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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
“How Bright She Was, How Lovely Did She Show”
By Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835–1915)
 
From ‘Mohawks’

TO be a fashionable beauty, with a reputation for intelligence, nay, even for that much rarer quality, wit; to have been born in the purple; to have been just enough talked about to be interesting as a woman with a history; to have a fine house in Soho Square, and a mediæval abbey in Hampshire; to ride, dance, sing, play, and speak French and Italian better than any other woman in society; to have the finest diamonds in London; to be followed, flattered, serenaded, lampooned, written about and talked about, and to be on the sunward side of thirty; surely to be and to have all these good things should fill the cup of contentment for any of Eve’s daughters.  1
  Lady Judith Topsparkle had all these blessings, and flashed gayety and brightness upon the world in which her lot was cast; and yet there were those among her intimates, those who sipped their chocolate with her of a morning before her hair was powdered or her patches put on, who declared that she was not altogether happy.  2
  The diamonds, the spacious house in Soho Square, with its Turkey carpets and Boule furniture, its plenitude of massive plate and Italian pictures, its air of regal luxury and splendor; the abbey near Ringwood, with its tapestries, pictures, curios, and secret passages, were burdened with a certain condition which for Lady Judith reduced their value to a minimum.  3
  All these good things came to her through her husband. Of her own right she was only the genteelest pauper at the court end of London. Her blood was of the bluest. She was a younger daughter of one of the oldest earls; but Job himself, after the advent of the messengers, was not poorer than that distinguished nobleman. Lady Judith had brought Mr. Topsparkle nothing but her beauty, her quality, and her pride. Love she never pretended to bring him, nor liking, nor even respect. His father had made his fortune in trade; and the idea of a tradesman’s son was almost as repulsive to Lady Judith as that of a blackamoor. She married him because her father made her marry him, and in her own phraseology “the matter was not worth fighting about.” She had broken just two years before with the only man she had ever loved, had renounced him in a fit of pique and passion on account of some scandal about a French dancing-girl; and from that hour she had assumed an air of recklessness: she had danced, flirted, talked, and carried on in a manner that delighted the multitude and shocked the prudes. Bath and Tunbridge Wells had rung with her sayings and doings; and finally she surrendered herself, not altogether unwillingly, to the highest bidder.  4
  She was burdened with debt, never knew what it was to have a crown piece of ready money. At cards she had to borrow first of one admirer and then of another. She had been able to get plenty of credit for gowns and trinketry from a harpy class of West End tradespeople, who speculated in Lady Judith’s beauty as they might have done in some hazardous but hopeful stock; counting it almost a certainty that she would make a splendid match and recoup them all.  5
  Mr. Topsparkle saw her in the zenith of her audacious charms. He met her at a masquerade at Bath, followed and intrigued with her all the evening, and at last, alone in an alcove with her after supper, induced her to take off her mask. Her beauty dazzled those experienced eyes of his, and he fell madly in love with her at first sight of that radiant loveliness: starriest eyes of violet hue, a dainty little Greek nose, a complexion of lilies and blush-roses, and the most perfect mouth and teeth in Christendom. No one had ever seen anything more beautiful than the tender curves of those classic lips, or more delicate than their faint carmine tinge. In an epoch when almost every woman of fashion plastered herself with bismuth and ceruse, Lord Bramber’s daughter could afford to exhibit the complexion nature had given her, and might defy paint to match it. Lady Judith laughed at her conquest when she was told about it by half a dozen different admirers at the Rooms next morning.  6
  “What, that Topsparkle man!” she exclaimed—“the traveled Cit who has been exploring all sorts of savage places in Spain and Italy, and writing would-be witty letters about his travels. They say he is richer than any nabob in Hindostan. Yes, I plagued him vastly, I believe, before I consented to unmask; and then he pretended to be dumbfounded at my charms, forsooth; dazzled by this sun into which you gentlemen look without flinching, like young eagles.”  7
  “My dear Lady Judith, the man is captivated—your slave forever. You had better put a ring in his nose and lead him about with you, instead of that little black boy for whom you sighed the other day, and that his Lordship denied you. He is quite the richest man in London, three or four times a millionaire, and he is on the point of buying Lord Ringwood’s place in Hampshire—a genuine mediæval abbey, with half a mile of cloisters and a fish-pond in the kitchen.”  8
  “I care neither for cloisters nor kitchen.”  9
  “Ay, but you have a weakness for diamonds,” urged Mr. Mordaunt, an old admirer, who was very much au courant as to the fair Judith’s history and habits, had lent her money when she was losing at basset, and had diplomatized with her creditors for her. “Witness that cross the Jew sold you the other day.”  10
  Lady Judith reddened angrily. The same Jew dealer who sold her the jewel had insisted upon having it back from her when he discovered her inability to pay for it, threatening to prosecute her for obtaining goods under false pretenses.  11
  “Mr. Topsparkle’s diamonds—they belonged to his mother—are historical. His maternal grandfather was an Amsterdam Jew, and the greatest diamond merchant of his time. He had mills where the gems were ground as corn is ground in our country, and seem to have been as plentiful as corn. Egad, Lady Judith, how you would blaze in the Topsparkle diamonds!”  12
  “Mr. Topsparkle must be sixty years of age!” exclaimed, the lady, with sovereign contempt.  13
  “Nobody supposes you would marry him for his youth or his personal attractions. Yet he is by no means a bad-looking man, and he has had plenty of adventures in his day, I can assure your Ladyship. Il a vécu, as our neighbors say: Topsparkle is no simpleton. When he set out upon the grand tour nearly forty years ago, he carried with him about as scandalous a reputation as a gentleman of fashion could enjoy. He had been cut by all the strait-laced people; and it is only the fact of his incalculable wealth which has opened the doors of decent houses for him since his return.”  14
  “I thank you for the compliment implied in your recommendation of him to me as a husband,” said Lady Judith, drawing herself up with that Juno-like air which made her seem half a head taller, and which accentuated every curve of her superb torso. “He is apparently a gentleman whom it would be a disgrace to know.”  15
  “Oh, your Ladyship must be aware that a reformed rake makes the best husband. And since Topsparkle went on the Continent he has acquired a new reputation as a wit and a man of letters. He wrote an Assyrian story in the Italian language, about which the town raved a few years ago—a sort of demon story, ever so much cleverer than Voltaire’s fanciful novels. Everybody was reading or pretending to read it.”  16
  “Oh, was that his?” exclaimed Judith, who read everything. “It was mighty clever. I begin to think better of your Topsparkle personage.”  17
  Five minutes afterwards, strolling languidly amid the crowd, with a plain cousin at her elbow for foil and duenna, Lady Judith met Mr. Topsparkle walking with no less a person than her father.  18
  Lord Bramber enjoyed the privilege of an antique hereditary gout, and came to Bath every season for the waters. He was a man of imposing figure, at once tall and bulky, but he carried his vast proportions with dignity and ease. He was said to have been the handsomest man of his day, and had been admired even by an age which could boast of “Hervey the Handsome,” John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and the irresistible Henry St. John. Basking in that broad sunshine of popularity which is the portion of a man of high birth, graceful manners, and good looks, Lord Bramber had squandered a handsome fortune right royally, and now, at five-and-fifty, was as near insolvency as a gentleman dare be. His house in Pulteney Street was a kind of haven, to which he brought his family when London creditors began to be implacable. He had even thoughts of emigrating to Holland or Belgium, or to some old Roman town in the sunny South of France, where he might live upon his wife’s pin-money, which happily was protected by stringent settlements and incorruptible trustees.  19
  He had married two out of three daughters well, but not brilliantly. Judith was the youngest of the three, and she was the flower of the flock. She had been foolish, very foolish, about Lord Lavendale, and a faint cloud of scandal had hung over her name ever since her affair with that too notorious rake. Admirers she had by the score, but since the Lavendale entanglement there had been no serious advances from any suitor of mark.  20
  But now Mr. Topsparkle, one of the wealthiest commoners in Great Britain, was obviously smitten with Lady Judith’s perfections, and had a keen air which seemed to mean business, Lord Bramber thought. He had obtained an introduction to the earl within the last half-hour, and had not concealed his admiration for the earl’s daughter. He had entreated the honor of a formal introduction to the exquisite creature with whom he had conversed on sportive terms last night at the Assembly Rooms.  21
  Lady Judith acknowledged the introduction with the air of a queen to whom courtiers and compliments were as the gadflies of summer. She fanned herself listlessly, and stared about her while Mr. Topsparkle was talking.  22
  “I vow, there is Mrs. Margetson,” she exclaimed, recognizing an acquaintance across the crowd: “I have not seen her for a century. Heavens, how old and yellow she is looking—yellower even than you, Mattie!” this last by way of aside to her plain cousin.  23
  “I hope you bear me no malice for my pertinacity last night, Lady Judith,” murmured Topsparkle, insinuatingly.  24
  “Malice, my good sir! I protest I never bear malice. To be malicious, one’s feelings must be engaged; and you would hardly expect mine to be concerned in the mystifications of a dancing-room.”  25
  She looked over his head as she talked to him, still on the watch for familiar faces among the crowd, smiling at one, bowing at another. Mr. Topsparkle was savage at not being able to engage her attention. At Venice, whence he had come lately, all the women had courted him, hanging upon his words, adoring him as the keenest wit of his day.  26
  He was an attenuated and rather effeminate person, exquisitely dressed and powdered, and not without a suspicion of rouge upon his hollow cheeks or of Vandyke brown upon his delicately penciled eyebrows. He, like Lord Bramber, presented the wreck of manly beauty; but whereas Bramber suggested a three-master of goodly bulk and tonnage, battered but still weather-proof and seaworthy, Topsparkle had the air of a delicate pinnace which time and tempest had worn to a mere phantasmal bark that the first storm would scatter into ruin.  27
  He had hardly the air of a gentleman, Judith thought, watching him keenly all the while she seemed to ignore his existence. He was too fine, too highly trained for the genuine article; he lacked that easy inborn grace of the man in whom good manners are hereditary. There was nothing of the Cit about him; but there was the exaggerated elegance, the exotic grace, of a man who has too studiously cultivated the art of being a fine gentleman; who has learned his manners in dubious paths, from petites maîtresses and prime donne, rather than from statesmen and princes.  28
  On this, and on many a subsequent meeting, Lady Judith was just uncivil enough to fan the flame of Vivian Topsparkle’s passion. He had begun in a somewhat philandering spirit, not quite determined whether Lord Bramber’s daughter were worthy of him; but her hauteur made him her slave. Had she been civil he would have given more account to those old stories about Lavendale, and would have been inclined to draw back before finally committing himself. But a woman who could afford to be rude to the best match in England must needs be above all suspicion. Had her reputation been seriously damaged she would have caught at the chance of rehabilitating herself by a rich marriage. Had she been civil to him Mr. Topsparkle would have haggled and bargained about settlements; but his ever-present fear of losing her made him accede to Lord Bramber’s exactions with a more than princely generosity, since but few princes could afford to be so liberal. He had set his heart upon having this woman for his wife—firstly, because she was the handsomest and most fashionable woman in London, and secondly, because so far as burnt-out embers can glow with new fire, Mr. Topsparkle’s battered old heart was aflame with a very serious passion for this new deity.  29
  So there was a grand wedding from the earl’s house in Leicester Fields; not a crowded assembly, for only the very élite of the modish world were invited. The Duke, meaning his Grace of York, honored the company with his royal presence, and there were the great Sir Robert and a bevy of Cabinet ministers, and Mr. Topsparkle felt that he had canceled any old half-forgotten scandals as to his past life, and established himself in the highest social sphere by this alliance. As Vivian Topsparkle the half-foreign eccentric, he was a man to be stared at and talked about; but as the husband of Lord Bramber’s daughter he had a footing—by right of alliance—in some of the noblest houses in England. His name and reputation were hooked on to old family trees; and those great people whose kinswoman he had married could not afford to have him maligned or slighted. In a word, Mr. Topsparkle felt that he had good value for his magnificent settlements.  30
  Was Lady Judith Topsparkle happy, with all her blessings? She was gay; and with the polite world gayety ranks as happiness, and commands the envy of the crowd. Nobody envies the quiet matron whose domestic life flows onward with the placidity of a sluggish stream. It is the butterfly queen of the hour whom people admire and envy. Lady Judith, blazing in diamonds at a court ball, beautiful, daring, insolent, had half the town for her slaves and courtiers. Even women flattered and fawned upon her, delighted to be acknowledged as her acquaintance, proud to be invited to her parties or to dance attendance upon her in public assemblies.  31
 
 
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