The Irish Colonel
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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?"
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
"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.