“Mr. Morgan,” I asked abruptly, “do you know a place up there called Macarger’s Gulch?”
“I have good reason to,” he replied; “it was I who gave to the newspapers, last year, the accounts of the finding of the skeleton there.”
I had not heard of it; the accounts had been published, it appeared, while I was absent in the East.
“By the way,” said Morgan, “the name of the gulch is a corruption; it should have been called ‘MacGregor’s.’ My dear,” he added, speaking to his wife, “Mr. Elderson has upset his wine.”
That was hardly accurate—I had simply dropped it, glass and all.
“There was an old shanty once in the gulch,” Morgan resumed when the ruin wrought by my awkwardness had been repaired, “but just previously to my visit it had been blown down, or rather blown away, for its debris was scattered all about, the very floor being parted, plank from plank. Between two of the sleepers still in position I and my companion observed the remnant of a plaid shawl, and examining it found that it was wrapped about the shoulders of the body of a woman, of which but little remained besides the bones, partly covered with fragments of clothing, and brown dry skin. But we will spare Mrs. Morgan,” he added with a smile. The lady had indeed exhibited signs of disgust rather than sympathy.
“It is necessary to say, however,” he went on, “that the skull was fractured in several places, as by blows of some blunt instrument; and that instrument itself—a pick-handle, still stained with blood— lay under the boards near by.”
Mr. Morgan turned to his wife. “Pardon me, my dear,” he said with affected solemnity, “for mentioning these disagreeable particulars, the natural though regrettable incidents of a conjugal quarrel— resulting, doubtless, from the luckless wife’s insubordination.”
“I ought to be able to overlook it,” the lady replied with composure; “you have so many times asked me to in those very words.”
I thought he seemed rather glad to go on with his story.
“From these and other circumstances,” he said, “the coroner’s jury found that the deceased, Janet MacGregor, came to her death from blows inflicted by some person to the jury unknown; but it was added that the evidence pointed strongly to her husband, Thomas MacGregor, as the guilty person. But Thomas MacGregor has never been found nor heard of. It was learned that the couple came from Edinburgh, but not—my dear, do you not observe that Mr. Elderson’s boneplate has water in it?”
I had deposited a chicken bone in my finger bowl.
“In a little cupboard I found a photograph of MacGregor, but it did not lead to his capture.”
“Will you let me see it?” I said.
The picture showed a dark man with an evil face made more forbidding by a long scar extending from near the temple diagonally downward into the black mustache.
“By the way, Mr. Elderson,” said my affable host, “may I know why you asked about ’Macarger’s Gulch’?”