The Irish Colonel
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
"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 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
"Excellent, Colonel. Until tomorrow?" The captain rose and escorted his guest to the door.
"Until tomorrow," replied the Irishman.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
The woman nodded. "I would like to think that
the explanation is that simple." She dabbed her eyes with her
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
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
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….
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
"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
"It was Don Patricio who brought him over,
Mother," Elena pointed out. "He also introduced him to everyone
"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
"Speaking of Capitán Monastario," Doña
Luisa interrupted, "isn’t that the capitán coming on the white
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
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
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
"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
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
"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,"
"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."