As the little ship that had three times raced with death sailed past the gray headlands and into the straits of San Francisco on that brilliant April morning of 1806, Rezanov forgot the bitter humiliations, the mental and physical torments, the deprivations and dangers of the past three years; forgot those harrowing months in the harbor of Nagasaki when the Russian bear had caged his tail in the presence of eyes aslant; his dismay at Kamchatka when he had been forced to send home an- other to vindicate his failure, and to remain in the Tsar's incontiguous and barbarous northeastern possessions as representative of his Imperial Majesty, and plenipotentiary of the Company his own genius had created; forgot the year of loneliness and hardship and peril in whose jaws the bravest was impotent; forgot even his pitiable crew, diseased when he left Sitka, that had filled the Juno with their groans and laments; and the bells of youth, long still, rang in his soul once more.
"It is the spring in California," he thought, with a sigh that curled at the edge. "However," life had made him philosophical; "the moments of unreasonable happiness are the most enviable no doubt, for there is neither gall nor satiety in the reaction. All this is as enchanting as--well, as a woman's promise. What lies beyond? Illiterate and mercenary Spaniards, vicious natives, and boundless ennui, one may safely wager. But if all California is as beautiful as this, no man that has spent a winter in Sitka should ask for more."
In the extent and variety of his travels Rezanov had seen Nature more awesome of feature but never more fair. On his immediate right as he sailed down the straits toward the narrow entrance to be known as the Golden Gate, there was little to interest save the surf and the masses of outlying rocks where the seals leapt and barked; the shore beyond was sandy and low. But on his left the last of the northern mountains rose straight from the water, the warm red of its deeply indented cliffs rich in harmony with the green of slope and height. There was not a tree; the mountains, the promontories, the hills far down on the right beyond the sand dunes, looked like stupendous waves of lava that had cooled into every gracious line and fold within the art of relenting Nature; granted ages after, a light coat of verdure to clothe the terrible mystery of birth. The great bay, as blue and tranquil as a high mountain lake, as silent as if the planet still slept after the agonies of labor, looked to be broken by a number of promontories, rising from their points far out in the water to the high back of the land; but as the Juno pursued her slanting way down the channel Rezanov saw that the most imposing of these was but the end of a large island, and that scattered near were other islands, masses of rock like the castellated heights that rise abruptly from the plains of Italy and Spain; far away, narrow straits, with a glittering expanse beyond; while bounding the whole eastern rim of this splendid sheet of water was a chain of violet hills, with the pale green mist of new grass here and there, and purple hollows that might mean groves of trees crouching low against the cold winds of summer; in the soft pale blue haze above and beyond, the lofty volcanic peak of a mountain range. Not a human being, not a boat, not even a herd of cattle was to be seen, and Rezanov, for a moment forgetting to exult in the length of Russia's arm, yielded himself to the subtle influence abroad in the air, and felt that he could dream as he had dreamed in a youth when the courts of Europe to the boy were as fabulous as El Dorado in the immensity of ancestral seclusions.
"It is like the approach to paradise, is it not, Excellency?" a deferential voice murmured at his elbow.
The plenipotentiary frowned without turning his head. Dr. Langsdorff, surgeon and naturalist, had accompanied the Embassy to Japan, and although Rezanov had never found any man more of a bore and would willingly have seen the last of him at Kamchatka, a skilful dispenser of drugs and mender of bones was necessary in his hazardous voyages, and he retained him in his suite. Langsdorff returned his polite tolerance with all the hidden resources of his spleen; but his curiosity and scientific enthusiasm would have sustained him through greater trials than the exactions of an autocrat, whom at least he had never ceased to respect in the most trying moments at Nagasaki.
"Yes," said Rezanov. "But I wonder you find anything to admire in such unportable objects as mountains and water. I have not seen a living thing but gulls and seal, and God knows we had enough of both at Sitka."
"Ah, your excellency, in a land as fertile as this, and caressed by a climate that would coax life from a stone, there must be an infinite number of aquatic and aerial treasures that will add materially to the scientific lore of Europe."
"Humph!" said Rezanov, and moved his shoulder in an uncontrollable gesture of dismissal. But the spell of the April morning was broken, although the learned doctor was not to be the only offender.
The Golden Gate is but a mile in width and the swift current carried the Juno toward a low promontory from the base of which a shrill cry suddenly ascended. Rezanov, raising his glass, saw that what he had taken to be a pile of fallen rocks was a fort, and that a group of excited men stood at its gates. Once more the plenipotentiary on a delicate mission, he ordered the two naval officers sailing the ship to come forward, and retired to the dignified isolation of the cabin.
The high-spirited young officers, who would have raised a gay hurrah at the sight of civilized man had it not been for the awe in which they held their chief, saluted the Spaniards formally, then stood in an attitude of extreme respect; the Juno was directly under the guns of the fort.
One of the Spaniards raised a speaking trumpet and shouted:
"Who are you?"
No one on the Juno, save Rezanov, could speak a word of Spanish, but the tone of the query was its own interpreter. The oldest of the lieutenants, through the ship's trumpet, shouted back:
The Spanish officer made a peremptory gesture that the ship come to anchor in the shelter given by an immense angle of the mainland, of which the fort's point was the western extreme. The Russians, as befitted the peaceful nature of their mission, obeyed without delay. Before their resting place, and among the sand hills a mile from the beach, was a quadrangle of buildings some two hundred feet square and surrounded by a wall about fourteen feet high and seven feet thick. This they knew to be the Presidio. They saw the officers that had hailed them gallop over the hill behind the fort to the more ambitious enclosure, and, in the square, confer with another group that seemed to be in a corresponding state of excitement. A few moments later a deputation of officers, accompanied by a priest in the brown habit of the Franciscan order, started on horseback for the beach. Rezanov ordered Lieutenant Davidov and Dr. Langsdorff to the shore as his representatives.
The Spaniards wore the undress uniform of black and scarlet in which they had been surprised, but their peaked straw hats were decorated with cords of gold or silver, the tassels hanging low on the broad brim; their high deer-skin boots were gaily embroidered, and bristled with immense silver spurs. The commanding officer alone had invested himself with a gala serape, a square of red cloth with a bound and embroidered slit for the head. Leading the rapid procession, his left hand resting significantly on his sword, he was a fine specimen of the young California grandee, dark and dashing and reckless, lithe of figure, thoroughbred, ardent. His eyes were sparkling at the prospect of excitement; not only had the Russians, by their nefarious appropriation of the northwestern corner of the continent and a recent piratical excursion in pursuit of otter, inspired the Spanish Government with a profound disapproval and mistrust, but a rumor had run up the coast that made every sea-gull look like the herald of a hostile fleet. This was young Arguello's first taste of command, and life was dull on the northern peninsula; he would have welcomed a declaration of war.
Davidov and Langsdorff had come to shore in one of the JUNO'S canoes. The conversation was held in Latin between the two men of learning.
"Who are you and whence come you?" asked the priest.
Langsdorff, who had been severely drilled by the plenipotentiary as to text, replied with a profound bow: "We are Russians engaged in completing the circumnavigation of the globe. It was our intention to go directly to Monterey and present our official documents, as well as our respects, to your illustrious Governor, but owing to contrary winds and a resultant scarcity of provisions, we were under the necessity of putting into the nearest harbor. The Juno is navigated by Lieutenant Davidov and Lieutenant Khovstov, of the Imperial Navy of Russia; by gracious permission associated with the Marine of the Russo-American Company." He paused a moment, and then swept out his trump card with a magnificent flourish: "Our expedition is in command of His Excellency, Privy Counsellor and Grand Chamberlain Baron Rezanov, late Ambassador to the Court of Japan, Plenipotentiary of the Russo-American Company, Imperial Inspector of the extreme eastern and northwestern American dominions of His Imperial Majesty, Alexander the First, Emperor of all the Russias, whose representatives in these waters he is."
The Spaniards were properly impressed as the priest translated with the glibness of the original; but Arguello, who announced himself as Commandante ad interim of the Presidio of San Francisco during the absence of his father at Monterey, nodded sagely several times, and then held a short conference in Spanish with the interpreter. The priest turned to the Russians with a smile as diplomatic as that which Rezanov had drilled upon the ugly ingenuous countenance of his medicine man.
"Our illustrious Governor, Don Jose Arrillaga, received word from the court of Spain, now quite two years ago, of the sailing in 1803 from Kronstadt of the ships Nadeshda and Neva, in command of Captain Krusenstern and Captain Lisiansky, the former having on board the illustrious Ambassador to Japan, the Privy Counsellor and Chamberlain de Rezanov. It was expected that these ships would touch at more than one of His Most Holy Catholic Majesty's vast dominions, and all viceroys and gobernador proprietarios were alike instructed to receive the exalted representatives of the mighty Em- peror of Russia with hospitality and respect. But we cannot understand why his excellency comes to us so late and in so small a ship, rather than in the state with which he sailed from Europe."
"The explanation is simple, my father. The original ships, from a variety of circumstances, were, upon our arrival at Kamchatka, at the conclusion of the embassy to Japan, under the necessity of returning at once to Europe. His Imperial Majesty, Alexander the First, ordered the Chamberlain and plenipotentiary, the representative of imperial power in the Russo-American possessions, to remove to the Juno for the purpose of visiting the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, Kadiak and the northwestern coast of America." The Tsar had never heard of the Juno, but as Rezanov was practically his august self in these far-away waters, there was enough of truth in this statement to appease the conscience of a subordinate.
The Spaniards were satisfied. Lieutenant Arguello begged that the emissaries would return to the ship and invite the Chamberlain and his party to come at once to the Presidio and do it the honor to partake of the poor hospitality it afforded. An officer galloped furiously for horses.
A few moments later they were still more deeply impressed by the appearance of their distinguished visitor as he stood erect in the boat that brought him to shore. In full uniform of dark green and gold lace, with cocked hat and the splendid order of St. Ann on his breast, Rezanov was by far the finest specimen of a man the Californians, themselves of ampler build than their European ancestors, had ever beheld. Of commanding stature and physique, with an air of highest breeding and repose, he looked both a man of the great world and an intolerant leader of men. His long oval face was thin and somewhat lined, the mouth heavily moulded and closely set, suggestive of sarcasm and humor; the nose long, with arching and flexible nostrils. His eyes, seldom widely opened, were light blue, very keen, usually cold. Like many other men of his position in Europe, he had discarded wig and queue and wore his short fair hair unpowdered.
It was a singularly imposing but hardly attractive presence, thought young Arguello, until Rezanov, after stepping on shore and bowing formally, suddenly smiled and held out his hand. Then the impressionable Spaniard "melted like a woman," as he told his sister, Concha, and would have embraced the stranger on either cheek had not awe lingered to temper his enthusiasm. But Rezanov never made a stauncher friend than Louis Arguello, who vowed to the last of his days that the one man who had fulfilled his ideal of the grand seigneur was he that sailed in from the North on that fateful April morning of 1806.
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