SPOTTED: The most fortunate Miss Blair Waldorf wielding a conspicuous diamond ring – the spoils of war? It seems the Waldorf heiress has returned victorious from the battle over the famous Vanderbilt jewel. We hope you get what you wish for, B.
From the Gossip Girl column, The New York Times, May 3rd 1887
The swagged and beribboned ballroom of the Astor townhouse was stifling, in both air and company, but not one of the corseted, painted and sweating personages in attendance would dream of departure before midnight at the earliest. The Astors' new built mansion was the place to be seen that season, despite the clogging air of too many flowers and the scent of sweat mingling with silk.
The only exception, perhaps, was a certain young man by the name of Nathaniel Archibald. He yearned, collar points wilting, for the peaceful solitude of his gentleman's club, a solid game of whist instead of dancing, stolid masculine company instead of this swarm of endlessly wittering females. Aside from, he reminded himself obediently, his recently acquired fiancée, Blair Waldorf.
Miss Waldorf was certainly a catch, he would proudly admit. She had impeccable breeding – Harold Waldorf could trace his descent back generations and Eleanor, his wife, had been one of the most renowned beauties of her day. To add to this the Waldorfs were also agreeably wealthy, owning a plethora of land and property in both city and countryside, and Blair was the sole heiress.
All this would make the most shrew-like female at least palatable as a wife. Nathaniel counted himself lucky that in addition, Miss Waldorf was certainly no trial to look at – dark-eyed and chestnut haired, with a straight nose and a mouth neither too large nor too puckered. She might pale in comparison to the more obvious blondes in fashion at the moment – her closet acquaintance Serena van der Woodsen, for example, a lithe, golden-haired nymph – but held no obvious imperfections. Such as, heaven forbid, a freckle. No, Blair's creamy skin was flawless, just like her reputation.
Unlike the aforementioned Miss van der Woodsen, Miss Waldorf knew how to behave with decorum. Nate had only ever been able to speak with her totally alone for the briefest of moments, whilst Serena's tarnished reputation had been saved only by her grandmother's eminent position in polite society and a well-timed departure to a Swiss finishing school. Rumours about the Moon, as some dewy eyed suitors and other less honourable admirers had named her, were rife, and not all complimentary.
Thus proposing to Blair had been no difficult task, if one he only endured for the sake of his family name and future. Seeing that the dark-haired object of his musings was currently twirling the ballroom in the arms of a young army officer, Nate rapidly went in search of the card-room.
Nate turned in some surprise, caught in the milling throng of matrons and bachelors near the doors. The voice which hailed him was that of Charles Bass, the son of the extremely wealthy - one might almost be so vulgar as to say filthy rich – Bartholomew Bass, who had made his fortune in the not to be spoken of occupation of shipping. He had risen from the ranks of the unspeakable middle class by means of expansive purchase of New York real estate, substantial charitable donations and his second marriage to Lillian van der Woodsen, widowed mother of Serena. This, aided by an undeniable wealth, just about made Chuck Bass admissible into the hallowed halls of New York society.
Who says money can't buy class?
Chuck visited there rarely, preferring opera girls and light skirts to simpering debutantes, and on the rare occasion he did, he lurked around the card tables, so Nate was surprised by his unexpected appearance.
"Chuck?" Nate knew the Bass heir well, their having been at St Jude's and then the same college together.
"Walk with me, Archibald," commanded Chuck, having tossed back his customary scotch and thrown his cards on the table amongst a scattering of IOU's. Somehow Nate found himself doing exactly that.
"How do you do, my good man?" asked Chuck in his easy drawl as they began to stroll around the room. He nodded to a less than respectable widow in the corner, who blushed and turned away.
"Well enough, thank you. What are you doing back in town, Chuck? I heard rumours that your father was threatening to banish you to Europe. Did your gambling debts finally become too much for him?"
"He did indeed threaten," answered Chuck with a slow smirk. "For once, Gossip Girl was at least partially correct." Chuck seemed unashamed of the fact he read Gossip Girl's column, unlike much of society. "Let's just say... we struck a deal." Chuck's eyes were already drifting towards the whirling dancers with their heaving bosoms and fluttering hemlines. "Now let us talk about you, Nathaniel. What's this I hear about you becoming shackled to the Waldorf girl?"
"Hear?" repeated Nathaniel. "You didn't hear it, you read it in the Times, the same as every other gossipmonger we know."
"Easy, Archibald." Chuck searched out the petite figure of Blair Waldorf in the crowd above his friend's shoulder, taking care to slouch back his shoulders. "How did you do it, may I ask?"
"Do what?" said Nate, confused.
"Propose. Pop the question."
"Oh. Er... well, I went down on one knee, presented her with a bouquet of flowers and offered her a ring. Oh, and I asked her to marry me."
"What kind of flowers?"
"Roses, I believe."
"She favours peonies," said Chuck absentmindedly, "Pink ones, specifically. Very pink ones, not weakling almost white ones, and not too many leaves."
"Does she?" Nate stared at his friend, bemused. "How on earth did you know that?"
"I was rather aggressively informed of it once, when I made the grave mistake of offering her roses."
"You gave her flowers?" questioned Nate in a surprised tone. "When?"
"Many years ago, in my misguided youth," answered Chuck enigmatically. He tilted his head in the direction of a nearby debutante batting her lashes in Nate's direction. "I do believe that Miss Coates wishes to dance with you."
"Er – what? Chuck –"
Chuck gave his friend a slight shove in her direction and said airily over his shoulder, "You don't mind if I take Miss Waldorf for this dance, do you?"
Before Nate could agree or disagree, his friend had melted into the crowds.
"Good evening, Mrs Waldorf." Chuck Bass came to a stop in front of the lavender patterned loveseat that Lady Waldorf and her daughter had occupied, a position carefully chosen from which to discreetly see and most definitely be seen.
"How do you do, Mr Bass," Eleanor greeted him. The Basses might be a little too nouveau riche for her taste, but what they lacked in class the more than made up for in wealth and, it was whispered, influence. Not for nothing were they known as the landlords of New York. Besides, the son had a certain charm about him.
Chuck turned to the dark haired maiden beside her mother. "Miss Waldorf, may I have this dance?"
Wary of her mother's curious eyes, Blair bit back a sigh and took the proffered hand. He placed a light kiss on her knuckles before leading her onto the floor.
"My dance card is full," she informed him haughtily, but made no move to leave.
"I don't see you protesting."
"Anything for an old friend," she smiled coldly. "I see Nate is occupied already."
Chuck glanced his way and made sure to draw Blair a little closer. "What are you doing in New York, Bass?" asked his partner.
"What, no social niceties, Waldorf?" Chuck raised his brows mockingly.
"I like to think I have known you too long for that, Bass, or perhaps I simply don't want to waste my time. Why have you returned?"
"It may have escaped your notice, Waldorf, but I and several thousands in fact call New York home."
"But why here?" pressed Blair. "And why now? I can't remember the last time Is say you at a any sort of social event, let alone a ball. In fact I can't remember the last time I saw you. Surely there aren't enough ladies of the night here for your exacting tastes?"
Chuck ignored the jibe. "Or perhaps I missed you, Waldorf." He pressed his hand a little closer on her waist, which Blair carefully ignored.
"Missed torturing me, more likely."
"Simply pining, Waldorf. However, on a more serious note, there is something I must speak to you about."
"A matter of the gravest importance, I suppose?" Blair rolled her eyes.
"Yes, actually. Perhaps we could find somewhere a little quieter?"
"Please, Bass, credit me with a little sensibility. I am not about to enter some hidden alcove so you may attempt to ravish me."
"If I ever want to ravish you, Waldorf, rest assured you will ignore your sensibilities. Truthfully, you will not want this information overheard on a crowded dance floor."
About to reply with a scathing retort, Blair noticed the serious slant to his mouth. It was rare that Chuck spoke in anything but bantering tones, but tonight he seemed serious, almost concerned. She frowned.
"Bass, I-" Blair fell suddenly silent, like the rest of the ballroom. Only the music played bravely on, ignoring the hush. She stood immobile, her shadowed eyes fixed behind on a sight behind Chuck's shoulder. He turned to follow her gaze.
There, framed between the finely polished double doors, clothed in an indecently low cut, navy blue gown, diamonds at her throat, stood none other than Serena van der Woodsen.
SPOTTED: Serena van der Woodsen, making her triumphant return at the Astor ball.
Was it only a year ago our scandalous heiress mysteriously disappeared for a quote "finishing school"? And just as suddenly she's back...
Blair stood frozen, Chuck's arm around her waist and her hand in his, staring at the doors. The spell broke and several of so-called friends and admirers began to make their way towards the newcomer.
"Blair," said Chuck, pinching her fingers slightly. Blair looked up at him as if waking from a dream.
More like a nightmare.
"What is she doing here?" she hissed, as if expecting Chuck to know the answer.
"I don't know," he said irritably. "Does it matter? Listen, Blair -"
"No, you listen," Blair said ferociously. "I don't know what you're planing, but I'm not about to play your little games, Chuck. If I were you, I'd go straight back to your little hole in the country and stay there. Don't bother me again."
She wrenched her fingers out of Chuck's hold and left him on the dance floor. He watched as she delicately made her way through the crowds, a porcelain dolls among the painted puppets.
"Serena," she said, stepping forward carefully towards the tall blonde. She laced her arms around Serena's shoulders in and squeezed slightly in the pretence of a hug. "How wonderful to see you. You have been missed in the city. But I have to go now, if you'll excuse me. I feel a little unwell."
Serena looked at her, confused. "I'll call on you tomorrow, Blair," she told the brunette's retreating back.
"I'm so glad you're back, Serena."
Serena turned to the young man beside her. "Nate. Blair just left -"
"I came to talk to you, not Blair."
Serena frowned. "No," she said quietly.
"But you're back now-"
"I didn't come back for you," said Serena firmly, steeling herself against the hurt that flashed across Nate's face. "Look, Blair's my best friend," or was, said the tiny voice in her mind, "and you're her fiancé, and she loves you. That's the way things are supposed to be."
Serena turned and walked away.
Has the bad girl really gone good? Or is it all just part of the act? Why did she leave? Why did she return? Send me all the details.
And who am I? That's one secret I'll never tell.
The only one.