The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY THREE

 

Chapter 15

 

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 then, recognition. 

"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 myself." 

"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, Paddy." 

"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.

 

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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 guest." 

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 families." 

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 already?" 

"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 looking for." 

"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 liquor?" 

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."

 

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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 law." 

"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 one." 

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 Diego shrug. 

"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 doing right." 

"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 for." 

"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 really matters." 

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 here." 

"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 acquaintances." 

"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 again." 

"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 yellow one. 

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.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
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