Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/263

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ONE USES THE HANDKERCHIEF

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“No, indeed, Ramon,” she said. “I have something much nicer than singing for Raphael to do.”

The inference was that singing was something that any one could do, that Raphael’s talents were not to be wasted on mere singing.

When the “something nicer” was explained to Raphael, he was dazzled by the importance of the réle for which he was cast.

The “piece” in which Raphael was to appear was to be the third number of the entertainment. Eleven children were to recite in chaste and lofty verse the merits of hygienic and wholesome living. Each individual verse was a separate unit with a theme of its own, and the initial of each theme was one of the letters that spell “Health First.” It was to be Raphael’s part to bring forth at their appointed times these letters, cut from cardboard and gayly coloured, and to assemble them on their elevated standards behind the group who recited. When he thought of the tremendous responsibility this involved, his hands and feet became cold and his breath short with apprehension.

The day of the exercises dawned inauspiciously with a raw desert wind racing across the mesa, bearing before it a screen of sand, which it hurled at the rattling schoolroom windows. Such a wind portended inevitably, as Raphael—monitor of the handkerchiefs—had come to know, a day of much coughing and sneezing, for your Mexican child is a delicate plant shivering pitifully from the least draft. Raphael thought that he must ask Ticher if there were plenty of nice clean rags in stock.

He forgot to do this, however, in the excitement of the first few minutes in the delightful holiday atmosphere that had invaded the schoolroom.

Even Ticher seemed different as she distributed small flags that the children were to wear. She had on a dress of blue silk, the colour of her eyes, with a soft lace collar; her cheeks were flushed and her eyes large and brilliant.

Raphael wanted very much to make her proud of him to-day, to show that he was “the good American.” He wanted to tell her so.

But all the other good Americans had things to tell her, too. Hysterically they demanded her attention. About her