The Law and the Lady

NAOMI STAPLES, nearer sixty than fifty, strong, erect and quiet, sat opposite Judge Warren in his law office and listened to the demolition of the familiar past which had been her life, and which had seemed as unassailable as her own identity.

“I blame David very much,” the judge said at last, with the exasperated desire to hold someone responsible for any tangle, which is an unconscious testimony to our faith in the essential justice of the universe. “He should have got a divorce when Lucinda ran away. Certainly he should have had a divorce recorded before he married you.”

“But he thought she was dead, you know,” Naomi said. She spoke in an absent fashion, as though her mind were far away from her words. “A divorce would have seemed crazy.”

“He should have investigated. It was too serious a matter to take chances on. Good heavens, David should have realized what it might mean to you! I blame him very much.”

“Then I don’t,” she said, arousing herself from her half-attentive abstraction. “David wasn’t one to take thought. You know that as well as I. If anyone should have thought of it, I should. I always had to remind him about things, from paying the taxes to calling on the minister. But I don’t see as either of us was much to blame. Lucinda had left him four years before, and it was common talk that she was dead. Perhaps she wanted us to think so; but for all that Lucinda was always flighty, she wasn’t tricky. I don’t believe she would ever have thought of coming back to stir things up if that sharp lawyer Dodge hadn’t got hold of her,— I’ll say that for her.”

Judge Warren turned the pages of a legal digest impatiently. He had no need to consult the authorities further, but it gave him a chance to avert his eyes from the uncrowned woman who so quietly discussed her own sentence.

“It ’s hard on you,” he muttered.

Naomi understood the implication of sympathy for an inexpressible humiliation, and the lightening of her face was almost a smile.

“ Oh, I don’t think that matters much,’ she said.

“You don’t?” Astonishment made the judge stare. “ Why, I thought a woman "—

Naomi lifted her head ever so slightly.

“I was David’s wife in the sight of God and men for over thirty years. That stands.”

“But legally — ”

She smiled, and spoke with the gentle patience of a mature mind helping a child to comprehend.

“Do you remember what sort of a day last Saturday was ? It was a golden day, beautiful enough in the morning to make your heart ache. In the afternoon I went up to David’s grave and planted bulbs that will come up in white and yellow and crimson flowers before the snow is gone next spring. In the evening, this man Dodge, who says he is Lucinda’s lawyer, came to the house to say that Lucinda had come back to claim what belonged to her. That was last Saturday, August 31. Now if the printer that made that calendar you have hanging there on the wall had made a mistake and given August thirty days instead of thirty-one, and left that Saturday out, would it do away with the day that I know I lived through ? Don’t you see that it’s the same way with this ? There may be a misprint about the record, but David and I know that I am his wife,— not only was, but am.”

The lawyer smote his open book with his clenched hand. “By God, I believe you are right.”

“And I’m not worrying about the children, either,” Naomi went on, thoughtfully. “It would be different if they were school-children among school-children. You see I ’ve had all week to think it out. Now they are both grown and married, and well married, and this talk in Warrenvale can’t touch them very close. No, there is just one thing I want you to tell me the law of. That’s the property.”

Judge Warren nodded his head respectfully. It was entirely contrary to feminine precedent as he understood it, that a woman suddenly robbed of her “marriage lines” should take things in this unemotional and practical way; but no one ever treated Naomi Staples otherwise than with respect when it came to a question of handling property.

“Just what have I a right to claim?”

“Well,— not much, I’m afraid.”

“ My clothes ? ”

“Yes, and jewelry and personal effects.”

“Jewelry!” She laughed with quick derision. “I haven’t been much given to that. I have the watch David gave me before we were married, and my wedding ring,” — she held the word steadfastly and the judge did not fail her by the quiver of an eyelid, —“ and some trinkets the children have given me at Christmas and birthdays. Those are mine ? ”

“I’d like to see any court that would let Dodge touch them.”

“I’m not going to give him a chance. You can tell me the law as well as the court can, and that is all I want at this time. When I know just where I stand I ’ll know what to do. The money in the bank,— how about that?”

“If David had made a will, as I often told him to, it would be different. I would have something to fight on, then. But as he left it to the law to distribute his property, the court will have to order the money paid over to his—”

“To Lucinda,” she cut in. “I supposed that would be the way, but I thought I’d ask on the chance that the children might have a claim.”

“Not in this state. You see, the law doesn’t recognize the existence of children born,” —he stammered, — “of either the children or yourself. It simply proceeds as though you were not.”

“Well, for that matter, there isn’t so very much money in the bank just now,” she said, with a gleam of satisfaction in her eye. “I had to draw on that when David was sick; and I’m glad I spent so much on his funeral,— solid silver the handles were, and everything to match. I heard people thought it was extravagant, but I guess it was Providence. Dodge won’t get his hands on that, anyhow. That settles about everything except” — and for the first time she had to make an effort to keep her yoice steady — “except Hilltop Farm and the house. I suppose I haven’t any claim on them ? ”

He shook his head without looking at her. There was a moment’s silence in the room.

“Do you remember what Hilltop Farm looked like when I married David Staples?” she asked curiously.

The old judge pushed his chair back and walked across the room, to ease his nervousness by action.

“Of course I remember,” he said, explosively. “There isn’t a man or woman of our age in Warrenvale who doesn’t remember how you took hold of that stony, unprofitable, twenty-acre patch of waste ground and turned it into a gold mine. No one here had ever thought of raising asparagus for the city markets. It was genius, — the same sort of genius that has made men famous.”

Naomi’s deep eyes deepened. She knew that she had achieved. Life, love, and death, are the common heritage of the race, but not to all is given the power of creation. Through the long, hard years there had been daily joy for her in that knowledge, and the joy could not die on the moment, though the fruit of her toil was to be torn from her and cast in the dust.

“It was a great thing you did,” the judge continued, warming to his subject. “You took David when he was broken-spirited, discouraged, hopeless, and you made a man of him. You took his poverty-stricken little farm, and turned it into a veritable garden of Eden. You took his dilapidated little four-room house, and turned it into a place that all Warrenvale is proud of. There isn’t a prettier home in the town.”

Naomi’s lip quivered for a moment, but it was rather with scorn than with weakness. “And now you say that the law will take it from me,— the law, which is supposed to do justice between man and man?”

“I said it was hard on you,” he muttered.

“It is n’t that, — I can stand things. I am not one to whimper. But it is not right. It is not just. How, then, can it be the law ? ”

“The law has to go by rules,” the uncomfortable judge made answer. “It has to — strike an average. It does n’t claim to do ideal justice. It sometimes even does a wrong in a particular case, to prevent an uncertainty which would lead to a more widespread wrong. Nobody could deal in property, for instance, unless the ownership went by established rules.”

‘It is n’t just property,” said Naomi, slowly. “Not to me. To her it is, I suppose. I would n’t mind if it were just wood and mortar worth so many thousand dollars. But it is home to me,— and more. It was home at a time when things meant to me what they never can again. It is alive with memories. And in a queer kind of a way, it is n’t just memories. The things I hoped for are alive in the house to me. It is — everything.”

“But all that is beyond the jurisdiction of any court,” the judge said gravely.

Naomi searched his face, and the stifled pain in her eyes was more tragic than any cry. For a long moment she seemed to be weighing the world for wkich he stood in the balance of her own mind. Then her look fell, and the lines of her face hardened.

“So, after all, I must depend on myself,” she said, slowly. “Well, I ’ve fought my fights alone before this. I had to mortgage the farm, you remember, to build the house, and many people thought it was crazy, and made a mock of me. But I could n’t bear that the children should have that other place to remember among their first impressions. I had to start them right. I wanted them to look back always to a beautiful childhood And so they do, now. Hilltop Farm will always be to them the most beautiful memory in the world.”

“And quite right, too. I suppose,” he added, with rather too obvious an intent to change the current of her thoughts, “I suppose you will be going on now to make your home with either Tom or Patty.”

“Yes.” She pulled herself together, and dropped the trap-door upon her emotion. “They have both wanted me to come, ever since their father died, but I kept putting them off. But now I’m going. I don’t think Warrenvale and I will have much to do with each other after this. I’m going this evening.”

“You don’t, need to hurry. Dodge has n’t got his decree yet.”

“But you say he will get it, and that’s all I wanted to know. I shall go right home and pack up my belongings,— clothes and jewelry and personal presents, you said, — and then I ’ll turn the keys over to you for Lucinda, and take the east-bound train at eight o’clock. By the way,”— and she reached for her handsome Boston bag, —“will you bear witness that I did n’t use any money I had n’t a legal right to for my ticket ? Tom sent me this check last week, so I should n’t have any excuse for putting off my visit longer. It just comes in handy. Will you cash it ?”

The Judge handed her ten clean tendollar bills in exchange, with obvious relief. He had, indeed, been silently cogitating for the last half hour on the ways and means for supplying his suddenly impoverished but most independent client with money for current expenses.

“Is there anything else I can do?”

“No, thank you. I’m used to looking out for myself, you know. Good-bye, Judge.”

“Surely not good-bye for good, Naomi ?’ ’

“Most likely.”

They had been school-children together fifty years before, and had lived their lives out in village intimacy. The judge’s voice was unrecognizably husky when he pressed her hand and muttered,

“Good-bye, Naomi. God bless you! ”

But there was no dimming of Naomi Staples’s clear eye. She nodded quietly and walked out into the street with her own firm and light step.

People turned to look after her as she went from place to place, for there was no one in Warrenvale who did not know that Lucinda Staples had come back, after thirty-five years of absence, to lay claim to her husband’s now valuable estate. There had been hardly any other subject deemed worthy of discussion since the man Dodge, who represented himself as Lucinda’s lawyer, had appeared with her on the scene a week ago. The legal and social aspects of the case were so thoroughly threshed out that any boy in the street could have explained all the technicalities to the court. There was no question of disputable identity to complicate matters. Lucinda Staples, now worn and dingy and hardly used, was still, unquestionably, the Lucinda who, wearying after a dull year on Hilltop Farm, had given Warrenvale its one sensation in a generation by running away from home to join a wandering opera company. Her return had been an equal sensation. She was David Staples’s widow, — she, and not the longrespected Naomi. And the provincial moralists were greatly perplexed.

But no one spoke of these matters to Naomi as she went from place to place that morning. There was something In her abstraction that forbade even a wordless expression of sympathy. She paid all her outstanding bills, secured her ticket and railway berth, and arranged with Jim Stinson, the local express agent and general utility man, to come to Hilltop Farm for her trunk at six o’clock. Then, with the slate clear, she went to the livery stable where she had left her horse and buggy, and started on the two-mile drive that lay between the village and her home.

Every step of the way was familiar. As she drove slowly up the winding country road, she knew just when to look for this and that especial vista. She looked intently, deeply, registering each scene upon her visual memory; but again and always her look came back to the goal of her journey, where a white house gleamed out against the green background of the higher hill,— the white house which had been the dream of her early ambitions, the pride and joy and satisfaction of her maturer life. When a turn of the road hid it she knew just where it would reappear, nearer and more clearly detailed. The colonial columns at the front thrilled her again as they had in the first days of her possession, and as they had never failed to thrill her on every return to her home. The windows that overlooked the valley were intelligent to her eyes. The air of substantial comfort, of dignity and prosperity, about the place, greeted her like a presence. She looked at her creation with the same high look that had awed the villagers, and the place looked back at its creator with conscious response.

She put away the horse and took a scrutinizing survey of the barn and the garden. Every part of it was as familiar as the lines of her own hand. But she did not linger here. There was much to be done inside.

It was time for her luncheon, and with a thoughtful glance at the clock she proceeded with the work she had planned for herself for the afternoon. First, she set the table for her meal,— the last she would eat in this house. This was no mere midday consumption of food, to be dispatched in the summary fashion of womankind. It was a function, a memorial service, in which she was to take part, and she proceeded with the care befitting the performance of a ritual. Her finest damask she laid on the table, with the best china and silver, and the embroidered centre-piece which she had always reserved for her most appreciative “company.” She went to the garden for a spray of trailing nasturtium, and arranged it gracefully in an old silver vase in the centre of the table. Then she brought out bread and butter and her best jelly. She was not particularly fond of sweets, and seldom cared to taste her own jellies; but this special kind had taken the prize at the state fair, and it was entitled to this formal recognition. The white breast of a cold roast chicken, with sweet pickles from her choicest lot, and tea and cake, completed the repast. Her critical eye viewed the table with quiet satisfaction. It was quite as nice as any table she had ever seen. It was worthy of even this occasion.

She ate with deliberation and enjoyment, and then restored everything to immaculate order. The ceremony was complete.

Then she went to the attic for a trunk, for she must begin her packing. All here was in the perfect order that rejoiced her housewifely soul, A row of little blue and white bags hung from the ceiling, each labeled to show at a glance the variety of household supply which it carried in reserve. The window to the east, where the rain was apt to come in during a storm, was open. She carefully closed it. On the north side was a row of trunks, and Naomi ran her eye over them with a flicker of disdainful amusement. David had always bought the trunks as household necessities,— would Judge Warren think she had a right to take one away with her ? That big trunk which they called Tom’s,— well that was Tom’s, come to think. His father had bought it for him when he went to college, and it had grown too shabby in those four years for him to countenance when he went out into the world to make his fortune afterwards. Yes, that one definitely was Tom’s, not David’s, and if Tom’s, then no one could gainsay her right to use it. She thumped it down the two flights of stairs to the front hall, with a triumphant sense of having scored one against the law.

It was not difficult to gather the personal belongings which Judge Warren said she had a right to. She knew the genealogy and collateral relations of every article in the house, and she collected, with expedition and yet with that same air of disdainful care, the books, pictures, and trinkets which had been the tallies of the passing holidays for thirty years. Some were absurd and pathetic, evidences of the children’s unhampered choice in their first eager bargainings; some absurd and magnificent, David’s taste having run to peacock-feather fans and carved teak. She packed them carefully among her dresses, with a passionate sense of rescue for each piece saved.

The trunk packed and corded and ready for Jim Stinson when he came, Naomi glanced at the clock again. She still had an hour left for the task she had had in her mind from the beginning,— the ceremonial review and farewell to the house. Before she departed forever from the spot which meant so much to her, she must gather up and fix in that inner treasure-house of memory which lay beyond the reach of the Law every look and aspect of the House. Something her heart must have to rest upon in all these years to come. The smouldering bitterness died in her sad eyes, and with every faculty sensitive to the significance of the hour, she moved slowly from one room to another, tasting the special quality of each with delicate perception. This front bedroom, facing the west, had been her own since the house was built, and its glory had always been the flood of sunset light that held the day fast, long after shadows had filled the valley below. She snapped the window shades to their highest, letting the light fill the room and fall in a shower of radiance across the things she so familiarly knew. The room had been furnished with little besides sunshine and invisible hopes for the first few years; but as the crops prospered under her care, real furniture had been added, each piece a treasure, carefully selected, planned for, lived with. That Braun photograph of a Corot had meant a winter’s study of the art-dealers’ catalogues. She lingered before it with a moment of rebellion. Not to rescue what David had so loved seemed hard to the point of cruelty; but she had determined to abide — oh, strictly! — by Judge Warren’s opinion, and by his judgment she had no right to anything she had herself bought with David’s money. Her lip curled at the thought that Lucinda had a better right; but the scorn died in a moment. She could afford to forget her — now. The still sunshine in the picture had leaped into palpitating life under the kindred touch of the western glow from the window, till all the room seemed to be joyously alive. She closed the door softly, as though she were shutting in something that must not be disturbed.

This room under the eaves was Tom’s — and clean to bareness it was, as he had always loved to have it. The iron cot and the military camp-outfit had been his own choice. How they always understood each other, they two! The room was thronged with memories of the curlyheaded boy, the eager youth, the strong man who was now waiting for her in the far city. The man belonged to many. The boy had been hers alone. She crossed the room to shake out the folds of the college banners that drooped against the Wall, and as she came back she let her hand linger on the white pillow of the cot. Almost it seemed as though a curly head might turn under her light pressure, and Tom’s funny voice — She went out quickly.

This was Patty’s pretty room. That wide ledge under the window was where the child had been in the habit of curling up with her fairy tales in those faraway years—those everlastingly near-by years — when the adventures of Cinderella were the events of the day. Here she had stood while Naomi’s fingers fastened her bridal wreath, and here, after the ceremony in the flower-decked parlor below, she had flung a sobbing farewell to her old room with its girlhood memories. Now Naomi kissed her hand to the room. She did not weep. There was only a steady tenderness of farewell in her look, as there had been when she kissed Patty to self-control and placed her hand in that of her perplexed young husband.

Here, down the stairs, Patty had come in those trailing white robes that made her seem consecrated and apart; and there, before the bay-window, — the spot was invisibly marked forever, — she had stood. And her first look, when the solemn vows had been spoken, had been for her mother, — not for the young husband at her side, but for her, Naomi. No other picture could overlay that, though other pictures thronged the silent spaces on every side; and chiefly one that brought up before her again the first aspect the room had worn when she and David came into the empty, finished house that first evening after the workmen had left, and looked about it solemnly; and David turned and kissed her in his shy and awkward way.

She passed through the dining-room slowly. How it had always struck the note of the opening day with sunshine ! How the warm colors had glowed under the evening lamp! Here they had drawn together, each day renewing the bond that made them one people. Had it not, indeed, been communion bread and sacramental wine that they had shared in this room ? The hush upon the place echoed the “nevermore” of her heart.

As she entered the kitchen, the flutter of the white muslin curtain at the window seemed to ask her attention, like an insistent child. The house had been so still that the eager little motion seemed intentional,— a call for her approval, or an urging of its readiness for service. She smiled at the curtain with quick responsiveness. Yes, they understood each other. Then, lighting a candle, she went down to the cellar to complete her review. The separate bins for the garden vegetables, the big cupboard of famous preserves, the neat arrangement of garden tools not in use, all responded to her silent challenge like soldiers on parade. Her deep eyes approved silently. The years might slip from her hand to-night like a crumpled scroll, but her life was justified. The victory she had wrung from fate was all complete.

The sound of a horse’s feet on the gravel outside warned her that Jim Stinson had come, and she went up at once, with the lighted candle in her hand, closing and locking each door behind her as she went.

“You there, Mrs. Staples?” Jim’s voice called.


She set down the candle on the kitchen table, and went out to where Jim stood by the side door. “The trunk is in the front hall. You better drive around that way and put it on your wagon while I get old Job from the barn. You ’re to take him down to Moody’s livery on your way to the station.”

“All right.” But he did not move at once. Jim Stinson, like everyone else in Warrenvale, knew why Naomi was going away. He looked at her curiously and tapped his boot with his whip. As a man and a neighbor, something was demanded of him. He looked out over the garden and remarked impersonally, “It’s a blame shame, that’s what it is.”

“What’s a shame?” asked Naomi, absently.

“Why, that this place should go to Lucinda Staples, after all that you’ve done for it.”

“Oh!” She started as though someone had suddenly reminded her of something lost. “I had quite forgotten about Lucinda for the time being.”

Jim stared at her. It seemed rather an unnecessary strain on his credulity.

“I’ve had other matters on my mind,” she said; and unconsciously her voice was stern with something of the impersonal sternness of Fate. “That reminds me, Jim, I was going to ask you to witness my signature. Your commission as notary public has n’t run out yet, has it ?”

“No, ma’am,” said Jim, wonderingly.

“I want you to seal this paper for me. It is a list of the things I have taken from the house. I swear it is correct and complete, and that everything else has been left in the house just as it stands. Now I ’ll sign it, and you sign here. I copied that part for you to sign out of an old deed, so I know it’s right.”

“But I ain’t got my seal here,” gasped the surprised man of law.

“That’s all right. You can put the seal on afterwards. See that you do, and then give the paper to Judge Warren, with the house keys, first thing to-morrow morning. He ’ll tell you it’s all right. I didn’t have any witness to see what I took, but I guess my affidavit will count for something, if any question ever comes up,

Jim signed. People seldom discussed Naomi’s instructions with her. Then she locked the side door from the outside and gave him the key, and went, herself to the barn for Job. In a few minutes they had left Hilltop Farm behind them and were clattering down the road to Warrenvale.

Except for the spattering pebbles kicked loose by the horses’ feet, and an occasional stumble by Job, who found the ways of Providence surprising in thus suddenly turning him into a led horse, the journey was made in silence. Naomi was absorbed in watching the evening light gathering upon the familiar farms and fields and patches of wood they passed. Jim thought it strange that not once did she turn to look at Hilltop Farm behind them. One would have expected a woman to show some little feeling about giving up her home. But when they reached the bridge at the edge of the village, she suddenly put her hand on the reins.

“ Let me out here. I’ll walk the rest of the way. Don’t forget, to turn the keys and that paper over to Judge Warren first thing. And now good-bye, Jim.”

“Good-bye, Mrs. Staples.” And as she was climbing down over the wheel he added gruffly, “We won’t forget you in Warrenvale.”

“I don’t think you will, Jim,—not just at once,” she said, with a faint smile.

She waited until he had gone on, and then she walked to the middle of the bridge and leaned her arms on the railing and looked back up the road. It was the point, as she knew well, from which Hilltop Farm could be seen to the best advantage. The white building, vivid against the green background, was at the end of a long up-leading vista, and often, on her return from town, had she stopped here to watch the sunset glare burn red as fire upon the Farm windows, — as now. More than once her heart had given a sudden leap with the thought that the place was really afire, so redly the windows glowed, — as they did now. And this time the red did not fade with the shifting sunset. The western light changed, but steadily, fiercely, leapingly red the windows still glowed, and though Naomi did not move, her eyes dwelt with deep content on the house she had built.

There was a growing sound from the village,— the sound of voices, of shouts, of running feet, of hard-driven wheels.

“Your house is afire,” the foremost shouted,— the two boys astride one galloping horse; and galloped on.

“Fire! Fire! Fire! was the far-away cry along the road toward town.

Judge Warren, in a light cart, pulled up suddenly when he saw the silent figure leaning against the hand-rail.

“You are here!” he cried, in great relief. “I was afraid — Jump in, and I ’ll get you there in a hurry.”

She shook her head. “My train is due in half an hour.”

“Naomi! Do you know your house is burning ? ”

“It will be burnt to the ground before you can possibly get there. See, the roof is going.”

A red flare leaped high into the air, fringing the heavy rolls of smoke that poured from the pierced roof. It was like a battle banner,— the flaunting of dauntless spirits riding to triumphant defeat.

Another buggy came tearing up to the bridge, the man Dodge leaning forward over the dashboard to lash his horse on.

“The house is afire!”he shrieked from afar, when he saw Naomi.

She nodded.

“It’s my house, — it’s Lucinda’s house!” he shrilled at her.


He pulled the horse up and leaped from the buggy to confront her.

“I believe you set it afire yourself, you — ” He gurgled in inarticulate fury.

Naomi faced him, erect, quiet, so untouched by his clamor as almost to seem unconscious of it.

“I came away with Jim Stinson soon after six, but it is just possible that you may be right,” she said thoughtfully. “I remember now that when Jim called to me I set down my candle on the kitchen table, and like as not the wind blew the muslin curtain right against the flame. It could easy have happened that way. I locked the door from the outside and we came right away, and I can’t seem to remember that I did blow out that candle.”

“It’s arson. I ’ll have the law of you. It’s my property. You will have to pay for this. I ’ll have the law,”He flung his frantic words at her like missiles.

“Have a care, Mr. Dodge,” Judge Warren warned grimly. But he did not look at Naomi.

“I think,” said Naomi calmly, “that the law has had about all that it can get from me. I own nothing that would be worth attaching, if that is what you mean.”

“The insurance money belongs to the widow, anyhow,” Dodge said suddenly. “You don’t get a cent of that.” And he jumped into his buggy and whipped on up the road.

“You go too. Judge,” Naomi said, turning with a little smile to Judge Warren, who had been watching her with troubled eyes. “You won’t any of you get there in time to save anything,— see that burst of flame ! — but you’d better be on the ground. I shall stay here till the train comes. And, if you don’t mind, Judge, I’d rather see the last of it alone.”

He drove on at that, joining the excited procession that was pushing its way up the hill in the hope of being in at the death. But Naomi had understood the situation perfectly. By the time the judge reached the farm, there was nothing but a failing bonfire where the house had once stood, and the crowd of men and boys about the yard had given over their futile attempts to save anything. The long shadows cast by the occasional spurts of flame leaped like mocking spirits about the ruins, and to the judge’s fancy there was something consciously fantastic in the way they danced; but gradually they tired and dropped down, the flames fell away from the charred beams, and the quiet shadows of the night and the trees came timidly on to reclaim their freehold.

The judge had been trying to avoid Dodge, whose scolding was an affront to the scene, when he saw Pringle, the one insurance agent of the town, on the other side. The troubled look came back into his eyes. He would have given much not to meet Pringle here and now. So, setting his heavy jaw a little, he picked his way across the yard to where the agent stood apart, absorbed in contemplation of the smoking mass.

“I’m afraid this hits you pretty hard, Pringle,” he said soberly, as the other looked up with a countenance of undecipherable emotions.

Pringle tossed away the straw he had been chewing and straightened up. In his eye there was a curious excitement.

“No,” he said, slowly. “Fact is, it doesn’t touch me at all.”,

“You don’t mean to say the place wasn’t insured ? Why, I told Naomi Staples she ought not to carry a cent less than five thousand on it.”

“Yes, that’s what I wrote on it,— twenty-six years ago the first policy was issued, and she’s always kept it up as regular as clock-work.”

“Has it lapsed, then ? I don’t wonder if she forgot, with all she has had on her mind.”

“No, not lapsed exactly. Fact is, she canceled the policy to-day.”

“Canceled it?”

“At noon. Said she was going to leave, and had no responsibility for the property after this. Insisted on my repaying a part of the premium for the unexpired term, and gave up her policy. She came to see me after leaving your office this forenoon.”

The two men looked at each other with expressionless faces for a long moment. From the distance the whistle of an engine came sharply up the Hilltop road, as the east-bound train fled away into the friendly night. Then Judge Warren reached for his tobacco pouch.

“I always said,” he remarked, “that for a woman Naomi Staples had an uncommon sense of justice.”