I recently became unable to take action in my usual job for a time, due to physical illness. I fretted about this problem for innumerable days before I came to the conclusion that I should write a short story to provide at least a little distraction for myself during this trying period. While contemplating my options in the way of subject matter, I walked for some hours upon the nearby moor, eventually deciding upon something I knew a great deal about and could easily base a story upon.
Imagine my surprise when I returned home and found a still better story had come to me quite by accident.
During the first days of October, I received a letter from my wife who was presently detained due to some hellish, extended engagement from which my illness thankfully excused me. The letter contained some very private information, so the reader can appreciate how dismayed I came to be when one night after having hosted a roast dinner for some friends from the township, I found it had disappeared from my study.
I needed to reply urgently, and not only was the letter of personal importance, it contained the address to which I was to write.
After some quick deliberation upon the matter, I decided to gather all my earlier guests from dinner together. It struck me that this was as the behaviour of some fictional detective. Indeed, the mocking spectre of Hercule Poirot seemed to remain at the front of my mind all night, highlighting my self-consciousness and inexperience in such things. Nevertheless, I proceeded to speak to each of them in turn in my study while those waiting remained in the dining room. None of them claimed to have any insight into what may have transpired, though one brought my attention to a cracked plate she had eaten from.
Two and then three times I talked to each of them and not one inkling of suspicion on my part was aroused by any. I had known most of the seven for years but even the others I knew well enough not to suspect them of having a hand in any deception. I considered also that although I had left the window open enough to admit a young thief, perhaps, a set of two expensive pens and my silver watch lay on the table untouched in defiance of this explanation.
Feeling quite let down that my efforts had so far proven useless, I could see no other way for the letter simply to disappear in this manner. I returned to my study and sat, staring at the fire, watching the flames dance in indifference to my disappointment. I picked up my list of the nights guests, and threw it on the fire, feeling a little satisfaction as it quickly burned.
Upon seeing this, I sat up immediately. I knew what had happened! I crossed the room in three large steps and regarded the charred paper at the base of the fire. I scrutinised each piece with hope and sure enough, one had printed on it in my wife’s handwriting some part of her name and the address of the hotel at which she was staying. My problem suddenly seemed simple to the point that I could have kicked myself for being so stupid.
During dinner, the window had been open and the fire had been roaring. Had the strong winds we heard while eating not died down before I returned to my study, it would have been a simple matter to make the connection between these and the missing letter. As it was, it was only the charred remains from the fireplace which eventually offered an explanation.
I sent word to my wife first thing this morning, before sitting down to write this, and will apologise to my friends for calling them back at such an hour at the earliest convenience. I have ordered the necessary materials and once they arrive, I shall set about building a grating to put on the fire. Until then, I have resolved to keep my windows firmly closed!