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by [?]


He came up the mountain road at nightfall, urging his lean mustang forward wearily, and coughing now and then–a heavy, hollow cough that told its own story.

There were only two houses on the mesa stretching shaggy and sombre with greasewood from the base of the mountains to the valley below,–two unpainted redwood dwellings, with their clumps of trailing pepper-trees and tattered bananas,–mere specks of civilization against a stern background of mountain-side. The traveler halted before one of them, bowing awkwardly as the master of the house came out.

“Mr. Brandt, I reckon.”

Joel Brandt looked up into the stranger’s face. Not a bad face, certainly: sallow and drawn with suffering,–one of those hopelessly pathetic faces, barely saved from the grotesque by a pair of dull, wistful eyes. Not that Joel Brandt saw anything either grotesque or pathetic about the man.

“Another sickly looking stranger outside, Barbara, wants to try the air up here. Can you keep him? Or maybe the Fox’s’ll give him a berth.”

Mrs. Brandt shook her head in a house-wifely meditation.

“No; Mrs. Fox can’t, that’s certain. She has an asthma and two bronchitises there now. What’s the matter with him, Joel?”

The stranger’s harsh, resonant cough answered.

“Keep him?–to be sure. You might know I’d keep him, Joel; the night air’s no place for a man to cough like that. Bring him into the kitchen right away.”

The newcomer spread his bony hands over Mrs. Brandt’s cheery fire, and the soft, dull eyes followed her movements wistfully.

“The fire feels kind o’ homey, ma’am; Californy ain’t much of a place for fires, it ‘pears.”

“Been long on the coast, stranger?” Joel squared himself interrogatively.

“‘Bout a week. I’m from Indianny. Brice’s my name–Posey Brice the boys ‘n the glass-mill called me. I wuz blowed up in a glass-mill oncet.” The speaker turned to show an ugly scar on his neck. “Didn’t know where I wuz fer six weeks–thought I hadn’t lit. When I come to, there wuz Loisy potterin’ over me; but I ain’t been rugged sence.”


The man’s answer broke through the patient homeliness of his face at once. He fumbled in his pocket silently, like one who has no common disclosure to make.

“What d’ ye think o’ them, stranger?”

Joel took the little, rusty, black case in his hands reverently. A woman’s face, not grand, nor fair even, some bits of tawdry finery making its plainness plainer; and beside it a round-eyed boy plumped into a high chair, with two little feet sticking sturdily out in Joel’s face.

Mrs. Brandt looked over her husband’s shoulder with kindly curiosity.

“The boy favors you amazingly about the mouth; but he’s got his mother’s eyes, and they’re sharp, knowin’ eyes, too. He’s a bright one, I’ll be bound.”

“Yours, I reckon?”

“Yes, that’s Loisy an’ the boy,” fighting the conscious pride in his voice like one who tries to wear his honors meekly.

He took the well-worn case again, gazing into the two faces an instant with helpless yearning, and returned it to its place. The very way he handled it was a caress, fastening the little brass hook with scrupulous care.

“I’ll be sendin’ fur ’em when I git red o’ this pesterin’ cough.”


A very quiet, unobtrusive guest Mrs. Brandt found the man Brice; talking little save in a sudden gush of confidence, and always of his wife and child; choosing a quiet corner of the kitchen in the chill California nights, where he watched his hostess’s deft movements with wistful admiration.

“Try huntin’, Brice; the doctors mostly say it’s healthy.”

And Brice tried hunting, as Joel advised, taking the gun from its crotch over the door after breakfast, and wandering for hours in the yellow, wine-like air of the mesa. He came in at noon and nightfall always empty-handed, yet no one derided his failure. There was something about the man that smothered derision.

“A sort o’ thunderin’ patience that knocks a fellow,” Bert Fox put it.