The cavalry were less austere than the footsoldiers. Here one saw black or scarlet cloaks and great plumes of dyed horsehair, making these already majestic riders seem a good foot taller. Recursive bows ("cupid's bows, like the lips of Vintesse Pippsies," as Lucy de Marie, a rather arch journalist put it), quivers of brightly-fletched arrows, long spears with fluttering pennants and the great silver double moon-axes filled the soul with pride and exultation. Here were the very knights of old romance riding through the everyday streets of Quirinelle. The riders, clearly, were raihira--noblemaids of Amazonia, but most splendid of all were the chariots: every chariot looked as if it carried a Princess arrayed for war, and, indeed, many of them did, for Amazonia is a land divided into countless small principalities. "In Amazonia, every town council is presided over by a local Royal House," wrote Miss de Marie, and she was not very far wrong. Local Princesses owed allegiance to Queens, Queens owed allegiance to High Queens in a great dance of regal courtesy impenetrable to any who was not an Amazonian born.
Above the chariots were rich silk canopies and the flags of a dozen or two of the thousand Amazon nations--glorious flags with eagles and lions, crescent moons and richly stylised trees and flowers--the products of the oldest and most elaborate system of heraldry in the world; and how wonderful they looked, the riders of these chariots, each behind her hereditary charioteer (whose own rank was akin to that of a countess in Quirinelle), with her beautifully-wrought recursive bow, her long-sword and her short-sword, and her throwing-lances arranged like a decorative paling at the back of the chariot.
"Aren't they wonderful?" said Bicky enthusiastically.
"It cannot be denied that they have a certain aboriginal charm," replied Isadora running a long white hand over her gorgeous fox-red curls. She was going, as Gloria had put it, through her young-brunette-about-town phase.
"Oh, don't be so tiresome," said Bicky. "Any one would think there was no romance in your soul. Don't they bring with them an atmosphere of high chivalry and adventurous grace? Don't they open the heart to things richer and nobler than our mundane, latter-day life of Quirinelle?"
"Oh, I don't know," drawled Isadora, "Nothing wrong with a bit of pageantry in its place, I suppose----"
"You beast! You are just being as dull and complacent as possible simply to be irritating."
"It isn't a matter of being `dull and complacent' as you put it, my dear Bicky--just a question of maturity. You are swept off your feet by colour and glamour--of course you are. But there is nothing really glamorous about living on horseback or polishing armour and practising archery all day--never seeing a film or drinking a cocktail; never hearing the latest music, but just singing the same old songs your grandmothers sung. You wouldn't stick it for a week."
"I didn't say I should, but I don't see any reason to be so stringy about it. You sound like the absolutely worst kind of grown-up."
"`Grown-up'," Isadora repeated the phrase derisively. "How old are you? You sound like an infant half the time."
"Well, if it is infantile to have a soul, I'm glad I jolly well am." Bicky turned on her short, pointy heel and began walking briskly homeward."
"Hold on, my darling," called Isadora. "Don't you want to see Silk Hat?"
Bicky tried hard to make her voice cold and detached, while keeping it loud enough to be heard over the crowd that was already beginning to separate them: "Not with you!"
"I shan't be long," said Lady Quinbury. "At least, I don't think I shall. Anyway, Nanny will be here in half an hour. You can manage on your own that long, can't you darling?"
The daughter to whom Lady Quinbury addressed these remarks was twenty-two years old, a good head taller than her mother, raven-brunette and dressed immaculately in the uniform of the Queen's Own Guard.
"Knowing this house," replied Gudrun (for that was her name), "I don't imagine I shall be alone for more than five minutes."
"Well, that is quite true," mused Lady Quinbury. "Eloise might be back at any moment--but then again she might not. Gloria is--come to think of it I have no idea where Gloria is. Bicky won't be back as she is taking tea and cinema with the Marymore child--Isalene? No, Isadora. But you are quite right. Some one will undoubtedly pop up. Some one always does."
"Usually the one who is least expected," said Gudrun.
She was right of course. Five minutes after her mother had made her last exit (she always came back two or three times for things she had forgotten to take or messages she had forgotten to give), Bicky made her entrance.
"Mummie! I say, Mummie!"
"Nanny! Nanny, what-ho!"
"You won't raise either of them by hollering," said Gudrun, "they are out of earshot, which probably means they are out of town."
"Oh," said Bicky. "What a swindle."
"I thought you were out with that actress being petted in the back row or vice versā--I never know which way round it is with--"
"All right, I shall. Anyway, what happened to her."
"Oh, she fell by the wayside."
"Ditched you again you mean? Don't worry. It never lasts."
"Certainly not. I `ditched' her as you put it in your vulgar brunette fashion."
"Good for you--make a change. Teach her a lesson."
"It does not make a change. I drop her almost as much as--not that we are always ditching each other anyway. That is a gross exaggeration which this family seems to have adopted as a pretext for a particularly unsubtle ribaldry at the expense of Young Love. Not that there will be any Young Love from now on. Isadora Marymore is a fallen star. I cannot imagine what I ever saw in her. She is about as romantic as--as Gloria."
"A lot of brunettes find Gloria very romantic."
"Then they err. They judge by externals. They do not realise the truth."
"Which is that you've had another row with Gloria."
"Not a row exactly, but--I say, Gudrun."
"I know that tone of voice. What do you want now?"
"Gudrun," asked Bicky in her most ingratiating manner, "I don't suppose you have such a thing as a half-crown upon your immaculate person."
"If the question is an academic one, the answer is yes," replied her military sister. "If what you are really asking is whether I am about to give you half a crown, the answer is no."
"Not give, lend," protested Bicky.
"In your case it amounts to the same thing. You had one and six yesterday and five bob in all last week. When it adds up to thirty shillings you will declare yourself bankrupt and the whole lot will be written off. I know my Carrots."
Bicky swallowed the hated nickname without her usual explosion. She still cherished hopes of changing Gudrun's mind.
"Don't be beastly--what about the ten shillings I paid you back in May?"
"Only because I nabbed you in the split second between cashing Aunt Emily's cheque and blueing the lot on cinemas and toffee-apples or whatever it was at the time."
"Toffee-apples," said Bicky, dropping the reins of her carefully-restrained temper--"there you go with that beastly baby-nonsense again--and how dare you call me `Carrots', you tin-hatted show-off." At once she regretted this outburst and hoped Gudrun was not mortally offended, but she only laughed good-naturedly.
"It isn't tin," she said, "it is real chrome, and if you don't admire it I can only say that most blondes do, and so do most brunettes, so it must be to do with----"
"Don't you dare!"
"All right, I shan't. Now why do you need this blessed half-crown so badly?
"I want to see a cinema and I can't get Isadora to take me now."
"You can see a cinema on Friday when you get your pocket-money."
"Not this one--It ends on Thursday and heaven knows when I shall get a chance to see her again."
"So I gathered, but which actress."
"A Trentish actress. Does it matter who?"
"Well, if my money is paying for her, I don't see why I shouldn't know what I am buying."
"Oh, Gudrun, you are a brick. Promise not to laugh?"
"Certainly not, laughing is half the fun."
"Well, it's Freda Staire----"
Gudrun started to laugh.
"They're the latest thing from Trent, you know. Every one wants to see them," said Bicky.
"The truth now, or you don't get a sixpence," said her sister.
"Well, Freda Staire is in it, but the real reason I want to see it is----"
"Come along, now."
"Ginger Roget." Bicky's face coloured to a hue brighter even than her hair.
The telephone rang five times in the next half-hour--the telephone was rarely quiet for long in the Quinbury household--and each time Bicky appeared in seconds from the furthest quarters of the house, snatching up the heavy bakelite receiver before Gudrun had crossed the room to take it. Five times her freckled face crumpled from wild elation to utter dejection. Finally she emerged from her room resplendent in a skirt so wide and with so many layers of frilly white petticoat that it seemed to stand out almost horizontally from her waist. Her stockings were dark and sheer and shimmery and wickedly expensive (she hoped she could manage not to ladder one before she slipped them back into Gloria's drawer). Her opulent ginger hair was in a pony-tail that rose high above her head and licked at the small of her back like a thing alive. Her lips were so red that she carried a fan to hide behind in case she ran into Nanny on her way out. Fortunately she did not.
"I suppose the telephone didn't ring," she said.
"Not in the last five minutes," said Gudrun,
"You might not have heard it."
"No, but I should have heard a sound resembling a herd of elephants stampeding down the front stairs."
"Well, it is very strange. I can't think what has happened to Isadora."
"I thought you had given her the air."
"Not half as much air as she deserved; but I hardly thought she was so childish as to go on sulking about it. Well, I shall simply have to go to the cinema on my own, which will be a nice change from having to endure her supercilious criticisms of actresses far better than herself."
And so saying, Bicky swished grandly out of the house with an almost deafening rustle of petticoats and a smile so gay that it might almost have fooled a sister.