Home -> A. M. Robertson -> California - Romantic and Resourceful -> Appendix B - Concepción de Argüello - Bret Harte

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page

Appendix B.

Concepción De Argüello.

(Presidio de San Francisco, 1806.)

By Bret Harte.


Looking seaward, o'er the sand-hills stands the fortress, old and
By the San Francisco friars lifted to their patron saint, -

Sponsor to that wondrous city, now apostate to the creed,
On whose youthful walls the Padre saw the angel's golden reed;

All its trophies long since scattered, all its blazon brushed away;
And the flag that flies above it but a triumph of today.

Never scar of siege or battle challenges the wandering eye,
Never breach of warlike onset holds the curious passer-by;

Only one sweet human fancy interweaves its threads of gold
With the plain and homespun present, and a love that ne'er grows old;

Only one thing holds its crumbling walls above the meaner dust,
Listen to the simple story of a woman's love and trust.


Count von Resanoff[15], the Russian, envoy of the mighty Czar,
Stood beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are.

He with grave provincial magnates long had held serene debate
On the Treaty of Alliance and the high affairs of state;

He from grave provincial magnates oft had turned to talk apart
With the Comandante's daughter on the questions of the heart,

Until points of gravest import yielded slowly one by one,
And by Love was consummated what Diplomacy begun;

Till beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are,
He received the twofold contract for approval of the Czar;

Till beside the brazen cannon the betrothèd bade adieu,
And from sallyport and gateway north the Russian eagles flew.


Long beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are,
Did they wait the promised bridegroom and the answer of the Czar;

Day by day on wall and bastion beat the hollow, empty breeze, -
Day by day the sunlight glittered on the vacant, smiling seas;

Week by week the near hills whitened in their dusty leather cloaks,
Week by week the far hills darkened from the fringing plain of oaks;

Till the rains came, and far breaking, on the fierce southwester tost,
Dashed the whole long coast with color, and then vanished and were lost.

So each year the seasons shifted, - wet and warm and drear and dry;
Half a year of clouds and flowers, half a year of dust and sky.

Still it brought no ship nor message, - brought no tidings, ill or meet,
For the statesmanlike Commander, for the daughter fair and sweet.

Yet she heard the varying message, voiceless to all ears beside:
"He will come," the flowers whispered; "Come no more," the dry hills

Still she found him with the waters lifted by the morning breeze, -
Still she lost him with the folding of the great white-tented seas

Until hollows chased the dimples from her cheeks of olive brown,
And at times a swift, shy moisture dragged the long sweet lashes down;

Or the small mouth curved and quivered as for some denied caress,
And the fair young brow was knitted in an infantine distress.

Then the grim Commander, pacing where the brazen cannon are,
Comforted the maid with proverbs, wisdom gathered from afar;

Bits of ancient observation by his fathers garnered, each
As a pebble worn and polished in the current of his speech:

"'Those who wait the coming rider travel twice as far as he;'
'Tired wench and coming butter never did in time agree;'

"'He that getteth himself honey, though a clown, he shall have flies;'
'In the end God grinds the miller;' 'In the dark the mole has eyes;'

"'He whose father is Alcalde of his trial hath no fear,' -
And be sure the Count has reasons that will make his conduct clear."

Then the voice sententious faltered, and the wisdom it would teach
Lost itself in fondest trifles of his soft Castilian speech;

And on "Concha," "Conchitita," and "Conchita" he would dwell
With the fond reiteration which the Spaniard knows so well.

So with proverbs and caresses, half in faith and half in doubt,
Every day some hope was kindled, flickered, faded, and went out.


Yearly, down the hillside sweeping, came the stately cavalcade,
Bringing revel to vaquero, joy and comfort to each maid;

Bringing days of formal visit, social feast and rustic sport,
Of bull-baiting on the plaza, of love-making in the court.

Vainly then at Concha's lattice, vainly as the idle wind,
Rose the thin high Spanish tenor that bespoke the youth too kind;

Vainly, leaning from their saddles, caballeros, bold and fleet,
Plucked for her the buried chicken from beneath their mustang's feet;

So in vain the barren hillsides with their gay serapes blazed, -
Blazed and vanished in the dust-cloud that their flying hoofs had

Then the drum called from the rampart, and once more, with patient mien,
The Commander and his daughter each took up the dull routine,

Each took up the petty duties of a life apart and lone,
Till the slow years wrought a music in its dreary monotone.


Forty years on wall and bastion swept the hollow idle breeze,
Since the Russian eagle fluttered from the California seas;

Forty years on wall and bastion wrought its slow but sure decay,
And St. George's cross was lifted in the port of Monterey;

And the citadel was lighted, and the hall was gayly drest,
All to honor Sir George Simpson, famous traveler and guest[16].

Far and near the people gathered to the costly banquet set,
And exchanged congratulations with the English baronet;

Till, the formal speeches ended, and amidst the laugh and wine,
Some one spoke of Concha's lover, - heedless of the warning sign.

Quickly then cried Sir George Simpson: "Speak no ill of him, I pray!
He is dead. He died, poor fellow, forty years ago this day,

"Died while speeding home to Russia, falling from a fractious horse.
Left a sweetheart, too, they tell me. Married, I suppose, of course!

"Lives she yet?" A deathlike silence fell on banquet, guests, and hall,
And a trembling figure rising fixed the awestruck gaze of all.

Two black eyes in darkened orbits gleamed beneath the nun's white
Black serge hid the wasted figure, bowed and stricken where it stood.

"Lives she yet?" Sir George repeated. All were hushed as Concha drew
Closer yet her nun's attire. "Señor, pardon, she died, too!"

[15] If the facsimile of the chamberlain's signature, when written in Roman alphabetical character, is as set forth in part 2 of the Russian publication "Istoritcheskoé Obosrénié Obrasovania Rossiisko-Amerikanskoi Kompanii," by P. Tikhmenef, published in 1863, by Edward Weimar, in St. Petersburg, then the proper spelling is "Rezanov," the accent on the penult, and the "v" pronounced like "ff."

For metrical purposes Bret Harte has here taken the same kind of liberty with "Resanoff," and in another poem with Portolá, as Byron took with Trafálgar, in Childe Harold.

[16] The mention of Monterey is a poetic license. Sir George Simpson actually met her and acquainted her for the first time with the immediate cause of her lover's death, at Santa Barbara, where she was living with the De la Guerra family, Jan. 24, 1842, after her return from Lower California, following the death of her parents. "Though Doña Concepción," wrote Sir George Simpson, in 1847, "apparently loved to dwell on the story of her blighted affections, yet, strange to say, she knew not, till we mentioned it to her, the immediate cause of the chancellor's sudden death. This circumstance might in some measure be explained by the fact that Langsdorff's work was not published before 1814; but even then, in any other country than California, a lady who was still young, would surely have seen a book, which, besides detailing the grand incident of her life, presented so gratifying a portrait of her charms." (An Overland journey Round the World, during the years 1841 and 1842, by Sir George Simpson, Governor-in-chief of the Hudson Bay Company's Territories, published by Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia, in 1847, page 207.)

[17] She did not actually receive the white habit till she was received into the Dominican sisterhood, April 11, 1851, by Padre F. Sadoc Vilarrasa, in the Convent of Santa Catalina de Sena (St. Catherine of Siena), at Monterey, being the first one to enter, where she took the perpetual vow April 13, 1852 (Original Records, Book of Clothings and Professions, page 1, now at Dominican College, at San Rafael, Cal.), and where she remained continuously till the convent was transferred to Benicia, Aug. 26, 1854. There being no religious order for women in California until the Dominican sisterhood was founded at Monterey, March 13, 1851 (Original Annals, at Benicia, Reg. 1, pages I and 14), she had at first to content herself with joining the Third Order of St. Francis "in the world," and it was really the dark habit of this secular order which constituted the "nun's attire" at the time Sir George Simpson met her in 1842.

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page