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First published in The Belgravia Annual, Christmas 1896

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-27
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Florence Marryat (1833-1899)

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The Belgravia Annual, Christmas 1896, with "In this World, or the Next


KATE CARLINGFORD, the heiress of the season, was standing before her mirror one evening, whilst her maid dressed her for a dinner party. Her frock was of black chiffon, for she was still in mourning for the uncle from whom she had inherited her fortune, and round her fair throat was a single row of brilliants, whilst a spray of the same precious stones flashed in her dark hair.

She was greatly to be envied—so the world thought, and so she thought herself, unheeding the blind her riches would prove to the true characters of her so-called friends. She was a fine-looking young woman of two-and-twenty—with a good deal of self-esteem and confidence in her power to look after herself.

The maid was fastening the last butterfly bow on her shoulder, when a tap came on the bedroom door, and a card was handed in on a silver salver.

"A lady waiting to see you, if you please, madam!"

Kate lifted the card with knitted brows.

"A lady. At this time of night? Oh! Mrs. Bennett! What on earth can she want with me? Any message, Anderson?"

"Only that the lady wishes to speak to you very particularly, madam, and she will not detain you more than a minute!"

"It is very extraordinary—however, show Mrs. Bennett up here. Say that I am dressing for a party, and cannot come down. And—I think that is all, Sarah, so you had better go, but let me know as soon as the carriage is at the door."

"Yes, madam."

The maid laid a white brocaded silk cloak by her mistress's side, and withdrew, just as Mrs. Bennett was shown into the room.

The new-comer was a very pretty woman—a brunette of the rarest type, quite Spanish in her colouring, and the possessor of a most charming figure. But she seemed nervous and unstrung.

"This is a surprise," exclaimed Kate Carlingford, as she shook hands with her visitor. "I hope that nothing is wrong, that you pay me so late a visit. And unfortunately, I can spare you but a few minutes, for I am going to dine with the Tressiders."

"Oh, I know! It is unconscionable of me to disturb you at such an hour, but only the direst necessity—Oh! Miss Carlingford, I am in such awful trouble—I don't know what to do!" and here Mrs. Bennett hid her face in her hands and commenced to cry.

Kate Carlingford had rather a hard nature where her own sex was concerned. Tears did not soften her—they rather had the opposite effect. But Captain Bennett had the reputation of not treating his pretty wife well, and she was curious to learn what he had done now.

"A matrimonial squabble, I suppose!" she remarked, "it will soon blow over, and how can I help you out of it? That is a puzzle to me."

"No, no, it is nothing of the sort," replied the other, through her tears. "John has been no worse than usual, but we are in a terrible strait. My husband has got into great difficulties, but they are only temporary ones—if we could raise a little money at once, it would be all right, and I have come—Oh! how shall I say it, for I know we have no claim on you—but will you lend me two hundred pounds?"

The murder was out now, and Kate was naturally surprised. Mrs. Bennett was only a recent acquaintance, and though she had been poor herself in her early, days, she had come to love her money already, and did not like the idea of parting with it. But her pride made her shrink from refusing. She was known to have a rent-roll of five thousand a year. How could she decently refuse to lend a friend two hundred? But she demurred at it.

"It is a large sum," she said, "and I don't know what my trustees would say about it. I should have to consult them first."

Mrs. Bennett's face fell.

"Should you? But you are of age. Is not your money your own? Oh! Miss Carlingford, you don't know what this loan would be to me—to us! It means life—liberty—salvation. And we will pay it back almost directly, I swear it. It is only for an immediate necessity. I shall have plenty next week, or the weeks after. And I hoped, since you are so rich and generous, that——"

"Why didn't your husband come and ask me himself?" demanded Kate. "A man's security is worth more than that of a woman."

"Because he does not know that I am here—he must not know—it was my own idea, but it will spell happiness for more than one person. Oh! Miss Carlingford, if you only would!

"If you please, madam, the carriage is at the door," said a voice from the outside of the room.

"Well, I must go now, but I will think of it," said Kate, as she drew her cloak upon her shoulders; "to-morrow I will write and let you know my decision."

"To-morrow—to-morrow will be too late," exclaimed Mrs. Bennett, passionately, as she grasped Kate's cloak in her hands. "Miss Carlingford, consider; you have so much, and we, so little. Lend me this money and I promise you, in the name of Heaven, that it shall be faithfully returned. You have received so much—be merciful to those in want. I declare to you that if I cannot get this money to-night, I will not live to see to-morrow. I will destroy myself. Only two hundred pounds. Why, that spray of diamonds in your hair must have cost as much! For God's sake, lend it me for a little while."

Kate hesitated. She was rather superstitious, and half afraid lest, if she steadfastly refused Mrs. Bennett's request, coupled with such solemn adjurations, some misfortune might happen to herself. It was this feeling, and not pity, or generosity, that made her hesitate.

"But I don't know what Mr. Broderick will say," she temporized. "He is so very particular in looking over my accounts."

"I will return it before he has time to do so," returned Mrs. Bennett, with the tears streaming down her face. "Do, do! dear Miss Carlingford, and your goodness will be returned fourfold into your bosom."

Kate did not know how to refuse any longer. She felt she was doing a foolish thing, but something urged her to comply with the request. She went to her Davenport, and hastily wrote a cheque for the amount, and thrust it into the hands of her visitor.

"There, there," she said. "Now, remember, I have your promise to repay it, as soon as it is possible."

Mrs. Bennett could scarcely believe her good fortune. She looked at the cheque and then threw her arms impulsively about the neck of her benefactor.

"God bless you!" she exclaimed, "God bless you for ever! You have saved my life! You have made me a happy woman! And remember, I have sworn to repay you, either in this world, or the next, and—I will do it!"

"In the next," laughed Kate Carlingford, "I would prefer it to be in this world, please! I don't think it would be of much use to me in the next."

"In this world, or the next," repeated Mrs. Bennett, as she wiped her wet eyes, and smiling, bade her friend adieu. In another minute, she had left the house, and the heiress was rolling away to the Tressiders', feeling she had done a rather foolish thing, but hardly knowing how she could have avoided it. It would have been terrible had her friends been ruined for want of it.

SHE heard no more of the Bennetts for the next week and she did not like to enquire, lest it should seem as if she wished to remind them of their debt. But at the end of that time, the newspapers were full of the account of the wrecking of an Atlantic steamer, by which several hundred lives were lost, and very few, in comparison, saved.

The list of passengers who had perished had not yet been published, when Marion Harcourt, who was Kate's most intimate friend, came into her room, bursting with a big bit of news.

"Oh! my dear!" she cried, "have you heard this dreadful story about poor Amy Bennett?"

"No! What is the matter with her?" cried Kate, her thoughts flying at once to her two hundred pounds.

"Her name is down on the list of the drowned in the Gerusha! I rushed to her husband at once to learn if it was true, and it is, sure enough."

"Amy Bennett on board the Gerusha," said Kate in amazement. "But she was here—with me—last Thursday evening!"

"With you? What for? It was Friday morning that the Gerusha sailed from Liverpool. Did she tell you of her intention?"

"Not a word! She came to borrow money from me! She said that her husband was in difficulties, but would repay it very shortly. She must have borrowed it on purpose to take this voyage, but she didn't mention a word about it!"

"Oh! Kate, and did you lend her any?"

"I did, I am sorry to say—two hundred pounds!"

"Two hundred pounds," repeated Mrs. Harcourt. "Oh! my dear, you have sent her to her death. And the worst of it is, Kate, that she didn't go alone. Poor Captain Bennett has ascertained that from the ship's books. There was some man with her, who pretended to be her husband, and shipped under the same name. Her name only appears amongst the list of lost, so it is supposed he is amongst the passengers landed in New York. Captain Bennett suspects who it is, but has no proof. He is heart-broken over the whole affair, and has made arrangements for leaving England at once. What a mercy she left no children! She must have been thoroughly bad!"

"Are you sure she is gone?" demanded the heiress, in awestruck tones.

"Sure, my dear, when the vessel was wrecked in mid-ocean? She was certainly not saved, poor creature!"

"And so there goes my two hundred pounds!" exclaimed Kate, "that is what comes of trusting a woman! And she was so sure that she should repay it! I suppose she depended on the partner of her flight to do so. 'In this world, or the next,' she said, and so solemnly. I really believe she meant it! But catch me lending anybody money again."

"She can have had no truth in her! Fancy! imposing on you for so large a sum. And to enable her to run away from her husband. Oh! shameful! She has deceived us all round. I know the Bennetts did not get on very well together, but if you had seen his distress at losing her, you would have said he could not be so very bad after all."

"Ah! it is easy to appear distressed, or even to feel so, perhaps, when we see the consequences of our bad actions," replied Miss Carlingford. "But I cannot help thinking that when Mrs. Bennett borrowed that money, she meant to repay it! She bade God bless me, and said that it had made her so happy. She thought she was going to America with the man she loved, and she is at the bottom of the sea with my two hundred pounds. Poor little woman!"

Marion Harcourt could not understand Miss Carlingford's mood. She advised her to try and recover the sum through Captain Bennett, but though she did not like losing it, she refused to mention the subject again.

"It's gone, and there's an end of it," she said. "I'm very sorry I lent it, but it will be a lesson to me for the future! But she meant to repay it, and I can only think of the terrible end which prevented her doing so. Pray don't say anything more about it!"

MR. BRODERICK, her trustee, grumbled a good deal when he next looked over her accounts and found such a large sum missing, of which she refused to give him any explanation, except that she had given it to a friend.

He called her wasteful and extravagant, and reminded her that the largest fortune in the world could not stand unnecessary drains upon it, and the discussion ended by a quarrel, during which Kate told him that she should do as she chose with her own, and begged that he would be good enough not to interfere with her affairs.

She lamented the circumstance a little in secret, but it gradually faded from her mind, and Amy Bennett and the loss of the two hundred pounds became things of the past.

As the possessor of such a fortune, it may be supposed that Kate Carlingford was much sought after by the other sex, who rank money far above beauty, or intellect, or virtue. Men are never behindhand in crying down the mercenary disposition of girls who marry for wealth, having no means of making it for themselves—but what of their own natures, which impel them to vie with each other to secure an heiress, although they have been reared and educated with the sole view of supporting themselves.

Kate was handsome, as well as rich, so she was always having attentions paid her, but she had an idea that she ought to get a title in exchange for her fortune. Women dearly love a handle to their names, but no one appeared who was eligible in that particular, until Lord George Musgrave was introduced to her.

He was a fine man of about thirty-five—of indisputable family, being the younger son of a duke—but bearing a character for dissipation and reckless living. Why used women to be such idiots as to be attracted by rakes? They were kept too innocent in those days, and the term signified a fine, dashing, reckless fellow to them—now, when they are more enlightened, they take a rake at his full value, as a despicable, self-indulgent, unclean thing.

Lord George, however, paid a great deal of attention to Miss Carlingford, and after the lapse of a few weeks it was the general talk in Society that they were going to make a match of it.

Kate felt excited at the idea. She cared nothing about the man's private character—it had never been brought before her plainly—but she thought much of his status in society—of his being the son of a duke—and of the possibility of her one day becoming a duchess.

Her guardian pointed out to her the fact of his being penniless, and that all the funds must be provided from her banking book, but she paid no heed to him.

"It will be a fair exchange," she said. "He will bring me a name and position, and I shall give him the wherewithal to maintain both. I have quite made up my mind that if he proposes, I shall accept him."

"Well! I shall take good care that your money is tied up on yourself," grumbled Mr. Broderick, "or this man will make ducks and drakes of it in no time."

THE acquaintanceship between them went on, until there could be no doubt of his lordship's intentions, and one day, having asked previously if he could see her quite alone, he called upon Miss Carlingford, with the evident intention of making proposals for her hand.

Kate, flushed and excited, received him in her boudoir, and waved him to a seat, opposite to her own. There was a slight pause whilst he was thinking of the best words in which to put his request, and Kate raised her eyes to regard him.

What was her astonishment and dismay to see standing behind his chair—Mrs. Bennett!

Miss Carlingford was a courageous woman. She thought at first that she must be mistaken, but on looking again, there stood the apparition, immovable—dressed as she was when she had last seen her, but dripping with water, and her dark hair hanging over her white, still face.

Kate gave a scream and fell back in her chair. Lord George started up, demanding what was the matter.

"Oh! it is nothing—nothing—the room is too warm!" exclaimed Kate, as she struggled to her feet, the apparition of Amy Bennett remaining behind the empty chair.

"Will you excuse me this afternoon—another day—" stammered Miss Carlingford, "I—I—am not well! I feel rather faint! Pray excuse my seeming impoliteness!" and so saying, she staggered from the room.

Lord George waited for some time to see if she would return, but finding that she did not intend to leave her room again that day, he returned home and wrote her a letter instead.

Kate, meanwhile, though scared and nervous, would not mention what she had seen to anybody, but locked the remembrance in her own breast, wondering what it could mean, and if poor Amy really thought that she required any explanation of the money not having been repaid.

After a few hours of solitude, she became ashamed of her fright, and wrote a cordial answer to Lord George's letter of enquiry, naming an early day for the renewal of their interrupted tête-à-tête.

He came punctually at the time appointed, and she descended to the drawing-room, clad in her most becoming frock, to receive him; but as soon as they had shaken hands and seated themselves, and Lord George had once more opened his suit, Kate looked at him, and there, behind his chair was standing, as before, Amy Bennett—wet and dripping.

She grew very white again, but she did not scream—something, an impulse which she could not resist, forcing her to say:

"Lord George, did you ever know Mrs. Bennett?"

He sprang from his chair, gasping:

"Amy Bennett! Who has told you of her?"

"I don't know! No one. But she is standing behind your chair now!"

"My God!" he exclaimed; "it was not my fault! She urged me to it!"

A light broke in upon Kate Carlingford.

"What do you mean?—she urged you to it! To what?—to accompany her on that fatal voyage—the voyage which proved her death?"

"Miss Carlingford! I assure you—but what are we saying? This is all nonsense. I don't know what you mean. What should Mrs. Bennett have to do with me?"

"I mean the lady who was lost in the wreck of the Gerusha. Some one went with her, took her away from her husband, and passed himself off as such. Yes! yes! she is nodding her head. I am right! You are that man! Oh! go away! Go from my sight for ever. Poor Amy has indeed paid her debt in the other world!"

"I don't know what you are talking about!" said Lord George sulkily, as he took up his hat, "nor why I am to be accused of things I never did!"

"Don't dare to deny it," replied Kate sternly. "A light has broken in upon me, and I see it all plainly now! You accompanied her to New York—she thought she would be so happy there, poor little woman—and you were saved and she was drowned—and you heard of me from her, it was my money she borrowed to take you both out there—and she has come back to save me from marrying you! Oh! I am glad—glad! Thank you, dear Amy! The debt is cancelled a thousand times over. Better lose all one has, than be tied to a scoundrel!"

"You are complimentary, Miss Carlingford!" said his lordship as he moved towards the door.

"I do not mean to be anything but frank," she replied; "I am thinking only of what that poor little woman suffered and how she expiated her sin. I am thinking that I did not know there was so much truth and loyalty in her, and that she has saved me from a horrible fate. Good morning, Lord George. The loan has been returned fourfold!"

IT was not very long before Kate Carlingford was mated with a good and true man, but to the last day of her life, she was fond of relating how Amy Bennett came back from the Atlantic Ocean to save her from accepting the proposals of Lord George Musgrave.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.