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Chapter 20

The next morning Father Abella rode over to the Presidio and was closeted for an hour with the Commandante and the Governor. Then the three rode down to the beach, entered a canoe, and paddled out to the Juno. Rezanov met them on deck with a gravity as significant as their own, but led them at once to the cabin where wine, and the cigarettes for which alone they would have counselled the treaty, awaited them.

The quartette pledged each other in an embarrassed silence, disposed of a moment more with obdurate matches. Don Jose inhaled audibly, then lifted his eyes and met the veiled and steady gaze of the Russian.

"Senor," he said, "I have come to tell you that I consent to your marriage with my daughter."

"Thank you," said Rezanov. And their hands clasped across the table.

But this was far too simple for the taste of a Governor. So important an occasion demanded official dignity and many words.

"Your excellency," he said severely, sitting very erect, with one white hand on the table and the other on the hilt of his sword (yet full of courtesy, and longing to enjoy the cheer and conversation of his host); "the peaceful monotony of our lives has been rudely shaken by a demand upon three fallible human beings to alter the course of history in two great nations. That is a sufficient excuse for the suspense to which we have been forced to subject you. The marriage of a Russian and a Spaniard is of no great moment in itself, but the marriage of the Plenipotentiary of the Tsar himself with the daughter of Jose Mario Arguello, not only one of the most eminent, respected, and distinguished of His Most Catholic Majesty's subjects in New Spain, but a man so beloved and influential that he could create a revolution were he so minded--indeed, Jose, no one knows better than I how incapable you are of treason"--as the Commandante gave a loud exclamation of horror--"I merely illustrate and emphasize. My sands are nearly run, Excellency; it is to the estimable mind and strong paternal hand of my friend that this miserable colony must look before long, would she continue even this hand to mouth existence--a fact well known to our king and natural lord. When he hears of this projected alliance--"

"Projected?" exclaimed Rezanov. "I wish to marry at once."

Father Abella shook his head vigorously, but he spoke with great kindness. "That, Excellency, alas, is the one point upon which we are forced to disappoint you. Indeed, our own submission to your wishes is contingent. This marriage cannot take place without a dispensation from Rome and the consent of the King."

Rezanov looked at Don Jose. "You, too?" he asked curtly.

The Commandante stirred uneasily, heaved a deep sigh; he thought of the long impatience of his Concha. "It is true," he said. "Not only would it be impossible for my conscience to resign itself to the marriage of my daughter with a heretic--pardon, Excellency--without the blessing of the Pope; not only would no priest in California perform the ceremony until it arrived, but it would mean the degradation of Governor Arrillaga and myself, and the ruin of all your other hopes. We should be ordered summarily to Mexico, perhaps worse, and no Russian would ever be permitted to set foot in the Californias again. I would it were otherwise. I know--I know--but it is inevitable. Your excellency must see it. Even were you a Catholic, Governor Arrillaga and the President of the Missions, at least, would not dare to countenance this marriage without the consent of the King."

Rezanov was silent for a few minutes. In spite of the emotions of the past few days he was astonished at the depth and keenness of his disappointment. But never yet had he failed to realize when he was beaten, nor to trim his sails without loss of precious time.

"Very well," he said. "I will go to St. Petersburg at the earliest possible moment, obtain personal letters from the Tsar and proceed post haste to Rome and Madrid. At the same time I shall arrange for the treaty with full authority from the Tsar. Then I shall sail from Spain to Mexico and reach here as soon as may be. It will take a long while, the best part of two years; but I have your word--"

"You have," the three asserted with solemn emphasis.

"Very well. But there is one thing more. I am not in a diplomatic humor. My Sitkans are starving. I must leave here with a shipload of breadstuffs."

Again the Governor drew up his slim soldierly figure; deposited his cigarette on the malachite ash tray. "You may be sure that we have given that momentous question our deepest consideration. Father Abella's suggestion that we buy your commodities for cash, and that with our Spanish dollars you buy again of us, did not strike me favorably at first, for it savored of sophistry. I may have failed in every attempt to benefit and advance this Godforsaken country, but at least I have been the honest agent of my King. But the circumstances are extraordinary. You are about to become one of us, to do our unhappy colony the greatest service that is in the power of any mortal, and personally you have inspired us with affection and respect. I have, therefore, decided that the exchange shall be made on these terms, but that your cargo shall be received by Don Jose Arguello, Commandante of the San Francisco Company, and held in trust until the formal consent of the King to the purchase shall arrive."

Rezanov glowed to his finger tips. Not even the assurance of his union with the woman of his heart, which after all had met but the skeleton of his desires, gave him the acute satisfaction of this sudden fulfilment of his self-imposed mission. He dropped his own official demeanor and throwing himself across the table gripped the Governor's hand while he poured out his thanks in a voice thick with feeling, his eyes glittering with more than victory. He did not lose sight of his ultimate designs and pledge himself to external friendship, but he unwittingly conveyed the impression that Spain had that day made a friend she ill could afford to lose; and his three visitors rose well pleased with the culmination of the interview.

"You must stay here no longer, Rezanov," said Don Jose, as they were taking leave. "My house is now literally your own. It will be some weeks before the large quantities of corn and flour and other stores you wish can be got together--for we must lay a requisition on the fertile Mission ranchos in the valleys--and you will exchange these narrow quarters for such poor comfort as my house affords--I take no denial. Concha will remain at Juan Moraga's for the present."


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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