The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

DAY TWO

 

Chapter 10

 

Patrick OíLeary was washing up for dinner in his room. Gathering information was one of the loves of his life, although sometimes it could literally be a headache. Morning is the time to pity the sober, he thought. The way they feel then is the best theyíre going to feel all day long. 

He smiled and reached for his musk oil. It should be a special night. He had it from the innkeeper himself that the dancer would perform and he wanted to enjoy a professional dancer and probe a bit into Monastarioís mindset. Tomorrow would be his ordeal of fire. He came to the conclusion that he would pack away his uniform for the time being and assume the identity of a Californian 

And this new identity, no matter how uncomfortable at first, might get him a number of places fast. There was, after all, a new young lady and her rich parents to cultivate, as well as the De la Vegas. He was almost sorry he had picked Alejandroís pocket without knowing who he was first, but Alejandro was rich enough to afford it. 

And then there was the padre who had invited him to an auction to raise money for charity. He could meet all sorts of townspeople and make a fine impression. Then, he wanted to find out all that he could about the mysterious outlaw, Zorro. But, people would only talk once they felt comfortable with him and he wanted them to feel very comfortable, very trusting. And someone they could confide in. 

Finally, there was Enrique. Ah, old friend, there was a time when I trusted you with my life, and you did the same with me. But now, I wonder if Iíd trust you about as far as I could throw you. Was there anything left of the old friend or the old friendship? Perhaps only time will tell. But one thing I am sure of, old friend: you will not make an enemy of me because to do so will cause you more pain than you ever dreamt. He did not want it to come to that. 

Patrick OíLeary combed his hair and mustache carefully, put on his uniform with its epaulettes and red sash. His boots were carefully polished. He took the green hat with the white band and decided to enjoy the sunset as a member of the Irish Regiment for the last time in Los Angeles, California, New Spain, colony of the great Spanish Empire. Christ Jesus, Iíve prepared for and am going to my own funeral. Iíll even strap on the saber to complete the show. Chin up, me lad, he thought as he opened the door and prepared to descend the stairs. The evening is still young and Iíll go out like flame burnt to its last ember.

 

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Diego de la Vega and his servant, Bernardo, rode into town earlier in the day to attend to some business for Alejandro. It was late afternoon, when Diego spotted Patrick OíLeary coming out of the inn, fully attired in his regimental uniform. Diego shook his head, wondering what was the point of it all. OíLeary spotted him and waved him over.

"Good afternoon, Colonel," Diego greeted him cheerfully. "Tell me, what is the special occasion? You look ready for a parade." 

"Ah, young Don, Iíve actually prepared meself for me own funeral. This is the last youíll see of Colonel Patrick James OíLeary. Tomorrow a new phoenix will arise from the ashes of the dead," deadpanned the Irishman. "But I do have a small favor to ask of you." 

"Anything, Colonel," said Diego. 

"Iíd like to know if you would mind riding with me out of town for a spell. Just to take in the scenery, that is," the man smiled and one green eye winked at Diego. 

"Bernardo will fetch the horses and let you ride his. He can wait for our return here in town," Diego said and began to gesture to his servant. Bernardo nodded and left. 

"Ah, thank you, Diego. Iíve decided that all your advice to me is worth implementing on the morrow. Tonight is the time for last rites, but weíll enjoy the view, have a few drinks and watch the dancer. I have it on good word that sheíll be the entertainment tonight." 

"Will the comandante be there as well?" asked Diego in an amused tone. "From what you told me, heís expected to be on hand to confirm or deny the unflattering description he made of her."

"Enrique mentioned the fact today that he owes me a dinner, but I donít like to think of things in those terms. It implies that itís an obligation rather than a pleasure." 

"You know, Colonel, I think you are beginning to understand the capitŠn a little more," Diego pointed out. 

"It still bothers me considerably, Diego, to think of Enrique in only those terms. I suppose heíll have to convince me by his own actions. That should start fairly soon, come to think of it." OíLeary mused. "Ah, hereíre the horses." 

Diego and the Irish colonel mounted and rode out of town in a leisurely manner, taking the road toward the San Gabriel Mission and then westward toward the setting sun.

 

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Patrick OíLeary found himself scouting the road and hills ahead. There was much of the area that reminded him of central and southern Spain, with the hills, valleys, dry grasses and dirt roads. But all other semblance ended there. The valley was vast, with little human habitation in comparison to the lands in Spain. Here, there were no castles dotting the skylines, or fortified cities or Roman aqueducts or Moorish fountains. There was an openness among the people, despite the heavy hand of the comandante, and the innocence of the place was refreshing. 

"My friend, do you see that hillock up yonder? Letís race to it," the colonel said, then dug his heels into the horse and began a race up the slope. 

Diego immediately reined in his horse and pursued OíLeary. His palomino began to overtake the otherís horse as they neared the top and the short run gave Diego a chance to see OíLearyís fine horsemanship over such terrain. 

When they reached the top, Diego complemented the colonel on his traveling over unfamiliar terrain. "Ah, this is old hat, Diego," the colonel responded. "Itís like the old days in the Army and with the partisans. How we traveled the narrow valleys and hills in pursuit of the French and, at times, retreating from their plans to snare us. But I wanted to see the view from here, looking down on the road and overlooking some of the vales behind us." He sat back in the saddle and looked out over the valley to the blue mountains to the north, now turning orange with the beginning of sunset. "Nice view. The green trees are quite a stark contrast to the yellow hills, but thereís a splendid beauty to the place." 

"We like to think so, Paddy," replied Diego. "If it would be no imposition on your plans, Iíd like to show you around, have you meet some of our neighbors, and help you get to know the people here. I think you will find a few more veterans here, but from before your time, or mine. Iíll bet theyíll love reminiscing about the Ďgood old daysí." 

"Now that sounds just grand," smiled OíLeary and dropped a hint. "Thereís nothing that I love more than a fiesta. Iím quite interested in hearing about this area as well Ė itís history and goings-on - not just from Enriqueís point of view, you understand. He implies that even here, there is a bit of lawlessness. Itís why I wore the sword. But I notice that you go about unarmed." 

"Most of the lawlessness seems to be perpetrated by the comandante, if you donít mind my saying so," said Diego. "Has he left you with the impression that lawlessness is everywhere?" 

"It seems that he thinks that an outlaw named ĎZorroí is a major concern," responded the colonel. "Is he, perhaps, a highwayman?"

"Oh, no, heís not a highwayman. Most people here donít consider El Zorro a problem. He is seen as a man who rights a wrong." 

"The wrongs committed by CapitŠn Monastario?" asked the Irishman. 

"Yes," said Diego. "I remember what you said about Monastario, what he was like in Spain during the war. It seems like weíre talking about two different people."

"Not entirely," remarked OíLeary. "Heís still the bold one, a man of action. However, I would like to see more of what is going on before drawing any final conclusions. I hope you will indulge me. Itís the past fond memories that are still alive and getting in the way. Itís the present that has to be borne out. By the by, I hope you donít mind my changing the subject, but I was wondering if youíd mind my riding out to see you tomorrow morning. Padre Felipe mentioned that you have a fine library and I have a fondness for books. I even managed to bring some favorites with me in my old trunk. Perhaps we could make an exchange." 

"Itís always a pleasure to entertain a man who appreciates the arts, Paddy. Nothing would please me more," smiled Diego. "But before it gets much too late, Iíd like to show you a few more views. The we could head back into town for a drink before dinner." 

"I see youíre a man after my own heart," Patrick OíLeary said cheerfully. "And thereís nothing dearer to my heart than a man who appreciates a good vintage." 

The two men rode down the hill, through a few more meadows and onto another hilltop before pausing again. 

"Tell me, is Ireland anything like California? Do you ever long to go back there?" asked Diego. 

The colonel brought his horse to a halt and was quiet for several minutes, looking off into the distance, over the green oaks, dry valleys and hills which were beginning to reflect the golden sunset. He shook his head. "Irelandís a green paradise compared to California, Diego. It rains most summer evenings. The forests are dense and stretch for as far as the eye can see. The mountains are a friendly refuge. Itís a land where there are no serpents, at least of the reptile variety." OíLeary paused a moment. "Ireland - there itís a manís dhuchas, as we say. Itís a word in Irish that means oneís native place, a shared tradition, our collective soul, a kindred affection, so to speak. Ah, and to go home again Ė filleadh ar do dhuchas Ė to return home to where one belongs, like the prodigalís welcome after many years away. Itís the exileís dream. But, itís only a dream. To go back means to the war that never ends until our land is free." 

"Are you tired of war, Paddy, or of the military?" asked Diego quietly, as the late afternoon wind began to rise up over the hills and sway the dry grasses. 

"I donít know, Diego. I am tired of it in as much as thereís a monotony to death and more death. But itís a familiar scratch, as well. It doesnít require much thinking and it becomes a familiar routine. You become part of a closed circle that you think is the best, the only one worth considering. It has a camaraderie, as I said, but a closed one. Itís a circle that excludes the voices and laughter of children, the songs and sighs of women in love and at their daily chores. It excludes art and beauty and remembrances of the old gods." OíLeary smiled. "So, you see, Iím split down the middle, tugged by two worlds and I havenít yet made up my mind which one to be a part of." 

Diego gave a heartfelt sigh of sympathy. "I canít say I envy your position, Paddy, but I hope that we can persuade you that California is a place where you can make a new and good life, even start over again." 

"Sometimes I dream of that, like a thirsty man drinking from a long-forgotten well, or as we say, caithfear pilleadh aris ar na foinsi Ė we will have to return to the springs." The colonel nodded towards the pueblo. "Speaking of the springs, thereís a little tavern down there beckoning to us." 

Diego smiled. "I believe you said you had a paid dinner awaiting you. Letís go for that early drink." 

With that the two men turned their horses heads back down the hill and headed toward the dirt road leading into the pueblo of Los Angeles. For once, the colonel was silent most of the way. Diego found his own thoughts preoccupied with what the Irishman had told him and he felt more grateful than ever that he had the better fortune of the two of them - to have a safe home and his father to return to in California.

 

 

Chapter Eleven
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