The Cowburn Nose
An amusing tale of a preposterous proboscis and what it led to
WILL R. BIRD
WHEN Cuthbert Cowburn entered this vale of tears he brought with him undeniable evidence of his Cowburn lineage. Every admiring relative in turn glanced at the pink knob aligned with his feeder and exclaimed, “The little darling! He’s got the Cowburn nose!”
It was the Cowburn nose, and it had skipped the third generation to alight on Cuthbert’s visage as if repentant. His mother, a rather fragile creature, seemed to regard the nose as an affliction beyond her endurance. She faded as quietly as a rose in a back garden, and left Cuthbert and his birthmark to the tender mercies of his Aunt Almira.
Aunt Almira w'as a Cowburn by birth and the mainspring of Cuthbert’s home. When Peter Cowburn, Cuthbert’s father, had married and settled in Admore, Aunt Almira had come, uninvited, to pay him a sisterly visit. She had stayed. Peter had tried once to send her away, and then accepted his fate with resignation.
For a year she had managed frugal meals and kept Peter’s best suit brushed and pressed; then Admore began to boom and Lady Luck smiled on the Cowburns. The strip of goat pasture Peter had had thrust on him when he acquired his unpretentious home became, overnight, real estate of astounding value, and under Aunt Almira’s guidance he transformed it into a bank account that had made him one of Admore’s prominent citizens.
Cuthbert’s great grandfather had grown the original Cowburn nose and gathered the Cowburn fortune.
Then, according to the family records, he had "quietly died.”
The fortune had lasted two and a half generations and then it, too, had quietly died. Hence Aunt Almira at Admore.
nPlIERE were at **■ least six circles in Admore society, and within a year of Peter’s affluence Aunt Almira had gained the top loop but one. Thereafter she assailed that citadel, and by way of relaxation laid plans for Cuthbert becoming a worthy wearer of the Cowburn decoration.
These plans were very simple. Cuthbert should marry into a family of his own rank, and of sufficient income to rid him -and her— of all pecuniary worries. And because of
these ambitions she matched swords, when Cuthbert became of age, with Mrs. Godfrey Bengal.
During business hours Mrs. Bengal’s husband was the leading banker of Admore; outside business hours he was
only her husband. In society she was the czarina of Admore’s most selective circle, and her daughter, Leota, was the most delectable lily in Admore’s matrimonial garden. She was the finished product of an advertised aristocracy, and looking at Leota one thought of perfect color schemes—clear blues, and gold browns, and soft tans. She was an exquisite bit of porcelain among Admore’s rough crockery.
Mrs. Bengal had supervised the color blending. She was an authority on colors. It was said in Admore that she had once criticized Nature as being too green and blurry. But no one could guess the origin of Leota’s perfect profile, soulful eyes and velvet skin; they would be especially baffled in the presence of M’*«. Goffrey Bengal.
There was a second daughter, Marion, but Mrs. Bengal was chiefly mother of Leota. Marion was plain-looking to a certain degree, and condemned by every aristocratic tradition. She refused to be cultured. This had distressed her superlative parent for a considerable period, and then she had been cast aside as hopeless. Marion had flouted authority in the seminary to which she had followed Leota and, surreptitiously backed by her father, had taken her degree at a woman’s business college. She played tennis and raised freckles and more or less haunted her father’s office.
Cuthbert declined to finish his education. He endured one year of college and then resigned. The professors had been unsympathetic, the classes were brain-numbing, and his fellow students had
waxed ribald at the expense of his “nose.” There had also been a number of fistic encounters during which Cuthbert had been more or less damaged. His fellows, it appeared, had never heard of the Cowburn nose, a nose that had invaded a provincial parliament, a supreme court, and three Presbyterian pulpits. Aunt Almira listened grimly to his complaints, read thereports he had brought with him—and consoled herself with iced coffee. Then the postman left a monogrammed envelope that resurrected her dearest dreams. It was addressed to Cuthbert, and it was an invitation for him to attend a ball at the Bengal mansion, given in honor of the lilylike Leota.
Aunt Almira forgot her reducing exercises for that afternoon. She overruled all of Cuthbert’s objections, and prodded him into an activity that sent him to the fête in a state of tailored and tonsorial perfection, but all he had seen in his mirror was that projecting Cowburn nose.
TT WAS the first time he had invaded the Bengal castle and he made a cautious entry. Mrs. Bengal reminded him of a tiger. She was lean and long-toothed, antagonistic and discreetly mustached; she reeked of patrician intolerance. After greeting her he was swept to the end of the hall, where Leota reigned like a princess suffering from ennui. She gave him the tips of her fingers and a languid smile, and murmured that she was charmed to see him.
He backed away from her, perspiring, bumped into a chair, and then escaped the throng and furtively watched proceedings. A giggle from a dark corner startled him. He peered, and could only see shiny pumps and silken ankles. Then the giggler emerged. He saw a slight, very fair young lady, with her slenderness and fairness accentuated by a filmy chiffon gown; hair, glistening, pale gold, like a painting, an old Cowburn possession that Aunt Almira had hung beside the grandfather clock; eyes,
pansy-blue, long-lashed, questing, baffling; nose, tilted, somewhat impudent; mouth, kissable, with a hint of wistfulness about it. He did not notice that the features were irregular or that the chin was too pronounced.
“Good evening,” she said. “Pardon my giggle, but you look so funny.”
Cuthbert flushed, and nodded. “I am funny,” he said. “It’s my nose, the Cowburn nose.”
“The Cowburn nose! Is it an heirloom? Your father and your Aunt Almira don’t wear them.”
Cuthbert stared. “You’re Marion,” he blurted.
“I am,” owned the giggler. “Didn’t you know me?”
“No . . . er . . . that is, Aunt Almira said you were not as pretty as Leota.”
“Of course I’m not.” The giggle bubbled forth again. “I don’t want to be. Plain people are the nicest always. Tell me about your nose.”
Cuthbert was usually patience personified. He seemed often like his father, now an oldish man with caves around his Adam’s apple, but the afternoon had been a trying one. And he had always had a secret longing to defy Aunt Almira. Telling family history would be, vaguely, a sort of mutiny.
“One of the old boys had a bill like mine,” he said bitterly, “and he made a pile of money selling kerosene lamps. He got one of his sons into parliament, another was a judge, and three were preachers. There was a lawyer and a colonel in the next lot, and then everything faded out. The money is all gone and I’m the only one with the nose. Aunt Almira thinks it’s a sort of trade mark and tries to put on airs, but if dad hadn’t been lucky with his land we’d be nowhere. I hate my nose.”
“I would think so,” said Marion softly. “It must be terribly in the way. It’s a wonder your aunt hadn’t named you ‘Repeater’.” Then the giggle went out of her voice. “Aren’t folks terrible?” she said. “I know. My mother used to have me for part of her daily diet.”
He stared at her until she smiled again. “When’s your birthday?” she asked.
“My birthday! Ne-next Friday,” he stammered. “Why?”
“I’m going to grease your nose,” came the calm rejoinder. “It’ll take about a pound of butter.”
He colored again. Waking or sleeping, Cuthbert was conscious of his nose. Then the orchestra began to play, and she left him.
When Cuthbert went home he was a changed person. He had actually danced with Marion and she had been kind to him. She had laughed at him and teased him, but she was kind. Aunt Almira was waiting for him.
She was eager for details. What had Mrs. Bengal worn? Who were there?
To all of which Cuthbert gave such mixed and vague answers that she left him in disgust.
On Friday afternoon Mrs. Bengal and her butterfly,
Leota, called on Aunt Almira. It was a complete surrender to the Cowburn forces and Aunt Almira could scarce restrain a war whoop. Her large bosom quivered beneath rose satin. At last the Cowburn nose was coming into its own.
After some fencing on social matters Mrs. Bengal made the first pass. She had had no idea that Cuthbert had developed into such a distinguished personage, What career had he decided on?
Aunt Almira held her guard. Cuthbert had had such
tempting offers from big business firms that he intended leaving college and affiliating himself with some pro-
gressive firm. “You know,” cooed Aunt Almira, “that his great-grandfather Cuthbert had the same nose, and he made barrels of money. Of course,” she added
casually, “brains went with the nose, for there had
been a judge, an M.P., and several prominent divines in the family.” Mrs. Bengal gave no sign of recognizing
the fact that the Cowburn proboscis held the qualifica-
tions of a government stamp, but she was cordial.
She did not smile pityingly or sniff. She talked
brightly of the weather, a new nerve tonic, and Leota,
and then observed that they were glad Cuthbert had
come home. Leota found it deadly dull in Admore
where there were so few desirables in her own set.
Wouldn’t Aunt Almira bring her nephew over that
evening, for bridge.
Aunt Almira pretended she was slightly deaf in order to hear the invitation repeated, and she was still in a daze when the door closed behind her guests. She
called Cuthbert from his room where he had hidden and asked what he had said or done at the Bengal dance.
He grew sullen under her continued questioning, and she could not learn of any miracle. Then why had Mrs.
Bengal . . .? She adjourned for a session with her face creams, and allowed her presentiment to become a
conviction. Mrs. Bengal had been forced to recognize the Cowburn nose. Either her unobtrusive lesser half had investigated the financial history of the adornment, or Leota had developed an urge to acquire such a distinguished title as “Mrs. Cuthbert Cowburn.”
CUTHBERT was a poor bridge player and Leota was more languid than she had ever been, and the evening would not have been a success from any standpoint had not Marion blown in and broken up the game. Would Cuthbert please help her get her car in the garage? The engine had refused to start.
He almost upset the table in his eagerness, and the car was rolled into place with ridiculous ease.
Then a firm little arm was thrown around his neck, and before he could escape the Cowburn nose mix-
ture. The scuffle immediately became more violent. Miss Marion had her own saucy little nose greased and then she was kissed as well. She was furious. She fought like a small wildcat. “You big lummox,” she spat. “You dare kiss me!” She tore away.
“I’m going in and tell my mother and your Aunt Almira.”
“Go ahead,” he responded doggedly. “I don’t care for all of them. Nobody can touch my nose and get away with it.”
And there was that in his tone that declared his sincerity.
Marion did not go and tell.
Rather she invited Cuthbert to the lawn to look at the moon, and there they became pals. She told him that she liked to read about Captain Kidd, and cavemen, and knights in combat, and that she was determined to go into business and earn her own living, and that she detested Leota’s limpid existence. Cuthbert did the listening part. At first he had had a reaction and had been too afraid to speak. Later, he perspired as he thought of what he had done, but could not bring himself to tell her that it was his one uncontrollable trait. He could endure any allusion to his facial oddity, but to touch it was too personal a matter. His several
battles at college had resulted
from such an insult.
When they went in, Mrs. Bengal seemed smitten with a touch of Mussolinitis, and Aunt Almira was frigid, but
Cuthbert was blissfully unconscious of any hostility, He remained in that impenetrable state after they were
“Whatever,” enquired Aunt Almira, “were you and Marion doing? Mrs. Bengal was simply furious.” “We were talking,” said Cuthbert lightly. “Marion greased my nose it’s my birthday you know—and then she had to wipe it oil.”
“Greased your nose . . . wiped it off!” Aunt Almira almost staggered. She was incoherent and the next day she watched Cuthbert carefully. He seemed normal, however, and she was a very puzzled woman.
/'""''UTHBERT,” said Marion, “would you go visiting with me?”
They had been playing tennis on the Admore courts, The atmosphere was too difficult at the Bengal green, Mrs. Bengal was still determined that Leota should win
the Cowburn feature, and she was aided and abetted by
Aunt Almira. Therefore Marion led her playmate to public grounds.
“Yes,” said Cuthbert. “Where to?”
It was the answer she expected. He would obey her
implicitly in all things, grant every wish within his
“To some of my relatives,” she said.
He chilled but answered bravely. “I’ll go,” he said.
“Is it far?”
“About fifty miles from here.”
“Fifty miles! How . . .?” He looked at her help-
lessly. “It would be such a lark,” she said. “We could motor out and stay a day or so.”
“A day or so,” he echoed bleakly. ‘‘Gosh, Marion ...”
“It will be heaps of fun,” she interrupted. “You’ll be surprised.”
Cuthbert made no further resistance. Their friendship
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had thickened amazingly. Marion only ; made occasional references to his dis| couragement, and one of them had ; thrilled him like an electric shock. “I wouldn’t mind having children with a nose like yours,” she had said when once they were discussing family traits, “provided I could have them my own way. The nose is only one point to consider.” He had been too dizzy to comprehend all her meaning, but the effect had been permanent.
For three successive evenings he was trapped by Mrs. Bengal and forced to listen to a recital of Leota’s blue-blooded ancestry, while the subject smiled dreamily up at him and fed him dainty confections. Then Marion announced that the next day would do.
They managed a successful getaway, and only their subjugated fathers knew their destination. Both had appeared equally astonished; neither offered opposition.
It was a glorious afternoon, though the sun was scorching hot, and Marion drove her sport roadster swiftly until they branched from the main highway into an unmarked back country road that necessitated slower speed. Cuthbert began to wonder, and at last asked their whereabouts.
“This is a short cut, about twenty miles long,” smiled Marion. “My great aunt lives on this road.”
“Lives in here! On this road!”
“You heard me right,” said Marion calmly. “You’re going to be surprised. I’m going to show you our blooded stock. Phew . . . I’m hot.”
They entered a wooded stretch, white birch and rugged maples, with little cart trails leading into the leafy greenness. Then a bridge, a stony hollow, and Marion pointed to a house. It faced the road, grey and weatherworn, with a big chimney that seemed to support the roof, and a long line of sagging outbuildings reaching to a decrepit barn. In its prime the place would never have been an emblem of prosperity.
Cuthbert gasped. “In there?”
“In there,” assented Marion. “That’s the old homestead, and that’s where my mother was born.”
They were greeted by an old dame with a curving chin and battle eyes which softened when they recognized Marion.
“I can’t abide that sister of yours,” she announced frankly, “but you’re always welcome. Come right in.”
Cuthbert had been glad to escape the blistering heat, but he entered dubiously. Yellow-plushed chairs and a walnut table were flanked by a varnished phonograph and a bowl of goldfish. There was little else. The great unde appeared, a wizened little man with a voice like wind in a keyhole. He talked with Cuthbert, and bewailed the tariff on farm machinery.
Cuthbert was bewildered. He was afraid that when the talk weakened they would sit around the parlor as though they were participating in some solemn rite; he was afraid that the great aunt would make some query about his nose; he was afraid of a suffocating night in the low-roofed upstairs he had glimpsed. But he tried to look pleased.
Marion kept the conversation from lagging. “We came for a drive so that we could be by ourselves,” she said naively in a low undertone. “Leota is jealous of me.”
“Jealous!” The great aunt peered at Cuthbert. “Him?”
Marion nodded. “Yes, him.”
The great aunt appeared flustered, then she set her curved chin grimly. “You suit yourself, child,” she whispered. “Looks ain’t everything.”
“Mother thinks he has money,” murI mured Marion.
“Humph!” said the great aunt. “Money ain’t everything.”
“And he hasn’t,” finished Marion.
The great aunt grunted.
“But he’s an aristocrat,” continued Marion. “He’s one of the Cowburns, and he has the Cowburn nose.”
“I see he has,” returned the great aunt. “He brought it with him.”
Cuthbert sat and perspired. He had heard every word. Marion had to go to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
VLTTIEN she returned she told of her aversion of the circle her mother dominated, and of the caste that was preserved at any cost. The great aunt snorted.
“Humph!” she exploded. “Her posin’ like a canary bird when she’s only a sparrer! She didn’t have a second petticoat when she married Godfrey Bengal, and he was just a clerk at the bank. She had a sunbonnet for everything except church, which she tended reg’lar when we had a young parson. I remember he used to stop overnight with us, up in the spare room, and we always had a cake of pink scented soap on the washstand. She was always proud, though, and she used to wear store shoes that hurt her feet. Humph, she was growed up before she seen silk underwear.”
Marion went for another drink and Cuthbert heard her choking in the kitchen.
He sat an hour longer before Marion rescued him. They went to the car on a pretense of examining tires. “It’s worse than I thought,” she told him, “but I wanted you to know. We’re going back.” His acquiescence was explosive. Then she led him to the old orchard to look for birds’ nests and pick buttercups. “We’ll drive home in the evening,” she said. “It’s our last time together and I don’t want to hurry.”
“Last time!” he gulped. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t stick Admore any longer, that’s what I mean,” she answered, “and you’ve been such a good egg that I wanted to let you in on the ground floor about our family. Then you can marry Leota if you want to.”
“But, gosh,” he groaned. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to marry anyone but you.”
“I’ll tell you a little more,” said Marion, pulling buttercups. “We’re a washout as far as money goes. Keep it to yourself, but dad’s made some poor investments. We’re not exactly broke, but we’re badly bent, and that’s why mother wants you to hook up with Leota.”
“But why?” he begged. “We’re
not . . . I’m . . ”
“There was a paragraph in the city paper we take about some oil lands in the west. It said that the Cowburn property had turned valuable and that the heirs of the estate would benefit hugely. Mother thought that it meant you folks, and she rushed right over. I found out that it was a type error, but I never told her. It should have read ‘Howburn’.” Then she looked up the valley. “I’m going to earn my own living,” she added.
“Wha-what are you going to do?” he pleaded, misery vaulting into his eyes.
“I’m going to sell my car and get into some kind of business,” she said determinedly. “I know I can do things.” “Can’t I come too?” he begged. “Certainly not.” Marion’s voice was almost sharp.
“I’ll go into business too,” he offered. “I could do something.” Doglike devotion fairly radiated from his eyes.
She laid her hand on his arm. “You’d try anyway,” she said softly. “You’re a nice boy, Cuthbert, and we’ll always be good friends.” Then she ran to the house
and he followed her, his world a total
'"THEY were halfway through the wooded district when a truck loomed before them, blocking the road. Marion put on brakes and drove as near the ditch as she dared, when a tough-looking individual jumped on the running board and pushed an automatic in Cuthbert’s shirt front.
“Stop this jitney and pile out,” he said harshly. “Get a move on.”
There was no mistaking his determination, and they got out. Marion stood close to Cuthbert. “Just what do you want?” she enquired sharply of their captor and his mate, who had stepped into view.
“We want nothin’ but your car, lady,” came the swift answer. “This truck’s broke down and we got to use your buggy to go for spare parts, see. You go into the woods with this chap. You won’t get hurt or nothin’ so long as you do what you’re told, see.”
The man with the revolver pointed at one of the wood lanes. “In there,” he ordered, and he flashed an electric torch.
They saw faint truck tracks on the hard earth and grass. One guess was sufficient. They had been held up by rum runners, and the only thing to do was to be patient. Rum runners never harmed any one, Cuthbert decided as he stumbled among the trees, but it would be unpleasant for Marion.
It was worse than he thought. They arrived at a tar-paper shack, hidden even from view of the wood lane. Two dirtylooking characters were sleeping on blankets in a corner, and one half the place was piled with cased liquor.
“Get out of it,” growled their escort as he jogged the sleepers with his foot. “Light the lanterns and keep an eye on this gent and his lady. We’ve had another breakdown and it’ll be nearly morning before Jim gets back. He’s taken this chap’s buggy to get some spare parts. Keep awake now, and don’t let these people out of your sight till you get orders.”
The lanterns were smelly and smoky and their guardians used rank tobacco. From time to time they regaled themselves with the contents of a black bottle and their badinage became so coarse that Cuthbert resented it. “Say, you chaps,” he said suddenly. “Don’t you know there’s a lady here?”
“Who are you talkin’ to?” came the belligerent challenge. “You keep shut or I’ll cut your toe nails with bullets, see.”
Marion’s distress showed in her eyes, and Cuthbert kept silent. It was useless to argue with such cattle. They would shoot, too, if their befuddled minds judged they had excuse.
Empty tins and scraps of food were littered about the floor. The night had grown damp and chill and Marion shivered. Cuthbert tried to make her wear his coat, but she refused. One of the ruffians jeeringly offered a filthy blanket. The hours dragged by. Cuthbert watched Marion anxiously. He wished that he could help her, do something heroic, gelt; her away, but the thugs, he knew, woulq. not hesitate to shootemdash;and he didn’t want to be shot.
T-JE WISHED, with all the fervor of -*■ which he was capable, that Marion would marry him. Beyond that nothing mattered. His fidelity to her would be the paramount feature of his life. As to money, he could cheerfully trust to something turning up; Marion would inspire him, he thought. One of the lanterns burned out for lack of oil, and its reek was stifling. Their guards slept in turn, snoring hideously, open-mouthed. Marion
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squeezed closer to Cuthbert and allowed
him to put his arm around her.
Before daylight the thugs lighted an oil stove and made tea in a foul kettle. Then they wolfed cheese and biscuits and tinned fruit. “Here, miss,” grinned one. “Have a sip of hot tea.” He offered her his dirty mug.
Marion shuddered, and refused. The ruffian’s mate mocked him. “D’ja think the lady would drink after you?” he jeered. “Can’t ya see they’re yer betters?”
“Betters!” sneered the tea drinker. “That guy’s got a beak like a Sheeny. If he was cross-eyed he couldn't see nothin’ but his nose.”
They took turns in making remarks about Cuthbert’s inheritance, but he ignored them so completely that they quieted. Then, slowly, light filtered into the cabin. It was morning.
Marion wanted the door opened that they might get fresh air, but their keepers would not allow it. They had rolled a fresh supply of vile-smelling cigarettes, and the atmosphere of the cabin was frightful. Marion whispered that she was afraid that she was going to be sick.
Cuthbert frowned and looked at the men. “If they didn’t both have revolvers I’d try something,” he said vaguely. “This is rotten work.”
Marion smiled wanly. “We can’t help it,” she whispered. “No man could do anything in a fix like this.”
Cuthbert wondered. He wished that he could help her, but he hated the sight of those blunt, dull-looking automatics. It would be awful to be shot, and bleeding, and perhaps dead. He squashed a spider and looked at his watch. It was only five o’clock. Then he heard a car. It stopped at the wood road, but an hour passed without further sound.
Their keepers finished their cigarettes arid then produced a greasy pack of cards. They were dealt and a querulous arguing began. Steps sounded outside. It was the man who had halted them, and he was a surly-appearing brute. “There goes Jim,” he said, as a motor roared and the grating of gears came clearly. “He’s away. You keep these two here till we get the rest of the stuff. No use to let them go blatting to the first cop they see.”
Marion went white. “Oh, Cuthbert!” she gasped, and clutched his arm.
He stood up, and put her away from him. “Say, you chaps,” he blustered. “You can’t keep this girl shut up in this hole. We can’t stay here any longer.”
“You can’t?” snarled the surly man. "How you goin’ to help yourselves?” Then he turned to his grinning henchmen. “You see to it that your company don't sprout wings and fly away,” he ordered sarcastically.
One of the men fronted Cuthbert and leered into his face. “You’ll get that beak of yours jammed if you try any monkeyshines in here,” he taunted, and made a threatening pass with one of his dirty hands.
It was as if he had ignited some explosive. Cuthbert lashed a frenzied righthander that landed perfectly and was devastating at such close range. The taunting one crashed backward, knocking his employer against the wall. Cuthbert drove headlong into the third man. Crack ! The pistol shot was stunning, earsplitting. Something stung his shoulder. Thwack! Thwack! Both fists landed on their target. His left was queerly impotent, but his right was sufficient. The thug went down like a wet sack.
Cuthbert flung around to attack the surly man, but he had his hands up while Marion kept a revolver pointed at his necktie. She had snatched up the pistol as the first man dropped it.
UIVE minutes later they were speeding
toward Admore, but before they reached the main highway Marion stopped the car and pulled Cuthbert’s face down to hers. “You darling man,” she said
tremulously. “You can marry me.” And she kissed him for the first time.
When they reached home indignation hung like an aureole over Mrs. Bengal’s bob. She exuded displeasure. Marion tried to explain, but the ordeal in the cabin had been too much for her. She verged on the hysterical. Mrs. Bengal refused to listen to her, and her refusal was dictated and signed by all her outraged feelings. Then Cuthbert quietly tipped off his chair.
Marion was first beside him, then she, too, collapsed. Cuthbert’s left hand was covered with fresh and dried blood that had trickled down his arm. He had been hurt.
Mrs. Bengal darted to the telephone and even Leota came to life. The doctor came. Cuthbert had a nasty flesh wound but nothing serious. Loss of blood had caused him to faint. Aunt Almira came and took him home and watched him for three days. On the fourth she went to see Mrs Bengal. They went into voluble conference.
Cuthbert, said Aunt Almira, had had something happen to him. He would not talk to her but just smiled and smiled, as if his shoulder never hurt him at all. Mrs. Bengal was very sympathetic. Then she explained that it all had been a terrible shock to Leota, but that she was bearing up bravely. And would Aunt Almira come the next day to tea. Marion? Oh . . . Mrs. Bengal shrugged her
shoulders. Marion was impossible. She wouldn’t talk at all. No, she didn’t know where they had been, some district inhabited by rum runners. Such actions were incomprehensible. Mrs. Bengal had a cousin who was a noted alienist, and she was considering consulting him.
Two weeks later Marion married Cuthbert. Their perturbed progenitors were the only witnesses. The ceremony lacked entirely Bengal lustre or Cowburn coterie.
Aunt Almira was shocked voiceless, as Cuthbert, with Marion beside him, broke the news. For a time she could only gaze horror-stricken, her neck stretched, tortoiselike, out of her sheath of rose satin. And when she did speak there was a faint change in her voice that suggested the opening of a door on a hushed place. “It was my wish, Cuthbert,” she said tragically, “that you maintain the Cowburn prestige. I am afraid you never realized its meaning.”
Cuthbert appeared in a daze; he simply grinned.
When they were safely outside Marion feigned sorrow. “Didn’t the poignancy of that penetrate your heart?” she asked, and Cuthbert seemed more dazed than ever.
A/f ARION took Cuthbert to a western -*-*-*city and there established a real estate office. For the first six months her road was rocky and then prosperity dawned, and they had an anniversary celebration. Her only worry, she told Cuthbert as he adored her from across the table, was that his nose might get red with high living.
Godfrey Bengal managed to get away to visit them the next year. He was amazed to see every evidence of smiling fortune, and Cuthbert installed in a private office of his own. Marion took him into her confidence.
“He’s a dear,” she said, waving toward the twin sanctum. “He floundered awfully at the most simple things and I was almost crazy. Then I discovered what he was for. When I first started I could get on swimmingly with good customers, but the duds and cranks were a nightmare. I couldn’t squelch them. Then I thought of how Cuthbert had tackled those men in the shack, and I tested him on an old grizzly bear who wanted to make some row about taxes. He was just fifteen minutes with Cuthbert before he gave up, and I heard him tell his wife that he might as well have tried to talk with a wooden
Indian. So I fixed up an office for him, and there he is. He just loves to be where we can see each other, and he’s never been stumped yet.” Then Marion’s eyes deepened. “He’s really a dear, daddy,” she whispered. “I love him in spite of his nose. I’ll never forget how he risked his life for me.”
Mr. Bengal was mystified. He was a fair judge of human nature—only one mistake being chalked up against him— and he had never observed any iron in Cuthbert’s makeup. Moreover, on the second day of his visit he saw tiny beads of perspiration on Cuthbert’s forehead after he had disposed of a hard-boiled customer. He made diplomatic enquiries and Cuthbert confessed.
Every moment with those undesirables was to him a torture, yet he endured all
for Marion's sake, and the fidelity in his j brown eyes was no passing gleam.
“But . . ahem.” Mr. Bengal cleared his throat. “You’ve got grit or you would never have cut loose on those rum runners.”
Cuthbert shook his head, then lowered his voice.
“I couldn’t help that,” he confided. “I always get that way if anybody touches my nose. The sun was awful hot that day and it blistered it.” He stroked the sensitive member tenderly. “The chap I hit first made a pass at me and rubbed the skin off. I—I could have killed him.”
Mr. Bengal drew a long breath. The silence was pregnant. Then he spoke.
“Cuthbert,” he said, as man to man, “don’t you ever let Marion know that.” Cuthbert hasn’t.