Delta Pearl [Book]

Delta Pearl is a 1989 historical romance novel written by Antoinette Bronson and Maureen Woodcock under the penname Maureen Bronson and published by Harlequin Books. The story takes place in 1895 during the pearl rush along the rivers of eastern Arkansas.

The novel opens in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Jena Louise Veray eager to flee town and the attentions of Frank Bauer, her fiancé who has, since their engagement, turned abusive. To get travel money, she goes to Hiram’s pawn shop to sell a silver tea service and wedding presents. There, she meets Andrew Wade, who is there to sell a Stradivarius violin for a woman named Faith O’Rourke before he takes a train away from Cincinnati. Jena, Andrew, and Faith all end up on the same train to Memphis, Tennessee. There, Andrew intends to meet up with an inventor friend named Edward Scully, while Jena plans to go on to New Orleans, Louisiana.

However, Andrew finds that Scully accidentally blew up the workshop where he had been assembling a prototype diesel engine, while Jena has her purse snatched and thus her money and train tickets taken, leading her to find Faith’s boardinghouse as a last resort. At a bar with Scully, Andrew sees someone come in and display pearls he found inside freshwater mussels in Arkansas. Andrew decides to take his chances in Arkansas, sending Scully to buy mules and supplies for a trip to the White River. Meanwhile, a private detective comes to Faith’s place, looking for Jena, and Faith acknowledges to Jena that entertainer jobs have dried up for her since she refused to do burlesque. Jena and Faith both decide to accompany the men west.

Four days after setting out, they reach the White River. They are not alone for long: “Each day brought new masses of pearl hunters to join the already teeming banks, and frenzied prospectors littered the area.” They decide to relocate to the Black River. There, Jena and Andrew declare their love for each other, and the group creates, using Scully’s plans, a makeshift barge and dredger to aid their pearling operation. The group finds an immense pearl, and Jena reveals she is pregnant with Andrew’s child. They go to Memphis to sell some of their findings and briefly become the object of media attention before Andrew and Jena are married.

While on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Jena is kidnapped by Frank Bauer. The other three catch up to Bauer’s barge and are able to rescue Jena, who has been severely battered; consequently, she miscarriages. They continue down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where Jena recovers. Andrew drugs Bauer and dumps him on a merchant ship heading toward East Asia. The group meets a pearl broker named Dory Jacroux, who is able to sell the bulk of their pearls for nearly $250,000. Andrew and Scully decide to establish a cannery in Biloxi, Mississippi, with some of their money, bringing on the women as equal partners. While the men are away developing the cannery site, Jena learns from Dory the art of pearl peeling, or removing outer layers of nacre to enhance its luster, before the women move to Biloxi. Soon, Faith and Scully are married.

Jena pushes Andrew to implement a progressive managerial policy at the cannery, including opening a school for the children of workers. However, Jena remains depressed at her continuing state of childlessness, and the reforms she initiated at the cannery result in their business being blacklisted by the Biloxi Businessmen’s Association. When Dory invites them to a pearl liquidation in Paris, France, Andrew has the idea of exporting their goods to Europe. In Paris, Dory’s wife, Monique, attempts to seduce Andrew, while Dory attempts to seduce Jena, but both fail. However, Jena comes to believe that she is holding Andrew back and so, despite her feelings, asks for a divorce, aiming to set him free. Andrew leaves a note for Jena, but Dory intercepts it.

In London, at a pearl auction, Monique finds Andrew’s note and gives it to Jena, who immediately heads back to the United States. She arrives back in Biloxi right as Faith gives birth to twins, but Andrew is delayed due to his steamer being damaged in a Caribbean hurricane along the way, leaving Jena to take on more of the cannery’s management in his absence. Andrew finally returns, and the book ends with Jena discovering that she is once again pregnant.

For additional information:
Bronson, Maureen. Delta Pearl. New York: Harlequin Books, 1989.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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