Secrets and Spies

Society Notes

April 30, 1915


By Louisa Delafield


The wind ruffled the roan mare’s black mane as she lifted her head and sniffed the air. It smelled damp and smoky, so different from the dry air of the west where she had run with a boy on her back, a boy who had loved her and who had tried not to cry when she was put on a train along with hundreds of others of her kind. The boy cried anyway, and the roan mare must have sensed his sadness and feared what it meant.

When it comes to horses, gentlemen and ladies of society tend to favor thoroughbred racers. However, they’ve taken an interest in a different sort of horse these days — the war horse. A fund-raiser by a group of distinguished individuals including Mr. Jack Morgan, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Vanderbilt, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, and Mrs. Alva Belmont, has rounded up approximately 1,050 horses, which will be sent overseas to do their part in the British war effort. The horses, all sturdy steeds, have been shipped from farms and ranches around the country and will be used for the transport of soldiers and artillery. They will also haul ambulances and supply wagons. Not only are the horses able to travel through mud and across rough ground, they also raise the morale of the fighting men.

I visited the corrals and found the horses ready for duty. When a ripple of skittishness ran through the herd, a roan quarter horse, 15 hands high, took charge, calming the others with soft whinnies and neck nuzzling. Fortunately, I had a sugar cube in my pocket to offer her as a reward. They may be mere animals, but they are more like us (and in some ways much better) than we care to admit. Most of these horses will not survive the battles to come, but because of their sacrifice, many more of Britain’s young men will someday return to hearth and home.

Chapter 1


Louisa noticed the muffled laughter as she wended her way through the maze of desks, but didn’t pay it much heed until she reached her own desk and saw that a bucket of oats had replaced her trusty Remington typewriter. Hands on hips, she turned to look at the culprits, and that was when the muffled laughter turned to guffaws.

“Mr. Stephens, thank you so much for this delightful gift, but I’m not hungry at the moment,” she said, looking over at the police reporter, who was surely the instigator of this juvenile joke. “Would it trouble you too much to return my typewriter?”

“Lovely piece you wrote, Miss Delafield,” Mick Jones, the barely mediocre sports writer, called out. “Pure poetry.”

“I’m so glad we’re neighbors,” Billy Stephens said, drawing out the “neigh,” as he brought her typewriter over to her.

“And please,” Louisa said, indicating the bucket of oats, “find a better place for this.”

The men continued to act foolish as they were wont to do, and Louisa sat down at her desk and ignored them as she was wont to do. She had gone out on a limb with that story, but she’d been moved by the sight of the horses and especially that gorgeous roan mare with the black mane. She could still feel those velvety lips on her palm as the horse took the sugar cube from her hand. She’d always loved horses and remembered her own heartbreak when, after her father’s death, they’d had to sell the pair of black geldings that pulled their carriage. Families all over the country must be feeling a terrible sense of loss as they gave up their horses for a senseless war across the ocean.

“Where’s your sidekick?” Billy asked, nodding toward the empty chair where Ellen Malloy usually sat.

“She’s off to Ireland to visit her sick father,” Louisa said. “She leaves tomorrow so I gave her the day off to get ready.”

Billy rubbed his chin and then asked, “What boat is she taking?”

“The Lusitania,” Louisa said.

Billy went to his desk and returned with the morning’s newspaper. He opened it to her column.

“Mr. Stephens, how long are you going to harangue me about this column? I know it’s not my usual society fare. I may have gone a little — ” she said.

“Look at the advertisement,” he interrupted.

She read the small print from the Cunard Ocean Steamships’ advert aloud, “…vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies are liable to destruction…” She looked up at Billy.

“But the Lusitania is a passenger ship with mostly American citizens,” she said. “I’m sure Germany would never provoke Wilson. This advertisement is just a bluff.” And yet she felt extremely uneasy, thinking of Ellen crossing the Atlantic in the middle of a war, neutrality or no neutrality.

Suddenly the newsroom grew quiet.

“Oh, my,” Billy said. He lowered the paper and whistled under his breath.

Louisa looked up. All the men were watching as a young woman zigzagged through the warren of news desks toward Louisa. She wore a stylish gray chenille hat with a navy bow, a smart gray jacket trimmed in navy velvet, and a flared skirt that landed a few inches above her ankles and carried a parasol. Louisa surmised in a glance that the woman was perfect for the job, and her heart sank like a stone. The last thing she wanted was to actually hire a replacement for Ellen — even temporarily.

“Miss Delafield?” the woman asked, her voice light and lilting. “It’s me, Phyllis Wolfe.”

She stood at Louisa’s desk, dewy and glowing. Louisa was only 26, but she suddenly felt old and tarnished. 

“I’m here about the position as your assistant,” the young woman continued. “I sent you a letter.”

Louisa patted her unruly hair and forced a smile to her lips, but it took another few seconds to wet her mouth enough that she could open it.

“Please have a seat,” she finally uttered.

“Miss, you don’t want to work for her,” Billy said, throwing a glance at Louisa. “We call her Bloody Delafield for all the murders she digs up. Sometimes literally.” He was referring to the poisoning of a doctor two years earlier, as well as the death of a servant girl and a fellow society writer, all of which Louisa and Ellen had investigated. Even though she wrote these stories under a pen name, the men in the newsroom knew she was the one behind them.

“Don’t listen to him, Mrs. Wolfe,” she said, emphasizing the “missus.”

“Married, are you?” Billy asked in dismay.

“Widowed,” she responded. Demurely, Louisa noted. Oh, she was good, this one.

“Mrs. Wolfe was a debutante the last time I saw her,” Louisa said, turning her gaze toward the young woman. “Your coming out party took five whole inches of my column.”

“Five inches?” Billy said, widening his eyes. Louisa decided ignoring him was the best course of action.

“A long time ago,” Mrs. Wolfe said in a world-weary tone and glanced down at her folded hands.

“Not that long ago. Four years, perhaps? You married that artist, Herman Wolfe, soon after the party,” Louisa said.

“Eloped,” Mrs. Wolfe corrected. “You may as well say the truth. It was quite the scandal. My family cut me off entirely. So we moved to Germany where Herman was from.”

“Bad timing, that,” Billy said with a grimace.

 “It was unfair of your parents to cut you off,” Louisa said. The belief of the older generation that they had the right to choose the spouses of their children had always struck Louisa as one of the pitfalls of being in the upper classes. Phyllis had married a destitute artist for love, and she’d paid a steep price.

“But widowhood has restored my respectability, which makes me a perfect fit for the job of assistant to the most respected society writer in America,” Mrs. Wolfe said.

Billy barked a laugh and noted,  “She’ll be great at this job.”

“Mr. Stephens, isn’t there a paddywagon somewhere you should be chasing?” Louisa asked, glaring at him.

“All right. I know when I’m not welcome.” He wandered slowly back toward his own desk. Louisa had a mind to smack him with something but she had no weapon handy. Not to mention the fact that she didn’t want to confirm the “bloody Delafield” title. It was true she’d strayed off the society beat more than a few times over the past two years, but she was still first and foremost, “Louisa Delafield, syndicated society columnist for The Ledger.”

“You know the position is only temporary,” Louisa said. “I’ve promised Miss Malloy her job will be waiting for her as soon as she returns from her trip to Ireland.”

If her ship doesn’t get torpedoed by the Krauts,” Billy interjected from his desk where he had continued to eavesdrop on their conversation. “No offense, Mrs. Wolfe.”

“None taken. I’m not German. Besides, I saw that advertisement. It’s German bluster. I came over from Liverpool on a cruise liner just last month,” Mrs. Wolfe said. “We made it without incident.”

“There, you see,” Louisa said. “Ellen will be fine.” She didn’t feel nearly as confident as she hoped she sounded.

The young woman leaned forward, her eyebrows pinched together.

“Ever since the war started, the Germans have taken to disliking Americans intensely. You’d be surprised how many of us were on the boat — all leaving Germany. It was such a relief to step foot again on American soil.”

“Their loss,” Billy said.

Exasperated, Louisa tossed down her pencil.

“Mr. Stephens, please. I’m trying to conduct an interview,” she said.

With an exaggerated sigh, Billy rose from his chair, donned his hat and sauntered off. His broad shoulders moved with the swagger of a man who knows that he’s attractive to a certain kind of woman. Louisa was not of that kind.

She turned to the unpleasant task at hand — unpleasant because she dreaded replacing Ellen, who was so much more than an assistant. Ellen was also her friend and confidante. And she was absolutely invaluable when it came to Louisa’s darker stories, the one she wrote under her pseudonym, Beatrice Milton. On the other hand, this pert young thing would hardly need any training at all when it came to the society stories.

“If you don’t mind my asking, Mrs. Wolfe — why not move back in with your family and let them find you a new husband, one that meets with their approval? It’s not easy for a woman to make it alone in this world,” Louisa said.

Mrs. Wolfe’s eyes narrowed, her face tightened, and her breath sounded almost like a hiss.

“I’ll never go back into that cage,” she said.

“Cage? Your family?” Louisa was stupefied.

“Marriage,” she responded. Again she leaned toward Louisa, this time her hands trembling with emotion as she clutched the bag on her lap. “He turned out to be horrid. I made a vow to myself that I won’t be dependent on anyone ever again. And please call me Phyllis. I hate being burdened with his name.”

Louisa blinked in surprise at the young woman’s frankness, and her heart softened.

“Oh my dear. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” Phyllis said, straightening her back and regaining her composure as she looked at Louisa with forthright, almond-shaped eyes.

Louisa sighed. There seemed to be no way out. Ellen would be leaving tomorrow, and Phyllis Wolfe had all the necessary qualifications for the job — as long as it stayed within the confines of the society page.

“As you observed earlier, you are a perfect fit for the job of my assistant. You certainly know how to dress the part. You can even cover some of the events for me.” Which, she had to admit, was not a function that Ellen with her working-class Irish background could have fulfilled. “Yes, I think you’ll do quite nicely.” Then she added, “Temporarily, of course.”

“Of course.” Then Phyllis Wolfe smiled at her so warmly that the whole room lit up.

“I’ll see you Monday morning,” Louisa said. “Bright and early.”

“How early?”

“Oh, by the crack of eleven,” Louisa said. Then they both laughed. Completely against her will, Louisa had been won over.

After Mrs. Wolfe left, Louisa returned to her correspondence. To her utter surprise, she saw an envelope from Forrest Calloway, publisher of the paper — and the man she had let slip from her fingers a year earlier. She glanced around to make sure no one was watching. Then she opened the note and read:

Dear Louisa,
Would you care to join me to go to a baseball game tomorrow afternoon? If so, please call my house tonight and let Mr. Kimura know. We’ll pick you up at one.
Yours truly,

 She fought back tears and told herself it meant nothing, but her heart told her she was lying. This meant everything.