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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Bennie The Consoler

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"May I see them?" I asked, again prompted by that inner voice.

"There is only one." She grudgingly unlocked the door, using one of the great keys that swung from her waist. The heavy, black door swung open. I stepped into the bare room, lighted dimly by one small window. In the farthest corner crouched something that stirred and glanced up at our entrance. It peered at us with an ugly look of terror and defiance, and I stared back at it, in the dim light. During one dreadful, breathless second I remained staring, while my heart stood still. Then-- "Bennie!" I cried. And stumbled toward him. "Bennie-- boy!"

The little unkempt figure, in its soiled knickerbocker suit, the sunny hair all uncared for, the gay plaid tie draggled and limp, rushed into my arms with a crazy, inarticulate cry.

Down on my knees on the bare floor I held him close-- close! and his arms were about my neck as though they never should unclasp.

"Take me away! Take me away!" His wet cheek was pressed against my own streaming one. "I want my mother! I want Daddy Arnett! Take me away!"

I wiped his cheeks with my notebook or something, picked him up in my arms, and started for the door. I had quite forgotten the fat matron.

"What are you doing?" she asked, blocking the doorway with her huge bulk.

"I'm going to take him back with me. Please let me! I'll take care of him until the year is up. He shan't bother you any more."

"That is impossible," she said, coldly. "He has been sent here by the court, for a year, and he must stay here. Besides, he is a stubborn, uncontrollable child."

"Uncontrollable! He's nothing of the kind! Why don't you treat him as a child should be treated, instead of like a little animal? You don't know him! Why, he's the most lovable--I And he's only a baby! Can't you see that? A baby!"

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She only stared her dislike, her little pig eyes grown smaller and more glittering.

"You great--big--thing! " I shrieked at her, like an infuriated child. With the tears streaming down my cheeks I unclasped Bennie's cold hands from about my neck. He clung to me, frantically, until I had to push him away and run.

The woman swung the door shut, and locked it. But for all its thickness I could hear Bennie's helpless fists pounding on its panels as I stumbled down the stairs, and Bennie's voice came faintly to my ears, muffled by the heavy door, as he shrieked to me to take him away to his mother, and to Daddy Arnett.

I blubbered all the way back in the car, until everyone stared, but I didn't care. When I reached the office I made straight for Blackie's smoke-filled sanctum. When my tale was ended he let me cry all over his desk, with my head buried in a heap of galley-proofs and my tears watering his paste-pot. He sat calmly by, smoking. Finally he began gently to philosophize. "Now girl, he's prob'ly better off there than he ever was at home with his mother soused all the time. Maybe he give that warty matron friend of yours all kinds of trouble, yellin' for his ma."

I raised my head from the desk. "Oh, you can talk! You didn't see him. What do you care! But if you could have seen him, crouched there--alone--like a little animal! He was so sweet--and lovable--and--and--he hadn't been decently washed for weeks--and his arms clung to me--I can feel his hands about my neck!--"

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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