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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie The Consoler

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There was an anniversary, or a change in the board of directors, or a new coat of paint or something of the kind in one of the orphan homes, and the story fell to me. I found the orphan home to be typical of its kind--a big, dreary, prison-like structure. The woman at the door did not in the least care to let me in. She was a fish-mouthed woman with a hard eye, and as I told my errand her mouth grew fishier and the eye harder. Finally she led me down a long, dark, airless stretch of corridor and departed in search of the matron, leaving me seated in the unfriendly reception room, with its straight-backed chairs placed stonily against the walls, beneath rows of red and blue and yellow religious pictures.

Just as I was wondering why it seemed impossible to be holy and cheerful at the same time, there came a pad-padding down the corridor. The next moment the matron stood in the doorway. She was a mountainous, red-faced woman, with warts on her nose.

"Good-afternoon," I said, sweetly. ("Ugh! What a brute!") I thought. Then I began to explain my errand once more. Criticism of the Home? No indeed, I assured her. At last, convinced of my disinterestedness she reluctantly guided me about the big, gloomy building. There were endless flights of shiny stairs, and endless stuffy, airless rooms, until we came to a door which she flung open, disclosing the nursery. It seemed to me that there were a hundred babies--babies at every stage of development, of all sizes, and ages and types. They glanced up at the opening of the door, and then a dreadful thing happened.

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Every child that was able to walk or creep scuttled into the farthest corners and remained quite, quite still with a wide-eyed expression of fear and apprehension on every face.

For a moment my heart stood still. I turned to look at the woman by my side. Her thin lips were compressed into a straight, hard line. She said a word to a nurse standing near, and began to walk about, eying the children sharply. She put out a hand to pat the head of one red-haired mite in a soiled pinafore; but before her hand could descend I saw the child dodge and the tiny hand flew up to the head, as though in defense.

"They are afraid of her!" my sick heart told me. "Those babies are afraid of her! What does she do to them? I can't stand this. I'm going."

I mumbled a hurried "Thank you," to the fat matron as I turned to leave the big, bare room. At the head of the stairs there was a great, black door. I stopped before it--God knows why!--and pointed toward it.

"What is in that room?" I asked. Since then I have wondered many times at the unseen power that prompted me to put the question.

The stout matron bustled on, rattling her keys as she walked.

"That--oh, that's where we keep the incorrigibles."

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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