The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY FIVE

 

Chapter 22

 

Capitán Enrique Monastario leaned back in his chair and leisurely puffed on a cheroot. He was very pleased with himself. The party at the De la Vegas had been a great success for him, despite the setback with Elena Torres. And he had a plan on how to deal with her later on. If a woman would not give in to sentimentality and gallantry, maybe she would see reason through other tactics. But he would attempt to implement some of O’ Leary’s methods for starters. That Irishman had a way of worming himself into just about everyone’s good graces, especially into those of women. There was nothing wrong in learning a few new tricks, especially if they got him beyond yesterday’s impasses.

There was a knock at the door. "Enter," he responded. He rose to his feet when he saw the Irishman. "Ah, Colonel. You are up early this morning." His eyes were quick to note the man’s serious demeanor. His intuition sensed something was wrong. "May I offer you a drink?" The colonel nodded. Monastario poured him a glass of brandy, and then a second. "Have a seat, Paddy," he said pointing to a chair.

O’ Leary sat down. He looked at the captain. "I see that you’ve been busy, Enrique, even on a Sunday. Tell me, who are all the lost souls in your jail out there?"

"Drunks, disturbers of the peace, vagrants, riff-raff," the officer responded in an off-hand manner. "They never take orders very seriously here." 

"You could always shame them by turning them over to the church and letting the padre deal with them as they try to repent," the Irishman suggested. 

Monastario smirked at that. "It might work if any of them were really religious, Paddy, but these anti-social types are no more interested in repenting than pigs in a pig sty. Besides, they are the bait for my trap." 

"Ah, your trap for the Fox," Paddy mused. "You did mention a provocation. Just what did you have in mind?" 

"Just leave the details to me. What is important is the role you will play. I intend to lure Zorro into the cuartel. You will be on the outside and you will follow him to see to where he flees if he escapes. From what I have been able to ascertain, he takes the main road out of town. That is where you will lie in wait. Just in case he changes his plans, I have a few troopers covering the other exits from town, but not too discreetly, of course." He chuckled. 

"When will this action commence, Capitán?" the colonel asked. 

"It has already begun with the arrests," smiled the captain. "But out of consideration for your religious sensibilities, I will wait until tomorrow to begin the amusing aspects of this action. Just be ready by sunset." He smiled and leisurely blew out a ring of smoke. "By the way, Don Carlos has agreed to sell you one of his fine stallions. I told him to do so as a personal favor to me. He will bring two into town when he comes with his sister this afternoon. You can then make your choice." 

"How thoughtful of you," responded O’ Leary dryly. "You really are in a hurry to catch this bandit. But why the rush?" 

The captain sat down on the edge of his desk. "I’ll tell you frankly, Paddy, that I have contemplated some actions against him for some time. But it was your presence here that gave me the idea and the edge I need to finally capture him. With your expertise for intelligence gathering and your tracking ability, I can be working this problem from both the inside as well as the outside. Not a bad strategy, eh, Colonel?" 

"Commendable, Enrique," the Irishman commented. "I will test the two stallions out this afternoon and make my choice. We’ll see how they handle some of the terrain off of the main road." 

"Excellent, Colonel. Until tomorrow?" The captain rose and escorted his guest to the door.

"Until tomorrow," replied the Irishman.

 

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Paddy O' Leary wandered about the plaza making small talk with couples and individuals whom he met. Most were on their way to or from church services. He was really hoping that Elena Torres would come to town with her parents. He admired her courage, or maybe it was her foolishness, in countering Enrique's social chess moves at the fiesta the night before. He also liked her parents very much and thought they needed to ally themselves openly with others. There's always been safety in numbers, he thought. The danger is when you stand out like a black sheep in a white flock. 

He was near the church when he saw a plump woman in black coming out of the church. Her demeanor told him that she was in great distress. He recognized her at once. 

"Good day to you, Señora Cárdenas," he greeted her. 

The woman looked up and he saw that her face was tear-stained. She attempted to smile.

"My dear woman," he said in a tone of great concern. His brow was furrowed and his green eyes took in every detail. 

"Oh, Colonel O' Leary," she began in a tremulous voice, "please forgive me." 

He put his arm around her shoulder. "Don't think anything of it. Can I help you in some way? " 

"I don't think anyone can help me," she answered tearfully. 

"Now, would you like to sit in the church garden and talk about it. Talking always helps," he encouraged her. 

Isabel Cárdenas hesitated. Praying had brought her no peace. Perhaps the kind Irishman could help her discover a solution. She nodded her assent and they went to the wooden gate. He opened it for her. Inside the shade trees and profusion of plants created the illusion of a more peaceful place, a place where answers might be found. They found a stone bench near some graves and sat down. She dried her tears with a kerchief and looked up into a sympathetic face. 

"Forgive me, please, Colonel O' Leary. Perhaps you understand these things better than I do. It's Roberto - something is troubling him, no - is frightening him - and he won't tell me what. I thought I knew him well, but the way he is acting one would think he had seen Satan himself. I don't know how to describe it." 

"Señora, just tell me when it started, then perhaps we can figure out what is going on," Paddy told her. 

"It's odd, I thought it so odd, that the day he seemed to become frightened was on the same day that you came to our store. I'm sure it's a coincidence, but that is the day that it began. Roberto has always been a brave and courageous man. He fears no other man and has no need to. Did I ever tell you that he was in the Army?" she asked. 

"Yes, you told me," he replied. 

"Roberto has never told me much about his life in the wars, but I have pieced together bits and pieces of his life. He must have been in the War for Liberation and on many fronts. He came to the Américas. I first met him in Peru, in Lima. He brought his small son with him. He said that his wife was dead from the wars in Spain. I was a widow myself, Colonel O' Leary. The Loyalists killed my husband. Roberto was very sympathetic to our cause. I fell in love with him and Pedrito whom I love as if he was my own boy. When the situation became too dangerous for us, he told us that we should leave. We fled from Peru to Venezuela, then to Colombia. It was too dangerous for us to stay, even there." 

"Is that when you came to California?" asked O' Leary. 

"Yes. Roberto thought that here we would be safe. California was peaceful. He calls California 'the Ends of the Earth,'" she smiled slightly. 

"That's what it seemed to me as well," the Irishman, finding the coincidence in terminology interesting. 

"But here, the danger seems to have found us once again," she said, a little fearfully. 

"When did it start? With my arrival?" asked Paddy. 

"Oh, no, not with you," Isabel Cárdenas began. "The first danger seemed to be when Capitán Monastario arrived last year." 

"Monastario?" queried the Irishman in surprise. "How was he a danger?" 

"We had an experience with him and his troops, first in Peru, then in Venezuela," she continued. "He was the officer assigned to seek out and hunt down republicans. His own commanding officer was nicknamed 'the Butcher' - that was General Morillo. Roberto said that that the general would show no mercy. General Morillo slaughtered men, women and children and that is why we had to get out. Capitán Monastario was the one who hanged my husband earlier. He spared me because I was a woman. It is said that by doing so he earned himself a reprimand from the general." 

"When he came to Los Angeles, did Capitán Monastario recognize you?" asked Paddy. 

"I don't think so," she replied. "I've changed a lot, so has Roberto. We even changed our names. It has been the worry and the fear. It's amazing how one can change in just a few short years. I used to be very beautiful, Colonel, but look at me now." A tear slid down her cheek again. 

He held her hand. "You are a beautiful woman, Señora, and don't let anyone ever say that you are not," he said sincerely. "You and Pedro are just among the finest folks I've met here in Los Angeles. I'm glad to hear that it was not me that was the cause of your husband's distress. It's why I'm interested in meeting your husband as well." 

"Thank you," Isabel sighed, drying her tears again. "You know, Colonel, this is only half of my story. You see, Roberto became very suspicious when you came to our store. When Pedrito told him the story of meeting you on the coach, he reacted very strangely. When I questioned him, he said that it was nothing, only that you reminded him - I hope you will forgive me - of someone bad that he once knew a long time ago." 

O' Leary chuckled at that. "It wouldn't be the first time for me," he said humorously. "I do have that effect on some people. Not everybody loves us Irish." 

"I don't mean that," the woman continued. "You see, it was after Pedrito told him about your war stories with Espoz y Mina that he became very nervous. That makes no sense to me. All of us on the republican side know about him - he's a great hero to this day. Why would this upset Roberto so?" 

Paddy thought hard, but what he said did not match his feelings. "Perhaps Roberto thinks I’m a Royalist, like Monastario," he suggested. "After all, it’s no secret that we were old comrades in the war. I would just like to assure you, Señora, that our comradeship is limited to that war, not to the present ones. We have our differences, but we aren’t speaking of them. It seems to be a good policy." 

The woman nodded. "I would like to think that the explanation is that simple." She dabbed her eyes with her kerchief again. 

The colonel felt badly about asking his next question, but he did so in a very neutral tone of voice. "You said that Roberto was upset after Pedrito told him my war stories. Has he been upset at all since that time?" 

Isabel Cárdenas looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "I thought it had all ended, until last night. Roberto went out for a walk and when he came back he was as white as a ghost. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that he had too much to drink." 

"A man will often drink to forget his worries, Señora," the Irishman commented. 

"But Roberto doesn't drink and there was not a whiff of alcohol on his breath," she whispered. "There's something going on and now I'm afraid." She looked around to see if anyone was nearby and confided. "Roberto told me that he is going to leave town very soon. He said he has some unexpected business to attend to. When I asked him what the business was, he would not answer. So, you see, this is why I am upset. I am very sorry to trouble you with my worries," she added. 

Patrick O' Leary patted her hand sympathetically. "I'll tell you what. If you would like, I can drop by the store tomorrow and have a word with your husband. If this is related to a problem with Monastario, maybe I can be of service since I am on good relations with him." He paused. "Maybe Roberto just needs to confide in a man who has had many of the same experiences." 

Isabel Cárdenas smiled hopefully. "Thank you so much. Maybe that is all that Roberto needs. Sometimes a woman cannot understand everything and another man can. Yes, if you would like to drop in and speak with him while you ask him about the gift, that would be good." 

The colonel rose and offered her his hand. "Allow me to escort you to the end of the plaza." 

The woman smiled, and took his arm. "I'm feeling much better now, Colonel O' Leary." 

When they reached the far side of the plaza, she turned to him. "Thank you for being our friend. I won't forget it." 

The red-haired man bowed and watched her leave. When he turned back towards the church he felt deeply troubled. So you don't drink, he thought. Well, there's a coincidence for you. There was a certain man in the regiment who would match that description as well, a man who was very careful with a drink. I wonder….

 

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The Torres family – Don Nacho, Doña Louisa, and Señorita Elena took their carriage into the pueblo of Los Angeles for late morning mass. The day promised to be a warm one for even at daybreak the winds had died down and the dry grasses barely moved. The two horses tossed their heads as the driver flicked the reins and encouraged them forward on the dirt road that wound through the oaks and yellow grasses. 

The three of them chatted about the party the night before. Nacho was especially amused by Don Patricio’s witticisms that defused the tensions between himself and Don Carlos. Doña Luisa commented that she was delighted to see so many of the pueblo’s original inhabitants like the musician Señor Escobedo and Señora de la Cruz and how Colonel O’ Leary had brought them all out. Elena admitted that she was becoming very fond of the red-haired man who always had something positive and complementary to say. "He manages to get around to everyone," she said. "It makes me sad to think that he retired almost prematurely. Just think what Los Angeles would be like if a man like him were in charge of the cuartel." 

Her father nodded in agreement. "In the current political climate, we would be fortunate indeed to have a man like Colonel O’ Leary in charge. However, those in power seem to think we need the iron fist. I hope that Don Patricio can continue to soften the heart of the comandante or at least modify his behavior. So far, it seems he has been a positive influence. I was very surprised to see Monastario at the fiesta last night. Don Alejandro must have been convinced that inviting everyone would be one way of starting anew. I could have not done it myself." 

"Now, Nacho, I have more faith in you than that," countered Doña Luisa. "If Don Alejandro was willing to show that he could bury the hatchet, I think you could do no less should the occasion arise. Even Capitán Monastario was cordial to everyone. He even chatted with us ladies, although it was just the basic pleasantries." 

"It was Don Patricio who brought him over, Mother," Elena pointed out. "He also introduced him to everyone else, too." 

"Capitán Monastario did not have any trouble seeking you out, Elena," her mother responded. "You never did tell us what he had to say." 

Elena looked into the distance at the mountains and across the meadows to the next rise in the road before she responded. "He told me that he likes me a lot," she confessed. "I can’t imagine why. I told him that I questioned his motivations. Then he told me that he’s an aristocrat and not a fortune hunter. I told him that I have nothing against the fact that he and his family are distinguished, only that I object to how he conducts himself. I could not get away from him fast enough." 

"I sympathize, Elena," her father commented. "But it might be a good idea if we have his friendship with at least one member of the family. I know he dislikes me and that is political. But if he is friendly to your mother and to you, it might help prevent you from coming to grief, especially if the political climate worsens. It will be hard for you, dear, but endeavor to be cordial to him. He himself has hinted that conditions could worsen. We don’t want to be the ones that trigger any unfortunate events or give the excuse for him to do so." 

"Speaking of Capitán Monastario," Doña Luisa interrupted, "isn’t that the capitán coming on the white horse?" 

All three members turned in their seats and looked in the direction of the pueblo. In the distance, a cloud of dust was being stirred by the hooves of several horses pounding along the dirt road, headed toward them. 

Capitán Enrique Monastario observed the carriage in the distance as he headed up the group of troopers for his daily ride into the countryside. His eyes narrowed as he recognized the carriage of the Torres family. It was an open carriage and the two ladies were seated in the back. They seemed to be chatting with each other. Maybe old man Torres was seated behind the driver. They had been polite at the De la Vegas, but then social etiquette demanded it and no one had expected him to be there either. 

As the horses came upon the carriage, he slowed down the splendid white stallion he rode to a walk. He gestured to the driver of the carriage to halt, then eased his mount alongside the carriage. 

The ladies stopped chatting and looked up at him. The head of Don Nacho peered around the side of the carriage. "Good morning, Capitán Monastario," he said in a friendly voice. "I hope nothing distressful brings you out this far from the pueblo on such a beautiful Sunday." 

Monastario touched the brim of his hat in a kind of salutation to Torres and he nodded to the ladies. "The Army is constantly vigilant," he answered. "Even on Sundays." His gaze shifted back to the ladies. "Señora Torres, Señorita Elena," he acknowledged, "you are out early." He seemed to be studying the young woman who wore a black shawl over a white blouse and black skirt like her mother. 

"The day promises to be a warm one," the older woman responded. "Morning mass suits us best, especially in the summertime. Like the army, we are disciplined to rise early, and not just on Sundays." 

"And you Señorita Elena? Have you nothing to say?" the officer challenged her silence. 

"I hope that we will meet you in church later today," she offered. "It is always pleasant to encounter our friends there." 

Monastario smiled confidently. "I am certain that we will, but perhaps not today," he replied. "With your permission I will call upon you this week." He gave her a knowing look. 

"Those who come as friends are always welcome, Capitán," Don Nacho said in a pleasant tone. 

"Then I bid you farewell until that time," the captain responded, bowing slightly from the waist. He waved a gloved hand to the troopers and spurred the white stallion forward. They took off in a cloud of dust. 

"For some reason, I always have the feeling that Capitán Monastario is up to something," remarked Doña Luisa. "I will always be cordial to him, but he is not a man who inspires trust."

"I just wish he wouldn't come at all," Elena said. "He makes me uncomfortable and I don't like the idea that he is interested in me to any degree." 

"We can't spend our lives hiding from what is unpleasant," her father said as the carriage bounced its way along the road toward the pueblo. "One day, we will have to face issues that are more serious than his flirting with you." 

"Do you think he is only flirting with me, Father?" Elena asked in surprise. "When he spoke to me last night, I felt like it was his intention of eventually asking me to marry him. That’s why I wanted to get away." 

"Most young men courting a young lady would bring flowers and gifts," Nacho explained. "So far, Capitán Monastario has just become friendlier and told you about himself and his family. He has not conducted himself in a romantic way that I can see. A man intent on marriage usually approaches the parents, even if he does not care for them. I tend to think that the comandante’s strategy is to split the family, pitting the daughter against her parents." 

"He’ll never succeed in doing that," Elena declared. 

"Capitán Monastario is very clever, Nacho, " Luisa pointed out. "I trust Elena’s instincts concerning his intentions. He is quite the egotist and may think that his position of authority can override social conventions when it comes to the lady he intends to pursue. My worry is that he seems to be a fairly ambitious young man who will pursue his goals relentlessly. If one method does not work, he will try another." 

"He is all of those things, but knowing his zealousness, I tend to think his intentions are ultimately political." The don frowned a moment, then lightened up. "But speaking of flowers and gifts, it would seem that you have a more charming suitor than the comandante – Colonel O’ Leary." 

Both Elena and her mother smiled. "He is very charming and I enjoy his wit and kindness," Elena admitted. "But he seems very old – perhaps thirty-five?" 

Both Nacho Torres and his wife burst into laughter at that comment. "Oh, daughter, " Nacho said with much merriment. "What I would not give to be only thirty-five again."

 

 

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