Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/271

This page has been validated.

companions, always, in coughing or sneezing, hold handkerchiefs before their faces. Now, doubtless they had observed that one member of the class had, throughout the performance that afternoon, worn a heavy coat, in spite of the fact that he must have been uncomfortably warm. Could they guess why?

Audible snickers indicated that this question was unfortunate. The Third Grade was quite sure that it knew why.

The speaker hurried on, a queer break in his voice. It was because, he said, that member of the class had noticed that on this great day, this day so important to the cause of Americanization, some members of the class had forgotten to bring their handkerchiefs, and had actually been coughing and sneezing without restraint.

The Third Grade squirmed guiltily. And what, the speaker wanted to know, had this good American done? In order that his classmates might cough, sneeze, and blow their noses with clear consciences, he had actually, to make handkerchiefs for them, sacrificed his own shirt. Here the Big Boss abruptly had recourse to his own handkerchief. Miss Lipscomb watched him nervously, until, still choking a little, he went on to the grand climax of his remarks.

It had been decided, therefore, to reward this good American for his conspicuous presence of mind and bravery. Would Raphael Arcienega please step forward?

But Raphael Arcienega was quite beyond that effort. It was only with Ticher’s encouraging hand under his elbow that he managed to stumble to the front of the room amidst a dumfounded silence.

Not until the Big Boss was actually pinning the splendid jewel upon Raphael’s coat did the full significance of the ceremony burst upon the Third Grade.

Then, as Raphael faced them, flushed and smiling unsteadily from the greatest happiness he had ever known, the dazzling truth was forced upon him.

Ramon Sedillo, the good American, was generously leading the applause.