Miss Silver searches for a lonely young woman who has disappeared
Anna Ball has disappeared. For a year she has moved from one job as a nanny to another, unable to settle or make friends. After just a month with her last family, she walks down the road, steps onto a bus, and is never seen again. No one notices she has gone. Almost no one. There is one woman who cares about Anna: a long-ago school pal named Thomasina, with whom she would trade a weekly letter. When the letters stop, she panics, knowing that if she doesn’t help the girl, no one will. She seeks out Maud Silver, the kindly spinster detective, and asks for her help. A lonely girl has disappeared without a trace, and Miss Silver smells a whiff of murder in the air.
About the Author
Patricia Wentworth (1878–1961) was one of the masters of classic English mystery writing. Born in India as Dora Amy Elles, she began writing after the death of her first husband, publishing her first novel in 1910. In the 1920s, she introduced the character who would make her famous: Miss Maud Silver, the former governess whose stout figure, fondness for Tennyson, and passion for knitting served to disguise a keen intellect. Along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is the definitive embodiment of the English style of cozy mysteries.
Read an Excerpt
Death at the Deep End
A Miss Silver Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1953 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
It is a truism that dangers and difficulties do not always present themselves in that guise. A violent thunderstorm may be heralded by a cloud so small and distant as to arise unseen. When Miss Maud Silver took her Times on a January morning and, having perused the Births, Marriages and Deaths, turned with interest to those personal and private messages in what is known as the Agony Column, she had no idea that she was about to make her first contact with one of her most disturbing and dangerous cases. It was now many years since she had abandoned what she herself called the Scholastic Profession in favour of a career as a private detective. It was this career which had provided her with her flat in Montague Mansions and the modest comfort with which she was now surrounded. There had been years when she had hoped for nothing more than a life in other people's houses, and in the end a bare existence on such sparse savings as could be wrung from her salary. She had only to look about her to be filled with feelings of devout gratitude to the Providence which, as she most firmly believed, had directed her energies into other channels. She took her new profession very seriously indeed. She was the servant of Justice and of the Law, she played her part in restraining the criminal and protecting the innocent, she made many devoted friends, and all her needs had been met. The photographs which covered the mantelpiece and the top of the bookcase, and which had their place amongst other things upon several small tables, proclaimed the fact that a great many of these friendships were with the young. Young men and girls, and babies of all ages, smiled from the frames of an earlier day—Victorian and Edwardian survivals in plush, in silver, in filagree silver on plush. If they were out of keeping with their present occupants they went very well with the peacock-blue curtains, the carpet in the same shade with its bright flowery garlands, the chairs with spreading laps and curly walnut frames. The carpet was a new one, but it maintained the Victorian tradition. Upon such wreaths had the gaslight of that famous age shone down. Miss Silver esteemed herself most fortunate in having been able to repeat a favourite colour, and a pattern which she could remember in her girlhood's home. The price had shocked her, but the carpet would last for years. Above the photographs from three of the walls reproductions of famous nineteenth-century paintings gazed upon the contemporary scene—Millais' Huguenot, The Soul's Awakening, The Stag at Bay.
Miss Silver herself completed the scene in a garment of sage green fastened at the neck with a heavy gold brooch which displayed in high relief the entwined initials of her parents and contained the treasured locks of their hair. She had neat, small features, a clear skin, and a good deal of mouse-coloured hair worn in a plait behind and a formal fringe in front, the whole very strictly confined by a net. Her trim ankles and small feet were encased in black woollen stockings and rather worn black slippers with beaded toes. She might have stepped out of a group in any family album and been instantly identified as governess or spinster aunt.
She allowed her eyes to travel slowly down the Agony Column:—
'Lady wished to be received as guest in comfortable home. Social amenities. Slight help in return. No rough work, no cooking.'
She reflected that a great many people still appeared to think that they could get something for nothing. A further illustration of this fact presented itself a little way down:—
'Most comfortable home offered to gentlewoman. Share household duties. Cat lover. Should be able to drive car. Fond of gardening. Some knowledge of bee-keeping. Early riser.'
Miss Silver said, 'Dear me!' and continued to peruse the column. Two-thirds of the way down an unusual name caught her eye. Anna—one did not often come across the name in that form—
'Anna, where are you? Do you please write. Thomasina.'
She did not remember that she had ever encountered a Thomasina. Pleasant to find these old-fashioned names coming back into use again. Ann, Jane, Penelope, Susan, Sarah—they had roots in English life, in English history. She approved them.
Beyond this approval there was nothing to hold her attention. There was nothing to tell her that a first faint contact had been made with a case which was to call forth all her courage and test to the uttermost the qualities which had brought her success.
She went on to one of the breezier appeals.
'Be a sport! Young man, 25, no money, no qualifications, needs job urgently. Will you give him one?'
Having finished the Agony Column, she folded the Times and laid it aside. The news had already reached her through a somewhat lighter medium. To the articles, correspondence, etc., she would give serious attention in a more leisured hour. At the moment her correspondence claimed her. She went over to a plain, solid writing-table and began a long affectionate letter to her niece Ethel Burkett, who was the wife of a bank manager in the Midlands.
Each member of the family was touched upon. Dear John, so kind, so hardworking—'I hope he has quite shaken off the cold you mentioned.' The three boys, Johnny, Derek and Roger, now all at school and doing well. And little Josephine, who would soon be four years old—'She is, I know, everybody's darling, but you must be careful not to spoil her. The spoiled child is seldom happy or well, and is the cause of constant unhappiness in others.'
Having reached this point, she could pass by an easy transition to the disquieting affairs of Ethel's younger sister, Gladys Robinson. Her small neat features took on a shade of severity as she wrote.
'Gladys is a case in point. Her thoughtlessness can no longer be excused on the ground of extreme youth, since she passed her thirtieth birthday a year ago. Her behaviour is increasingly selfish and indiscreet, and I am very much afraid of an open breach with her husband. Andrew Robinson is a worthy man, and has been exceedingly patient. Gladys should have discovered that she found him dull before she made her marriage vows. She really thinks of no one but herself.'
There was a good deal more about Gladys. Thomasina Elliot's appeal to Anna Ball had passed completely from Miss Silver's mind.CHAPTER 2
'I can't think why you bother about the woman,' said Peter Brandon.
Thomasina Elliot replied with simplicity,
'There isn't anyone else.'
Peter gave her one of his loftier glances.
'Do you mean she hasn't anyone else to bother about her, or you haven't anyone else to bother about? Because in that case—'
Thomasina interrupted him.
'She hasn't anyone else to bother about her.'
They were sitting side by side on a rather hard bench in one of those small galleries which specialize in winter shows. The walls were covered with pictures from which Thomasina preferred to avert her gaze. She had already changed her seat once because, without being prudish, she found the spectacle of a bulging woman stark naked and apparently afflicted with mumps embarrassing. On reflection she thought she had better have remained where she was, since she was now confronted by an explosion in magenta and orange and a quite horrible picture of a woman without a head holding an enormous frying-pan in her skeleton fingers. She was therefore more or less obliged to go on looking at Peter. She would have preferred not to do so, because she was being superior and interfering, which meant that she would have to be very firm and go on snubbing him, and it is very much easier to snub someone when you can present them with a cold profile. She was, of course, perfectly well aware that she had not been favoured with the best kind of profile for snubbing purposes. It was not regular enough. It was not in fact regular at all, though it had been considered agreeable.
Peter Brandon considered it a waste of time. He preferred her full face because of her eyes. Thomasina's eyes were really quite undeniable. Unusual too, though more so in England than in her native Scotland, where wide grey eyes with black lashes are by no means out of the way. Thomasina's eyes were of the bright clear grey which has no shade of blue or green. Peter had once remarked that they matched his flannel trousers to a hair. What distinguished them from other grey eyes was the fact that the bright grey of the iris was rimmed with black. Set off by very dark lashes and a skin which glowed with health, they were well worth looking at. Peter looked at them from a superior height and repeated his original remark.
'I can't see why you want to bother about her.'
Thomasina had not exactly a Scots accent, but her voice lilted a little. She said,
'I've told you.'
'Was she the one with the squint, or the one who breathed very loud through her nose? Being frightfully conscientious about it—like this—' He was a personable young man, but all in a moment he managed to produce a pop-eyed stare and a heavy snuffle.
Thomasina repressed a giggle.
'That was Maimie Wilson. And it's too bad of you, because she couldn't help it.'
'Then she should have been drowned in infancy. Well, which was this Anna female—what did you say her surname was?'
'Ball,' said Thomasina in a depressed voice. 'And you've seen her quite often.'
'Yes—your school leaving party—flowing cocoa and stacks of girl friends. Anna Ball—I'm getting there.... Dark girl with an oily skin and a "Nobody loves me—I'll go into the garden and eat worms" kind of look.'
'Peter, that's horrid!'
'Very. Fresh air and exercise strongly indicated. Outside interests lacking.'
'Oh, no, you're wrong there—absolutely. It was one of the things that made people like her very much. She didn't take too little interest in other people's affairs. It was quite the other way round—she took a great deal too much.'
Peter cocked an eyebrow.
'Well, yes, she was.' A kind heart prompted her to add, 'A bit.'
'Then I don't see why you are bothering with her.'
'Because she hasn't got anyone else. I keep telling you so.'
Peter stuck his hands in the pockets of his raincoat, a gesture equivalent to clearing the decks for action.
'Now look here, Tamsine, you can't go through life collecting lame ducks, and stray dogs, and females whom nobody loves. You are twenty-two—and how old would you be when I first patted your head in your pram? About two. So that makes it twenty years that I've known you. You've been doing it all the time, and it's got to stop. You started with moribund wasps and squashed worms, and you went on to stray curs and half-drowned kittens. If Aunt Barbara hadn't been a saint she would have blown the roof off. She indulged you.'
Properly speaking, Barbara Brandon was a good deal more Thomasina's aunt than Peter's, because she had been born an Elliot and had only married John Brandon, who was Peter's uncle. She had not been dead for very long. A bright shimmer of tears came up in Thomasina's eyes. It made them almost unbearably beautiful. She said with a little catch in the words,
Peter looked away. If he went on looking at her he might find himself slipping, and it was no time for weakness. Discipline must be maintained. He was helped on this rather arid path by the fact that Thomasina almost immediately tossed her head and said with complete irrelevance,
'Besides, I don't believe you ever patted my head in my pram.'
'Besides what?' Women were really quite incapable of reason.
Thomasina's dimple showed. It was rather a deep one, and very becomingly placed. She said,
'Oh, just besides—'
Peter now felt superior enough to look at her again.
'My good child, I remember it perfectly. I was eight years old—in fact I was getting on for nine. You needn't imagine it was a caress, because it wasn't. You had a lot of black curls all over your head, and I wanted to see if they felt as stiff as they looked.'
'They did not look stiff!'
'They looked as stiff as wood shavings, only black.'
The dimple reappeared.
'And what did they feel like?' Thomasina's voice had that undermining lilt.
Quite suddenly Peter had the feel of those soft springing curls under his hand. She had them still. He said firmly,
'They felt like feathers. And that's enough about that. You just brought it up to change the subject, and I'm not changing it. This is not a conversation about your hair, it's a conversation about Anna Ball. She was one of your lame dogs when you were at school, and you've kept on propping her ever since. Now that she has apparently faded out, instead of thanking your lucky stars you go looking for trouble and trying to hunt her up again.'
'She hasn't got anyone else,' said Thomasina obstinately.
Peter produced the frown which meant that he was really beginning to get angry.
'Thomasina, if you go on saying that, I shall lose my temper. The girl has made other friends, and she has faded. For heaven's sake, let her go!'
Thomasina shook her head.
'It isn't like that. She doesn't make friends—that's always been the bother. It was horrid for her in the war, you know, being half German, and she got an inferiority complex. Her mother was a morbid sort of person—Aunt Barbara knew her. So I don't think Anna had much chance.'
'Well, she got a job, didn't she?'
'Aunt Barbara got her one with a Major and Mrs Dartrey, to look after their child.'
'It wasn't a frightful success, but she went to Germany with them, and stayed for more than two years. She used to write very grumbling letters, but she did stay. And then they went out east and left the little girl in a nursery school near Mrs Dartrey's mother, and Anna went to some kind of a cousin of theirs who wanted a companion. But she only stayed a month. The cousin was a rich nervous invalid, and of course they wouldn't have suited a bit. Anna wrote to me and said she was leaving as soon as the month was up. She said she had got another job and she would write and tell me all about it when she got there. And she never wrote again. You see, I can't help worrying.'
'I don't see why.'
'I don't know where she is.'
'The woman she was with, the Dartreys' cousin, would know.'
'She says she doesn't. She says Anna never told her anything. She's the vague, ineffectual sort of person who gets a headache the minute you ask her to remember things like names and addresses. I tried for half an hour, and if she had been a jellyfish she couldn't have taken less interest in anyone except herself.'
'Do jellyfish think?'
'Mrs Dugdale doesn't—she just drifts. Anyhow I couldn't get anything out of her about Anna. Peter, I really am worried. Anna has written to me at least once a week for years. I mean, she always wrote in the holidays, and all the time she was with the Dartreys.'
'To say what a poisonous time she was having, and how foul everyone was!'
'Well, it was rather like that. I was an outlet. You must have someone you can say that kind of thing to. And then all of a sudden she stops dead. It's four months since she left Mrs Dugdale, and she hasn't written a line. Don't you see there's something odd about it?'
'She may have gone abroad.'
'That wouldn't stop her writing. She always wrote when she was with the Dartreys, and she said she was going to write. Peter, don't you see that there must be something wrong?'
'Well, I don't see what you can do about it. You put that silly advertisement in the Times, and nothing came of it.'
'And why was it silly?'
'Asking for trouble,' said Peter briefly. 'You don't know when you are well off. Take my advice and leave well alone.'
Thomasina's colour deepened.
'I wouldn't mind leaving it alone if I knew that it was well. But suppose it isn't. Suppose—' She stopped because she didn't want to go on. It was like coming to a corner and being afraid of what you might find if you went any farther. The colour drained away.
Peter said stubbornly,
'Well, I don't see what you can do.'
'I can go to the police,' said Thomasina.
Excerpted from Death at the Deep End by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1953 Patricia Wentworth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An English country house mystery. Very enjoyable. I highly recommend it.