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Chapter 18

There was no performance after all in the Presidio square that night, for the bear brought in from the hills to do honor to the Russians died of excitement, and it rained besides. Rezanov made the storm his excuse for not dining and dancing as usual at the house of the Commandante. But the relations between the Presidio and the Juno during the next few days were by no means strained. Davidov and Khostov were always with the Spanish officers, drinking and card playing, or improving their dancing and Spanish with the girls, whose guitars were tuned for the waltz day and night. The dignitaries met as usual and conversed on all topics save those paramount in the minds of each. Nevertheless, there were three significant facts as well known to Rezanov as had they been aired to his liking.

He had sought an interview with Father Abella, and tactfully ignoring the question of his marriage, had persuaded that astute and influential priest to make the proposition regarding his cargo that Concha had suggested. The priest, backed by his three coadjutors, had made it, and been repulsed with fury. From another quarter Rezanov learned that during his absence little else was discussed in the house of the Commandante save his formidable matrimonial project, and the supposed designs to his country. Troops had been ordered from the south to reinforce the San Francisco garrisons, and were even now massed at Santa Clara, within a day's march of the bay.

About a mile from the Presidio and almost opposite the Juno's anchorage were six great stone tubs sunken in the ground and filled by a spring of clear water. Here, once a week, the linen, fine and heavy, of Fort and Presidio was washed, the stoutest serving women of households and barracks meeting at dawn and scrubbing for half a day. Rezanov had watched the bright picture they made --for they wore a bit of every hue they could command--with a lazy interest, which quickened to thirst when he heard that they were the most reliable newsmongers in the country. In every Presidial district was a similar institution, and the four were known as the "Wash Tub Mail." Many of the women were selected by the tyrants of the tubs for their comeliness, and each had a lover in the couriers that went regularly with mail and official instructions from one end of the Californias to the other. All important news was known first by these women, and much was discussed over the tubs that was long in reaching higher but no less interested circles; and domestic bulletins were as eagerly prized. The sailor that brought this information to Rezanov was a good-looking and susceptible youth, already the victim of an Indian maiden from the handsome tribe in the Santa Clara Valley, and sister of Dona Ignacia's Malia. Rezanov furnished him with beads and other trinkets and was at no disadvantage thereafter.

There was nothing Rezanov would have liked better than to see a Russian fleet sail through the straits, but he also knew that nothing was less likely, and that from such rumors he should only derive further annoyance and delay. Two of his sailors deserted at the prospect of war, and his hosts, if neutral, were manifestly alert. Luis and Santiago had been obliged to go to Monterey for a few days, and there was no one at the Presidio in whom Rezanov could confide either his impatience to see Concha or at the adjournment of his more prosaic but no less pressing interests. These two young men had been with him almost constantly since his arrival, and demonstrated their friendship and even affection unfailingly; but there was no love lost between himself and Gervasio. This young hidalgo had the hauteur and intense family pride of Santiago without his younger brother's frank intelligence and lingering ingenuousness. With all the superiority and inferiority, he had made himself so unpopular that his real kindness of heart atoned for his absurdities only with those that knew him best. Rezanov was not one of these nor aspired to be. Like all highly seasoned men of the world, he had no patience with the small vanities of the provincial, and although diplomatically courteous to all, in his present precarious position, he had taken too little trouble to conciliate Gervasio to find him of use in the absence of his friends.

At the end of three days Rezanov had forgotten his cargo, and would have sent the Juno to the bottom for ten minutes alone with Concha. He had been on fire with love of her since the moment of his actual surrender, and he was determined to have her if there were no other recourse but elopement. All his old and intense love of personal freedom had melted out of form in the crucible of his lover's imagination. That he should have doubted for a moment that Concha was the woman for whom his soul had held itself aloof and unshackled was a matter for contemptuous wonder, and the pride he had taken in his keen and swift perceptive faculties suffered an eclipse. Mind and soul and body he was a lover, a union unknown before.

On the fourth morning, his patience at an end, he was about to leave the Juno to demand a formal interview with Don Jose when he saw Luis and Santiago dismount at the beach and enter the canoe always in waiting. A few moments later they had helped themselves to cigarettes from the gift of the Tsar and were assuring Rezanov of their partisanship and approval.

"We were somewhat taken aback at the first moment," Luis admitted. "But--well, we are both in love--Santiago no less than I, although I have had these six long years of waiting and am likely to have another. And we love Concha as few men love their sisters, for there is no one like her--is it not so, Rezanov? And we quite understand why she has chosen you, and why she stands firm, for we know the strength of her character. We would that you were a Catholic, but even so, we will not sit by and see her life ruined, and we have called to assure you that we shall use all our influence, every adroit argument, to bring our parents to a more reasonable frame of mind. They have already risen above the first natural impulse of selfishness, and would consent to the inevitable separation were you only a Catholic. I have also talked with the Governor--we arrived at midnight--and he flew into a terrible temper--the poor man is already like a mad bull at bay--but if my father yielded, he would--on all points. This morning I shall ride over and talk with Father Abella, who, I fancy, needs only a little extra pressure--you may be sure Concha has not been idle--to yield; and for more reasons than one. I shall enlist Father Uria and Father de la Cueva as well. They also have great influence with my parents, and as they return to San Jose in two days to prepare for the visit of the most estimable Dr. Langsdorff, there is no time to lose. I shall go this morning. One more cigarito, senor, and when that treaty is drawn remember the conversion of your brother to Russian tobacco."

Rezanov thanked him so warmly, assured him with so convincing an emphasis that with his fate in such competent hands his mind was at peace, that the ardent heart of the Californian exulted; Rezanov, with his splendid appearance, and typical of the highest civilizations of Europe, had descended upon his narrow sphere with the authority of a demigod, and he not only thirsted to serve him, but to fasten him to California with the surest of human bonds.

As he dropped over the side of the ship, Rezanov's hand fell lightly on the shoulder of Santiago.

"I can wait no longer to see your sister," he whispered, mindful of the sterner responsibilities of the older brother. "Do you think you could--"

Santiago nodded. "While Luis is at the Mission I shall go to my cousin Juan Moraga's. You will dine with us at the Presidio, and I shall escort you back to the ship."


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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