Not for the first time that week, Flick had caused war in her sister's bedroom.
“Get those things away from me!" Casia screamed, ducking out of the reach of Flick's scissors.
“Please, Casia, if you just thought about it... All the girls in the city are doing it."
"Yes." There was a certain amount of venom in Casia's voice that Flick did not like. "They're all doing it because you're doing it! I'm sorry, but I refuse to follow a trend set by my younger sister!"
The scissors-holding hand fell and Flick immediately felt ashamed. "I'm sorry," she said. "I hadn't thought about it like that."
Casia sat back down on the stool by her dressing table and picked up her powder puff. "Sometimes I wonder if you think at all, Flick."
Flick laid the scissors, their sharp edge gleaming, on the red bedspread and approached Casia. "You do have such lovely hair." She picked up one of the red-brown locks, the same colour as her own, and admired it. "So much thicker than mine. If mine was half as rich and glossy as yours I surely would have left it long." She touched her own hair, cropped right to the base of her skull.
"But then you would have missed a chance for scandal," Casia said dryly, picking up a hairbrush now she was sure her hair was safe. "So go on. What have I missed in society this past week?"
"Oh, nothing exciting," Flick said, knowing that Casia wasn't really interested in any gossip, even the juicy bits. "Alla Tarindo is engaged though, finally!"
"To whom, and don't say 'finally', she's only two years older than me."
"Oh but there's such a difference between twenty-one and twenty-three, and besides, she's been out since she was sixteen!"
"And then there was a war, Flick, remember? Hardly the best environment in which to find a husband." Casia paused, and a little smile drew the corners of her lips up. "Although it would be hard to find one anyway, with a nose like hers!"
They giggled, and despite their, well, numerous differences, Flick was glad to have her sister back. She gossiped with the other girls of course, but you had to be careful what you said, all the debutantes had different alliances, different friendships, different opinions. While Casia was bored by most of what Flick had to say, at least Flick could say in safe in the knowledge that they were both pretty, they both had the same opinions of most people, they could both keep a secret and they were both Salamanders.
Being a Salamander counted for a lot.
As Casia continued to groom, Flick sat back on the bed and tried to sound nonchalant as she said, "Fred said he might come over tonight for dinner. He said he'd telegram by five." She flicked the top of the scissors.
"I would expect no less. No doubt he'll want to hear about the deal, and what happened on the train.”
"No doubt." Flick paused. There was a part of her these days that wanted to talk about nothing but Fred Rinnerman. But she wasn't stupid, and besides, Casia knew him so much better than her. It was to do with being the two eldest in their families, Flick thought. They were obliged to be friends. "Will you have enough after the deal, do you think?"
Casia nodded. "For a down payment and most of the repayments at least. That will give us time to come up with the rest of the money."
"Or find Mum and Dad."
Casia said nothing, methodically winding her hair up into a bun. She stood up and adjusted the beaded fringe on the bottom of her skirt. "Shall we go and see if Fred's telegram has arrived then?"
Flick held back a sigh, nodding instead. She took Casia's arm and they went downstairs together.
As the grandfather clock in the drawing room struck five, it was not a telegram that arrived, but Fred himself.
Casia gave a yelp of pleasant surprise when she saw Fred behind the footman who had answered the door and when he passed the threshold they embraced. “I hear I’m lucky to have you back to me in one piece.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Fred,” Casia said, releasing him. Flick stood a little way behind them, and Fred caught sight of Flick standing behind her sister, one hand on the bannister as if it were protection. He moved towards her, took her hand and kissed it.
“Call me that again and I’ll kick your head in.”
Fred grinned, white teeth brilliant against his dark skin.
“Is your aunt home?” he asked.
“No,” said Flick. “She’s having afternoon tea, she’ll be back for dinner. Albert, can you inform the kitchens that Mr
Rinnerman will be staying for dinner? And bring some tea up.”
The footman nodded and departed.
“Things will be very different living in a smaller house,” Fred said, observing the process. “Sure you’re up for it, Flick?” He nudged her playfully.
“I can manage anything that Casia can.”
“Doubtful.” Casia didn’t even look back as she led them to the parlour.
As soon as they were all sat, Fred became very serious. “Someone tried to kill you today,” he said to Casia.
“Don’t be absurd.”
“I’m not. A tree that big couldn’t have been felled that quickly without magic, and you said the train brakes weren’t working?”
Casia nodded. The little pins she had in her hair caught the last of the light outside as she did so. “They said afterwards that’s why we hadn’t stopped.”
“But you managed to stop at all the stations up to that point?”
“So there must have been a magician on the train. Did you see anyone?”
“Other than Mr Boden, no, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t him.”
“Why would someone want to kill Casia though?” Flick asked.
Fred shrugged. “She’s twenty-one. Maybe they were afraid that she was going to enter politics, pick up where Henry left off.” The Rinnermans were the only people who ever called their father Henry. Everybody else called him Mr Salamander or used his full name.
“You’re being ridiculous. There could have been a hundred people on that train that somebody wanted dead, not just me. And felling a tree on a line is hardly the best way of trying to kill someone. All it did was delay my arrival. I’m sure they were just trying to scare someone, and that someone wasn’t necessarily me.”
“That’s all there is to it,” Casia said, commanding the conversation to end.
They sat in uncomfortable silence, Flick playing with the beads around her neck waiting for one of the others to speak first. In company she would always be the first to speak. It was strange how different things were in her own home.
“How did the sale go?” Fred asked Casia eventually.
“Well. I just sold ten acres at the back- but it was good shooting land, and I got a very good price for it.”
“Daddy won’t be happy when he comes home to find that you’ve sold his favourite shooting spot,” Flick said.
Once again, Casia ignored her.
Out in the hall, Flick heard the door opening. “Aunt Helena’s home,” she said, and sure enough her aunt’s voice was heard and then the parlour door opened and a woman with coiffed grey hair under a burgundy cloche appeared. She was dressed in all the latest fashions, clothes too young for her that made her awkward underneath, with her crooked yellow teeth and eyes surrounded by lines.
“Casia, darling!” Helena threw her arms open, a hatbox hanging off one, and Casia was obliged to go over and embrace her. “Oh, you poor dear, I can’t imagine what it must have been like-“
“I’m fine, Aunt Helena.” Casia shook her aunt off.
“Fred, it’s a pleasure to see you,” Aunt Helena said to Fred, standing up awkwardly waiting to be noticed. “I trust everyone in your family is well?”
“Very well, Miss Kendrick.”
“Good, good. Flick.”
Flick raised a hand from where she slouched in her chair. “I’m languishing as usual, Aunt Helena.”
“Wonderful.” Aunt Helena did not hear sarcasm. “And you have a dress for the Tomlinsons’ ball tomorrow?”
“Of course I do.”
“It’s just if you didn’t we could go and buy you a new one,” Aunt Helena said, smiling a too large smile. “Very well. I’m going to go change for dinner. I shall see you all presently.”
Casia closed the door after her and Flick put her head in her hands. “Does she plan on cocooning me in a nest of silk never to rise out of it?”
“That’s just the contingency plan until she can marry you off to a man who will keep you in a cage for her,” Fred said. “Obviously.”
“Obviously. I tell you, Casia, you had better buy this house, and you had better buy it quickly.” She looked around the old parlour. Fred was sitting on the sofa behind which she and Casia used to crouch, waiting to surprise their mother and her friends when they came in here. Those were the curtains behind which she and Fred had once eavesdropped on their fathers discussing war as it broke out. Now, the carpet was worn, the table marked, the clock dusty, and everywhere there were lace doilies and landscape paintings- Aunt Helena’s additions to the Salamander townhouse. “This doesn’t feel like home anymore.”