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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie And The Charming Old Maid

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I called myself savage names as I chafed her hands and did all the foolish, futile things that distracted humans think of at such times, wondering, meanwhile, if I had been quite mad to discern a resemblance between this simple, clear-eyed gentle German woman, and the battered, ragged, swaying figure that had stood at the judge's bench.

Suddenly Alma Pflugel opened her eyes. Recognition dawned in them slowly. Then, with a jerk, she sat upright, her trembling hands clinging to me.

"Where is she? Take me to her. Ach, you are sure-- sure?"

"Lordy, I hope so! Come, you must let me help you into the house. And where is the nearest telephone? Never mind; I'll find one."

When I had succeeded in finding the nearest drug store I spent a wild ten minutes telephoning the surprised little probation officer, then Frau Nirlanger, and finally Blackie, for no particular reason. I shrieked my story over the wire in disconnected, incoherent sentences. Then I rushed back to the little cottage where Alma Pflugel and I waited with what patience we could summon.

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Blackie was the first to arrive. He required few explanations. That is one of the nicest things about Blackie. He understands by leaps and bounds, while others crawl to comprehension. But when Frau Nirlanger came, with Bennie in tow, there were tears, and exclamations, followed by a little stricken silence on the part of Frau Nirlanger when she saw Bennie snatched to the breast of this weeping woman. So it was that in the midst of the confusion we did not hear the approach of the probation officer and her charge. They came up the path to the door, and there the little sister turned the knob, and it yielded under her fingers, and the old door swung open; and so she entered the house quite as Alma Pflugel had planned she should, except that the roses were not blooming along the edge of the sunken brick walk.

She entered the room in silence, and no one could have recognized in this pretty, fragile creature the pitiful wreck of the juvenile court. And when Alma Pflugel saw the face of the little sister--the poor, marred, stricken face--her own face became terrible in its agony. She put Bennie down very gently, rose, and took the shaking little figure in her strong arms, and held it as though never to let it go again. There were little broken words of love and pity. She called her "Lammchen" and "little one," and so Frau Nirlanger and Blackie and I stole away, after a whispered consultation with the little probation officer.

Blackie had come in his red runabout, and now he tucked us into it, feigning a deep disgust.

"I'd like to know where I enter into this little drayma," he growled. "Ain't I got nothin' t' do but run around town unitin' long lost sisters an' orphans!"

"Now, Blackie, you know you would never have forgiven me if I had left you out of this. Besides, you must hustle around and see that they need not move out of that dear little cottage. Now don't say a word! You'll never have a greater chance to act the fairy godmother."

Frau Nirlanger's hand sought mine and I squeezed it in silent sympathy. Poor little Frau Nirlanger, the happiness of another had brought her only sorrow. And she had kissed Bennie good-by with the knowledge that the little blue-painted bed, with its faded red roses, would again stand empty in the gloom of the Knapf attic.

Norberg glanced up quickly as I entered the city room. "Get something good on that south side story?" he asked.

"Why, no," I answered. "You were mistaken about that. The--the nice old maid is not going to move, after all."

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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