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  Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie The Consoler

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In a corner of Frau Nirlanger's bedroom, sheltered from draughts and glaring light, is a little wooden bed, painted blue and ornamented with stout red roses that are faded by time and much abuse. Every evening at eight o'clock three anxious-browed women hold low-spoken conclave about the quaint old bed, while its occupant sleeps and smiles as he sleeps, and clasps to his breast a chewed-looking woolly dog. For a new joy has come to the sad little Frau Nirlanger, and I, quite by accident, was the cause of bringing it to her. The queer little blue bed, with its faded roses, was brought down from the attic by Frau Knapf, for she is one of the three foster mothers of the small occupant of the bed. The occupant of the bed is named Bennie, and a corporation formed for the purpose of bringing him up in the way he should go is composed of: Dawn O'Hara Orme, President and Distracted Guardian; Mrs. Konrad Nirlanger, Cuddler-in-chief and Authority on the Subject of Bennie's Bed-time; Mr. Blackie Griffith, Good Angel, General Cut-up and Monitor off'n Bennie's Neckties and Toys; Dr. Ernst von Gerhard, Chief Medical Adviser, and Sweller of the Exchequer, with the Privilege of Selecting All Candies. Members of the corporation meet with great frequency evenings and Sundays, much to the detriment of a certain Book-in-the-making with which Dawn O'Hara Orme was wont to struggle o' evenings.

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Bennie had been one of those little tragedies that find their way into juvenile court. Bennie's story was common enough, but Bennie himself had been different. Ten minutes after his first appearance in the court room everyone, from the big, bald judge to the newest probation officer, had fallen in love with him. Somehow, you wanted to smooth the hair from his forehead, tip his pale little face upward, and very gently kiss his smooth, white brow. Which alone was enough to distinguish Bennie, for Juvenile court children, as a rule, are distinctly not kissable.

Bennie's mother was accused of being unfit to care for her boy, and Bennie was temporarily installed in the Detention Home. There the superintendent and his plump and kindly wife had fallen head over heels in love with him, and had dressed him in a smart little Norfolk suit and a frivolous plaid silk tie. There were delays in the case, and postponement after postponement, so that Bennie appeared in the court room every Tuesday for four weeks. The reporters, and the probation officers and policemen became very chummy with Bennie, and showered him with bright new pennies and certain wonderful candies. Superintendent Arnett of the Detention Home was as proud of the boy as though he were his own. And when Bennie would look shyly and questioningly into his face for permission to accept the proffered offerings, the big superintendent would chuckle delightedly. Bennie had a strangely mobile face for such a baby, and the whitest, smoothest brow I have ever seen.

The comedy and tears and misery and laughter of the big, white-walled court room were too much for Bennie. He would gaze about with puzzled blue eyes; then, giving up the situation as something too vast for his comprehension, he would fall to drawing curly-cues on a bit of paper with a great yellow pencil presented him by one of the newspaper men.

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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