Philip A. Shreffler, BSI

(A toast delivered at the Spring Dinner of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes in June 2002)


Philip Shreffler

In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes uttered his now infamous caveat about females: “Women are never entirely to be trusted — not the best of them.” There are, of course, legions of women — and there’s an image to conjure with! — legions of women, I say, in the Canon who demonstrate beyond question that they are not to be trusted.

Beryl Stapleton impersonated; Mary Holder prevaricated; Mrs. Bob Ferguson obfuscated; Mary Sutherland oscillated; Lady Brackenstall dissembled; Anna the Anarchist misdirected; Catherine Cusack conspired; Frances Carfax nearly expired, thus declining to speak or otherwise be helpful. And the list goes on, too dauntingly lengthy to catalogue here. It must be true what the scientists say: that nine-tenths of a woman is underwater.

What danger the women of the Canon and, mutatis mutandis, all women pose! Of course, we must see this as implicitly evil. And yet, must we see it as implicitly negative? If I could trust the women in this room who, by their own admission, are Adventuresses, where would be that danger,

(By permission of the author and the publication below)


where the delicious frisson that comes of not knowing what they’re thinking, where the premonitory sense of ­ being surrounded, where the lurking fear of machinations in motion just beyond the key of mortal man? Absent all of this, and I’d merely be eating my dinner among gentle little lambs — and any rustic shepherd could say the same.

Gentle little lambs, by the bye, put one in mind of perhaps the most seemingly innocent female in the Canon: the subject of Professor Moriarty’s Greuze painting, “La Jeune Fille à I’Agneau.” Certainly, we expect a woman


Greuze: A Girl with
 a Lamb

who murders children for their insurance money to be reasonably sinister. But what that is sinister could possibly attach to this jeune fille? There is currently an exhibition of Greuze’s drawings at the Frick Collection, and a review in the May, 2002, issue of Town and Country comments that Greuze “is best known for. . . bust-length canvases of misty-eyed young women, their mouths open in moist-lipped erotic reverie. (Imagine Norman Rockwell doing ‘Varga Girls’ for Esquire, and you’ll get the idea.)” It’s just a little unnerving to combine that assessment of Greuze’s paintings with the title of our deceptive Canonical work, which is conventionally and benignly translated as “The Young Girl with the Lamb.” For I am reliably informed that “with the lamb” is properly stated as “avec l’agneau” and that the painting’s title is actually “The

Young Girl at the Lamb.” Now, I’m not here to criticize anyone’s lifestyle... but, let’s face it, the lamb doesn’t even have a say in the matter. Really, it’s not a choice; it’s a sheep. You see what I mean about women?