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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie And The Charming Old Maid

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There followed a blessed week of work--a "human warious" week, with something piquant lurking at every turn. A week so busy, so kaleidoscopic in its quick succession of events that my own troubles and grievances were pushed into a neglected corner of my mind and made to languish there, unfed by tears or sighs.

News comes in cycles. There are weeks when a city editor tears his hair in vain as he bellows for a first-page story. There follow days so bristling with real, live copy that perfectly good stuff which, in the ordinary course of events might be used to grace the front sheet, is sandwiched away between the marine intelligence and the Elgin butter reports.

Such a week was this. I interviewed everything from a red-handed murderer to an incubator baby. The town seemed to be running over with celebrities. Norberg, the city editor, adores celebrities. He never allows one to escape uninterviewed. On Friday there fell to my lot a world-famous prima donna, an infamous prize-fighter, and a charming old maid. Norberg cared not whether the celebrity in question was noted for a magnificent high C, or a left half-scissors hook, so long as the interview was dished up hot and juicy, with plenty of quotation marks, a liberal sprinkling of adjectives and adverbs, and a cut of the victim gracing the top of the column.

It was long past the lunch hour when the prima donna and the prize-fighter, properly embellished, were snapped on the copy hook. The prima donna had chattered in French; the prize-fighter had jabbered in slang; but the charming old maid, who spoke Milwaukee English, was to make better copy than a whole chorus of prima donnas, or a ring full of fighters. Copy! It was such wonderful stuff that I couldn't use it.

It was with the charming old maid in mind that Norberg summoned me.

"Another special story for you," he cheerfully announced.

We have hundreds more books for your enjoyment. Read them all!

No answering cheer appeared upon my lunchless features. "A prize-fighter at ten-thirty, and a prima donna at twelve. What's the next choice morsel? An aeronaut with another successful airship? or a cash girl who has inherited a million?"

Norberg's plump cheeks dimpled. "Neither. This time it is a nice German old maid."

"Eloped with the coachman, no doubt?"

"I said a nice old maid. And she hasn't done anything yet. You are to find out how she'll feel when she does it."

"Charmingly lucid," commented I, made savage by the pangs of hunger.

Norberg proceeded to outline the story with characteristic vigor, a cigarette waggling from the corner of his mouth.

"Name and address on this slip. Take a Greenfield car. Nice old maid has lived in nice old cottage all her life. Grandfather built it himself about a hundred years ago. Whole family was born in it, and married in it, and died in it, see? It's crammed full of spinning-wheels and mahogany and stuff that'll make your eyes stick out. See? Well, there's no one left now but the nice old maid, all alone. She had a sister who ran away with a scamp some years ago. Nice old maid has never heard of her since, but she leaves the gate ajar or the latch-string open, or a lamp in the window, or something, so that if ever she wanders back to the old home she'll know she's welcome, see?"

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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