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Chapter 10

Concha had eaten no supper. As she entered the sala she clapped her hands, the guests ranged themselves against the wall, the musicians, livelier than ever, flew to their instruments; with the drifting, swaying movement she could assume at will, she went slowly, absently, to the middle of the room. Then she let her head drop backward, as if with the weight of her hair, and Rezanov, vaguely angry, expected one of those appeals to the senses for which Spanish women of another sort were notorious. But Concha, after tapping the floor alternately with the points and the wooden heels of her slippers, for a few moments, suddenly made an imperious gesture to Ignacio Sal. He sprang to her side, took her hand, and once more there was the same monotonous tapping of toes and heels. Then they whirled apart, bent their lithe backs until their brows almost touched the floor in a salute of mock admiration, and danced to and from each other, coquetry in the very tilt of her eyebrows, the bare semblance of masculine indulgence on his eager, passionate face. Suddenly to the surprise of all, she snapped her fingers directly under his nose, waved her hand, turned her back, and made a peremptory gesture to that other enamoured young swain, Captain Antonio Castro of Monterey. Don Ignacio, surprised and discomfited, retired amidst the jeers of his friends, and Concha, with her most vivacious and gracious manner, met Castro half way, and, taking his hand, danced up and down the sala, slowly and with many improvisations. Then, as they returned to the center of the room and stepped lightly apart before joining in a gay whirl, she snapped her fingers under HIS nose, made a gesture of dismissal over her shoulder, and fluttered an uplifted hand in the direction of Sturgis. Again there was a delighted laughter, again a discomforted knight and a triumphant partner.

"Concha always gives us something we do not expect," said Santiago to Rezanov, whose eyes were twinkling. "The other girls dance El Son and La Jota very gracefully--yes. But Conchita dances with her head, and the musicians and the partner, when she takes one, have all they can do to follow. She will choose you, next, senor."

Rezanov turned cold, and measured the distance to the door. "I hope not!" he said. "I should hate nothing so much as to make an exhibition of myself. The dances I know--that is all very well--but to improvise--for the love of heaven help me to get out!"

But Santiago, who was watching his sister intently, replied: "Wait a moment, Excellency. I do not think she will choose another. I know by her feet that she intends to dance El Son--in her own way, of course--after all."

Concha circled about the room twice with Sturgis, lifted him to the seventh heaven of expectancy, dismissed him as abruptly as the others. Lifting her chin with an expression of supreme disdain for all his sex, she stood a moment, swaying, her arms hanging at her sides.

"I am glad she will not dance with Weeliam," muttered Santiago. "I love him--yes; but the Spanish dance is not for the Bostonian."

Rezanov awaited her performance with an interest that caused him some cynical amusement. But in a moment he had surrendered to her once more as a creature of inexhaustible surprise. The musicians, watching her, began to play more slowly. Concha, her arms still supine, her head lifted, her eyes half veiled, began to dance in a stately and measured fashion that seemed to powder her hair and dissolve the partitions before an endless vista of rooms. Rezanov had a sudden vision of the Hall of the Ambassadors in the royal palace at Madrid, where, when a young man on his travels, he had attended a state ball. There he had seen the most dignified beauties of Europe dance at the most formal of its courts. But Concha created the illusion of having stepped down from the throne in some bygone fashion to dance alone for her subjects and adorers.

She raised her arms, barely budding at the top, with a gesture that was not only the poetry of grace but as though bestowing some royal favor; when she curved and swayed her body, again it was with the lofty sweetness of one too highly placed to descend to mere seductiveness. She glided up and down, back and forth, with a dreamy revealing motion as if assisting to shape some vague impassioned image in the brain of a poet. She lifted her little feet in a manner that transformed boards into clouds. There were moments when she seemed actually to soar.

"She is a little genius!" thought Rezanov enthusiastically. "Anything could be made of a woman like that."

It was not her dancing alone that interested him, but its effect on her audience. The young men had begun with audible expressions of approval. They were now shouting and stamping and clapping. Suddenly, as once more she danced back to the very center of the room, her bosom heaving, her eyes like stars, her red lips parted, Don Ignacio, long since recovered from his spleen, invaded his pocket and flung a handful of silver at her feet. It was a signal. Gold and silver coins, chains, watches, jewels, bounced over the floor, to be laughingly ignored. Rezanov looked on in amazement, wondering if this were a part of the performance and if he should follow suit. But after a glance at the faces of the young men, lost to everything but their passionate admiration for the unique and beautiful dancing of their Favorita, and when Sturgis, after wildly searching in his pockets, tore a large pearl from the lace of his stock, he doubted no longer--nor hesitated. Fastened by a blue ribbon to the fourth button of his closely fitting coat was a golden key, the outward symbol of his rank at court. He detached it, then made a sudden gesture that caught her attention. For a moment their eyes met. He tossed her the bauble, and mechanically she lifted her hand and caught it. Then she laughed confusedly, shrugged her shoulders, bowed graciously to her audience, and signalled to the musicians to stop. Rezanov was at her side in a moment.

"You must be tired," he said. "I insist that you come out on the veranda and rest."

"Very well," she said indifferently; "it is quite time we all went out to the air. Santiago mio, wilt thou bring my reboso--the white one?"

Santiago, more flushed than his sister at her triumphs, fetched the long strip of silk, and Rezanov detached her from her eager court and led her without. Elena Castro followed closely, yet with a cavalier of her own that her friend might talk freely with this interesting stranger. The night air was cool and stimulating. The hills were black under the sparks of white fire in the high arch of the California sky. In the Presidio square were long blue shadows that might have been reflections of the smoldering blue beyond the stars. Rezanov and Concha sat on the railing at the end of the "corridor."

"It is a custom--all that very material admiration?" he asked.

"A very old one, but not too often followed. Otherwise we should not prize it. But when some Favorita outdoes herself then she receives the greatest reward that man can think of--gold and silver jewels. We do not dare to return the tributes in common fashion, but they have a way of appearing where they belong as soon as their owners are supposed to have forgotten the incident. As you are not a Californian, senor, I take the liberty of returning this without any foolish subterfuge." She handed him his contribution. "I thank you all the same. It was a spontaneous act, and I am very proud."

He accepted the key awkwardly, not daring to press it upon her, with the obvious banalities. But he felt a sudden desire to give her something, and, nothing better offering, he gathered half a dozen roses and laid them on her lap.

"I was disappointed that you did not wear your roses to-night," he said. "I associate them with you in my thoughts. Will you put one in your hair?"

She found a place for two and thrust another in the neck of her gown. The rest she held closely in her hands. Then he noticed that she was very white, and again she shivered.

"You are cold and tired," he murmured, his eyes melting to hers. "It was entrancing, but I hope never to see you give so much of yourself to others again." His hand in arranging the reboso touched hers. It lingered, and she stared up at him, helplessly, her eyes wide, her lips parted. She reminded him of a rabbit caught in a trap, and he had a sudden and violent revulsion of feeling. He rose and offered his arm. "I should be a brute if I kept you talking out here. Slip off and go to bed. I shall start the guests, for I am very tired myself."


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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