Lady Evelyn Carlisle has returned home to England, where she is completing her degree at St. Hugh’s, a women’s college in Oxford. Her days are spent poring over ancient texts and rushing to tutorials. All is well until a fateful morning, when her peaceful student life is turned on its head. Stumbling upon the gruesome killing of someone she thought she knew, Evelyn is plunged into a murder investigation once more, much to the chagrin of her friends and family, as well as the intriguing Detective Lucas Stanton. The dreaming spires of Oxford begin to appear decidedly less romantic as she gathers clues, and learns far more than she ever wished to know about the darkness lurking beyond the polished veneer. Can she solve the crime before the killer strikes once more, this time to Evelyn’s own detriment?
The hour is long, but the week is short. It is so that I find myself closing my book and stowing it away, the well-deserved weekend all but arrived. The last few days have been a whirlwind of tutorials, visiting the library, making hasty, last-minute amendments, rushing around town, umbrella in hand, trying to meet who needed to be met and do what needed to be done to complete my first term as a returning student with some sense of satisfaction and achievement. Whether this goal has been successfully attained is yet to be decided. My gloved fingers are firmly crossed and touch wood with trusting compulsion.
Daniel is coming to town for a flying visit on his way to Bristol, and Saturday is the day of Arthur Longfellow’s Michaelmas party. I am not much inclined to go; however, Aunt Agnes has exerted enough influence to see me attending wherever I have promised to be. Perhaps it will be a lark. Longfellow is an entertaining chap, if nothing else, and I like the company of my classmates. The end of term does not mean we will never see one another again, though, for St. Hugh’s is not a large school. Sadly, it is still one of the very few here accepting female students, therefore we tend to band together. Most of us, in any case.
To my surprise, I have seen little of Lily these past few days. Ever since I observed her coming in late last Sunday evening, she has been reserved. I wonder whether her avoidance of Olivia and myself has been intentional or simply the consequence of too much hurried work. I hope it is the latter, for she is good company and a cheerful girl with a never-ending supply of well-meaning gossip up her sleeve. Olivia, in stark contrast, is more miserly with her attentions and smiles.
I cross Banbury Road, feeling a pleasant lightness in my step, whether as a result of the term coming to a close or in anticipation of Daniel’s arrival, I can hardly say. The sky is blue with gossamer white streaks of clouds painted upon its endless canvas. The wind has dissipated, and I stroll in comfort and ease along the street to meet Daniel in front of the Sheldonian Theatre, one of my favorite of the university’s buildings in the heart of town.
A few people nod or wave, familiar faces in a crowd, then disappear, lost in the tide. When I turn the corner, trying to avoid the congestion of this busy street, I spy none other than the elusive Lily, standing in a doorway across the street. I am already raising my arm, ready to call her name, when I notice she is not alone. A man steps out of the shadow by the door, his back to me, gesturing in a manner that appears almost pleading. I narrow my eyes and slow my pace, ready to step forward in her aid should the need arise. I tighten my hold on the handle of the umbrella I had almost regretted having carried on such a fine day. I cannot see the man’s face, but recognize his to be the athletic build and broad shoulders of a man not long out of his youth. To my relief, no intervention is required, for a moment later Lily shoves away his hand and pushes past him, walking with quick steps down the lane. My eyes return to the mysterious man, but in the few seconds I was distracted by my housemate, he has melted back into the shadow of the doorway, and when I pass that house on my side of the road, he is nowhere to be seen.
I regard the building for a moment, then observing no further activity, abandon my suspicions and walk on. Perhaps I will ask Lily about it later. Or perhaps not. We are all entitled to some privacy, even if my curiosity threatens to overwhelm my sense of decorum.
Malia Zaidi is a writer and painter, who grew up in Germany and lives in the US. An avid reader and traveler, she decided to combine these passions, and turn her long-time ambition of writing into a reality. The Study of Silence is the third book in The Lady Evelyn Mysteries.