Some Live, Some Die

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The First Party: Reopened Wounds

July 31st, 1925

Leslie was playing croquet with Harriet and Mr. Beckford in the gardens of the Royal Pavilion. Today was a beautiful and sunny day, a perfect time to be in Brighton or any seaside town. The sea air brought some coolness to the hot weather. According to the program, the London Symphony Orchestra hired by Mr. Hurston would entertain the guests after lunch and croquet.

After a round of croquet, Leslie excused herself to get a drink. Heading to the marquee where a drinks and buffet table had been set up, Leslie helped herself to a Pimm’s cocktail. She decided to stroll around the garden, pausing to admire the Pavilion’s lake. She wanted to avoid getting caught up in unwanted conversations, or even worse, be harassed because of the rumours. Similar to her debut ball, Leslie found it suffocating to be around strangers.

“Miss Leslie?” exclaimed a voice from behind her.

Leslie froze. Slowly turning around, she found herself face-to-face with Lady Salome Townsend. She was the sister of the late Margaret Beckford, and Mr. Beckford’s sister-in-law.

“Lady Townsend…” said Leslie cautiously. “It has been a while.”

The last time she met Lady Townsend was when she was twelve-years-old. After the death of Margaret Beckford, Mr. Beckford invited Lady Townsend to move in with them. He wanted her to help him look after Leslie, as well as to teach her the social graces during her summer break from school.

When she first met her adoptive aunt, she looked approachable and reliant with a sense of pride and dignity. However, all that vanished as soon as Mr. Beckford was out of sight. Leslie remembered how Lady Townsend would constantly cane her for any trivial mistake during etiquette lessons. Whenever Mr. Beckford reappeared, his sister-in-law would resume her harmless façade by pretending to care for Leslie.

One day, Mr. Beckford had to leave for an overseas business trip to America and would be gone for two weeks. During his absence Lady Townsend continued to abuse her through etiquette lessons and even started to starve her by using her authority to threaten the kitchen staff. Leslie recalled how one afternoon, Lady Townsend sat her down in the living room to inform her of her plans to send her to an orphanage.

“Do not worry,” said Lady Townsend in an unconvincingly manner. “I am acquainted with the director of the orphanage, so I’ll make sure that you are given the utmost hospitality when you move there.”

“Why are you doing this, Auntie?” Leslie had dared to ask, “Did I do something wrong? Do you really dislike being around me?”

Hearing this, Lady Townsend lunged from her seat, knocking over the tea cups and spilling the tea everywhere. She reached over and roughly grabbed Leslie by her scalp, clawing at the strands of her light brunette hair.

“Such a stupid question when the answer is obvious!” she screamed as she tugged Leslie’s scalp, “And don’t you even DARE address me as ‘Auntie’! Do you even know how asphyxiating it is to put up a front in front of Aristo?! What is he even thinking, allowing an outsider, a wench, to inherit the Beckford name?! Does he even know that his family is one of the most influential socialites?!”

“Let. Me. GO!” Leslie shouted back as she wrenched herself free from Lady Townsend’s grip.

She squinted in pain when she felt a lock of her light brunette hair getting torn from the roots on her head. Holding back her tears, Leslie retreated to her room and used her dressing room chair to barricade the doors. Diving under the covers of her bed, Leslie finally allowed her tears to spill from her emerald green eyes. The pain from earlier still lingered on her head.

She remembered how she couldn’t confide with Jezebel nor Lady Doncaster about Lady Townsend’s mistreatment. This was due to the fear that no one would believe her. Thinking about it, Leslie felt amazed how she was able to put up with her aunt.

Everything changed that evening when Leslie had retired for the night. Lady Townsend had dared barge into her bedroom just to drag her out of bed, out of her bedroom, through the hall and down the stairs.

“What are you doing?!” exclaimed Leslie as she tried to resist, “Where are you taking me?!”

“Where you should be!” Lady Townsend snapped back, “Now be a good girl, cause we cannot keep the car waiting! I will NOT let the Beckford name be tarnished by a wench! Aristo should just remarry so he can have an actual heir!”

“NO!” shouted Leslie, “Let go!”

“Silence!” screamed Lady Townsend just as they exited the house and onto the main street.

She struck Leslie across her cheek, causing her to collapse onto the pavement in a huddled heap. Leslie suddenly felt something warm trickle down from her nostrils. Slowly reaching up to her face, she noticed that it was blood. Lady Townsend roughly grabbed Leslie by the scalp, forcefully pulling her up onto her feet as she prepared to drag her into the waiting car.

“That’s enough!” shouted Mr. Beckford’s voice out of nowhere.

Lady Townsend froze when she caught sight of her brother-in-law. Leslie glanced up and was also surprised to see her father. He was supposed to return tomorrow, and yet, what was he doing here? Mr. Beckford hurried over to them and separated Lady Townsend from his daughter.

“Miss Townsend, what is the meaning of this?” asked Mr. Beckford with a stern and angry expression.

“Why aren’t you addressing me as Salome like you have always done?” she asked her brother-in-law.

“I have the right to address you how I want,” snapped Mr. Beckford. “Now answer my question.”

“You…” exclaimed Lady Townsend, “You seriously cannot be taking the side of this wench. This outsider who has no blood relations to you!”

“ENOUGH!” shouted Mr. Beckford, “Whatever happened to your so-called pride and dignity that you always boast about? Unless what I’m seeing here are your true colours?”

“You dare treat me like this?!” shouted Lady Townsend as she seethed in anger, “I’m your family.”

“Well, I don’t have a sister-in-law,” replied Mr. Beckford. “And Leslie is already part of the Beckford family. Any threats or insults to my daughter will be threats or insults to my family.”

The butler shortly appeared, having followed Lady Townsend as she dragged Leslie out of the house. Mr. Beckford beckoned the family butler, Raymond to come over.

“Yes Master Beckford?” asked Raymond.

“Please phone the taxi company and have a cab come over to our address,” Mr. Beckford instructed. “Tell them that it is for Miss Townsend. Order the servants to pack her bags immediately before her taxi arrives.”

“Right away, Master Beckford,” replied Raymond, bowing his head.

After Raymond left, Mr. Beckford turned his attention back onto his sister-in-law. “Leave. And don’t ever think of setting foot in this house ever again. You must pay the price for harming my one and only daughter.”

Picking up Leslie, he turned his back onto Lady Townsend and headed back inside the house. Once inside, Leslie broke down into tears.

“I’m so sorry, father!” she sobbed, “I should’ve told you about Lady Townsend before you went on your trip. But I was scared that you would not believe me!”

“Leslie,” said Mr. Beckford as he used his handkerchief to wipe away the blood from her nose. “You have nothing to apologise for. It is my fault that I failed to realise she was mistreating you.”

It was that day when Leslie finally realised her adoptive father’s unconditional love for her. To him, family was not about blood connections. Familial bond came from the heart.

“What is Mr. Hurston even thinking?” muttered Lady Townsend, “Outsiders like you don’t deserve to be here taking part in Mr. Hurston’s festivities.”

She hasn’t changed. Thought Leslie to herself. It’s been six years since I last saw her and this is how she greets me. A part of her also wondered what Lady Townsend had been up to since Mr. Beckford had banished her from his house.

“Lady Townsend,” replied Leslie calmly. “Mr. Hurston cordially invited both my father and I to partake in his party this year. Therefore, I have every right to be here enjoying myself today.”

“I’ve recently heard that you may be Aristo’s actual daughter after all,” said Lady Townsend with a sly grin.

“What are you implying?” asked Leslie. “It’s just idle gossip. Why are you so confident that the rumours are true?”

“I’ve noticed it myself,” she replied. “Everyone has been talking about how your eyes seem to resemble Aristo’s. Wouldn’t that be trouble for you if it was confirmed that you and him are biologically related?”

“Whether it is true or not, he will always be my father,” said Leslie sternly. “Are you only harassing me, because a person like myself dared to be in the same place as you?”

Lady Townsend gritted her teeth in irritation. Leslie could tell by her body language, that she had guessed correctly.

“Where is Aristo?” Lady Townsend then demanded, “There are matters that I must discuss with him at once!”

“Haven’t you forgotten, Lady Townsend?” asked Leslie, “My father does not wish to speak or hear from you ever again. Was it because of the hospitality you had given me? Or was it because of your prejudiced views on family relations?”

“You-!” screamed Lady Townsend loud enough to draw some attention, “How dare you speak to me in such a vulgar manner!”

Just ignore her. Leslie quietly thought. She did not want to cause a scene. If she stayed here any longer, the situation would get worse. The other guests present would most likely take the side of Lady Townsend, since the rumours about Leslie had already affected her reputation.

As Leslie turned to leave, Lady Townsend suddenly blocked her way and shoved her towards the lake. Leslie had no time to anticipate her situation as she stumbled back, falling into the lake with a loud splash!

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