The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY THREE

 

Chapter 16 

 

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 her carriage?" 

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 unannounced?" 

"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 him." 

"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 responded. 

"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 presentation. 

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. They’re lovely." 

"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 room." 

"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 yours." 

"I'm deeply honored, Señora," he replied. 

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 arrived. 

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 loveliest flowers." 

"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.'"

   

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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 place." 

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:

 

Ar 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 said." 

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 and vindictive." 

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,'"

Paddy remarked.

"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 mouth." 

"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 lawbreakers." 

"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 committed." 

"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 colonies." 

"I have heard this line of argument before," mused O' Leary. "Your pardon, Señorita, please continue." 

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 O'Leary. 

"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."

 

 

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