The Butterfly Cage

Society Notes

September 12, 1913


By Louisa Delafield

Despite an early morning downpour, tens of thousands of New Yorkers lined the sidewalks with somber miens and heads bared in respect, waiting for the procession of the black-draped catafalque, bearing the coffin of William J. Gaynor, deceased mayor of the city.

As the funeral procession left the Old Trinity church, the rains stopped and the sun broke through the clouds as if Heaven itself were welcoming the reformist mayor, a man admired by business leaders, clergymen and politicians of all stripes. Among the pallbearers was none other than former President of the United States, William H. Taft himself, wearing the black armband of mourning.

Perhaps a half million citizens lined the streets as the long procession of horses, police officers, and mourners made their way to Greenwood Cemetery for the burial. Thousands of school children paid homage to the late mayor.

Gaynor will be remembered as the politician who broke free from Tammany Hall. Although he was initially supported by “Boss” Murphy, he began his tenure in 1910 by eliminating the so-called “no show” jobs, which drained tax payer dollars and perpetuated a system of graft. An assassination attempt did not stop him. With a bullet lodged in his throat, the fearless leader maintained the courage of his convictions and ushered New York into a new era for three more years. Finally, he succumbed.

The question on everyone’s mind is who will take up the mantle of reform so valiantly exhibited by Mayor Gaynor?


In other news, Mrs. James Gow, wife of the headmaster of London’s Westminster College gave a lecture at Cooper Union to talk about the dangers of immodest dress.

“We all realize the temptations to our sons of the clothing of some young women today. In light of the prevalence of immodest dancing, immoral plays, and immoral literature, we must establish a high moral standard at home. The days of prudery may be gone, but surely the days of modesty are still with us,” she told the audience.

Mrs. Gow also said that members of her organization in London believe there may be a connection between immodest dress and white slavery.


Chapter 1


Louisa Delafield ripped the page from her typewriter and handed it to a copy boy.

“This has to make the next edition,” she told him, donning her hat and grabbing her purse from the lower drawer in her desk.

“Where are you off to now?” Ellen, her assistant, asked.

“Penelope Gaines is having a small reception for the former president while he’s in town. She insisted I come early, which means I must dash home and change into something presentable,” Louisa said. “Hold the fort, please.”

She hurried out of the building and found a cab.

The summer of 1913 had been idyllic if somewhat hectic. Panama hats bedecked with ribbons and bows were all the rage, knee-length bathing costumes gave women new-found freedom to enjoy the surf, and socialites dashed from horse races to tennis matches to costume parties as if their lives depended on being seen in every possible venue from Newport to Saratoga. Louisa had documented it all for her readers in The Ledger as well as in her nationally syndicated column.

Now a slight autumnal melancholy tinged the early September evenings, and the white shoes were put away for next year. September and October would provide a lull as one by one, the yachts returned to their berths, families streamed back to their Fifth Avenue houses and Central Park apartments, and the women who ruled the upper class began plotting the next season’s events.

The unexpected death of New York City’s mayor had temporarily thrown the schedule into disarray, but it had given her something important to write about during the social doldrums.


The taxi dropped her off in front of the Dakota on the Upper Westside. This area had become more fashionable as of late, and she wasn’t surprised that Penelope Gaines had chosen to live here. As wealthy as she was, she was not a member of Caroline Astor’s “old money” crowd. Not to mention, Penelope was divorced. However, she had made her own name in society by regularly hosting a number of charitable soirées and tea dances. In the process, she had also gained a reputation of being the ‘life of the party.’

Louisa took a private elevator to the third floor. A butler opened the door and showed her into the reception area of the luxurious apartment. While she waited, she glanced around and took mental notes. All the apartments in the Dakota had been custom designed. She glanced up at the high ceiling and then down at the parquet floor, inlaid with mahogany and cherry wood. It was as nice as any town home.

“Louisa, I’m so glad you could come a few minutes early. I have some news for your column,” Penelope said, holding a highball glass in one hand. Tall and blond, she wore a flattering rose chiffon dress with a fashionable raglan waist and a high-neck collar. She had been the daughter of a successful banker when she married Charles “Spend a Million” Gaines, a boisterous barbed-wire mogul, who never fit in with the staid society of New York. The marriage had not worked out, and they’d been separated ten years ago. Recently they made it official with a divorce.

“I hope it’s happy news and not another funeral,” Louisa said, “although I will say that was a spectacular event.”

“No, no, this is happy news,” Penelope said, leading Louisa into the drawing room. In front of a huge fireplace stood Dominic Gallo. Louisa was not terribly surprised to see him there as he had been seen out and about with Penelope since the spring. A dashing man with black hair, dark eyes and a dazzling smile, he smiled now as Penelope took her place at his side.

 “The news I have is that Dominic and I recently got married.” Penelope gazed up at him with adoring eyes.

“Married?” Louisa asked. She had not expected this. “Why didn’t you tell me beforehand so I could have announced it in my column?”

“It was rather spur-of-the-moment. I wanted to get married before Caroline’s coming out this season so that Dominic could be at my side for the balls. Of course, now with the mayor’s death, we’ll also be busy with other plans.”

“Such as?”

“Dominic’s political career,” Penelope said, slipping her hand into the crook of her husband’s elbow.

So that’s what this reception was about. Penelope was grooming her new husband for political office, and they were hoping to get William Taft’s blessing.

The doorbell rang, and Penelope gulped down her drink before hurrying off to greet her guests.

“Miss Delafield,” Dominic said, turning his full attention to her. “I read your columns religiously. Thank you for promoting the women’s right to vote, a cause near and dear to my heart.”

This was even more surprising than the news of their nuptials. First, that he was reading her column and secondly that he cared about women’s suffrage. Then again, if he were hoping for a political career, he was certainly the sort who could win the women’s vote if they had one. He was not only handsome, he was so charismatic it was almost uncomfortable being alone with him.

“Thank you,” she said. “I didn’t know you were interested in politics, Mr. Gallo.”

“When I came to New York ten years ago, I fell in love with this city. I was born in Italy, but moved to San Francisco as a boy. With a small inheritance, I bought some land. Land was cheap in California then. But I always wanted to come back to the city that I had seen as a young boy. And so I sold the land, came here, and bought an import/export business. New York welcomed me with open arms. Look at me, Miss Delafield, a poor boy from Italy, and now I am married to a beautiful woman, and I am surrounded by luxury. I want to give back to this city which has given me so much.”

He smiled, and she melted a little. No wonder Penelope was so smitten.

She noticed a severe-looking woman in black, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, reading a book. Louisa wasn’t alone with him, after all. But who, she wondered, was this woman? A relative? She certainly was not a member of society or she would never have simply ignored Louisa, but she was no servant either.

At that moment Penelope entered with Katherine Murphy and her husband, John, and behind them, Katherine’s sister, Hester French. John Murphy was the president of his father-in-law’s company, which made springs for railroad cars. This had created enormous wealth for their family. In New York society, the Murphys were considered “new money,” which would make them natural allies for Penelope and her new husband. If John Murphy was looking for political influence, what better place to start?

“Forgive me. I hope we can talk more soon,” Dominic said, smiling at her once again as if she were the only person in the room.

Katherine Murphy immediately bustled over to Louisa. She was always eager for a mention in Louisa’s column.

“Miss Delafield, I haven’t seen you since the races in Saratoga. Tell me, what should we look forward to this Season?” she asked.

“Debutante balls, debutante teas, and debutante afternoon dance parties,” Louisa said. “The season overfloweth with young women coming out. And perhaps mayoral candidates coming out as well.” She glanced toward Dominic Gallo.

“Isn’t he divine?” Katherine whispered with a giggle, nodding in Gallo’s direction.

“What are you giggling about, sister?” Hester French asked.

More guests had arrived, among them the burly former president, William Taft.

“Oh, look, it’s the former president!” Katherine exclaimed, ignoring her sister’s question, and off she went.

Hester French put a hand on Louisa’s arm.

“Miss Delafield, may I ask how Miss Malloy is doing?” Hester said, blinking her large, slightly bulging eyes.

“Ellen?” Louisa said in surprise.

“She and I met at the Washington women’s march in the spring. I’ve been traveling all summer with my sister and brother-in-law, but I hope to see her again.” Hester added, “to enlist her help with the suffrage committee.”

“I’m sure she’ll be delighted to help,” Louisa said. “Ellen is quite in favor of anything that disrupts the hierarchy. I sometimes believe she’s a closet radical.”

“She is a dear,” Hester said and took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Louisa thought it odd that Hester, a wealthy heiress, would show an interest in an Irish immigrant and former lady’s maid, but Hester had a reformist zeal. Unlike her stout little teapot of a sister, Katherine, she seemed to have no interest whatsoever in fashion and society. Her dress was a plain pale green gown, the only flourish being a bit of eyelet embroidery around the collar.

“I shall tell her you asked after her,” Louisa said.

Hester French wandered off, and a few minutes later Louisa overheard her talking volubly to Dominic Gallo about an upcoming meeting of the suffragists.

It had been a long day, but Louisa needed to get a quote from the former president before she left. She pulled out her reporter’s notebook, looked up and saw an ethereal looking creature in the doorway holding a cocker spaniel in her arms. It was Penelope’s daughter, Caroline, the debutante — or at least she would be a debutante when the season started. The young woman slipped through the guests and stepped out onto the balcony. Louisa decided to follow. It was always good to have mention of a debutante in her column. New Yorkers seemed endlessly fascinated with them. Louisa had not had a season. By the time she was eighteen, there was no fortune left to attract a rich husband. Instead she attended Barnard on a scholarship, a fate she had never regretted.

She went through the French doors onto the balcony where the cool night air sparkled with city lights.

“Oh, hello,” Caroline said, looking up. She was sitting on the floor beside the dog. “You’re Miss Delafield, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Louisa said. “And you’re Caroline Gaines.”

“I am, and this is Beauregard Vrai Amour, the Second,” the girl said. “He’s a champion show dog.”

“He’s quite handsome,” Louisa said. Louisa reached over to pet Beauregard’s golden head, but he bared his teeth, and she thought better of it.

“I read that Mayor Gaynor’s dogs keep waiting for him to come home,” Caroline said, wistfully. “It’s so sad.”

“I don’t suppose it’s easy for dogs to understand death,” Louisa said, though she didn’t really know. She’d never had a dog. She had a pony when she was young and now she had a cat, or she should say a cat had her. No one actually “owned” a cat. “Your mother told me she recently married. Was it a lovely wedding?”

“Well, it was small,” Caroline said. “They’re going on a late honeymoon to Panama sometime next month. They want to see the moment when the water goes gushing through the canal, and I’m off to Wyoming to see my father, who’s on a hunting expedition. He doesn’t know she’s gotten married. Can you imagine? I’m going to be the one to tell him.”

Louisa wondered if that’s why Penelope hadn’t announced the marriage beforehand.

“Well, she’s told me now, so I’ll have to let the world know,” Louisa said.

“Go ahead. They won’t get any newspapers out in the wilderness of Wyoming,” she said. “The worst part is I can’t travel alone. So they’re sending my ‘aunt’ Rosa with me.”

“I didn’t know that Penelope had a sister.”

“She’s Dominic’s sister. A former nun,” Caroline said.

“Is she that woman sitting off in the corner by herself. Dressed all in black?” Louisa asked.

Caroline crinkled her nose.

“Yes. She’s still a nun at heart. She didn’t quit for some romantic reason like falling in love with the gardener or something. She said she had to do God’s work out in the world. She lurks around train stations to make sure young, unaccompanied women aren’t ‘cut out’ of the herd by evil doers and forced into a life of sin.”

“That sounds rather admirable,” Louisa said. She glanced at Caroline, who rolled her eyes, and then added, “But she’s probably not much fun as a traveling companion.”

“She’s a horrid choice,” Caroline said.

A peal of laughter sounded from inside.

Louisa leaned on the balcony railing and looked out over Central Park. People walked along the paths, enjoying the balmy night.

“My publisher, Mr. Calloway, has also gone to Wyoming for a hunting expedition with the Prince of Monaco,” she said.

“That’s why my father went. He heard about the big hunt with the prince, but when he got there, the prince and Buffalo Bill refused to let him join. So Pops made his own expedition. There won’t be any wild animals left in Wyoming with all those expeditions.” Caroline scratched her dog behind the ears, and the creature drooled.

“I’d love an interview with the Prince of Monaco,” Louisa said. “My readers clamor for anything having to do with royalty. You’d think they’d never heard of democracy.”

Caroline stood up and leaned close to Louisa.

“Why don’t you come out with me?” Her eyes gleamed in the light from the windows.

“What? I couldn’t do that,” Louisa said. “I have stories to cover here in New York.”

“The season doesn’t begin until November. You’ll be back in plenty of time for all that. Oh, come on, Miss Delafield. Have you even been out west? Can you imagine going to Yellowstone National Park?”

“You must go if you can,” a voice said.

Louisa turned and saw none other than William Taft himself standing in the doorway and lighting a cigar.

“Mr. President,” she said.

Taft strolled onto the balcony as he blew a plume of smoke into the night air. “While I was in office, I had the opportunity to visit — and name — the Shoshone National Caverns, a treasure of beautiful crystals and sparkling stalactites. Quite unlike anything you can imagine.”

Louisa mulled over the idea. There really was nothing of importance for her to cover for the next month. Why not? Why not surprise Forrest? In New York it was near to impossible for them to be alone and with all her activities in Saratoga and Newport over the summer, she had only had that one delirious night with him, a night she would never forget.

“I shall have to ask my editor, Mr. Thorn,” Louisa said.

Caroline grabbed her hands and gushed, “He’ll have to let you go. What a coup for your paper to have an interview with a prince!”

Louisa chuckled.

“I can’t promise anything, but I shall ask. In the meantime, may I get a quote from you, sir?” Louisa said, turning to Taft. “What are your thoughts on women’s suffrage?”

The portly man puffed his chest out and answered, “On the whole, it is fair to say that the immediate enfranchisement of women will increase the proportion of the hysterical element of the electorate.”

Of course, at that moment who should come out on the balcony but Hester French whose eyes fairly blazed when she overheard his response.

“Hysterical? Do you mean to say that men, with their drunkenness and their violence, are calmer and more rational than women?”

Louisa took this as her cue to leave. She returned to the reception and glanced around. Everyone seemed to be infected with a sense of hilarity. That was an after-effect of the funeral, she supposed. Everyone was giddy to be alive — except for Dominic Gallo’s sister, who sat in her corner and knitted, unfazed by the laughter and conversation bubbling around her. No wonder Caroline dreaded the idea of having such a joyless woman for a traveling companion.

As she waited for the elevator, she had a sudden sense of dread. The elevator doors opened, but for some reason she was reluctant to go inside it. She had no idea what was wrong. She’d been fine coming up. She looked to her right and saw the door to the stairwell. Without knowing why, she turned away from the elevator and took the stairs to the lobby. A few minutes later she was in the cab and forgot about the whole incident.