The Irish Colonel
It was late in the morning when Bernardo looked
out of the window of the sala and saw the ironbound wooden gate to the
hacienda open. Through it strolled a man in the clothing of a ranchero. In
one hand he carried two small books.
Bernardo watched the man carefully. There was
something about his stride that the mozo thought seemed very familiar and
he studied the newcomer as he paused and looked around the shaded patio
before approaching the front door. Bernardo decided to preempt the
strangerís arrival and so opened the door as if heading out himself.
As he came out the front door, the stranger halted
and waited until the servant looked up, then smiled in recognition.
Bernardo looked into the green eyes and knew at once who it was. He
feigned surprise, intimated a careful inspection of the Irishman, and
"Ah, Bernardo," OíLeary said slowly
and carefully, allowing the man to read his lips. He removed his brown
hat, pointed to his red hair, and raised his eyebrows as if to say,
"Now do you know me?"
Bernardo smiled, nodded and bowed. He really
appreciated the conscious effort that OíLeary made to communicate with
him. Very rarely did visitors ever concern themselves with making
themselves understood to humble servants, especially to one who was
handicapped. But OíLeary was different and knew how to form friendships
and loyalties from the start. He waved the colonel into the sala and
pointed to a chair. The colonel nodded but remained standing. Bernardo
left to look for Diego.
Only a few minutes passed before the son of
Alejandro de la Vega opened the door to the sala and walked in. He saw
that the colonel was looking over the paintings in the room. "Good
morning, Colonel OíLeary," Diego smiled. "Welcome to our home.
Do you find any of the paintings here of interest?"
"Ah, Don Diego," the Irishman said and
strode over to shake his hand. "A pleasure. Landscapes always
interest me because of their detail. I like to think that I could go there
"Speaking of going someplace, will you be
able to stay for lunch this afternoon? Or do you have a full
schedule?" asked Diego.
"Yes, thank you kindly. I have only one trip to make later this afternoon, but I wanted to bring these two books like I promised," responded OíLeary as he picked up two small leather books off the table.
"Why donít we go to the library for
now," suggested Diego. "Iíd like to examine your books and let
you look at ours." He turned toward Bernardo and made the gesture of
raising a glass to his lips and pointed to OíLeary. He then gestured
with his hands the shape of a bottle. The Irishman smiled and raised two
fingers. Diego laughed, "Oh, he wonít forget to bring me a glass,
"Well, I was thinking more in terms of two
bottles Ė one for each of us," OíLeary commented casually as
Diego raised his eyebrows. "One to celebrate my transformation into a
Californian and the other as a appetizer before the main meal."
Diego smiled and gestured for the Irishman to follow him to the library. He opened the door and had his guest enter first. As Bernardo headed toward the wine cellar, Diego whispered to him, "You know, Bernardo, I think Sergeant GarcŪa has finally met his match in Los Angeles." The mozo nodded in affirmation.
Diego got a surprise when he opened the first
book. He could not read the writing.
"Ah, now thatís Irish Gaelic,"
explained OíLeary. "I brought it just to bedevil you and to read a
little. Then Iíll translate it into Spanish. Itís a bit of poetry and
literature." He handed Diego the second book. "This will be of
greater interest to you since itís a bit of Irish history in Spanish and
of fairly recent printing at that."
"Irish, itís an interesting language to
see. Iíve never heard it spoken before, until you began to speak
it," commented Diego, examining the unfamiliar words.
"The English passed laws forbidding the
speaking of our language by our people, but we speak it anyway, often in
secret. Is beatha teanga I ag
labhairt - the life of a language is in its speaking -and it helps
preserve the thousands of years of our culture and a way of life alien to
the conqueror - alien, so he despises it because itís not his own."
"Thatís how many whites regard the Indians
here, Paddy," Diego remarked.
"I see that idiocy is universal, then, among
those who view themselves as conquerors."
The door opened. Don Alejandro entered the room
with purpose. He looked up in surprise when he saw his son with a strange
ranchero. "Your pardon, Diego, I did not realize that you had a
As the stranger bowed, Diego introduced them.
"Father, this is Colonel Patrick OíLeary. He arrived recently from
Spain," he began.
Alejandro raised his brows, then smiled in
recognition. "Colonel OíLeary, a pleasure to see you again."
Both of them shook hands. He looked the man over. "Congratulations on
your transformation, Colonel. You certainly fooled me. I did not recognize
you at all. Welcome to the ranks of the Californians." O'Leary looked
very pleased at this statement.
"I see that youíve already met my father,
Colonel," smiled Diego. "No doubt at the inn."
"Thatís right, my son. Colonel OíLeary is
hard not to notice. And heís quite a talker," grinned Alejandro as
the Irishman nodded in affirmation.
"Well, Father, you may have just met your
match," responded Diego. All three laughed at the comment.
The door opened again and Bernardo came in with a
tray with three glasses and two bottles of wine. "This wine is from
our own press," explained Alejandro as Bernardo poured the wine and
then handed each man a glass. "Several of our neighbors also have
also begun to experiment in the growing of vines and orchards. I believe
that the potential here in California will not only be in cattle and
hides, but in wines and fruits."
"This is really excellent," remarked
OíLeary as he savored the dark liquid. "If you and your neighbors
collaborate, then you might start an unbeatable export business."
"Speaking of the neighbors, Diego,"
Alejandro continued, "why donít you show Colonel OíLeary around,
introduce him to the Castillos, the Villas, and the Torresí
Paddy smiled. "Ah, do you mean the family of
Don Nacho Torres?"
Diego raised his eyebrows again and looked over at
his father as he asked OíLeary, "Have you met Don Nacho
"Well, now," OíLeary began and put his
glass down. "It just so happened that I met the very attractive and
charming SeŮorita Elena in church only yesterday. Iím very impressed
with her modesty and piety. I had no idea that she was the daughter of
such a prominent gentleman." He paused. "She wore the nicest
green dress and she seemed like a sweet local girl, just the kind Iím
"Ah, Colonel," Diego said, clearing his
throat and changing the subject. "I just thought of a book that might
interest you a great deal. Itís about the first settlements in
California. While you look at it, Iíll get another liquor that we
produce here as well." He pulled a book off the shelf and handed to
the red-haired man who opened it up right away and began to leaf though
the pages. Then Diego went across the room to a cabinet. "Oh,
Father," he asked, "donít we have a few glasses just for the
Alejandro hastened over and stooped to open
another cabinet door. Diego leaned over and whispered in his ear, "He
certainly gets around fast, doesnít he?"
Alejandro nodded and removed three glasses from
the cabinet. "Itís almost like heís a man with a mission or one
who wants to settle in fast."
Diego nodded thoughtfully then straightened up.
"Ah, I think you will be interested in this, Colonel."
Everyone had cleaned their plates and was enjoying another after-lunch liquor in the sala when the subject of the local tyranny was brought up once more. There was no stopping Alejandro de la Vega's criticisms concerning the taxes and oppressions visited upon them by CapitŠn Monastario.
Patrick O'Leary sat back in his chair. "No
one likes oppressive taxation anywhere," he remarked. "But how
about this Zorro fellow? The comandante remarked to me that he is some
kind of highwayman. But there are others who say that he is practically a
republican, fighting against the local tyranny. Perhaps you gentlemen
could enlighten me. As a newcomer here, it is a bit confusing."
Alejandro looked over at Diego who gave him a nod.
Alejandro became quite passionate on the subject. "I wouldn't rely on
the capitŠn for any objective view on the subject matter, Colonel"
Alejandro said forcefully. "The simple fact of the matter is that
this Zorro is a man who intervenes on the side of justice. When men are
wrongly arrested and imprisoned by the comandante, El Zorro rides to free
them. When men are tortured while jailed, Zorro rides to free them. And
when the Indians or peons are abused or whipped, Zorro shows up to put an
end to it."
"I have heard such tales," commented the
Irishman thoughtfully. "It would seem the right thing to do under the
circumstances. But how does this Zorro see himself as the arbiter of
justice outside the institutions of the law? Has not the comandante been
given the authority to act as he does?"
"I know that you and Monastario were once
comrades, Paddy," said Diego in a mild tone of voice, "but you
need to know that the comandante seems to have no regard for public
opinion or to have any accountability for the actions he takes. He
purports to be the law even though he often acts outside of it. He has the
duty to uphold the security of our pueblo and the King's laws. No one
disagrees with this. But what we have disputes over is the brutality and
heavy handedness by which he conducts himself in contradiction of the
"And not only this, my friend,"
exclaimed Alejandro. "CapitŠn Monastario acts just as you described
it: a man for whom the war has never ended. He sees everyone as an enemy
and treats them as such. How can anyone deal with such a man?"
"What is the situation with the civil
authorities here?" asked Paddy.
"Monastario ignores the alcalde, an honest
and upright gentleman," Alejandro explained. "We have attempted
several times to intervene with the comandante through the alcalde and
local prominent citizens, but he has dismissed us in a contemptuous
manner. I think that Monastario believes that he is beholden to no one and
that he can do just as he pleases. The longer he is here and the longer
that the governor is in ignorance of what is happening here, the worse he
becomes. He seems to think up a new devilry every week."
"It would seem that this Zorro also thinks
that the comandante has gone too far," commented Paddy. "From
what you say about his actions, he wants justice done in specific
instances, rather than getting rid of the military authority. It would
seem also that he is an upright subject of the king, but a very indignant
Diego nodded in agreement, but his father added.
"I would agree with that assessment but would like to make a further
point: if Monastario continues to conduct himself in the manner that he
has, Zorro may be forced to go further than he has. I don't think anyone
would weep about the consequences either."
"Do you have any idea who this Zorro might
be?" asked O'Leary pointedly. He looked at Alejandro because he was
the most emphatic in his opinions. Out of the corner of his eye he saw
"No one knows who Zorro is, Paddy, but he has
many admirers because he is a man of action who will no longer take
oppression lying down. When one of our neighbors is dealt a blow, it is
like a blow dealt to all of us. When Zorro rides, we cheer him and wish
him well," said Alejandro.
Diego turned toward the colonel. "What do you
think about all this, Paddy? Even though you are new to our pueblo, you
must have formed some impressions already. Sometimes we can become so
enmeshed in our own troubles that we fail to see something that we are not
"Everyone knows that I knew Enrique as a
comrade in the old war," Paddy responded. "I told you that he is
now not the same young man that I once knew in the regiment and it
troubles me. The world has changed. Men who once fought with each other
now find each other on the opposite side of the barricades politically.
Enrique seems to think that those who oppose him, oppose the King, whom he
equates with his own authority. "
"It is one reason why he is so difficult to
deal with," observed Alejandro.
OíLeary shook his head. "He actually had
the temerity to denounce those here who object to his actions as
Ďrepublicans.í Certainly he must realize that I, as an Irish patriot,
am one. But, on the other hand, maybe he views me with the same nostalgia
- seeing me in the old light and not realizing that the times have changed
and that he himself has changed. Iíve always been what I am."
"That might save you from some grief for the time being," said Diego. "But eventually the kind of actions he engages in would turn even you, an old comrade, against him."
"You are very clear sighted, Diego." The
colonel paused and took a sip of the liquor. "I once told him that we
were tied together by the threads of history of the old war. These are
bonds that are hard to break because they are more emotional than logical
and, try hard as we can, we cannot often break these old bonds easily. As
for what I think of right now, I have not witnessed the oppressions
myself, but from what I can gather, they are alive and real. Even the
soldiers of the cuartel do not feel the kind of loyalty and warmth toward
their commanding officer that creates a position of strength and power Ė
the very strength that Enrique likes to project and be respected
"Canít he realize that what he is doing is
creating hatred and opposition? If he wants respect, then he should
conduct himself in a way that earns him respect," said Alejandro.
"I want you to know that I have had
discussions with Enrique about this. To change would benefit everyone,
most especially him. The man I remember is worth the effort, but more than
that, I cannot say," Paddy concluded.
"I wish you luck," said Alejandro,
"but you may find that he is very inflexible now and will tax even
your old bonds of friendship."
"Speaking of friendship," Diego said,
changing the subject, "Paddy and I talked earlier about meeting some
of the neighbors."
"Ah, yes, that you did," said the
Irishman. "I seem to remember that you mentioned a fiesta and I think
thatís a grand idea. Once you meet people in a social setting, then they
feel more comfortable in getting to know you better."
"I seem to remember that it was your
suggestion, Paddy," remarked Diego with a smile, "not that it
Alejandro grinned and sipped more of his drink to
keep from laughing.
"Was it? Well, Iím not so sure," Paddy
continued with an innocent air. "At any rate, it is a grand idea and
itís a beautiful setting for one here, isnít it? I could arrange the
entertainment and escort some of the distinguished senior townsfolk
"You know, Diego, I think that this idea for
a social gathering is a good one," said Alejandro. "We havenít
had a party here in quite a while and it would be nice to get together
with old friends and a few of the old timers. If Colonel OíLeary could
escort them here and back home, Iím sure many of them would be more than
happy to come. We could also invite our neighbors and other friends in
town. What do you say to that, Colonel?"
"I accept with enthusiasm, Don
Alejandro," The Irishman responded. "Iíve met several fine
people in town, like the CŠrdenas family, the distinguished SeŮora de la
Cruz, and a few others. Would you mind if I brought my friends?"
"Not at all," smiled Alejandro.
"Like I said, itís been much too long since weíve had a gathering
here and some of these people, like SeŮora de la Cruz, are old
"Then itís settled," beamed OíLeary.
"Now when would you like to hold it?"
"Did you have a time in mind, Paddy?" asked Diego. "Now that weíve made the plans, why donít we move ahead."
"I like the way you think, Diego. Why not Saturday evening, after the bazaar at the church? Or is that too soon?" responded the colonel.
Both the De la Vegas shook their heads and
answered, "No, no, not a problem," although each seemed to know
what the other was thinking.
OíLeary stood up. "I hope you gentlemen
wonít mind if I bow out on you, but I do remember an appointment I had
in just a little while. If I had known what a grand time I would have
here, I would have not considered making it."
"Thatís all right, Colonel," responded
Alejandro as he stood up. "There are always other occasions to visit
"Paddy, Iím looking forward to reading your
history of Ireland," said Diego. "The next time we meet, Iím
sure Iíll have many questions for you. But youíll have to give me
lessons before I attempt to read your poetry book."
"Ah, but whatís even more interesting is
all the history thatís left out of the books. What you have in your hand
is just the appetizer," began OíLeary.
"The colonel is the Ďmain course,í ended
Alejandro with a chuckle. O'Leary grinned.
Upon reaching the door out to the patio, the
Irishman asked if he might ask Bernardo help him with something. Diego
nodded and waved his servant to the door. He was curious about what the
man could be up to and when the door closed, he went to the window and
watched the two men. His father joined him. "What can he be up to
now?" he asked. Diego shrugged.
OíLeary bowed to Bernardo who then bowed in
turn. The red-haired man motioned the mozo over to the flowers that
bloomed in and around the patio and within the low stone wall that
surrounded the main patio shade tree. He motioned to the flowers
indicating that he liked them. With his hands he made the motion of
breaking the stem.
Bernardo nodded. He indicated a red flower and the
Irishman nodded. Bernardo broke it off and handed it to him. He started to
walk away, but the colonel grabbed his elbow and pointed to another flower
further away, a purple one. Bernardo picked it. Then a white one, then a
Bernardo raised his eyes questioningly as to
picking still yet another flower. OíLeary indicated that there was a
profusion of flowers and that picking a few would be no harm. He carefully
chose several more in a way that they wouldnít be missed from an
esthetic point of view. When he finished he had quite a bouquet and the
colonel was more than pleased. Bernardo began looking about him as if he
should have not done it. The colonel reached in his pocket and gave the
servant a coin which Bernardo did not want to take. The colonel patted him
on the shoulder and smiled. Bernardo tried to hand the coin back, but the
colonel waved him away. On his way out the door the Irishman stopped and
picked a few fern leaves to add to the bunch, wrapped the stems in a
handkerchief he took from a pocket and closed the gate behind him.
Alejandro shook his head. "I wonder what that
was all about."
Diego sighed. "I think Colonel OíLeary is
about to pay a call on SeŮorita Torres," he answered.