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Chapter 14

Governor Arrillaga, Commandante Arguello, and Chamberlain Rezanov sat in the familiar sala at the Presidio content in body after a culinary achievement worthy of Padre Landaeta, but perturbed and alert of mind. Upon the arrival of the two California dignitaries in the morning, Rezanov had sent Davidov and Langsdorff on shore to assure them of his gratitude and deep appreciation of the hospitality shown himself, his officers and men. The Governor had replied with a fulsome apology for not repairing at once to the Juno to welcome his distinguished guest in person, and, pleading his age and the one hundred and seventy-five English miles he had ridden from Monterey, begged him as a younger man to waive informality, and dine at the house of the Commandante that very day. Rezanov had complied as a matter of course, and now he was alone with the men who held his fate in their hands. The dark worn rugged face of Don Jose, who had been skilfully prepared by his oldest daughter to think well of the Russian, beamed with good-will and interest, in spite of lingering doubts; but the lank, wiry figure of the Governor, who was as dignified as only a blond Spaniard can be, was fairly rigid with the severe formality he reserved for occasions of ceremony--being a gentleman who loved good company and cheer--and his sharp gray eyes were almost shut in the effort to penetrate the designs of this deputy, this symbol, this index in cipher, of a dreaded race. Rezanov smoked calmly, made himself comfortable on the slippery horse-hair chair, though with no loss of dignity, and beat about the bush with the others until the Governor betrayed himself at last by a chance remark:

"What you say of the neighborly instincts of the Russian colonists for the Spanish on this coast interests me deeply, Excellency, but if Russia is at war with Spain--"

"Russia is not at war with Spain," said Rezanov, with a flash of amusement in his half-closed eyes. "Napoleon Bonaparte is encamped about half way between the two countries. They could not get at each other if they wished. While that man is at large, Europe will be at war with him, no two nations with each other."

"Ah!" exclaimed Arrillaga. "That is a manner of reasoning that had not occurred to me."

The Commandante had spat at the mention of the usurper's name and muttered "Chinchosa!" and Rezanov, recalling his first conversation with Concha, looked into the honest eyes of the monarchist with a direct and hearty sympathy.

"No better epithet for him," he said. "And the sooner Europe combines to get rid of him the better. But until it does, count upon a common grievance to unite your country and mine."

"Good!" muttered the Governor. "Good! I am glad that nightmare has lifted its bat's wings from our poor California. Captain O'Cain's raid two years ago made me apprehensive, for he took away some eleven hundred of our otter skins and his hunters were Aleutians--subjects of the Tsar. A negro that deserted gave the information that they were furnished the Bostonian by the chief manager of your Company--Baranhov--whose reputation we know well enough!--for the deliberate purpose of raiding our coast."

Rezanov shrugged his shoulders and replied indifferently: "I will ask Baranhov when I return to Sitka, and write you the particulars. It is more likely that the Aleutians were deserters. This O'Cain would not be the first shrewd Bostonian to tempt them, for they are admirable hunters and ready for any change. They make a greater demand upon the Company for variety of diet than we are always prepared to meet, so many are the difficulties of transportation across Siberia. When, therefore, the time arrived that I could continue my voyage, I determined to come here and see if some arrangement could not be made for a bi-yearly exchange of commodities. We need farinaceous stuffs of every sort. I will not pay so poor a compliment to your knowledge of the northern settlements as to enlarge upon the advantages California would reap from such a treaty."

The Governor, who had permitted himself to touch the back of his chair after the dispersal of the war cloud, stiffened again. "Ah!" he said. "Ah!" He looked significantly at the Commandante, who nodded. "You come on a semi-official mission, after all, then?"

"It is entirely my own idea," said Rezanov carelessly. "The young Tsar is too much occupied with Bonaparte to give more than a passing thought to his colonies. But I have a free hand. Can I arrange the preliminaries of a treaty, I have only to return to St. Petersburg to receive his signature and highest approval. It would be a great feather in my cap I can assure your excellencies," he added, with a quick human glance and a sudden curve of his somewhat cynical mouth.

"Um!" said the Governor. "Um!"

But Arguello's stern face had further relaxed. After all, he was but eleven years older than the Russian, and, although early struggles and heavy responsibilities and many disappointments had deprived life of much of its early savor, what was left of youth in him responded to the ambition he divined in this interesting stranger. Moreover, the idea of a friendly bond with another race on the lonely coast of the Pacific appealed to him irresistibly. He turned eagerly to the Governor.

"It is a fine idea, Excellency. We need much that they have, and it pleases me to think we should be able to supply the wants of others. Fancy any one wanting aught of California, except hides, to be sure. I did not think our existence was known save to an occasional British or Boston skipper. It is true we are here only to Christianize savages, but even they have need of much that cannot be manufactured in this God-forsaken land. And we ourselves could be more comfortable--God in heaven, yes! It is well to think it over, Excellency. Who knows?--we might have a trip to the north once in a while. Life is more excellent with something to look forward to."

"You should have a royal welcome. Baranhov is the most hospitable man in Russia, and I might have the happiness to be there myself. I see, by the way, that you have not engaged in shipbuilding. I need not say that we should supply the ships of commerce, with no diminution of your profits. We build at Okhotsk, Petropaulovski, Kadiak, and Sitka. Moreover, as the Bostonians visit us frequently, and as your laws prohibit you from trading with them, we would see that you always got such of their commodities as you needed. They come to us for furs, and generally bring much for which we have no use. Captain D'Wolf, from whom I bought the Juno, had a cargo I was forced to take over. I unloaded what was needed at Sitka, but as there was no boat going for some months to the other islands, I brought the rest with me, and you are welcome to it, if in exchange you will ballast the Juno with samples of your agricultural products; while the treaty is pending, I can experiment in our colonies and make sure which are the most adaptable to the market.

"Um!" said the Governor. "Um!"

Rezanov did not remove his cool direct gaze from the snapping eyes opposite.

"I have not the least objection to making a trade that would fill my promuschleniki with joy; but that was by no means the first object of my voyage; which was partly inspired by a desire to see as much of this globe as a man may in one short life, partly to arrange a treaty that would be of incalculable benefit to both colonies and greatly redound to my own glory. I make no pretence of being disinterested. I look forward to a career of ever increasing influence and power in St. Petersburg, and I wish to take back as many credits as possible."

"I understand, I understand!" The Governor rested his lame back once more. "Your ambition is the more laudable, Excellency, since you have achieved so much already. I am not one to balk the honest ambition of any man, particularly when he does me the honor to take me into his confidence. I like this suggested measure. I like it much. I believe it would redound to our mutual benefit and reputation. Is it not so, Jose?"

The Commandante nodded vigorously. "I am sure of it! I am sure of it! I like it--much, much."

"I will write at once to the Viceroy of Mexico and ask that he lay the matter before the Cabinet and King. Without that high authority we can do nothing. But I see no reason to doubt the issue when we, who know the wants and needs of California, approve and desire. We are doomed to failure in this unwieldy land of worthless savages, but it is the business of the wretched servants of a glorious monarch to do the best they can."

Rezanov had an inspiration. "You might remind the viceroy that Spain and the United States of America have been on the verge of war for years, and suggest the benefit of an alliance with Russia in the case of the new country taking advantage of the situation in Europe to extend its western boundaries--"

Arrillaga had bounced to his feet, his small eyes injected and blazing. "Those damned Bostonians!" he shouted. "I distrusted them years ago. They have too much calculation in their bluntness. They cheated us, sold us short, traded under my very nose, stole our otters, until I ordered them never to drop an anchor in California waters again. If their ridiculous upstart government dares to cast its eyes on California we shall know how to meet them --the sooner they march on Mexico and lose their conceit the better. How they do brag! Faugh! It is sickening. I shall remember all you say, Excellency; and thank you for the hint."

Rezanov rose, and the Commandante solemnly kissed him on either cheek. "Governor Arrillaga is my guest, Excellency," he said. "I beg that you will dine with us daily--unofficially--that you will regard California as your own kingdom, and come and go at your pleasure. And my daughter begs me to remind you and your young officers that there will be informal dancing every night."

"So far so good," thought Rezanov, as he mounted his horse to return to the Juno. "But what of my cargo? I fancy there will be more difficulty in that quarter."


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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