The Irish Colonel




Eugene Craig





Chapter 20


The sun had just set in the evening sky when Paddy O’Leary arrived in an open carriage at the De la Vega hacienda. From the road, one could see the colorful streamers and paper lanterns that had been hung from the balconies and from tree to tree. His companions in the carriage had ceased their chattering when they spotted the festive decorations.

The colonel helped the widow, Señora de la Cruz, down from the carriage, presenting her cane to her as if it were a holy relic. He turned and offered a hand to Señora Cárdenas who was accompanied by her son, Pedro. Then there was the old musician Escobedo, and an even older man, a former lieutenant, Cuenca, who brushed his hand away. "I may be old, Colonel, but these legs still work."

 O’ Leary smiled, "I only hope that if I ever reach your longevity, I will do as well as you do."

Alejandro de la Vega opened the door of the outer gate himself and greeted each of the guests as they came in, giving special attention to Señora de la Cruz who told him that, had it not been for the colonel, she probably would have not been able to make it. "It has been much too long, Doña María, since we had a fiesta here and it would not be the same without your presence," he replied. He turned to O’ Leary who was guiding Escobedo into the patio, "Ah, Colonel, the musicians and dancer arrived about a half an hour ago. It seems you managed to procure the latest talent in town. We discussed the details and everything has worked out smoothly." 

The colonel smiled. "Don José should be an excellent judge of how well they perform," he responded, giving his elderly companion a squeeze on the arm. The old man beamed and nodded happily. He eagerly took a drink off a tray that Bernardo presented to him.

Carriages and riders began to arrive one by one, and then several at a time. Alejandro greeted each newcomer at the gate and exchanged words of welcome. The guitar players sat and strummed short melodies from time to time.

O’ Leary approached the don. "Where is your son, Diego, Don Alejandro? Will he not be here with us tonight?" 

"Diego decided to ride in to town himself and help escort a few of our older friends out, Colonel. He thought your idea was a fine example to all of us," Alejandro began. "And here he is now." The bearded don walked out the gate again to greet the arriving guests.

Already the crowd inside was very animated. The dons, their ladies and children moved about, greeting each other, and partaking of the generous portions of food and drink. The Villa family, the Torres and the neighbors were there as well as the Alcalde of Los Angeles. The Martinez family brought along their visiting cousins from Monterey and the girls were very impressed with the local dons and their haciendas in the countryside.

Diego de la Vega kept staring at a small, mustachioed man who looked a little awkward and hung around the food table. He walked over to him. "Is that you, Corporal Reyes?" he asked in amazement. 

"Oh, hello, Don Diego," the corporal responded. "Yes, it’s me." 

Diego looked him over carefully. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in civilian clothes," he remarked. "You look very fine in your new outfit." 

"Thank you, Don Diego," Reyes responded. "Colonel O’ Leary told me to just relax and enjoy being a civilian for a night. He even borrowed this new suit of clothes for me to wear. He said that probably no one would recognize me. I don’t think anyone else knows who I am." 

"Is Sergeant García also here tonight?" asked Diego looking around.

"I don’t think so," replied Reyes. "He had unexpected guard duty tonight and the comandante told me that I did not have guard duty." 

"Interesting," mused Diego. "Has he ever done that before?" 

"I don’t think so." 

Diego shook his head and turned as another visitor greeted him. More guests were arriving in their carriages and a few on horseback. The fiesta was already a glorious success in terms of the numbers of people in attendance. Couples began to dance. 

Alejandro de la Vega was chatting with a group of friends when he did a double-take. He stared hard at a bearded young man in an expensive outfit, more like that of a prince, who strolled in through the gate and was greeted almost immediately by the Irishman who also looked surprised. O’ Leary approached Señora de la Cruz and a group of older ladies and introduced the man who bowed chivalrously and smiled. The ladies looked surprised, and also smiled, but their smiles were coolly polite. O’ Leary and the man exchanged the usual niceties with them and then approached a group of old war veterans. He introduced the newcomer. Both spent a long time talking to the men, who became more relaxed and animated. Alejandro looked around for Diego who was chatting with one of the Villa daughters. "Diego, I need to speak with you a moment." His tone was urgent. 

Paddy O’ Leary finished his joke and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. "If you’ll excuse me, I think I just spotted someone I need to talk to," he said. All the men in the group nodded and turned back to speak with the newcomer. 

He made his way to a small group of young women who were chatting. The object of his attention stood smiling and listening to the others. He came up alongside her. "Ah, Señorita Torres, good evening" the Irishman greeted her. He stood there a moment and looked her over carefully. "Now did you wear that Irish green dress just for me?" 

Elena Torres gave him her most charming smile. "I had no idea that my dress was Irish green, Don Patricio," she responded. "But if you would like to think so, I won’t object." 

The other young women stopped talking and giggled at her response. 

Paddy found himself the center of attention and he didn’t mind it for one moment. "Ah, but it is, you know. And who are all these attractive ladies whom you’ve surrounded yourself with?" 

Diego excused himself momentarily and joined his father. "What’s wrong, Father?" he asked. 

"Did you see who walked through the gate not more than five minutes ago?" the don was indignant. 

Diego twisted around, not seeing anything in particular wrong with the group. "Ah, no, Father, I have not seen anything unusual , unless you are referring to Corporal Reyes in civilian clothes." He chuckled. "Now, that is something to see." 

"Diego, will you be serious for once? You mean to tell me that you did not see our greatest enemy come through the gate? And dressed like a prince of the Court of Spain! I would have never believed that he would ever come here to our house!" Alejandro replied furiously.

Diego looked around and spotted the object of his father’s wrath. The man had his back turned and some older men in the group were looking very interested in what he was saying. There was something familiar about the man, uncomfortably familiar – the dark hair, the slender build, the gestures. Then, it hit him. Diego moved several feet away to get a better view. 

Alejandro followed him. "Now do you see what I mean?" 

"I do indeed, Father," he said, but his tone was neutral. 

"Well, what are we going to do about it?" Alejandro said taking his son’s elbow and turning him away so no one would notice their exchange. 

"I don’t think there is much we can do at this point," Diego replied. "But if you would like, I’ll ask Paddy." 

"That’s it. It must have been that blasted Irishman. I should have known. He would have invited him," Alejandro huffed.

"Just a minute, Father," Diego responded. "Why don’t you just let me ask first? I’ll let you know as soon as I can find out." 

"And where did he go?" Alejandro continued in the same vein.

Diego spotted the red-haired man without too much trouble. "Dancing with Señorita Torres." He paused. "Father, just let me handle this. I think that just acting natural at this point would be the best diplomacy." With that he walked away. 

Don Alejandro thought his son was taking the incident much too lightly. "Diplomacy be damned," he muttered under his breath and turned away to continue mingling with his guests. He put a pleasant smile on his face as if nothing was wrong. 

"What is that scent you are wearing tonight?" Paddy asked her as they whirled in a dance. "It reminds me of the rose gardens of Spain." 

"It is rose, Don Patricio," Elena Torres responded. "Don’t tell me that you only just noticed it now." 

"I only just noticed it now," he replied. "It is subtle, but distinct. With the other ladies surrounding you, it was one scent in many." 

"Is it your favorite scent?" she asked, but her tone indicated she expected him to say just that. 

"It is not the scent so much as the lady wearing it. That makes the difference," the colonel replied with a smile. "And that is what makes it special." 

Elena beamed in spite of herself. She liked his sophisticated answers. "You seem to know how to say the right thing to a girl, Don Patricio." 

"Don’t I now?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eye. "And it’s how the stars are reflected in your eyes, and how the flowers seem brighter when you sit amongst them."




When the dance ended, Paddy O' Leary escorted Elena Torres over to the table with the punch bowl. After getting her a glass, he looked up. She sipped the drink and looked bemused. She noticed that his gaze went past her shoulder. 

"Well, good evening, there," he said to someone who walked up behind her. She turned with a smile that immediately froze. 

Enrique Monastario stood there, resplendent in the fine attire of the Court, and not in uniform at all. He bowed. "Good evening, Paddy, Señorita Torres," he responded amiably. 

"Have you met Capitán Monastario before?" the Irishman asked her. 

"Yes, I have," she replied coolly. 

Diego came up and had a friendly look on his face. "Why, Comandante, I didn't even recognize you. How relaxed you look, for a change. And Elena, you've been dancing all evening with the Colonel. You're making wall flowers out of the rest of us." 

Elena could not help but smiling at that. "I doubt that you, Diego, could ever be a wall flower, at least, not for long." Diego laughed. 

"Oh, Paddy," Diego continued, taking O' Leary's elbow. "There is something I have to ask you about today's bazaar and I wonder if I might have a private word with you." 

"Certainly, Diego," responded O' Leary, and moved off with the young don. 

Enrique watched them leave and turned back to the girl. "It's a fine gathering, is it not?" he asked her. "The De la Vegas know how to turn out the town for a fiesta, no doubt with Paddy's help." 

"No doubt," she replied and looked around for a way to retreat. 

The captain moved next to her and poured some punch for himself, but only half a glass.

He nodded towards the musicians. "Paddy enlisted the latest show in town. In this setting, with the colorful lanterns, it is like another world, a grander world." 

"I'm surprised that you notice that sort of thing, Comandante," she said. "But I'm glad to hear that you can speak about things other than war. There is much more to life than that, especially things like the lanterns and the music." 

"Please, don't be so formal with me," he requested. "This is not the place for it. Why don't you just call me Enrique? I do have a first name." 

"As you wish," she replied. 

He took her arm. "You know, Señorita Elena, I do appreciate, as you say, the simple things in life. But I don’t often have the chance to. And I especially appreciate you." 

"Me?" she asked suspiciously "Why?" She had not expected the feared comandante to be so personal. 

"Why?" he responded in mock surprise. "Señorita, I would be blind not to see that you are a woman of charm and grace." 

Over by the gate, Paddy O' Leary watched the exchange between the captain and Elena Torres, his interest and her coolness. At least Enrique is trying, he thought. He forced himself to pay attention to young De la Vega who began to whisper to him. 

"Uh, Paddy, what is Capitán Monastario doing here at the fiesta? I think that you know that my father does not like him at all. Did you also invite him?" asked Diego in a concerned tone. 

Patrick O' Leary looked at him calmly as if nothing was amiss. He raised his eyebrows as if surprised that the question had been asked. "Is that a problem, now?" he asked in bewilderment. "When I asked if I could invite everybody, all me friends, I was not told that there were any exceptions." 

Diego looked stumped a moment. "I guess you're right about that," he admitted. "We did not tell you not to invite him. But…"

"Now, Diego, just listen. Everything is going to be just fine, I swear it. There won't be any swordplay or politics or insults. I promise, on me honor. I won't let anything happen, believe me, now won't you?" He looked so sincere. 

"Paddy," Diego began, then sighed audibly. "All right." Paddy had a way of getting what he wanted and wasn't he just the devil when he used that innocent routine. The Irishman patted him on the shoulder and headed toward a group of veterans. On the way, he stopped Bernardo and took another drink from the tray. 

Back at the punch table, Elena Torres found herself engaged in an uncomfortable conversation with the garrison commander. Everyone seemed preoccupied in chatter and did not notice her growing distress. Enrique Monastario ignored it, took her elbow and guided her over to an empty chair near the musicians. "Why not get the best seats?" he asked as he sat down next to her.

"Tell me something, Comandante," she said in a challenging tone of voice. "Almost all the girls here at the party are charming and graceful. Why don't you take an interest in them? Look, there is María Calderón, Juanita and Josefina Villa, Lupe Sandoval, and Carmen Rodríguez."

Monastario looked over to the group of young ladies that she indicated. He nodded at one of them who seemed to be watching him. He leaned towards her. "I do appreciate their attributes, Elena. It is just that I like you the best." 

"Why me?" she demanded. 

Enrique Monastario kept his tone even, although he was irritated by her unfriendliness, in spite of his best manners. "You must know, Elena, that sometimes we men don't know ourselves why we are attracted to a particular woman. Is that so unexpected?" 

"I suppose not," she replied, "but tell me truthfully, doesn't my father's money make the difference?" 

Monastario smiled and shook his head. "All the girls you just named come from affluent families, so that does not apply." He paused so the fact would sink in. "Why are you so defensive tonight? It's such a pleasant evening." 

When she did not reply he continued, "You know, Elena, you don't know me at all. You know nothing about me. I grew up in a grand home, finer than your hacienda. We had servants, white Spaniards, not lowly Indians, and our lands stretched further than the eye could see. The Monastario family is noble. My lineage reaches back centuries into the history of Spain. I have been to Court many times." He paused. "I am not one of these fortune hunters from the lower classes. My blood is pure Spanish." He looked very proud of himself. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper, "I tell you this so that you will not be so suspicious of me." 

Elena Torres stood up. "Capitán Monastario, I truly believe what you have just told me about your family. Your lineage is impressive. But I want you to know that I am not suspicious of you because of what you are. I am suspicious of you because of what you do. There is a big difference. Now, if you will excuse me." With that she curtsied slightly and walked away.




"So, you are a cousin of the Martínez family?" asked the red-haired man. "And your family is from northern Spain?"

The blond girl smiled shyly. "Yes, Don Patricio. We came directly here to California and settled in Monterey only five years ago. It is more like the North there, than Los Angeles is."

"Now isn't that interesting. And how is it that you've come here to us in Los Angeles?"

"I came with my sister and mother," she replied. "We have not been here for three years. There are many changes. Los Angeles is much bigger than I remember."

"All for the better, I expect," he responded. "Tell me, do you miss Spain?" 

"A little. Most of my friends are there. It would be nice to meet some one from our province who could tell us all the news. Few travel back there now. Almost everyone goes to Madrid." 

Paddy O' Leary smiled. "Would you like to meet a very nice young fellow from the North? He's right here at the fiesta. Maybe you two could find something in common, being from the North, that is?" His companion nodded amiably and looked around in expectation. He took her arm. "This way, my dear." 

He came up behind Monastario who had just sat back down and was watching Elena Torres rejoin the group of young women who were her friends. He could not see the comandante's face. "Ah, Enrique, I have a surprise for you," he began. 

Monastario turned. He forced a pleasant smile on his face. He was not in a good mood. When he saw the new blond girl, he rose to his feet and bowed. Her eyes widened when she noted the richness of his clothing, the bright blue eyes that matched her own and his charming smile. 

"May I present Señorita Sofia Elena Martínez of Monterey?" the colonel asked formally. He turned to the young lady. "I present His Excellency, Enrique Monastario Sánchez." 

"I don't believe I know this beautiful young lady," Enrique responded, taking her hand and kissing it. He was quick to note her open friendliness. 

"I believe that Señorita Sofia and you have much in common, Enrique," O' Leary smiled. "She is from northern Spain just like you are. And how she misses speaking to someone about the rolling hills, forests and wild rivers there and the happy memories of her childhood." 

"Really?" asked Monastario. There was a hint of sarcasm in his tone, but the blond girl missed it completely. He gestured to the chair next to him. "Would you care to sit down Señorita Martínez?" 

She smiled and sat. "I'm so happy to meet someone from the North, like you, Your Excellency," she responded. 

"Please, don't be so formal. It would please me if you just called me 'Enrique,' he told her.

Sofia Martínez blushed. "Thank you, Enrique. But only if you call me Sofia." She paused. "I’m so glad to hear that you are from the North," she told him. "And I can't wait to hear about all the news. Tell me about where you are from and what you do here in Los Angeles. Don Patricio said your family is quite distinguished."

Enrique Monastario smiled broadly and relaxed. The girl was genuinely interested and had not yet been poisoned against him by the gossips and slanderers in town. It would not take much to impress her and, who knows, he might find a new ally to put in a good word to others about Los Angeles and how well he ruled it.



Chapter Twenty-one
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