Published in 1937 under the objectionable title “Lady, Your Pardon“ — it was changed by Woman’s Journal editor Dorothy Sutherland, who had a sad habit of renaming Heyer’s works — this short story would go on to be the inspiration for Georgette Heyer’s 1941 novel Faro’s Daughter.
Lighter in tone, and with a far less disagreeable hero, many of that novels plot points are nevertheless encompassed in this story, so SPOILER WARNING for Faro’s Daughter!
We are pleased to publish the story here under the author’s preferred title.
PHARAOH’S DAUGHTER BY GEORGETTE HEYER
Deborah never played a more reckless game than the one where love was the stake.
IT was not until after ten that evening that he presented himself and gave up his hat and cane to the porter at the door. He knew the house of old, and needed no escorting to the gaming-rooms, which were up a flight of stairs, and occupied the whole of the first floor. They were decorated in a rococo style, and lit by clusters of candles in sparkling glass chandeliers. In the larger room a round table occupied the centre of the floor, at which were seated upwards of twenty punters, and the astonishing figure of Mrs. De Lisle herself, who held the bank.
That redoubtable lady was arrayed in gown of brocade, lavishly trimmed with lace, over a petticoat of scarlet flower damask. Her hair was piled up into the style known as the pouf à la Belle Poule, which consisted of a powdered erection rising to an immense height, and surmounted by a miniature ship in full sail.
“Harry!” Young Lord Lindon, who made up one of the number of onlookers who lounged behind the punters’ chairs, watching the run of the play, started forward to greet his cousin, a look of unfeigned pleasure on his face. “Why, this is famous! I had thought vou down in Hampshire!”
It was evident that no suspicions of his cousin’s errand had crossed his ingenuous mind, and as Sir Henry took one of the vacant chairs at the table he bent over him to say in his ear: “I must see you presently. I’ve something to tell you—someone I desire to make known to you.”
Sir Henry nodded, but felt a little startled. Certainly he had never played the mentor to the lad, but could Kit be so lost to all sense of his folly that he meant to confide the whole absurd story to him?
Mrs. De Lisle’s shrewd eyes raked the table, appraising the value of the stakes. She turned up two cards with a snap from the pack before her, and laid them down, one to the right and one to the left.
Sir Henry felt his cousin’s hand still resting on his shoulder, grip for a moment, as though unconsciously. It was abruptly removed. Lord Lindon moved away from the table, and Sir Henry, picking up his winnings, looked up quickly under his brows towards the double doors at the other end of the room. They were concealed by curtain of crimson velvet, hanging slightly apart, and a young woman had brushed her way between them and stood just inside the cardroom, one hand on her hip, her head turned over her shoulder to speak to the man behind her.
Sir Henry leaned back in his chair, and while a dispute raged between his hostess and one of the dowagers he had leisure to observe Miss Deborah Varley.
She was very tall: that was the first impression he had of her. She was fully as tall as Christopher, already standing at her elbow. A strapping wench, Sir Henry told himself. He heard her laugh at what the man behind her bent forward to whisper in her ear. Then she turned her head, and he saw her face.
Sir Henry, with a deliberation calculated enough to be faintly insolent, had raised his quizzing glass, but he lowered it again. Across the room grey eyes met grey, the one pair with an arrested look in them, the other at first indifferent, and then a trifle surprised. Miss Varley put up one eyebrow, and without betraying the least sign of discomposure, proceeded to stare Sir Henry out.
But it was a moment or two before he turned his attention to the game again. Mrs. De Lisle was watching him, her painted face sharp with intelligence, her eyes a little narrowed. “What’s your stake, Sir Harry?” she asked. “Playing high tonight, eh?”
He picked up a rouleau of fifty guineas, and laid it on the knave of diamonds. “Have at you, ma’am!” he said.
SOURCE: Heyer, Georgette. “Lady, Your Pardon.” The Australian Woman’s Weekly, 3 Apr. 1937.
NOW AVAILABLE! Acting on Impulse — Contemporary Short Stories by Georgette Heyer.