The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY FOUR

 

Chapter 21

 

The tall, thin ranchero stood in the middle of the old veterans as they discussed the old wars against France. His eyebrows were arched and he had a pointed beard. His demeanor was haughty. Don Carlos was not only known for his inflexible nature and his loyalty to Spain, but for his hatred and suspicion of foreigners. He had warned the governors time and time again about Russian and English ambitions along the northern coast of California, and how their settlements could spread southward, threatening the Spanish hegemony of the northern provinces of New Spain. Likewise he had warned against the French in the Louisiana territories before Bonaparte had treacherously sold Spanish lands there so cheaply to the American president, Jefferson. This evening he had much to say on a current topic.

"Gentlemen, like you I had not known much about our comandante - his tireless efforts to stamp out sedition in California and to protect our interests from the rabble and other troublemakers. I believe that he represents our best interests and, as such, it is up to the most loyal members of His Majesty to support him."

Nacho Torres overheard Don Carlos' comments from nearby. He stepped at once into the foray. "Your pardon, Don Carlos. It is one thing to support the military command when it acts in our interests against foreign aggression. It is still yet another when the military command acts against members of our own community, those it considers 'enemies from within', when they are, in actuality, loyal members of our community." 

Don Carlos smiled in amusement. "Don Nacho, I expected you to speak up. You are a well-known republican, aren't you? Republicans have always challenged the authority of the King. Even now, republicans back the rebels in México and throughout the colonies in opposition to those most loyal to Spain." 

"Republicans are loyal first to justice, Don Carlos, no matter who rules in our name. But we cannot give unconditional loyalty to any individual or group that claims to represent all Spaniards or to represent Spain when their rule constitutes injustice." 

"Really, Don Nacho," responded Don Carlos with a sneer, "Spain is a monarchy and monarchism has proven itself the strongest and most durable form of government for centuries. Were it not for our civilization and way of life, even you would not have the education and fine hacienda that you now have. Nor would your family. The barbarians are at the gates once again and, instead of fortifying our barricades, you would have us tear them down to welcome in the rabble and savages. Would you have us give up our religion as well? Spain needs strong men in its time of trial and tribulation. Our best hope lies in men like Capitán Monastario who has no trouble discerning who the rebels are and who the loyalists are." 

Diego moved in from the shadows. "Your pardon, Don Carlos. Aren't you forgetting that Don Nacho fought in the all the wars against France when she attacked Spain right after their revolution? I find it hard to believe that anyone would question his loyalty." 

Don Carlos turned to the crowd with a look of one much older and wiser speaking to the uninitiated. "Don Diego is a young man spared from the horrors of war and one who has enjoyed the privileges of royal favor, both in Spain as well as here in California. Young man, republicanism is a dangerous threat to monarchy and never before has…" 

Paddy O' Leary seemed to literally stumble into the group. In his raised hand was a glass half filled with wine. "Oh, excuse me, I just heard what ye' said and I have a bit of sage wisdom, I do. And there's no wisdom like that of the Irish." He turned to the tall ranchero. " Don Carlos, 'there's no need to fear the wind, if your haystacks are tied down. ' " 

"How profound," the ranchero invoked, but Paddy's comment had elicited some smiles in the group. "I presume that you have some wisdom about drinking too much as well," he retorted haughtily. 

The Irishman smiled. "Profound wisdom about the barley. And here's a bit: 'Drink is the curse of the land. It makes you fight with your neighbor. It makes you shoot at your landlord, and it makes you miss him.'" 

Don Carlos, a landlord, was not amused. But Paddy just shrugged: "''One man's meat is another man's poison." Now, in my case it's a matter of 'it's often a man's mouth that broke his nose.' " That comment got a number of laughs. 

"For your enlightenment," began Don Carlos, "we have some sayings in Spain from famous men as well." 

"Ah, famous men," said Paddy, seizing hold of the conversation again. "What we wouldn't do without them. We Irish forgive our great men, but only when they are safely buried." 

Don Carlos looked exasperated. "Colonel O' Leary, are we to put up with these sorts of witticisms for the rest of the evening?" 

The Irishman was in his element. "Don Carlos, humor to a man is like a feather pillow. It is filled with what is easy to get, and gives great comfort." He hung on to Don Carlos like a bulldog to a steer. 

Diego de la Vega heaved a sign of relief when Rosita Flores stepped out onto the patio and the music increased to announce her presence.

 

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The evening proceeded well. Old groups broke up and new ones formed. After Señorita Flores' energetic performance, the guests danced late into the night and the minor tensions of the early hours dissolved into vapor. 

Bernardo had been kept busy all night serving drinks from his tray, offering serviettes to those who spilled a bit from their glasses, and cleaning up major spills. He officiated over the food brought in by other servants and garnered much intelligence from conversations both idle as well as intimate. No one thought of falling silent in the presence of a man known as a deaf mute. Knowing that Diego would be interested in what the veterans discussed after speaking to Monastario, he brought tray after tray of drinks to them. Later, he stood close by to Monastario himself and listened to the man with the moustache and goatee fill the blond girl's ears with his enthusiasm for his own autocracy and its merits. But at least he danced with her as well. 

And he kept up after the Irishman who seemed to have an endless capacity for drink and an even greater capacity for making sure he spoke to everyone and leaving a good impression, that is, with everyone except Don Carlos. 

Finally, the guests began to leave by ones and twos or in small groups. Bernardo made sure everyone got his hat or gloves or shawls on and that no one had anything left behind.

He smiled when he saw the Martínez family leave with their cousins and hastened to help the ladies into their carriage. 

One of the girls was saying to another, "Well, Sofia, what do you think of Capitán Monastario?" 

The blond girl replied, "He's so interesting and very handsome." 

"What?" Her companions reacted with astonishment. "But, darling, he's a perfectly horrible man," said another. 

"I don't think so," the blond replied. "Did you know that he is the youngest comandante in all of New Spain and that he is a true aristocrat? I found him very charming. He dances divinely." 

"You might feel very differently if you knew his other side," said another girl. "Why, just this year he hung several men without a trial and he persecutes Don Nacho with all kinds of threats." 

"I thought that Elena was rather rude to him and he was being so nice to her," Sofia responded. "And what are threats but hot air. Enrique has so many responsibilities, especially in being vigilant for Spain. Since when have outlaws been given trials? Worse has happened to bandits in Spain. And, besides, I find a man like him rather attractive." 

The other girls let off audible groans. With that, the carriage rolled off. 

Then there were the usual farewells and comments about the dancer being even better than she was in the cantina, and ‘how grand it was to have seen you.’ Bernardo returned to the patio and saw Capitán Monastario making his way over to Colonel O' Leary. Bernardo pretended to be picking up glasses and wiping up after them. 

"Ah, Colonel, may I have a word with you?" the comandante asked. 

The Irishman excused himself and joined the dark-haired man. "How is the evening going for you, Enrique?" 

"Excellent," replied Monastario. "But to change the subject. Drop in to see me tomorrow - after late morning mass, that is. I have a plan for capturing Zorro and you might find it entertaining." 

"Still making plans for your nemesis, eh, Enrique?" responded the colonel. "Very well."

He took Monastario's arm and guided him over to introduce him to a distinguished looking older man. "Oh, by-the-by, I'd like you to have a word with Don Esteban over here. He is a veteran of the old war against France." The three men spent some time talking about Spain before Bonaparte and the split in the dynasty between the followers of the King’s father, Carlos, and his son, Ferdinand and how the feud had hurt Spain.

These were all the stories that Bernardo later related to Don Diego and to his father after all the guests had departed. 

"You know, Diego, I have the feeling that Colonel O' Leary is something of a double agent. I'm not really sure whose side he is on. But he is busy looking like he is on everyone else's side," commented Alejandro thoughtfully. 

Diego nodded. "I know what you mean, Father. But, knowing Paddy as I do, I tend to think that he does know who's side he is on - his own. Father, Colonel O' Leary is a very intelligent man. I don't think we should be too quick to judge just what he is up to, at least not yet. I think he is busy evaluating the situation. He seems genuinely interested in finding out all that he can about what is going on here in Los Angeles. As a part of doing so, he is neither breaking with one side or the other. That is a smart policy." 

"I hope you are right, my son. But I am beginning to have some doubts about him. What if he is working for Monastario? Would he not be doing the same sort of investigations? That was his specialty in the old war - intelligence gathering." Alejandro paused. "And who knows what Monastario is up to again in his war against Zorro. I only hope our friend Zorro will be cautious and find out about this new devilry being planned against him."

"You know, Father, Zorro has the strangest way of finding out things. As soon as Monastario opens his mouth, it seems his words fly straight to Zorro’s ears." He looked over at Bernardo and winked.

Bernardo had to turn his back to prevent Alejandro from seeing him smile knowingly.

 

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Patrick O’ Leary tied up the horse at the local stable and made his way across the plaza. It took him a while to deliver all the old folks back home and most of them were sleepy and tired. Only Señora de la Cruz was animated the entire way home and he had to diplomatically exit her home in order to get the sleeping musician Escobedo to his door. 

He heaved a sigh of relief and began thinking about what Monastario told him. Before he went back to the inn, a strange feeling, like a premonition, came over him, something that guided his steps to the church. He opened the door, removed his hat, and went inside. Even at this late hour there was always one or two other people there. He sat down near the back and tried to think. Life was just racing by. It was like a madly flowing river and he needed some quiet to sort things out. He closed his eyes for a while. In the quiet of the church he could hear the creaking timbers and the rustle of clothing. He felt someone pass him and react in an almost startled, animal way. Odd, thought Paddy. 

Then, it struck him. In a flash he opened his eyes and looked up. There was no one there. He turned around quickly and saw the figure of a man departing through the doors in a hurry. 

The Irishman grabbed his hat and lurched to his feet. He rushed to the doors and peered out into the darkness. In the stillness of the night, he heard a pair of running feet down the dirt road. He followed immediately in the direction of the sound. The darkness of the plaza made it almost impossible to see anything. Only the burning outside lanterns of the inn and the cuartel provided any illumination and whoever it was, had run from the light. Yet he ran blindly in pursuit until he could no longer hear the sound. He stopped and leaned against the side of a building, listening, straining his ears and eyes. But there was nothing. It was as if he had been chasing a phantom in a dream.

It can't be him, the colonel muttered, not here, not in Los Angeles. I must have had too much to drink. He did not move from the spot for a long time. 

Finally, O’ Leary turned and made his way back to the inn. As he walked across the plaza, he was watched from behind a partially shuttered window. When he disappeared through the front door of the inn, a hand let the curtain drop.

 

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Her voice was urgent. "Paddy, Paddy," she called, and her voice seemed far away.

He groaned in his sleep and the nightmare went on. But her voice was persistent, calling his name, and it seemed to become louder and louder. He sat up in bed with a start. 

Her hands were smoothing his hair, kissing him, holding him in her arms. "Paddy," she whispered in his ear. "It’s Rosita, darling." She kissed him again.

He clutched her arm. He was bathed in sweat and his heart was pounding. He finally focused on the girl with the long black hair. He took a big breath and let the air out slowly. When he looked at her, there was pain in his eyes. He put his arms around her and held her close. Neither of them spoke for several minutes. 

"Was it the old dream again?" she asked.

He nodded. "And worse." He pulled back and looked into her dark eyes. "I’m sure I saw him tonight. It was in church, of all places. And then, I ran after him, into the darkness. And I lost him, Rosita, I lost him." Paddy paused. "But was it real?" He held her close again and muttered in her ear, "Was it real?"

 

 

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