Southampton, England. April 1912
People called it "the ship of dreams."
RMS Titanic, prize of the White Star line, was a beehive of activity in preparation for its debut launch. It was said to be the very height in luxury travel, with the latest in amenities and safety features that made the ship positively unsinkable. Fine talk, to be sure, though who ever heard of a modern ship sinking on its maiden voyage?
There was a flurry of movement as passengers boarded, crewmen bustled and the air was abuzz with excitement.
Blair Waldorf Bass stood on desk observing it all and trying to muster up one iota of the enthusiasm that surrounded her. Now in her early 30s, Blair was a woman who wore many hats, all with great aplomb and style: society beauty, beloved wife, caring mother and dedicated philanthropist. She was also a shrewd businesswoman, though most would dismiss that as a rumor based on her looks and fashionable dress.
Mrs. Bass did not care about rumors, or mahogany staircases, gourmet menus or any of the other touted features of the ship. She just wanted to go home. Home to Chuck. This was the first time in their fifteen years of marriage that they had ever been apart for such a length of time.
It had been unavoidable. Initially, the plan had been that the family as a whole would come to England and see the twins, Alec and Henry, safely enrolled and established at Eton.
There was never a question that it would be Eton, the alma mater of their father and Uncle Nate. This was met with differing reactions from the boys. Alec was thrilled; he loved experiencing new things and then making up his mind about them. Henry was more reserved in judgment, being just the opposite and wanting information first and experience after. Also, Alec considered himself, at age fourteen, to be a man of the world, whereas Henry loved New York above all other places.
Lottie was beside herself with joy that she would be getting a trip to England and freedom from her brothers' teasing and boisterousness upon her return.
Still, for better or worse, the boys needed a quality education and that's what they were getting. So trunks were packed and preparations were made.
And then one of the fabric warehouses near the docks caught fire and burned down two days before they were due to sail. Bart had accompanied Eleanor on a trip to Paris and was unavailable. Chuck had to stay and handle surveying the damage and coordinating efforts to clean up and rebuild. There was no one else.
Chuck had suggested delaying the boys' enrollment, but Blair insisted that she would be fine accompanying the children herself. And it had all gone off without a hitch. The voyage over was smooth, the boys were now ensconced at Eton, and Blair and Lottie had stopped at Archibald Priory to visit with Serena and Nate.
Liam had been crestfallen that his friends, only a year older than himself, had gotten to start at Eton while he had to wait. A couple of weeks entertaining Lottie, however, completely alleviated his sulking. There simply was no time. Lottie wanted to go riding, to explore the house (she was determined to count every room and see if there really were 365), to investigate the barns and gardens.
Blair enjoyed seeing Nate, Serena and Mrs. Rhodes, who lived in a cottage on the estate. But she was homesick. She missed all the conveniences of her modern home in New York (Had she really contemplated living in this drafty old pile of bricks? It was hopelessly antiquated!) and she missed Chuck. The separation had proven more difficult than she'd anticipated. She was especially tired of sleeping alone. So she made the decision to go home early.
Once passage had been secured, Blair informed them all at dinner that she and Lottie would be departing in a few days' time.
"Mother," Lottie shrieked, "I cannot possibly leave now! Liam was just going to show me..." She launched into a list of future explorations that would've exhausted even Magellan.
Blair rolled her eyes even as Serena proposed a solution: "Lottie could stay here with us until we come to New York this summer!"
"Oh, yes, please, Mother!" Lottie looked at Serena in gratitude.
"But you have already missed so much school…," Blair pointed out.
"Exactly! A little more will not hurt," Lottie cajoled.
"She could share Liam's tutor," Nate suggested.
"Are you sure you want to take on the responsibility of my wild daughter for two or three more months?"
"Oh, Blair, you know Lottie is like our very own daughter. We would love to have her."
"Please, Mama," Lottie looked up at Blair with eyes so similar in shape, color and expression to Chuck's…well, how could her mother say no?
"I suppose it is only a few weeks. Are you sure you want to stay, Lottie?"
Lottie didn't say anything, but she shared a grin with Liam and beamed at her Auntie Rena. Her feelings were clear.
'She is certainly your daughter, Chuck,' Blair thought. 'She knows exactly how to sway me to her side.' She smiled as she thought of her husband. It wouldn't be long now. She was going home to Chuck.
Saying goodbye at the docks, Serena had fussed over Blair traveling alone, but Blair insisted she was fine, even with her beloved Dorota still back in New York. Many passengers were traveling with servants, but the ship was well-staffed and Blair was confident she'd be well cared for even on her own. Any other time, she would've felt very inconvenienced, but what was more inconvenient than missing her husband?
She kissed her daughter farewell, admonishing her to behave like a lady and to remember that her parents loved her very much.
When the ship moved out of the harbor at noon that Wednesday, April 10, Blair breathed a sigh of relief. In just seven days she would be back home.
Left to her own devices, Blair toured the ship. It was magnificent, certainly more luxurious than any sailing ship she'd ever encountered. The staterooms were modern, stylish and comfortable, with fancy beds and plenty of room in the First Class suites. Should one feel inclined to venture out, there was a salt water swimming pool, gymnasium, library, barber shop, promenade deck, squash court, restaurants and dining saloons—including a restaurant that was designed to mimic a sidewalk café in Paris.
Blair couldn't help but think how much more exciting it would have been had Chuck been with her. And then she discovered the Turkish Baths, a complex consisting of a temperate room, a cool room for massage, a hot room, a steam room and a shampoo room. There was also a nearby swimming pool to dip in after one's spa experience. The Turkish Baths were made to look like their namesake, with blue-green tiles, teak wood trim and exotic bronze lamps. There was an extra charge for admittance to the Baths and they were segregated by gender, open to the ladies in the morning and the gentlemen in the afternoon. Blair felt certain, however, that had Chuck been there, he could have convinced the staff to give them some precious time together to explore the facilities and each other.
Blair may have been alone, but she did not feel especially lonely, other than missing her husband. She went to the library and borrowed a smart new novel. She wrote encouraging letters to her boys (she worried that Henry might be getting homesick and Alec might be getting into trouble), a chatty note to her daughter (with another reminder to behave "like a Bass should"), a bit of a travelogue about the ship to her mother and a book recommendation to her father-in-law. She interspersed her time reading and writing with walks on the promenade deck and, of course, delicious meals at a restaurant or in the dining saloon.
She was surprised to see many people she knew from New York in the dining saloon. She nodded to John Jacob Astor IV and his young bride, although Bart would not have approved, being an intense competitor of the Astor family for real estate investments. Ida and Isidor Strauss, owners of Macy's department store, were next on the list. Macy's carried many Waldorf-Bass garments and the Strausses made such an endearing couple. Blair liked to imagine that she and Chuck would be the same after forty years of marriage. Mr. Benjamin Guggenheim, a gentleman with a keen sense of style that sought to rival that of Chuck Bass, bowed low and kissed her hand.
The real treat was that she was seated with Mrs. Margaret ("Call me Maggie; my friends do") Brown, a lively dynamo of energy who had been traveling with the Astors, recently to Egypt. She was a fascinating storyteller and Blair was transfixed by her tales of the pyramids and the kingdoms of the Nile.
Good company was essential for the long, extravagant First Class dinners composed of many courses. The first was hors d'ouerves, followed by soups, a course of poached salmon, then filet mignon with vegetables. Oh, but they were just getting started! This was followed by a choice of duck, lamb or beef, also with vegetables. To cleanse the palate, punch was served, before returning to roast squab, then pate, and then a lovely selection of puddings and ice cream. The meal ended with fresh fruit and cheeses before the gentlemen headed off for the smoking rooms.
Blair usually used her time after dinner to do some drawings of clothing designs or to jot down notes about the ship and the voyage to share with her family later or to simply read and dream of her homecoming. It was a glittering world aboard the ship, but oh how she wished she could see the boys compete on the squash court, hear Lottie's excited commentary about dinner and their fellow guests, feel Chuck's arms wrapped around her in that lovely bed in the stateroom.
Still, they had sailed on the 10th and it was now the night of the 14th. They were more than halfway through the voyage. Not that she was counting down….
Determinedly, she picked up the novel she was nearly through and curled up in her bed to read. Her eyelids were so heavy….
Suddenly, a loud crash was heard and the ship lurched, throwing Blair out of the four-poster and onto the floor. She reached for her pendant watch on the bedside table. 11:40. It was dark, so it must still be nighttime. Whatever could be happening?
Fastening her robe about her shoulders, Blair peeked out into the hall and saw , er, Maggie, doing the exact same thing across the way.
There were men in nightwear discussing the situation, but they didn't seem overly concerned. The two women looked at each other, shrugged and went back into their staterooms.
The chaos on the ship, however, seemed to escalate rather than calm. Blair once more opened the door, only to see a man running down the hall, yelling, "Get your life preserver!"
She froze, her face growing pale and her eyes widening. Oh, dear God, this could not be happening. It was the ship's maiden voyage. She was on her way home, on her way back to Chuck….
Across the hall, Mrs. Brown, who was already dressed, took one look at her companion's shocked expression and started barking orders. "Mrs. Bass, go back in your room, get dressed—the warmest clothing you have-and meet me out here. Go on, hurry!"
Startled into alertness, Blair did as she was told. When she returned to the hall, Maggie was clutching a turquoise figurine tightly in her hand.
"What is that?" Blair's curiosity was overcoming her shock at the situation.
"Something I got on the trip to Egypt. It's for luck. Do you have something for luck?"
Blair unbuttoned the top 2 buttons of her dress, revealing a dazzling necklace. "It's the luckiest thing I own. Chuck gave it to me during our honeymoon and I wore it at our wedding."
The timing of that made no sense to Mrs. Brown, but neither did anything else that was happening on the ship tonight. "Good," she nodded, "Let's get up on deck now."
Already the deck was filled with people growing increasingly panicked. It was a cold, clear night, and many people were still in their nightclothes, shivering. The band continued to play and the music seemed to be the only calm, sane thing in a world gone mad.
There was talk the ship had struck an iceberg, which was not an uncommon danger in April in the North Atlantic, but why was the purportedly "unsinkable" vessel now clearly listing to the side? Some passengers refused to believe it, and resisted the idea of getting on a lifeboat, preferring to wait.
Blair watched Mrs. Brown talk to other passengers, comforting both the adults and children, and tried to draw strength from her words. The scene still had an air of unreality to it. How could she and Chuck have made it through all they had survived to come to this? Before tonight, they had been kept apart by a sea between them, now that same sea was threatening to separate them permanently.
Blair was neither afraid of drowning nor dying, but she was terrified at the thought of never seeing Chuck again, of knowing their dreams for the future would be ended, of not seeing their children grow to adulthood.
Even under her heavy cloak and extra layers of clothing, she shivered as every part of her screamed for her husband and family.
Chuck Bass sat in his home office, his head in his hands, surrounded by newspapers from several cities and reports from Pinkerton Agency detectives.
It was almost midnight on the night of April 18. He was pale, his hair was tousled and his scotch glass empty. He had recently returned from the docks, where the RMS Carpathia had just delivered her own passengers along with 705 rescued from the now lost RMS Titanic.
At approximately 2:20 a.m. on April 15, the ship had gone to its watery grave, taking over 1500 souls with it. Those fortunate enough to have gotten onto lifeboats still had to wait for rescue for an additional hour and twenty minutes. But the Carpathia had heroically stepped up, dodging icebergs and traveling at maximum speed to reach the shocked and shivering survivors. The captain, crew and passengers had all worked hard and made sacrifices to help the weary travelers reach New York.
First Class passengers stood the best chances for survival, but it was by no means a sure thing. Wealth and luxury guaranteed nothing, and death was no respecter of persons. It was already rumored that John Jacob Astor IV had gone down with the ship, along with Benjamin Guggenheim and the Strausses.
It was tragic and terrible, but right now Chuck was focused on one thing and one thing only: Where was Blair?
His last communication from her had been a cable stating that the ship had sailed and was expected to be in port on April 17. Then she had said something puzzling about missing him in the Turkish Baths.
The news that the ship had sunk took him, along with the rest of the world, by surprise.
He had not panicked immediately. Surely someone would have made sure that the wife of one of the richest industrialists in America would get onto a lifeboat? That had happened for young Mrs. Astor.
But when more and more time passed without word of Blair's survival, panic crept in and then fully took over. Chuck had scoured every newspaper account of the disaster, looked over every list of survivors, hired some of Pinkerton's men to get even more intel. And still…nothing. She wasn't on the list of the lost or the survivors.
Where was she?
Dear God, how had this happened?
Chuck Bass lived for his family. Ever since that fateful day he had learned that Blair would be his and they were expecting a child together, he had made it his mission to care and provide for her.
This was his fault, he knew. He wanted to give her the world, but he couldn't even keep her safe. This would never have happened had he been there with her, as he should have been. Even if it meant losing his own life, he would've made sure she was safely on one of those lifeboats, just as Astor had done.
Chuck had sworn to her father during their Paris trip that seemed a lifetime ago that, no matter what, if Blair should need him, he would be there. He had broken that vow. He had failed her, himself and their family.
Not knowing if she were alive or dead had been torturing him for the last three days. He had raged and drank and locked himself away in his study. Eventually, he sent the entire staff away; he wanted to be alone.
Except he didn't feel alone.
This was Blair's house. Her unique stamp was on everything, every square foot of the house and all it contained. If he looked left, a large portrait of Blair and their children was hanging on the wall. To the right, was a photograph of her on his desk. He could not escape, nor did he want to. It wouldn't be his world without her in it.
He'd hung such hopes on going to the docks tonight. Surely if she'd made it onto a lifeboat, then she'd made it onto the Carpathia, and he'd see her face and it would be like their first meeting all over again. He would be able to breathe again, to live again.
But he'd paced in front of the ship for hours as survivors disembarked, then he'd pestered the crew to be sure that no passengers remained aboard, but still…no Blair.
If she were truly gone, shouldn't he able to feel it somehow? Or did he love her so much and for so long now that she would always feel like part of him?
If she were truly gone, how would he tell Charlotte and the boys? Bart and Eleanor? Harold? How would he survive?
Once, long ago, before he'd met Blair, Chuck had felt as though he were cursed, that his mother's life ending the day his began had forever marked him for unhappiness. He hadn't even believed happiness was a possibility. But somehow, some way, she had made him believe, she had made it happen.
And now she was gone.
He reached for his glass and, finding it empty, hurled it against the far wall in an explosion of Waterford crystal and temper.
He looked up at the liquor-splashed portrait and it almost seemed that she was looking at him reprovingly.
He got up then, and fishing his handkerchief from his pocket, cleaned every spot off the glass and frame of the portrait. Then he stumbled back to his desk and sat down.
He would go over it all again. One more time. And he would not give up until he knew for sure, one way or the other, what had happened to his beautiful Blair. He decided to start with the survivor list again. He'd gone over the Bs and the Ws numerous times, but this time he started with the As and read each name one by one.
He was in the mid-Cs when the front door clicked.
Oh, for heaven's sake, couldn't they understand that he really, truly wanted to be alone right now? Was that so much to ask?
Apparently so, because a voice called his name. Softly at first, then a little louder.
A very familiar voice.
Great, he'd drunk so much that now he was having hallucinations. Such a sweet dream, he didn't want to wake. He kept his gaze stubbornly fixed on the sheet of paper in front of him.
The voice called his name even louder.
Maybe he was supposed to respond? Maybe it was all part of the dream.
He got up slowly and opened the French doors into the foyer.
And there she was….
She was dressed in a plain black cloak with the hood sliding off to reveal her hair pulled back into a simple knot at the base of her neck.
And she was still calling his name.
"Are you…," his voice seemed hoarse, as if he were unaccustomed to speaking, "are you real?" His hand came up to touch her face.
She smiled then. "Oh, darling, the only thing that has ever been real is you and me." Tears welled in her eyes as he pulled her into a crushing embrace.
He smelled the night air in her hair, felt the curve of her back where it melted into the small of her waist and flared into the fullness of her hip. She felt real.
"Let me look at you," he pulled back and touched her jaw, letting his hand roam over the fullness of her lips, the softness of her cheeks, the feathery wings of her eyebrows.
Her eyelids closed in quiet joy as he continued the exploration. "I rather hoped you might want to kiss me."
"More than I want to breathe at this moment," he confessed.
A little shudder ran through her at the words spoken in that beloved voice. Then she was studying him right back: the sharp jawline, the proud chin, lips made for sin, and then the eyes—seeking, knowing, loving her.
They stood like that, hanging by a moment, lost in each other before their lips met. For a second, it was light, a whisper of a touch, and it deepened slowly, then all at once and their lips and tongues were stroking, dancing, memorizing each other once more.
Her hands stole around his neck and locked there, as if to announce their intention of never letting go.
"I missed you," she whispered against his mouth, "so much."
"Not as much as I missed you," he argued. "Shall I show you how much?"
"Mmm," she murmured. "Mr. Bass?"
"Yes, Mrs. Bass?"
She was suddenly serious again. "I love you. I was afraid I would never be able to tell you so again."
His eyes were suspiciously wet. "I was terrified I had lost you. I couldn't bear it. Don't you understand, Blair? I love you, more than anything else in this world, more than my own life."
"Show me," she whispered.
His hands slid down to scoop her into his arms and carry her up the staircase.
They belonged to each other and the night.
Chuck had just spread his precious burden out on their bed when he realized Blair was shivering. "Are you cold, sweetheart?"
"Yes, I haven't really felt warm since getting in the lifeboat." Her teeth were almost chattering and she clung to him more tightly.
"I'm a beast not to be making sure you are comfortable." He pulled her into a sitting position. "Let me draw you a bath and let's see if we can warm you up."
She grabbed his lapels and held on. "No, Chuck, I have waited so long to be with you again. I don't want to wait any longer."
"Who said you'd be without me? Haven't we always enjoyed a nice, long…soak in the tub?" He gave her a look that definitely made her blood feel warmer. "Besides, I will never be away from you again," he took both her hands in his, "I swear it."
He disappeared for a moment to start the taps flowing, but then he was back. "Let's get these things off you," he gestured to the plain, dark woolen dress she was wearing and the layers of stockings. "I know these are not your clothes."
"No," she shook her head. "My dress and cloak were torn going from the ship to the lifeboat to the Carpathia. The passengers and crew were so kind, Chuck. They shared everything with us. Space, food, clothing. There were just as many survivors as passengers on the Carpathia. Mrs. Brown is starting a committee to reward them and to help the survivors. I have said I will help her."
"Tell me how you got into a lifeboat. I know many were not so fortunate."
"My stateroom was across the hall from Margaret Brown's. I dressed and went up on deck with her. It was such chaos, but some things seemed perfectly normal. The band was playing, I remember that. The Strausses were sitting in a deck chair holding hands. Mr. Guggenheim went back to this room and changed into his best suit. Some children were crying and Maggie was trying to comfort them…."
"The press is calling her The Unsinkable Molly Brown," Chuck grinned.
"I'm not sure why they're calling her Molly, but "Unsinkable" definitely describes her spirit. She's a force of nature. Did you know she brought a little statue she'd bought in Egypt along with us for luck?" Blair smiled then. "She even suggested I bring my own good luck charm."
"And did you?"
Blair unbuttoned her plain frock to proudly reveal the brilliant necklace Chuck had given her. "I wore it on our honeymoon in Paris and on the day we got married. What could be luckier?"
"Did you have trouble getting a lifeboat?"
"They were filling Lifeboat #6 and a man said to Maggie, 'You are going too.' He picked her up and dropped her into the boat. The he grabbed me and said, "You too, madame." It was about a four foot drop. We were lucky; the quartermaster of the Titanic was in charge of our boat. There were so many who needed help, Mrs. Brown and several others wanted to go back and try to rescue all that we could. Mr. Hitchens—that was the quartermaster—said we needed to get as far from the ship as possible, so it wouldn't pull us down with it. He won the argument and we were safe, but, oh, Chuck, it was so horrible to see those people struggle. To hear them in the water, and then…nothing. I shall never forget it."
"Well, I, for one, am very glad that Hitchens fellow knew what he was doing."
"The ship completely disappeared under the water sometime around 2:30, but we had to wait for the Carpathia and that was another hour and twenty minutes. It seemed so long, like help was never going to come and it was so cold." She began to cry and Chuck pulled her close and wiped her tears.
"The longest time in my life was when I kept waiting to hear if you had been rescued. I checked the papers every day, but there was no news. Why was that?"
"They got my name wrong on the list. I didn't know until we reached New York. The young man wrote down Claire Cod."
Chuck shuddered. "Hopelessly incompetent!"
"But why didn't I see you get off the ship?"
"I was looking for you or Arthur or Dorota or…someone, but no one was there."
"I sent them home and drove myself."
"But I didn't see you."
"There was a crush of people and I was pacing up and down the dock," he admitted.
When I couldn't find you, some kind people offered me a ride and I accepted. Their transport was delayed, so we all had to wait longer. I just needed to get home to you."
"Perhaps I did not recognize you in the hooded cloak and these clothes; they are not your usual attire. You are here now, and that is all that matters."
"Chuck, can we not talk about this anymore tonight? I just…need to forget for a little while," she pleaded.
"No talking," he nodded. "I will make you feel warm and safe and loved." It was a solemn promise and he unrolled her stockings, unbuttoned her dress and gently slid her underthings from her body without a word. He then removed his own clothing and moved on to the knot of hair at the base of her neck, gently slipping the pins out one by one. He ran his fingers through her unbound hair, unraveling the curls into a dark curtain that flowed over her shoulders.
"My beautiful Blair," he whispered.
The bath had finished filling, so he stepped into the tub and took her hands to help her. Now they were both in the huge porcelain tub, with Blair encased in his arms.
He took his time planting tiny kisses across her shoulders before washing her hair, massaging little circles on her scalp, her neck, her back….
She let out a little sound of happiness…
And then she was kissing him like they'd never been apart, like fifteen years had not passed, like they were back on their honeymoon.
At the moment they were physically joined again, Chuck forced his eyes open, studying her and finally letting himself believe…she was here, she was home, she was his home.
Her eyes opened as well, and she returned his gaze.
Something passed between them, something more than physical.
It was emotional, spiritual…inevitable.
Neither a gilded cage nor the icy depths of the sea could tear them apart.
They were together and theirs was a great love.
Greetings, readers, I have missed you. I hope you enjoyed this latest installment in the Bass family story. I always love to hear your reactions, so feel free to drop me a line or leave me a review.
Thank you so much to the reader/reviewer who suggested I try my hand at a historical. It was great fun.
Special thanks to my beta friends: Chrys1130, Shrk22 and Chairship.
And a little wave to my friend Xana.