The Irish Colonel
It was just before dawn that Paddy kissed his
sleeping companion an early good-bye, dressed quietly, and headed out to
explore the hills where he had encountered the mysterious outlaw, El
Zorro. He knew the spot exactly because of the outcrops and the hills he
had studied before returning to the pueblo.
As he rode up the hill to where El Zorro had waved
a farewell, he noticed that there were many animal trails that passed
through the meadow. Herds of deer, wild turkeys, perhaps even wild pigs
would have come this way.
He followed the most recent signs of passage and
discovered an almost dry arroyo where the animals came to drink water at
night. With the bed of the arroyo still flowing, it would be easy to lose
the prints of even a shod animal. He followed a trail that seemed to
pitter out among rocks, and then re-appear. There was nothing conclusive.
As he rode up through a pass, he saw a narrow canyon and began to make his way cautiously along it. He doubted if El Zorro would be anywhere nearby, but getting to know the land and where the trails went could lead to all sorts of discoveries. Then he saw the hoof marks he sought through the light layer of clay and sandy soil. O'Leary followed it further and then saw why his search would be in vain. Up ahead, grazing in the narrow canyon was a small herd of wild mustangs. Any passage from the night before would have been obliterated by their hooves. But there might be something on the other side. He made his way carefully toward the horses.
A brown stallion lifted his head and neighed a warning to his brood. Like a snap of a whip, the horses lifted their heads up, then bolted, racing their way through the narrow rocks. Brush, small growing trees seemed to grow in profusion as he followed them. Small meadows opened up, then seemed to close in again. He would seek the high ground in order to get a better sense of his surroundings.
It was several hours later that O' Leary headed
back toward the road he had set out from. From the high rocks he had
overlooked a profusion of canyons and meadows, gorges and hills. In the
wider valley he spotted the great herds of cattle that were the fortune of
the rancheros. Along trails, wide or narrow, he had come across box
canyons and unexpected streams and rock formations that could have caves
in them. There's a thousand places this Zorro could hide out, he thought,
or use to get back to wherever he goes.
As he reached the road, he came to a halt. "Of course, that's it," he said aloud. "This is just an escape route, one of many. The man must have several such routes and would most likely chose ones that would mislead anyone trying to track him down." He urged his mount forward. It was mid-morning already and he would barely have time enough to wash up and look his best for Padre Felipe's charity auction. In the meantime, he would do his best to get to know as many people as possible. Obviously, enough people knew of my movements that the word must have gotten out to El Zorro for him to have followed me back from the Torres' place. But I told no one that I was going there. Maybe the fellow had, as Monastario said, the devil's own luck. But he really didn't believe it.
"Do you know something, Sergeant?" asked
Corporal Reyes as he stood on guard duty in front of the cuartel.
"Yes, Corporal, I know something. What is it
that you want to know?" the Sergeant responded.
"Well, I’ve been thinking." Reyes
paused a long time and looked contemplative.
García looked impatient with how long the
corporal was taking to express himself. "Well, what have you been
thinking about, Corporal?"
"I’ve been thinking about how Colonel O’
Leary made that bottle last so long last night."
"I know what you mean," responded García
thoughtfully. "It lasted a very long time."
"Do you think it was the toasts he told us,
Sergeant? He told us that the toasts he knows make the bottle last a long
time. And it did last a long time. It lasted until the end of the story he
told us," the soldier said.
"Colonel O’ Leary has a way of making those
things happen. I didn’t believe it either, but when he finished the
story, my mug was half full and so was the bottle."
"Mine was too, Sergeant."
Both men were silent a moment. They did not know
that Capitán Monastario had left his office and was headed towards the
gate. Monastario stopped in his tracks when he overheard the conversation
going on just outside the cuartel gates.
Reyes asked, "Say, Sergeant, do you think
that the colonel might know some magic himself? I mean, when he told us
the story about Jack and the Little People, he said that Jack with the red
hair had some fairie blood in him. He said that people with red hair have
fairie blood. Do you think that the colonel might have some fairie blood
in him, too?"
García looked confounded a moment. "Fairie
blood?" Then he paused a moment. "You may have a point there,
Corporal. He’s probably too modest to mention it, being a colonel."
The big man then reconsidered the idea." You know, I think you might
be right after all. Colonel O’ Leary might even be magical himself. He
always has plenty of coins for wine even though his purse never seems to
have more than a few pesos in it."
Monastario rolled his eyes and shook his head in
exasperation. He startled the two soldiers, who sprang to attention as he
passed. "Idiots! Estupidos!" he exclaimed. "The only thing
magical about Colonel O’ Leary is his fingers – he’s the most clever
pickpocket in all of Los Angeles!"
The plaza just opposite the church was teeming
with people setting up little wooden stalls or tables to display their
wares. Gourds, hanging from twine ropes, were decorated with faces,
geometric or scenic designs painted or carved on them. Homemade pottery
and handicrafts, shawls, jewelry, wooden toys, hats, flowers, old books,
embroidery, leather goods, tallow candles of all sizes and shapes, soaps,
scents, and religious mementos all made of items saved or made for the
Church's charity auction. Last, but not least, were homemade confections,
necklaces made from seeds or shells or even silver and an old musical
instrument or two.
Padre Felipe made his rounds to the tables,
greeting the townsfolk, smiling and chatting with the elderly, the
children, and Indians who milled about. He noticed that most people seemed
to be looking and wandered from table to table. But on the other hand,
there was a crowd beginning to gather at one end. Then, he heard the
strains of a guitar being tuned and then played. A popular, although
somewhat risqué, piece, he thought, for a church auction. With some small
consternation, he hurried over.
the center of the crowd, seated in a chair next to the elderly widower Señor
Escobedo, was a man dressed in a green ranchero's outfit, black hat and
red sash. The sash matched the color of his hair.
Patrick O' Leary finished the song of only two
verses and called to the crowd, "This guitar may be old, but as you
can see, it is finely tuned and plays an excellent song or two, even with
me help. I've heard someone offer three pesos for this, but you can see
that it is obviously worth much more. Who would not want such a fine
instrument, an instrument with an even finer history? Now, how many of you
know that my friend and yours, the distinguished Señor José Mario
Escobedo, played this very guitar at the court of Spain in the days of old
King Carlos? This was the very guitar that soothed the ears of this most
outstanding of Spanish monarchs, his family and our current most gracious
Highness, Ferdinand VII, Heaven bless him. This fine instrument could be
handed down from each generation to the next, knowing its unique and proud
history. Now, do I hear a bid for twenty pesos?"
Several rancheros in the crowd were obviously
impressed with the history of the guitar, its obvious beauty, and sound
quality. They began bidding against each other. By the time Don Leon
Santos walked away with a satisfied smile on his face, the price of the
guitar had brought an astounding one hundred and fifty pesos.
The gray-haired musician could hardly contain
himself when the padre asked him about his incredible sacrifice of so
worthy an instrument. "I don't really remember whether I was there or
not, Father, but it must be true. And such a prize for the Church as
well." By then, Felipe had forgotten all about the risqué tune that
had attracted the crowd to the musician's table to begin with.
The padre also noticed a group of men sitting in
chairs and chatting with each other. Around them were gathering a group of
men and women. "Good morning, Padre Felipe," they greeted him as
he strode over.
"Are you tired already from the heat?"
he asked them.
"Oh, no, Señor, " one answered.
"We are just waiting for Colonel O' Leary to join our group for the
"Contest? What contest?" asked Felipe.
"Jokes," answered the peon, Jesús, with
"Jokes?" the priest was puzzled.
"Each of us tells jokes and the ones that the
crowd laughs at the most, wins."
"Oh," pondered the padre. "How does
that contribute to charity?"
The coach driver, González, standing behind Jesús,
answered. "Anybody can tell a joke, Padre. You pay five centavos to
contribute a joke. We, of course, encourage anyone in the crowd to show
their appreciation of a good joke by also contributing five or ten
centavos. It all goes to the Church."
"What a good idea. Who thought of that?"
"Colonel O' Leary," answered Jesús.
"I'm too poor to contribute any item for the church charity, but I
can contribute some jokes. And five centavos is something I can afford. If
I can contribute this way, it makes me very happy."
"I see," responded Felipe. "Ah-hem,
I would just like to remind you that this is a church auction, so please
watch your language."
"Now, Holy Father," said a familiar voice behind him. "I think that you've nothing to worry about."
Padre Felipe turned and beheld the red-haired
Irishman who had a twinkle in his eye. "Hmm," responded the
priest. "Since you've organized this affair, are you going to be the
first to tell a joke?" Felipe thought it would be interesting to
catch the colonel off guard, but the Irishman turned to the group of men.
"Señores, I would like to reassure the Holy
Father that our jokes are of the most genteel and honest nature. If nobody
minds, I'll be glad to do the first one. Then you gentlemen," he
turned to the seated men, "will just take it from there." The
padre didn't see him wink at them.
"All right, Colonel, tell your joke,"
O' Leary turned to the crowd. "It's an Irish joke, of course: What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?" He paused for effect. "One less drunk at the wake."
Even Felipe laughed at that one, shook his head
and continued his inspection. He found a line-up of girls of all ages who
recited poetry, their parents proudly looking on, and tables of home baked
goods. A few people even offered kittens, puppies and chicks for sale as
Felipe was about to head back over to the ladies selling their confections when he noticed a line of men at a tent. Now, I wonder what this could be. He smiled at the men in line and peeked around the corner of the tent. Inside he saw Rosita Flores seated in an elevated chair. On a small table next to her were two boxes. The one in front was labeled "donated to the church auction." She was putting a peso coin in it. While Padre Felipe actually did not approve of the kind of dancing she did, he was pleased to see her participating. He gave a little wave and she gave him her most charming smile. After he turned his back and left, she said to the man standing in front of her, "Well, it is fifty centavos for one kiss and one peso for three kisses."
The colonel made it his business to go to all the
stands and tables. If an object had not been sold, he made it his business
to see that it was. If there was still food on the table, he gave away
samples and helped to sell the rest. His name was on the tip of many
tongues – from the women who sold homemade goods to the seniors relaxing
While heading over into the shade he spotted the merchant’s wife. "Good afternoon, Señora Cárdenas," he greeted her. "A lovely day it is."
The plump woman looked up from the table and
smiled. "Good afternoon, Colonel O’ Leary. My, isn’t this the
largest auction that Padre Felipe has ever had? So many people are here. I
don’t think the last auction was nearly so large."
"And how is the young lad? Is he not here as
well?" he asked her.
She pointed to a table a bit further away.
"He must be inspecting Señor Troya’s carved toys. Some of them are
"Ah, by-the-by, I should be coming by your
shop again on Monday. Perhaps your husband could recommend a gift for a
gentleman?" he inquired.
The woman’s face clouded a bit. She sighed.
"I’m the bearer of bad news on that account," she said in a
sad voice. "Roberto has to leave. It was unexpected – for me. I
think, well, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I think something is
wrong. It might have to do with some merchandise he ordered, but I’m not
sure. He’s been acting very strange lately."
O’ Leary caught her distress at once. His voice
became softer and he expressed concern. "I do hope that it is nothing
too serious," he responded. "If there is any way I can help you
out at the store, please let me know. I’m sure I could sweep the floor
or carry something heavy if you need it moved."
"That’s more than kind of you, Señor. For
now, my sister and I can probably manage. I hope Roberto won’t be gone
for too long," she said, trying to end on a hopeful note. She paused.
"It’s just that this has never happened before and I’m just a
little upset by it, that’s all," she confessed.
"I’m sure everything will work out just
fine," he reassured her. "If you and your sister can manage me
as a customer, then you have nothing further to worry about."
She smiled just as he hoped she would. He nodded. "Tell Pedro I said ‘hello.’ I’m sure he’s having a bit of fun over at Señor Troya’s." With that the colonel headed over to Rosita’s tent.
It was mid-afternoon when the charity auction
ended. The ladies, the dancer, the men who told jokes, the handicraft
sellers, the girls who had memorized all the poetry, the balladeers, and
the small merchants who had donated items all descended upon a red-haired
man who sat at a table and was adding up all the funds. There was a can of
coins here, a pile there, a box next to it, and several people just
emptied their pockets out.
A small crowd gathered and talked while the
colonel wrote down items sold and the sums they brought. The colonel
embellished the event by announcing the largest sums collected in various
categories, such as home-cooked food, jokes, musical instruments,
handicrafts, and general donations. Then there were the beverages sold,
the animals auctioned off, and produce.
When he finished he presented the padre with a sack of the collected monies and the ledger he wrote up. The Franciscan’s eyes lit up when he felt the weight of the sack.
He turned to the small crowd. "Never before
has there been such a turnout to show our love for our poorer
brethren," he announced. "I think that we owe Colonel O’ Leary
a big thanks for all his help that contributed to the success of this
event." There was a general nodding of heads.
The red-haired man held up a hand. "Now, Holy
Father, I would like to give credit to where it is really due, and that is
to all the fine people who showed up this day and donated their time and
goods to the cause of Mother Church. We also need to thank all the fine
members of the community who showed up and enjoyed this event in the
spirit in which it was conducted. The combination of both kind of
charities made this event the success it was, not the colonel." He
smiled and turned to the crowd. "And a special thanks to the ladies
for all their fine cooking and wares and to the children for their grand
poetry and songs. I don’t think I’ve had such a fine time in quite a
while myself. Now I remember once we stopped at a fair in Madrid, and you
wouldn’t believe the sights we saw there – puppet shows, dancing bears
and pigs, and a ring from the hand of Merlin the Wizard himself…."
The crowd didn’t depart for another hour.