A Civil Contract
by Georgette Heyer
Her entry took everyone by surprise, including the footman, who had attempted to usher her into the drawing-room while he went to inform his mistress of her arrival. It had been arranged that the Lyntons were to have driven to Nassington House, in Berkeley Square, and to have proceeded thence to St. James's; and for a moment of almost equal relief and disappointment Jenny thought that some accident must have occurred, and that there was to be no Drawing-Room after all. But her ladyship's first words, as much as her attire, dispelled this notion. "I thought as much!" she said. "Good God, girl, do you imagine I am going to take you to Court decked out like a jeweller's window?" Her high-nosed stare encountered Mr. Chawleigh, and she demanded: "Who is this?"
"It's my father, ma'am. Papa--this is Lady Nassington!" responded Jenny, inwardly quaking at what she feared might prove to be a battle of Titans.
"Oh! How-de-do?" said her ladyship. "Those pearls you gave Jenny are too big. She's got too short a neck for them."
"That's as may be, my lady," replied Mr. Chawleigh, bristling.
"No may be about it. Take off that necklace, Jenny! You can't wear rubies with that dress, child! And those ear-rings! Let me see what you have in this monstrous great box: good God! Enough to furnish a king's ransom!"
"Ay, that's about the worth of them," said Mr. Chawleigh, glowering at her. "Not that I know anything about king's ransoms, but I know what I paid for my girl's trinkets, and a pretty penny it was!"
"More money than sense!" observed her ladyship. "Ah! Here's something much more the thing!"
"That?" demanded Mr. Chawleigh, looking with disgust at the delicate necklace dangling from Lady Nassington's fingers. "Why, that's a bit of trumpery I gave Mrs. Chawleigh when I was no more than a chicken-nabob!"
"You had better taste then than you have now. Very pretty: exactly what she should wear!"
"Well, she ain't going to wear it!" declared Mr. Chawleigh, his choler mounting. "She'll go to Court slap up to the echo, or I'll know the reason why!"
"Papa!" uttered Jenny imploringly.
"She'll go in a proper mode, or not at all. Lord, man, have you no sense? She had as well shout aloud that she's an heiress as go to Court hung all over with jewels! Puffing off her wealth: that's what everyone would say. Is that what you want?"
"No, indeed it isn't!" said Jenny, as her parent, a trifle nonplussed, turned this over in his mind. "Now, that's enough, Papa! Her ladyship knows better than you or me what's the first style of elegance."
"Well, there's no need that I know of for you to be ashamed of my fortune!" said Mr. Chawleigh, covering his retreat with some sharp fire. "Going about the town in a paltry necklace that looks as if I couldn't afford to buy the best for you!"
"If that's all that's putting you into the hips, you may be easy!" said Lady Nassington. "All the ton knows my nephew's married a great heiress, and you may believe that she'll take better if she don't make a parade of her riches. Tell me this! would you thank me for meddling in your business, whatever it is?"
"Meddling in my business?" repeated Mr. Chawleigh, stupefied. "No, I would not, my lady!"
"Just so! Don't meddle in mine."
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