Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/266

This page has been validated.



Before this unkind taunt Raphael shrank back, utterly abashed.

“Me, also, I am afraid,” confessed Emilia Villa, breathlessly. “I am so mooch afraid that my estomach aches me.”

Raphael was again stretching forth a timid hand when a sudden squawk of anguish from the corner of the room riveted Ticher’s attention.

Anita Perez stood at bay, frantically protecting her gorgeous new white dress against the teasing, dirty paws of Felipe. Near by Manuelo clownishly repulsed an imaginary attack upon his own coveralls with mincing falsetto shrieks. As Miss Lipscomb rushed to Anita’s rescue, there was a general cry of, “Ticher, ticher, the bell rinks. The bell rinks! Now weel they come—all thoss people. Oh, my!”

Miss Lipscomb gently loosened Raphael’s clinging fingers and pushed him toward his seat.

“Go and sit down, Raphael,” she said. “And don’t worry about your part. You do it perfectly.”

Fluttering with excitement the Third Grade sat down and viewed itself with fatuous approval.

While Miss Lipscomb was calling the roll, two strident sneezes sounded through the room. They came from Emilia Villa and Angela Robles. Raphael, watching with apprehensive eyes, saw that they produced no handkerchiefs. And Gilberto Villa was coughing openly, shamelessly, right into the atmosphere which must be breathed by the Third Grade and its guests. It was just what Raphael had dreaded. But that it should happen on this day of all others, to shame Miss Lipscomb and the Third Grade before an enlightened public who would know, of course, that the good American does not sneeze or cough without using the handkerchief! Well, he must do what he could to avert the scandal.

Brazenly he flourished his hand when the roll call was over.

“Ticher,” he reported, firmly, “Angela, Emilia, and Gilberto—he cough and sneeze, and he have nawthing to cover the face. I must have rags.”

“Oh, surely,” said Ticher, and unlocked the cupboard door. Apprehensively Raphael stepped inside and raised his hand to the accustomed shelf. Then he knew the worst. Only one clean rag remained. With despair settling upon his spirit, he saw the first guests enter the room. He saw, too,