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Chapter 12

The eastern mountains looked very close from the crest of La Bellissima and of a singular transparency and variety of hue. It was as if the white masses of cloud sailing low overhead flung down great splashes of color from prismatic stores stolen from the sun. There was a vivid pale green on the long sweep of a rounding slope, deep violet and pale purple in dimple and hollow, red showing through green on a tongue of land running down from the north; and on the lower ridges and little islands, pale and dark blue, and the most exquisite fields of lavender. This last tint was reflected in the water immediately below the ridge, and farther out there were lakelets of pale green, as if the islands, too, had the power to mirror themselves when the sea itself was glass.

Santiago, Davidov, Carolina Xime'no, Delfina Rivera, Concha and Rezanov, had climbed to the ridge. The other young people had given out halfway up the steep and tangled ascent and returned to the beach. Dona Ignacia immediately after dinner had frankly asked her host for the hospitality of his stateroom. She and her little ones must have their siesta, and the good lady was convinced that so high and mighty a personage as the Russian Chamberlain was all the chaperon the proprieties demanded.

Four of the party strayed along the crest in search of the first wild pansies. Rezanov and Concha looked under the sloping roof of brittle leaves into dim falling vistas, arches, arbors, caverns, a forest in miniature with natural terraces breaking the precipitous wall of the island.

"I should like to live here," said Concha definitely.

"It would make a fine estate for summer life--or for a honeymoon." He smiled down upon his companion, who stood very tall and straight and proud beside him. "If you conclude to marry your little Bostonian no doubt he will buy it for you," he said.

If he had hoped to see a look of blank dismay after his hours of devotion he was disappointed. She made a little face.

"I do not think I could stand a desert island with the good Weeliam. For that I should prefer one of my own sort--Ignacio, or Fernando. Better still, I could come here and be a hermit."

"A hermit?"

"In some ways that would suit me very well. All human beings become tiresome, I find. I shall have a little hut just below the crest where I can look from my window right into the woods that are so quiet and green and beautiful. That is a thought that has always fascinated me. And when I walk on the crest I can see all the beauty of mountain and bay. What more could I want? What more have you in your world when you know it too well, senor?"

"Nothing; but you might tire, too, of this."

"What of it? It would be the gentle sad ennui of peace, not of disillusion, senor. How I wish you would tell me all you know of life!"

"God forbid. And do not remind me of ennui and disillusions. I have forgotten both in California. Perhaps, after all, I shall not return to St. Petersburg. There is a vast empire here--"

"But it is not yours or Russia's to rule, Excellency," she interrupted him softly.

He did not color nor start, but met her eyes with his deep amused glance. "I, too, can dream, senorita. Of a great and wonderful kingdom--that never will exist, perhaps. I have always been called a dreamer, but the habit has grown since I came to this lovely unreal land of yours."

"Have you the intention to take it from us, Excellency?" she asked quietly.

"Would you betray me if you thought I had?"

Her eyes responded for a moment to the magnetism of his, and then she drew herself up.

"No, senor, I could not betray a man who had been our guest, and Spain needs no assistance from a weak girl to hold her own against Russia."

"Well said! I kiss your hands, as they say in Vienna. But we must sail again. I told them to be ready at three o'clock."

Dalliance with the most alluring girl he had ever known was all very well, but the day's work was not yet done. When they returned to the ship he deliberately engaged all the Spaniards in a game of cards, ordered cigarettes and a bowl of punch for their refreshment, and then the Juno steered south.

They sailed swiftly past Nuestra Senorita de los Angeles and the eastern side of Alcatraz, Rezanov sweeping every inch with his glass; more slowly past the peninsula where it came down in a succession of rough hills almost in a straight line from the Presidio, ascending to a high outpost of solid rock, whence it turned abruptly to the south in a waving line of steep irregular cliffs, harsh, barren, intersected with gullies. Then the land became suddenly as flat as the sea, save for the shifting dunes: the desert porch of the great fertile valley hidden from the water by the waves of sand, but indicated by its rampart of mountains. The shallow water curved abruptly inward between the rocky mass on the right and a gentler incline and point two miles below. At its head was the "Battery of Yerba Buena," facing the island from which it took its name. Rezanov scrupulously kept his word and did not raise his glass, but one contemptuous glance satisfied his curiosity. His eye rolled over the steep hills that were designed to bristle with forts, and, as sometimes happened, when he spoke again to Concha, whom he kept close to his side, for the other girls bored him, his words did not express the workings of his mind.

"Athens has no finer site than this," he said. "I should like to see a white marble city on these hills, and on that plain, when all the sand dunes are leveled. Not in our time, perhaps! But, as I told you, I have surrendered myself to the habit of dreaming."

Concha shrugged her shoulders and made no reply at the moment. As they sailed toward the east before turning south again, she pointed across the great silvery sheet of water melting into the misty southern horizon, to a high ridge of mountains that looked to be a continuation of the San Bruno range behind the Mission, but slanting farther west with the coast line.

"Those are behind our rancho, senor--Rancho El Pilar, or Las Pulgas, as some prefer. Perhaps my father will take you there. I hope so, for we love to go, and may not too often; my father is very busy here. He is one of the few that has received a large grant of land, and it is because the clergy love him so much they oppose his wish in nothing. Do you see those sharp points against the sky? They are the tops of lofty trees, like the masts of giant ships, and with many rigid arms spiked like the pines. You saw a few of them in the hollow below Tamalpais, but up on those mountains there are miles and miles of mighty forests. No white man has ever penetrated them, nor ever will, perhaps. We have no use for them, and even if you made this your kingdom, senor, I suppose not many would come with you. Far, far down where the water stops are the Mission of Santa Clara and the pueblo of San Jose; but I have heard you cannot approach within many miles of the land in a boat."

When they had sailed south for a few moments the boat came about sharply. Concha laughed. "I had forgotten the chart. I rather hoped you would run on a shoal."

But as they approached the cove of Yerba Buena again she caught his arm suddenly, unconscious of the act, and the little dancing lights of humor in her eyes went out. "Your white city, senor! Ay, Dios! what a city of dreams that can never come true!"

The soft white fog that sometimes, even at this season, came in from the sea, was rolling over the hills between the Battery and the Presidio, wreathing about the rocky heights and slopes. It broke into domes and cupolas, spires and minarets. Great waves rolled over the sand dunes and beat upon the cliffs with the phantoms clinging to its sides. Then the sun struggled with a thousand colors. The sun conquered, the mist shimmered into sunlight, and once more the hills were gray and bare.

Rezanov laughed, but his eyes glowed down upon her. "I am not sure it was there," he said. "I have an idea your imagination and touch acted as a sort of enchanter's wand. The others evidently saw nothing."

"The others saw only fog and shivered. But it was there, senor! We have had a vision. A Russian city! Ay, yi!"

But Rezanov had forgotten the city. Her reboso had fallen and a strand of her hair blew across his face. His lips caught it and his eyes burned. They rounded a headland and the world looked green and young.

"Concha!" he whispered.

Her eyes flashed and melted, she lifted her chin; then burst into a merry ripple of laughter.

"Senor!" she said, "if you make love to me, I shall have to compare you with many others, and I might not like the Russian fashion. You are much better as you are--very grand seigneur, iron-handed and absolute, haughty and arrogant, but the most charming person in the world, with ends to gain, even from such humble folk as a handful of stranded Californians. But to sigh! to languish with the eye! to sing at the grating! I fear that the lightest headed of the caballeros you despise could transcend you in all."

"Very likely! I have not the least intention of sighing or languishing or singing at gratings. But if we were alone I certainly should kiss you."

But her eyes did not melt again at the vision. She flushed hotly with annoyance. "I am a child to you! Were it not that I have read a few books, you would find me but a year older than Ana Paula. Well! Regard me as a child and do not attempt to flirt with me again. Shall it be so?"

"As you wish!" Rezanov looked at her half in resentment, half wistfully, then shrugged his shoulders, and called to Davidov to steer for the anchorage. She was quite right; and on the whole he was grateful to her.


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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