West took a cigar from his pocket, and lit it. Although not altogether clear in his own mind, he had begun to see light. For a moment he smoked in silence in an endeavour to figure out his own duty, while Sexton, nervously clinching and unclinching his hands, watched and waited.
AGAINST A STONE WALL
Was this discovery anything to him? What difference could it make whether Percival Coolidge had died by his own hand, or been treacherously shot from ambush? How would it benefit Natalie Coolidge to have the truth revealed? And, if it would benefit her, why should he devote his time and labour to such an effort? She had cast him off, thrown him aside; her affairs had no further interest for him. Let her lawyer take care of them. These were West’s first thoughts.
All true, yet this state of mind brought no satisfaction. He was interested; he could not escape his first impressions of the girl, or drive from him a desire to serve her, whether she wished it, or not. She might, indeed, be in equal danger from an assassin. He could not determine this until he learned the cause of the slaying of Percival. Then, on the other hand, suppose some one else’s suspicions were also aroused. Who would they naturally look to as guilty of this horrible crime? There was but one answer—Natalie Coolidge. She was seemingly the only person to directly benefit by this sudden death. All these considerations urged him on, overcame his doubt and indecision. Then he desired to learn the truth himself. His eyes rested on Sexton’s anxious face.
“I’ve been thinking it over,” he admitted quietly, “and I guess it is up to you and me to find out what this means.”
“Yes, sir,” hesitatingly. “You—you don’t think it was Miss Natalie, sir?”
“No, I do not, Sexton. I have my own reasons for saying that. Yet naturally she is the one to be first suspected. Do you know anything?”
“Only that I am sure she was in the garden, sir, when the shot was fired. I saw her there just after you drove away.”
“That is conclusive then, so far as her personal actions are concerned. But there is an odd angle to this matter, and I might as well explain it to you first as last. Perhaps you can help figure the oddness out. I was not engaged to Miss Natalie, Sexton; I was not even a friend. I came to the house, employed to perform a certain task. She introduced me as her fiance merely to explain my presence there, and make the way clear. It was the impulse of a moment.”
“You don’t say, sir! What, may I ask, was it you was expected to do?”
“To discover who was masquerading in this city under her name.”
“Was there some one, sir?”
“So she told me; we went into that rather thoroughly. She claimed it had been going on for some months; checks had been cashed at the bank; even her servants had been approached by some one so closely resembling her as to deceive them; and she had been reported at various places she never visited. She was very much exercised over it.”