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PAGE 4

The Secret of Macarger’s Gulch
by [?]

With a hand that shook a little, the other still grasping my gun, I restored my fire and made a critical examination of the place. There was nowhere any sign that the cabin had been entered. My own tracks were visible in the dust covering the floor, but there were no others. I relit my pipe, provided fresh fuel by ripping a thin board or two from the inside of the house–I did not care to go into the darkness out of doors–and passed the rest of the night smoking and thinking, and feeding my fire; not for added years of life would I have permitted that little flame to expire again.

Some years afterward I met in Sacramento a man named Morgan, to whom I had a note of introduction from a friend in San Francisco. Dining with him one evening at his home I observed various “trophies” upon the wall, indicating that he was fond of shooting. It turned out that he was, and in relating some of his feats he mentioned having been in the region of my adventure.

“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’?”

“I lost a mule near there once,” I replied, “and the mischance has– has quite–upset me.”

“My dear,” said Mr. Morgan, with the mechanical intonation of an interpreter translating, “the loss of Mr. Elderson’s mule has peppered his coffee.”