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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie And The Charming Old Maid

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"All the way up the path to the door she will walk in an aisle of fragrance, and when she turns the handle of the old door she will find it unlocked, summer and winter, day and night, so that she has only to turn the knob and enter."

She stopped, abruptly. The light died out of her face. She glanced at me, half defiantly, half timidly, as one who is not quite sure of what she has said. At that I went over to her, and took her work-worn hands in mine, and smiled down into the faded blue eyes grown dim with tears and watching.

"Perhaps--who knows?--the little sister may come yet. I feel it. She will walk up the little path, and try the handle of the door, and it will turn beneath her fingers, and she will enter."

With my arm about her we walked down the path toward the old-fashioned arbor, bare now except for the tendrils that twined about the lattice. The arbor was fitted with a wooden floor, and there were rustic chairs, and a table. I could picture the sisters sitting there with their sewing during the long, peaceful summer afternoons. Alma Pflugel would be wearing one of her neat gingham gowns, very starched and stiff, with perhaps a snowy apron edged with a border of heavy crochet done by the wrinkled fingers of Grossmutter Pflugel. On the rustic table there would be a bowl of flowers, and a pot of delicious Kaffee, and a plate of German Kaffeekuchen, and through the leafy doorway the scent of the wonderful garden would come stealing.

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I thought of the cheap little flat, with the ugly sideboard, and the bit of weedy yard in the rear, and the alley beyond that, and the red and green wall paper in the parlor. The next moment, to my horror, Alma Pflugel had dropped to her knees before the table in the damp little arbor, her face in her hands, her spare shoulders shaking.

"Ich kann's nicht thun!" she moaned. "Ich kann nicht! Ach, kleine Schwester, wo bist du denn! Nachts und Morgens bete ich, aber doch kommst du nicht."

A great dry sob shook her. Her hand went to her breast, to her throat, to her lips, with an odd, stifled gesture.

"Do that again!" I cried, and shook Alma Pflugel sharply by the shoulder. "Do that again!"

Her startled blue eyes looked into mine. What do you mean?" she asked.

"That--that gesture. I've seen it--somewhere--that trick of pressing the hand to the breast, to the throat, to the lips--Oh!"

Suddenly I knew. I lifted the drooping head and rumpled its neat braids, and laughed down into the startled face.

"She's here!" I shouted, and started a dance of triumph on the shaky floor of the old arbor. "I know her. From the moment I saw you the resemblance haunted me." And then as Alma Pflugel continued to stare, while the stunned bewilderment grew in her eyes, "Why, I have one-fourth interest in your own nephew this very minute. And his name is Bennie! "

Whereupon Alma Pflugel fainted quietly away in the chilly little grape arbor, with her head on my shoulder.

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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