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.
HE lodged in Half Moon Street, and was at his breakfast next morning when the retired gentleman’s gentleman who owned the house brought up a visiting card on a tray. He picked it up, and read the inscription on it in some surprise. Mr. Robert Varley ran the legend. “This becomes interesting,” remarked Sir Henry.
“Show him up, Withers.” He looked at the card again, and finally laid it down on the table. “And who the devil may Mr. Robert Varley be?” he wondered.
In a few moments the door was opened again, and Withers announced the visitor. A slim young man in a long, enveloping cloak and a very elegant hat strode into the room, and stiffly bowed to him.
“Sir Henry Morville?” he said crisply.
Sir Henry returned the bow, and looked at him searchingly.
“I sent up my card,” said his guest. “It had not perhaps occurred to you that Miss Deborah Varley might possess a brother?”
“No, but to tell you the truth I had not given the matter much thought,” said Sir Henry.
“I may readily believe that,” said Mr. Varley. “It is unfortunate for you that she is not without a natural protector.”
Sir Henry seemed to find this amusing. He laughed, and said: “But why? I’m sure I wish her joy of her protector.”
Mr. Varley looked across at him, and said in a hard, clear voice: “Sir Henry, last night you saw fit to insult my sister. I am here to answer you. She promised, did she not, that you should hear from her?”
“She did,” agreed Sir Henry.
Mr. Varley brought his left arm out from the folds of his cloak. In it were cradled two slender smallswords, identical in size and design. He laid them down on the table, took off his cloak, and flung it over a chair, tossing his gloves after it.
“We seem now to be in a state of siege,” remarked Sir Henry. “Would you have me bolt the windows?”
Mr. Varley ignored this pleasantry. Coming back into the centre of the room, he stopped by the table and, laying his hand on the duelling swords, said coldly: “I have a message for you from my sister, Sir Henry, which I wish to deliver before coming to the main object of my call. In your assumption that my Lord Lindon had made my sister an offer for her hand, you were correct; but the inference you drew from this circumstance was not only false but an impertinence. It may be of interest to you to learn that his lordship’s suit was at the outset rejected.”
“Great interest,” said Sir Henry.
Mr. Varley’s hand clenched. “You no doubt find this rejection of what you appear to consider a splendid match difficult to believe. I shall refer you to Lord Lindon himself who, whatever his aspiration, will not, I think, deny the truth of what I say. My sister has further charged me to inform you that her age being five-and-twenty years and his lordship not yet having reached his one-and-twentieth birthday, the thought of matrimony between them had seemed to her an absurdity only the very foolish could suppose at all possible.”
Sir Henry smiled, and bowed. “I thank you.”
“Furthermore,” said Mr. Varley, still in that cold voice of anger, “my sister would have you know that even a gamester’s daughter may have not only reputation, but honour. She is not to be bought, sir! Had you known that there was a man behind her, I daresay you might have hesitated before making her an offer which was as unnecessary as it was insulting!”
“You wrong me,” said Sir Henry amiably.
A contemptuous laugh broke from Mr. Varley. He shrugged his shoulders, and replied: “You would naturally say as much.”
“You know, you are fast becoming offensive,” said Sir Henry.
“It’s my intention. Do you expect me to apologise?” flashed Mr. Varley.
“Devil a bit. I think you expect an apology from me.”
“I do,” said Mr. Varley. “Do you choose to make one?”
“What, at the sword’s point?” said Sir Henry, levelling his quizzing-glass at the weapons under Mr. Varley’s hand. “No, my young friend, I do not.”
Mr. Varley drew a long breath.
“You shall make one,” he said. “Believe me, you shall make one. How dared you suppose my sister a creature you could bribe? What cause had you to think her an adventuress bent on trapping a boy scarce out of the schoolroom?”
Sir Henry answered deliberately, watching that stormy face rather intently: “Had I no cause then? What should I have expected of one of faro’s daughters? Tell me by what sign I should have guessed that a female sharing the profits of a house where the play is not above question possessed this rare nobility of character?”
Mr. Varley took a quick step towards him. “You lie. The play is straight!”
Sir Henry laughed.
Mr. Varley swung round, snatched up his swords and presented them on his arms, hilts foremost. “Choose, you!” he commanded.
“Take them away,” said Sir Henry, snapping his fingers at them. “I don’t fight gamesters—or striplings.”
“You will fight me.” said Mr. Varley, and struck him across the mouth.
Sir Henry looked down at him, his brow creased. “Are you serious? Do you really wish to cross swords with me?”
“Good heavens, do you need further proof?” demanded Mr. Varley. “I have no greater ambition than to put two feet of steel through you.”
Sir Henry’s eyes were gleaming with laugher. “Egad, I’ll do it,” he said.
“Here and now,” said Mr. Varley. “Anywhere you like,” replied Sir Henry. “If we are to be irregular, why, let us be irregular!”
Mr. Varley presented his swords once more. “Do not imagine that I am unaware of the rules governing such affairs as these,” he said. “I am perfectly conversant with the Code of Honour, but in this country I have no friends whom I can call upon to act for me.”
“Don’t give it a thought,” said Sir Henry, grasping one of the hilts. “If we push the table into the next room we shall have space enough, which is all that need concern us.”
He laid the sword he had chosen across a chair and walked over to the doors shutting off his bedchamber. These he flung open, and in a minute or two had swept his sitting-room bare of most of its moveable furniture. Mr. Varley, meanwhile, had kicked off his shoes, and extricated himself from his coat and waistcoat. He took up his position at one end of the room, his left arm hanging loosely at his side, the right straight, holding his sword with the point a bare inch from the floor in front of his right foot.
Sir Henry picked up his sword, brought it to the same prescribed position, and said: “Well, you shall have your satisfaction, Mr. Varley.”
He raised his sword in a formal salute, and the blades engaged.
Sir Henry had the advantage of a longer reach than Mr. Varley, but the younger man, pressing a vicious attack, had both pace and a good style, and for the first minute or two kept his more experienced opponent on the defensive. But Sir Henry’s defence was extremely good. Mr. Varley, feinting a disengagement into sixte from quarte, found his feint foreseen and countered with a swift, effortless dexterity that surprised him, and for a moment lost his proper time.
He recovered, but began to fence with more care. Once he allowed Sir Henry, deceiving the parry of counter-seconds, to break through his guard. The point flickered perilously near his heart, but was withdrawn. He gave a gasp, but kept his eyes fixed on Sir Henry’s.
He saw Sir Henry’s blade waver for one careless moment, and like a flash seized the opportunity to deliver a straight thrust in quarte. His point was aimed for the body but found instead the upper arm, just above the elbow
“Touche!” said Sir Henry, and dropped his point.
Mr. Varley was panting, and the sweat rolled down his face. He, too, let his point fall and stared with knit brows at the red stain on Sir Henry’s torn sleeve. He brushed the back of his hand across his wet forehead, and jerked out: “How was it done? Tell me!”
Sir Henry’s lips twitched. “You should know – you did it.”
Mr. Varley shook his head. “No! That beat—deflecting the point, it wasn’t possible!”
Sir Henry drew out his handkerchief from the pocket of his breeches and twisted it round his arm. “I was too late on the parry,” he replied evasively.
Mr. Varley stamped his foot. “No, I tell you! Do you think me a fool? You wounded yourself!”
Sir Henry smiled. “Just a trick. I did not learn my sword play in an English school.”
“Faith! I thought I knew all the tricks. But to bring your blade within mine then—is it deep?”
“Well, not quite two feet,” said Sir Henry apologetically.
Mr. Varley flushed, and laying down his sword came up to Sir Henry and took the handkerchief from him and bound it round the wound and tied it. “It’s nothing. A mere scratch,” he said.
“Why did you do it?”
Sir Henry met the challenge in his eyes, and said: “Did you think I would run you through?”
“I know of no reason why you should not,” retorted Mr. Varley quickly.
“Oh, do you not? Perhaps it was as well that I did know of one,” said Sir Henry. “Tell me now, why did you challenge me to this desperate encounter?”
“I wanted to kill you.”
Sir Henry picked up his sword, and presented the hilt. “If that is your humour do your worst,” he invited. “Come, run me through. I will confess I deserve it.”
“Oh, fiend seize you, I suppose you have guessed the truth!” snapped Mr. Varley.
“Why, yes, did you think I should not?”
“Of course, I thought you would not. Good Lord, I have masqueraded in man’s clothes many a time!” She paused and regarded him reflectively. “Did I give myself away? I have never done so before.”
“Well, do you know, I did not feel that so young a man as you appeared to be would be very likely to call my cousin ‘a boy scarce out of the schoolroom’,” explained Sir Henry.
“Was that all?”
He shook his head. “No, I think I must always recognise you. Will you accept my apologies for the wrong I did you?”
She shrugged, and turned away to pick up her coat and waistcoat. “Oh, I’m satisfied!”
He took the coat from her, and held it for her to put on. As she thrust her arms into it, he said conversationally: “But you shall not marry my cousin, for all that.”
She pulled out her ruffles and patted them into place. “Are we not agreed on that? I’d never a notion of marrying him.” She heaved a short sigh. “Oh, well, let us be honest! Perhaps I played with the thought—no more than that.” She picked up her sword and wiped it on her handkerchief.
“Why? To be a viscountess, or to escape from gaming?”
She did not answer for a moment, but stood mechanically wiping her blade. Then she tossed the stained and crumpled handkerchief into the fireplace, and said with a slight laugh: “Oh, to be a viscountess, of course. Good Lord, do you picture me a martyr? You’re wrong, Sir Harry!”
“Am I?” He took the sword out of her hand, and laid it aside. “Marry me!”
She was startled, but she smiled a little. “Now what’s this?” she demanded.
“It’s a proposal,” he replied. “They run in my family.”
She put her head on one side. “Egad! Does madness also?”
“Not a whit,” he answered cheerfully.
“My dear man, it’s mad or foxed you must be! You know nothing of me!”
“Nothing. Yet I think the instant I saw you I knew I loved you.”
She said lightly: “Is it an affliction you’re much subject to, sir?”
“No, not in all my wanderings.”
She grasped a chairback. “Ah, you’re surely crazy! One of faro’s daughters for your wife!”
“Why not?” he said coolly. “I count myself quite one of faro’s sons. My late father was as hardened a gamester as your own.”
“You’ve said you know nothing of me. There may be things I dare not tell you.”
“I don’t think it,” he answered, looking down at her.
Her face puckered, but she contrived to smile. “Come, that’s handsome of you! There’s nothing I dare not tell you or any man.”
He came close to her, and gathered her hands in his. “I’ve a strong notion we were made for each other. Will you marry me?”
She pulled one hand away, and adjusted the bandage round his arm. “Myself, I’ve a strong notion I should tighten this handkerchief. You are bleeding a trifle.”
He recaptured her hand. “Let it be. Will you marry me?”
“If I may tie up your arm, perhaps.”
He let her go. “Tie it, then.”
Her fingers became busy about the knot of the handkerchief. She said: “I fence well, don’t I?”
“Very well. Who taught you?”
“My father. Will you show me that trick?”
“If you will marry me, perhaps.”
She smiled, tied the handkerchief up again, and raised her face. “My dear, didn’t I know the instant I laid eyes on you? And what must you do but bribe me to let your cousin go!”
He took her in his arms, and held her very close, and said, smiling down into her eyes: “But I’ve no tact, you know!”
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.