An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell #6) -Deanna Raybourn Page 0,1

in between. We gathered for lectures and magic lantern shows, photographical exhibits, musical evenings, scientific demonstrations, and the presentation of academic papers.

And we gathered to mourn. Ours was an intrepid and fearless group of wanderers, and whilst some, like the academics, rarely traveled beyond the shores of the British Isles, there were always those scattered about the globe in pursuit of their passions. One such, a mountaineer by the name of Alice Baker-Greene, had perished a few months previously on the highest peak in the Alpenwald, a tiny country lodged precariously on the border between Germany and France. Located somewhere vaguely north of Switzerland, it boasted one impressive mountain, the Teufelstreppe, an alp whose position on the map gave the impression that it had wandered off from its brothers after a quarrel and taken up solitary residence a little distance away.

The Alpenwald as a country was aloof, seldom deigning to mix in the quarrels of its neighbors, counting postage stamps—colorful and highly collectible—and mountaineering as the pillars of its economy. The fact that an English climber had lost her life on their alp had been a source of keen embarrassment to them. They had shipped over Miss Baker-Greene’s effects, which her grandmother, a noted alpinist herself, had immediately forwarded to the club for an exhibition dedicated to her granddaughter’s life and work. Lady C., who had known Miss Baker-Greene and admired her, immediately volunteered to undertake the arranging of the exhibition, recruiting Stoker’s assistance in creating a diorama of mountain fauna as well as enlisting me to prepare the butterfly mounts and attend to the rest of the preparations.

Lady C. had taken a keen interest in every detail, supervising us with an attentiveness that bordered upon the oppressive, but I could not find it in my heart to begrudge her. It was the first real interest she had shown in any project since our voyage to Madeira the previous year, and I was delighted to observe her healthful appearance as she stepped close to the wall, peering intently at a detailed watercolor map of the Alpenwald that had been handsomely framed and hung at eye level. It depicted the thick black evergreen forests that fringed the tiny country, giving way here and there to fertile valleys that shimmered with the silvery green tributaries of the Rhine. In the center, the vertiginous peak of the Teufelstreppe hung above the tidy capital of Hochstadt. A series of photographs next to the map showed narrow streets little larger than alleyways, twisting beneath the overhanging upper stories of half-timbered houses whose balconies were laden with colorful blossoms and banners. All led eventually to a main square that fronted the royal castle, a faery-tale eminence of grey stone and peaked turrets that would have looked very much at home in any child’s storybook.

Lady C. gave a cluck of approval. “Very good. The average person has never even heard of the place. This will provide a sort of context for the rest of the exhibit,” she remarked, more to herself than to us. She turned to me. “Butterflies next, I think. We ought to build up to Stoker’s rather more arresting goat,” she added with a nod towards the alcove where Stoker continued to work on his mount. She tipped her head thoughtfully. “I cannot say that I like that drapery very much,” she said.

Stoker poked at the thick folds of figured scarlet damask hung behind the alcove. “It does rather ruin the effect.” He stepped back, stroking his chin, leaving a trail of sawdust along the whisker-roughened jaw. “What if I painted a mountain scene, something simple, just to set the stage, so to speak? I could position the canvas just behind the mount.”

Lady C. nodded. “That could be quite effective indeed.”

“But not with that carpet,” I pointed out. The goat’s cloven hooves balanced atop a gold-and-scarlet carpet woven with a running H pattern, much like a mayoral chain. It had been specially woven for the club’s display hall, adding a touch of grandeur to an otherwise staid room.

Stoker shrugged. “I could sculpt a base and cover it with moss to give the effect of spring upon the mountain,” he offered.

“Perfect,” Lady C. pronounced. “I think that will make Her Serene Highness very happy indeed.”

Stoker and I exchanged glances. “Her Serene Highness?” I ventured.

Lady C. nodded. “Her Serene Highness, Gisela Frederica Victoria Helena, the Hereditary Princess of the Alpenwald and ruler of that country. We have just received word that the princess herself wishes to