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Chapter 11

He did not talk with her again for several days. He called in state, but remained only a few moments. His officers went to several impromptu dances at the Presidio and Mission, but he pleaded fatigue, natural in the damaged state of his constitution, and left the ship only for a gallop over the hills or down the coast with Luis Arguello.

But he had never felt better. At the end of a week his pallor had gone, his skin was tanned and fresh. Even his wretched crew were different men. They were given much leave on shore, and already might be seen escorting the serving-women over the hills in the late afternoon. Rezanov gave them a long rope, although he knew they must be germinating with a mutinous distaste of the Russian north; he kept strict watch over them and would have given a deserter his due without an instant's pause.

The estafette that had gone with Luis' letters to Monterey had taken one from Rezanov as well, asking permission to pay a visit of ceremony to the Governor. Five days later the plenipotentiary received a polite welcome to California, and protest against another long journey; the humble servant of the King of Spain would himself go to San Francisco at once and offer the hospitality of California to the illustrious representative of the Em- peror of all the Russias.

Rezanov was not only annoyed at the Governor's evident determination that he should see as little as possible of the insignificant military equipment of California, but at the delay to his own plans for exploration. He knew that Luis would dare take him upon no expedition into the heart of the country without the consent of the Governor, and he began to doubt this consent would be given. But he was determined to see the bay, at least, and he no sooner read the diplomatic epistle from Monterey than he decided to accomplish this part of his purpose before the arrival of the Governor or Don Jose. He knew the material he had to deal with at the moment, but nothing of that already, no doubt, on its way to the north.

Early in the morning after the return of the courier he wrote an informal note to Dona Ignacia, asking her to give him the honor of entertaining her for a day on the Juno, and to bring all the young people she would. As the weather was so fine, he hoped to see them in time for chocolate at nine o'clock. He knew that Luis, who was pressingly included in the invitation, had left at daybreak for his father's rancho, some thirty miles to the south.

There was a flutter at the Presidio when the invitation of the Chamberlain was made known. The compliment was not unexpected, but there had been a lively speculation as to what form the Russian's return of hospitality would take. Concha, whose tides had thundered and ebbed many times since the night of her party, submerging the happy inconsequence of her sixteen years, but leaving her unshaken spirit with wide clarified vision, felt young to-day from sheer reaction. She would listen to no protest from her prudent mother and smothered her with kisses and a torrent of words.

"But, my Conchita," gasped Dona Ignacia, "I have much to do. Thy father and his excellency come in two days. And perhaps they would not approve--before they are here!--to go on the foreign ship! If Luis were not gone! Ay yi! Ay yi!"

"We go, we go, madre mia! And his excellency will give you a shawl. I feel it! I know it! And if we go now we disobey no law. Have they ever said we could not visit a foreign ship when they were not here? We are light-headed, irresponsible women. And if they should not let us go! If the Governor and the Russian should disagree! Now we have the opportunity for such a day as we never have had before. We should be imbeciles. We go, madre mia, we go!"

So it proved. At a few minutes before nine the Senora Arguello, clad in her best black skirt and jacket, a red shawl embroidered with yellow draped over her bust with unconquerable grace, and a black reboso folded about her fine proud head, rode down to the beach with Ana Paula on the aquera behind and Gertrudis Rudisinda on her arm. The boys howled on the corridor, but the good senora felt she could not too liberally construe the kind invitation of a chamberlain of the Russian Court.

Behind her rode Concha, in white with a pink reboso; Rafaella Sal, Carolina Xime'no, Herminia Lopez, Delfina Rivera, the only other girls at the Presidio old enough to grace such an occasion; Sturgis, who happened to have spent the night at the Presidio, Gervasio, Santiago and Lieutenant Rivera. Castro had returned to Monterey, Sal was officer of the day, and the other young men had sulkily declined to be the guests of a man who looked as haughty as the Tsar himself and betrayed no disposition to recognize in Spain the first nation of Europe. But no one missed them. The girls, in their flowered muslins and bright rebosos, the men in gay serapes and embroidered botas, looked a fine mass of color as they galloped down to the beach and laughed and chattered as youth must on so glorious a morning. Even Sturgis, always careful to be as nearly one with these people as his different appearance and temperament would permit, wore clothes of green linen, a ruffled shirt, deer-skin botas and sombrero.

Three of the ship's canoes awaited the guests, and as not one of the women had ever set foot in a boat, there was a chorus of shrieks. Dona Ignacia murmured an audible prayer, and clutched Gertrudis Rudisinda to her breast.

"Madre de Dios! The water! I cannot!" she muttered. But Santiago took her firmly by one elbow, Sturgis by the other, Davidov caught up the children with a reassuring laugh, and in a moment she was trembling in the middle of the canoe. Concha had already leaped into the second and waved a careless little salutation to the Juno. Her eyes sparkled. Her nostrils fluttered. She felt indifferent to everything but the certain pleasure of the day. Rezanov was sure to be charming. What mattered the morrow, and possible nights of doubt, despair, hatred of life and wondering self-contempt?

Rezanov awaited the canoes in the prow of the ship. He wore undress uniform and a cap instead of the cocked hat of ceremony which had excited their awe. He too tingled with a sense of youthful gaiety and adventure. As he helped his guests up the side of the vessel and listened to the delightful laughter of the girls, saw the dancing eyes of even the haughty and reserved Santiago, he also dismissed the morrow from his thoughts.

As Dona Ignacia was hauled to the deck, uttering embarrassed apologies for bringing the two little girls, Rezanov protested that he adored children, patted their heads and told off a young sailor to amuse them.

Four tables on the deck were set with coffee, chocolate, Russian tea, and strange sweets that the cook had fashioned from ingredients to which his skilful fingers had long been strangers.

Dona Ignacia sat beside the host, and when she had tried both the tea and the coffee and had demanded the recipe of the sweets, he said casually: "After breakfast I shall ask you to go down to the cabin for a few moments. I bought the cargo with the Juno, and find there are several articles which I shall beg as a great favor to present to my kindest hostesses and the young girls she has been good enough to bring to my ship. Shawls and ells of cotton and all that sort of thing are of no use to a bachelor, and I hope you will rid me of some of them."

Dona Ignacia lost all interest in the breakfast, and presently, murmuring an excuse, was escorted by Langsdorff down to the cabin. When the light repast was over, Rezanov made a signal to several sailors who awaited commands, and they sprang to the anchor and sails.

"We are going to have a cruise," announced the host to his guests. "The bay is very smooth, there is a fine breeze, we shall neither be becalmed nor otherwise the sport of inclement waters. I know that most of you have never seen this beautiful bay and that you will enjoy its scenery as much as I shall."

He moved to Concha's side and dropped his voice. "This is for you, senorita," he said. "You want change, variety, and I have planned to give you all that I can in one day. I expect you to be happy."

"I shall be," she said dryly, "if only in watching a diplomat get his way. You will see every corner of our bay, and I shall have the delightful sensation of doing something for which I cannot be held responsible."

He laughed. "I am quite willing that you should understand me," he said. "But it is true that I thought as much of you as of myself."

In a few moments the ship was under way. Santiago and Sturgis had gone down to the cabin to reassure Dona Ignacia, who uttered a loud cry as the Juno gave a preliminary lurch. Gervasio and Rivera had opened their eyes as Rezanov abruptly unfolded his plan, but dropped them sleepily before the delight of the girls. After all, it was none of their affair, and what was a bay? If they requested him, as a point of honor, to refrain from examining the battery of Yerba Buena with his glass, their consciences would be as light as their hearts.

As Rezanov stood alone with Concha in the prow of the ship and alternately cast softened eyes on her intense, rapt face, and shrewd glances on the ramifications of the bay, he congratulated himself upon his precipitate action and the collusion of nature. They were sailing east, and would turn to the north in a moment. The mountain range bent abruptly at the entrance to the bay, encircling the immense sheet of water in a chain of every altitude and form: a long hard undulating line against the bright blue sky; smooth and dimpled slopes as round as cones, bare but for the green of their grasses; lofty ridges tapering to hills in the curve at the north but with blue peaks multiplying beyond. There were dense forests in deep canyons on the mountainside, bare and jagged heights, the graceful sweep of valleys, promontories leaping out from the mainland like mammoth crocodiles guarding the bay. The view of the main waters was broken by the largest of the islands, but far away were the hills of the east and the soft blue peaks behind. And over all, hills and valley and canyon and mountain, was a bright opalescent mist. Green, pink, and other pale colors gleamed as behind a thin layer of crystal. Where the sun shone through a low white cloud upon a distant slope there might have been a great globe of iridescent glass illuminated within. The water was a light, soft, filmy yet translucent blue. Concha gazed with parted lips.

"I never knew before how wonderful it was," she murmured. "I have been taught to believe that only the south is beautiful, and when we had to come here again from Santa Barbara it was exile. But now I am glad I was born in the north."

"I have watched the light on these hills and islands, and what I could see of the fine lines of the mountains ever since I came, and were there but villas and castles, these waters would be far more beautiful than the Lake of Como or the Bay of Naples. But I am glad to see trees again. From our anchorage I had but a bare glimpse of two or three. They seem to hide from the western winds. Are they so strong, then?"

"We have terrible winds, senor. I do not wonder the trees crouch to the east. But I must tell you our names." She pointed to the largest of the islands, a great bare mass that looked as had it been, when viscid, flung out in long folds from a central peak, concaving here and there with its own weight. Its southern point was on a line with a point of mainland far to the west, and its northern, from their vantage looking to be but a continuation of the curve of the mainland, finished an arc of almost perfect proportions, whose deep curve was a tumbled mass of hills and one great mountain. "That is Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, and it opens a triple jaw, Luis has told me, at Point Tiburon--you will soon see the straits between. The big rock over there is Alcatraz, and farther away still is Yerba Buena--that looks like a camel on its knees."

But Rezanov was examining the scene before him. The lines of this bay within a bay were superb, and in its wide embrace, slanting from Point Tiburon toward an inner point two miles opposite was another island, as steep as Alcatraz, but long and waving of outline, with a glimpse of trees on its crest. Rezanov, while he lost nothing of the picturesque beauty surrounding him, was more deeply interested in noting the many foundations, sheltered and solid, for fortifications that would hold these rich lands against the fleets of the world. Never had he seen so many strategic advantages on one sheet of water. The islands farther south he had examined through his glass from the deck of the Juno until he knew every convolution they turned to the west.

Concha was directing his attention to the tremendous angular peak rising above the tumbled hills. "That is Mount Tamalpais--the mountain of peace. It was named by the Indians, not by us. Sometimes it is like a great purple shadow, and at others the clouds fight about it like the ghosts of big sea gulls." They were sailing past the rounded end of the western inner point of the little bay. It was almost detached from the bare ridge behind and half covered with oaks and willow trees. "That is Point Sausalito. I have often looked at it through the glass and longed for a merienda in the deep shade." She turned to Rezanov with lips apart. "Could we not--oh, senor!--have our dinner on shore?"

"It is only for you to select the spot. We can sail many miles before it is time for dinner, and you may find a place even more to your liking. I fancy we can not go far here. It looks swampy and shallow. Nothing could be less romantic than to stick in the mud."

"May I ask," said Concha demurely, "how you dare to run the risks of an unknown sheet of water? I have heard it said that there is more than one rock and shoal in this bay."

"I am not as rash as I may appear," replied Rezanov dryly, but smiling. "In 1789 there was a chart of this bay, taken from a Spanish MSS., published in London; and I bought it there when I ran up from the Nadeshda--anchored at Falmouth--three years ago. Davidov, who, you may observe, is steering, oblivious to the charms of even Dona Carolina, knows every sounding by heart."

"Oh!" Concha shrugged her shoulders. "The Governor, too, is very clever. It will be a drawn battle. Perhaps I shall remain neutral after all. It would be more amusing." The ship was turning, and she waved her hand to the island between the deep arc of the hilly coast. "I have heard so much of the beauty of that island," she said, "that I have called it La Bellissima, but I never hoped to see anything but the back of its head, from which the wind has blown all the hair. And now I shall. How kind of you, senor!"

"How easily you are made happy!" he said, with a sigh. "You look like a child."

"To-day I shall be one; and you the kind fairy god-father," she added, with some malice. "How old are you, senor?"

"Forty-two."

"That is twenty-six years older than myself. But your excellency might pass for thirty-five," she added politely. "We have all said it. And now that you are not so pale you will soon look younger --and even more triumphant than when you came."

"I have never felt so triumphant as on this morning, dear senorita. I had not hoped to give you so much pleasure."

Her cheeks were as pink as her reboso, her great black eyes were dancing. Her hands strained at the railing. "I shall see La Bellissima! La Bellissima!" she cried.

They rounded the low broken point of the island, sailed through the racing currents between the lower end of La Bellissima and "Our Lady of the Angels," more slowly past what looked to be a perpendicular forest. From water to crest the gulches and converging spurs of this hillside in the sea were a dense mass of oaks, bays, underbrush; here and there a tall slender tree with a bark like red kid and a flirting polished leaf, at which Concha clapped her hands as at sight of an old friend and called "El Madrono." It was a primeval bit of nature, but sweet and silent and peaceful; there was no suggestion either of gloom or of discourteous beast.

"We shall have our dinner here, Excellency. There on that little beach; and afterward we shall climb to the top. See, there are trails! The Indians have been here."

They stood out through the straits between Point Tiburon and the Isle of the Angels, where the tide ran fast. Then, for the first time, was Rezanov able to form a definite idea of the size and shape of this great natural harbor. To the south it extended beyond the peninsula in an unbroken sheet for some forty English miles. Ten miles to the north there was a gateway between the lower hills which Luis had alluded to as leading into the bay of Saint Pablo, another large body of tidewater, but inferior in depth and beauty to the Bay of San Francisco.

The mist had dissolved. The greens were vivid where the sun shone on island and hill. The woods of Bellissima, the groves of Point Sausalito, the forests in the northern canyons, deepened to purple like that of the great bare sweep of Tamalpais. Only the farther peaks remained a pale misty blue, and were of an indescribable floating delicacy.

Concha pointed to the eastern double cone. "That is Monte del Diablo. Once they say it spouted fire, but that was long ago, and all our volcanoes are dead. But perhaps not so long ago. The Indians tell the strange story that their grandfathers remembered when this bay was a valley covered with oak trees, and the rivers of the north flowed through and emptied into Lake Merced and a rift by the Fort. Then came a tremendous earthquake and rent the mountains apart where you came through--we call it the Mouth of the Gulf of the Farallones--the valley sank, the sea flowed in, only these hills that are islands now keeping their heads above the flood. Perhaps it is true, for Drake was close to this bay for a long while and never saw it, and it would have given him a better shelter than the little harbor he found a few miles higher on the coast. I believe it was not here. Madre de Dios, I hope California shakes no more. She would--is it not true, Excellency?--be the most perfect country in all the world did she not have the devil in her."

"Are you afraid of earthquakes?" asked Rezanov, who once more had transferred his comprehensive gaze from battery sites to her face.

"I cross myself. It is like feeling your grave turn over. But I fancy the poor old earth is like the people on her; she gets tired of being good and is all the naughtier for having been sober too long. Don Vincente Rivera is an example; he is cold, haughty, solemn, stern to others and himself, as you see him; but once in a while--Madre de Dios! The Presidio does not sleep for three nights!"

Rezanov laughed heartily, then turned abruptly away. "Come," he said. "I had almost forgotten. Will you ask the others to go to the cabin, while I give orders that dinner shall be served on your island?"

In the cabin, Concha forgot him for a few moments. Her mother, her eyes dwelling fondly upon several shawls she hoped were intended for herself alone, was hushing the baby to sleep in the deep chair of his excellency. Ana Paula was playing with an Alaskan doll she had appropriated without ceremony. Rezanov came in when his guests were assembled, and he had a gift for each; curious objects of Alaskan workmanship for the men, miniature totem poles and fur-bordered moccasins; but silk and cotton, linen, shawls, and fine handkerchiefs for senora and maiden.

"They are trifles," he said, in response to an enthusiastic chorus. "The cargo I was obliged to take over was a very large one. You must not protest. I shall never miss these things." And he knew that he had sown the seeds of a rapacity similar to that implanted in the worthy bosoms of the priests when they had paid him their promised visit. If the Governor were insensible to diplomacy he would have pressure brought to bear upon his official integrity from more quarters than one.

"There are also many of the presents rejected by the Mikado, somewhere," he added carelessly. "But I could not find them. They must have found their way to the bottom of the hold during one of the storms we encountered on our way from Sitka."

He certainly looked the fairy godfather, and quite impartial as he distributed his offerings with a chosen word to each; his memory for little characteristics was as remarkable as for names and faces. He had taken off his cap on deck, and the breeze had ruffled his thick fair hair, brought the blood to his thin cheeks. The lines of his face, cut by privation and anxiety and illness, had almost disappeared with the renewed elasticity of the flesh, and his blue eyes were wide open, and sparkling in sympathy with the pleasure of his guests and the success of his own strategy. These few insignificant Spaniards dislodged, a half-dozen forts in this harbor, and the combined navies of the world might be defied; while a great chain of hungry settlements fattened and prospered exceedingly on the beneficence of the most fertile land in all the Americas.


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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