How the Start of World War I Changed an American Heiress’s Life Forever

Published: 7 August 2023

By Janet Wallach
via the Literary Hub web site

Marguerite Harrison

On the one hand, Mrs. Stan Harding Krayl, as she was known in Germany, and Mrs. Marguerite Harrison had much in common. Well bred, well educated, and well traveled, both were reddish-haired beauties with mischievous gray-blue eyes, engaging smiles, and keen intellects. They were both fluent in French and German and interested in the arts, and both worked as journalists. Both were alone in Berlin: Stan, because she was seeking a divorce from her husband, a German doctor; Marguerite because she was widowed and working.

Excerpted from Flirting with Danger: The Mysterious Life of Marguerite Harrison, Socialite Spy by Janet Wallach. Copyright © 2023.

Each of them was rebellious and unafraid: As a young woman on holiday in Florence, Stan Harding broke away from her controlling parents and fled to a group of English expats. It made her feel “like a song-bird released from a cage.” Marguerite broke away from her mother’s social ambitions by marrying Thomas Bullitt Harrison.

Scion of an elite Baltimore family and twenty-five years old when she first laid eyes on him, Tom Harrison was considered the handsomest bachelor in Baltimore. Tall and strongly built, he rode well, danced like a dream, and was adored by all the debs. He was a regular, “a member,” of the bachelor balls, who stood attired in his tailcoat, aloof from anyone on his trail.

Twenty-year-old Marguerite Baker, a ripe, bright-eyed beauty and one of the “birds” at the debutante cotillion, stood out from the others in her blue tulle gown sparkling with silver. She claimed she had no serious interest in Tom, but his apathy was a conundrum and she took his disinterest as a dare.

The competition was keen. An abundance of rich, pretty girls would do most anything to win him over. It was known that he had already broken off one engagement, but then again, so had Marguerite. She was determined to snag a fiancé before the winter was over, and Tom was her target. “I had chosen my victim,” she said. She made up her mind to use the same tactics on Tom that he used on all the girls. While the others threw themselves at his feet, she “snubbed him, abused him, ignored him.” Her wicked methods just might work.

She lured him in, and then treated him with detachment. He sent her flowers and she thanked him politely; he took her for drives and she smiled sweetly; he asked her to dances and she accepted, then sometimes broke the dates and showed up with someone else. “He was piqued by my indifference,” she said.

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