"This may account for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him."
-- Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
For me, that's the most memorable line in Holmesian fiction. The Blue Carbuncle opens on Christmas morning, when a local constable sees a tall man carrying a large dead goose being attacked by toughs. The man tried to defend himself, and swung his stick. Instead, he accidentally smashed a shop window. The man dropped his goose, lost his hat, and ran. So did the attackers. The puzzled constable gave Sherlock Holmes the goose and the hat.
Holmes examines the hat, which Watson calls a "very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse for wear . . . it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seems to have been some attempt to hide the discolored patches by smearing them with ink."
The hat's owner is middle-aged, Holmes observes, and says "that his hair is grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime cream." And the dust is "not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that the hat has been hung up indoors most of the time . . .
"That hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you have also been unfortunate enough to lose your wife's affection."
At work, I noticed a rather portly man would come into the office wearing a dingy white shirt and a ratty, stained tie. Water cooler gossip confirmed my suspicions: his wife had ceased to love him, and vice versa. They split and he took up with someone else. He spruced himself up for his new love, or maybe she considered him a remodeling project. Either way, his clothes were much cleaner and neater.
Last summer, I had dinner with an older man who had a bushy crop of nose hair. Once again, Sherlock's statement held true. This man was a recent widower. His late wife would have never let him out of the house in that condition. He either couldn't – or didn't – see the unsightly hair.
If my husband Don is heading for the door wearing a shirt with spots (and not the decorative kind), I ask him to change "or people will think I don't love you."
Are we our husband's keepers? Nowadays, you could also say a man's wife is too busy getting ready for her own job. But many wives still have a proprietary interest in their husband's appearance.
Don lets me know if I have a tag hanging out of the back of my blouse or if my hem is crooked, but he doesn't scan my outfits as carefully as I check his. Maybe he's afraid of that dreaded question: Does this make me look fat?
Not even Sherlock has a solution for that problem.
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