Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 22

Rezanov in those days was literally lord and master at the Presidio. If he did not burn the house of his devoted host he ran it to suit himself. He turned one of its rooms into an office, where he received the envoys from the different Missions and examined the samples of everything submitted to him, trusting little to his commissary. His leisure he employed scouring the country or shooting deer and quail in the company of his younger hosts. The literal mind of Don Jose accepted him as an actual son and embryonic California, and, his conscience at peace, revelled in his society as a sign from propitiated heaven; rejoicing in the virtue of his years. The Governor, testily remarking that as California was so well governed for the present he would retire to Monterey and take a siesta, rode off one morning, but not without an affectionate: "God preserve the life of your excellency many years."

But although Rezanov saw the most sanguine hopes that had brought him to California fulfilled, and although he looked from the mountain ridges of the east over the great low valleys watered by rivers and shaded by oaks, where enough grain could be raised to keep the blood red in a thousand times the colonial population of Russia, although he felt himself in more and more abundant health, more and more in love with life, it is not to be supposed for a moment that he was satisfied. Concha he barely saw. She remained with the Moragas, and although she came occasionally to the afternoon dances at the Presidio, and he had dined once at her cousin's house, where the formal betrothal had taken place and the marriage contract had been signed in the presence of her family and more intimate friends, the priests, his officers, and the Governor, he had not spoken with her for a moment alone. Nor had her eyes met his in a glance of understanding. At the dances she showed him no favor; and as the engagement was to be as secret as might be in that small community, until his return with consent of Pope and King, he was forced to concede that her conduct was irreproachable; but when on the day of the betrothal she was oblivious to his efforts to draw her into the garden, he mounted his horse and rode off in a huff.

The truth was that Concha liked the present arrangement no better than himself, and knowing that her own appeal against the proprieties would result in a deeper seclusion, she determined to goad him into using every resource of address and subtlety to bring about a more human state of affairs. And she accomplished her object. Rezanov, at the end of a week was not only infuriated but alarmed. He knew the imagination of woman, and guessed that Concha, in her brooding solitude, distorted all that was unfortunate in the present and dwelt morbidly on the future. He knew that she must resent his part in the long separation, no doubt his lack of impulsiveness in not proposing elopement. There was a priest in his company who, although he ate below the salt and found his associates among the sailors, could have performed the ceremony of marriage when the Juno, under full sail in the night, was scudding for the Russian north. It is not to be denied that this romantic alternative appealed to Rezanov, and had it not been for the starving wretches so eagerly awaiting his coming he might have been tempted to throw commercial relations to the winds and flee with his bride while San Francisco, secure in the knowledge of the Juno's empty hold, was in its first heavy sleep. It is doubtful if he would have advanced beyond impulse, for Rezanov was not the man to lose sight of a purpose to which he had set the full strength of his talents, and life had tempered his impetuous nature with much philosophy. Moreover, while his conscience might ignore the double dealing necessary to the accomplishment of patriotic or political acts, it revolted at the idea of outwitting, possibly wrecking, his trusting and hospitable host. But the mere fact that his imagination could dwell upon such an issue as reckless flight, inflamed his impatience, and his desire to see Concha daily during these last few weeks of propinquity. Finally, he sought the co-operation of Father Abella--Santiago was in Monterey--and that wise student of maids and men gave him cheer.

On Thursday afternoon there was to take place the long delayed Indian dance and bull-bear fight; not in the Presidio, but at the Mission, the pride of the friars inciting them to succeed where the mili- tary authorities had failed. All the little world of San Francisco had been invited, and it would be strange if in the confusion between performance and supper a lover could not find a moment alone with his lady.

The elements were kind to the padres. The afternoon was not too hot, although the sun flooded the plain and there was not a cloud on the dazzling blue of the sky. Never had the Mission and the mansions looked so white, their tiles so red. The trees were blossoming pink and white in the orchards, the lightest breeze rippled the green of the fields; and into this valley came neither the winds nor the fogs of the ocean.

The priests and their guests of honor sat on the long corridor beside the church; the soldiers, sailors, and Indians of Presidio and Mission forming the other three sides of a hollow square. The Indian women were a blaze of color. The ladies on the corridor wore their mantillas, jewels, and the gayest of artificial flowers. There were as many fans as women. Rezanov sat between Father Abella and the Commandante, and not being in the best of tempers had never looked more imposing and remote. Concha, leaning against one of the pillars, stole a glance at him and wondered miserably if this haughty European had really sought her hand, if it were not a girl's foolish dream. But Concha's humble moments at this period of her life were rare, and she drew herself up proudly, the blood of the proudest race in Europe shaking angrily in her veins. A moment later, in response to a power greater than any within herself, she turned again. The attention of the hosts and guests was riveted upon the preliminary antics of the Indian dancers, and Rezanov seized the opportunity to lean forward unobserved and gaze at the girl whom it seemed to him he saw for the first time in the full splendor of her beauty. She wore a large mantilla of white Spanish lace. In the fashion of the day it rose at the back almost from the hem of her gown to descend in a point over the high comb to her eyes. The two points of the width were gathered at her breast, defining the outlines of her superb figure, and fastened with one large Castilian rose surrounded by its mass of tiny sharp buds and dull green leaves. As the familiar scent assailed Rezanov's nostrils they tingled and expanded. His lids were lifted and his eyes glowing as he finally compelled her glance, and her own eyes opened with an eager flash; her lips parted and her shoulders lost their haughty poise. For a moment their gaze lingered in a perfect understanding; his ill-humor vanished, and he leaned back with a complimentary remark as Father Abella directed his attention to the most agile of the Indians.

The swart natives of both sexes with their thick features and long hair were even more hideous than usual in bandeaux of bright feathers, scant garments made from the breasts of water-fowls, rattling strings of shells, and tattooing on arm and leg no longer concealed by the decorous Mission smock. Rezanov had that day sent them presents of glass beads and ribbons, and in these they took such extravagant pride that for some time their dancing was almost automatic.

But soon their blood warmed, and after the first dance, which was merely a series of measured springs on the part of the men and a beating of time by the women, a large straw figure symbolizing an entire hostile tribe was brought in, and about this pranced the men with savage cries and gestures, advancing, attacking, retreating, finally piercing it with their arrows and marching it off with sharp yells of triumph that reverberated among the hills; the women never varying from a loud monotonous chant.

There was a peaceful interlude, during which the men, holding bow and arrow aloft, hopped up and down on one spot, the women hopping beside them and snapping thumb and forefinger on the body, still singing in the same high measured voice. But while they danced a great bonfire was laid and kindled. The gyrations lasted a few minutes longer, then the chief seized a live ember and swallowed it. His example was immediately followed by his tribe, and, whether to relieve discomfort or with energies but quickened, they executed a series of incredible handsprings and acrobatic capers. When they finally whirled away on toes and finger tips, another chief, in the horns and hide of a deer, rushed in, pursued by a party of hunters. For several moments he perfectly simulated a hunted animal lurking and dodging in high grass, behind trees, venturing to the brink of a stream to drink, searching eagerly for his mate; and when he finally escaped it was amidst the most enthusiastic plaudits as yet evoked.

After an hour of this varied performance, the square was enlarged by several mounted vaqueros galloping about with warning cries and much flourishing of lassos. They were the cattle herders of the Mission ranch just over the hills, and were in gala attire of black glazed sombrero with silver cord, white shirt open at the throat, short black velvet trousers laced with silver, red sash and high yellow boots. Four, pistol in hand, stationed themselves in front of the corridor, while the others rode out and in again, dragging a bear and a bull, with hind legs attached by two yards of rope. The captors left the captives in the middle of the square, and without more ado the serious sport of the day began. The bull, with stomach empty and hide inflamed, rushed at the bear, furious from captivity, with such a roar that the Indian women screamed and even the men shuffled their feet uneasily. But neither combatant was interested in aught but the other. The one sought to gore, his enemy to strike or hug. The vaqueros teased them with arrows and cries, the dust flew; for a few moments there was but a heaving, panting, lashing bulk in the middle of the arena, and then the bull, his tongue torn out, rolled on his back, and another was driven in before the victor could wreak his unsated vengeance among the spectators. The bear, dragging the dead bull, rushed at the living, who, unmartial at first, stiffened to the defensive as he saw a bulk of wiry fur set with eyes of fire, almost upon him. He sprang aside, lowered his horn and caught the bear in the chest. But the victor was a compact mass of battle and momentum. His onslaught flung the bear over backward, and quickly disengaging himself he made another leap at his equally agile enemy. This time the battle was longer and more various, for the bull was smaller, more active and dexterous. Twice he almost had the bear on his horns, but was rolled, only saving his neck and back from the fury of the mountain beast by such kicking and leaping that both combatants were indistinguishable from the whirlwind of dust. Out of this they would emerge to stand panting in front of each other with tongues pendant and red eyes rolling. Finally the bear, nearly exhausted, made a sudden charge, the bull leaped aside, backed again with incredible swiftness, caught the bear in the belly, tossed him so high that he met the hard earth with a loud cracking of bone. The vaqueros circled about the maddened bull, set his hide thick with arrows, tripped him with the lasso. A wiry little Mexican in yellow, galloping in on his mustang, administered the coup de grace amidst the wild applause of the spectators, whose shouting and clapping and stamping might have been heard by the envious guard at the Presidio and Yerba Buena.

As the party on the corridor broke, Rezanov found no difficulty in reaching Concha's side, for even Dona Ignacia was chattering wildly with several other good dames who renewed their youth briefly at the bull-fight.

"Did you enjoy that?" he asked curiously.

"I did not look at it. I never do. But I know that you were not affronted. You never took your eyes from those dreadful beasts."

"I am exhilarated to know that you watched me. Yes, at a bull-fight the primitive man in me has its way, although I have the grace to be ashamed of myself afterward. In that I am at least one degree more civilized than your race, which never repents."

The door of one of the smaller rooms stood open, and as they took advantage of this oversight with a singular concert of motive, he clasped both her hands in his. "Are you angry with me?" he asked softly. He dared not close the door, but his back was square against it, and the other guests were moving down to the refectory.

"For liking such horrid sport?"

"We have no time to waste in coquetry."

Her eyes melted, but she could not resist planting a dart. "Not now--I quite understand: love could never be first with you. And two years are not so long. They quickly pass when one is busy. I shall find occupation, and you will have no time for longings and regrets."

They were not yet alone, women were talking in their light, high voices not a yard away. The hindrance, and her new loveliness in the soft mantilla, the pink of the roses reflected in her throat, the provocative curl of her mouth, sent the blood to his head.

"You have only to say the word," he said hoarsely, "and the Juno will sail to-night."

Never before had she seen his face so unmasked. Her voice shook in triumph and response.

"Would you? Would you?"

"Say the word!"

"You would sacrifice all--the Company--your career--your Sitkans?"

"All--everything." His own voice shook with more than passion, for even in that moment he counted the cost, but he did not care.

But Concha detected that second break in his voice, and turned her head sadly.

"You would not say that to-morrow. I hate myself that I made you say it now. I love you enough to wait forever, but I have not the courage to hand you over to your enemies."

"You are strangely far-sighted for a young girl." And between admiration and pique, his ardor suffered a chill.

"I am no longer a young girl. In these last days it has seemed to me that secrets locked in my brain, secrets of women long dead, but of whose essence I am, have come forth to the light. I have suffered in anticipation. My mind has flown--flown--I have lived those two years until they are twenty, thirty, and I have lived on into old age here by the sea, watching, watching--"

She had dropped all pretence of coquetry and was speaking with a passionate forlornness. But before he could interrupt her, take advantage of the retreating voices that left them alone at last, she had drawn herself up and moved a step away. "Do not think, however," she said proudly, "that I am really as weak and silly as that. It was only a mood. Should you not return I should grieve, yes; and should I live as long as is common with my race, still would my heart remain young with your image, and with the fidelity that would be no less a religion than that of my church. But I should not live a selfish life, or I should be unworthy of my election to experience a great and eternal passion. Memory and the life of the imagination would be my solace, possibly in time my happiness, but my days I should give to this poor little world of ours; and all that one mortal, and that a woman, has to bestow upon a stranded and benighted people. It may not be much, but I make you that promise, senor, that you will not think me a foolish, romantic girl, unworthy of the great responsibilities you have offered me."

"Concha!" He was deeply moved, and at the same time her words chilled him with subtle prophecy, sank into some unexplored depth of his consciousness, meeting response as subtle, filling him with impatience at the mortality of man. He glanced over his shoulder, then took her recklessly in his arms.

"Is it possible you doubt I will come back?" he demanded. "My faith?"

"No, not that. But such happiness seems to me too great for this life."

He remembered how often he had been close to death; he knew that during the greater part of the next two years he should see the glimmer of the scythe oftener yet. For a moment it seemed to him that he felt the dark waters rise in his soul, heard the jeers of the gods at the vanity of mortal will. But the blood ran strong and warm in his veins. He shook off the obsession, and smiled a little cynically, even as he kissed her.

"This is the hour for romance, my dear. In the years to come, when you are very prosaically my wife with a thousand duties, and grumbling at my exactions, your consolation will be the memory of some moment like this, when you were able to feel romantic and sad. I wish I could arrange for some such set of memories for myself, but I am unequal to your divine melancholy. When I cannot see you I am cross and sulky; and just now--I am, well--philosophically happy. Some day I shall be happier, but this is well enough. And I can harbor no ugly presentiments. As I entered California I was elated with a sense of coming happiness, of future victories; and I prefer to dwell upon that, the more particularly as in a measure the prophetic hint has been fulfilled. So make the most of the present. I shall see you daily during this last precious fortnight, for I am determined this arrangement shall cease; and you must exorcise coquetry and abet me whenever there is a chance of a word alone."

She nodded, but she noted with a sigh that he said no more of sudden flight. She would never have consented to jeopardize the least of his interests, but she fain would have been besought. The experience she had had of the vehemence and fire in Rezanov made her long for his complete subjugation and the happiness it must bring to herself. But as he smiled tenderly above her she saw that his practical brain had silenced the irresponsible demands of love, and although she did not withdraw from his arms she stiffened her head.

"I fancy I shall return home to-morrow," she said. "My mother tells me that she can live without me no longer, and that Father Abella has reminded her that if I stay in the house of Elena Castro I shall be as free from gossip as here. I infer that he has rated my two parents for making a martyr of me unnecessarily, and told them it was a duty to enliven my life as much as possible before I enter upon this long period of probation. The grating of my room at Elena's is above a little strip of Garden, and faces the blank wall of the next house. Sometimes--who knows?" She shrugged her shoulders and gave a gay little laugh, then stood very erect and moved past him to the door. She had recognized the shuffling step of Father Abella.

"Is supper ready, padre mio?" she asked sweetly. "His excellency and I have talked so much that we are very hungry."

"There is no need to deceive me," said Father Abella dryly. "You are not the first lovers I have known, although I will admit you are by far the most interesting, and for that reason I have had the wickedness to abet you. But I fancy the good God will forgive me. Come quickly. They are scattered now, but will go to the refectory in a moment and miss you. Excellency, will you give your arm to Dona Ignacia and take the seat at the head of the table? Concha, my child, I am afraid you must console our good Don Weeliam. He is having a wretched quarter of an hour, but has loyally diverted the attention of your mother."

"That is the vocation of certain men," said Concha lightly.


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

Sorry, no summary available yet.