The Missing Letter by Opie Read

Opie Read

Opie Read

This was an unexpected find: an Australian newspaper publishing a parody written by one of the most popular American humorists not named Mark Twain. The article in the Riverina Recorder of Oct. 31, 1900, was credited to the Arkansaw Traveller, a comic newspaper founded by Opie Read (1852-1939). Read’s folksy lectures about the South drew large audiences nationwide, even if Arkansas didn’t appreciate the joke. Read also wrote more than a dozen novels set in the South that displayed as enlightened an attitude toward African-Americans as those written by his friend Twain.

This is one of many excerpts from Peschel Press’ 223B Casebook series. The complete list of excerpts can be found here.

The Missing Letter

Opie Read

sherlock holmes political parody edwardian

Click on the cover to learn more about the book and where to buy it.

“Now, tell me all the details of the case,” said Hemlock Jones. “Omit nothing, for a detail which might seem unimportant to you may furnish me the key to the mystery.”

“All right,” replied the visitor, a middle-aged banker, who was troubled by the demon of jealousy. “What I want is to lay my hands on a certain letter. A week ago last Monday, my wife, who is somewhat my junior — in fact, twenty years younger than I am — received the letter. It was laid beside her plate at the breakfast table. I at once recognized the handwriting on the envelope as that of a young man who was said to be in love with her when I married her. She glanced at the envelope, blushed, and hastily concealed the letter. I said nothing, but I made up my mind to find out what this correspondence was about.

“When she went shopping next day, I made a thorough search of the house, but I did not find the letter. A few days later, I employed detectives who are experts at this search work to go through the house. They failed, too. I was positive she did not carry the letter on her person, so I would have concluded that she had destroyed it had I not known that women never destroy letters, no matter how compromising they may be.”

“Right, right,” said Hemlock Jones. Then, after thinking for thirteen seconds, he asked, “What sort of a woman is your wife? Is she an ordinary frivolous woman, or is she particularly intelligent?”

“I don’t see what that has to do with the matter,” replied the banker huffily.

“Of course you don’t,” assented Hemlock Jones smilingly. “If you did, you wouldn’t be here seeking my assistance. Now, answer me.”

“Well,” said the banker, “she is a woman of the keenest intelligence.”

“That settles it!” exclaimed Hemlock Jones, rising to terminate the interview. “I can lay my hands on the missing letter this minute!”

“What!” cried the visitor, rising, too, in his astonishment.

“Yes,” continued my friend, “the letter is right here in this room, unless all my deductions are wrong, and they have never been wrong so far. First, let me ask you, didn’t your wife give you a letter to mail some time since last Monday week?”

“Yes, come to think of it, she did,” answered the banker.

“And that letter is in your pocket yet?”

“Yes, by Jove, here it is!” said the banker. “It is addressed to my wife’s mother. But what has that got to do with it?”

“Ha! ha!” laughed Hemlock Jones. “Open the envelope and you will see. It contains the lover’s letter, doesn’t it?”

“It does! It does!” cried the banker. “But how on earth did you know it?”

“Plain as daylight,” Hemlock Jones replied. “Your wife wanted to conceal that letter, and, being a woman of keen intelligence, she knew it could not be concealed effectually in the house. Her intelligence told her, too, that if she would put the letter in an envelope addressed to her mother and give it to you to mail, it would rest securely in your inside coat pocket till the coat wore out. There could be no safer hiding-place, she thought, and her calculations would have proved correct if you had not come to me.”