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0105_001E Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie The Consoler

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Every Tuesday the rows of benches were packed with a motley crowd of Poles, Russians, Slavs, Italians, Greeks, Lithuanians--a crowd made up of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends, and enemies of the boys and girls whose fate was in the hands of the big man seated in the revolving chair up in front. But Bennie's mother was not of this crowd; this pitiful, ludicrous crowd filling the great room with the stifling, rancid odor of the poor. Nor was Bennie. He sat, clear-eyed and unsmiling, in the depths of a great chair on the court side of the railing and gravely received the attentions of the lawyers, and reporters and court room attaches who had grown fond of the grave little figure.

Then, on the fifth Tuesday, Bennie's mother appeared. How she had come to be that child's mother God only knows--or perhaps He had had nothing to do with it. She was terribly sober and frightened. Her face was swollen and bruised, and beneath one eye there was a puffy green-and-blue swelling. Her sordid story was common enough as the probation officer told it. The woman had been living in one wretched room with the boy. Her husband had deserted her. There was no food, and little furniture. The queer feature of it, said the probation officer, was that the woman managed to keep the boy fairly neat and clean, regardless of her own condition, and he generally had food of some sort, although the mother sometimes went without food for days. Through the squalor and misery and degradation of her own life Bennie had somehow been kept unsullied, a thing apart.

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"H'm! " said judge Wheeling, and looked at Bennie. Bennie was standing beside his mother. He was very quiet, and his eyes were smiling up into those of the battered creature who was fighting for him. "I guess we'll have to take you out of this," the judge decided, abruptly. "That boy is too good to go to waste."

The sodden, dazed woman before him did not immediately get the full meaning of his words. She still stood there, swaying a bit, and staring unintelligently at the judge. Then, quite suddenly, she realized it. She took a quick step forward. Her hand went up to her breast, to her throat, to her lips, with an odd, stifled gesture.

"You ain't going to take him away! From me! No, you wouldn't do that, would you? Not for--not for always! You wouldn't do that--you wouldn't--"

Judge Wheeling waved her away. But the woman dropped to her knees.

"Judge, give me a chance! I'll stop drinking. Only don't take him away from me! Don't, judge, don't! He's all I've got in the world. Give me a chance. Three months! Six months! A year!"

"Get up!" ordered judge Wheeling, gruffly, "and stop that! It won't do you a bit of good."

And then a wonderful thing happened. The woman rose to her feet. A new and strange dignity had come into her battered face. The lines of suffering and vice were erased as by magic, and she seemed to grow taller, younger, almost beautiful. When she spoke again it was slowly and distinctly, her words quite free from the blur of the barroom and street vernacular.

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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