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"The Adventure of the Lightless Maiden" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in The Strand Magazine, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, a young woman invites Holmes to a spiritualist exercise that he suspects has other intentions.

Plot[]

In a very unusual letter, a young woman named Constance Cooke invites Holmes to witness a new scientific method of contacting the dead. Knowing Holmes' disinterest in the supernatural, Watson expects Holmes to disregard the invitation; however, to his surprise, Holmes decides to meet with the woman. As an explanation, Holmes makes only a cryptic comment that though the letter was written on cheap paper, the pen used was quite expensive.

Miss Cooke and her fiancé, Harold Slaymaker, soon arrive at Baker Street. Watson takes an immediate dislike to Slaymaker. Miss Cook, on the other hand, is beautiful, but seems naïve and gullible, and Watson quickly judges her incapable of subterfuge. Holmes notices a ring on Miss Cooke's finger, and congratulates her on her engagement. She thanks him, but adds that as they are currently low on funds, Slaymaker asked her to postpone the marriage until after his experiment is shown to be a success.

Slaymaker then explains that is devising a scientific procedure to contact the Lightless Maiden of Bournemouth - a legendary spectre said to haunt a manor near the city. According to local lore, the spirit belonged to a young woman named Eva Rayment, who had only been able to go out at night due to a terrible sensitivity to sunlight. Miss Cooke explains that Slaymaker immediately noticed her uncanny resemblance to a portrait of Eva Rayment hanging in the manor, which would assist in contacting the spirit. From this exchange, Holmes perceives that Miss Cooke is not a native of Bournemouth, and she confirms that she had only recently moved to the city to take up a job in support of her family.

Miss Cooke then explains Slaymaker's method of making the spirit manifest. During the full moon, they dress her as Eva Rayment and go to the forest, where she strikes poses in the hope that the Lightless Maiden will see her. Slaymaker, meanwhile, illuminates the scene to with particular spectrums of light that make the spiritual visible. Though Miss Cooke admits the spirit has not yet spoken to them, she expresses confidence that their next attempt will be successful, as it will take place on the winter solstice.

As Miss Cooke speaks, Watson grows increasingly incredulous amazed at Holmes for entertaining such quackery, and is floored when Holmes declares that he will join the couple on the solstice. Holmes confirms that Miss Cooke wrote her letter using Harold's pen, then the couple departs.

Some days later, Holmes and Watson arrive in Bournemouth on the night of the solstice. They meet Slaymaker and Miss Cooke at an inn. Holmes suggests they postpone the experiment due to the frigid weather, but Miss Cooke will not be dissuaded. The group hikes out to a windy copse, where Miss Cooke takes off her cloak to reveal her costume underneath. She begs to strike poses, and Slaymaker excuses himself to prepare his equipment. A series of flashes begin to appear around the edges of the clearing. Infuriated, Holmes storms from the scene, leaving Slaymaker and Miss Cooke behind. When Watson catches up to him, Holmes denounces Slaymaker as a disgrace but admits he has committed no crime. Nevertheless, he tells Watson that he plans to make Slaymaker pay for his callousness.

After Christmas, Holmes brings Watson a series of postcards depicting Constance Cooke as the Lightless Maiden. Watson realizes that Slaymaker was merely using Miss Cooke to take the photos to sell to the tourist trade. Holmes denounces Slaymaker's treatment of his fiancée; for instance, in spite of Slaymaker owning a very expensive pen, he had bought Miss Cooke a brass engagement ring. Admitting that he has since regretted his handling of the Mary Sutherland case, he tells Watson that he has already written to Miss Cooke and enclosed one of the photographs - while she may be gullible, she does not deserve to be tricked.

Trivia[]

  • Constance Cooke's letter tells Holmes she has read about his "infallible blood test" in A Study in Scarlet. In that book, Holmes has just discovered "a re-agent which is precipitated by haemoglobin, and by nothing else" when he is introduced to Watson.
  • Watson mentions an unfinished manuscript tentatively titled "The Lone Cyclist". This is presumably the canon story "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", published in 1903.
  • Mary Sutherland is Holmes' client in the canon story "A Case of Identity". At the end of the story, Holmes oddly decides not to reveal to Miss Sutherland that she is being cheated by her stepfather, James Windibank.
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