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An Unexpected Invitation

June 30th, 1925

Leslie sat at her dressing table in her bedroom. Her maid and lady companion, Harriet Potts brushed and fixed her hair for the day. It had been over a month since the debut ball, and Leslie had received a considerable amount of letters regarding marriage proposals, or invitations to tea parties and soirées.

“I never thought that I would actually get proposals or invitations,” sighed Leslie as she finished a letter of rejection to a marriage proposal. “They probably could not bring themselves to approach me during the ball, because of the rumours of me being my adoptive father’s actual daughter.”

“Who cares about where you come from!” Harriet excitedly exclaimed as she started styling Leslie’s pale brunette hair. “You are Master Beckford’s daughter he is most proud of after all. It’s also because you’ve become so beautiful!”

“Father is also one of the most influential socialites in the upper-class,” added Leslie. “Those people are most likely trying to form a connection with me because of father. They would probably use the Beckford name whenever they need to boost their own reputations.”

“Why must you always think like that?” asked Harriet, “From being by your side, I’ve seen you experience betrayals and getting hurt countless of times. Perhaps you had associated yourself with the wrong people back then. Now that you’ve been introduced to society, you might find the right group of friends, or even better, a wonderful man!”

“Oh Hattie,” sighed Leslie. “Have you been reading too much romance novels lately?”

Harriet chuckled as she did the last finishing touches on Leslie’s hair. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea to accept at least one invite to those tea parties or soirées,” she suggested. “Think of it as an opportunity to find the right group of friends.”

“I’ll think about it…” said Leslie reluctantly.

She then piled the envelopes containing letters of rejections and handed them to Harriet. “Please take these to the post office,” she instructed. “And on the way back, can you stop by the dry cleaners to pick up some dresses I sent last week?”

Harriet nodded as she took the stack of envelopes and hurried out of Leslie’s bedroom. Once her footsteps disappeared, Leslie let out a huge sigh as she stared at her reflection in the mirror on her dressing table.

“Hattie’s right,” she groaned. “I can’t be held back because of what happened in the past. I need to move forward.”

The rest of Leslie’s day was spent reading the latest ladies’ magazine after lunch, and then taking an afternoon stroll through Hyde Park with Harriet. Upon returning home in Kensington, she found Mr. Beckford in the dining room with his eyes glued onto the table.

“Father?” said Leslie entering the dining room, and noticing Mr. Beckford’s stunned expression. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh! Leslie!” he exclaimed when he finally noticed her, “Come look! You won’t believe what came to us in the post today.”

Leslie went over to her father’s side and saw what he had been staring at. It was an envelope with an intricate pattern, sealed with red wax stamped with the initials ‘H.H’. The envelope was placed on top of a pile of letters that had also arrived in the afternoon post.

“I want you to open it,” Mr. Beckford told Leslie.

Leslie picked up the letter and used the letter opener to rip through the top of the envelope. Reaching inside, she pulled out the letter and unfolded it. Her emerald eyes widened in awe as she read the letter’s contents:

Dear Aristo and Leslie Beckford,

Mr. Hange Hurston cordially invites you to attend his party this year. This years party will be held at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton on July 31st, 1925.

It was a type-written invitation on specially printed paper that bore the initials ‘H.H’ just like the wax stamp. Beneath the contents of the letter was the sender’s scribbled signature.

“Who is Mr. Hange Hurston?” asked Leslie out of curiosity.

“He is an influential gentleman who is one of the highest ranking in society,” said Mr. Beckford. “He also has a reputation for throwing extravagant parties once every year during the summer season. People who have attended his parties claim that it is an honour to be invited.”

“Have you attended his parties before?” she asked.

“I have been invited twice,” said Mr. Beckford. “Every year is a different venue. The last time I was invited, the party was held in the gardens of West Dean House. The owner of the house, Edward James agreed to rent it out to Mr. Hurston. I must take you there next time, the gardens there are truly exquisite.”

“Have you ever met Mr. Hurston?” Leslie then asked.

“Never!” exclaimed Mr. Beckford, “According to rumours, Mr. Hurston never seems to make an appearance at his own parties.”

Never makes an appearance at his own parties? Leslie wondered to herself. That certainly is strange. However, the sound of Brighton sounded pleasant to her. As a child, she and her father would sometimes travel to Brighton for a weekend trip to simply enjoy the seaside during the summer. It had been a while since she last went, so she thought it would be nice to visit it again.

“I’d like to go,” Leslie finally spoke. “Could we make it a weekend trip like we used to do when I was younger?”

“Of course!” said Mr. Beckford, “That is an excellent plan! Oh, and Leslie,” he added. “I have a letter for you.”

“It must be another marriage proposal or invitation to parties,” sighed Leslie. “I hate it how people are only approaching me through writing correspondence because of those rumours.”

“But this letter doesn’t have a wax stamp bearing any family initials or insignia,” said Mr. Beckford. “Keep in mind, but be careful with these sort of letters if they are unsigned. They could have been sent by some lunatic preying on young women such as yourself.”

“Yes father,” said Leslie as she took the letter and headed to her room. “I will keep that in mind.”

Leslie retreated back to her room clutching the letter. Using her letter opener, she tore open the top of the envelope. Taking out the letter, she unfolded it and read its contents:

To my little thrush,

I have never stopped thinking about you since the day I saw you at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball. I shall never forget your beauty, elegance and selflessness. And yet – I cannot bring myself to ask God to grant my wish of wanting to approach you.

I do not care what society thinks of you, but you are the fire that ignited my once frozen heart. If you agree to belong to me, I will promise you the happiness you wish to obtain and give you the recognition that you deserve.

Leslie shuddered at the contents of the letter. In romance novels, many love letters were sweet and charismatic. However, the one she had just read sounded very disturbing and obsessive. To top it all off, there was no signature or name from the sender. It must be a secret admirer. She concluded.

Yet, she was curious as to who this secret admirer could be. Whoever they were, it was mentioned in the letter that they had caught sight of her at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball last month. Edgar Allan? Very unlikely. He did not seem to be the romancing type for a photographer devoted to his career. Ernest Gravetye? Most definitely not. Judging by his personality from their first meeting, he was too awkward to write such a love letter.

“Who could it be…” she quietly wondered to herself.

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