Pearls Astray: a Romantic Episode of the Last Democracy
by Constance M. Warren
158 pgs. Small, Maynard and Company, 1920
Illustrations by J. Harleston Parker
Pierpont lounged in a long chair on the terrace in a suit of Panama cloth and a tie of art green. His hair was wet and smooth although ravaged by the storms of forty-two years. He was a charming picture for a hot day, a smart man just emerged from his tub and enjoying the afternoon in dignified repose.
At his side a wicker table held a tumbler, a bowl of ice, a box of cigars and a newspaper. The latter was still folded and Pierpont’s angular face, a buttermilk blond, was turned toward the town far below, where smoke arose slowly from many chimneys on its way to enrich the atmosphere.
The town was largely Pierpont’s on account of an ancestor with a scent for waterpower, and the chimneys belonged to his family’s mills…
So begins this winking comedy of manners written 91 years ago by an author now almost completely forgotten.
But Pierpont Cary’s reverie is interrupted post-haste when his nephew arrives accompanied by a wily young beauty who catches Pierpont’s eye and quickly comes between him and his wife, Elspeth. Not that Elspeth is much concerned – her energies are focused on the League for Social Emancipation, a women’s organization that fights for social justice. As secretary of this group, she has invited a labor organizer by the name of Simeon Wade to address the league at the Cary’s New England estate. Unrest in the city is indeed afoot, and after an overnight revolution Wade finds himself the lord of the mansion. Wade and the Cary’s servants move into the house where they play at being socialites, and the aristocrats are dispatched to the servants’ quarters and to carrying out the household chores of cooking, cleaning, gardening, and maintenance.
Witticisms are found on almost every page of this short novel, and the pen-and-ink drawings provide a fitting flapper-era complement to this trading-places, class-warfare confection.