The Second Party: Friend now Foe
August 31st, 1925
The Crystal Palace was illuminated with lights. It was a spectacular sight for the infamous palace made out of glass. Leslie had read in her history books that the Crystal Palace had originally been built in Hyde Park, to host the Great Exhibition in 1851. It had been relocated to Penge Place, rebuilt on top of Penge Peak next to Sydenham Hill.
Leslie held her father’s arm as they entered the Crystal Palace along with the other guests. A soirée was being held until it was time for the performance. Harriet did not accompany them this time, having had gotten stuck in bed with a severe hay fever from a recent trip to RHS Wisley Gardens.
In the centre of the palace was the makeshift stage where the performance was going to take place. There was a backdrop with large velvet curtains to conceal the staff, actors and actresses behind the scenes.
The right side of the palace had been set up for drinking and eating, while the left side provided the powder room and the washrooms. Most of the centre space was filled with chairs for the audience, including some areas on the first floor.
“What if I run into Miss Doncaster?” Leslie asked her father nervously, “I met her by coincidence at the debut ball, and she disgraced me a bit.”
“Let her say whatever she wants,” he replied. “The more she speaks ill of you, the more people will realise her true colours.”
“Mm,” said Leslie quietly.
Leslie then separated from her father as she headed to the makeshift bar to grab a glass of champagne. Glancing around her surroundings, she began to feel suffocated once again when she saw a group of women seemingly staring in her direction. They whispered to each other and started giggling.
Isn’t that Miss Leslie Beckford?
How bold of her to be in the same place as us.
Has she not realised her place as an outsider?
She would definitely be in trouble should it be discovered that she truly is Mr. Aristo Beckford’s daughter by blood!
It makes me wonder who her mother is.
Probably some seductress or a lowly maid who wooed Mr. Beckford. Hahaha!!
Leslie gripped the flute of her champagne glass as she heard this. She took one big sip of her champagne in a desperate attempt to dispel the thoughts of the rumours circulating around her. However, a familiar tap on her shoulder calmed her down. Turning around, she found herself face-to-face with Lady Helena Doncaster.
“Miss Leslie!” exclaimed Lady Doncaster, “Fancy seeing you here! Did you hear that Mr. Hange Hurston sponsored Jezebel’s stage performance?”
“I did see an advertisement of her stage debut,” said Leslie. “But I had no idea that Mr. Hurston was the main sponsor for Jezebel’s play. Do you think she is the reason why he decided to host a second party?”
“I suppose so,” replied Lady Doncaster. “I was really surprised when I saw his advertisement in the newspaper earlier this month. Just why did he decide to host five more parties this year?”
“Perhaps to attract more attention,” suggested Leslie. “That’s the only reason I can think of.”
“The perks of the upper society,” sighed Lady Doncaster. “Influential people flaunting their wealth. Just like Jezebel who has recently been using her status as an up-and-coming actress.”
Leslie was not surprised to hear that from Lady Doncaster. Jezebel was the type of person who liked garnering attention, even for the most trivial things. She remembered very well the day they both fell out with one another.
Four years ago…
Leslie was walking through the corridors overlooking the courtyard of St. Cecilia Boarding School for Girls. She gave a sad sigh since she knew that tomorrow would be her last time walking through the corridors. She was going to be graduating from this school.
“I will miss it here,” she murmured to herself.
She decided to go find Jezebel. They both attended St. Cecilia from the very start up until now. Jezebel was going to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress by auditioning for an upcoming play. Leslie remembered how they would dress up, and put on mini plays for both Mr. Beckford and Lady Doncaster when they were younger.
It was not long until Leslie passed by a group of girls. When they saw her, they whispered something that Leslie could not quite catch and started giggling. Leslie did not pay them any attention as she walked on. In the back of her mind, this was not the first time it had happened.
For some reason, there was a lot of gossip about her since the beginning of the final school year. The girls whom she had gotten along with had started distancing themselves from her. Whenever she approached them, they would come up with an excuse and quickly disperse. During home economics and science, no one wanted to be her partner.
She encountered another group of girls who also sniggered when they saw her. Plucking up the courage, Leslie confronted them.
“Is there something wrong with me?” she asked sternly, “If so, why don’t you just tell me rather than keeping it in? Perhaps that’ll release all the steam in you.”
“Well…” said one of the girls nervously. “It’s just that Jeze- I mean, Miss Doncaster told us something that she’s noticed about you.”
“If she told you I was adopted, I don’t care,” said Leslie. “You all know already anyway.”
“No!” said another girl from the group, “It’s about you and your father.”
“My father?” asked Leslie curiously.
“She said that she recently noticed how you and your father have the same green eyes,” explained another girl. “And she’s been telling everyone that you could be his actual daughter!”
“Jezebel said that?!” exclaimed Leslie.
“She also said that your father could have had an affair during his first marriage,” the girls told her. “A daughter out of wedlock, how shameful could that be?”
“If my father had another child from an affair, my reputation would be in tatters!” one of the girls exclaimed.
Leslie quickly hurried to find Jezebel, eventually finding her in the classroom with a group of girls. They were laughing and chatting with each other.
“Jezebel!” shouted Leslie, “We need to talk!”
“Sorry girls,” said Jezebel as she got up from the desk she had been sitting on. “I have business to attend with my friend.”
The girls giggled as they bid Jezebel a ‘see you later’ gesture. Leslie took Jezebel outside into the school courtyard.
“Lessie, what’s gotten into you?” she asked innocently, “You should feel joyful since tomorrow is our graduation. We’ll finally be free from this cage!”
“Don’t call me ‘Lessie’,” said Leslie crossly. “Please explain yourself.”
“What do you mean?” Jezebel asked.
“You know very well,” replied Leslie. “A little bird told me that you’ve been spreading bad rumours about me being illegitimate born!”
“I’m just telling them what I’ve noticed about you,” said Jezebel. “Doesn’t familial resemblance become more obvious when you get older?”
“Just because my eyes and my father’s eyes are similar doesn’t prove anything at all!” shouted Leslie. “Why are you doing this Jezebel?”
“Cause I want to make friends,” she replied promptly.
“Friends?!” exclaimed Leslie.
“Well, gossiping is the most appropriate way to make friends,” said Jezebel. “I give people what they want to hear, and they immediately flock to me.”
“Don’t you have any remorse for the person you are hurting by deliberately bad-mouthing them?” asked Leslie.
“Why are you getting upset over nothing?” asked Jezebel, “We’re friends, right? I have every right to talk about you, can’t I?”
Hearing this, Leslie felt her cheeks burning with anger. The one person she had trusted and had been friends with for a long time had betrayed her. All for the sake of getting attention. She should have realised from the start that Jezebel was no longer the childhood friend she had known from the very beginning.
“Do whatever you want, Miss Doncaster,” said Leslie as she turned away from Jezebel. “Don’t ever talk to me again.”
“Miss Leslie?” asked Lady Doncaster who was peering into her face, “Are you alright?”
“Oh!” exclaimed Leslie as she was brought back to her senses, “I’m fine Lady Doncaster.”
“If it is about Jezebel, please don’t worry about her,” she assured Leslie. “I know what she did was unforgivable, but you did the right thing by ending things with her before it got out of hand.”
“Thank you, Lady Doncaster,” said Leslie who had flushed slightly either because she was relieved, or from the alcohol.
“Anyway,” said Lady Doncaster. “I must head backstage where my niece is. There is something of utmost importance that I must discuss with her before the performance.”
Leslie waved a goodbye to Lady Doncaster as she watched her head towards the stage to gain access to the backstage area. Once Lady Doncaster was out of sight, Leslie let out a deep sigh. Just as she decided to go look for her father, Leslie heard female screams of excitement. Turning towards the direction of the screams, she saw a group of young women surrounding a tall and handsome man whom she immediately recognised.
He was Thomas Kingsley, a famous stage actor who was also starring in the play with Jezebel. Leslie had seen him in a few stage plays at the West End, and she admittedly was a bit of a fan. She had read in gossip magazines that he had previously dated Jezebel while she was still a supporting actress. However, after two years of being together, they fell out with one another for reasons unknown and broke up.
Not wanting to appear as though she was a hesitating to approach him, Leslie quickly left the scene. It was not long until she heard a crowd of men clamouring for a certain woman’s attention. Peering from the corner of her eyes, Leslie spotted Jezebel Doncaster being surrounded by a string of admirers. They were showering her with presents and complimenting her beauty.
Next to Jezebel was a man, who was clearly struggling to carry the pile of presents she had most likely had dumped on him. At the very back of Jezebel and her admirers was Lady Doncaster. Leslie noticed that she had a disapproving look on her face. Could she have had an argument with Miss Doncaster earlier just now? Thought Leslie to herself.
“Well, well, well,” said a familiar man’s voice interrupting her train of thoughts. “If it isn’t Miss Leslie Beckford.”
Leslie turned around to find herself face-to-face with Detective Adrian Powell.