The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

DAY SIX

 

Chapter 26

 

 

Sergeant Demetrio García López looked up and squinted at the sun. It was almost mid-afternoon and the comandante had given him specific orders about the prisoners. The private with the whip was waiting the word and the big man had to reluctantly give his approval at last. 

García wished that Corporal Reyes was there. They often shared the good times and it would help to share the bad ones as well. But Reyes was on an errand for the comandante and would not be back until later. García thought about how to start. At last he spoke. 

"Well, Private, since this prisoner has to receive the most lashes, start with him. After about twenty, then switch to the other one and give him ten. That way we won’t have to do it all at once." 

To his surprise, the defiant prisoner spoke up. "Sergeant, it would be best to just get this over with. It’s harder on someone to interrupt a punishment and then go back to it again." 

"But, Señor," began García, "one hundred lashes all at once is very hard to endure. If we split them up, it would give you a chance to recover, a chance to rest." 

"I see that you are a decent fellow," the man observed. "Too bad you were not in my regiment. However, the capitán is determined to kill me, so why prolong the inevitable? It is more kind to carry out an execution all at once rather than drag it out." 

García sighed sadly. "As you wish, Señor. I regret that I must do this." 

The man nodded. The few hours remaining in the afternoon would seem like a lifetime, but after a while, it would no longer seem to matter. 

 

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Enrique Monastario sipped the lemonade and paused to watch Elena Torres look past his shoulder toward the patio gate as if she had heard something outside. He knew she was anxious for the arrival of her parents to interrupt his visit and he was grateful for their delay. He had never had the opportunity to corner her before and this was a very comfortable setting upon which to pursue and trap the object of his desire. 

"I’ve already told you about the present dangers here in California," he continued, "but I assure you that, despite the harshness of the world, you will not need to face this kind of world alone. I will protect you from all the unpleasantness." 

"How can you do that?" she asked quietly. 

"I am a man much used to taking on the burdens of command and I have been entrusted to do so by the Crown," he answered. "Not everyone can do this." 

The patio was quiet. A group of sparrows flew into the vines that covered one of the walls and began to chirp. 

The officer indicated the birds with a gesture and a nod. "I am sure that you have had many suitors, Elena, but they cannot offer you what I can. Many will sing, but none can deliver." He smiled and put down his drink. "I see that you still doubt me. Perhaps I can point out to you that a man can often express his love for a woman by protecting her." 

"And what do you demand in return for this protection?" Elena responded. "It seems that there is always a price to be paid. What would you want from me?" 

"I ask no more than any man would, Elena. I am not unreasonable. Surely, you must admit that. The only thing a man requires is the unconditional loyalty of a woman. Her love is unconditional because she understands that in order to face the world and make the decisions that need to be made to preserve our civilization, such a marriage requires this." 

"And the man’s loyalty to his wife?" 

"It is the same, Elena. I am not a skirt chaser. Once I decide on the right woman, then she is the only one. You will never have any cause to doubt me." 

I suppose I ought to be gratified, she thought to herself. "You told me a few moments ago that sentimentality is not respected in a man. But I know a man from a very different walk of life. His life has been difficult or even cruel, but he still manages to show tenderness and kindness to everyone he knows. He is one of the vaqueros on our estate."

"That is fine," responded the officer, " but he will never be anything but a vaquero." 

Elena hesitated slightly. "I think you are missing the point." 

Enrique Monastario sighed audibly. "My dear, you are belaboring the subject matter. Surely your friends, and especially your parents, understand that you need to marry above your station in life. If you care at all about the future of your children and a better life for them, then you will do so." He never seemed to tire of driving home his main point. "We live in a harsh world and we have to be realists. But that does not mean the life of our children will have to be the same as ours. I hope very much, that it would not have to be the same for them." He looked very thoughtful for a moment, as if thinking about his own childhood. 

"I would like to think so, too," she responded quietly, "but as parents, we must be good role models for our children. How could the children ever understand why their father would be so harsh to others while being, hopefully, kind to them? Would you discipline children or even a wife the way you do the soldiers or Spain’s enemies, if there are disagreements? It is important to know the answers to these and many other questions." 

The young officer studied her a moment. "I do not have the answers to all those questions at the present, Elena. Like I said before, I hope that the future would not be the same as the present. Actually, I have never had the time to be interested in children and, besides, it is a woman’s business to take care of that. It is a bit premature to discuss having children and what to do with them." He released her hand and she made an effort to move it back to her lap casually as if there had been no offense in the taking. 

The comandante’s sharp blue eyes were quick to notice the interest that the elderly Indian woman was taking in their conversation although she could not have heard most of it from her seat in the shade by the door. Nevertheless, her eyes betrayed her concerns for her young mistress, knowing that the family did not care for the visitor who had shown up so unexpectedly. She stood up and silently disappeared through the door into the sala. 

Elena was persistent as well. "I bring these matters up in order to give you something to think about. Marrying me is not just about living in a big hacienda and driving about in a fancy coach: it is the responsibility to others less fortunate than we are and making a kinder world by our own actions. If anything," she added, "the Savior Himself should be a model for our behavior and we should conduct ourselves as He did."  

The officer’s look was surprising mild as he tapped his boot against the side of the table. "You know, Elena, there is nothing wrong with having an ideal, but you should remember how the Savior was rewarded for His kindnesses: He was crucified. That should be a lesson to all men." 

Elena responded, "Once again, you miss the point. It was men who crucified Him, not God." 

"Exactly," responded Enrique energetically. "And it is men who crucify each other as well. To be strong, to maintain the power of the state and those who decide best for everyone else, one must be harsh in order to prevent injustices, to prevent crucifixions – of people just like you, Elena." 

"Why, that’s nonsense," she exclaimed. "Such an example is to be emulated, not to be rejected. We face such trials and tribulations as the ultimate test of our character and of our worthiness. Therein lies our strength, not weakness." 

Monastario waved a hand. "I’ll drop the subject matter, but before I do so, you need to remember this, Elena: what happened to the aristocrats in France – most of them innocent – who died at the hands of people like the vaquero you describe? Men, women, even children – massacred, mutilated, guillotined. We must prevent that sort of thing from ever happening again. The Republicans are trying to arouse the rabble against law and order and every time they do this, people die needlessly. They do not seem to understand that by releasing the forces of chaos and rebellion, they set the stage for injustice to occur. That is why I oppose the politics of your father, Elena. Surely, you do not want his own ignorance of the forces he may unleash to end up hurting other people. Surely you want to stop injustice." 

The dark-haired young man watched her uncertain and uncomfortable reaction. When she did not answer him immediately, he continued. "You think me harsh, but you need to know that those in rebellion against Spain, especially those here in the New World, only see themselves as moving up to occupy the niches of those they would kill or drive away. Why shouldn’t we protect our interests from such rabble? What makes our rule worst than what theirs' would become? Why should those of us of noble blood, those of us of culture and an understanding of power, not use our natural superiority over those who lack even the basics? Would you really like to see people like, like Sergeant García, for example, rule over us – a fat, slovenly, incompetent idiot who could not add more than three numbers together at one time?" 

She was silent, thinking of how nice it would be if everyone could work together for the common good, instead of a world where people hated each other - the better world that her father talked about, that his friends discussed, and that she envisioned for the future. How pleasant it would be not to have the kind of world that Enrique Monastario reminded her of – a world of class hatred, suspicion and strife. "And where would kindness be in such a world where change can never take place because of our fears of servants or slaves?" she asked him. 

"Should we not learn from the slave revolt in French Haiti," he answered, "where those who had been kind to the slaves were killed out of hand, just as the cruel were? And where white women and children were not spared, despite their innocence. The same is true of the actions of the Indians in southern New Spain. They hate us, Elena, for it is they who put on one face to us, and another to each other. One must not trust Indians, slaves or half-breeds because they covet what we have." 

Elena shook her head. "I disagree. The ordinary people only want a better life, one that is more just. Justice is more important to them than riches, Enrique Monastario. Not all people in the world are the same – not all people are greedy and cruel. Kind people can be found in all races and in all levels of society. Surely even you can see that." 

The door between the sala and the patio opened quietly. The daughter of the house looked up at a servant who appeared. In her hands, the young woman carried a platter of fruit, sweets, and a pitcher of tea. She came up to the table. "Your pardon, Señorita Torres," she said. "The day is quite warm. Would you care for some more refreshments?" 

Elena Torres smiled. "Yes, thank you, Juanita. That was very thoughtful of you." She gave the dark-haired officer a knowing look as the young Indian put down the tray, placed the bowls on table, bowed and left. "Do you see what I mean?" she asked. 

The young aristocrat indicated that the older Indian woman had left the patio of her own volition and without permission. He asked sarcastically, "Did you summon her, Elena? Or have your own servants attempted to manipulate the situation without you even noticing it?"

 

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With a flick of the whip, the soldier stepped up behind the man and soon the afternoon air was filled with the sounds of the rising and falling of a leather lash on a human back. Soon blood trickled down and fell in large drops into the sand. 

When the whip snapped for the hundredth time, the soldier paused in exhaustion. He had already shed his jacket. The prisoner was inert. García tried pouring water over the man’s face and into his mouth, but it seemed like an effort that was too little and too late. García untied the man to take him back to his cell.

Another soldier picked up the whip to take the place of the exhausted one. He now began to apply it to the smaller man who gritted his teeth and tried to emulate his fellow prisoner in not crying out. When the blows hit ten lashes, the whip suddenly jerked out of the hands of the soldier. The private and the sergeant watched the handle of the whip as it flew above him. 

High on the roof overhead was a dark shadow like that of a giant. The soldier squinted in the sun, then gasped. "Zorro!" he said in astonishment. He suddenly found that he had no ground under him as a powerful blow from a bullwhip knocked him off his feet. 

García looked up to see a masked man swing down into the courtyard of the cuartel. He was almost relieved and moved forward until he saw that the muzzle of a pistol pointed in his direction. 

"Sergeant," the masked man warned him. "Don’t move or you will force me to shoot." 

"I’m not moving, Señor Zorro," the big man assured him. "I only wish you had come sooner." 

The Fox smiled grimly. "Do not sound an alarm, but get two of your horses – and quickly." 

The fat sergeant scrambled towards the stables. As he did so, the masked man cut the bonds of the smaller man tied up at the post. "Señor, are you in any condition to ride?" 

The man nodded. "I can manage, but I fear that Señor Vincente can not." 

"Then we will need your help." 

The sergeant and the smaller man struggled as the inert form of the first prisoner was laid across the back of one of the horses. 

As the sergeant laid a blanket over the unconscious man and secured his hands to the saddle, two soldiers came in through the front gates. They saw a masked man in a black cloak with a pistol pointed at the sergeant and one of the prisoners climbing onto a horse. They looked at each other, drew their swords and charged. "Zorro! It’s Zorro!" they shouted. 

El Zorro grabbed the fat sergeant. "Come any closer and he will die!" he threatened. They hesitated and stopped in their tracks. 

The man in black turned to the small man on horseback. "Ride for your lives!" he commanded and slapped the two horses on the rump. The horses bolted and fled through the open gates of the cuartel, startling the two sentries who had been resting in the shade along the outer wall. By the time they had leaped to their feet, the escaping prisoners had rounded the corner of the garrison and were in full gallop as they raced through the narrow streets and out of the pueblo. 

"Please, Señor Zorro," García gasped. "This is not my fault." By then, the commotion had aroused several soldiers from their quarters and they began to descend into the yard. 

El Zorro smiled widely and pushed the sergeant into the advancing guards. The huge sergeant brought down three soldiers into a tangled heap as all were knocked off of their feet. García grunted and groaned and decided the safest thing to do was to remain prostrate on the ground.

The first two soldiers resumed their attack with swords raised. Zorro advanced and with a sweeping action of his blade parried and thrust. Three swords flashed and darted like the flames of a wild, raging fire, crossing and re-crossing, the clash of steel sounding and resounding, the gleam of the afternoon sun flashing and rebounding off the surface of the weapons. 

Zorro’s wrist rolled and twisted. In a quick circular movement, he sent one sword flying through the air. The other soldier fell back against his relentless onslaught and made one final effort to thrust his sword into the body of the man in black. Zorro stepped aside bringing his blade full force against the side of the other’s. A second blade was sent careening off into space. Without hesitating a moment, he charged the last soldier coming down the stairs, knocking him over and racing to the top of the stairs. 

As he reached the top, he leaped up onto the wall and nimbly hauled himself up to the roof, ducking and dancing his way across the top. In another bound, he was down to the stable roof and before the soldiers could take a shot at him he disappeared over the wall. 

Sergeant García finally sat up and observed the chaos around him and shook his head. Two of the soldiers in the heap finally got their breath back. "Up, up on to your feet, babosos!" he ordered, crawling to his knees and then getting up painfully. "To horse, to horse!"

Three soldiers ran to the stable and within minutes were racing out of the cuartel. By the time they reached the road out of town, there was no one to be seen. Only a man driving a flock of sheep into town seemed aware that anything was amiss. Reluctantly, they returned to the garrison empty-handed. 

 

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The Indian woman, Ana, approached her young mistress and whispered something in her ear.

Elena Torres nodded and her heart seemed to lighten at once. She had been told that the servants had spotted the carriage of her parents in the far distance.

She turned to the slender young garrison commander who sat near her and now smoked a long, thin cigar. 

"It seems that my parents will be here in a short while," she told him. "Perhaps my father will have better answers than I do to your arguments." 

"I am not arguing with you, Elena," the officer told her. "I am merely pointing out some basic facts of life. Once you understand them, you can make up your mind in a logical way, not in a way based on illusions." 

She shook her head. "You seem like such a cynical man to me," she said. "I have never claimed to have all the answers either. Perhaps both of us need to grow more and become more sensitive to the feelings of the other. That way, we can respect each other’s point of view without feeling angry or sorrowful." 

"I can agree with that," responded Enrique, getting to his feet. "It is also important that a wife also respect the authority of her husband, rather than challenging it. One is far better off respecting a man of strength rather than one who is weak or indecisive." 

He picked up his hat. "Do you remember the tyrant, Bonaparte? He had no respect for his adversary, Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm, who was a peace lover. Bonaparte did respect Frederick’s wife, Louise, who was an uncompromising enemy of France. This woman organized the anti-French party and fought the French, even after the Germans had been defeated militarily. She acted just as the Spanish patriots had done. There is an example to be emulated." 

He paused. "Please think about all these things," he asked her in a conciliatory tone. "I am sure that you will come to the conclusion that you can have all the kind and comfortable things in life, knowing that your life will be secure with a husband like me." 

Elena smoothed her hands on her skirt. "Let us speak no more of these things for now. I would also like to conclude by saying that, when men are cruel and set an example of cruelty, then those who are hurt by this cruelty will respond in proportion to how they are treated. If people treated each other with justice and kindness, there would be far less reason for others to seek revenge." 

Monastario smiled benevolently. "I must say, Elena, that you are indeed consistent. But your logic is circular. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I respect your desire to be kind to people. I will not stop you from doing that just as long as it does not endanger the security of the state and our lives." 

"It’s getting late," the young woman in green pointed out. "Perhaps we could continue this conversation at a later date." 

"I welcome your invitation, Elena," the young officer responded. "But in the meanwhile, consider the fact that these kinds of discussions could go on forever, for a lifetime, as a matter of fact. We could be doing something concrete, instead, to make our lives better ones in the long run." With that comment, he kissed her hand, bowed and exited the patio. 

She heard the gate close and, seconds later, the sound of the hooves of the departing white stallion. Ten minutes later, the carriage of Don Ignacio and Doña Luisa Torres pulled up outside the gate. Already the servants had appeared to open it for them. 

"I see that you had a visitor while we were out," Don Nacho observed as he and his wife walked through the gate. 

"Actually, I had two," Elena began. "Let me tell you what happened." 

"Very well," her father responded. "And when you finish, we can tell you what we saw in town today."

 

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Paddy O’ Leary was following the road toward town when he spotted two horses racing along the highway in the distance. It had all the appearance of a get-away and Paddy watched with some interest as the two horses thundered down the road. As he sat back in his saddle, he observed that one of the horses seemed riderless. Then, he saw what appeared to be a sack fall off one of the racing steeds. The first rider turned around and looked back. He seemed to hesitate, then turned his horse back around and stopped alongside the road. He examined the sack. It was no sack. It was the inert form of a man. 

The first man looked around. The second steed had fled and was further up the road in a meadow. He dragged the body into a shaded gully. Then he began to pour some water into the man’s mouth from a leather pouch. 

Paddy saw a man on a white stallion approaching in the distance. He recognized the comandante of Los Angles at once by his slim build, the blue and white military uniform, and the glint of sunlight off his saber’s hilt. 

The man in the gully also spotted the distant rider and abandoned his companion. He mounted his horse and fled into the wooded hills and vales that surrounded the dirt road. 

As the Spanish officer leisurely traveled the El Camino Real, he spotted a rider coming down the hill to the highway. The officer recognized him at once by the red hair under the black hat. "Ah, Paddy," he greeted the other as he joined him. "Scouting out the land for your pursuit tonight?"

"I thought I spotted something odd from the hills above," the Irishman told him. 

"There's a loose mount in the meadow there," Monastario noted. "Did you see the rider?" 

Paddy shook his head. 

They rode along the trail several minutes longer when both spotted the body of a man in the gully alongside the road. Both men urged their horses to the side of the road. The captain dismounted at once and knelt next to the body of the man. His gloved hands turned the man over and a look of consternation came over his face, then he smiled. "He’s still breathing," he commented to the Irishman. 

The man’s shirt was in shreds and the flies buzzed around his bloody back. He opened his eyes, blinking rapidly in the bright light of the afternoon. 

"So, I've got you, Vincente, you traitorous pig," the capitán told him in a triumphant tone. 

The man moaned and looked up into the bearded face of the young officer. As Paddy dismounted and hastened over at the sound of the man's words, the man rolled his eyes and licked his parched lips. Paddy knelt by him and thought that, by his look, he was too far-gone to last much longer. 

Monastario pulled him up by the collar and put his face within a few inches of that of the man who was not more than a few years older than he himself. "Now, tell me what you know," he hissed. 

The man smiled strangely, nodding, his eyes shining as with great joy. He whispered what sounded like a name. 

"What did you say?" Monastario looked startled. He loosened his grip on the man’s collar and straightened up. He looked over at the Irishman in consternation and both men leaned closer. 

"Mina," the prisoner said again with his last breath. The death rattle sounded, the eyes stayed open and the body went rigid, then slowly relaxed.

 

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The corpse of the dead man lay slung over the side of the third horse that plodded in back of the two riders on the road toward the pueblo of Los Angeles. Both men rode alongside each other, one on a magnificent brown stallion and the other on a striking, pure white one, but neither said anything for a long time. Finally, the young officer with the moustache and goatee spoke. 

"Even in death, they lie," he commented in an agitated manner, his eyes glittering. "Xavier Mina is dead. We got him in México three years ago. Everyone knows that. He disembarked in secret from Spain and began an uprising with the rebels with the help of some riffraff dispatched by the American president Monroe. They thought that they could start a guerilla war against us and seize New Spain." 

"I remember young Mina," mussed the Irishman. "He was called 'the Student' and was still a youth when he began to lead armies against the French. When they captured him, he was barely twenty-one years of age." 

"He might have been a hero at first," Enrique Monastario rejoined, "but times changed and he thought he could continue being a rebel after the war was over. All those years of being out of touch with Spanish reality as he sat in a French prison no doubt contributed to his delinquency." 

"There are rebels, and then there are other kinds of rebels," Paddy stated calmly. "The French made rebels of men from all walks of life, including you and me. But, Enrique, all of us fought for Spain, regardless of our political differences." 

"I’ve often wondered, Paddy," Monastario said in an unexpectedly mild voice, "why the French did not execute him, but sent him, instead, to France. He had a price on his head. Thousands of troops pursued him. Suchet even announced that he would display his head on a pike. What price did he pay for the saving of his life? What political deal was cut behind the back of Spain?" 

Paddy became aware of the 'clop, clop, clop' of the horses hooves on the dry dirt road and of the deathly silence in the air before Enrique Monastario suddenly pulled the reins up again and stopped his white stallion in the middle of the road. He was looking straight at the road ahead.

Coming toward him at a rapid rate of speed was a black horse. A figure dressed in black with a black cape that flowed behind him as if the very wind itself was trying to hold him back, but to no avail. A black mask hid the face and the two men were in no doubt as to whom they faced on the Royal Highway. 

"Zorro!" shouted Monastario, his bright blue eyes gleaming in excitement. He drew his saber and urged the white stallion forward. 

"Monastario!" shouted El Zorro with a wide grin. He likewise drew his sword and continued the charge. 

The clash of steel resounded as both men began to battle each other along the wide, dusty road that led into the hills outside of the pueblo of Los Angeles.

 

 

 

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