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 midnight before Sir Henry rose from the table. His fortune had fluctuated but he rose a slight winner, and, pocketing his guineas, strolled towards the velvet curtains, and went through them to the room where the refreshments, tea, coffee and rum-punch, were spread on a long table.
Deborah Varley was standing in the centre of the room with Christopher at her elbow and several other men gathered about. She seemed to have the knack of collecting a court round her. There was a twinkle in her eye, and a glass in her hand. All but Christopher were laughing at something she had said: he merely watched her with troubled, admiring eyes.
She glanced towards the curtains as Sir Henry lounged in, and said immediately: “Ah, now, here’s my unknown admirer come to join us. Christopher, my dear, a glass of punch for the gentleman.”
Lord Lindon said eagerly, “Deb, it’s my cousin. I want you to meet him. Let me present him to you. Sir Henry Morville – Miss Varley!”
She held out a hand not small, but very shapely. “Lord, he’s in transports!” she said, laughing. “Oh, sir, I’m honored!”
“Ma’am!” said Slr Henry, bowing deeply over her hand. “But have we not met before?”
She frowned at him. “Have we? I don’t recall it.”
“At Rome?” said Sir Henry, at a guess. “Or was it Dresden?”
“Both, it may be,” she replied. “I have been about the world a little.”
Slr Henry indicated his surroundings with a wave of his hand. “I seem to remember just such an establishment as this—oh, and its charming châtelaine!”
Christopher made a restless movement, and said quickly: “Oh, nonsense! You’re mistaken, Harry.”
“Egad, I think he’s mistaken,” agreed Deborah, her eyes on Sir Henry’s face. “But it might be true. I’ve been châtelaine of a dozen such houses as this,”
“Deb,” Christopher protested. “We need not talk of that, surely!”
“Why not?” she said. “Faith, isn’t your cousin itching to talk over old times?”
“Say, rather, to renew an old acquaintanceship,” corrected Sir Henry.
She seemed to consider him for a moment, then she drained her glass and set it down. “Come, then: let’s renew it. You know, you interest me.” She put her hand on his arm, and dismissed
Lord Lindon with a smile and a friendly nod. “Run away, child: run away and play! It’s what you came for, after all.” She withdrew with Sir Henry into a smaller room adjoining, and there faced him, still faintly amused and a good deal curious. “Now, sir, what’s your will?” she asked abruptly. “I never laid eyes on you before in my life, that I’ll swear.”
He laughed. “My dear ma’am, amongst the many how should I expect to hold a place in your memory?”
She frowned upon him but more out of puzzlement than anger. “Do you know, I’ve a notion you’re trying to be insolent?” she said.
“The devil’s in it. I’ve no tact.” he apologised. “Forgive me! I believe you are right, and I have not met you before.”
“So? Now why?”
He grinned. “My dear, had I had that inestimable pleasure I must have made it my business to impress myself on your memory.”
She smiled a little. “Lord, am I to take that for a compliment? Making love to me seems to run in your family ”
“Making love to you might well run in any family,” responded Sir Henry. “But I fear Lord Lindon’s is only calf love—hardly worthy of you!”
“Tut-tut, don’t you know he wants to make me a viscountess?” said Deborah.
“These impetuous children!” sighed Sir Henry, shaking his head. “Now, you and I, ma’am, being of the world, as they say, know how to value that kind of fond ambition.”
“Well, I’ve a kindness for Kit,” remarked Deborah. “I doubt he means to do honestly by me. A viscountess, now! And me a gamester’s daughter! Not but what my father was born a gentleman—if he was to be believed.” She cast a swift look at Sir Henry, an expression of dawning comprehension in her eyes. “Faith, I wonder if we’ve reached the root of the matter, Sir Cousin?”
“We’ve reached it,” nodded Sir Henry, swinging his eyeglass.
She moved towards a chair, and sat down on the arm of it. “To think I took so long to guess it! Do I disturb the noble Lindons?”
“In certain circumstances you might,” he replied. “I’m a trifle disturbed myself, and I’m no Lindon. I admit I thought Kit a fool—but I had not met you then. You’re unexpected, Miss Varley. I wish I had met you—in Rome or Dresden.”
She said slowly: “For the life of me I can’t tell why, but I’ve taken an odd liking to you. What do you want of me? My word I won’t marry your little cousin?”
“Just that,” said Sir Henry.
She looked mischievous. “What, am I to forgo the pleasure of being a viscountess? This is hard, indeed! What’s to become of me if I let such a rare chance slip?”
“There would be certain compensations, of course,” said Sir Henry, pensively.
The smile lingered about her mouth, but quite vanished from her eyes. She looked intently at him. “Well, let’s have the button off that foil of yours, sir. Explain the compensations to me.”
Sir Henry produced a snuff-box from one capacious pocket, and flicked it open. Holding a pinch to one nostril, he sniffed; and said meditatively: “A viscount doesn’t rank high in the peerage. Shall we rate him at five hundred pounds?”
Her eyes had darkened, but there was a glow in them. “So that’s your errand, is it?” She got up, and pulled the scarf round her shoulders. “I thank you for the bid, Sir Cousin. It’s refused.”
He said sardonically: “Not high enough? Bethink you a little. The boy’s relatives won’t let him ruin his life easily. They’ll pay in reason, but beyond reason they might prefer to fight instead.”
“Make up your mind,” she said jeeringly. “Do you come to bribe or to threaten?”
“Whichever you choose,” he said.
“By Heaven, you can do neither!” she said. “But I promise you, you shall hear from me.” She bent, and caught up her train, and swept past him out of the room.
He looked frowningly after her, and slowly shut and fobbed his snuff-box, and having restored it to his pocket strolled back into the gaming-rooms.
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.