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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie And The Charming Old Maid

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With a quick gesture she threw a shawl over her head, and beckoned me. Together we stepped out into the chill of the raw March afternoon. She stood a moment, silent, gazing over the sodden earth. Then she flitted swiftly down the narrow path, and halted before a queer little structure of brick, covered with the skeleton of a creeping vine. Stooping, Alma Pflugel pulled open the rusty iron door and smiled up at me.

"This was my grandmother's oven. All her bread she baked in this little brick stove. Black bread it was, with a great thick crust, and a bitter taste. But it was sweet, too. I have never tasted any so good. I like to think of Grossmutter, when she was a bride, baking her first batch of bread in this oven that Grossvater built for her. And because the old oven was so very difficult to manage, and because she was such a young thing--only sixteen!--I like to think that her first loaves were perhaps not so successful, and that Grosspapa joked about them, and that the little bride wept, so that the young husband had to kiss away the tears."

She shut the rusty, sagging door very slowly and gently. "No doubt the workmen who will come to prepare the ground for the new library will laugh and joke among themselves when they see the oven, and they will kick it with their heels, and wonder what the old brick mound could have been."

There was a little twisted smile on her face as she rose--a smile that brought a hot mist of tears to my eyes. There was tragedy itself in that spare, homely figure standing there in the garden, the wind twining her skirts about her.

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"You should but see the children peering over the fence to see my flowers in the summer," she said. The blue eyes wore a wistful, far-away look. "All the children know my garden. It blooms from April to October. There I have my sweet peas; and here my roses-- thousands of them! Some are as red as a drop of blood, and some as white as a bridal wreath. When they are blossoming it makes the heart ache, it is so beautiful."

She had quite forgotten me now. For her the garden was all abloom once more. It was as though the Spirit of the Flowers had touched the naked twigs with fairy fingers, waking them into glowing life for her who never again was to shower her love and care upon them.

"These are my poppies. Did you ever come out in the morning to find a hundred poppy faces smiling at you, and swaying and glistening and rippling in the breeze? There they are, scarlet and pink, side by side as only God can place them. And near the poppies I planted my pansies, because each is a lesson to the other. I call my pansies little children with happy faces. See how this great purple one winks his yellow eye, and laughs!"

Her gray shawl had slipped back from her face and lay about her shoulders, and the wind had tossed her hair into a soft fluff about her head.

"We used to come out here in the early morning, my little Schwester and I, to see which rose had unfolded its petals overnight, or whether this great peony that had held its white head so high only yesterday, was humbled to the ground in a heap of ragged leaves. Oh, in the morning she loved it best. And so every summer I have made the garden bloom again, so that when she comes back she will see flowers greet her.

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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