As the car whirled West down the circling
driveway, the only sign of life visible about the
house was the motionless figure of Sexton on the steps.
If either Miss Natalie, or Percival Coolidge, took
interest enough in the proceedings to witness his
departure, they chose to remain carefully concealed
within. His glance searched the front of the mansion
vainly; no window revealed an occupant. From behind
where the guests were at play, sounded a distant murmur
of voices, and laughter, but the house itself expressed
only calm indifference. There was no pretence
even at speeding the parting guest. He had simply
been dismissed, turned out, decently enough, perhaps,
considering his status, yet with a certain measure
of contempt which rankled nevertheless.
The young man could not altogether
reconcile this style of treatment with his preconceived
conception of Miss Natalie Coolidge. He had been
too deeply impressed by her to easily relinquish his
previously formed opinion of her character. This
latest action did not at all coincide with her former
open friendliness. He had not gone to her as a
servant, nor had she in any way treated him as such.
What could account for so remarkable a change?
Even if she had felt his present usefulness was ended;
that she had made a mistake in ever admitting him to
her confidence, the dismissal could have been much
more pleasantly achieved. She could still have
exhibited friendliness, and an interest in his departure.
Her words and manner had been extremely abrupt, and
her explanation far from satisfactory.
Perhaps it was the influence of Percival
Coolidge which accounted for the sudden change in
the girl. This explanation seemed probable.
The man had in some way regained her confidence, and
then, through trickery, had succeeded in poisoning
her mind. There was no doubt he would do this,
if possible, and the probability was that he had finally
discovered a way. From the very first, West had
felt the antagonism of the other; there had never
been any love lost between them. Coolidge disliked
him instinctively, and made no effort to conceal his
feelings; he resented the intimacy between him and
Natalie, naturally enough, and would use every means
possible to get the younger man completely out of the
house. No doubt he looked upon him as dangerous.
But why? There could only be one answer to this
query. His own dishonesty; his secret knowledge
of some trickery relative to the funds of the estate.
He had convinced the girl of his honesty, but, more
than ever, West believed the fellow a rascal.
His very helplessness to intervene rendered him the
These thoughts flitted through his
mind, yet not consecutively, as the car left the grounds,
and turned on to the main road, leading citywards.
They were still skirting the Coolidge estate, although
the house behind was concealed by shrubbery.
The road descending into a ravine spanned by a concrete
bridge, and a rather dense growth of trees shut out
the surrounding landscape. Nothing moving was
in sight. Suddenly, just as they cleared the
bridge, and began to mount the opposite grade, there
came a sharp report, sounding so close at hand the
chauffeur clamped on his brake, and glanced anxiously
over the side of the car.
“Blow-out, wasn’t it, sir?”
“No,” said West shortly,
staring himself out into the thicket of trees at their
left. “It was a shot fired over there; a
revolver I should say. Wait a second, Sanders,
until I see what has happened.”
It was largely curiosity which led
him to leave the car. The very conviction that
it was a revolver which had been discharged brought
a desire to learn the cause of the shot. The
sound of either a rifle or a shot-gun in that lonely
spot would have been instantly dismissed as natural
enough, but a pistol was different. That was no
place for such a weapon. It somehow had a grimly
sinister sound. Led forward by a dim path, he
plunged down the sharp incline of the hill, and pressed
his way through the thick fringe of trees beyond.
Behind these ran a wire fence, guarding a stretch
of meadow, the high, uncut grass waving in the wind.
Nothing was in sight except this ripening field of
clover sweeping upward to the summit of an encircling
ridge. The silence was profound; the loneliness
It was this fact which startled West
from curiosity into suspicion. Surely there had
been a shot fired a revolver shot almost
on the very spot where he stood. He could not
doubt the evidence of his own ears. Yet who had
fired? For what purpose? and how had the party
disappeared so completely during that narrow margin
of time? There was no place where a man could
hide unless he lay flat in the clover; and what occasion
would any one have to thus seek concealment?
Even if the shooter knew of the passing automobile,
or heard his approach through the trees, there could
be no reasonable cause for concealment. Determined
now to learn exactly what had happened, West pressed
his passage forward through the vines of the fence,
and emerged into the field beyond. A half dozen
yards and he found the clover trampled, as though
a man had passed that way. The trail led into
a shallow depression, past a rather large boulder,
near which the trampling of the grass was even more
plainly revealed, as though the stranger had remained
here for some time, had even seated himself, and then,
abruptly ended a few yards away. Evidently the
fellow had turned back at this point, and retraced
West, now thoroughly puzzled, and
already convinced that some mystery hovered over the
place, began to circle through the untrampled clover,
but without any defined purpose. All at once,
at the lower end of the gully he came, unexpectedly,
upon another trail, this one well marked, apparently
frequently used, which led straight across the field,
and terminated at a small gate leading through the
wire fence. Evidently here was a short cut to
the road, well known to the servants on the estate,
and possibly others. The discovery, however, told
nothing further than this, and contenting himself
with another glance about the unchanged field of rustling
clover, West proceeded along the course of the path,
intending to thus rejoin the automobile, waiting his
return behind the trees.
Within a few steps of the gate, which
was closed, he came to a sudden, horrified pause,
staring ahead at a strange something huddled in the
path. It was a shapeless thing, bearing no resemblance
to a human being, until he advanced closer; then he
recognized the form of a man, curled up as a dog sleeps,
face down hidden by his arm, and limbs drawn up, as
if in a sudden spasm of agony. A hat was in the
path beyond, where it had fallen, and a revolver lay
glittering in the sunlight a few feet away. There
was nothing familiar about either figure or clothing,
yet unquestionably there lay the body of a suicide.
The single shot they had heard, the tell-tale revolver
close to the dead man’s hand, were clear evidence
of what had occurred.
The unexpectedness of this discovery,
the peculiar position of the dead man, the loneliness
of that deserted field in which he lay, shocked West
and, for a moment left him strangely hesitant.
Who was the man? What could have led up to the
pitiful tragedy? Yet he advanced step by step
nearer to the hideous object in the path. The
man had been shot directly behind the right ear, killed
instantly, no doubt, as the deadly bullet crashed
through the brain. West lifted the arm which concealed
the face, already shrinking from the suspicion, which
had begun to assail him. Then he knew who the
dead man was Percival Coolidge.