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Chapter 21

Concha, after her father left her, sat for a long while in an attitude of such complete repose that Sturgis, watching her miserably from the veranda, remembered the consolations of his sketch book; and he was able to counterfeit the graceful, proud figure, under the wall and roses, before she stirred.

Concha had sent her father away deeply puzzled. When, after embracing her with unusual emotion, he had informed her of his consent to her marriage, she had received the news as a matter of course, her hopes and desires having mounted too high to contemplate a fall. Then the Commandante, after dwelling at some length upon his discussions with the Governor and the priests, and admonishing her against conceiving herself too important a factor in what might prove to be an alliance of international moment (she had laughed merrily and called him the most callous of parents and subtlest of diplomats), had announced with some trepidation and his most official manner that the consent of the Pope and the King would be sought by Rezanov in person, involving a delay and separation of not less than two years. But to his surprise she did not fling herself upon his neck with blandishments and tears. She merely became quite still, her light high spirits retreating as a breeze might before one of Nature's sudden and portentous calms. Don Jose, after a fruitless attempt to recapture her interest, mounted his horse and rode away; and Concha sat down on a bench under the wall and thought for an hour without moving a finger.

Her first sensation was one of bitter anger and disappointment with Rezanov. He had, apparently, in the first brief interview with their tribunal, given his consent to this long delay of their nuptials.

Her thoughts since his advent had flown on many journeys and known little rest. She had been rudely awakened and stripped of her girlish illusions in those days and nights of battle between pride and her dazzled womanhood when, in the new humility of love, she believed herself to be but one of a hundred pretty girls in the eyes of this accomplished and fortunate Russian. The interval had been brief, but not long enough for the grandeur in her nature to awaken almost concurrently with her passions, and she had planned a life, in which, guided and uplifted by the star of fidelity, and delivered from the frivolous and commonplace temptations of other women, she should devote herself to the improvement and instruction not only of the Indians but of the youth of her own class. The schools founded by the estimable and enterprising Borica had practically disappeared, and she was by far the best educated woman in California. For such there was a manifest and an inexorable duty. She would live to be old, she supposed, like all the Arguellos and Moragas; but hidden in her unspotted soul would be the flame of eternal youth, fed by an ideal and a memory that would outlive her weary, insignificant body. And in it she would find her courage and her inspiration, as well as an unwasting sympathy for those she taught.

Then had come the sudden and passionate wooing of Rezanov. All other ideals and aspirations had fled. She had alternated between the tragic extremes of bliss and despair. So completely did the ardor of her nature respond to his, so fierce and primitive was the cry of her ego for its mate, that she cared nothing for the distress of her parents nor the fate of California. There is no love complete without this early and absolute selfishness, which is merely the furious determination of the race to accomplish its object before the spirit awakens and the passions cool.

Last night life had seemed serious; she had been girlishly, romantically happy. It is true that her heart had thumped against the wall as he kissed her, and that she had been full of a wild desire to sing, although she could hardly shape and utter the words that danced in her throbbing brain. But she had been conscious through it all of the romantic circumstance, of the lonely beauty of the night, of the delightful wickedness of meeting her lover in the silence and the dark, even with a wall ten feet high between them. For the wall, indeed, she had been confusedly and deliciously grateful.

And this was what a man's love came to: ardors by night and expedience by day! Or was it merely that Rezanov was the man of affairs always, the lover incidentally? But how could a man who had seemed the very epitome of all the lovers of all the world but a few hours before, contemplate, far less permit, a separation of years? Poor Concha groped toward the great unacceptable fact of life the whole, lit by love its chief incident; and had a fleeting vision of the waste lands in the lives of women occupied only with matrimony. But she dropped her lashes upon this unalluring vision, and as she did so, inevitably she began to excuse the man.

None knew better than she every side of the great question that was shaking not only her life but California itself. Appeal from the dictum of state and clergy would be a mere waste of time. The only alternative was flight. That would mean the wreck of Rezanov's avowed purposes in coming to this quarter of New Spain, and perhaps of others she dimly suspected. It would mean the very acme of misery for his Sitkans, and an indefensible blow to the Company. It might even prove the fatal mistake in his career, for which his enemies were ever on the alert. He was not communicative about himself except when he had an object in view, but he had told her something of his life, and his officers and Langsdorff had told more. He was no silly caballero warbling and thrumming at her grating when she longed for sleep, but a man in his forties whose passions were in the leash of a remarkably acute and ambitious brain. She even thrilled with pride in his strength, for she knew how he loved her; and although his part was action, her stimulated instincts taught her that she would rarely be long from his mind. And what was she to seek to roll stumbling blocks into the career of a man like that? In this very garden, for four long days, she had dreamed exalted dreams of the manifold gifts she should develop for his solace at home and his worldly advancement. She had once felt all a girl's impatience when her mother's tears made her father's departure on some distant mission more difficult than need be, and although she knew now that her capacity for tenderness was as great, she resolved to mould herself in a larger shape than that.

But she sighed and drooped a little. The burden of woman's waiting seemed already to have descended upon her. Two years were long--long. There might be other delays. He might fall ill; he had been ill before in that barbarous Russian north. And in all that time it was doubtful if she received a line from him, a hint of his welfare. The Boston and British skippers came no more, and it was certain that no Russian ship would visit California again until the treaty was signed and official news of it had made its slow way to these uttermost shores. She had resented, in her young ambition and indocility, the chance that had stranded her, equipped for civilization, on this rim of the world, but never so much as in that moment, when she sat with arrested breath and realized to the full the primitive conditions of a country thousands of miles from the very outposts of Europe, and with never the sight of a letter that did not come from Spain or one of her colonies.

"Would that we lived a generation later," she thought with a heavy sigh. Progress is almost automatic, and to a land as fertile and desirable as this the stream must turn in due course. But not in my time. Not in my time."

She rose and leaned her elbows in the embrasure of the grille, where Santiago had restored the bars, and looked out over the fields of grain planted by the padres, the immense sand dunes beyond that shut the lovely bay from sight; the hills embracing the primitive scene in a frowning arc. With all her imagination it was long before she could picture a great city covering that immense and almost deserted space. A pueblo in time, perhaps, for Rezanov had awakened her mind to the importance of the harbor as a port of call. Many more adobe homes where the sand was not hot and shifting, a few ships in the bay when Spain had been compelled to relax her jealous vigilance--or--who knew?--perhaps!--a flourishing colony when the Russian bear had devoured the Spanish lion. She knew something and suspected more of the rottenness and inefficiency of Spain, and, were Russia a nation of Rezanovs, what opposition in California against the tide thundering down from the north? Then, perhaps, the city that had travelled from the brain of the Russian to hers when the fog had rolled over the heights; the towers and palaces and bazaars, the thousand little golden domes with the slender cross atop; the forts on the crags and the villas in the hollows, and on all the island and hills. But when she and her lover were dust. When she and her lover were dust.

But she was too young and too ardent to listen long to the ravens of the spirit. Two years are not eternity, and in happiness the past rolls together like a scroll and is naught. She fell to dreaming. Her lips that had been set with the gravity of stone relaxed in warm curves. The color came back to her cheek, the light to her eyes. She was a girl at her grating with the roses poignant above her, and the world, radiant, alluring, and all for her, swimming in the violet haze beyond.


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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