MAGNIFICENCE by Estrella Alfon
There was nothing to fear, for the man was always so gentle, so kind. At night when the little girl and her brother were bathed in the light of the big shaded bulb that hung over the big study table in the downstairs hall, the man would knock gently on the door, and come in. He would stand for a while just beyond the pool of light, his feet in the circle of illumination, the rest of him in shadow. The little girl and her brother would look up at him where they sat at the big table, their eyes bright in the bright light, and watch him come fully into the light, a dark little man with protuberant lips, his eyes glinting in the light, but his voice soft, his manner slow. He would smell faintly of sweat and pomade, but the children didn't mind although they did notice, for they waited for him every evening as they sat at their lessons like this. He'd throw his visored cap on the table, and it would fall down with a soft plop, then he'd go around to them, look at the paper on which they were solving a problem or writing down phrases, and he'd nod his head to say one was right, or shake it to say one was wrong. It was not always that he came. They could remember perhaps two weeks when he remarked to their mother that he had never seen two children looking so smart. The praise had made their mother look over them as they stood around listening to the goings-on at the meeting of the neighborhood association, of which their mother was president. Two children, one a girl of seven, and a boy of eight. They were both very tall for their age, and their legs were the long gangly legs of fine spirited colts. Their mother saw them with eyes that held pride, and then to partly gloss over the maternal gloating she exhibited, she said to the man, in answer to his praise, but their homework. They're so lazy with them. And the man said, I have nothing to do in the evenings, let me help them. Mother nodded her head and said, if you want to bother yourself. And the thing rested there, and the man came in the evenings therefore, and he helped solve fractions for the boy, and write correct phrases in the language for the little girl. In those days, the rage was for pencils. School children always have rages going at one time or another. Sometimes for paper butterflies that are held on sticks, and whirr in the wind. The Japanese bazaars promoted a rage for those. Sometimes it is for little lead toys found in the folded waffles that Japanese confection-makers had such light hands with. At this particular time, it was for pencils. Pencils big but light in circumference not smaller than a man’s thumb. They were unwieldy in a child’s hands, but in all schools then, where Japanese bazaars clustered there were all colors of these pencils selling for very low, but unattainable to a child budgeted at a baon of a centavo a day. They were all of five centavos each and one pencil was not at all what one had ambitions for. In rages, one kept a collection. Four or five pencils, of different colors, to tie with strings near the eraser end, to dangle from one’s book-basket, to arouse the envy of the other children who probably possessed less. Add to the man’s gentleness and his kindness in knowing a child’s desires, his promise that he would give each of them not one pencil but two. And for the little girl who he said was very bright and deserved more, he would get the biggest pencil he could find. One evening he did bring them. The evenings of waiting had made them look forward to this final giving, and when they got the pencils they whooped with joy. The little boy had two pencils, one green, and one blue. And the little girl had three pencils, two of the same circumference as the little boy’s but colored red and yellow. And the third pencil, a jumbo size pencil really, was white, and had been sharpened, and the little girl jumped up and down, and shouted with glee. Until their mother called from down the stairs. What are you...
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