The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

DAY FOUR

 

Chapter 19

 

Paddy sat in the tavern at a table by himself. He was feeling very content because of how well the charity auction had gone and all the money that had been raised for the church. And he didn’t do too bad himself. Neither did Rosita.

Padre Felipe had been astonished at the amount of money that he presented him with at the end of the day. He praised the colonel for all his innovative ideas for entertainment and his help in encouraging all sorts of townspeople to participate. There had not only been the joke contest, the children’s presentations, and the baked goods sales, but the vaqueros had come along and shown their talents with lassoing. They got a lot of laughs by roping Sergeant García unawares as he made off with some food.

Padre Felipe told him that even Capitán Monastario had walked out of the cuartel and had watched the auction dispassionately and aloof from the multitudes until he noticed someone waving and calling to him from a tent. It must have been Rosita Flores, the dancer, thought the priest.

What happened? O’ Leary had asked him. Well, the priest said, the officer went into the tent with a serious look on his face and left with a smile, so she probably sweet-talked him out of a peso, he told the colonel. O’Leary only smiled at that. It’s probably the first kiss he’s gotten in years, he mused.

The colonel poured himself some more wine and began to sing. It’s kind of lonely not having any one around who knows the song, he thought briefly:

 

Well, we fought for Ireland’s glory there

And many a man did fall

From musket and from bayonet

From thundering cannon ball

And many a foe did we lay low

Amid the battleground

And as we prepared for action

You would often hear the sound….

 

O’Leary broke off his song when Sergeant García plopped down in a chair opposite him uninvited. He had a big smile on his face. "Ah, Señor Colonel, are you all by yourself?" 

"Sometimes a man likes to be by himself," O’ Leary muttered under his breath. 

Corporal Reyes walked up and saluted the colonel, then stooped and whispered in García’s ear. "Sergeant, I think the colonel would like to drink alone." 

García waved the corporal aside as if he was a pesky fly. The corporal shrugged and began to walk off. O’ Leary caught him by the arm. "Ah, Corporal Reyes - a knight errant in the company of Sergeant García." He smiled. The thought put him in a better mood.

"Now that there are two of you here, I won’t mind sharing a drop of the vintage at all." 

García watched the barmaid bring the mugs and another bottle of wine. "Thank you, Colonel O’ Leary. You have very good taste in wine." 

"Pardon me, Colonel," began Reyes. "I heard the song you were singing when we came in. It’s an Irish song, isn’t it?" 

"Yes, Reyes, it is. Did you like it?" 

"Yes," the corporal answered. "I like all the songs you sing. They’re very, well, inspiring." 

"Why, thank you, Corporal," responded the Irishman, perking up a bit. "You know, we have many great songs like that, but then, we also have some sad love songs, ones that make me a bit homesick, too." O’ Leary began to sing:

 

As I went a-walkin and a-ramblin’ one day

I spied a young couple, so fondly did stray

And one was a young maid so sweet and so fair

And the other one was a soldier and a brave grenadier.

 

And they kissed so sweet and comfortin’

As they clung to each other

They went arm and arm down the road

Like sister and brother

They went arm and arm down the road

Till they came to a stream

And they both sat down together, love,

To hear the nightingale sing.

 

And out of his knapsack he drew a fine fiddle

And he played her such merry tunes you ever did hear

And he played her such merry tunes the valleys did ring

Softly cried the fair maid, "Hear the nightingale sing."

Well, now, says the fair maid, will you marry me

Oh, no, says the soldier, how ever can that be?

For I’ve me own wife at home in me own country

And she is the fairest little thing that you ever did see.

 

And they kissed so sweet and comfortin

As they clung to each other

They went arm-and-arm down the road

Like sister and brother

They went arm and arm down the road

Till they came to a stream

And they both sat down together, love,

To hear the nightingale sing."

 

Both soldiers heaved a sigh when he finished. O’ Leary smiled, but suddenly appeared concerned. Reyes looked like he was ready to weep.

"Are you all right, lad?" he asked laying a hand on Reyes’ arm.

Reyes was sentimental. "Colonel, that song makes me feel like I want to cry." 

"You can’t cry, Corporal," García told him gruffly. 

"Why not, Sergeant?" 

"You can’t cry, baboso, because you are a soldier. Soldiers are not supposed to cry, that’s why." 

"I don’t know, Sergeant. I think it’s all right to cry if you have a good reason to," sniffed the corporal. 

"And do you have a good reason to?" García retorted, not very sympathetically. 

"Not right now, Sergeant," Reyes replied. 

Paddy enjoyed their exchange. "It’s a bittersweet song," he told them, "like many of our songs." He changed the subject. "Say, are you lads a wee bit thirsty this afternoon?" Both of them nodded. "Ah, good, because I have something to ask you." He filled their mugs with wine right up to the brim. This brought big smiles from the two soldiers. 

O’ Leary then leaned across the table and moved the bottle closer to their mugs.

"Everywhere I go, I hear about this Zorro fellow. What can you lads tell me about him? Do flames dart from his fingers? Does he really ride a horse with wings?"

Sergeant Garcia looked very eager. He raised a finger each time O’ Leary made a point.

"Señor Colonel, I have met El Zorro myself!" 

"Have you now?" asked the colonel. "And where did you happen to meet him?" 

"Well, Zorro has come to the cuartel and we have also chased him. As a matter of fact, he barely escaped from me on several occasions," García replied, with some bravado. 

"Just a minute, Sergeant," Reyes interrupted. "There was the time that Zorro knocked you off your horse. And then there was the time he pushed you down a well, and then the time, when you lost your sword after he knocked it out of your hand." 

"Corporal!" responded García in a very annoyed tone of voice, "you are missing the point!" 

"And what is the point?" asked O’ Leary with an extremely amused look on his face, which obviously irritated the sergeant who was trying to make a good impression. 

"The point is that I met El Zorro!" García then took a long drink of wine. 

"Tell me, Sergeant, has this Zorro claimed many victims?" asked the Irishman. "How many soldiers have died because of his raids?" 

The two soldiers looked dumbfounded at his question. They looked at each other and then back to the colonel who was not expecting such a reaction. 

"Why, nobody has died," replied Garcia in a puzzled tone of voice. "Zorro doesn’t kill anyone, he just shows up to see that justice is done and makes his point – with his sword." He laughed at his own joke. 

"You mean to tell me that he has not killed anyone at all?" asked O’ Leary. He thought a moment. "He must not be very effective, after all. Just a hit and run fellow." 

"Oh, no!" García and Reyes declared in unison. García continued with relish. "Colonel O’ Leary, you do not understand. Zorro, he is the best swordsman. He beats Monastario all the time and warns him to beware of being a tyrant." 

"You mean to say that he’s had Monastario at sword point and never has tried to dispatch him?" Paddy asked in astonishment. 

"Well, yes, I mean, no" said García. "You see, you don’t understand Zorro. He will not kill anyone because he probably thinks that, to do so, he would be no better than the capitán. The comandante would have no such hesitation. It makes the comandante mad to think that Zorro has such sport with him, but Monastario is outwitted." 

"All the time, Señor Colonel," nodded Reyes. The two soldiers were enjoying the fact. 

For once the Irishman was lost for words. "The cat’s got your tongue, lad," O’ Leary mused, talking more to himself than to his companions. "Now isn’t that the devil." He started drinking wine, poured himself out some more and looked lost in thought. 

The sergeant and corporal looked at each other and back to the colonel. Finally, the colonel looked at the bottle, looked at their mugs and emptied the rest of it into them. 

"Uh, Colonel?" began García. "Are you all right?" 

"Another bottle, lads?" he responded absent-mindedly. This is most interesting, and it puts a new light on things. This Zorro is a pretty deep character, setting a moral example, not a tyrannical one. He values people’s lives, even Monastario’s life.

He looked up at García, "Does this Zorro fellow think that he can reform Monastario?" 

"Well, I don’t think so," said García. "He just wants to let the comandante know that he will not get away with injustice for very long. Zorro saves lives. He’s even saved my life. Señor Colonel, Zorro has not even allowed others to take Monastario’s life." 

"Christ Jesus, he almost sounds like a priest," commented O’Leary, "except he would seem too young to be one. Such an outlook on life." The colonel started to look around for another bottle. "Ah, García, the bottle’s empty. Why don’t you buy the next bottle?" 

García reacted in dismay. Reyes looked at him and then said to the Irishman, "The sergeant never has money, Señor Colonel. I usually buy the wine." 

"That’s not true, Corporal. I have bought wine – many times," García reacted belligerently.  "Why are you trying to make me look bad to the colonel? As a matter of fact, I will buy a bottle right now!" The big man got up and went to the bar in a huff. 

"The sergeant borrowed three pesos from me today, Señor Colonel," Reyes whispered to O’Leary. "So, you might say that I’m buying the bottle." 

"I would say that you are right, Reyes," responded O’ Leary, watching the sergeant order a bottle. "Since I borrowed three pesos from Garcia just yesterday," he lied, "and he owes you three pesos today, why I don’t I just give you the three pesos now? That way we avoid the middle man." 

Reyes looked surprised and pleased to get the pesos. He put them in his coin purse in a hurry before Garcia could turn around with the bottle. O’Leary didn’t like to see the honest corporal taken advantage of time and time again. 

García walked over to the table with the bottle and had just sat down when the door to the inn opened and Capitán Monastario entered the room. He looked over and saw O’Leary at a table with the two soldiers. He strode over and came to a halt at the table. 

Corporal Reyes stood up and saluted him. García had his hand around the bottle and looked up. The bearded captain nodded at the corporal and looked down at the sergeant. 

"You may go now, García," he said. The big man gave a forlorn look at the colonel and got up. He began to take the bottle with him when the officer said, "Leave the bottle. I’m sure that Colonel O’ Leary has bought you plenty already." 

"But I just….." began the sergeant. 

"Don’t argue with me, baboso," barked the officer. "Just do as you are told." 

O’ Leary watched the scene with no _expression on his face. You have a sure-fired way of making friends and creating loyalties, don’t you, Enrique? he thought to himself. Christ Jesus, couldn’t the man understand anything?  

After watching the soldiers move up to the bar, the captain turned back to the red-haired man at the table. "I hope I am not intruding, Colonel?" 

"Won't you have a seat, Enrique?" he responded in a friendly tone. "What can I do for you?" 

The officer removed his hat and gave O' Leary a knowing look. The barmaid came over and placed a mug in front of the captain as if on cue. O' Leary began to pour from the new bottle, but only gave the captain half a cup. 

"Thank you, Colonel. That is enough," began Monastario. He tipped his glass to O' Leary. 

"Here’s to absent friends and here’s twice to absent enemies," the Irishman proposed. 

Monastario drank. "A good toast," he commented, putting his glass down. He leaned over towards the red-haired man and said in a low voice. "I told you just the other day that I am planning a trap for our 'absent enemy,' Zorro. Sometimes the lure needs to be a provocation if the beast does not come to the trap voluntarily." 

"I would prefer to hear about your plan later, if you don't mind, Capitán," said Paddy. "I've really had too much to drink this afternoon to appreciate its subtlety. But, I would like to offer you something that will help the situation here, a unique opportunity." 

Monastario looked interested. "And what is this opportunity, Colonel?" 

"I think that it is at least as meritorious as yours is," began the Irishman. "I hope you won't mind my being very frank with you. It's out of our old friendship, you understand." 

"Proceed," responded the captain patiently. 

"You are living in a self-imposed social cocoon, old friend, and you need to break out of it. You are too isolated. In order to be more effective, you need to become a known quantity. Now, I am attending a very important social event tonight. Many important rancheros and hacendados will be there. The event is held in my honor, Enrique, and I'd like to have my friends there, all of my friends. Now there are a few details you need to know. My only requirements are these: One - you come to this event in the spirit it is given. Two - that you speak about nothing except your wartime experiences, the music, the stars, the decorations, the girls' pretty dresses, flowers. Do not speak of current political affairs or your current command or traitors. Three - be modest and praise other people as you mingle with them."

"Anything else, Colonel?" asked Monastario with a touch of sarcasm in his voice. 

"Yes, don't consider this a lecture. Just consider a few facts. The townspeople here know nothing about you. You have been much too aloof. There will be some old veterans of the War of Liberation there and a few older ones from the early French wars. Once they understand what you have accomplished for Spain, they will start to sympathize more with your position. Then one or two, maybe more, will start to step forward and cooperate with your administration, especially concerning the issue of loyalty to the Crown. They don't need to love you, only to respect you." 

Monastario took another sip of wine. He gave the colonel a long look. "I respectfully disagree, Colonel, although I recognize your good intentions in this matter. The people who count here already respect me, but they do so based on a respect for a strong man, not a weak one." 

"Enrique, they fear you as a strongman, and they won't cooperate until they respect you more, not until they empathize more and see you as one of them. Now, this might not work with the non-veterans, but it will with those who served the same way we did, the older men. We must show a commonality of all veterans for the glory of Spain and the Spanish Empire. Let the old ones spout and learn from what they say. It will be a new beginning for you and there is no better time than the present."

Monastario considered and then said, "Very well, Colonel. Do you have any further orders?" He smiled. 

"Capitán, enjoy yourself!"

 

 

Chapter Twenty
Chapter One
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