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.
Affairs progressed far too rapidly for some hours for West to reflect seriously over this experience. He could only act swiftly, answer questions, and do all in his power to assist others. The real meaning of the tragedy he made no effort to solve; for the time being, at least, he must leave that to others.
He stood guard beside the body until servants came and bore it to the house, but made no effort to follow. Instead he gave his address to Sexton, and continued his journey into the city. After what had passed between them he had no desire to again encounter Miss Natalie; and under these circumstances, actually shrank from meeting her. Just what this man’s death might mean to the girl he could not safely conjecture, yet deep down in his own heart, he felt convinced that this act of self-destruction would later prove to be a confession of guilt. Yet, be that as it may, he was already definitely ruled out of the matter. Not, unless she personally sent for him, could he ever venture to go to her again in any capacity. To his mind this decision was final.