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Chapter 4

It was long before Rezanov slept that night. The usual chill had come in from the Pacific as the sun went down, and the distinguished visitor had intimated to his hosts that he should like to exercise on shore until ready for his detested quarters; but Arguello dared not, in the absence of his father, invite the foreigner even to sleep in the house so lavishly offered in the morning; although he had sent such an abundance of provisions to the ship that the poor sailors were deep in sleep, gorged like boa-constrictors; and he could safely promise that while the Juno remained in port her larder should never be empty. He shared the evening bowl of punch in the cabin, then went his way lamenting that he could not take his new friends with him.

Rezanov paced the little deck of the Juno to keep his blood in stir. There was no moon. The islands and promontories on the great sheet of water were black save for the occasional glow of an Indian camp-fire. There was not a sound but the lapping of the waves, the roar of distant breakers. The great silver stars and the little green stars looked down upon a solitude that was almost primeval, yet mysteriously disturbed by the restless currents in the brain of a man who had little in common with primal forces.

Rezanov was uneasy on more scores than one. He was annoyed and mortified at the discovery--made over the punch bowl--that the girl he had taken to be twenty was but sixteen. It was by no means his first experience of the quick maturity of southern women--but sixteen! He had never wasted a moment on a chit before, and although he was a man of imagination, and notwithstanding her intelligence and dignity, he could not reconcile properties so conflicting with any sort of feminine ideal.

And the pressing half of his mission he had confided to her! No man knew better than he the value of a tactful and witty woman in the political dilemmas of life; more than one had given him devoted service, nor ever yet had he made a mistake. After several hours spent in the society of this clever, politic, dissatisfied girl he had come to the conclusion that he could trust her, and had told her of the lamentable condition of the creatures in the employ of the Russian-American Company; of their chronic state of semi-starvation, of the scurvy that made them apathetic of brain and body, and eventually would exterminate them unless he could establish reciprocal trade relations with California and obtain regular supplies of farinaceous food; acknowledged that he had brought a cargo of Russian and Boston goods necessary to the well-being of the Missions and Presidios, and that he would not return to the wretched people of Sitka, at least, without a generous exchange of breadstuffs, dried meats, peas, beans, barley and tallow. Not only had he no longer the courage to witness their misery, but his fortune and his career were at stake. His entire capital was invested in the Company he had founded, and he had failed in his embassy to Japan--to the keen mortification of the Tsar and the jubilation of his enemies. If he left the Emperor's northeastern dominions unreclaimed and failed to rescue the Company from its precarious condition, he hardly should care to return to St. Petersburg.

Dona Concha had listened to this eloquent harangue--they sat alone at one end of the long sala while Luis at the other toiled over letters to the Governor and his father advising them of the formidable honor of the Russian's visit--in exactly the temper he would have chosen. Her fine eyes had melted and run over at the moving tale of the sufferings of the servants of the Company--until his own had softened in response and he had impulsively kissed her hand; they had dilated and flashed as he spoke of his personal apprehensions; and when he had given her a practical explanation of his reasons for coming to California she had given him advice as practical in return.

He must withhold from her father and the Governor the fact of his pressing need; they were high officials with an inflexible sense of duty, and did all they could to enforce the law against trading with foreigners. He was to maintain the fiction of belting the globe, but admit that he had indulged in a dream of commercial relations--for a benefit strictly mutual--between neighbors as close as the Spanish and Russians in America. This would interest them--what would not, on the edge of the world?--and they would agree to lay the matter, reinforced by a strong personal plea, before the Viceroy of Mexico; who in turn would send it to the Cabinet and King at Madrid. Meanwhile, he was to confide in the priests at the Mission. Not only would their sympathies be enlisted, but they did much trading under the very nose of the government. Not for personal gain--they were vowed to a life of poverty; but for their Indian converts; and as there were twelve hundred at the Mission of San Francisco, they would wink at many things condemnable in the abstract. He had engaged to visit them on the morrow, and he must take presents to tempt their impersonal cupidity, and invite them to inspect the rest of his wares--which the Governor would be informed his Excellency had been forced to buy with the Juno from the Yankee skipper, D'Wolf, and would rid himself of did opportunity offer.

Rezanov had never received sounder advice, and had promptly accepted it. Now, as he reflected that it had been given by a girl of sixteen, he was divided between admiration of her precocity and fear lest she prove to be too young to keep a secret. More over, there were other considerations.

Rezanov, although in his earlier years he had so far sacrificed his interests and played into the hands of his enemies, in avoiding the too embarrassing partiality of Catherine the Great, had nevertheless held a high place at court by right of birth, and been a man of the world always; rarely absent from St. Petersburg during the last and least susceptible part of the imperial courtesan's life, the brief reign of Paul, and the two years between the accession of Alexander and the sailing of the Nadeshda. More over, there was hardly another court of importance in Europe with which he was not familiar, and few men had had a more complete experience of life. And the life of a courtier, a diplomat, a traveller, noble, wealthy, agreeable to women by divine right, with active enemies and a horde of flatterers, in daily contact with the meaner and more disingenuous corners of human nature, is not conducive to a broad optimism and a sweet and immutable Christianity. Rezanov inevitably was more or less cynical and blase', and too long versed in the ways of courts and courtiers to retain more than a whimsical tolerance of the naked truth and an appreciation of its excellence as a diplomatic manoeuvre. Nevertheless, he was by nature too impetuous ever to become under any provocation a dishonest man, and too normally a gentleman to deviate from a certain personal code of honor. He might come to California with fair words and a very definite intention of annexing it to Russia at the first opportunity, but he was incapable of abusing the hospitality of the Arguellos by making love to their six-teen-year-old daughter. Had she been of the years he had assumed, he would have had less scruple in embarking upon a flirtation, both for the pastime and the use he might make of her. A Spanish beauty of twenty, still unmarried, would be more than his match. But a child, however precocious, inevitably would fall in love with the first uncommon stranger she met; and Rezanov, less vain than most men of his kind, and with a fundamental humanity that was the chief cause in his efforts to improve the condition of his wretched promuschleniki, had no taste for the role of heart-breaker.

But the girl had proved her timeliness; would, if trustworthy, be of further use in inclining her father and the Governor toward such of his designs as he had any intentions of revealing; and, weighing carefully his conversations with her, he was disposed to believe that she would screen and abet him through vanity and love of intrigue. After the dinner, in the seclusion of the sala, he had taken pains to explore for the causes of her mental maturity. Concha had told him of Don Jose Arguello's ambition that his children in their youth should have the education he had been forced to acquire in his manhood; he had taught them himself, and notwithstanding his piety and the disapproval of the priests, had permitted them to read the histories, travels, and biographies he received once a year from the City of Mexico. Rezanov had met Madame de Stael and other bas bleus, and given them no more of his society than politeness demanded, but although astonished at the amount of information this young girl had assimilated, he found nothing in her manner of wearing her intellectual crown to offend his fastidious taste. She was wholly artless in her love of books and of discussing them; and nothing in their contents had disturbed the sweetest innocence he had ever met. Of the little arts of coquetry she was mistress by inheritance and much provocation, but her unawakened inner life breathed the simplicity and purity of the elemental roses that hovered about her in his thoughts. Her very unsusceptibility made the game more dangerous; if it piqued him--and he aspired to be no more than human--he either should have to marry her, or nurse a sore spot in his conscience for the rest of his life; and for neither alternative had he the least relish.

He dismissed the subject at last with an impatient shrug. Perhaps he was a conceited ass, as his English friends would say; perhaps the Governor would be more amenable than she had represented. No man could forecast events. It was enough to be forearmed.

But his thoughts swung to a theme as little disburdening. His needs, as he had confided to Concha, were very pressing. The dry or frozen fish, the sea dogs, the fat of whales, upon which the employees of the Company were forced to subsist in the least hospitable of climes, had ravaged them with scorbutic diseases until their numbers were so reduced by death and desertion that there was danger of depopulation and the consequent bankruptcy of the Company. Since June of the preceding year until his departure from New Archangel in the previous month, he had been actively engaged in inspection of the Company's holdings from Kamchatka to Sitka: reforming abuses, establishing schools and libraries, conceiving measures to protect the fur-bearing animals from reckless slaughter both by the promuschleniki and marauding foreigners; punishing and banishing the worst offenders against the Company's laws; encouraging the faithful, and sharing hardships with them that sent memories of former luxuries and pleasures scurrying off to the realms of fantasy. But his rule would be incomplete and his efforts end in failure if the miserable Russians and natives in the employ of the Company were not vitalized by proper food and cheered with the hope of its permanence.

In Santiago's story of the Russian visitor's achievements and status there was the common mingling of truth and fiction the exalted never fail to inspire. Rezanov, although he had accomplished great ends against greater odds, was too little of a courtier at heart ever to have been a prime favorite in St. Petersburg until the accession of a ruler with whom he had something in common. A dissolute woman and a crack-brained despot were the last to appreciate an original and independent mind, and the seclusion of Alexander had been so complete during the lifetime of his father that Rezanov barely had known him by sight. But the Tsarovitz, enthusiastic for reform and a passionate admirer of enterprise, knew of Rezanov, and no sooner did he mount his gory throne than he confirmed the Chamberlain in his enterprise, and two years later made him a Privy Counsellor, invested him with the order of St. Ann, and chose him for the critical embassy to the verdant realm with the blind and gateless walls.

Rezanov had conquered so far in life even less by address than by the demonstration of abilities very singular in a man of his birth and education. When he met Shelikov, during the Siberian merchant trader's visit to St. Petersburg in 1788, he was a young man with little interest in life outside of its pleasures, and a patrimony that enabled him to command them to no great extent and barely to maintain the dignity of his rank. Shelikov's plan to obtain a monopoly of the fur trade in the islands and territories added by his Company to Russia, possibly throughout the entire possession, thus preventing the destruction of sables, seals, otters, and foxes by small traders and foreigners, interested him at once; or possibly he was merely fascinated at first by the shrewd and dauntless representative of a class with which he had never before come in contact. The accidental acquaintance ripened into intimacy, Rezanov became a partner in the Shelikov-Golikov Company, and married the daughter of his new friend. After the death of his father-in-law, in 1795, his ambitions and business abilities, now fully awake, prompted him to obtain for himself and his partners rights analogous to those granted by England to the East India Company. Shelikov had won little more than half the power and privileges he had solicited of Catherine, although he had amalgamated the two leading companies, drawn in several others, and built ships and factories and forts to protect them. And if the regnant merchants made large fortunes, the enterprise in general suffered from the rivalries between the various companies, and above all from lack of imperial support.

Rezanov, his plans made, brought to bear all the considerable influence he was able to command, called upon all his resources of brain and address, and brought Catherine to the point of consenting to sign the charter he needed. Before it was ready for the imperial signature she died. Rezanov was forced to begin again with her ill-balanced and intractable son. Natalie Shelikov, his famous mother-in-law, the old shareholders of the Company, and the many new ones that had subscribed to Rezanov's ambitious project, gave themselves up to despair. For a time the outlook was dark. The personal enemies of Rezanov and the bitter and persistent opponents of the companies threw themselves eagerly into the scale with tales of brutality of the merchants and the threatened extirpation of the furbearing animals. Paul announced his attention to abolish all the companies and close the colonies to traders big and little.

But the enemy had a very subtle antagonist in Rezanov. Apparently dismissing the subject, he applied himself to gaining a personal ascendancy over the erratic but impressionable Tsar. No one in the opposing camp could compare with him in that fine balance of charm and brain which was his peculiar gift, or in the adroit manipulation of a mind propelled mainly by vanity. He studied Paul's moods and character, discovered that after some senseless act of oppression he suffered from a corresponding remorse, and was susceptible to any plan that would increase his power and add lustre to his name. The commercial and historic advantages of prosperous northeastern possessions were artfully instilled. At the opportune moment Rezanov laid before him a scheme, mature in every detail, for a great company that would add to the wealth of Russia, and convince Europe of the sound commercial sense and immortal wisdom of its sovereign. Without more ado he obtained his charter.

This momentous instrument granted to the "Russian-American Company under our Highest Protection," "full privileges, for a period of twenty years on the coast of northwestern America, beginning from latitude 55 degrees north, and including the chain of islands extending from Kamchatka northward, and southward to Japan; the exclusive right to all enterprises, whether hunting, trading, or building, and to new discoveries; with strict prohibition from profiting from any of these pursuits, not only to all parties who might engage in them on their own responsibility, but also to those who formerly had ships and establishments there, except those who have united with the new Company." All private traders who refused to join the Company were to be allowed to sell their property and depart in peace.

Thus was formed the first of the Trusts in America; and the United States never has had so formidable a menace to her territorial greatness as this Russian nobleman who paced that night the wretched deck of the little ship he had bought from one of her skippers. Perturbed in mind at his recent failures and immediate prospects, he was no less determined to take California from the Spaniards either by absorption or force.

On his way from New Archangel to San Francisco he had met with his second failure since leaving St. Petersburg. It was his intention to move the Sitkan colony down to the mouth of the Columbia River; not only pressed by the need of a more beneficent soil, but as a first insidious advance upon San Francisco Bay. Upon this trip it would be enough to make a survey of the ground and bury a copper plate inscribed: "Possession of the Russian Empire." The Juno had encountered terrific storms. After three desperate attempts to reach the mouth of the river, Rezanov had been forced to relinquish the enterprise for the moment and hasten with his diseased and almost useless crew to the nearest port. It was true that the attempt could be made again later, but Rezanov, sanguine of temperament, was correspondingly depressed by failure and disposed to regard it as an ill-omen.

An ambassador inspired by heaven could have accomplished no more with the Japanese at that mediaeval stage of their development than he had done, and the most indomitable of men cannot yet control the winds of heaven; but sovereigns are rarely governed by logic, and frequently by the favorite at hand. The privilege of writing personally to the Tsar, in his case, meant more and less than appeared on the surface. It was a measure to keep the reports of the Company out of the hands of the Admiralty College, its bitterest enemy, and always jealous of the Civil Service. Nevertheless, Rezanov knew that he had no immediate reason to apprehend the loss of Alexander's friendship and esteem; and if he placed the Company, in which all the imperial family had bought shares, on a sounder basis than ever before, and doubled its earnings by insuring the health of its employees, he would meet, when in St. Petersburg again, with practically no opposition to his highest ambitions. These ambitions he deliberately kept in a fluid state for the present. Whether he should aspire to great authority in the government, or choose to rule with the absolute powers of the Tsar himself these already vast possessions on the Pacific--to be extended indefinitely --would be decided by events. All his inherited and cultivated instincts yearned for the brilliant and complex civilizations of Europe, but the new world had taken a firm hold upon his humaner and appealed more insidiously to his despotic. More over, Europe, torn up by that human earthquake, Napoleon Bonaparte, must lose the greater half of its sweetness and savor. All that, however, could be determined upon his return to St. Petersburg in the autumn.

But meanwhile he must succeed with these Californians, or they might prove, toy soldiers as they were, more perilous to his fortunes than enemies at court. He could not afford another failure; and news of this attempt and an exposition of all that depended upon it were already on the road to the capital of Russia.

He had known, of course, of the law that forbade the Spanish colonies to trade with foreign ships, but he had relied partly upon the use he could make of the orders given by the Spanish King at the request of the Tsar regarding the expedition under Krusenstern, partly upon his own wit and address. But although the royal order had insured him immediate hospitality and saved him many wearisome formalities, he had already discovered that the Spanish on the far rim of their empire had lost nothing of their connate suspicion. Rather, their isolation made them the more wary. Although they little appreciated the richness and variousness of California's soil, and not at all this wonderful bay that would accommodate the combined navies of the world, pocketing several, the pious zeal of the clergy in behalf of the Indians, and the general policy of Spain to hold all of the western hemisphere that disintegrating forces would permit, made her as tenacious of this vast territory she had so sparsely populated as had she been aware that its founda- tions were of gold, conceived that its climate and soil were a more enduring source of wealth than ever she would command again. If Rezanov was not gifted with the prospector's sense for ores--although he had taken note of Arguello's casual reference to a vein of silver and lead in the Monterey hills--no man ever more thoroughly appreciated the visible resources of California than he. Baranhov, chief-manager of the Company, had talked with American and British skippers for twenty years, and every item he had accumulated Rezanov had extracted. To-day he had drawn further information from Concha and her brothers; and their artless descriptions as well as this incomparable bay had filled him with enthusiasm. What a gift to Russia! What an achievement to his immortal credit! The fog rolled in from the Pacific in great white waves and stealthily enfolded him, obliterated the sea and the land. But he did not see it. Apprehension left him. Once more he fell to dreaming. In the course of a few years the Company would attract a large population to the mouth of the Columbia River, be strong enough to make use of any favorable turn in European politics and sweep down upon California. The geographical position of Mexico, the arid and desolate, herbless and waterless wastes intervening, would prohibit her sending any considerable assistance overland; and, all powerful at court by that time, he would take care that the Russian navy inspired Spain with a distaste for remote Pacific waters. He had long since recovered from the disappointment induced by the orders compelling him to remain in the colonies. The great Company he had heretofore regarded merely as a source of income and a means of advancing his ambitions, he now loved as his child. Even during the marches over frozen swamps and mountains, during the terrible winter in Sitka when he had become familiar with illness and even with hunger, his ardor had grown, as well as his determination to force Russia into the front rank of Commercial Europe. The United States he barely considered. He respected the new country for the independent spirit and military genius that had routed so powerful a nation as Great Britain, but he thought of her only as a new and tentative civilization on the far shores of the Atlantic. After some experience of travel in Siberia, and knowing the immensity and primeval conditions of northwestern America, he did not think it probable that the little cluster of states, barely able to walk alone, would indulge in dreams of expansion for many years to come. He had heard of the projected expedition of Lewis and Clarke to the mouth of the Columbia, but--perhaps he was too Russian--he did not take any adventure seriously that had not a mighty nation at its back. And as it was almost the half of a century from that night before the American flag flew over the Custom House of Monterey, there is reason to believe that Russian aggression under the leadership of so energetic and resourceful a spirit as Nicolai Petrovich de Rezanov was in a fair way to make history first in the New Albion of Drake and the California of the incompetent Spaniard.


Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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