Next morning, at the address McClump had given me — a rather elaborate apartment building on California Street — I had to wait three-quarters of an hour for Mrs. Evelyn Trowbridge to dress. If I had been younger, or a social caller, I suppose I’d have felt amply rewarded when she finally came in — a tall, slender woman of less than thirty; in some sort of clinging black affair; with a lot of black hair over a very white face, strikingly set off by a small red mouth and big hazel eyes.
But I was a busy, middle-aged detective, who was fuming over having his time wasted; and I was a lot more interested in finding the bird who struck the match than I was in feminine beauty. However, I smothered my grouch, apologized for disturbing her at such an early hour, and got down to business.
“I want you to tell me all you know about your uncle — his family, friends, enemies, business connections — everything.”
I had scribbled on the back of the card I had sent into her what my business was.
“He hadn’t any family,” she said; “unless I might be it. He was my mother’s brother, and I am the only one of that family now living.”
“Where was he born?”
“Here in San Francisco. I don’t know the date, but he was about fifty years old, I think — three years older than my mother.”
“What was his business?”
“He went to sea when he was a boy, and, so far as I know, always followed it until a few months ago.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I wouldn’t see or hear from him for several years, and he never talked about what he was doing; though he would mention some of the places he had visited — Rio de Janeiro, Madagascar, Tobago, Christiania. Then, about three months ago — some time in May — he came here and told me that he was through with wandering; that he was going to take a house in some quiet place where he could work undisturbed on an invention in which he was interested.
“He lived at the Francisco Hotel while he was in San Francisco. After a couple of weeks he suddenly disappeared. And then, about a month ago, I received a telegram from him, asking me to come to see him at his house near Sacramento. I went up the very next day, and I thought that he was acting queerly — he seemed very excited over something. He gave me a will that he had just drawn up and some life-insurance policies in which I was beneficiary.
“Immediately after that he insisted that I return home, and hinted rather plainly that he did not wish me to either visit him again or write until I heard from him. I thought all that rather peculiar, as he had always seemed fond of me. I never saw him again.”
“What was this invention he was working on?”
“I really don’t know. I asked him once, but he became so excited — even suspicious — that I changed the subject, and never mentioned it again.”
“Are you sure that he really did follow the sea all those years?”
“No, I am not. I just took it for granted; but he may have been doing something altogether different.”
“Was he ever married?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Know any of his friends or enemies?”
“Remember anybody’s name that he ever mentioned?”
“I don’t want you to think this next question insulting, though I admit it is. Where were you the night of the fire?”
“At home; I had some friends here to dinner, and they stayed until about midnight. Mr. and Mrs. Walker Kellogg, Mrs. John Dupree, and a Mr. Killmer, who is a lawyer. I can give you their addresses, if you want to question them.”
From Mrs. Trowbridge’s apartment I went to the Francisco Hotel…