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Sleuths

Cover of a miniature edition of "The Sleuths" distributed as a free gift with packets of cigarettes.

"The Sleuths" is a humorous short story by the American author William Sydney Porter who wrote under the pseudonym of O. Henry. The story was first collected in the 1911 anthology Sixes and Sevens.

In the story, a man searching for his sister in New York gives up on the inept police detective and consults the famous private detective Shamrock Jolnes. The story is a parody of the detective fiction genre, and of the famous Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in particular. Shamrock Jolnes' introduction includes the following sentence: "The famous sleuth's thin, intellectual face, piercing eyes, and rate per word are too well known to need description."

The character of Shamrock Jolnes also appears in the short stories "The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes" and "The Detective Detector".

Plot

A middle-aged man named Meeks comes to New York to see his sister, Mrs. Mary Snyder. Meeks has recently made his fortune in the West, and he wants to help his sister who is a poor widow aged fifty-two. At the tenement house, he learns that Mrs. Snyder moved out more than a month ago leaving no forwarding address.

Finding the policeman on the street useless, Meeks goes to the police headquarters. Detective Mullins is assigned to his case. Mullins asks Meeks to meet him at the expensive Waldorf Hotel cafe. Mullins questions Meeks over a bottle of wine. He then recommends placing an advertisement for "attractive chorus girls for a new musical comedy" in a daily newspaper. Meeks objects to the ridiculous suggestion. Mullins warns him that the alternative will cost more. He then advises Meeks to engage rooms at the Waldorf. After they are settled in an expensive suite, Mullins tells Meeks they will need to wait there until the new city directory is published in the spring to find his sister's new address.

Meeks gets rid of Mullins and goes to see the famous private detective Shamrock Jolnes. Jolnes examines Mary Snyder's old room and finds a few items of interest; a hat pin, a crumpled piece of paper torn off a theater program, and a torn card with "Left" and "C 12" on it. Jolnes considers the clues for ten minutes then declares the problem solved. Delighted and amazed, Meeks asks for an explanation.

Jolnes says he deduced where Mrs. Snyder is by eliminating parts of the city where she could not have gone. He eliminated Brooklyn because no woman boards a streetcar at the Brooklyn Bridge without a hatpin "with which to fight her way into a seat." He also eliminated Harlem based on the soiled streak made by her shawl on the wall where it used to hang. Her shawl is not fringed, and a middle-aged woman never boards the Harlem train without a fringe to "catch in the gate and delay the passengers behind her."

Mrs. Snyder, therefore, could not have gone very far. Jolnes happens to know that there is a first-class boarding house at No. 12, Avenue C. Since the crumpled piece of theater program has a round impression in it, Jolnes has deduced that Mary Snyder found a valuable ring while working as a cleaning woman at a theater – where jewelry is frequently lost. She wrapped the ring in the torn paper to take it away. She later sold it and used the money to find a better place to live.

Jolnes and Meeks go to No. 12 on Avenue C, but do not find Mary Snyder there. Afterwards, the disappointed Meeks sniffs the piece of program paper and suggests it had been a peppermint candy wrapped in it. He also says the torn card looks like a ticket stub for seat number 12, row C, left aisle. Jolnes decides to take Meeks to see Juggins, the leader of "a new modern school of detectives."

Juggins listens to Meeks and ascertains that Mary Snyder is a 52-year-old poor widow with a homely face and figure. He then goes out, promising to return in fifteen minutes with her current address. He returns shortly as promised with an address only four blocks away. Meeks hurries out and comes back delighted to have finally found his sister.

After Meeks departs, Shamrock Jolnes hesitantly asks Juggins for an explanation. Juggins tells him that every woman matching Mrs. Snyder's description is paying installments on an enlarged crayon portrait[1] of herself. He simply went to the big factory around the corner and got her address off their books.

Footnotes

  1. Crayon portraits, popular from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, were portraits made from photographs. The photograph was first enlarged and lightly printed on paper. The image was then enhanced by an artist using charcoal or pastels to make it look hand-drawn.

External links

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