Oh, Arthur, you’re always going on about things you’ve heard about, but didn’t research thoroughly.
One day John convinces Sherlock to go out for a walk in the park. This is strange because Sherlock rarely takes any exercise even though he is quite strong. John goes on about Sherlock for some time stating that he only does cocaine when he’s bored; don’t we all? When they get back to Baker Street the page-boy says there has been a man waiting, but he left; he said he would come back. The man has left a pipe on the table and we all know about Sherlock’s affinity for pipes. He deduces from the pipe that the man is well-off. He is sentimental and could have gotten an entirely new pipe for the price of repairing the one he has. He is also left-handed and has the strange habit of lighting his pipe on gas jets instead of using matches. The man soon shows up. Sherlock knows his name is Munro because it’s written on the inside of his hat.
Mr. Munro says he normally wouldn’t care or speak of such things with strangers, but he must. He’s having marital problems. He’s been married for three years to a woman named Effie. Her name used to be Hebron. She is from the United States. She lived in Atlanta and was married to a man named Hebron. He died of the yellow fever and so did their child. She came to England. She has never been demanding and as soon as they were married, she turned all her money over to Mr. Munro. A while back she asked for £100, which was the largest sum of money she had ever asked Mr. Munro for. Mr. Munro wanted to know what the money was to be used for, but Effie wouldn’t say. She just asks Mr. Munro to trust her.
Mr. Munro keeps pestering his wife about this, but she tells him that it’s really better if he doesn’t know. Mr. Munro goes on to talk about a cottage near his house that was empty, but is now suddenly rented out. He stops by to say hello, but the woman there is not very nice. He sees a strange yellow face in the window. The face looks unnatural and he thinks it’s odd. One night he catches his wife leaving in the middle of the night. He claims she was at the cottage, she claims not. She tells him not to pester her about it.
Another day, Mr. Munro comes home early to find his wife gone. He knows she’s at the cottage even though she promised that she wouldn’t be. When he walks in he finds a picture of his wife on the mantle. There are furnishings, but the house is empty. He argues with his wife, who appears soon afterward. He leaves in a huff and hasn’t been back home since.
Sherlock asks about the wife. There are no pictures of the ex-husband. There is no evidence at all about anything, but there is definitely something fishy going on. Sherlock proposes that Effie is hiding her former husband in the cottage. Maybe he’s suffered terribly and his appearance has changed to become the yellow face. Sherlock and John decide to go with Mr. Munro to this house and see what’s going on.
They all barge into the cottage. There they find Effie, a maid-servant, and the strange yellow face. The face apparently belongs to a child, but the face is unmoving and unnatural. Sherlock looks closer at the child. He soon pulls the child’s face off, don’t worry, it was only a mask. Underneath the mask is a little girl, very dark, and clearly interracial. Effie tells her husband that it really was better that he should have never known this. The little girl is Effie’s daughter. Her dead husband was African-American. He did die in Atlanta. He wasn’t very dark, but the little girl turned out to be quite dark. Effie felt that the people of England wouldn’t accept her interracial child so she kept her a secret. Mr. Munro tells Effie that he’s really not so terrible as she thinks he is and that they should all go home and talk.
Sherlock and John decide to leave because there’s really nothing for them to do here. Sherlock tells John to remind him of this failure in the future if need be.
I did some research on this story. Supposedly, it takes place in the year 1888. That would have put our Mrs. Munro in Atlanta, in let’s say 1884. She has been married to Mr. Munro for three years, and maybe she needed a year to get settled in England and wrap up affairs in Georgia after the death of her husband. Let’s discuss something here. Interracial marriage was made legal in 1867, well, at least federally. In each state, especially the southern states, things were a bit different. Let’s say that Mrs. Munro became Mrs. Hebron in 1880. Well, that’s thirteen years after interracial marriage was made legal, you would think that would be plenty of time for people to get used to the idea and so forth and so on. This just isn’t so.
The idea that Effie would have been openly married to a black man in Atlanta in 1880 is somewhat preposterous, especially considering that she doesn’t seem to be a woman without money. A somewhat moneyed white woman wouldn’t marry a black man in the 1880s, at least in the United States. It would be true that her family would have disowned her, just as she stated, but as far as living in Atlanta openly in an interracial marriage, bullcrap. If anything, her marriage would have had to have been secret. She wouldn’t have been accepted by most other white people. Her doctors, if she had doctors, when she had her baby were probably black because the white community frowned upon white women having babies of color.
Relationships like this weren’t unheard of in the 1880s, they were just kept on the down-low or lived in the northern states where people were more open to that sort of thing. From the description of Effie’s former husband, he sounds like he might have been interracial himself. It is true that children of interracial couples can sometimes inherit traits further back in the gene line. Effie’s little girl may very well have been much darker than she or her husband. This happens in real life, for example, I was born with dark brown hair, both my parents have blond hair and blue eyes. I have blond hair now, but I didn’t back then. The reason for the dark brown hair is the fact that my family is interracial. Some of them may not look it, but we’re all partially Native American, Cherokee mainly. Arthur has the genetics part of the story partially correct.
Effie tells her husband that she lost her belongings in a big fire in Atlanta. Well, she’s just off by a few years. If she’s referring to the big fire, then the year for that would be 1864; she was probably a child herself at that time. Maybe some of her belongings would have been destroyed but, they would have been childhood toys and not pictures of her dead husband, which she probably hadn’t even met yet. This is another case of Arthur not entirely knowing what he’s talking about or he’s talking about a completely different fire, but the story does make this fire sound fairly monumental and the Battle of Atlanta is the only big fire that I know of in Atlanta.
A yellowing of the skin, or jaundice, is a symptom of yellow fever. Yellow fever is from Africa, but made its way to the United States. It is transmitted by mosquitoes. There have been outbreaks of it in various cities in the south in the 1700s and 1800s. There are lots of mosquitoes in the South. It could have been possible that Effie’s husband did in fact die of the disease, but I could not find a specific outbreak to link this story to, but it may have been a small outbreak that didn’t warrant national attention or Arthur just made it up.
I will say this, England started its search for racial tolerance much earlier than the United States did. Where things were taboo in the United States, they weren’t nearly so in England.
I have a problem with Mr. Munro. He has this great wife, but he doesn’t want her to have her own life in a sense. Look, I’m married. I know lots of married people. While you can say all you want that you tell your spouse everything, in practice, it’s not always a good idea. You may not want to tell your spouse everything. I’m a more private and introspective person, I don’t want to tell my husband everything, but he’s one of those people who wants to know everything for some reason. Mr. Munro is like that as well.
I get that your wife getting up in the middle of the night and going out of the house is weird. I get that randomly asking for £100 is strange. I get all of that, but Mr. Munro didn’t have to be so pushy. Effie said she would tell him; he was just too impatient to wait. Sometimes you have to let people reveal things on their own time.
Here’s a great example–you go out on a date. On that first date you do not tell that person your entire sexual history, your entire relationship history, and all the times you peed your pants as a child, or as an adult, whatever. When you two get to know each other a little better, then you can tell each other about all the times you peed your pants. There is information people are privileged to know the longer they know you, if that makes any sense. Personal histories take time to reveal.
I’m also a little on Mr. Munro’s side. If you’re married to a person for three years, they should probably know that you have a kid. I think Effie should have come clean earlier about her child still being alive.
…but, even if I do think Effie should have come clean earlier about her child, Mr. Munro was still way too pushy and controlling about this whole thing. Seriously, you do not need to know every little thing about your spouse and what they do every minute of the day and how every penny they spend is spent. I’m sorry, you don’t; you may think you do, but you really don’t. If there is a situation where a spouse says, “I don’t want to talk about it,” maybe, they don’t really want to talk about it. Did you ever think about that? There are really some situations where you’re not concerned. Your spouse is their own person.
If Mr. Munro wouldn’t have been so pushy and impatient, this whole thing would have been worked out, in time, maybe not on his time, but it would have happened. He acted like a little kid. I have to know now! Tell me now! Wah! Wah! Wah! Things aren’t going my way! I’m going to throw a fit! Sometimes men are such children. Don’t get me wrong, I love men, but they can be difficult sometimes.
Then of course Sherlock thinks the most nefarious thing is going on. He’s not always right you know. He’s human. He can err.
I’ll be watching you. Every breathe you take. Every move you make. I’ll be watching you. Oh, can’t you see, you belong to me.
P.S. why in the heck is Sherlock getting involved in marital issues?
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Doyle-Sir Arthur Conan, Sherlock Holmes