Suppose You, a Girl, a Lawyer, Were Called Upon to Prosecute Your Father and Your Lover— Would You Do It?
Author of "The Enchanted Cañon," "The Forbidden Trail," etc.
NIP BRODY stood with one foot in the stirrup. The other foot pawed the ground erratically while old Chief lunged in his usual imitation of broncohood long past.
"What's the matter, Nip? Paralyzed?" asked John Haskins, who was sitting on the steps of the post-office.
Nip did not answer. His eyes followed Ingeborg until she disappeared into the hotel, then he removed his foot from the stirrup and came back to squat by John.
"Who is she, John?" he demanded,
"Name's Olson. Came in Wednesday with her ma and pa. Pa's a."
"And I been sitting with you for an hour and you never mentioned her!" exclaimed Nip bitterly.
John looked the sheriff over deliberately. Nip was a tall, gaunt man of fifty, desert bronzed, thin to the point of emaciation, bald, with long, stained front teeth like Chief's. He wore a soiled corduroy suit and a broad-brimmed felt hat.
"Nip," said John, "you go over into the hotel yonder and take a good square look at yourself in the looking-glass behind the desk. Then you'll understand why I ain't troubling myself to point out new girls to you."
Nip squared round to stare at his friend. Haskins was a nondescript little man, with faded red hair and mustache and twinkling blue eyes under a heavily wrinkled brow. His black suit was green with age and the desert sun.
"You'd better go to the hotel with me, Nip!" grunted the sheriff.
"There she comes again!" exclaimed John.
A tall woman in a blue-serge suit came deliberately down the steps of the hotel. She was bare-headed and her pale golden hair, wrapped in many braids around her head, caught the sun in a thousand dancing lights. Molly Fish, who clerked in Gilbert's store, crossed the sandy street to the post-office, her eyes never leaving the strange woman in the process.
Ingeborg was big. She was broad shouldered and deep chested and absolutely blond except her lashes, which were black. Her skin was flawless and her teeth strong and white. Her blue eyes were cool and intelligent, her nose straight, her mouth large and well cut. Her whole expression was appraising and noncommittal.
"Father another lunger, eh?" said Nip.
John nodded. "I think it should be against the law for any more of them to come to Olla, hacking and hawking around. Nice impression it makes on strangers with a lot of them corpses cluttering up the views!"
"Have a heart, John! There's only one in town now, besides Olson. That's that fellow Cresswell, at the hotel," protested Nip.
"He hasn't got T.B. any morel" cried Molly.
"Yes, and you'd be better off if you didn't know quite so much about him!" John spoke severely.
Molly tossed her head. "Thank the Lord you aren't my boss! She walks just like a man, don't she!"
Ingeborg swung slowly up the street and came to pause before the post-office. "Good afternoon!" she said tentatively, looking at John. "You are the post-master, aren't you?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied John.
"I was told you had a room to rent, up over the post-office."
"Yes, ma'am, I have that front room looking over the street. Who wants it?"
"I do," replied Ingeborg calmly. "I am a lawyer, and as it looks as if my father might have to spend several years in Olla I may as well put up my shingle now."
"A—a lawyer!" gasped John.
There was a stunned silence during which a dusty automobile pounded up and a tall young man crawled out from behind the wheel and stood near Ingeborg.
"A regular, honest-to-God lawyer?" demanded Nip.
Ingeborg nodded with a little smile. "A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and of its College of Law. I practised in Madison for three years until father had to come to the Southwest. Will you please show me the room, Mr. Haskins?"
John did not budge. Molly shifted from one high heel to another and brought her charming little face round into Ingeborg's line of vision.
"We never seen or heard of a lady lawyer down here!" she exclaimed. "You'll never get any business, Miss Olson, I can tell you that!"
"I've heard of 'em," said Nip; '"but I never saw one before."
"There are many of us in the East!" Ingeborg's voice was impatient. "Do you always question your prospective tenants so minutely, Mr. Haskins?"
"Never had any tenants before," replied John. "Used that room to store coffins and the rest of my undertaking stuff. But since old Gilbert's bought that out and the post-office work has got so heavy——"
Mollv hooted. "Heavy!"
"Ha! Ha!" ejaculated the sheriff without a smile.
"In the mean time," said Ingeborg, "how about showing me the room?"
John rose slowly and turning to the door against which he had been leaning he unlocked and opened it, disclosing a dirty stairway. When Ingeborg had followed him, Nip turned to the young man who had been a silent spectator.
"We don't want any hen lawyer in Olla, do we, Heber?"
THE newcomer was perhaps thirty years of age, olive of skin and brown of eye, with something free and eagle-like in his thin, clean-cut face.
"I didn't know you owned Olla, Nip!" he said. "It's a free country and a woman can be a lawyer if she wants to be."
Molly tossed her head. "Certainly she can be, but that ain't saying she'll get any customers!"
"Clients, Molly! Clients!" corrected Heber. "I don't know that I'd want a woman lawyer to take care of me if I did murder, but on the other hand I'm not going to try to freeze out the only lawyer that's ever tried to settle in Olla, male or female."
"Hey, Molly!" called old Gilbert from the store, "ain't you just about due back from Kansas City with the answer to that letter?"
Molly flipped her pink gingham skirts quickly into the post-office. She had just minced back to the store in the strange gait that French heels give to tortured feet when Ingeborg appeared, followed by John.
"I'll take it and pay you a month in advance, beginning now."
"All right," said Haskins reluctantly. "Remember, though, I ain't going to do janitor service."
"I'll remember. Good afternoon, Mr. Haskins," and Ingeborg crossed the street to the store.
Old Gilbert waddled forward to meet her. Ingeborg looked from his fat face and his watery gray eyes to his spotted flannel shirt and back again to his eyes.
"How do you do, Mr. Gilbert! They tell me you have almost everything in your store. Have you, by chance, an office desk and chair?"
"I have a second-hand desk, worth good money. Some of the stuff I had to take for a bad debt when the Eldorado busted."
Ingeborg followed the old man to the back of the store where from under a pile of Indian blankets and saddles Gilbert disinterred a battered roller-top desk.
"Here you are, ma'am! Is that worth twenty-five dollars to you?"
"No, it isn't," returned Ingeborg succinctly.
"Make it twenty," said old Gilbert.
"No! Let it go! Show me some wooden chairs, please, and an ordinary kitchen table."
"But that desk's worth——"
"We won't discuss that," said Ingeborg. "I don't like to haggle and as this is evidently a two-price store, the sooner you learn that peculiarity of mine the better. Let's see! This table is marked four-fifty and each of these chairs one-fifty. I'll take the three pieces and please deliver them to my office over the post-office."
"Deliver! I don't deliver! What do you think this is? A San Francisco department-store?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Ingeborg. "Well, I'm not at all helpless!" She counted the exact amount of money into the storekeeper's fat palm, swung the pine table to one splendid shoulder and walked out of the store. She set this on the sandy stoop and went back for the chairs. One by one she carried the three pieces across the sand-choked, street and up the stairs to her office.
Her scanty furnishings established, Ingeborg crossed once more to the store. This time it was Molly who waited on her, nose much up in air and very business-like. A broom and dust-pan, a waste-paper basket, ink, pens, paper, a tin water-pail and basin, a hammer, a saw, some nails; these the new lawyer carried in one load to her new quarters. A dozen men were established now by the post-office door, but she passed them serenely and unflinchingly.
The office was a square, low-ceilinged room with two fly-specked windows looking down, on the street. It was dirty beyond words. Ingeborg set her last load down and stood looking about her with scornful eyes. Then she picked up the hammer and drove a nail in the door. On this she hung her coat. She turned up the skirt of her dress and fastened it around her waist, tied a handkerchief over her hair, opened both windows and seized the broom. An hour later, after one more trip to the store for soap and cheese-cloth, the office to the very windows was shining with cleanliness, and Ingeborg descended in the early dusk to the deserted street.
There was an air-tight stove in a tray of sawdust in the center of the crude room used as the office of the hotel. It was the supper hour and there was no one in the room save Ingeborg's father, who sat hugging the red-hot stove. Ole Olson was a splendid ruin of a man. Ingeborg in feminine form was a replica of what Ole must have been in his youth. Still in his early fifties, in spite of his emaciation and pallor, he gave a sense of force.
"Where've you been, Ingeborg?" he asked.
"Getting ready for business, father. I believe the whole little town is against me already."
"Yust what I told you, Ingeborg, when you started——"
"Don't let's begin that, father! If I can't support the family on law down here, I'll stake out a claim and turn miner. Where's mother?"
"Up-stairs." Ole returned to his paper.
When Ingeborg appeared again in a fresh blouse, her father and mother were already at the supper-table, with Heber Evans and Lincoln Cresswell. Cresswell rose to push in Ingeborg's chair. He was about the young lawyer's height, but weighed less. He had a round, small head and brown hair, worn military fashion, as was his small, brown mustache, his eyes were a dark gray set a little too close together. His face was a little too large and heavy for the size of his head, but these were the only faults to be found in a face that was markedly handsome. He did not look like an invalid. In fact, he was not one, but was merely finishing off the cure of a touch of tuberculosis contracted in the army and halted in an army hospital.
"May I introduce Mr. Evans, Miss Olson?" he asked. "I'm going into the mining business with him."
"I heard you struggling with John and Nip this afternoon, Miss Olson," said Heber. "You had my sympathy."
"I didn't need it, really," Ingeborg answered with a smile. "I don't mind these people in the least. After all, people are the same the world over."
"Don't you think it!" exclaimed Heber. "The desert does something to people that is hard to put into words. It loosens up some of the strings of their characters and tightens others. You'll learn some new facts about folks if you stay here long enough, Miss Olson."
"Particularly about yourself," added Cresswell.
"How long have you been in the desert, Mrs. Cresswell?" asked Ingeborg's father.
"Six months! Six deadly, lonely months!"
Tiny, faded Mrs. Olson spoke for the first time. "I dream of Norway for the first time in many years since I ben down here."
"And you, how long, Mr. Evans?" asked Ole, ignoring his wife.
"The ten years since I finished college," answered Evans.
"And your mind still functions!" exclaimed Cresswell, wonderingly.
"I like the desert and so would you, Cresswell, if you would make up your mind to stay here and make this life yours."
"God forbid!" grunted the other. "I'm a newspaper man. How I ask, would you suggest that I carry on my life-work in Olla?"
Everybody laughed except Mrs. Olson, who said soberly, "You ben no worse off than Ingeborg!" And she looked puzzled when there was fresh laughter.
AS THEY left the supper-table, the landlord beckoned to Ingeborg and she followed him to the desk. The office was half-filled with, loungers, but he spoke too low for them to hear.
"Say, Miss Olson, I'm sorry, but there's been complaint about your father. You see, folks here in the desert gets awful nervous about all these lungers, and it sure puts a crimp in the hotel business when one gets in. I'll have to give you a week's notice."
"I don't much blame the people," said Ingeborg. "It is a menace. But I did not bother so much after I learned about Mr. Cresswell."
"He brung a doctor's certificate with him that he was through with the disease. He ain't coughed since he's been in Olla. While your dad——"
He paused uncomfortably; but Ingeborg, if she felt grief or annoyance, did not show it "Yes, I know! But can you suggest a place for us to go? There's not a house to rent in town."
"I know it. You'll have to rent some tents. Old Gilbert will fix you up."
"I'm not made of money, unfortunately!" Ingeborg shrugged her shoulders and joined the others in the parlor. She did not speak, but she sat in a patent rocker staring at a large green-and-red calendar on the wall.
"Is anything the matter?" asked her mother.
"We can't stay here any longer," replied Ingeborg, "on account of father."
"Oh, here! That's cutting it a bit fine!" exclaimed Evans. "I'll speak to old Schwaunm myself."
"No, you won't!" cried Ingeborg. "he is quite right and I shouldn't have waited for him to tell me. I don't want to go against more than one prejudice of Olla's! If I've got to batter down the feeling against a woman lawyer, I'm not going to keep them uneasy all the time about tubercular father. We'll go to housekeeping somewhere."
"There's no place to live in Olla," said Heber. "But let me make a suggestion. My mine is five miles up the pass on the mesa to the north. There are three tent houses empty up there. Come up to the Rainy Day and live."
"But how can I manage to get to office?" asked Ingeborg.
"Would you want to come in every day?"
Ingeborg looked at him strangely. "Would you ask a man lawyer that? I, too, have to earn my living by my profession."
"Well, there's the flivver!" suggested Cresswell.
"I can't monopolize Mr. Evans's car. Wait! Does it cost much to keep a horse down here? That's been my favorite form of exorcise for several years."
"I know where you could rent a horse," said Cresswell. "Let me attend to that for you, Miss Olson!"
Ole Olson suddenly leaned forward in his chair and said fiercely: "Ingeborg, I ben going home! I yust can't live in a tent. I'm going home to Madison."
"Nonsense, father! You'll live where we have to, I should hope, in order to get well." Ingeborg rose as she spoke.
"Oh, Ingeborg!" exclaimed her mother. "Let us go home!"
Cresswell, lighting a cigarette, did not notice as did Evans the sudden flash of tenderness that touched the young lawyer's face to surpassing beauty as she turned to her mother.
But she only said, "Don't make it harder for me, mother!" and went on to Evans, "What would the rent be and when could we move?"
"Nothing and any time!"
"Neither is satisfactory!" Ingeborg smiled. "I'll be glad to pay whatever you think Is a fair price; and if it suits you, I should like to go out to-morrow and look the tents over."
"Ingeborg, you fool, don't you pay rent when you don't have to!" cried Ole in his harsh voice.
"Oh, Ingeborg, let's go home!" repeated Olga.
"Shut up, Olga!" roared Ole. "How often have I told you not to talk in front of your betters!"
With sudden fury in her face and voice, Ingeborg sprang to her feet. "Her betters! Don't you dare to speak so to my mother! Not one of us is fit to touch her garment! Least of all you, Ole Olson! You apologize! Do you hear?"
"Ingeborg! Ingeborg! Let your father talk like he wants to me. He has a right!" protested Olga.
Ingeborg stared at her mother. The passion died out of her face and voice.
"Come, father and mother," she said, "it's bedtime!"
The older people followed the fine, slow-moving figure of their daughter up the staircase.
The two young men stared at each other, then Cresswell said with a shrug, "It's magnificent, but it isn't female!"
"What do you mean?" demanded Heber.
"I mean that she's as cold-blooded and calculating as any viking. I like 'em warm and cuddly."
"Do you think she's really cold underneath?" asked the mining man as he lighted the cigarette he had held in abeyance out of respect for Ole's illness. "Don't you see that she loves her mother?"
"I think she's ice clear through. When a Scandanavian's cold, she's cold. I know them. I was raised among them. I'll bet she's a good lawyer. All brain and no sentiment. Not for me!"
"I thought you were going to look up a horse for her," said Evans.
"I am! Just because I can't like her is no reason I'm not interested in her."
"Hum!" ejaculated the other grimly.
THE next morning when John Haskins unlocked the door of the post-office a sign nailed beside the entrance to the stair-way stared him in the face:
ATTORNEY AT LAW
"I'll be doggoned!" muttered Haskins. And during his day most of the population of Olla was doggoned with John, who sold every stamp in the office before noon.
About two o'clock Heber Evans mounted the stairway to Ingeborg's office. Ingeborg sat at the kitchen-table, which was neatly covered with blotting-paper. There was a row of law-books on the back of the table and two shelves full of them on the wall, with a third shelf filled with filing-cases.
Ingeborg looked up from an open volume.
"How's business?" asked Heber, with a smile that was angularly sweet.
"Not booming, as yet," replied Ingeborg.
"I'm counting on curiosity bringing some of them up here before long," said Heber. "Little Molly Fish is going to burst if she doesn't find out something about you. My car's at the door, and if we're going to get out and back before dark, we'd better start. These winter days are short."
It was Ingeborg's first exploring trip around Olla. The tiny town lay in a pass with the ranges towering about it like the rim of a giant's cup. Imagine a great waste of golden desert, under a deep-blue sky, with a mighty range of mountains running north and south across it, purple and black and crimson. Picture but one pass in two hundred miles of this range and at the summit of this pass place Olla with its one street facing the railroad.
The road that led from Olla to the Rainy Day mine rose gradually and, undaunted when it reached the steep mesa front on which the mine lay, it lunged upward at an angle that gave occasional pause, even to the flivver. Ingeborg had little to say in the three-quarters of an hour consumed by the trip to the mesa. But when Heber halted the little car to let the engine cool she looked from the unending expanse of the vivid blue above to the wide, rough billows of gold below and said:
"It's ugly, but I can't seem to stop thinking about it!"
"Ugly! Only to a Northerner's eyes! I suppose if it were covered with snow and ice, you'd find it beautiful!" protested Heber.
Heber smiled. "Well, the desert's beauty is subtle, but when it gets you, watch out! Its hold is infinitely greater than that of the north." He paused and eyed the girl's cool, impassive face and then said impulsively, "Or doesn't anything ever get you?"
"Why not?" exclaimed Ingeborg.
"Oh, I was just wondering!" Heber's tone was vague, and he began to crank the engine. "Yonder's the Rainy Day!"
A YELLOW peak rose abruptly from the mesa level. A hundred feet up this mountainside lay the mine tunnel from whose opening an aerial tramway dropped to the mill, a tall red building standing gaunt and crude on the mesa. To the north of the mill, at the foot of the peak, was the wet mess of the sump. Beyond this the little sheet-iron office, the long gray line of the boarding-house, and beyond these, tent houses, gray against the yellow mountain. Evans drew up before the last three of the tents.
"Several miners have quit recently," he said, "and zinc's so low I don't expect to take on any more men for a while. Now if these tents at five dollars a month will be useful to you, you're welcome to them. One of the miners had his folks with him and I bought his stove and cocking outfit. You'll have to get the other things. If I were you, I'd let my father knock together the greater part of your furniture. It'll save money and give him something to do. There's a corral and shed for horses over near the office. Your critter can board with our horses."
Ingeborg returned from her inspection of the tents quickly. "They are fine! You are more than kind and thoughtful, Mr, Evans."
"New people are a godsend around Olla!" chuckled Heber. "I'm going to run you straight back, if you don't mind. Miss Olson. I promised to bring Cresswell back here for supper. He'll be a partner in the Rainy Day as soon as the papers are drawn up."
Ingeborg's blue eyes twinkled. She opened her pocketbook and laid a card on Heber's knee, "Ingeborg Olson, Attorney at Law."
"Well, I don't know why you couldn't draw up the papers for us. I'm a fair mining lawyer myself, and if—" He hesitated.
"If I don't do a good job, you can check me up!" finished Ingeborg. "If I were a man lawyer, you wouldn't say that to me."
"Miss Olson, how on earth did you come to choose such a profession? Do you mind telling me?"
"Not at all! There is nothing strange about it. I was born and brought up on a farm just outside of Madison. My father and mother came to this country when they were first married, paid a little something down on the farm and then worked for twenty years to pay the interest and reduce the mortgage. I was the only child. One of my earliest recollections is of seeing my mother hitched beside the horse pulling at the plow. And my earliest determination was that when I grew up I would not work as a horse works.
"Not that that determination prevented my father from demanding from me every ounce of physical labor that he could until I was sixteen and in the high school. But I rebelled, and although mother and I worked hard in the house we never went into the fields again. I did good work in the high school, then father wanted me to teach. But I wanted to go to the university. I'm not going to bore you with the details of that struggle between us. But I won.
"While I was a freshman, the dean of the law school heard me in a debate with the senior team and he persuaded me to take up the study of law, after I had finished the collegiate course. There were already several women in his law classes. He is a fine, far-seeing man."
"How did your father take it?" asked Heber.
Ingeborg groaned. "Don't ask me!" Then she said, after watching Heber's skilful guiding of the car over the tortuous trail: "Life has been a struggle for me. My father always has opposed me."
"Yet you are not unlike in many ways, I imagine!"
"Oh, you are quite mistaken!" said Ingeborg flatly.
Heber, glancing sideways at Ingeborg's face, thought of Cresswell's estimate of her temperament. "She may be ice," he thought, "but I doubt it, like thunder!" Aloud he said: "How do you suppose you came to be so different from your parents?"
"You just said," Ingeborg's smile was a little twisted, "that I was like my father."
"You are, in some ways," insisted Heber.
"Perhaps I get a little forcefulness from my father, but nothing else, I hope. If you know anything about the children of immigrants in this country, you need not be surprised at me. America opens the prison-gates for such children."
Heber guided the car up to the steps of the hotel before either of them spoke again. Then he said: "Well, we'll see what the desert does to the Northwoman!"
It was less than a week before the Olsons were settled at the Rainy Day. Lincoln Cresswell moved out to the mine at the same time. He shared Heber's quarters in the office, eating with him at the miners' table. Ole and Olga, his wife, protested to the last. Cresswell, passing the tents at dusk the first night, saw Mrs. Olson at the door of Ingeborg's tent. Her tiny bent figure was silhouetted against the lamplight as she stood leaning against the door frame.
"I think you'll have to let us go back, Ingeborg," she said. "We ben too homesick!"
"0h, you'll get over it!" answered Ingeborg from within. "Just so father gets well! That's the point, isn't it?"
"You don't guess how homesick your father is, Ingeborg. Let us go home!"
"Now once and for all, mother, I say, no! We'll stick it out until father is well or—otherwise. Go back to him now and don't bother me with this again."
As far as Lincoln knew, the incident ended here; for in the long silence that ensued he went on to the office. So he did not see Mrs. Olson put a worn hand over her face, nor see Ingeborg go suddenly to her mother and put a strong arm over her shoulder, nor did he hear her say with a strangely moving note of tenderness in her voice:
"Mother! Mother! Help me! I'm trying so hard to do the right thing by father! Don't fail me! You've always been strong!"
But Lincoln went on to the office and repeated what he had heard to Heber. "Cold as ice, I tell you, Heber! I could have wept for the poor old woman."
"She's a pathetic figure," agreed Heber. "But," he lighted a cigarette thoughtfully, "I think the daughter deserves the most sympathy."
"Sympathy! My foot! She'll get ahead in the world! I'll admit she's clever. At least she drew those papers up well enough for us."
Heber nodded. "I like her. I'm sure she can handle matters for our company very well and we might try her out as our attorney."
"Well," laughed Cresswell, "considering the amount of litigation we have not yet had, I should say it was quite safe to let her represent us."
Evans smiled a little ruefully.
"Look here," the other went on, "let's go up and take some samples from the old Frangi Panni. I believe I can find enough money to get the free gold out of her. By the way, why the Frangi Panni?"
"Old Elkins was very proud of that name. He told me once that it sounded like a mining name, the first time he ever heard it" The partners laughed and turned to their evening work.
THE Rainy Day, so far, had been Ingeborg's sole client. Every morning at seven-thirty she mounted the dappled gray mare that Lincoln had found for her and rode into Olla. After she had turned the horse into the corral behind old Gilbert's store, she put her office in spotless order and began to bone steadily on a fat volume on mining law. She ate a cold lunch at noon. And though as the days slipped by her lips grew a little tense, no one at the Rainy Day heard her complain or speak faint-heartedly.
After a week or so the excitement in Olla over her arrival subsided. She rode back and forth between her tent home and her office without observing a curious eye at every window. She was an imposing figure on a horse and she rode well. Even Olla admitted this. But Olla did not like Ingeborg. She kept to herself. She had a strange profession for a woman. She was excessively friendly with the two most desirable males in Palomas county. She was not a female as Olla knew the sex and, male and female, Olla felt a decided antagonism toward her.
One afternoon after the three-thirty train from the East had come and gone and the mail had been distributed, Ingeborg went down as usual to the post-office. The customary crowd of men hung about the steps and the wooden platform. Ingeborg, coming out of the door with a handful of mail, met Molly Fish. Molly, pretty and perky as usual, glanced with a knowing, sidewise look at the masculine audience and said to Ingeborg:
"Miss Olson, I should think you'd be ashamed to let the steps in front of your office be as filthy as this!"
She jerked her dimpled chin downward and the group of male loungers and Ingeborg followed the gesture. As usual the platform and steps were thick spread with tobacco-juice.
"I am ashamed!" replied Ingeborg coolly.
"Well, you're one of these smart-alec lawyers, why don't you do something?" demanded Molly. "Lord knows the rest of us women folks in Olla have jawed the men till we're tired. Put the law on 'em, Miss Olson, if you're such a wonder!"
"As far as I know," replied Ingeborg, with her slow quiet smile, "Olla has no laws. But, of course, you don't need laws when you have the right kind of public opinion. It was public opinion and not a non-spitting ordinance that put my father out of the hotel. If you girls had put the same energy into stigmatizing the men for a dirty habit like this that you have into stigmatizing me for trying to earn a living in the way I'm particularly fitted for earning it, this place wouldn't be a menace to health."
She turned on her heel and went up-stairs. But she hardly had settled at her desk before Molly flung open the door. Molly must have been about seventeen. She was small and delicate, with bright brown eyes and a mass of curly brown hair. She had the saucy manner of a spoiled child.
"You think you're smart, don't you, to try to make a fool of me in front of those men! I told Mr. Cresswell——"
Ingeborg rose and pulled forward the other chair. "Sit down, do! And let's talk it over! It's nice to see you. You're the first girl that's come to my office."
Molly sat down on the edge of the chair. "If you are so smart, get the law on that mess down there," she repeated.
"We don't need law," said Ingeborg. "All we need is public opinion, expressed with unmistakable clearness. Are most of those men down there American-born?"
Molly's eye became interested. She checked off the men on her fingers, then nodded.
"We can shame them, then," said Ingeborg. "Are there eight women in this town who are up to putting over a practical joke?"
"Sure!" replied the girl.
"Good!" Ingeborg went on. "Then I believe that if you and I and eight other women armed ourselves with brooms and pails and soapsuds, and in the next hour cleaned up that platform with the men looking on, it might cure them."
Molly's bright eyes began to twinkle, but she said dubiously, "Well, they all chew and they've got to spit somewhere."
"Could we get a big packing-box of saw-dust over at the store?" asked Ingeborg.
Molly laughed outright. "You certainly can! I'm going after the girls now. More than eight will want to come!"
"Only eight," Ingeborg's voice was firm. "That's all you can keep in order. Nobody must speak or laugh until the job is done. Have them come at once to the corral."
Half an hour later Ingeborg, carrying her pail and broom, made her way to the corral There she found Molly with a laughing group of girls and women, to each of whom Molly introduced her. A few minutes later Nip Brody was coming out of the post-office door while taking a huge bite of plug when he saw a strange procession heading across the street.
"What in thunder!" he exclaimed. Then silence fell on him and on his fellow culprits as Molly led their wives, daughters or sweethearts on the platform and the unsavory task was begun. Nor did any one speak until the last pailful of water had been emptied. Then John Haskins said meekly, "What's the idea, girls?"
The girls did not reply. They trailed across the street after Molly, returning at once with the box of sawdust, which they deposited with a bang.
Then there was another silence while the men glared at their women folks. This time it was the sheriff who spoke.
"All right, ladies," he said. "You win!"
A shout of laughter rose, during which Ingeborg ran up-stairs. But when she rode slowly home along the sandy street of Olla that evening several people nodded to her. And when she reached the crest of the mesa she pulled up the mare for a minute while she looked back at the pass where the little town lay.
"It's a big country," she said aloud. "A glorious big country!"
THAT evening, as the Olsons sat in their living-tent, Lincoln and Heber came laughing to make a call. They had heard the story of the clean-up at the post-office and they had come to congratulate Ingeborg. When they had exhausted the subject, Heber turned to Ole.
"Mr. Olson, Cresswell here and I are going to take on the Frangi Panni mine, up next to the Rainy Day. The old fellow who's been a watchman there for five years is leaving and we're wondering if you can't take on the job until we're ready to begin work. Fifty dollars a month and a nice little four-room house to live in."
"What would I have to do?" asked Ole.
"Just stick around," answered Heber, "and see that no one steals anything."
"I'll take it!" exclaimed Ole. "I'll move to-morrow."
"Ole, it ben very lonesome, up there," whispered Olga. "Down here are people. Why don't you go up every morning and come back every night?"
"But we need the watchman particularly at night, Mrs. Olson," said Lincoln, "and you'll have a nice house there."
The little woman twisted her hands together, but said nothing more. When the visitors were gone, Ingeborg rose, saying, "It's bedtime, father!"
Ole turned on her with a hoarse snarl. "I ben earning my own way, now, Ingeborg. You can't boss me any more. I don't have to ask you for a cent. And yust as soon as I can save the money I'll go back to the old farm. You have made me crazy, keeping all the money, as if I was a child."
"You know now how mother and I felt all those years you never allowed us a cent of our own. It's just retribution!"
"I'll show you!" cried Ole furiously. "You think I ben old and sick and on the shelf. I'll show you yet!"
Ingeborg shrugged her shoulders. "Well, all your life you've worshiped money. I can't expect you to change now."
"I'll show you!" repeated Ole. "You thought if you kept all the money away from me I couldn't get back to Madison. I'll fool you yet. Somehow, anyhow, I'll get the money together and I'll get home. Drawing me down here in this hell to die from your fool American ways! I'll show you!"
And he disappeared out of the door followed by Olga. Ingeborg again shrugged her shoulders and went to bed.
The following noon, just after Ingeborg had finished her sandwiches and cold tea, John Haskins banged on her door and came in. He grinned a little sheepishly.
"Seems like you ladies put one over on us yesterday!"
"Just an expression of public opinion, as I told Molly Fish!" Ingeborg was smiling too, showing her strong white teeth. "Sit down, won't you, Mr. Haskins?"
John sidled on to the chair. "Well," he said, "we was all talking over at the hotel last night and we agreed that, while you may or may not know the law, looks like you know men. But I didn't come up to tell you that. I came up for a little private information. It strikes me about time for Olla to go on the map as a regular, sure-enough town with some decent ordinances. And I thought you might know how to go at it. I'm prepared to pay you whatever you think is fair for the information. Though I ain't a rich man. Don't forget that when you make out your bill."
"I won't," returned Ingeborg, "because I don't want money for that kind of public service. The welfare of Olla is my welfare, as I see it, and I'll do all I can to help Olla organize itself and I won't charge a cent for it."
"Well," Haskins shook his head slowly, "that may be clever politics and it may be plain generosity. Anyhow, I'm much obliged. Fire ahead, Miss Olson."
"Your State constitution," said Ingeborg, "provides in a general way for your town organization. Your county is fairly well organized. Now, if you will get twenty-five voters to sign a petition to your board of county commissioners for a township organization, you can then call a town meeting as the law prescribes, elect officers, assess taxes and form all the rest of the machinery of local government."
"Will you fix up that petition for me?" asked John.
"Gladly! You may have it to-morrow morning."
Haskins rose slowly. "Well, if I get the town organized on your say-so, I ain't going to deny but what you've got brains and some of the elements of the law in you. I'll be up early in the morning for that paper, Miss Olson."
"Very well, Mr. Haskins. I'll be ready for you." Ingeborg turned back to her desk.
Molly Fish was Ingeborg's next caller. She came in a little breathlessly. "I got the hiccoughs," she said, "I hurried so much to get here in my dinner-hour."
"Have a drink of water," suggested Ingeborg, rising to offer a brimming glass. Molly drank, then looked at Ingeborg curiously. "You have manners like a nice man. I—I—Miss Olson, do you honestly know much about the law?"
"I had to know a decent amount to be admitted to the bar, didn't I?" demanded Ingeborg. "I handled a number of divorce cases in Wisconsin, and I was attorney for a man indicted for murder and won the case. I had a number of petty cases besides."
"Well, I guess it's as hard to trust a woman lawyer as it is a woman doctor," sighed Molly.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Ingeborg. "Women doctors won their place long ago, except in backwoods spots like Olla. There is no sex in brain, Miss Fish!"
Molly fidgeted with ha handkerchief. "Well, I want you to do something for me, but promise me first that you won't tell."
"I promise," replied Ingeborg.
"I want you to find out for me whether Lincoln Cresswell's married or not."
"But that's a detective's job!" protested Ingeborg.
"Look here! If you take me on to look out for my interests, ain't it your business to look out for 'em?"
"I didn't know I was to take you on," replied Ingeborg, trying not to smile.
"Well, you are! I've got to have some one to tell my troubles to even if I have to pay them to listen. What do you charge?"
"It depends on what I do. Why do you want me to investigate Mr. Cresswell, Miss Fish?"
Molly bridled and tossed her head. "Didn't you know he has been paying me steady attention ever since he came to Olla? We go over to Palomas once a week to the movies in Heber Evans's car and he takes me to any dances that happen and he calls twice a week at my house besides. I consider myself engaged to him."
"Why don't you ask him yourself if he's married, Miss Fish? Or get your mother to do it."
"Mother! Huh! I'm too old for my mother to run my business. My goodness, a girl has hard work to get some fun in this little hick town! Just because my father was the original old inhabitant, everybody in town thinks they've got a right to watch me. Anyhow, I did ask him, myself. And he said he wasn't married. But a traveling man who was in our store a while ago told me he knows Lincoln's wife back in Milwaukee. I told Lincoln and he just laughed and said the man was crazy."
"I'll find out for you, Miss Fish," said Ingeborg. "I don't know how long it will take me, but I'll let you know the minute I do."
Molly rose. The hiccoughs had disappeared and she said good-by calmly and with a distinct look of relief in her pretty eyes.
Ingeborg had no more callers that day, but during the week which followed half a dozen persons came in on unimportant business. Olla was now willing to try her out on matters that didn't count. But Ingeborg bided her time with the curious cool patience of her race.
AS THE weeks slipped by, spring began its march upon the desert and Ingeborg, riding back and forth between the mesa and the pass, watched its progress with observant eyes. The singing of the northern birds that had so long intrigued her homesick fancy ceased and silence, complete save for the whisperings of the wind, settled on the vast wastes of sand. Cactus and cat's-paw that all winter had stood gray and inert hour by how grew more vivid. Then came three days of rain and wild rush of wind. But on the morning of the third day the sun rolled up over the pass with a new warmth in its long rays, and when Ingeborg rode down the bail she beheld the desert tinted like an artist's palette. Every cactus was gorgeous with blossoms.
"It's too much sudden beauty!" exclaimed Ingeborg to the gray mare. "For the first time in my life, I feel as if I didn't want to work. I could lie all day on the mountainside just drinking in this grandeur of silence and warmth."
When she reached her office, she was still in her mood of idleness, and she sat staring at her mail for some time before she opened it. Finally her glance fell on one post-marked Palomas and, with a little sense of surprise, she opened it It was from Alfred Johns, the district attorney of Olla County.
My Dear Miss Olson:
I was glad to learn that another lawyer had settled in Olla County, though I'll admit frankly that I was surprised that this lawyer was a woman. However, the bar must be congratulated that the county can now boast three lawyers instead of two as hitherto. This note is, however, not entirely a congratulatory one. I had the misfortune last week to break my leg and I am writing to ask you please to act as prosecuting attorney for such cases as may arise in the town of Olla during my confinement in bed. Thanking you in advance for your courtesy in the matter,
I am, very fraternally yours,
Alfred C. Jones.
Ingeborg laid the letter down with a smile. Considering the paucity of legal business in Olla, the chances of her acting as prosecuting attorney were slight. But she interpreted the letter as a kindly meant welcome from a lawyer who might have made her position difficult, and she was sincerely pleased. She turned to her books with a new vim, and that night she made a trip to the office of the Rainy Day to tell the partners of the letter. They both congratulated her heartily, though Ingeborg thought they exchanged a curious glance when she first broke the news.
Perhaps a week later Cresswell came into Ingeborg's office. He did not greet her, but walked quickly over to her desk and leaning on it with one hand, his small eyes half closed, he said, "And just why, Miss Olson, should you pry into my private affairs?"
"So Molly Fish couldn't keep her mouth shut!" exclaimed Ingeborg.
"Just what was the great idea?" demanded the man.
"No idea at all! Merely business," answered Ingeborg.
"Did you or did you not send up to Milwaukee and rake up a lot of dirty gossip about me?"
"I found out some facts for Molly Fish, who is my client," replied Ingeborg.
"I thought you were attorney for me and Evans!" sneered Cresswell.
"I am attorney for the Rainy Day Mining Company. I am not and I never would be your personal attorney, Mr. Cresswell"
"Did you tell Molly Fish that my wife is getting a divorce from me because of that French girl and the baby?"
"Yes, I did; and it is true."
Cresswell stared speechlessly at Ingeborg for a moment, then he shouted: "I'll not have any alleged she lawyer putting her nose into my business! You keep off my preserves, Miss Olson, or I'll make Olla too hot for you."
"Mr. Cresswell," Ingeborg rose slowly, "I shall take any decent business that is offered me without regard to you or any one else. Crookedness is crookedness whether it emanates from friends or enemies."
"Or relatives, I suppose!" sneered Lincoln. "Of course if one of your own family turned out to be a crook, you'd prosecute them just as ardently as you would me, for example."
"I certainly would!" exclaimed Ingeborg.
"Very well, then. Miss District Attorney! For the past three weeks your father has been stealing gold from some of the old workings of the Frangi Panni. Evans and I were going to fix it up quietly. But now I am going over to Palomas and swear out a warrant for him and have Sheriff Brody arrest him. And as acting county prosecutor, I demand that you prosecute him to the full extent of the law!"
For a moment, all of Ingeborg's charming color deserted her. She stood with her broad shoulders squared back. Lincoln's mouth was twisted sardonically. Ingeborg drew a deep breath and walked over to the wall where her hat hung.
"Be very sure, Mr. Cresswell," she said, "that I'll do my duty by the Rainy Day Mining Company, whatever it may demand of me. Is Mr. Evans out at the mine?"
"Yes," replied Lincoln curtly.
"I want to close my office," said Ingeborg.
There was a curious look in Lincoln's eyes as he passed out. Ingeborg thought that perhaps a vague look of shame was struggling with his anger. But her own eyes expressed only a determination as cold as ice. She slipped off the skirt she wore over her riding-breeches, locked the door and walked rapidly over to the corral.
Cresswell did not follow her at once to the mine. She rode directly to the office and entered. There was a desk and a cot on either side of the room. In the center was a rough table piled with pipes, magazines, ore samples, spurs and all the other miscellaneous impedimenta of a man's camp. Evans in his worn corduroys, his hat on the back of his head, was standing by the table, examining an ore sample. As Ingeborg came in, be looked up with a smile.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, tossing his hat on the table. "Aren't you off your trail a bit?"
"Mr. Evans," said Ingeborg, "Mr. Cresswell has just told me that my father has been stealing gold from you."
A flush covered Heber's lean, brown face. "Lincoln agreed with me that we'd not let you know. What does he mean by this!"
"He's angry because I procured some information about him for a client of mine." Ingeborg pulled off her gloves and ran her fingers around her collar as if it felt a little tight. "Then you have actual proof?"
Heber nodded. "We've watched him for three nights. There's a small pocket of free gold in the Frangi Panni with sizable nuggets that I opened up some time ago. We left it as it was because Lincoln and I thought when we came to sell the mine it would be a good stunt to let the prospective buyer dig himself out a nugget or two. The other night I couldn't sleep and I was prowling up the mountain when I saw your father go into the tunnel. It was bright moonlight. I thought maybe he had heard something suspicious. I followed him and saw him clean up and pocket a number of nuggets. On the two following nights Lincoln and I saw him do the same thing."
"I knew he was small and mean!," exclaimed Ingeborg bitterly, "but I never thought he was actually dishonest."
"It's been my observation," returned Heber, "that it's very hard to draw the fine between miserliness and actual dishonesty. But that isn't the point. I hadn't the slightest idea of making trouble for you. I was going to throw the fear of the Lord into your father and take his job away from him. That was all. Wait till I see Lincoln!"
"My father deserves punishment," said Ingeborg. "He's a hard, miserly man. He never had pity on me or any other human being where money was concerned."
"Yes, that's probably true." Heber drew a long breath. "But after all he's your father and he's frantic with homesickness. I don't think you have any idea how he and your mother are suffering from homesickness. I have seen T.B. patients kill themselves down here who were less frantic for home than your father is. There's Cresswell, now!"
A motor stopped at the door and Lincoln came in. He shut the door very deliberately behind him.
"Cresswell," cried Heber, "why did you break your agreement with me?"
"Do you know what this woman has done?" Lincoln leaned across the table and shouted into Heber's face. "She's gone back to my home town and raked up some dirty gossip about me and told it to Molly Fish. It's all over Olla now. And me trying to save her thief of a father!"
"We are not going to arrest Olson!" said Heber flatly.
"We'll have Sheriff Brody up here and we'll have the prosecuting attorney press the case for us!" shouted Cresswell.
"We will not!" declared Heber in a low voice.
"We'll carry it through or I'll get out of your mining company with my ten thousand dollars!"
"You can't do that. Your contract is binding!" said Ingeborg quickly.
Cresswell whirled on her. "As I suppose yours is in which you agreed to defend all interests of the Rainy Day Mining Company in return for stock, which was delivered to you!"
"Yes, both contracts are binding and must be lived up to," replied Ingeborg.
"Of course," sneered Cresswell, "I realize what the lady is up against. She hates to appear before Olla as prosecuting her own father. And I suppose she's smart enough to know how to break ha contract legally. But she's got enough of the old man to hate to give up her only paying prospect, and she won't do it No real woman could be a real lawyer. Her feminine tenderness won't let her. But nowhere in her icy interior has this person got a spark of filial feeling!"
He stopped for breath, looking from Heber to the young lawyer. Ingeborg stood, shoulders back, chin up, with a dignity in her silence that made Heber feel that she needed no defense. And suddenly Cresswell turned on his heel and went out.
"I beg of you, Miss Olson—" Heber began eagerly.
Ingeborg interrupted him. "I appreciate your delicacy and sympathy, Mr. Evans, but there is going to be no trouble in your firm over me. I shall take care of this case, as I agreed to take care of such cases for Mr. Johns."
Heber threw up his brown hands. For the first time, Ingeborg's breath came a little quickly. "Look, Mr. Evans! There is a divine sort of justice in it. He has tried so hard to make me as shabby and avaricious as himself. He has made it so terribly hard for me to carry on my profession!"
"There's nothing divine about it!" asserted Heber. "It may be your snow-field idea of justice, but it's not desert justice. Here we know mighty little about the law, but a whole lot about human kindness. And we recognize all sorts of intangible obligations that the law doesn't know exists."
"But I'm a lawyer and I must not recognize them! I am going back to my office now. I'll talk the details of this over with you and Mr. Cresswell this evening."
Through the window Heber watched her mount the dappled mare and ride away. Then he picked up the riding-gloves she had left on the table and laid his cheek against them, after which he put them away in a drawer of his desk, which he locked.
BUT Ingeborg had not reckoned on the fulness of Cresswell's vindictiveness. That afternoon Sheriff Nip Brody clanked into Ingeborg's office.
"Say, Miss Olla, here's a hell of a note! I gotta go up and arrest your dad! What did you want to start that gossip about Cresswell for? Not but what I'm glad Molly got her eyes open. But anyhow, can't you calm Cresswell down? You're their lawyer, he says."
"It's an unfortunate situation," said Ingeborg, her cheeks paling. "But the law must run its course. When are you going up to the mine? I want to be with my mother."
"Well, Cresswell wants me to go now, but hanged if I don't wish I would sprain my ankle." He looked at Ingeborg curiously. "You're a cool one. I expected to find you crying—like a woman should ought to be, under the circumstance!" he finished sternly.
"Would you expect a man lawyer to weep?" snapped Ingeborg.
"No, but I'd expect him to get his dad out of trouble!" retorted Nip.
"My father stole. If I refused to press the case, you'd all turn round and say I was too feminine to be a real lawyer."
The sheriff stared at Ingeborg's pale face with a mixture of admiration and disapproval in his eyes.
"Doggoned if I don't think you might be a good lawyer, even if you are a darned poor daughter! I'll be up to your dad's place right after supper." He clanked down the stairs.
Ingeborg sat long in her office. She did not read. For the most part, she sat with her strong white hands gripping her knee while she reviewed her case against her father. Not the case of the Rainy Day Mining Company, but the case of Ingeborg Olson against Ole Olson. It had its beginning in a bleak and lonely and overworked childhood, a childhood that was spent in close contact with brute facts. It stretched on through a bitter, overworked and thwarted girlhood and a stormy womanhood. It was complicated by the fact that Ingeborg was the child of her father far more than of her mother; complicated and made doubly bitter by that fact.
It was sunset when Ingeborg started homeward. The pass was filled with shadows, but as she rode out of the pass to the up trail such a blinding glory met her vision that she pulled up her horse and sat for a long moment gazing from the yellow desert with its unbelievable mosaic of flowers to the heavenly gates of the sunset opening through the far westward peaks. There never was a northern sunset like this. Gorgeously the sun sinks in the north, but never with a passionate beauty like this, never with mystic appeal of burning ardors, a lift of something primeval, something that stirs the blood to wondering desires that only the desert knows.
Ingeborg started the gray mare on slowly, reached the Frangi Panni as dusk was purpling the mountainside, stabled the horse and entered the little house just as her mother was putting supper on the table.
"You ben late, Ingeborg!" said Olga.
Ole was washing his hands at a bench in the corner. "How are you to-night, father?" asked Ingeborg.
"Aw, nothin's the matter with me! Soon's I ben stopping these night-sweats I ben going home to Madison."
Ingeborg made no reply, but went to her own tent to prepare for supper. When she returned, her father and mother were eating.
"Just give me a cup of tea, mother," she said. "I'm not hungry."
"Who's that?" exclaimed Ole as footsteps sounded on the porch.
Ingeborg's jaw set. A moment later Sheriff Brody, followed by Evans and Cresswell, entered the room. Neither Ingeborg nor her mother stirred, but Ole rose and with a curiously watchful expression on his white face he demanded, "Yust what do you folks want, coming in without knocking?"
"Sorry, old scout," answered Brody, moving his shoulders uncomfortably, "but I gotta take you down to Palomas with me to-night. Why in thunder couldn't you behave yourself with the gates ajar for you and your daughter trying to get a start in life? Why didn't you——"
"For heaven's sake, Nip," interrupted Cresswell, "this isn't a revival meeting! Arrest him and be done with it!"
Olga Olson, with a quick gasp, ran round to her husband's side. Sheriff Brody cleared his throat. "You're accused of stealing free gold from the Frangi Panni mine, Olson. Don't make any trouble, but come along quiet."
Ole did not once glance toward Ingeborg. "Bf did not look at his wife's hand trembling on his arm. But his blue eyes smoldered as they turned from Brody to the partners and back again.
"Who ben accusing me?" he demanded hoarsely.
"Both Cresswell and I saw you, Mr. Olson," said Heber gently; "but I personally shall not press the charge."
"But I will!" Cresswell's voice was belligerent. "And your lawyer daughter will either prosecute you or cease to be our attorney."
"Cresswell!" cried Heber furiously, "I'm through with you!"
"No, you're not!" returned Lincoln. "Our attorney says our contract is binding and it binds! See?"
Ingeborg slowly pushed her cup of tea away from her and rose. She and Heber were the tallest people in the room, for Ole's hollow chest and drooping shoulders took a good two inches from his once splendid stature. Ingeborg's face was pale, but her level blue eyes and her mobile lips were steady.
"Sheriff Brody," she said, "I should like to have the accused understand that if he returns the gold that has been stolen it is highly probable that the judge will——"
Cresswell interrupted. "Don't try to save him, Miss Olson."
"Return the gold!" croaked Ole. "Olga, our daughter takes the word of these strangers that I stole."
"But Ole, if she can keep you from going to jail!" pleaded Olga, the tears running down her careworn cheeks.
"Ingeborg keep me from going to jail?" snarled Ole. "You think I'd take that from her hands? No! I'll go and stand trial, then I'll go home to Madison!"
"Having cached away a nice little sum out of the Frangi Panni, eh? Well, there's nothing so slow about you, friend Olson!" sneered Lincoln.
Ingeborg's cheeks were crimson now. She turned to her mother. "Go with him, mother. Here's my purse."
Ole struck the purse from his wife's fingers. "I ben telling you for months I ben through with Ingeborg! Since she was a little mite, so high, she's ben against me. If she left the Rainy Day Mining Company now and come to me on her knees and begged me to let her be my lawyer, I'd laugh in her face. Here, Brody, you hurry up and take me to jail."
"I'll be in Palomas early in the morning, sheriff," said Ingeborg in a low voice, and she turned and went out into the night. After a moment, Evans followed her. It was starlight and Ingeborg followed the corkscrew trail that led above the Frangi Panni to a shoulder of the mountain. Here she sat down on a rock and gazed at the delicate silver infinity below and beyond her. She did not speak when Heber joined her, but she made room for him on the rock beside her. They sat in silence until the put-put of the automobile died away below the mesa.
Then Heber said, "I am so sorry. I did my best——"
"Please don't let's talk about it," said Ingeborg quickly.
"I wish I understood you," Heber spoke slowly. "You are unlike any woman or man either that I have ever met."
"I am not at all unlike a man!" returned Ingeborg. "I try to handle what has always been a man's profession in a man's way. You all want me to handle it like a woman and fail. I refuse to do so, therefore I am queer."
There was another long silence, then Heber asked, "Do you like the desert any better than you did?"
"I don't know. In the north I took the scenery for granted. I thought it lovely and let it go at that. But the desert won't let me alone. I am conscious of it brooding all about me, even when I'm in my office. I think of it instead of my work when I ride back and forth. When I wake up in the night, I know it's there, silent, waiting for me."
"I'm glad," said Heber simply. "I love it very much myself." Then as if he were conscious that a struggle the depth of which and the reason for which he could only surmise was going on in the motionless figure beside him Heber laid his sinewy brown hand on the two white ones clasped so strongly about the whipcord knee.
"I wish you would feel," he said, "that while Idisapprove, I realize that I only hazily understand and I am very deeply your friend."
Ingeborg caught her breath. "You saw how it was! How she clung to him! How it was impossible for her to see my side? And yet it was he who broke her. She has lived on the rack for him for thirty years!" She paused. Then, "Oh, well, what's the use?" she sighed, rising as she spoke. "I must go down! Will you and Mr. Cresswell be ready to start for Palomas with me by seven o'clock in the morning? I want to push this thing through quickly. I'll try to get the justice of the peace to set the trial for early afternoon."
"Better let us follow you," suggested Heber. "I don't fancy that long ride with Lincoln in his present frame of mind toward you."
"All right!" And Ingeborg moved off slowly down the trail.
WHEN she passed the Rainy Day the next morning, there was no sign of the partners. She was obliged to pass through Olla on her way to Palomas. There was an unprecedented number of loungers about her door, but they were doomed to disappointment, for she rode through without stopping.
Palomas with its fifteen hundred souls was a seething metropolis compared with Olla. But Ingeborg had no eyes for comparisons. On the sandy main street she stopped a small boy and asked him the way to the jail. He directed her as succinctly as he could with his jaw hanging, then he shot away from her with an ill-subdued shout.
"There's the lady lawyer! There's the lady lawyer that sent her dad to jail!"
Nip Brody, refreshing himself with a chew of gigantic proportions, was descanting on the merits of the new case when Ingeborg rode up. He came down the steps and up to the gray more, whose dusty neck he smoothed gently.
"Howdy, Miss Olson! Judge Hill's over in his office now. Shall I fetch you to him?"
"Yes, if you'll tell me where I can have my horse cared for first."
Nip turned to the listening group. "Will one of you fellows take Miss Olson's horse over to Brown's livery?"
The group stepped forward as one man. Ingeborg dismounted wearily and followed Nip under a group of palm-trees to the door of a small concrete court-house, which the jail formed one wing.
"You see what folks is like!" grumbled the sheriff. "They all can't say mean enough things about you for prosecuting your own father, and yet they all want to do something for this notorious character that's come among us, so's they can gossip about it."
"How did my mother stand the trip?" asked Ingeborg.
"Fine, though she cries pretty steady. But I give 'em my room at the jail and they have their meals sent over from the hotel. They're mighty comfortable. From the look of your ma's hands, I'd say it was the easiest she'd ever had it. And your pa, by heck! looks like the cat that swallowed the canary."
"Did you make a thorough search of the house last night?" asked Ingeborg.
"What makes you think I wouldn't?" demanded Nip.
Ingeborg put a small packet, newspaper wrapped, into the sheriff's hands. "I found this in the girdle of a silk dress of mine I haven't worn since I came here. There is a good deal of gold there."
Brody took the parcel, his eyes puzzled. Ingeborg's lips tightened. "I play the game straight, sheriff," she said.
Nip shook his head to himself and opened the door into a large square room, the windows of which looked out on the palm-trees.
"Make you acquainted with Judge Hill, Miss Olson. Judge ain't any lawyer, but he's been a cowman all his life and that's why we have confidence in him."
A small gray-bearded man, his brown eyes set in sun wrinkles, rose from his desk to shake hands with Ingeborg.
"I don't like to try this kind of a case, Miss," he said soberly. "'Tain't natural. 'Tain't right" He looked Ingeborg over keenly. "You'd ought to have refused to have anything to do with it."
"I know I appear in a bad light," replied Ingeborg, squaring her shoulders. "Has my father a lawyer, judge?"
"No! He's ugly and refuses to have one, and won't produce any witnesses. I've set the trial for two this afternoon, and if you folks have got any witnesses you'd better produce 'em because, come hell or high water, I'm going to shoot this case off my calendar before it's besmirched it for twenty-four hours."
"We'll be ready, your honor."
Still scowling, the judge turned to the sheriff. "Nip, I want the courtroom kept cleared this afternoon. There's nobody going to get any more cheap notoriety out of this case than I can help."
"That ain't a bad idea either, Sim!" agreed the sheriff. "Miss Olson, is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Show me a room in the court-house where I can stay until two o'clock, and get a boy to bring me over some sandwiches from the hotel"
"I sure will!" exclaimed the sheriff, leading the way down the corridor to a small office unfurnished save for a dusty table and chair.
PROMPTLY at two Ingeborg appeared in the courtroom. Her father and mother were seated in wooden chairs just beyond the judge's right hand. Ole returned a scowl to Ingeborg's nod, while Olga covered her twitching face with her gnarled fingers.
"Now then, where is this fellow Cresswell?" demanded the judge.
"The two partners haven't appeared as yet, your Honor," said Ingeborg. "I've telephoned the mine and find that neither Mr. Evans nor Mr. Cresswell has been seen since last night. They have started a hunt for them, but till now they have found no trace of either man. I wish to beg of the court that the trial be postponed another day."
"Nothing doing!" snapped Judge Hill. "Anything else?"
"No," replied Ingeborg, "except that I have turned over to Sheriff Brody the nuggets which the accused had secreted."
Ole jumped from his seat "It's a lie. She——"
"Sit down!" thundered the judge. "You keep your fool mouth shut or you'll land yourself in jail yet! Anything else?"
"Nothing," said Ingeborg, "except the information I had from Mr. Evans and Mr. Cresswell. They state——"
"Don't want to hear it!" snorted the judge. "Nothing but first-hand evidence goes in this case."
"But your honor," pleaded Ingeborg, "this is not customary court procedure!"
"What the deuce do I care?" shouted the little man. "As Brody told you, I'm a cowman and not a lawyer. That's why the people elected me to this job. And let me tell you, my girl, that if I allowed you to send your father to jail, you and I would both be run out of the county. Now I'll give you until two-thirty to produce your witnesses. If they're not here by then, the case is quashed."
"I'd like to be excused to telephone again, your Honor," said Ingeborg.
The judge nodded and turned to a whispered conversation with Brody. On the stroke of the half-hour, Ingeborg came slowly into the courtroom.
"The two men have not been located, your Honor," she said.
"That's good!" grunted the judge. "Brody, you give back the gold to its owners. Mr. Olson, the court is going to be easy with you this time, but if you offend again you get the limit, lungs or no lungs. My advice to you is that you go back to Olla and live this down. If I know Heber Evans, he'll do all he can to help you, if you show a decent spirit. This case is thrown out of court."
The judge walked hurriedly out of the room. Ingeborg turned to Olga. "Mother," she began eagerly, "will you——"
"You let us alone, Ingeborg," barked Ole.
Olga looked at her daughter with an expression half wistful, half resentful.
"Your father ben first with me, Ingeborg," she said.
"Yes," returned Ingeborg bitterly. "I ought to know that by this time. I count only as the wage-earner and very little as that."
She stared at her mother for a long minute, then she turned to the sheriff. "Will you see that my mother gets home comfortably?"
"Yup!" replied Nip. "Your horse has been fed and watered and is tied under the palm-trees. Where in time do you suppose Linc and Heber are? I don't like the look of it. There was bad blood there."
Ingeborg nodded. "I'm going to try to find out what happened."
"I'll be on the job long before you are," said Nip.
And indeed the sheriff's car passed Ingeborg and the gray mare before they were a mile on the long, sandy trail to Olla.
IT SEEMED to Ingeborg, pounding slowly back on her tired horse, with sand clouds powdering her face, that she had lived a a lifetime since Cresswell had come to her office on the previous day. She could recall no detail of the ride over in the morning; but now she looked about her. Far and wide, a vast and billowy yellow ocean, tormented, rock riven and lonely; lonely beyond the power of words to express. To the north the clear blue line of the mountains rose, with the single great rift in which lay Olla.
By now, Ingeborg thought, Olla had crossed her definitely from its social and professional list and she herself by every ordinary criterion should be sick of Olla and eager to return to the north. And yet such was not the case. Quite aside from her stony determination to win and hold her place in Olla was a yearning to stay in this brilliant, lonely, burning country; a type of yearning utterly alien to any of Ingeborg's previous experience.
It was dark when she stabled her horse at the Rainy Day corral. There was a light in the office and she rapped at the door.
"Come in!" called Evans.
The partners were sitting at their respective desks. Cresswell nodded in a surly way, but Heber rose.
"Hello, Miss Olson! You've had a hard trip! Sorry! Lincoln and I had a bit of business on hand that prevented our getting over to Palomas. Nip tells us that Judge Hill threw the case out of court."
Ingeborg looked from one to the other. "Yes," she repeated quietly, "he threw it out of court. I—I'm a little tired, so if you'll excuse me, I won't discuss the removal of my father with you to-night. Goodnight!"
"I'll walk up with you," said Heber, picking up his hat. "I just wanted to explain," he went on as they started up the trail. "I was determined not to be even an unwilling party to such a case. We went up to the Frangi Panni to see just how much gold your father had dug out and I kept Cresswell there till he promised to be good. You see, I've learned even more than you have about him lately. It was a great surprise to him. He'll be good, all right!"
Suddenly Ingeborg laughed. "Desert justice! Of all the outrageous procedure, yours and Judge Hill's exceed anything in my experience!"
"The only outrageous procedure in the whole matter has been yours!" declared Heber.
"Oh, you don't understand!" protested Ingeborg.
"Only dimly," admitted Heber. "And Olla doesn't understand at all."
"Some, day you and Olla will believe in me all the more for this!" But Ingeborg sighed as she spoke.
"You are half dead!" exclaimed Heber. "I'm not going to make you talk any more." And shaking hands warmly, he was gone.
Ingeborg came into the kitchen slowly. Her father and mother were at supper. No one spoke. Ingeborg went into her room and came out shortly wearing a gingham dress that softened her stalwart lines into curves of appealing beauty. She ate her supper in silence and helped her mother clear up the dishes, then she said in a casual voice:
"My idea is that we ask Mr. Evans to let us move back into our old tents."
Ole, his gaunt, broken face a ghastly white in the lamplight, looked at Ingeborg uncertainly.
"You mean you think you're going on living with me after what you done to me?"
"What I've done to you, father, is less than justice."
"Yustice! Yustice! Is it yustice to disgrace your father?" Ole pounded on the table with his clenched fist.
"You disgraced yourself," returned Ingeborg coldly. "As far as I am concerned, I can suffer no more in Olla with a thief for a father than I did in Madison, where you were known as a miser and a wife-beater."
"Why don't you get out? Get out and leave us to go home?" roared Ole.
"One reason is that I promised mother years ago that I'd stick by her till she died. I want you to go to the partners, father, and ask them to rent us the tents again."
"Never! Never!" croaked Ole. "I want to go home to Madison."
"Oh, Ingeborg! Let us go home!" pleaded her mother.
"Father would die in six weeks at home. Here he has a fighting chance to live. We'll stay in Olla and see it through," Ingeborg said wearily.
"If I'd had six weeks more here," began Ole. Then a violent fit of coughing strangled him and a gush of blood burst from his lips. Both women sprung to his aid.
It was midnight when, her father finally quiet and asleep, Ingeborg crept into bed.
The next morning she waited for the partners to emerge from the company dining-room, then she followed them into the office.
"I should appreciate it very much," she said, "if you would allow us to rent the three tents again. I know that the request seems impertinent, but I will vouch for my father's good behavior."
"I'm perfectly willing, Miss Olson," answered Heber, while Cresswell shrugged his shoulders.
"My father," Ingeborg spoke tonelessly, "will not be out of bed for a month at least. He had another hemorrhage last night."
"Poor old chap!" Evans shook his head. "Can you move him safely?"
"Not safely for several days."
"Then leave him where he is until he won't suffer from the change. I guess the free gold in the Frangi Panni is safe!" Heber half smiled. "Eh, Cresswell?"
"I wash my hands of the whole matter," grunted Cresswell. "If Miss Olson will k6ep her hands off me, I'll keep my hands off her."
Ingeborg gave him a clear look, then turned to Heber, who was watching her with a look of mingled thoughtfulness and wistfulness in his deep-set brown eyes.
"Thank you very much," she said and she went out and saddled the gray mare.
THAT day no one came near her office until mid-afternoon. Then Nip Brody dropped in, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Ingeborg provided no cuspidor for her visitors.
"Well," exclaimed the sheriff, "you sure have got your share of free advertising since you first wafted yourself and family into Olla!"
"I certainly did not seek it," returned Ingeborg. "Sit down, sheriff. There are matches in that ash-tray."
Nip draped his lean body on the kitchen chair, tilted it back at a dangerous angle and blew some smoke at the ceiling.
"All the women are against you. They say that you haven't any more heart than an Apache Indian. When you ask 'em if that's what they want in a lawyer, heart, they sniff and say that heart's what a real woman has to have. Don't smile! Don't forget that these days every one of these fair females from a chicken like Molly Fish to an ancient buzzard like Mrs. Haskins casts a perfectly good, readable vote!"
Nip paused to puff on his cigarette, studying Ingeborg with ruminative eyes.
"Now the men folks, on the other hand, they feel pretty sad over your lack of heart, you understand, but every one of 'em jerks their head and says, 'By the limping piper, I believe you could trust her to dole out real law! She hands it even to her own father!' So there you are! Families are being busted up. Husband is striving against wife and sweetheart against sweetheart. All because you're lined with ice! But listen! There is five men in our grand little city to one woman. Get me?"
"No, I don't," replied Ingeborg.
"Well, John Haskins's committee calls the town organization meeting next week. Among other folks to be elected will be a justice of the peace. Why don't you run for it? Hanged if I wouldn't trust you some as a judge myself. I don't know and none of us can guess just how much of it was smartness; but by heck! if you'd come here and been a perfectly nice female lawyer all dimples and la-de-da, folks would have been joshing about you yet! But not you! You stampede 'em by getting the law on your own father and they're scandalized, but they've forgot all the la-de-da stuff. Yes, ma'am!"
"Mr. Brody," said Ingeborg with deep earnestness, "I did what I did with no thought in my mind save that the very cornerstone of justice is that law be enforced without fear or favor."
The sheriff looked at her with equal earnestness. "Miss Olson," he said, "it can't be done! It never has been done. Human beings ain't made that way. You got to adjust the law to the case in hand. At least if you don't do it down in this desert country you don't last long. After you've been a judge a little white, you'll come to that."
"But you just told me," protested Ingeborg, "that I'd won the confidence of the public by administering cold justice!"
After a moment the sheriff said: "I bet Heber regrets taking that fellow Cresswell in as a partner. He's a bad egg, that man! Watch out for Cresswell—you and Heber both. course, Heber's darned well able to take care of himself. For all he's so gentle-like, he's got the temper of a wild stallion once it's roused. He'd just as soon kill a man as look at him, once he lets go. But I don't know about you. Do you carry a gun?"
"Pshaw, sheriff!" exclaimed Ingeborg. "This isn't 1849!"
"No, but it's the desert," returned Nip, "and this here protection of the law don't amount to a hoop-la in Hades, once the desert gets either a man or a woman."
Ingeborg looked from her window, where, past the corner of Gilbert's store, she saw the gateway of the pass and the eternal yellow ocean burning beyond. Something stirred within her, something that just for a moment made her law seem small and futile. She nodded faintly as she turned back to the sheriff.
"Well hope I'll never have to carry a gun, sheriff!" she said; and she picked up a law book, while Brody went thoughtfully out of the office.
WHEN it became noised about Olla that Ingeborg was running for justice of the peace, the interest in candidates for other offices was entirely eclipsed. For a week, tongues wagged furiously, man against woman, as Nip Brody had reported. Both Brody and Haskins wanted Ingeborg to make some speeches. This she refused to do.
"I'm no orator," she said. "I'd only make myself ridiculous. I'll make one statement from the steps of the post-office the day before election telling people what I think my qualifications are. Then I'm through. I'm not even going to the meeting. I don't want to hear what they say about me."
And with this her two backers were obliged to be content.
It was mid-afternoon when Ingeborg made her statement: an afternoon of desert spring with shadows clear and hard on the sand. It was very hot and the wind twisted the dust up and down the street in endless whirling spirals. The entire population of Olla, including babes in arms and burros, attended the meeting. Here had been no such excitement in Olla since tea years before when a Mexican had been lynched in old Gilbert's corral.
Ingeborg's statement consumed about three minutes of time. Heber Evans, standing in the crowd, had heard it before in another form, but he was struck anew by the singular persuasiveness of Ingeborg's sincerity. She stood in her immaculate blouse and the familiar white stock, her well-fitting skirt, her beautiful braids dancing in a thousand golden lights, her deep blue eyes unblinking in the blazing sun. And there seemed to the man something so noble in the viking figure that he quietly removed his hat to listen to her words.
"I was born and brought up in Madison, Wisconsin. I am twenty-eight years old. I am a farmer's daughter. I can make butter and do plain cooking and sewing. I know how people who work with their hands look at life. My father supported me while I went through the high school. I walked in to it three miles every day. I earned my own way through college acting as stenographer and secretary to a law firm. During my two-year law course I acted as clerk for this firm and there learned the practical details of handling cases.
"I practised law in Madison for three years. I defended a man accused of murder and won the case. I handled a number of divorce cases with success. I represented eight different business houses and handled considerable litigation for them. I will not weary you with more details of my business, which was heavy, when my father's sickness forced me to give it up.
"I believe I would make a competent judge because of my life training and because justice should be administered without fear or favor. Thank you all for listening to me!" She turned abruptly and ascended the stairs to her office.
It was long before the crowd dispersed.
"Lord knows she's big enough for two judges," said Mrs. Gilbert.
"I never saw a blonde yet you could trust," contributed Mrs. Fish.
"Her face is as cold as ice. She'd hang a baby just as quick as she would her own father." This from the landlady of the hotel.
"She ain't got any more expression or character in her face than a piece of chewing-gum," said Mrs. Haskins.
"Aw, shucks!" exclaimed Molly Fish. "She's good-looking in her big way. We might as well acknowledge that and that she's as smart as lightning, too."
"Just because she did some snooping for you, Molly Fish—" began Mrs. Haskins, when her husband interrupted her.
"Now listen, ma! You women folks don't get the idea. Here's Olla. Nobody never heard of Olla, we didn't even think of Olla ourselves, till she came here. She put it on the map, whether you like the way she did it or not. Why, there was that piece in the San Francisco Chronicle last week about her and her dad. Regular printed stuff read by thousands about this doggone little jumping-off place. And now if we go ahead and elect her justice of the peace, we'll be the only town in this section of the country, maybe in the whole country, that's got a woman justice of the peace. Talk about booming a town! Ain't that progress? Why, I tell you Olla'd be the most modern place in this country."
"Pooh!" snorted Mrs. Haskins. "I suppose it would be worth while to have a big blonde hang babies just to boom Olla! Come on, girls! We'll show how we feel when we cast our vote!"
And the session was ended.
TRUE to her word, Ingeborg did not attend the town meeting. She spent the early part of the evening in the living-tent with her father and mother. Ole was slowly picking up again; but there was a cessation of hostilities, for the time being at least, between him and Ingeborg. He was very weak and perhaps he, like Ingeborg, was beginning to respond to the vague call of the desert. At any rate, while there was no friendliness, there was at least no quarreling between them.
Her father and mother went to bed early and Ingeborg wandered out under the stars to wait for Heber, who was to bring her word of the result of the voting. In spite of her keen interest in the election, the young lawyer was singularly at peace. For the first time in all her driven life, her nerves were relaxing. She was conscious of the nearness of the stars and of the intimacy of the desert wind. Poverty-stricken as was the life in Olla, harsh as were its judgments, it was kinder to her than ever the north had been. Even Cresswell's hostility seemed to have lessened into a silent withdrawal and nothing more. And Ingeborg paced slowly up and down the trail with a deep content creeping into her heart.
When she heard the far chug-chug of the automobile, she started down the trail to meet it. Heber stopped the car with a jerk.
"Good evening, judge!"
"Oh, did they really elect me?" cried Ingeborg.
"If by 'they' you mean the men, yes! I don't think you got even one woman's vote, unless it was Molly's."
"I'm sorry!" exclaimed Ingeborg. "But I do believe they'll feel different when they come to know me, Mr. Evans." She came close to the car and looked up into his face. "I'm going to do my best to be a good judge."
Heber, taking in the fine earnestness of her eyes, drew a quick breath. "I know you will," he said in a low voice. "Get in and I'll tell you all about it."
"I don't think I want to hear the details," said Ingeborg as she stepped lightly into the car. "It would just prejudice me. I know all I want to know. I am going to be Olla's justice of the peace. I don't know why I love that rather horrid little town."
"It's the desert that's getting you, not Olla. And the more it gets you the less easy it's going to be for you to dispense your cold justice."
"0h, I hope not!" protested Ingeborg.
"I hope it will be!" smiled Heber. "I'm selfish about it. It is going to make a great difference in my life if you remain a Snow Maiden."
"Don't!" cried Ingeborg. "Oh, don't! We are such good friends! You are my only friend down here. And I always shall be a Snow Maiden as far as anything else is concerned."
"I'm banking on the desert's aid," said Heber as he brought the car up before Ingeborg's tent. "Good night, judge!"
"Good night!" returned Ingeborg.
Olla, once it was organized, was not so slow as might have been expected. The Palace Saloon having ceased business with the arrival of the national drought, it was decided to turn that barn-like structure into a composite town-hall and court-house. During the weeks that would be consumed in making the changes, Ingeborg was to hold court in her office.
Not that holding court became immediately a matter of overwhelming business. But little by little petty spites and differences began to drift into Ingeborg's cool hands. Olla's curiosity and resentment subsided and a silent but none the less real confidence in the new judge began to soften even the women. Ole, lying on his cot, was forgotten. After all, stealing ore was neither an infrequent nor a heinous crime in the mind of Olla. But Ingeborg was conscious that the rift between the partners never had healed. She knew by many quiet signs that it increased daily in depth and bitterness. She realized, as Nip had said, that between two such alien natures as Heber's and Lincoln's bad blood was inevitable.
ALL one burning morning in June Ingeborg listened to the stupid details of a lawsuit which the owner of the Palace Hotel was bringing against John Haskins. At noon she went over to the corral to water her horse, when Sheriff Brody galloped up.
"Judge," he whispered hoarsely as he dismounted, "Lincoln Cresswell was killed this morning!"
"Where?" gasped Ingeborg.
"Up at the Bright Hope mine. He and Evans went up there early. It's been abandoned for years, but Heber was talking about getting the zinc out of her. I wanted to see him on business and followed up there. I found Cresswell dead, with a bullet in his lung, just outside the shaft. There was no sign of Heber."
"I want you to come and help me to look things over before it gets out," Nip went on. "You are the only person in Olla who won't blab. I'll take my car."
"But it's not my—" began Ingeborg.
The sheriff seized her by the arm. "I didn't give a hang about anything! Heber Evans is my friend and I ain't going to have every one in Olla in on this. Understand?"
"No, I don't," said Ingeborg shortly. Then, white to the lips, she added, "Let me get my hat."
There were few to observe the judge and the sheriff in their dash out of town; for it was the siesta hour, during which even Olla's main business, that of minding other folks affairs, was neglected. They followed the main traveled road three miles to the north of the town, then turned abruptly on to a rough, half-obliterated trail. They followed this for same distance, until Nip stopped the car at the foot of a precipitous mountainside.
"It's a matter of scramble on all fours now," he said, getting out of the car. "The old trail washed out years ago."
Ingeborg followed the sheriff without a word. He led the way up and up, now clinging desperately to projecting roots, now calling warmly back to Ingeborg as sand and rock gave way beneath his feet. After fifteen or twenty minutes of this they reached a broad bench at the back of which the mountain again arose abruptly. In the mountainside on the level of the bench gaped the black mouth of a tunnel. They crossed the level slowly.
Seated against the doorway, his lags straight before him, his head on his chest was Lincoln Cresswell. There was a huge red stain on the breast of his outing-shirt. There was no sign of a struggle. A miner's candlestick with an unburned candle in it lay on the stones beside him.
Ingeborg looked from the pathetic broken figure to the surrounding rock. "No sand to tell tales here," she said softly. "Did you look in the mine?"
"No! I had no candles and I didn't want to touch his. But I'm fixed now. Come along!" He lighted two candles, giving Ingeborg one, and she followed him gingerly into the tunnel. "It's a crazy rabbit-warren of a place," he said as he moved slowly along a black passage. "Ain't a timber or a beam in the whole place, I guess. Some bum miners worked her for free gold years ago and she's safe for neither man nor beast. Luckily, there ain't much of it."
The tunnel narrowed at this point and they both dropped to their knees. After five minutes of crawling, Nip called: "Careful now, Judge! There's a short shaft here. I'll go first to be sure the ladder's safe. Test each step as you find it. Remember neither you nor I are feather-weights!"
Ingeborg set her teeth and, the candlelight dancing on her white face, made her way gingerly down the ladder. She found Nip waiting for her in a small central chamber out of which there were two openings.
"Now," he said, "if we follow into either one of them openings long enough, we'll come out of the other. It sure is angleworm business. Are you game?" looking curiously at the young judge's tense lips and at the blue eyes in which a strange light burned.
She nodded. Nip dropped to his knees and Ingeborg saw his gaunt frame silhouetted uncertainly before her. She was sure of very little afterward save that Heber was not in the mine. Crawling up and down hot, narrowing passages, dropping into strange, rough pits, clambering desperately over fallen débris until it seemed to her that she could do no more, her mind seemed to take in no details. She only know that Heber was not there. Finally, they crawled once more into the central chamber. Sheriff Brody stretched himself with a groan, then started up the ladder. Shortly they were once more in the blinding sunlit beside poor Cresswell.
"You are a dead game sport, Judge!" exclaimed the sheriff. "Now, let's scour the outside of the mine for evidence."
This did not take long. The mine had long since been robbed of all its buildings. When they had done, Nip turned to Ingeborg, "Do you think you can help me to get Lincoln down to the car?"
Ingeborg hesitated, then squared her shoulders. "I'm plenty strong enough," she said, "if you'll show me just how you want it done."
Rolled in blankets and for the most part lowered by ropes, it was not difficult to land poor Cresswell in the tonneau of the car. The sheriff cranked the engine and started slowly back to Olla.
"A good clean job," said Nip. "He didn't leave a trace behind him. Chose a spot where stones tell no tales and took the gun with him. I wonder what they rowed about."
Ingeborg did not reply and the ride was finished in silence. They drew up before old Gilbert's store. At Nip's call, old Gilbert waddled out on to the steps.
"Trouble, Gil! Cresswell's in back there, dead as old Geronimo. Someone shot him at the Bright Hope this morning."
"You don't say!" The old man's eyes watered. "Got him under the blankets, eh?" He turned and called, "Molly, get out the board and trestles!" Then he descended ponderously to the automobile.
Ingeborg put her hand on the sheriff's arm. "You'd better get on the telephone as quickly as you can, had you not?"
"I'll be right up," said Nip, who now had a desk and a telephone in Ingeborg's office.
When Ingeborg looked from her window a moment later, the population of Olla was running from all directions toward the store.
ALL that bright afternoon, while Brody organized his posses, while the telephone rang ceaselessly, the young judge sat at her desk, apparently immersed in the details of the Haskins-Murphy suit. But as a matter of fact not a word of the papers she perused so carefully registered on Ingeborg's brain. All that she saw was Heber's eagle face, with the wistful humor in the deep-set brown eyes and the uncompromising rigor of the thin, long jaw.
Had they quarreled about her? Surely not; for since she had ceased to care for the Rainy Day's affairs she had been no cause for contention. And while she had been the cause of the original split between the partners she knew that with the development of Cresswell's loose characteristics a split would have been inevitable on other grounds. And she must hold the preliminary hearing! She must bind Heber Evans over to be tried for his life! And suddenly the very bitterness of purgatory surged through Ingeborg's mind.
The posses clattered and honked out of town. The crowd in front of Gilbert's was depleted by the withdrawal of the women folks to prepare supper. Molly Fish, her eyes red with weeping, crossed the street to the post-office with a black ribbon on her arm. Finally Ingeborg rose and put on her hat once, more.
A dozen people surrounded her as she started toward the corral. "Where did she think Evans was? What had they quarreled about? Why did they hate each other?"
Ingeborg shook her head vehemently. "No! No!" she said to each question. "I must not express an opinion. You must let me remain as unprejudiced as possible." And finally they let her go on and saddle the gray mare.
WHEN she had finished her supper, the judge went slowly out into the sunset. She made her way through rock and sand to the edge of the mesa where she could have an unobstructed view of the desert. It was a crimson desert now with a million orange motes dancing above it and merging into the pale-blue zenith.
Ingeborg seated herself on a rock and rested her chin on her palm, elbow on knee. She felt suddenly as if that quivering crimson beauty were shaking her very soul, as if it were bearing her toward and outward on its burning waves. Heber had warned her that the desert would absorb her, she reminded herself. Was his prophecy coming true? Her cheeks burned crimson with something deeper than the reflection of the afterglow. She gave a groan that was half a sob. Never again would Heber share the desert's beauty with her. He was a felon now—a murderer whom she must find and turn over to justice!
"I hope they'll never find him!" she said aloud.
Then she jumped to her feet appalled. To what extreme had this desert madness driven her? Was she who always had worshiped cold justice about to lose her high ideal and permit sentiment to besmirch the clear page of her sense of honor? She clasped her strong white hands against her throat.
"I've come to care for him!" she whispered. "I've let myself get to care for him. O God, what shall I do now?"
Suddenly she began to pace op and down the edge of the mesa like a mad woman, wringing her hands, moaning half-articulate condemnation of herself, half-sobbing terms of endearment for Heber.
For an hour the storm raged, and it was a devastating one. It shook to its very foundations the carefully reared domicile of Ingeborg's life. The cold, dispassionate energy that had carried her through the desolate days of her girlhood was waging a new battle. And it was a battle with the greatest force in the world, the force on which life rests, the force that is a mighty tide of rapture and desire which may flood once the hearts of men and women. And while that tide is at its height only the heart thrice bound with the bronze of a mighty will and with ambitions clean-cut and steel-reinforced can withstand its bursting pressure.
Hour after hour Ingeborg paced the mesa edge. The stars glowed down on her, but she did not heed them. The faint call of a coyote pack sounded high above the pass. She did not hear it. But toward midnight the battle was over. Spent and weary, but without a tear, Ingeborg sank upon a stone. A lifetime of habit, an ambition that was as burning in its intensity as Ole's love of gold, had thrust back the flood and Ingeborg was not a woman but a judge again. After she had rested for a time she went back to her tent
THE next morning at breakfast her mother asked her timidly if she were ill. Ingeborg shook ha: head. Her father looked at her with a curious gleam in his eyes.
"You didn't look that way when you had to put me in jail," he said.
Ingeborg replied irritably: "I was sick with worry at having to prosecute you. Don't make me out a monster!"
Ole's look of curiosity changed to one of astonishment. But he said nothing more, and Ingeborg left the breakfast-table without touching anything but her coffee.
And all day long Heber's thin face and wistful, deep-seeing eyes came between the judge and the people who haunted the courtroom. As the hours passed Ingeberg's own face grew grimmer and more grim until it resembled nothing so closely as that of a stormy viking woman set to face the perils of the great deep.
That night she sat longer than usual with her father and mother. Ole was daily growing stronger and Olga was correspondingly more cheerful. He had been up and around all day. Ole would not let Ingeborg alone on the details of the search and Ingeborg answered his questions patiently enough. She was conscious of the fact that she was less belligerent toward her father than she ever had been in her life. But one can not contain more than one passion at a time, she told herself, and her resentment toward her father had been a passion until her love for Heber had given it second place.
When, after a time, a short silence fell, Ingeborg broke it by saying again, "It's not like him to hide."
Ole stared at her, then slowly nodded his head. "You're right, Ingeborg. Now listen! Maybe I ain't always been what you call good, but maybe that yust makes me like a good man better. And I'm telling you that he knew he was justified in killing Cresswell."
"If he was, the jury will find him not guilty," said Ingeborg.
"If he was, you should never send him before a jury!" cried Ole.
"Let him go! He was so good to us, Ingeborg!" pleaded Olga.
"You talk as if I were holding him!" exclaimed Ingeborg impatiently. "If you would only try to understand my position! I am not a person or a friend. I am the law. And if I knew his hiding-place, I'd be obliged to tell it and have him arrested. The very foundations of the nation rest on our judiciary being incorruptible. Even a petty little justice of the peace must be straight. If I knew his hiding-place——"
She paused abruptly. After she had crawled through the Bright Hope, she had thought that no detail of the miserable winding tunnels had stayed with her. But now, with inexp1icable vividness, the dirty gray central chamber flashed before her inward vision.
"I wonder if the sheriff knew that place less well than he thought he did or if— Perhaps he led me through as a blind and he knows that Heber is somewhere in the Bright Hope. Brody was up there before he came for me, and he has forbidden any of the searchers to go into the tunnel for fear, he says, that they will destroy possible evidence."
She rose abruptly. "I may be off early in the morning, mother. If I am, don't wait breakfast for me," and she went out into the night.
She stood for a long time staring at the evening star which hung low and glowing over the mesa edge. Then she went into her tent and to bed. But she could not sleep. That picture of the Bright Hope would not leave her. It was not yet midnight when she rose and dressed herself. She stole into the living-tent and made herself some sandwiches, filled her pockets with candles and then saddled the gray mare.
THE climb up to the Bright Hope in the night was strenuous; but driven by a force she could neither resist nor understand, Ingeborg reached the tunnel opening in an incredibly short time. She lighted a candle and without a glance at the spot where poor Cresswell had sat she entered the tunnel and made her way to the central chamber.
She was trembling a little as she held her candle aloft and studied the walls. The silence was absolute. The gray-and-brown walls, veined with black, with pick and drill mark, thick with dust, were unbroken save for the two openings one of which Nip had said had been their exit, the other their entrance.
But with her new suspicion of Nip she asked herself if they really had gone in one way and out the other. Or had the sheriff been bluffing her and cleverly concealing Heber? She and the sheriff had entered the opening at the left of the ladder. Ingeborg set her teeth and made her way into the opening at the right.
The passage in which she found herself sloped gently downward. She could walk, but was obliged to bend from the waist The grease from the candle ran over her hand and splashed on her boots. Sweat trickled from her chin as the heat increased. She had no idea of how far on and down this strange passageway led. She did not know whether or not the and the sheriff had traversed it. But it led on so steadily that she grew careless and did not heed the signs of danger in the increasing amount of crumbled stone that cumbered the floor. She climbed on automatically, always listening, listening, always pressing on and on until, without warning, a rock heap she was climbing gave way with her and she plunged into blackness.
Ingeborg was not hurt by the fall, but she lay half-stunned for a minute, blinking into the darkness and still listening, listening, while she panted with the beat. When her dizziness passed, she lighted another candle with fingers that trembled. Then she took a long drink from her canteen, which she retrieved from the mass of rock on which she lay.
"It's a frightful place," she said aloud. "I hate it."
But it did not occur to her to turn back, though she held her candle up to see if the way was clear after her fall. The passage was blocked by a great block of ore. Ingeborg crawled with infinite difficulty up over the débris that she had brought down with her in her six or eight foot plunge. She put her shoulder against the block. She could not budge it. Just for a moment the blood left her heart. Then she said aloud:
"I must not lose my head. If the sheriff didn't lie to me, I'll come out at the left-hand exit if I keep on going. And that's what I'll do."
She slid down to the foot of the débris and looked at her watch. It was three o'clock. She slung the canteen so that it would not hinder her movements and dropped to her knees; for the entrance to the continuation passage was very low. She was very tired and she began to rest at intervals, her long, strong body stretched on the dusty floor, the candle flickering on her golden braids as she listened, listened.
Until four o'clock Ingeborg crawled onward. And then it seemed to her that she could do no more. She lay flat with her face on her arms. And lying so, the heat and the silence became one horrible monster to her excited fancy and suddenly the fear of smothering which every miner knows gripped her and unbalanced her self-control.
She began to fight the walls that so closely hemmed her in. She struck them with her clenched fists. She kicked them and threw her body against them. But this did not last long. A life-long habit of self-control is a very firm rock in time of panic. Gradually a sense of shame brought sanity to Ingeborg. With set teeth she took her candle in her bleeding fingers and crept onward until once more the heat and weariness compelled her to rest while she listened, listened.
AND thus, faint and delicate as her own heart-beats, Ingeborg heard a call. She lifted the candle and crept on. The passage suddenly widened and she rose to her feet, breaking into a run. When she paused again, the call was clear.
"Coming!" touted Ingeborg, starting on more slowly; for the walls were narrowing down again. "Where are you?" she called.
"In a pit! Move carefully!" replied Heber's hoarse voice from beyond and below her. "The passage ends here in a sheer fifteen-foot drop without warning."
Ingeborg peered carefully over the edge of the drop. Dimly below Heber's haggard face peered up at her.
"I knew it would be you, Judge!" he said brokenly. "Can you spare some water?"
Ingeborg unslung her canteen and dropped it into the darkness below. She tied some matches and a candle in her handkerchief and tossed it down. "Make a light!" she said. In a moment the pit was illuminated. There was an empty canteen, a broken knife and some cigarette stubs on the floor. Heber, unshaven, his hair wet with sweat, stared up at her as if he were looking once more at the free light of day.
"I broke my knife and I couldn't scale the wall at any point," he said. "Where are the others?"
"There are no others," replied Ingeborg. "I came on alone. But if you are not too weak, I should be able to help you out. This pit seems to be the end of the passage. The passage behind me is blocked, too. There was quite a slide."
"You're hurt!" exclaimed Heber looking at her bloody hands.
"No, I'm not. you have any food with you?"
"I had a lunch and this big canteen held out until last night or at least whatever twelve hours ago was. I'm not in bad shape, but it hasn't been a pleasant experience at all. Did Cresswell have an accident too? He was to take the other passage. Why didn't the rotter come to look for me?"
Ingeborg looked at him curiously. "Let's get you up here before we talk. Your experience may find a way to open the passage."
"Well," said Heber, "there are the two canteen straps and our two leather belts. Lower your belt with your cravat tied to it and— Wait! Let me toss up my canteen strap, then you can lower for your canteen. There is nothing up there, of course, to hitch to!"
Ingeborg shook her head. "I can lie with my arms over the edge and hang on," she said.
"I don't need to put my full weight on." Heber was removing his belt. "The wall is rough enough for sort of toe-holds if I can brace myself against the strap. Even at that, it's going to be a terrible strain on you!"
"What of it!" exclaimed Ingeborg impatiently.
She lay down and thrust her arms over the edge of the pit, twisting the edge of the improvised rope firmly around her hands. Heber grasped the opposite end. There was a fierce scramble, one bad moment when his foothold failed him and it seemed to the judge as if her arms must be wrenched from their sockets, and then Heber had fallen beside her. He lay panting and speechless for a full minute.
"The air is very bad," said Ingeborg finally.
"Yes!" gasped Heber. "That new slide is impeding what small circulation there was. We must husband that water, but I guess you'd better spare me one more swallow."
Ingeborg gave him the canteen promptly, at the same time taking a small package from her pocket. "I brought a few sandwiches along. Let's have breakfast."
Heber looked at the food with bloodshot, weary eyes. "Better go easy on those. The Lord knows how long we may be shut up in here."
"It can't be very long. I left the gray mare standing at the foot of the trail Some one will see her."
"How long have you been in here?" asked Heber, taking one of the sandwiches.
"Since midnight. The sheriff and I came in on the morning he found Cresswell, but although he said we'd gone through the mine, we were not in this passage at all."
As she spoke, the judge was watching Heber closely. He was sitting with his back against the wall, his miner's candlestick stuck in a crevice beside him. His thin, eager features were thrown into sharp relief against the blackness of the pit. Ingeborg leaned against the opposite wall, her hands clasped around her knees.
"Found Cresswell!" exclaimed Heber. "Then there was an accident! What happened? And why has no one come for me before? It's a small mine!"
"Supposing," said the judge, "that you tell me first what happened to you."
HEBER stared at her as though he were making note of her evasive manner, but he answered readily enough.
"We wanted to look the mine over and came up early, to avoid the heat. The gossip has always been that the two main passages formed a loop and we agreed to take a passage each and meet in the middle. I started in while Linc was still fussing with his candle and compass and the Lord knows what all. You know how slow he is. Then I fell down this hole and lay stunned for I don't know how long. My watch stopped with the jolt. I got her to going again, but I don't know how much off she is. Now, what about Cresswell?"
Ingeborg did not reply at once. She sat looking at Heber as if she never had seen him before. Unshaven, grimy, sweat-stained, yet with that something free and high of the eagle in him untainted and unquenched, it seemed to her that she could not endure the thought of what lay before her. She suddenly twisted her hands together, clasped them behind her head and groaned.
Instantly Heber was on his knees beside her. "Ingeborg, what is it?"
"Don't touch me!" she gasped. "I couldn't bear it. Don't let's talk about the case. If I've got to try you, I want to know nothing, not even as much as you told me. I can't bear to have you lie to me."
Heber crouched back on his haunches and glared at the judge through half-closed eyes. "What are you talking about—trying me! Did Cresswell get hurt and are you dying to blame me? Did he tell one of his dirty lies? He said he'd get even with me. Try the case, you say!" Suddenly he leaned forward and grasped Ingeborg's wrist. "Judge, is Cresswell dead?"
"Why do you act a part with me, Mr. Evans?" asked Ingeborg sadly. "I admit that you are very clever, and you've had a long time in which to prepare for this. But perhaps it's better so. Come, let's get back to the block of ore."
But Heber continued to glare at her. "I'll not move until you tell me what crime you think I'm guilty of. In your marvelous code of justice, don't you hold it fair to tell the accused the nature of the crime, even if the blood is dripping from his knife? Come, Judge, hold a preliminary hearing, now and here."
"Well," Ingeborg smiled with twisted lips, "I don't know why after all I've done now, I should draw the line at naming your crime. Nip Brody followed you and Cresswell up to the mine on some matter of business. He found Cresswell sitting dead at the door of the tunnel with a bullet in his chest."
Heber whitened under his tan and grime. But his eyes were grim and piercing. Ingeborg paused to study his face for a moment, then she went on:
"Nip came to Olla and got me. We gave the mine what he called a thorough examination, then we brought the body back to town. We have been scouring the country for you. Last night I grew suspicious of the thoroughness with which the sheriff searched the mine and I decided to come over here and make a hunt for myself. Nobody knows I came."
Heber moistened his lips. There was silence while the man and woman gazed at each other.
"And you think that I killed him?" Heber demanded finally.
"I'm not going to express my belief until the hearing," answered Ingeborg.
"I'm not speaking to the justice of the peace now. I'm asking the woman, Ingeborg Olson, if she thinks Heber Evans has done this murder?"
"I can't divorce the job and the person." Ingeborg spoke with stiffened lips.
Heber dropped his head on his arms. Ingeborg sat watching him, every muscle in her body tense. The sweat ran down her face. Her breath came in quick gasps. At last Heber looked up.
"And I'd counted on you!" he said hoarsely. "Counted that there was a woman in you capable of a loyalty and a love even in friendship to exceed that of any woman in the world!" He looked at her with a flare of contempt in his brown eyes and struggled to his feet. "Come, let us see if we can get out of this rat-hole."
NOT a word was spoken by the two until they emerged into the widening of the passage where Ingeborg had fallen. Then Heber, after resting at full length, crawled up to the great block that shut off the passage. He looked at it for a few minutes, then came slowly down to rest again.
"No use tearing our hands on that," he said. "But we can call at intervals. I don't know now," with an unpleasant grin, "that I am so eager to get out."
Ingeborg clambered stiffly up to the block, placed her lips close to the tiny crevice at the right and shouted until her voice failed her utterly. Then she slid down to the base of the débris where Heber half sat, half reclined.
This recess was of sufficient height to allow them to stand, but it was not over four feet square, with the débris from the fall covering the floor. They were obliged to sit very close together, and this, with the tumult raging within her, Ingeborg found intolerable. She was relieved when Heber crawled up to the crevice and called for help until he could not speak above a whisper. When he came back to rest beside her, she rose and stood against the wall. Heber watched her deliberately. She loomed very tall in the candle-light, her fine, stalwart body clean-cut and graceful in the riding breeches and blouse.
Suddenly she bent forth in a husky, uneven voice: "How can you be so unfair as to blame me for doing my duty? Would you expect of a man what you expect of me?"
"No," replied Heber coolly. "But a woman can't be anything but a woman, and she should not choose a profession that expects her to be otherwise."
"Bah! I'm sick of such sophistries!" Ingeborg's hoarse voice was furious. "I expected better things of you."
"So? Tell me, Judge, just what would you expect of a man capable of doing murder?"
"What makes you so sure I consider you capable of having murdered?" Ingeborg folded her arms on her breast and looked at Heber defiantly.
He rose suddenly and stood before her, eye gazing steadily into eye. "Look here, Ingeborg, let there be no evasions between you and me. I know you now. I know that your profession is a fetish that permits no other worship. Your god is a jealous god. And I realize that, instead of risking your life for me as my friend, as I thought when your face came to me out of the darkness, you risked your life as a hound of the law, to drag me to justice—your justice. And listen! See if that cold brain of yours can fathom this! I don't care whether I'm found guilty or not! I have loved you so much that the fact that you can do this in the name of justice deprives me of my interest in life."
The blood surged to Ingeborg's face. "What do you know of my brain? Cold? I tell you that it is a seething caldron and it has been ever since Lincoln Cresswell was found murdered. To know that I love you, as a woman of my kind can love, and to know that I never can respect myself again if I do not forget that love and deliver you into the hands of the law— Heber, I am half mad! Half mad!"
Heber drew a long, shuddering breath. "You love me!" he said wonderingly. And then in the utter silence the two looked deep into each others eyes.
"Ingeborg," said Heber finally, "I didn't kill Cresswell."
"Do you know who did it?"
"Didn't you and he quarrel bitterly the morning you came up here?"
"Weren't you quarreling up to the moment you parted?"
"Aren't you carrying a gun now, in your hip pocket?"
"Yes, it was Cresswell's. I took it away from him because I was afraid he'd use it on me."
"Let me look at it."
Heber handed over the Colt. Ingeborg examined it. One chamber had been discharged. She gave it back without comment.
"You hated Cresswell?"
"Yes! He said vile things about you."
"Is that what you quarreled about?"
Again there was silence. Then Heber said slowly: "One curse of a legal training is that it develops one's natural distrust of human beings to the nth degree. You'd suspect your own mother of crime."
"My own father stole!" Ingeborg's voice was unbelievably bitter.
"And so your lover must have committed murder!" Heber's parched lips twisted sardonically. His eyes watched the guttering candle. Ingeborg did not stir until the spluttering wick slipped through the ring to the floor. Then with shaking hands she adjusted a fresh candle to the holder. It was then that Heber saw that tears were running down her burning cheeks. But he neither spoke nor moved, and, as if to hide her emotion, Ingeborg crept once more to the crevice and shouted for help.
When, she came down, Heber said: "That's no use in my calling with this remnant of a voice. It won't carry ten feet."
Ingeborg nodded and offered him one of the two remaining sandwiches. "We may as well eat them," she whispered. "Whether the gray mare stays where she is or breaks away and goes home, they'll look for me here sooner of later."
Heber did not answer. He ate his sandwich and lay back on the débris, his eyes on the candle. Ingeborg sat at his feet. Not a minute passed before Heber was asleep. The judge watched him for a long time. He was very restless, muttering incoherently. Finally Ingeborg moved softly to his head, braced her back against the wall and lifted his head to her knee.
"Look out, Cress," he said sharply. "I'll shoot you sure as God if you say that again." Then he settled his head comfortably on Ingeborg's knee and dropped fathoms deep into slumber.
SHE sat with the tears running unheeded down her cheeks—how long she did not know. Finally, with her head against the dirty wall, she, too, slept. When she woke, they were in darkness. Heber's head was still on her knee. She attempted to ease her cramped leg and immediately he stirred and she could feel his inquiring hand touch her arm and cheek.
"I must have dept a long time. Wait till I light up."
She rose to help him and as the light flared up he looked at her with the old, wistful smile.
"That was good of you, Ingeborg. I feel like a new man. What time is it?"
"Just noon," she replied.
"Ingeborg," asked Heber, "how do you suppose it is going to affect the court to have been shut up in this place for a day or so with the accused?"
"How can you make sport of it?" cried Ingeborg passionately.
"You forget," returned Heber, "that I know I'm not guilty, though I'll admit that things look pretty nasty for me. And also, your Honor, I can't forget that the court's made love to me."
"You are very much mistaken if you think I made love to you," said Ingeborg grimly. "I told you that I loved you. There is a great difference! If I once made love to you, I'd never be able to conduct your trial. And Heber, I am going to do my duty as I sworn to do when I took my oath of office."
"My God, Ingeborg! Do you think I'm trying to persuade you from doing your duty or that I'm resentful toward you for doing it? What has put the iron in my soul is that you believe me guilty. And that's wrong both for the woman who loves me and the judge who has not yet heard my case."
"I'm human, I suppose," said Ingeborg shortly. "I can't keep my mind a complete blank."
"This ideal justice which you worship knows no preconceived opinion," said Heber. "Oh, Ingeborg, life is not like that! Life is not a clean-cut guilty or not guilty, and the just judge knows it. Life is made up of acts directed by impulses impalpable to those who have no spiritual antennae. And the just judge will pronounce no man guilty until he has touched the mind and soul of the accused at the very quick. Ingeborg, you are mistaking a withdrawal from all human sympathies for cold justice. There is no such thing as cold justice, because no man is capable either of feeling or administering it."
He reached out to take her hand, but she moved away from him. "No!" she whispered. "No!" Then she added: "Listen!"
Voices sounded faintly from beyond the block. Ingeborg sprang to the crevice. "Here!" she shouted. "Here!"
Shortly Nip Brady's voice came to them. "Halloo!"
"Hello, Sheriff," called Ingeborg. "Mr. Evans and I are both down here."
"Anybody hurt?" asked Nip.
"No, Nip!" cried Heber. "Be careful how you handle that block. If it comes down on us it will ruin us. Anybody there to help?"
"Yes, Haskins. Hurry up, John!"
A moment later the postmaster was calling greetings down through the shelter. Then Nip said, "If we shovel away this broken rock we can shove the big block away, John."
Half an hour later Ingeborg and Heber passed through the central chamber, following Nip and John. Very shortly they were blinking in the blessed light of the sun. Then the sheriff turned to put his hand gently on Heber's shoulder.
"Old man, I've got to arrest you and take you to the cooler and I'd rather be shot. Fort heaven's sake, after such a clean job of shooting, why didn't you make a clean get away?"
INGEBORG was sick at heart and afraid; afraid of the strange new Ingeborg that she had not known existed; afraid of that woman within her who recognized neither law nor the accepted order of life; the woman on whose knees Heber's head had rested; the woman who, had actual danger menaced that unconscious form, would have killed joyfully to protect it; the viking woman, fierce, primeval, tender, who went singing down to the sea in ships and knew the wonders of the deeps of love; the viking woman whose blood had coursed in Ingeborg's veins for a thousand years and of whose existence Ac never had dreamed until now.
She rode slowly homeward, drooping in her saddle, her eyes on the brooding desert from whose far levels the heat rolled in ceaseless waves. The gray mare, which had been watered at the Bright Hope, but which was very hungry, roused her by breaking into a canter as they reached the mesa top.
Ingeborg stumbled into the living-tent. Her mother ran to her side. "Ingeborg! Ingeborg! I ben most crazy about you!"
Ole came slowly up and took her canteen, but Ingeborg forgot to be surprised. She sank into a chair. "Let me have a cup of coffee, mother, before I say a word."
They waited patiently while she gulped down the steaming beverage. Then she told her story, omitting carefully all details of conversation between herself and Heber. As her hoarse voice ceased, her father said:
"If you hold him for trial, you ain't a woman, Ingeborg, that's all."
The judge turned to her father as he stood by the rude table, the lamp giving a softened color to his haggard face.
"I suppose," she said, "that if I'd been a son you'd have thought I had done a man's work to-day!"
"You ain't asking me to give you compliments after all these years?" His lips twisted. Ingeborg turned and followed her mother out of the tent.
THE hearing was set for two o'clock in the afternoon, three days later. During those three days Olla was in a state of delighted anticipation unparalleled in its history. Word had traveled through all the hills that Heber Evans was in a shooting scrape, that murder had been done and that the lady judge was to hold a sure-enough murder trial. The day before the hearing folk began to drift into Olla until the hotel overflowed on to its piazza. That night there was scarcely a porch in town that did not shelter a sleeping form or two.
On the day of the trial Ingeborg did not come into town until just in time to open court at two o'clock. Immediately after breakfast she had started off for a tramp into the peaks behind the Rainy Day. In spite of the terrible heat, she had climbed for two hours, moving as if she were scourged by her thoughts. At noon she had returned, bathed and eaten her lunch. Her father and mother, after a look at her pale face, had exchanged glances and the meal was taken in silence. But as she had started for the door, Ole had said in an ugly warning voice:
"If you don't free him, don't come back here."
Ingeborg had not answered by so much as a look.
When the judge opened the rear door and came in, the courtroom was crowded. The silence was breathless. She had not donned her skirt. In her well-worn corduroy riding-suit, her face calm and inscrutable above the immaculate white cravat, she seemed sexless. She was, to that breathless audience, the Law; the Law which they themselves had made and which they were incapable of enforcing.
She seated herself in the crude armchair beside the table and waited. The wind blew a hot blast of sand across the table. Then the door opened and the sheriff and Heber came in. Heber was well groomed and the only cool-looking person in the room. He had steadfastly refused to have a lawyer.
Ingeborg went through the preliminary business rapidly. Then she began to call witnesses. Sheriff Brody told of the finding of the body. Old Gilbert, with considerable unction, described the nature of the wound. Several witnesses told of various quarrels they had heard between Heber and Lincoln at various times and in various places. Finally Ingeborg called John Wayne, the mine foreman. He was a short man with a thatch of grizzled hair and a sparse mustache. The judge looked at him with tightening lips.
"Did you have any conversation with the prisoner on the night before the murder?"
"Yes, Judge! Mr. Cresswell, he called me into the office after supper and told me to get the car in shape, as they were going up to the Bright Hope early. Heber, he spoke up and said, 'Lincoln, how many times have I told you that the men aren't chauffeurs and that Jack don't run a public garage? We keep the car in order ourselves.' I could see they was both mad and I said, 'Shucks, Heber, I'd do more than manicure the flivver for you any time,' and then I went out."
"Did you see either Mr. Cresswell or Mr. Evans again that night or in the morning?"
"No, Judge, but I sure heard 'em in the morning!"
"What did you hear?" Ingeborg's clear gaze did not leave John's face.
Jack shifted his weight from one foot to the other and looked at Heber uneasily. Heber leaned forward.
"Your Honor, if I may be so informal as to interrupt, I'd like to suggest that you waive hearing the details of that quarrel. I admit right now that we came to blows."
A murmur went over the courtroom.
"I can not grant that," said Ingeborg quietly.
"Then clear the courtroom and hear the testimony privately!" exclaimed Heber.
A faint color stained the judge's white face. For just a moment she hesitated, then she said: "No! From every standpoint it is best that this hearing proceed with complete publicity. Go on with your story, Mr. Wayne."
Jack cleared his throat. "Well, my tent is next to where they keep the car, and when they came out to get her of course they woke me up. I had worked on the car the night before and thought I had her in running shape. But they took turns cranking her and she wouldn't budge."
A chuckle went over the courtroom. Ingeborg looked over the crowd with her white, steady face and the room was suddenly stilled.
"Then Cresswell said, 'If that boob had cleaned the spark-plugs, we'd be off by now,' and Heber answered pleasant enough, 'Never mind, I'll clean them now. Only, I tell you, Linc, when you consider that you, with your woman chasing, run the car ten miles to my one, seems like once in a while you ought to clean her up yourself.' 'That's right,' says Cresswell. 'Of course you are immaculate! And of course that Snow Woman is as cold as she looks! You and she can fool the rest of Olla, but you can't fool your Uncle Dudley. I know these Norwegian peasants and their ways, which are the ways of cattle.' And then I heard a sound like a shovelful of tailings dropping on the wet sump. 'Mention that name again, will you, you cur?' says Heber. 'Next time I won't knock you down. I'll shoot you!' Then there was nothing said for quite a while. They cranked the car some more, but they couldn't get her started, and finally Heber said he was going to walk it, and that was the last I heard them."
Heber sat with his eyes on the window through which he saw the brown top of the pass cut vividly across the burning blue of the sky. But no one more than glanced at Heber. All eyes were fixed on Ingeborg's face. After a long pause, she said:
"This completes the evidence so far collected on the part of the prosecution. Before we hear the defense, I shall adjourn the court for half an hour."
She rose and went hastily out of the door, along the deserted street to her office, which she locked after her. Then she strode like a wild woman and down the room.
'T can't do it!" she groaned. "I can't do it! I'm not a lawyer in this. I'm a woman. And, O God, if I don't do it, I deserve to be disbarred!" She twisted her hands together, her face distorted with anguish. But when she reentered the court-room promptly at the end of the half-hour her face, though it was tense, told no tale of the tumult within. She walked slowly to the table and stood beside it, her fine head thrown back.
"I am going to insist," she said in a low voice, "that the prisoner take change of venue. It is impossible for me to make a fair decision in the case." A gasp went round the courtroom. "I realize," Ingeborg went on, "that I am laying myself open to criticism. I realize—" Suddenly her iron grip on herself broke and she threw up her arms. "I can not send this man before a jury! I can not!"
SOMEBODY started to applaud. Heber jumped to his feet, protest in his face. But before he could speak, Molly Fish rushed out into the aisle.
"What does she mean, Nip by change of what-you-may-call-'em?"
"She means she's going to send him over to Palomas to be tried and his one chance to escape a jury is gone!"
"No, it isn't!" cried Molly. "I shot Lincoln Cresswell myself!" and she crumpled in a heap at Brody's feet.
There was a mighty scraping of chairs and every voice in the room save Heber's and Molly's contributed to the uproar. Finally the judge seized her riding-whip and pounded on the table with the butt end. The crowd paused long enough to hear her say: "Court is adjourned! Sheriff, clear the room!" And shortly she and Heber, with the sheriff, were alone with Molly. Ingeborg sat down on the floor and took Molly's head in her lap.
"Bring water, Sheriff," she said. "Then you men clear out."
Alone in the ugly, bare room, Ingeborg bathed Molly's little white face and waited. When the girl opened her tired eyes, the judge asked, "Feeling better, Molly?"
Molly struggled to a sitting position and looked about her, first at Ingeborg, then at the window, where the blue sky glowed.
"I thought sure you'd set him free," she panted. "I never knew about that last quarrel. I thought there'd be no evidence. But he could have been hung on that stuff you were getting together!"
"I couldn't have set him free," said the judge gently. "I thought he was guilty."
Molly began to sob miserably. "I did it. I knew they were going up there. He hadn't been near me for weeks and he wouldn't talk to me over the telephone or answer my notes. And I went up to the mine and hid. It was just getting dawn when I shot him and I got back to town without a soul seeing me. I never thought they'd blame Heber!"
"But Molly, why did you do it?" urged Ingeborg.
"Can't you guess?" sobbed Molly. "His baby will be born in the fall. And now he's dead, I don't want to live either."
Ingeborg, with a new softening of her face, slipped her arm around Molly's shoulders. "Poor little girl!" she murmured.
There was a soft rap on the door and Nip Brody came in. "I put a cot up in your office, Judge," he announced. "Molly'll be up there to-night." Then in response to the astonishment in Ingeborg's face, he went on: "If you think sentiment in this town will let me keep Molly Fish in that stinking cooler, you're mistaken. Come on, Molly."
Ingeborg picked up her riding-whip and stood with drooping head until the crowd that had waited outside had followed poor little Molly up the street. Then, quite unheeded, she made her way to the corral and saddled her horse.
SHE saw no one on her way home. She rode slowly, a solitary figure in the burning grandeur of the pass. The summer heat surged over her in furnace blasts. The golden floor of the desert, the blue bowl of the heavens, unrolled in infinite beauty before her. Ingeborg, her eyes wearied with thinking, gasped on the passionate loveliness that had changed the very vitals of her existence.
When she reached the corral, her father was standing at the bars. "So Evans is free!" he exclaimed, the first pleasant smile on his face that Ingeborg had seen there for many a day.
Ingeborg nodded and pulled the saddle off the gray mare. "Who told you?"
"He did. I heard that old flivver and I yumped out here, and here he was!"
Ingeborg gave a glance at the office. "I'm dead tired," she said, starting hastily up the trail toward the tents. "I'm going to sleep until supper-time."
But she did not sleep. She lay on her cot motionless, her eyes on the parching gray canvas, her lips compressed, her hands clenched. At supper-time she went over to the living-tent Her father was not there. In answer to Ingeborg's inquiry, Olga said:
"He ben over at the office. He kept books and tally while Mr. Evans ben away. When Mr. Evans came back, he told him, if he ben strong enough, to keep on!"
"That's foolish!" exclaimed Ingeborg. "That's—" Then she bit her lips and said nothing more.
Dusk was falling when she left the tent Heber was coming rapidly up the trail
"Ingeborg, come for a little walk with me," he said.
"I'm not in a nice frame of mind for a walk!" Ingeborg spoke slowly.
"I'll take you as you are!" Heber laughed. "Come, Ingeborg! You and I have so much to settle." And he led the way up the trail to the Frangi Panni. Here they established themselves on the steps of the little house where they could see the mesa, the pass and the desert beyond catching the last of the afterglow.
Heber put his hand on Ingeborg's knee, but she pushed it abruptly away.
"Don't! Don't! I'm all wrong within. My whole house has tumbled!"
"Tell me about it, Ingeborg," said Heber quietly.
"I broke my oath of office! I undertook to hear your case when I was prejudiced against you. I believed you guilty."
"But you remedied that," protested the man, "when you ordered change of venue."
"But I ordered that not because I believed you guilty, but because, believing you guilty, when I entered that courtroom for the first time this afternoon I was determined to free you! I didn't know how I was going to do it. I was going to hear all evidence freely and then by fair means or foul I was going to quash the case. Then I fought one more fight with myself and came back, and ordered change of venue to save my honor as a judge."
"In other words," Heber's voice was grim in the dusk, "you would have sacrificed the man you love to save your legal conscience! Ingeborg! Ingeborg! I can forgive you believing me guilty. I can't forgive, perhaps because I can't understand, your worship of what you call cold justice."
Ingeborg, her burning forehead resting on her hand, groaned. Heber went on slowly:
"I've puzzled and puzzled over it. Is it that cold North-woman blood in you? Or is it the intense self-consciousness of your sex placed in a position that is against your sex nature? Do you know in that cold brain of yours that a woman with her tenderness can never be a dispenser of cold justice? And knowing this and fearing it, does that make you lean too far the other way?"
"I know nothing of the sort!" answered Ingeborg. "What I do know is that your lax desert standards have already undermined my mental integrity. I shall resign and return to the practise of law!"
"My idea would be," Heber's voice had an edge that cut, "that my case has shown you supremely well fitted for the bench!"
The judge did not answer at once. The silence held until the heavens were thick studded with stars. Then Ingeborg said:
"Heber, I'm not fit to be a judge. I find that I can't be instrumental in visiting even a mild punishment on little Molly Fish! A year ago I'd have had no bowels of compassion for her. I'd have said that any girl of her type and environment knew exactly what that sort of a relationship with a man meant. And yet, now—oh, Heber, my fine, high house of life that I have erected, with, you can not dream, what sacrifice, has fallen about my ears! I am adrift without a rudder, and to a person of my temperament that is the very peak of agony!"
Heber turned toward her in the starlight, "Why did it fall, Ingeborg?"
"You warned me," she answered, "that the desert had strange influences. And the desert has taken my heart and restrung it to its own pitch! Its warmth and beauty have drugged me!"
"No, not drugged you!" cried Heber eagerly. "Not drugged you! Nowhere in the world is life more real than here in the desert! Our passions are nearer the surface, that is all. The naked austerity and harshness and beauty of the desert develop all our latent loves and hates and fears to the point where they erupt at a prick. That is all."
"All for you, perhaps," said Ingeborg sadly. "But not all for me! I might rebuild my house. I can not live as you desert people do, naked to the universe! I can not live a life of the senses. In the mind is my or any one else's most satisfying life."
"I agree with you!" returned Heber. "But do you think that your mind must stultify because you let the warmth of the desert enter your soul? If you are that stupid, Ingeborg, you had better go back to your north."
"It is too late!" said the judge. "It is mine no longer."
"Why is it too late?" asked Heber.
Ingeborg sprang to her feet. "Because after the desert opened the door love swept in. God! I am half mad with it! This is no silly, guilty lust such as poor Molly and Cresswell exchanged. I am no puerile miss. I'm a woman with the brain and the body that sailed the seas with Magnus and Sigurd and Erling Skakke. I've found life ugly and raw and I've conquered it. And now life has risen from under my feet where I had forced it. Not life as I have known it before. The very essence of existence, the very primal impulses of the Creator, have seized me and I am maddened by their beauty and their sadness and their ferocity."
She paused and the two stood in silence, the man with his head bowed, the woman with her face to the stars.
"I will not be conquered so!" said Ingeborg at last. And she turned and strode down the trail.
Ingeborg the next morning was met at the foot of the staircase leading to her office by the sheriff.
"I don't want to disturb Molly," she explained; "but I must get some papers before I go over to the court-house."
"You won't disturb Molly," said Nip. "Molly has beat it!"
"What do you mean?" asked the judge sharply.
"What I say! When I rapped on the door an hour ago, there was no answer. I busted in the door. No Molly! After all my bother to get a cot for her, too."
Ingeborg, with a rueful smile, shook her head and went on up to her disordered office.
By noon Olla had dropped into somewhat of its wonted quiet. The judge turned off an accumulation of petty court work, that kept her at the court-house until late in the afternoon. There was an unusual cordiality in Olla as she rode up the street homeward bound. But she observed it through a haze of her own intense pre-occupation.
When she sat down to supper, her father said: "Mr. Evans told me to say he would like to call on you this evening. I ben his clerk now and timekeeper."
Ingeborg looked at hex father closely. It seemed to her that his face was beginning to fill out.
"Mr. Evans is very generous to you," she said.
Ole's expression was half disdainful, half triumphant. "He is a man! He knows yust what it is to be crazy homesick and half dead. He never hated his father. He ain't ben that kind."
"I hate you, father," said Ingeborg, looking at him with a new expression in her clear blue yes, "just about as much as you hate me and in the same way."
Ole returned her look with eyes very similar to her own. "I know yust what's the matter with both of us," he said with a sudden smile. "We both ben crazy about Heber Evans!"
Then the judge went out into the kindly desert night.
HEBER was waiting for her. They did not speak until once more they were on the steps of the little house at the Frangi Panni. Then, as he sank down beside Ingeborg, Heber said sternly:
"Now, let's have it out."
"First," said Ingeborg, "I want to thank you for what you've done for my father. It is very generous."
"It's not generosity. It's desert justice if you will! There are so few of us out here that we understand each other's sufferings and punish accordingly. Ingeborg, what are you going to do?"
"I shall go back to practising law. About you— Oh, Heber, I don't know! I don't know!"
"Then let's stay right here till you do know!" said the man. "A woman like you can't tell a man that she loves him and expect him ever to be quite the same again. I think that I have a right to demand that here, to-night, you tell me whether or not you will marry me."
"But don't you see," cried Ingeborg, "that if I marry, my usefulness in my profession——"
"I care nothing about that!" interrupted Heber. "That is in your hands. The one great fact in the Universe to-night is your wonderful love—and mine. Good Heavens, Ingeborg! What do you think I am, a man of stone, that after what you said to me last night, that after thirty years of my life have passed without a woman in than and I meet and love a woman like you, with a love, by the Eternal, as great as your own—that after all this, I am sit under the burning stars and discuss cold justice with you?"
Ingeborg continued her pacing without reply. The warm air lifted the hair from her forehead. The cry of a distant coyote pack drifted from a far cañon. It seemed as if Ingeborg must be wearied out when she suddenly paused in front of Heber as he sat upon the step. Then slowly she dropped to one knee before him and bowed her head upon his hand as it lay upturned upon his knee. It was a gesture of infinite beauty, as if Ingeborg's pride did homage to the wonder of the gift which had descended upon them.
"Ah, Ingeborg!" whispered Heber brokenly, and he lifted her face and laid his lips to hers.