It proved to be the most delicate and savory repast that had excited their appetites this side of Europe. The friars had their consolations, and even Dona Ignacia Arguello was less gastronomic than Father Landaeta. Rezanov, whose epicurianism had survived a year of dried fish and the coarse luxuries of his managers, suddenly saw all life in the light of the humorist, and told so many amusing versions of his adventures in the wilderness, and even of his misadventure with Japan, that the priests choked over their wine, and Langsdorff, who had not a grain of humor, swelled with pride in his chance relationship to a man who seemed able to manipulate every string in the human network.
"He will succeed," he said to Davidov. "He will succeed. I almost hoped he would not, he is so indifferent--I might almost say so hostile--to my own scientific adventures. But when he is in this mood, when those cold eyes brim with laughter and ordinary humanity, I am nothing better than his slave."
Rezanov, in reply to an entreaty from Father Uria to tell them more of his mission and of the strange picture-book country they had never hoped to hear of at first hand, assumed a tone of great frankness and intimacy. "We were, with astounding cleverness, treated from the first like an audience in a new theatre. After we had solemnly been towed by a string of boats to anchor, under the Papen mountains, all Nagasaki appeared to turn out, men, women and children. Thousands of little boats, decorated with flags by day and colored lanterns by night, and filled with people in gala attire, swarmed about us, gazed at us through telescopes, were so thick on the bay one could have traversed it on foot. The imperial sailors were distinguished by their uniforms of a large blue and white check, suggesting the pinafores of a brobdingnagian baby. The barges of the imperial princes were covered with blue and white awnings and towed to the sound of kettledrums and the loud measured cries of the boatmen. At night the thousands of illuminated lanterns, of every color and shade, the waving of fans, the incessant chattering, and the more harmonious noise that rose unceasingly above, made up a scene as brilliant as it was juvenile and absurd. In the daytime it was more interesting, with the background of hills cultivated to their crests in the form of terraces, varied with rice fields, hamlets, groves, and paper villas encircled with little gardens as glowing and various of color as the night lanterns. When, at last, I was graciously permitted to have a residence on a point of land called Megasaki, I was conveyed thither in the pleasure barge of the Prince of Fisi. There was place for sixty oarsmen, but as one of the few tokens of respect, I was enabled to record for the comfort of the mighty sovereign whose representative I was, the barge was towed by a long line of boats, decorated with flags, the voices of the rowers rising and falling in measured cadence as they announced to all Japan the honor about to be conferred upon her. I sat on a chair of state in the central compartment of the barge, and quite alone; my suite standing on a raised deck beyond. Before me on a table, marvellously inlaid, were my credentials. I was surrounded by curtains of sky-blue silk and panels of polished lacquer inwrought with the Imperial arms in gold. The awning of blue and white silk was lined with a delicate and beautiful tapestry, and the reverse sides of the silken partitions were of canvas painted by the masters of the country. The polished floor was covered by a magnificent carpet woven with alarming dragons whose jaws pointed directly at my chair of state. And such an escort and such a reception, both of ceremony and of curiosity, no Russian had ever boasted before. Flags waved, kettledrums beat, fans were flung into my very lap to autograph. The bay, the hills, were a blaze of color and a confusion of sound. The barracks were hung with tapestries and gay silks. I, with my arms folded and in full uniform, my features composed to the impassivity of one of their own wooden gods, was the central figure of this magnificent farce; and it may be placed to the everlasting credit of the discipline of courts that not one of my staff smiled. They stood with their arms folded and their eyes on the inlaid devices at their feet.
"When this first act was over and I was locked in for the night and felt myself able to kick my way through the flimsy walls, yet as completely a prisoner as if they had been of stone, I will confess that I fell into a most undiplomatical rage; and when I found myself played with from month to month by a people I scorned as a grotesque mixture of barbarian and mannikin, I was alternately infuriated, and consumed with laughter at the vanity of men and nations."
His voice dropped from its light ironical note, and became harsh and abrupt with reminiscent disgust. "And the end of it all was failure. The superb presents of the Tsar were rejected. These presents: coats of black fox and ermine, vases of fossil ivory and of marble, muskets, pistols, sabers, magnificent lustres, table services of crystal and porcelain, tapestries and carpets, immense mirrors, a clock in the form of an elephant, and set with precious stones, a portrait of the Tsar by Madame le Brun, damasks, furs, velvets, printed cotton, cloths, brocades of gold and silver, microscopes, gold and silver watches, a complete electrical machine--presents in all, of the value of three hundred thousand roubles, were returned with scant ceremony to the Nadeshda and I was politely told to leave.
"But the mortification was the least of my worries. The object of the embassy was to establish not only good will and friendship between Russia and Japan, for which we cared little, but commercial intercourse between this fertile country and our northeastern and barren possessions. It would have been greatly to the advantage of the Japanese, and God knows it would have meant much to us."
Then Rezanov having tickled the imaginations and delighted the curiosity of the priests, began to play upon their heartstrings. His own voice vibrated as he related the sufferings of the servants of the Company, and while avoiding the nomenclature and details of their bodily afflictions, gave so thrilling a hint of their terrible condition that his audience gasped with sympathy while experiencing no qualms in their own more fortunate stomachs.
He led their disarmed understandings as far down the vale of tears as he deemed wise, then permitted himself a magnificent burst of spontaneity.
"I must tell you the object of my mission to California, my kind friends!" he cried, "although I beg you will not betray me to the other powers until I think it wise to speak myself. But I must have your sympathy and advice. It has long been my desire to establish relations between Russia and Spain that should be of mutual benefit to the colonies of both in this part of the western hemisphere. I have told you of the horrible condition and needs of my men. They must have a share in the superfluities of this most prodigal land. But I make no appeal to your mercy. Trade is not founded on charity. You well know we have much you are in daily need of. There should be a bi-yearly interchange." He paused and looked from one staring face to the other. He had been wise in his appeal. They were deeply gratified at being taken into his confidence and virtually asked to outwit the military authorities they detested.
"I have brought the Juno heavy laden, my fathers, and for the deliberate purpose of barter. She is full of Russian and Boston goods. I shall do my utmost to persuade your Governor to give me of his corn and other farinaceous foods in exchange. It may be against your laws, and I am well aware that for the treaty I must wait, but I beg you in the name of humanity to point out to his excellency a way in which he can at the same time relieve our necessities and placate his conscience."
"We will! We will!" cried Father Abella. "Would that you had come in the disguise of a common sea-captain, for we have hoodwinked the commandantes more than once. But aside from the suspicion and distrust in which Spain holds Russia --with so distinguished a visitor as your excellency, it would be impossible to traffic undetected. But there must be a way out. There shall be! And will your excellency kindly let us see the cargo? I am sure there is much we sadly need: cloth, linen, cotton, boots, shoes, casks, bottles, glasses, plates, shears, axes, implements of husbandry, saws, sheep shears, iron wares--have you any of these things, Excellency?"
"All and more. Will you come to-morrow?"
"We will! and one way or another they shall be ours and you shall have breadstuffs for your pitiable subjects. We have as much need of Europe as you can have of California, for Mexico is dilatory and often disregards our orders altogether. One way or another--we have your promise, Excellency?"
"I shall not leave California without accomplishing what I came for," said Rezanov.
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