by Georgette Heyer
It was quite evident that the landlord did not place any belief in the existence of Miss Challoner's baggage. "You have come to the wrong inn," he said. "There is a place down the street for the likes of you."
He encountered a look from Miss Challoner's fine grey eyes that made him suddenly nervous lest her story might after all be true, but at this moment he was reinforced by the arrival of his wife, a dame as stout as he was lean, who demanded to know what the young person wanted.
He repeated Miss Challoner's story to her. The dame set her arms akimbo, and gave vent to a short bark of laughter. "A very likely tale," she said. "You'd best be off to the Chat Griz, my girl. The Rayon d'Or does not honour persons of your quality. Baggage in Dijon indeed!"
It did not seem as though an appeal to this scornful lady would be of avail. Miss Challoner said steadily, "I find you impertinent, my good woman. I am English, travelling to rejoin my friends in the neighbourhood, and although I am aware that the loss of my baggage must appear strange to you----"
"Vastly strange, mademoiselle, I assure you. The English are all mad, sans doute, but we have had many of them at the Rayon d'Or, and they are not so mad that they permit their ladies to journey alone on the diligence. Come, now, be off with you! There is no lodging for you here, I can tell you. Such a tale! If you are English, you will be some servant girl, very likely dismissed for some fault. The Chat Griz will give you a bed."
"The guard on the stage warned me what kind of a hostelry that is," replied Miss Challoner. "If you doubt my story, let me tell you that my name is Challoner, and I have sufficient money at my disposal to pay for your bed-chamber."
"Take your money elsewhere!" said the woman brusquely. "A nice thing it would be if we were to house young persons of your kind! Don't stand there staring down your nose at me, my girl! Be off at once!"
A soft voice spoke from the stairway. "One moment, my good creature," it said.
Miss Challoner looked up quickly. Down the stairs, very leisurely, was coming a tall gentleman dressed in a rich suit of black cloth with much silver lacing. He wore a powdered wig, and a patch at the corner of his rather thin mouth, and there was the hint of a diamond in the lace at his throat. He carried a long ebony cane in one hand, and a great square emerald glinted on one of his fingers. As he descended into the full light of the lamps Miss Challoner saw that he was old; although his eyes, directly surveying her from under their heavy lids, were remarkably keen. They were of a hard grey, and held a cynical gleam.
That he was a personage of considerable importance she at once guessed, for not only was the landlord bowing till his nose almost touched his knee, but the gentleman had in every languid movement the air of one born to command.
He reached the foot of the stairs, and came slowly towards the group by the door. He did not seem to be aware of the landlord's existence; he was looking at Miss Challoner, and it was to her and in English that he addressed himself. "You appear to be in some difficulty, madam. Pray let me know how I can serve you."
She curtsied with pretty dignity. "Thank you, sir. All I require is a lodging for the night, but I believe I must not trouble you."
"It does not seem to be an out-of-the-way demand," said the gentleman, raising his brows. "You will no doubt inform me where the hitch lies."
His air of calm authority brought a smile quivering to Miss Challoner's lips. "I repeat, sir, you are very kind, but I beg you will not concern yourself with my stupid affairs."
His cold glance rested on her with a kind of bored indifference that she found disconcerting, and oddly familiar. "My good child," he said, with a touch of disdain in his voice, "your scruples, though most affecting, are quite needless. I imagine I might well be your grandfather."
She coloured a little, and replied, with a frank smile, "I beg your pardon, sir. Indeed, my scruples are only lest I should be thought to importune a stranger."
"You edify me extremely," he said. "Will you now have the goodness to inform me why this woman finds herself unable to supply you with a bed-chamber?"
"I can scarcely blame her, sir," said Miss Challoner honestly. "I have no maid, and no baggage, and I arrived by the stage coach. My situation is excessively awkward, and I was very foolish not to have realized sooner what a very odd appearance I must present."
"The loss of your baggage is, I fear, beyond my power to remedy, but a bed-chamber I can procure for you at once."
"I should be very grateful to you, sir, if you would."
The Englishman turned to the landlord, who was humbly awaiting his pleasure. "Your stupidity, my good Boisson, is lamentable," he remarked. "You will escort this lady to a suitable chamber."
"Yes, monseigneur, yes indeed. It shall be as monseigneur wishes. But----"
"I do not think," said the Englishman sweetly, "that I evinced any desire to converse with you."
"No, monseigneur," said the landlord. "If----if mademoiselle would follow my wife upstairs? The large front room, Célestine!"
Madame said resentful, "What, the large room?"
The landlord gave her a push towards the stairs. "Certainly the large one. Go quickly!"
The Englishman turned to Miss Challoner. "You bespoke supper, I believe. I shall be honoured by your presence at my own table. Boisson will show you the way to my private salle."
Miss Challoner hesitated. "A bowl of soup in my chamber, sir----"
"You will find it more entertaining to sup with me," he said. "Let me allay your qualms by informing you that I have the pleasure of your grandfather's acquaintance."
Miss Challoner grew rather pale. "My grandfather!" she said quickly.
"Certainly. You said, I think, that your name is Challoner. I have known Sir Giles any time these forty years. Permit me to tell you that you have a great look of him."
In face of this piece of information Miss Challoner abandoned her first impulse to disclaim all relationship with Sir Giles. She stood feeling remarkably foolish, and looking rather worried.
The gentleman smiled faintly. "Very wise," he commented, with uncanny perspicacity. "I should never believe that you were not his granddaughter. May I suggest that you follow this worthy female upstairs? You will join me at your convenience."
Miss Challoner had to laugh. "Very well, sir," she said, and curtsied, and went off in the wake of the landlady.