The Irish Colonel
It was a good twenty-minute ride out to the hacienda of Don Nacho Torres, whose lands bordered on those of the De la Vegas. As he rode around the bend in the dirt road, Paddy beheld a fair sight: a great walled estate built amidst ancient and towering oaks. The surrounding meadows were vast and yellow. Beyond the hacienda in the distance stretched low hills that gradually rose up higher with each successive valley. Most were covered with oak trees. Within the high walls, he could see a two-story adobe building with a Spanish balcony that stretched around three-quarters of the second floor. It was made of strong wooden beams and from the overhang hung a profusion of potted plants, flowers and ferns. Some of the windows were open to catch the afternoon breeze.
It’s an impressive spread, thought O’Leary, as
he brought the horse to a halt and sat back in the saddle to contemplate
the scene. I’ll know what the
Torres are really like when I see how they treat their servants, he
thought. Actions always speak louder than words. With that he urged the
horse forward and soon came abreast of the gates of the home.
Elena Torres had stepped out on the balcony
outside her room and was enjoying the afternoon breeze. In the distance,
far off into the oak-covered hills, she saw a rider approaching on the
dirt road. The man was well dressed in the clothing of a ranchero and rode
a brown horse. As he came closer she studied the stranger. He wore a brown
hat that shaded his eyes and was clean-shaven, probably in his early
thirties or so. She moved in among the hanging plants so she would not be
so easily observed. That way she could watch him more carefully. His
demeanor was serious but he was a very nice-looking man, she thought. As
he rode up to the gate, he startled her by calling out, "Ah, is that
Señorita Torres hiding up there among the plants?"
She momentarily debated whether to duck back into
her room or walk to the end of the balcony and acknowledge his greeting.
Something in his voice spoke of a familiarity, so she emerged from the
hanging plants and leaned over the balcony. "I am Señorita Torres,
Señor. I don’t believe I know you."
The man brought his horse to a halt, looked up and
smiled. "But we met at the church only yesterday, Señorita. Don’t
you remember that Padre Felipe was there and then your mother drove up in
The young woman looked puzzled a moment. She
looked him over very carefully. Then she saw his red hair. "That
isn’t Colonel O’Leary is it?" she asked in surprise.
"Colonel O’Leary in person," he
acknowledged, removing his hat and making a bow from the waist. "I
trust I haven’t frightened you in any way by dropping by
"I don’t think you could really frighten
anyone, Señor," she replied and ran a hand through her hair that had
began to blow a bit in the breeze. "But you really look different –
and very elegant in your new clothes."
"Why, thank you," replied Paddy. "I
wasn’t so sure about how to array myself, but thanks to Diego’s help,
I’ve made my transformation. It’s a real honor to have a friend like
"Would you like to come in for some
refreshment?" asked Elena. Now she smiled. "It must have been a
warm ride for you all the way out here and I’m sure that Mother would be
very happy to see you again so soon."
"Now that sounds just grand," he
"I’ll be down in a moment," she said.
She straightened up and called to someone down in the courtyard. "Oh,
Juan, will you please open the gate for the gentleman outside?" He
heard a voice reply, "Sí, Señorita Elena." Then she exited
from the balcony and hurried through her room.
O’Leary saw the gates open slowly. He saw a
young Indian in his twenties with long black hair and dressed in clean
white peasants’ clothing and good quality sandals. The young man smiled
pleasantly at the stranger and took the reins of his horse for him and
tied him up at the hitching rail in front of the house. O’Leary thanked
him and noted the relaxed but respectful demeanor of the man. Here was a
man who felt secure and happy, thought the colonel – a good sign. He
retrieved the flowers and decided to hide them until the right moment of
When Elena Torres opened the entrance door, the
Irishman walked towards her with a bemused look. She noticed he had one
hand hidden behind his back as he walked towards her. She hesitated.
"Are you hiding something behind you, Señor?" she asked.
O’Leary halted and looked embarrassed.
"Well, yes I am," he admitted. "I thought I might just
surprise you with a small token of my esteem." Her eyes widened in
surprise when he presented her with a bouquet of very colorful flowers.
"I hope you don’t mind."
Elena was very pleased and took them from him,
examining them in appreciation. "Why, how thoughtful of you.
"If they brighten your day in any way, then
it was well worth the trip out here," he said gallantly.
"You know, Colonel O’Leary," she
remarked as she opened the door and led the way toward the sala, "I
hear you are quite the ladies' man. And I can understand why."
Once they reached the sala, another Indian, an
elderly woman, appeared. Elena smiled at her. "Look at the pretty
flowers Colonel O’Leary brought for us, Ana, " she said.
"Could you please put them in a vase with water and bring them back
into the sala." The woman smiled and, nodding, took the flowers and
disappeared into a side room. "Ana will make a beautiful
arrangement." She turned back to him. "They will brighten up the
"I’m just a doddering old
sentimentalist," he said conversationally. "I love the small
things in life that we often overlook, like pretty flowers, a lark singing
in the trees, or a breeze playing a melody with the leaves in the forest.
I thought you would, too."
A voice floated down from the balcony above the
sala. "Good afternoon, Colonel O’Leary."
The colonel looked up and saw Doña Luisa making
her way towards the stairs. He walked over to take her hand and kiss it as
she reached the bottom stair. "I’m sorry I was not here to greet
you at once, but I had fallen asleep reading a book." The woman’s
eyes were kind even though her features were stern and she smiled as he
straightened up from kissing her hand.
"I should be the one to apologize for just
dropping in," he replied.
"Elena said that I should expect you to look
quite different from when we first me you at church," she said.
"I think you are even more handsome than you were then."
The Irishman bowed. "I can only blame my
transformation into a Californian to account for the improvement."
At that moment, Ana re-entered the room with the
flowers in a vase. Elena Torres turned and took them from her, smiling.
"They look wonderful. Thank you, Ana." The Indian smiled. Elena
showed the flowers to her mother. "I think we can forgive Colonel
O'Leary, Mother, especially when he brought us such lovely flowers."
Doña Luisa nodded. "Colonel, I want you to
know that no one in California needs to apologize for visiting
unannounced. Our home is always open to friends and our home is
"I'm deeply honored, Señora," he
There was the sound of a door opening and closing
from the courtyard. There was a look of recognition and expectation on the
faces of the Torres women and O'Leary knew that Don Ignacio Torres had
When the door to the sala opened, Nacho Torres saw
his wife and daughter standing with a slender man with a smile on his face
and with fire-red hair. He knew at once who the stranger was from their
earlier description of the newcomer. Nevertheless, he stopped and looked
the group over and then stepped forward with his hand outstretched to the
Irishman. "Colonel O'Leary, at last we meet," he said genially.
"Your reputation has proceeded you." The women smiled.
"Don Ignacio, I'm honored. The De la Vegas
have spoken highly of you and your family," replied O' Leary.
"Please, Colonel, just call me Don Nacho. All
my friends do," the thin, mustachioed ranchero responded. "We
welcome you to our home."
"Colonel O'Leary just arrived several minutes
ago, Nacho," said Doña Luisa explained. "He brought by the
"I believe that calls for some wine,"
smiled her husband. "One good turn deserves another. Do you have a
particular favorite, Colonel?"
O' Leary smiled. "Don Alejandro served me
some from his own press and I was very favorably impressed. If this means
anything, all three of us went through a few bottles."
"Ah," the don commented, "no doubt
Alejandro told you that some of our neighbors have been experimenting with
their own vineyards. We have done the same and, as you already know, the
results are promising." He nodded to his daughter. "Elena, why
don't you get one of our bottles from the cellar. I think we may have a
better red than Don Alejandro has." He turned back to the colonel.
"I'll want your opinion, Colonel. After all, as a disinterested third
party, you could give us your unbiased opinion."
"Now, I don't know about that, Don Nacho," Paddy responded. "Don Alejandro has already got the wind up on me by serving me his own first, so I'm not exactly unbiased. However, as a wine lover, I'll do my best to try to be objective. I must warn you, though, that when it comes to the vintage, no one can ever call me 'disinterested.'"
It was a good hour later, Don Nacho mentioned,
from his chair on the patio, that he had heard from Padre Felipe that the
charity fund on Saturday was expected to have a good turnout.
"It's a pity about Señora Pastora being
ill," Paddy mused. "I understand that she has been quite
faithful in her attendance to these affairs."
"That's true," Doña Luisa affirmed.
"It's almost breaking her heart that she can't be there. The doctor
advised rest for another week."
"How do you know about Señora Pastora?"
asked Elena. "Have you also met her as well?"
"Well, it just so happened when I was at
church, I was talking with Señora de la Cruz and the Holy Father about
this Saturday's event. It broke my heart to learn of the dear lady's
affliction. Now, Señora de la Cruz asked me if I knew anything about
bookkeeping and I told her it was like a second language to me,"
responded O'Leary. "She then explained that Señora Pastora usually
did the books for the bazaar and they were looking for someone who knew
numbers. I just had to volunteer to help out, knowing it would ease the
mind of Señora Pastora to know they'd found someone to help out in her
All three of the Torres looked very impressed.
"That's very Christian of you, Colonel," said Don Nacho.
"You fit so well into our pueblo with your spirit of charity and
helpfulness. Padre Felipe has spoken highly of you."
"You know, Don Nacho, I love the spirit of
the people here. When I first arrived in town, the De la Vegas were very
warm and welcoming. Then, everywhere I went, I found hospitality and
openness. It's things like which that move a man to open his heart and
want to be a part of that community," the Colonel responded.
"When I found out about the auction for charity I said to myself,
'Paddy, go there and see what you can do to help all these fine folk.' I'm
really looking forward to meeting everyone and being a part of the good
work of the Church."
"We think that Padre Felipe's charity work is
commendable. He is always finding ways to help the poor and the oppressed.
He is a man of quiet courage," Doña Luisa said in a calm tone, but
one that failed to disguise her enthusiasm. "Every year we
participate and contribute to the auction because we know it will go to
help those less fortunate than we are."
"We do this in Ireland as well. It's a tradition to help the poor and to love them as we would love ourselves. Did you know that some of the greatest patriots of Ireland have been selfless priests, just like Padre Felipe?" asked O' Leary. "When the English burned our churches and tried to kill our faith in God and our love for our way of life and the thousands of years that Ireland was one land and of one people, our priests became the leaders of a resistance movement that has never died to this day. As an Irish poet wrote
in a poem entitled Tuireadh na hÉirinn (Dirge of Ireland)
Who would not mourn the soul of generosity?
Piaras Feiritéar, of much erudition
Tadhg O’Connor and Bishop MacEgan (who)
Were hanged [ by the English] on the Hill of Sheep
The head of O’Connor was put on a spike…
Others they transported and transplanted [as slaves] to Jamaica.
"How horrible," reacted Doña Luisa in
dismay. "Did the English really kill priests and poets?"
"Aye, they did. Even our noblemen were systematically hunted down and killed including Sir Phelim O’Neill, Theobald Bourke, Viscount of Mayo, and his father. Bourke was shot before a firing squad, but O’Neill was hanged, drawn and quartered," the Irishman explained. "This was the price of resisting occupation. Poets and scholars of Ireland, like Father Brian Mac Giolla Phádraig of the diocese of Ossory, were captured and beheaded." He paused a moment. "But our people never faltered in their spirit. Songs from the people glorifying resistance came into being, like this one. O' Leary began in Irish and switched to Spanish:
m’éirí dhom ar maidin, grian an tsamhra ag taitneamh
Rising in the morning, when the summer sun was shining
I heard the bugle crying, and the sweet song of the bird
Hares and badgers running, long-beaked woodcocks calling,
Loudly rang the echoes, and the strong noise of guns;
The red fox rockward speeding, horsemen all hallooing,
The woman in the roadway, lamenting her lost fowl,
But now the woods are falling, overseas we’ll travel
And Sheáin Uí Dhuibhir an Ghleanna, you have lost your game.
"Secular and regular priests were executed,
often suffering torture and cruel afflictions. Father James Finaghty was
tied to a horse’s tail and dragged naked through the streets, then
thrown into a dungeon. As a result of this oppression, priests became
heroes to people for their refusal to surrender and their courage in
death. When castles were captured, like that of Seán an Fhíona, the
English hanged all the men, women and children that they found. This is
what the English call 'bringing freedom' to Ireland."
There was silence in the room when Paddy finished
speaking. "I had no idea it was that terrible," whispered Elena.
"And I thought that the French had been cruel from what Father
Don Nacho bowed his head, then looked into the
eyes of the Irishman. "I heard that you have served Spain against
Bonaparte all the years of the war," he said softly. "If only
Spain could have done the same for you. How long have the English been in
Ireland, Don Patricio?"
Paddy O'Leary sighed. He had not realized what
emotions the poetry had drawn out of his soul and the passion he felt
after so many years. It's always so
deep, he thought before answering. "Spain was seven years under
the boot of Bonaparte," he replied. "But it's been seven hundred
years of English occupation in Ireland." There was pain in his voice.
"I know this will not help much," Don
Nacho said in the same quiet voice, "but you have our love and
understanding. We have our own oppressor right here in Los Angeles, though
not as terrible as having a foreign occupier. Still, it is a burden on our
hearts and conscience. Knowing that you and your people have resisted such
oppression further strengthens our hearts to resist as well."
"But we believe we must resist in a positive
way and that is to act out of love when there is hate, and to act out of
charity when there is greed," said Elena. "It is the way Padre
Felipe believes we should act."
"I had no idea things were bad in Los
Angeles," the colonel said sadly. "Everywhere I've gone, people
have been open and generous. Even the comandante had been friendly and
helpful - to me, that is. But, then, I've only been here three days."
There was silence in the room as the Torres family
members looked at each other.
"Would you care to talk about it?" asked
the Irishman. "I'm new to this pueblo and I would really like to know
what to expect rather than walking around with illusions. But, I believe,
as you do, that we should act with good faith and in expectation of good
deeds rather than emphasize the negative."
"Don Patricio, Paddy," began Nacho.
"You have been very open with everyone. You have not hidden the fact
that you once knew Capitán Monastario a long time ago in Spain. Diego
tells me that you told him that, back in those years, the comandante was a
very admirable man, a man who honored the brave and valiant who fought for
Spain. He said that the capitán was wronged by a family tragedy, and that
he was a man who was perhaps punished unjustly by those who were jealous
Don Nacho paused a long moment before he
continued. His dark eyes held the green ones of the Irishman. "But,
dear friend, the man you once knew has closed his heart to compassion and
honor. For some reason, he feels that he must inflict upon others a great
deal of pain and suffering. I do not understand the kind of transformation
that could take place, unless a man had lost faith in humanity and in God
to rectify injustice and so, acts unjustly as if to somehow make others
feel the pain that he cannot purge from himself. Sometimes, I do not know
whether to hate Monastario or to pity him."
"We Irish have a saying about that - 'His own wound is what everyone feels soonest,'"
"Forgive us, please, Don Patricio," said
Doña Luisa. "We have held our peace many times when we saw injustice
here, hoping that it was just a passing incident or two. But when we tried
to speak with Capitán Monastario about different ways to solve problems,
he accused Nacho of interfering with his authority and the law. My husband
knows the laws quite well and was able to respond to the comandante from a
legal standpoint. This only angered Capitán Monastario. He told Nacho
that he was playing a dangerous game that bordered on treason."
"My wife went to see Capitán Monastario
after our disagreement, Colonel," explained the Don. "She told
him that she hoped she could clear up any misunderstandings that might
have occurred between me and him. She wanted him to know that we did not
oppose the king's laws or his, the capitán's, authority to enforce the
law. She said that we were only concerned that perhaps he did not see the
various ways problems could be approached that would mean solving them
amicably rather than leaving everyone with a bad taste in their
"How did the comandante react to your visit,
Doña Luisa?" asked O' Leary.
"Capitán Monastario listened to me
politely," she said. "After I finished, he told me that he was
surprised that I would concern myself with politics - that it is not a
woman's place. I told him good relations between loyal subjects of the
king and his representative, the comandante was my concern and that if he
defined that as politics, well, I guess I was guilty of that. He told me
that as the king's representative, it was his prerogative to make
decisions for the welfare of Spain. He said that the interests of Spain
overrode the interests of individuals who felt sorry for
"He really wasn't interested in what Mother
had to say," interjected Elena. "When I told him it was not that
we felt sorry for lawbreakers, it was that we felt the punishment was all
out of proportion of the crime committed or the supposed crime
"How did he respond to you, Señorita
Elena?" their visitor queried.
"Capitán Monastario spoke to me in a quiet
and respectful manner. This surprised me because he resents my father. He
told me New Spain is in a grave crisis, a crisis I could not understand -
that there is a great battle going on throughout the Américas between
those loyal to Spain and those trying to overthrow the rule of law and
order. He said he has spent most of his life fighting those who would
overthrow the natural order of civilization - first, the usurper
Bonaparte, and now those who would plot the 'independence' of the American
"I have heard this line of argument
before," mused O' Leary. "Your pardon, Señorita, please
Elena sighed. "When I objected that Father is
not trying to overthrow anything, he began a lecture. He told me Father's
position is actually treason against the king. He said he has tried to be
very patient with people who have different views. But, considering the
nature of the wars being fought for Spain's survival, and the stakes being
fought over, he could no longer tolerate people, ideas or their actions
that could only culminate in sedition and rebellion. Then he said to me,
'Elena, I have just come from Peru where we crucified men, and worse, for
far less crimes than what your father is espousing. I hope he will not put
me in a position to where the kind of martial law we had in Venezuela or
Peru will have to be imposed here. You, with your good sense and good
heart, must convince him to stop interfering in the administration of
justice.' After that, he asked me to leave the room because he wanted a
few final words with Mother."
O'Leary's eyes moved from the brown-eyed girl to
her mother. The woman sighed and wrung her hands. "Capitán
Monastario told me that I should be ashamed for bringing Elena here to
speak with him when she was so naïve about the world. He said he was
going to be frank, it was not something personal, and it was neither
against me nor against Elena. He said if I did not want to be a widow, I
would tell Nacho to 'cease and desist.' He acted like he was doing me a
favor by giving me a warning without acting first."
Don Nacho reached over and took his wife's hand
and held it. "I did not know that she and Elena had gone to talk with
the comandante," he said. "If I had known, I would have not
allowed it. But, as you can see, this is a family that acts out of concern
and love, and will not be deterred by convention or threats."
"And what were these terrible acts of
sedition you were espousing, Don Nacho," asked Paddy.
"First of all, for insisting that any man
accused of a crime be given a trial and be provided with legal
representation - including the cattle rustlers that Monastario captured
and some Indians he executed. Second, that the civil authorities,
including the alcalde, be advised and consulted before raising of such
high taxes and the use of military force to collect them. Third, that the
military authorities not consider the participation of the rancheros or
hacendados in determining taxes, new laws, or policing, as an imposition
on the prerogative of the comandante. And finally, that the comandante
take into account local interests and concerns, and act multilaterally
rather than unilaterally. There were always good relations between the
civil and military authorities before Monastario was appointed,"
explained Don Nacho.
"Who appointed Monastario?" asked the
Irishman. "There must have been a consensus of opinion that his kind
of rule was needed in Los Angeles."
"You are right," the ranchero agreed.
"There have been a number of governors, each with their own
philosophy about the situation in the colonies. Above the governors are
the Viceroys, as you know. The same is true with them. Their relationship
with the military is a close one here in California, just like elsewhere
in the colonies. Politics determines what kind of comandante we get. In
the past, there was much indifference, but all this has changed. There is
a great battle of ideas going on in both Spain and in the Américas and I
fear that we are beginning to experience the extremity of both. Monarchy
fears republicanism and republicanism fears the monarchy. Each side fears
the other and that fear itself engenders even more fear. Now, paranoia
rules. Monastario, I suppose, is the logical conclusion of those who fear
change so much that they will enact policies, laws, and actions that drive
reasonable men into the arms of those they fear the most."
"And now we come to El Zorro," commented
"And now we come to El Zorro," agreed Nacho Torres. "Let me tell you about him and the good he has done in Los Angeles."