|Chapter Title||THE SKELETON.|
|Newspaper Title||Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Mount Macedon Mystery|
"Where's your wombat, boys ?" asked the smiling host. "Here," replied Bruce, who had taken possession of the ghastly relic by virtue of first discovery, suddenly uncovering the skull, which, with its everlasting grin,
seemed to regard the matter — probably from the frights it caused— in the light of a good joke. "Where on earth did you get that ?" inquired the alarmed innkeeper. "Dug it out of a wombat-hole at the foot of the Camel's Hump," was the laconic answer. "Ah," said English, thoughtfully, "this discovery requires sifting thoroughly. It would be as well if you gave information to the police at once, for some light on past events may re- sult." Have you any theory regarding the skull ?" asked Bruce. " Yes, a couple of years ago two men mysteriously disappeared in this locality. They were last seen on the Camel's Hump, and no trace has been found of them since, with the exception of blood stains on the great cliff. It was thought at the time that during a thick mist which enveloped the peak, they might have accidentatly walked over the preci- pice ; but the absence of the bodies ren- dered all attempts at discovery a failure, although every possible effort was made to throw light on the mystery." " I read something about it in the papers," replied Bruce. With this information regarding the events of two years previous, which most of the party now recollected reading in the metropolitan newspapers, Bruce sought out the one policeman, stationed at Middle Gully, and placed the skull in his possession, after recounting the man- ner in which it had been found. The constable arranged for a large party to proceed to the spot on the follow- ing day, and during the evening tele- graphed to Melbourne for the detective who had charge of the Edgar and Marshall disappearance cases. With the first train next morning De- tective Lynx arrived, and a considerable number of visitors and residents made their way to the wombat-hole to search for further remains. For several hours the party labored, and at length they came to a recess in the drive — evidently one of the sleeping places of the animal — where they found rib-bones partly gnawed and also a thigh bone. Thus encouraged they still excavated, and soon it was apparent that they were reaching the living occupant of the bur- row. Deep growls and grunts were plainly heard, and a small terrier that "bearded the lion in his den," came out more rapidly than it entered, and with every mark of fear. In another half hour they saw the eyes of the wombat gleaming through the darkness like fiery coals, and at the sug- gestion of an old resident it was decided to shoot it, for, said he : "If the darned thing starts burrowing it may get away from us faster than we can follow." The advice was sound, and Bruce, acting upon it, put a charge of swan shot between the two gleaming eyes. A short struggle and scraping followed, and it was evident the shot had done its work. Still the diggers toiled, and it was nearly five o'clock before they came to the dead body of a wombat of unusually large size, and evidently, from the greyhairs — or bristles— which thickly studded the tawny hide, of great age. Lifting it out, they found the drive, ended in that direction, and a chamber of some size had been scooped out. This was the regular sleeping and din- ing place of the animal — its bed-chamber and dining-room. Scattered about were the bones of various animals, for a wom- bat has the appetite of a pig. It is herbivorous, gramnivorous, or carnivor- ous as occasion demands. It is, in fact, omnivorous, for all is fish that comes to its net. The experienced eye of the detective at once discovered the bones they were searching for. With the exception of the very smallest bones, the missing parts of the skeleton they were in search of were found and carefully wrapped up. Considerable difficulty was experienced in gathering up the bones, as they were nearly all broken in various places. The party then made a close search along the route of the excavation to see if any branches from the main hole existed where another skeleton might be concealed, but none were discovered. After the detective had made a rigid scrutiny of the granite cliff, and measured the distance between the spot where the blood stains had been found at the base and the mouth of the late wombat-hole, the party gathered together and slowly made their way back to Middle Gully, carrying with them in a bag the inert bones that once were as capable of loco- motion as the most robust amongst them. The detective took charge of them, and, arriving at the village, accompanied McDouough, the constable, to his
residence to obtain the skull and have tea with him. Unlocking a small cupboard, the police- man took out the skull and handed it to his friend. It was in an exceedingly good state of preservation probably through its having been protected from wind and weather. The detective looked at it intently, as though he wished to read its secret. Then taking a small parcel from his pocket he unrolled it slowly, revealing a tooth. "Look here, McDonough," he said. "This skull has a remarkably fine set of teeth. Many a swell dude or fine lady would envy it their possession if they saw them, but one is missing, and I think I can supply the want." Then carefully taking up the bony head he placed the tooth in the solitary gap in the jaws, and it fitted exactly. "You see, this tooth is similar to its fellows in the jaw," he remarked to the interested constable. "I have no doubt it belongs to the head, and it may furnish an important clue to the identification of the skeleton. This tooth was found at the foot of the Camel's Hump Cliff two years ago, as you may remember, when Edgar, the tourist, and Marshall, the survey man, disappeared. It is most probable that the remains belong to one of these men. But which?" he musingly added, "that's the point. The fact of the bones being so fractured is also evidence that death resulted from a fearful fall." " But how did the body get into the wombat-hole?" inquired M'Donough. "The wombat could not possibly have dragged it there, big though it was, and it could not have been taken piece-meal ; the search parties were at the place where the tooth was found within twenty-four hours after the men disap- peared." "If we had found two skeletons instead of one," returned Lynx, apparently un- heeding his companion's questions, " the mystery would have been much clearer, but as it is I don't like the appearance of the case." "But you don't suppose," was the reply, "that Marshall and Edgar would have both walked over the cliff at the same time and at the same spot, and have been dragged away by the same wombat. If they were both accidentally killed dur- ing the mist one of the bodies may have fallen in another place, and the skeleton be now in another hole." " But only one spot showed traces of a fall over the cliff," the detective answered, " and it is altogether improbable that there was a double accident at the same time, unless the two men were together and clutched each other on the edge of the precipice when they suddenly stepped over. That would be my solution if two bodies were found, but as it is," he added, with a shrug, "I really cannot unravel the skein." " Time reveals all things," sagely spoke M'Donough. "But what is the good to us if half a century hence the secret is laid bare. Another generation will get the credit, and they will look back upon us as stupid officers who hadn't enough sense to know when we were hungry." " Come now, Lynx," good humoredly retorted McDonough, "we have sense enough to know that we are hungry now, and tea is waiting us. Why should we worry ourselves about a matter that doesn't concern us much, when one of the most interested parties philosophically grins at our troubles," he added, pointing to the skull which rested on the table. "I wish to God it could speak," fer- vently ejaculated the business-like de-
tective. After a hearty repast — for their appe- tites were not at all disturbed, but rather whetted by the discovery of the skeleton — the two officers strolled over to the Forest Inn, and obtained what little further information the party of ware- housemen could give them as to the find- ing of the skull. Half-an-hour later the detective bade McDonough good-bye, and was being whirled away to Melbourne in the night express, bearing with him a parcel care- fully wrapped up, and which contained the ghastly trophies recovered from the wombat-hole. "Now," he mused, as he reclined luxuriously in the empty first-class com- partment, "this discovery opens up again the case of the missing men Edgar and Marshall. One of them is no longer missing;" he went on, glancing at the package, " he is there, but which of them is it ? There wasn't the slightest sign of anything in the wombat-hole that would lead to identification — not a rag of clothes, or paper. No sign of money or jewellery, nor, in fact, of anything. I will pay an- other visit to the place in a day or two, and search it again. A crowd is always a hindrance to a good search, perhaps the body was naked when placed in the hole, for I begin to think that nothing short of human intelligence could so successfully have obliterated all traces of the body which fell over the cliff." He puffed away for some time at a cigar, and then suddenly exclaimed : "Ah ! I was nearly forgetting the dis- covery of the man's footprint, which was found close to where this tooth was picked up."— and as he spoke he tapped his vest pocket — "That footprint was proved to have been Marshall's, and could only have been a day or two old at the time, as it was not obliterated by the rain that fell. Now, if Marshall is alive, what could have been his object in disappear- ing. That puzzles me. He could have no motive in placing Edgar's body in the hole if he found it, and, so far as I see, could have no possible motive in commit- ting murder. According to the survey men he was not a bad sort of fellow, but I must try and find out something more about him. No one seemed to know anything about his antecedents when he disappeared, but I'll try it again. If I don't try I won't know." Thus puzzling himself over the case en- trusted to him, Melbourne was reached, and the detective hurried away to give in his report to his superior officer. Next day the metropolitan press had a full account, detailing the strange finding of the mysterious skeleton, and though an inquest was held, no light was thrown upon its identity. The venerable wombat that had been done to death in its lair was a source of considerable curiosity when brought to town by the successful party of ware- housemen. The intercolonial and country papers copied the news from their Melbourne contemporaries, and, after the lapse of two years, the mystery of the mount was again revived.