious face of Old Iron Jaw's.
"What are you doing here?" Mary Shane asked.
"I, I climbed over the fence, ma'am," Salina Joe said. "I won't stay here long. I just want to learn what are in the books you have here, then I'll leave."
"I'm afraid you can't stay here," said Mary Shane.
Salina Joe's heart broke. She put her arms around the teacher's shoulders. "Oh, please ma'am," she cried. "Please let me stay. I don't want to go back home. I don't want to be like all the other Hutshels for the rest of my life. I want to be changed. I want to be made different."
"Come with me, child," Mary Shane said. "We'll go see the director Mr. Welborn." They went straight into his office without stopping to knock at the door.
"Jim Welborn," Mary Shane said, " I want you to listen to this girl's story." She turned and left the office.
Mary Shane sat in her classroom for an hour. From time to time, she looked out the door into the hall that went from her classroom to the director's office. Finally, she heard footsteps hurrying to her classroom. Then Salina Joe stood in the doorway. The woman didn't have to ask any questions. The girl's pink cheeks and her happy eyes said everything. Mary Shane turned and went to the classroom window. Deep inside herself, a small voice kept saying over and over again, "For this child that comes of her own free will to be changed, for this one child who wants to be made different, I thank you God."
You have just heard the story called "Prelude". It was written by Edgar Valentine Smith and adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. "Prelude" was first published in Harper's Magazine in 1923. Your storyteller was Kay Gallant. For VOA Special English, this is Ray Freeman.
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