The Fisherman of Pass Christian by Alice Dunbar
The swift breezes on the beach at Pass Christian meet and conflict
as though each strove for the mastery of the air. The land-breeze
blows down through the pines, resinous, fragrant, cold, bringing
breath-like memories of dim, dark woods shaded by myriad pine-needles.
The breeze from the Gulf is warm and soft and languorous, blowing up
from the south with its suggestion of tropical warmth and passion. It
is strong and masterful, and tossed Annette's hair and whipped her
skirts about her in bold disregard for the proprieties.
Arm in arm with Philip, she was strolling slowly down the great
pier which extends from the Mexican Gulf Hotel into the waters of the
Sound. There was no moon to-night, but the sky glittered and
scintillated with myriad stars, brighter than you can ever see
farther North, and the great waves that the Gulf breeze tossed up in
restless profusion gleamed with the white fire of phosphorescent
flame. The wet sands on the beach glowed white fire; the posts of the
pier where the waves had leapt and left a laughing kiss, the sides of
the little boats and fish-cars tugging at their ropes, alike showed
white and flaming, as though the sea and all it touched were afire.
Annette and Philip paused midway the pier to watch two fishermen
casting their nets. With heads bared to the breeze, they stood in
clear silhouette against the white background of sea.
"See how he uses his teeth," almost whispered Annette.
Drawing himself up to his full height, with one end of the huge
seine between his teeth, and the cord in his left hand, the taller
fisherman of the two paused a half instant, his right arm extended,
grasping the folds of the net. There was a swishing rush through the
air, and it settled with a sort of sob as it cut the waters and struck
a million sparkles of fire from the waves. Then, with backs bending
under the strain, the two men swung on the cord, drawing in the net,
laden with glittering restless fish, which were unceremoniously dumped
on the boards to be put into the fish-car awaiting them.
Philip laughingly picked up a soft, gleaming jelly-fish, and
threatened to put it on Annette's neck. She screamed, ran, slipped
on the wet boards, and in another instant would have fallen over into
the water below. The tall fisherman caught her in his arms and set
her on her feet.
"Mademoiselle must be very careful," he said in the softest and
most correct French. "The tide is in and the water very rough. It
would be very difficult to swim out there to-night."
Annette murmured confused thanks, which were supplemented by
Philip's hearty tones. She was silent until they reached the
pavilion at the end of the pier. The semi-darkness was unrelieved by
lantern or light. The strong wind wafted the strains from a couple of
mandolins, a guitar, and a tenor voice stationed in one corner to
sundry engrossed couples in sundry other corners. Philip found an
untenanted nook and they ensconced themselves therein.
"Do you know there's something mysterious about that fisherman?"
said Annette, during a lull in the wind.
"Because he did not let you go over?" inquired Philip.
"No; he spoke correctly, and with the accent that goes only with
an excellent education."
Philip shrugged his shoulders. "That's nothing remarkable. If
you stay about Pass Christian for any length of time, you'll find
more things than perfect French and courtly grace among fishermen to
surprise you. These are a wonderful people who live across the Lake."
Annette was lolling in the hammock under the big catalpa-tree some
days later, when the gate opened, and Natalie's big sun-bonnet
appeared. Natalie herself was discovered blushing in its dainty
depths. She was only a little Creole seaside girl, you must know, and
very shy of the city demoiselles. Natalie's patois was quite as
different from Annette's French as it was from the postmaster's
"Mees Annette," she began, peony-hued all over at her own
boldness, "we will have one lil' hay-ride this night, and a fish-fry
at the end. Will you come?"
Annette sprang to her feet in delight. "Will I come? Certainly.
How delightful! You are so good to ask me. What shall--what time--"
But Natalie's pink bonnet had fled precipitately down the shaded
walk. Annette laughed joyously as Philip lounged down the gallery.
"I frightened the child away," she told him.
You've never been for a hay-ride and fish-fry on the shores of the
Mississippi Sound, have you? When the summer boarders and the
Northern visitors undertake to give one, it is a comparatively staid
affair, where due regard is had for one's wearing apparel, and where
there are servants to do the hardest work. Then it isn't enjoyable at
all. But when the natives, the boys and girls who live there, make up
their minds to have fun, you may depend upon its being just the best
This time there were twenty boys and girls, a mamma or so, several
papas, and a grizzled fisherman to restrain the ardor of the amateurs.
The cart was vast and solid, and two comfortable, sleepy-looking
mules constituted the drawing power. There were also tin horns, some
guitars, an accordion, and a quartet of much praised voices. The hay
in the bottom of the wagon was freely mixed with pine needles, whose
prickiness through your hose was amply compensated for by its
After a triumphantly noisy passage down the beach one comes to the
stretch of heavy sand that lies between Pass Christian proper and
Henderson's Point. This is a hard pull for the mules, and the more
ambitious riders get out and walk. Then, after a final strain through
the shifting sands, bravo! the shell road is reached, and one goes
cheering through the pine-trees to Henderson's Point.
If ever you go to Pass Christian, you must have a fish-fry at
Henderson's Point. It is the pine-thicketed, white-beached peninsula
jutting out from the land, with one side caressed by the waters of the
Sound and the other purred over by the blue waves of the Bay of St.
Louis. Here is the beginning of the great three-mile trestle bridge
to the town of Bay St. Louis, and to-night from the beach could be
seen the lights of the villas glittering across the Bay like myriads
of unsleeping eyes.
Here upon a firm stretch of white sand camped the merry-makers.
Soon a great fire of driftwood and pine cones tossed its flames
defiantly at a radiant moon in the sky, and the fishers were casting
their nets in the sea. The more daring of the girls waded bare-legged
in the water, holding pine-torches, spearing flounders and peering for
Annette had wandered farther in the shallow water than the rest.
Suddenly she stumbled against a stone, the torch dropped and
spluttered at her feet. With a little helpless cry she looked at the
stretch of unfamiliar beach and water to find herself all alone.
"Pardon me, mademoiselle," said a voice at her elbow; "you are in
It was her fisherman, and with a scarce conscious sigh of relief,
Annette put her hand into the outstretched one at her side.
"I was looking for soft shells," she explained, "and lost the
crowd, and now my torch is out."
"Where is the crowd?" There was some amusement in the tone, and
Annette glanced up quickly, prepared to be thoroughly indignant at
this fisherman who dared make fun at her; but there was such a kindly
look about his mouth that she was reassured and said meekly,--
"At Henderson's Point."
"You have wandered a half-mile away," he mused, "and have nothing
to show for your pains but very wet skirts. If mademoiselle will
permit me, I will take her to her friends, but allow me to suggest
that mademoiselle will leave the water and walk on the sands."
"But I am barefoot," wailed Annette, "and I am afraid of the
Fiddler crabs, you know, aren't pleasant things to be dangling
around one's bare feet, and they are more numerous than sand fleas
down at Henderson's Point.
"True," assented the fisherman; "then we shall have to wade back."
The fishing was over when they rounded the point and came in sight
of the cheery bonfire with its Rembrandt-like group, and the air was
savoury with the smell of frying fish and crabs. The fisherman was
not to be tempted by appeals to stay, but smilingly disappeared down
the sands, the red glare of his torch making a glowing track in the
"Ah, Mees Annette," whispered Natalie, between mouthfuls of a rich
croaker, "you have found a beau in the water."
"And the fisherman of the Pass, too," laughed her cousin Ida.
Annette tossed her head, for Philip had growled audibly.
"Do you know, Philip," cried Annette a few days after, rudely
shaking him from his siesta on the gallery,-- "do you know that I
have found my fisherman's hut?"
"Hum," was the only response.
"Yes, and it's the quaintest, most delightful spot imaginable.
Philip, do come with me and see it."
"Oh, Philip, you are so lazy; do come with me."
"Yes, but, my dear Annette," protested Philip, "this is a warm
day, and I am tired."
Still, his curiosity being aroused, he went grumbling. It was not
a very long drive, back from the beach across the railroad and through
the pine forest to the bank of a dark, slow-flowing bayou. The
fisherman's hut was small, two-roomed, whitewashed, pine-boarded, with
the traditional mud chimney acting as a sort of support to one of its
uneven sides. Within was a weird assortment of curios from every
uncivilized part of the globe. Also were there fishing-tackle and guns
in reckless profusion. The fisherman, in the kitchen of the
mud-chimney, was sardonically waging war with a basket of little bayou
"Entrez, mademoiselle et monsieur," he said pleasantly, grabbing a
vicious crab by its flippers, and smiling at its wild attempts to
bite. "You see I am busy, but make yourself at home."
"Well, how on earth--" began Philip.
"Sh--sh--" whispered Annette. "I was driving out in the woods
this morning, and stumbled on the hut. He asked me in, but I came
right over after you."
The fisherman, having succeeded in getting the last crab in the
kettle of boiling water, came forward smiling and began to explain
"Then you have not always lived at Pass Christian," said Philip.
"Mais non, monsieur, I am spending a summer here."
"And he spends his winters, doubtless, selling fish in the French
market," spitefully soliloquised Philip.
The fisherman was looking unutterable things into Annette's eyes,
and, it seemed to Philip, taking an unconscionably long time
explaining the use of an East Indian stiletto.
"Oh, wouldn't it be delightful!" came from Annette at last.
"What?" asked Philip.
"Why, Monsieur LeConte says he'll take six of us out in his
catboat tomorrow for a fishing-trip on the Gulf."
"And I'll get Natalie and her cousins."
"Yes," still more drily.
Annette chattered on, entirely oblivious of the strainedness of
the men's adieux, and still chattered as they drove through the
"I did not know that you were going to take fishermen and
marchands into the bosom of your social set when you came here,"
growled Philip, at last.
"But, Cousin Phil, can't you see he is a gentleman? The fact that
he makes no excuses or protestations is a proof."
"You are a fool," was the polite response.
Still, at six o'clock next morning, there was a little crowd of
seven upon the pier, laughing and chatting at the little "Virginie"
dipping her bows in the water and flapping her sails in the brisk
wind. Natalie's pink bonnet blushed in the early sunshine, and
Natalie's mamma, comely and portly, did chaperonage duty. It was not
long before the sails gave swell into the breeze and the little boat
scurried to the Sound. Past the lighthouse on its gawky iron stalls,
she flew, and now rounded the white sands of Cat Island.
"Bravo, the Gulf!" sang a voice on the lookout. The little boat
dipped, halted an instant, then rushed fast into the blue Gulf
"We will anchor here," said the host, "have luncheon, and fish."
Philip could not exactly understand why the fisherman should sit
so close to Annette and whisper so much into her ears. He chafed at
her acting the part of hostess, and was possessed of a murderous
desire to throw the pink sun-bonnet and its owner into the sea, when
Natalie whispered audibly to one of her cousins that "Mees Annette act
nice wit' her lovare."
The sun was banking up flaming pillars of rose and gold in the
west when the little "Virginie" rounded Cat Island on her way home,
and the quick Southern twilight was fast dying into darkness when she
was tied up to the pier and the merry-makers sprang off with baskets
of fish. Annette had distinguished herself by catching one small
shark, and had immediately ceased to fish and devoted her attention to
her fisherman and his line. Philip had angled fiercely, landing trout,
croakers, sheepshead, snappers in bewildering luck. He had broken
each hopeless captive's neck savagely, as though they were personal
enemies. He did not look happy as they landed, though paeans of praise
were being sung in his honour.
As the days passed on, "the fisherman of the Pass" began to dance
attendance on Annette. What had seemed a joke became serious. Aunt
Nina, urged by Philip, remonstrated, and even the mamma of the pink
sunbonnet began to look grave. It was all very well for a city
demoiselle to talk with a fisherman and accept favours at his hands,
provided that the city demoiselle understood that a vast and
bridgeless gulf stretched between her and the fisherman.
But when the demoiselle forgot the gulf and the fisherman refused
to recognise it, why, it was time to take matters in hand.
To all of Aunt Nina's remonstrances, Philip's growlings, and the
averted glances of her companions, Annette was deaf. "You are
narrow-minded," she said laughingly. "I am interested in Monsieur
LeConte simply as a study. He is entertaining; he talks well of his
travels, and as for refusing to recognise the difference between us,
why, he never dreamed of such a thing."
Suddenly a peremptory summons home from Annette's father put an
end to the fears of Philip. Annette pouted, but papa must be obeyed.
She blamed Philip and Aunt Nina for telling tales, but Aunt Nina was
uncommunicative, and Philip too obviously cheerful to derive much
That night she walked with the fisherman hand in hand on the
sands. The wind from the pines bore the scarcely recognisable, subtle
freshness of early autumn, and the waters had a hint of dying summer
in their sob on the beach.
"You will remember," said the fisherman, "that I have told you
nothing about myself."
"Yes," murmured Annette.
"And you will keep your promises to me?"
"Let me hear you repeat them again."
"I promise you that I will not forget you. I promise you that I
will never speak of you to anyone until I see you again. I promise
that I will then clasp your hand wherever you may be."
"And mademoiselle will not be discouraged, but will continue her
It was all very romantic, by the waves of the Sound, under a
harvest moon, that seemed all sympathy for these two, despite the
fact that it was probably looking down upon hundreds of other equally
romantic couples. Annette went to bed with glowing cheeks, and a
heart whose pulsations would have caused a physician to prescribe
It was still hot in New Orleans when she returned home, and it
seemed hard to go immediately to work. But if one is going to be an
opera-singer some day and capture the world with one's voice, there is
nothing to do but to study, study, sing, practise, even though one's
throat be parched, one's head a great ache, and one's heart a nest of
discouragement and sadness at what seems the uselessness of it all.
Annette had now a new incentive to work; the fisherman had once
praised her voice when she hummed a barcarole on the sands, and he had
insisted that there was power in its rich notes. Though the fisherman
had showed no cause why he should be accepted as a musical critic,
Annette had somehow respected his judgment and been accordingly
It was the night of the opening of the opera. There was the usual
crush, the glitter and confusing radiance of the brilliant audience.
Annette, with papa, Aunt Nina, and Philip, was late reaching her box.
The curtain was up, and "La Juive" was pouring forth defiance at her
angry persecutors. Annette listened breathlessly. In fancy, she too
was ringing her voice out to an applauding house. Her head
unconsciously beat time to the music, and one hand half held her cloak
from her bare shoulders.
Then Eleazar appeared, and the house rose at the end of his song.
Encores it gave, and bravos and cheers. He bowed calmly, swept his
eyes over the tiers until they found Annette, where they rested in a
half-smile of recognition.
"Philip," gasped Annette, nervously raising her glasses, "my
"Yes, an opera-singer is better than a marchand," drawled Philip.
The curtain fell on the first act. The house was won by the new
tenor; it called and recalled him before the curtain. Clearly he had
sung his way into the hearts of his audience at once.
"Papa, Aunt Nina," said Annette, "you must come behind the scenes
with me. I want you to meet him. He is delightful. You must come."
Philip was bending ostentatiously over the girl in the next box.
Papa and Aunt Nina consented to be dragged behind the scenes. Annette
was well known, for, in hopes of some day being an occupant of one of
the dressing-rooms, she had made friends with everyone connected with
Eleazar received them, still wearing his brown garb and
"How you deceived me!" she laughed, when the greetings and
introductions were over.
"I came to America early," he smiled back at her, "and thought I'd
try a little incognito at the Pass. I was not well, you see. It has
been of great benefit to me."
"I kept my promise," she said in a lower tone.
"Thank you; that also has helped me."
Annette's teacher began to note a wonderful improvement in his
pupil's voice. Never did a girl study so hard or practise so
faithfully. It was truly wonderful. Now and then Annette would say
to papa as if to reassure herself,--
"And when Monsieur Cherbart says I am ready to go to Paris, I may
And papa would say a "Certainly" that would send her back to the
piano with renewed ardour.
As for Monsieur LeConte, he was the idol of New Orleans. Seldom
had there been a tenor who had sung himself so completely into the
very hearts of a populace. When he was billed, the opera displayed
"Standing Room" signs, no matter what the other attractions in the
city might be. Sometimes Monsieur LeConte delighted small audiences
in Annette's parlour, when the hostess was in a perfect flutter of
happiness. Not often, you know, for the leading tenor was in great
demand at the homes of society queens.
"Do you know," said Annette, petulantly, one evening, "I wish for
the old days at Pass Christian."
"So do I," he answered tenderly; "will you repeat them with me
"If I only could!" she gasped.
Still she might have been happy, had it not been for Madame
Dubeau,--Madame Dubeau, the flute-voiced leading soprano, who wore
the single dainty curl on her forehead, and thrilled her audiences
oftentimes more completely than the fisherman. Madame Dubeau was La
Juive to his Eleazar, Leonore to his Manfred, Elsa to his Lohengrin,
Aida to his Rhadames, Marguerite to his Faust; in brief, Madame Dubeau
was his opposite. She caressed him as Mignon, pleaded with him as
Michaela, died for him in "Les Huguenots," broke her heart for love of
him in "La Favorite." How could he help but love her, Annette asked
herself, how could he? Madame Dubeau was beautiful and gifted and
Once she whispered her fears to him when there was the meagrest
bit of an opportunity. He laughed. "You don't understand, little
one," he said tenderly; "the relations of professional people to each
other are peculiar. After you go to Paris, you will know."
Still, New Orleans had built up its romance, and gossiped
"Have you heard the news?" whispered Lola to Annette, leaning from
her box at the opera one night. The curtain had just gone up on
"Herodias," and for some reason or other, the audience applauded with
more warmth than usual. There was a noticeable number of
good-humoured, benignant smiles on the faces of the applauders.
"No," answered Annette, breathlessly,--"no, indeed, Lola; I am
going to Paris next week. I am so delighted I can't stop to think."
"Yes, that is excellent," said Lola, "but all New Orleans is
smiling at the romance. Monsieur LeConte and Madame Dubeau were
quietly married last night, but it leaked out this afternoon. See all
the applause she's receiving!"
Annette leaned back in her chair, very white and still. Her box
was empty after the first act, and a quiet little tired voice that
was almost too faint to be heard in the carriage on the way home,
"Papa, I don't think I care to go to Paris, after all."