The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY SIX

 

Chapter 27

 

Paddy O’ Leary sat back on his horse and watched the battle unfold between El Zorro and the comandante of Los Angeles, Capitán Enrique Monastario. 

"A pity I don’t have me saber," he joked to himself. He marveled at the enthusiasm with which both men battled each other. There was an eagerness and excitement in the air, almost like two grand beasts battling each other, each one believing that he encompassed what was good in the world, and the other, all that was evil. 

Both men grunted with effort as they made savage strokes, clever parries, and powerful slashes. The horses with their riders circled each other at times or rode almost together as the blades sang. 

Monastario aimed a powerful blow at Zorro’s head, only to find empty space as Tornado whirled out of the way. The man in the cape laughed and it only infuriated the Spanish officer more. Zorro’s wrist rolled and twisted, engaging and disengaging the swords time and time again. 

Monastario attempted a hard, straight thrust, but El Zorro caught the blade and rendered it harmless. Two wrists engaged, tried circular entrapments, feints, and strokes. 

Paddy was enjoying the tournament, as he credited it. But he understood that El Zorro’s strategy was not only to out-duel Monastario, but to out-duel his horse as well. King was a fine stallion, well trained and mild. But the black stallion was younger, swifter, and more aggressive than the capitán’s. Man and horse together might decide the outcome. 

As the two men clashed their sabers, their horses danced beneath them. Closer and closer El Zorro forced Monastario’s mount to the edge of the road and the to shallow gully that lay beside it. Monastario made a slash at the stallion’s neck and Tornado turned his head. But the blade made contact and cut a line straight across the great black beast’s throat. 

Tornado squealed in pain, drew up on his hind legs, and kicked out his forelegs. El Zorro quickly turned the animal away. No one expected the next move from the great horse. 

Hoping to come in around the back for a slashing attack on the outlaw, the captain reined King to the left and then, spurred him forward. At that moment, Tornado kicked out with his back hooves. The iron shoes landed squarely on the great white stallion’s shoulder, barely missing the officer’s right leg. King squealed in pain and stepped backward. It was this step that sent the stallion stumbling into the gully. 

Enrique Monastario found himself flying through the air and landed with a hard thud in the sandy bottom of the gully. It knocked the air out of him and he lay inert for a few moments before he raised his head, shook the strands of dark hair out of his eyes and looked up to see where his opponent had gone. He saw nothing, but he did hear four sets of hooves take off. One was Tornado. The other was Erin.

 

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From all outside appearances, life in the cuartel looked normal. Only upon close inspection could anyone tell there had been an interruption in the normal routine. Several soldiers were nursing bruises and two horses were missing from the stables along with two escaped prisoners. 

Just inside the gate, a young Spanish captain with a moustache and goatee was busy berating the man he had left in charge for the chaos and confusion he found upon returning to the garrison. 

"But, Capitán," the sergeant objected. "How was I to know that Señor Zorro would strike this afternoon. You yourself told me that…" 

"Baboso!" Enrique Monastario interrupted him. "You should have been prepared, no matter what the circumstances. You are a bumbling idiot! You not only let one prisoner escape, you allowed all of them to. How lucky I was able to find this one and bring him back." 

"Sí, Comandante," García mumbled. 

"Why did you not have the soldiers pursue the escaped prisoners? Why did you not chase after Zorro yourself?" the young officer continued. "Why is it that I have to do everything myself? Whoever made you a sergeant must have been drunk. Maybe he mistook you for someone who was competent!" 

"Well, Comandante, I don’t think anyone could mistake me for anyone else," the fat sergeant observed with a raised finger. "I don’t think there is anyone else like me in the entire Spanish army." 

"Ohhh," the officer moaned and put his hand against his forehead. "One of you is too much as it is! Why did misfortune ever strike me in a person such as you? In all of the garrisons, in all of New Spain, in all of the Spanish empire, why was I saddled with the most imbecilic, the most incompetent, the most slovenly, the most…?" 

Sergeant Demetrio García López cast his face down. He tried to close his ears to the tirade of his commanding officer. It was not the first time that Señor Zorro had made him look bad to the comandante, but at least no one had lost his life. In fact, Monastario would vent his rage for a while and then, all would return to normal. 

García sighed and could only nod at the slender uniformed man opposite him who continued to find more adjectives to describe him with than he ever thought possible. He really began to look forward to an evening of wine in the tavern. Now that Corporal Reyes was back, he could tell him what had happened that eventful afternoon. He knew that his friend would be sympathetic to his plight. And Reyes would tell him what Capitán Monastario had had him do in order to hold up the carriage of Don and Doña Torres and to delay their return home.

   

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"But when will you be back, Roberto?" Isabel Cárdenas asked in a tearful voice. "There must be something that has happened to you. Why don’t you tell me what it is? Are you in some kind of danger? And from whom?" 

Roberto Cárdenas put his arms around his wife and hugged her. "I’m sorry, Isabel. It might endanger your life if I told you. Just as in the old days, it is better that you know as little as possible. I will send word whenever I can. It is all for the best." 

"I will manage with Pedrito," she responded, trying to be brave, "but what will we tell him? How can I explain to our friends or to María? What if someone begins to ask questions?" 

"It will be all right," he assured her. "I will be on a long trip. Tell them anything - that my father is dying in Spain and I went back to be at his side. Anything that is plausible is believable." 

"Are you leaving on horseback or on the coach? How will you hide your departure?" 

"You will need the horse for the wagon," he mused. "I’ll take the coach so it will appear like a normal departure. But I will board at the last possible moment so that the least number of people will see me depart." He paused. "It might be best not to tell Pedrito until after I am gone. He is very sensitive and might adjust better if you told him that I had to leave right away. Then, he won’t worry. He’ll be with María tomorrow morning, with the other children." 

"He will miss you Roberto," she sobbed into his chest. 

"And I will miss him and you," he responded, feeling a great pressure begin to build in his chest. "I will be with him tonight and read him a story, just like I always do. Everything will look normal. That is how I want it to be." 

"All right, dearest," she sniffed. "I just hope you won’t have to be away for so long." 

"So do I, " he murmured. "Who knows what the future will portend."

At the door, a small boy listened through the keyhole. His eyes welled with tears and his small fists clenched in despair as he listened to the conversation in the room. He had not meant to eavesdrop, but he had heard his name mentioned and had been curious. Now his father was going away, maybe for a very long time. And they didn’t want him to know about it. Why? Why didn’t they want him to know? Didn’t his father love him any more? Why was his mother afraid? 

As he heard their footsteps make for the door, he hastened across the room and fled down the stairs to the store below. It wasn’t quite dark yet. They would not worry for a while. He wanted to be alone with his own thoughts and fears. Where would he go? Who could he talk to? 

The colors of the evening sunset were fading into pinks and gold, illuminating the few stray clouds overhead. On the horizon, where the sun was beginning to disappear over the hills into the distant ocean, were purple and gray puffs of a distant fog. Already the birds were making for their nightly roosts and the bats preparing for their nocturnal adventures. Soon the moon would rise, and with it, the culmination of the days undertakings.

 

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The steady thunder of hooves shook the quiet hills as the afternoon sun began to bid its farewell to the surrounding forests and hills. Over hill and vale two stallions, one an agile black and another a powerful brown kept up their speed, the black ahead of the brown by only one horse length.

Every once in a while, the man in the black cape glanced back at his pursuer as they road through meadows, leaped over fallen trees and dashed across an arroyo with its trickling stream gleaming in the last rays of sunset. What he saw was a red-haired man with an intense look in his eyes and a grin that matched his own. This was not a chase based upon any hostility, but one that seemed more of a contest, perhaps even a game. 

Around granictic outcrops and across wide plateaus they ran, dodging in and out of bushes, cacti beds, and weeds they rode. Finally, the black stallion made an incredible leap across a chasm. Paddy did not notice it before it was too late, but Erin sailed across the abyss liked the seemingly winged steed before him. Paddy pulled up the great stallion and slowed down as Tornado continued ahead at full speed. It was almost too dark to follow the bandit now. And even Paddy was aware of the effect of the long ride on his mount. 

To his surprise, El Zorro reined in Tornado and brought him to a halt. He turned the horse back towards his pursuer and halted at the top of a small rise. He called out to the Irishman: "Colonel, you disappoint me. After this morning’s events, I would have thought that Monastario’s actions would have begun to enlighten you." 

Paddy patted Erin on the neck and grinned. "Now don’t you be takin’ this personally, Señor Zorro," he responded. "I’ve rather enjoyed seeing the kind of soldier and horseman that you are. Actually, I rather admire you, a man who does not fear to put his life at risk in the defense of his principles." 

"So you pursued me all this way, just to tell me that?" responded the Fox with an amused look of his own. 

"You are not the easiest man in the world to have a private word with," Paddy chuckled. 

"But I am here to say a bit more than just to give you some praise. It seems that Capitán Monastario is out not just to destroy you, but anyone who stands in opposition to his rule." 

"You are not telling me what I don't already know and what others have said as well," Zorro replied, repeating Paddy's own words to him from just a few days before. 

"Allow me to finish," the colonel continued. "Monastario told Señora Torres that she will be a widow if Don Nacho does not ‘cease and desist’ with his politics. Señorita Torres and her parents have not shared this information with anyone else. I tell you this because the Torres badly need allies and they are being isolated. I fear for their future, despite Enrique's interest in Elena. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the De la Vegas are moving into target range as well. Don Alejandro is quite outspoken." 

"If this is all you wanted to do - tell me this," Zorro replied, as if doubting the Irishman’s sincerity, "Why participate in the planned ambush for tonight?" 

Paddy O’ Leary was very impressed with el Zorro’s knowledge of the ambush and of his raid to prevent the trap from unfolding. "Oooh, that," he grinned cheerfully. "Enrique likes to think that he can control everything and everybody. He never counts on a man having his own agenda. As for me, I like to see what a man is made of." 

"Are you satisfied now, Colonel?" 

"A wee bit, Señor, for now." 

"And you had no thought of taking me?" challenged the Fox. 

"Well, if I had, I might have very well done so. You see, I have this pistol here in me saddle holster and I had no intention of using it." 

"Hmm, you seem to be a man after my own spirit, Colonel. I, too, have a pistol, but I rarely find that I have to use it," grinned El Zorro. "But, tell me this: are you certain that you are wiser?" 

"The proof will be in the pudding, as we say," Paddy replied thoughtfully, "but speaking of wiser, I’m not so sure that I am. You see, I’m far off the main road and without much of a clue on how to get back. Now, perhaps you’ll be a gentleman, and point out the way. If not, I might be obliged to keep on chasing you the rest of the night. And I might just catch you because your steed needs a good rest after that neck wound." 

The man in black laughed. "I take it, then, that this is a trade. Very well, Colonel, your terms are reasonable. One can always do business with a reasonable man." 

Paddy O’ Leary was a bit rueful after he reached the main road. He was only a quarter of an hour’s ride from it. What a merry chase he had been led and he was still no closer to discovering where the outlaw’s hiding place might be. Maybe this was just something that was not meant to be known, at least by him, and at least for just now. And he had business back in town of a much more serious nature to tend to.

 

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A small, slender boy walked aimlessly though the darkening streets of the pueblo. For a while he had sat on the edge of the tavern's entrance watching the vaqueros, soldiers, rancheros, and townsmen enter and leave. Tonight he saw no one he could call a friend. No one seemed to notice the boy with the distressed look on his face and, if they had, they might have thought him a son waiting for a drunken father to come out and to guide safely back home. 

Pedro Cárdenas rose and made his way to the well of the plaza. Crying was something that he did in the dark, or out of sight of any grown-ups. It also made him thirsty and the well would give him an opportunity to wash his face and freshen up. His mother had always done this when she cried and she told him that he needed to do the same if ever it happened to him. But he never really thought he would since he was often the man of the house. 

He was splashing water on himself, when he heard some footsteps behind him. He turned around. 

"What are you doing at the well, little one?" asked the giant soldier whom everyone knew as Sergeant García. 

"Just getting a drink of water and washing my face, Señor Sergeant," the boy answered. 

"It's getting late. Why are you not at home at this late hour?" the big man observed. "Your parents will be worried." 

"They won't be worried," Pedro insisted. "They won't miss me at all." There was a little tremor in his voice that the sergeant noticed at once. 

"Well, if I were your father, I would be worried," the big man smiled, trying to be sympathetic. "All fathers love their children." 

Pedro's eyes filled with tears. "My father doesn't love me any more," he said in a breaking voice. He turned away so the soldier would not see his tears. 

"Well, even if that is true, your mother will always love you. Mothers always love their children," Garcia responded, trying to be cheerful. He looked up. "Oh, excuse me, little one. I will escort Señorita Flores back to the inn. She stayed a long time with Capitán Monastario this evening. Do you know her?" 

The little boy shook his head. 

"She is a friend of Colonel O' Leary. Look at the color of her dress. It is as red as his hair," the sergeant said in a voice filled with wonder. 

That comment gave the boy an idea. He followed the fat sergeant as he waddled towards the gates of the cuartel and the waiting Señorita Flores. "Wait, Sergeant García," he said urgently and tugged on the soldier's sleeve. 

The big man stopped. "What is it, little one?" 

"Have you seen Colonel O' Leary today?" 

The big man sighed. "Not since this afternoon. But he should be back soon. It is almost dark now." 

"Thank you, Señor," the boy responded. He could see that the sergeant had already forgotten him. The little lady in red called Señorita Flores was moving her shoulders in a funny way and the sergeant had a silly smile on his face. Grownups were like that sometimes. 

Pedro walked across the plaza and made his way toward the edge of town. The moon was shining again and he would be able to make his way back home by its light later on. He could always hide in the shadows should strangers approach. He would wait for the one man whom he trusted besides his father. He was a man who told funny and exciting stories and liked children. He was a man with amazing red hair.

 

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Patrick O’ Leary took his time on the road back to town. He thought about how he would finally meet up with the storekeeper, Cárdenas, and what would happen if he turned out to be someone else. He rounded the first corner of the dirt street that would lead him to the plaza and the inn where he was staying. There were few people in the streets now that it had grown dark and the livery stable was at the main plaza. That is where he would drop off Erin. 

He suddenly pulled up the reins. A small figure appeared out of the shadows. It was a child. He heard the sound of weeping and the small shoulders were hunched. It was a child in distress. He halted and looked down. "Who goes there on such a dark night?" he asked in a friendly voice. "Ooh, maybe it’s an imp, or perhaps a troll. Heaven help me." 

The small figure halted and looked up. "Colonel O’ Leary?" a boy’s voice asked. 

"That’s me, lad," he answered cheerfully. "Who’s that? Not Pedrito out at this late hour?" 

"It’s me," the boy replied. 

Paddy O’ Leary dismounted from his horse. He knelt down at the boy’s side and put his arm around the boy. "Dear lad, what are you doing out here all alone? Is something troubling you now?" 

Pedro nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "Sí, Señor Colonel," he replied in a small voice. 

"Would you like to talk about it?" the Irishman asked. When the boy nodded in the affirmative, he guided him to the edge of the plaza. There they could sit on a wooden walkway and still see each other with the distant light of the lanterns of the central plaza and the torches of the cuartel shining. He tied Erin up to a post and sat down with the boy. "Tell me what’s happened." 

Pedrito looked up in the sympathetic eyes of the Irish colonel. "My father is going away tomorrow," he began. 

"Is he going on a business trip or is he in trouble?" Paddy asked carefully. 

"I don’t know. This afternoon he shouted at me, then, tonight he told Mother that he is leaving. He told her not to tell me." The tears flowed down his cheeks. "I don’t think my father loves me any more. I….I don’t know why." With that he turned to the Irishman and threw his small arms around the man’s neck and cried. 

Paddy held the boy close and stroked his hair. "Now, lad, it can’t be all that bad. I don’t believe for one minute that your father doesn’t love you," he responded in a soft voice. "I can’t imagine anyone not loving a fine boy like you." He hugged the weeping boy and caressed his hair until the sobs gave away to sighs and a calm came over the young boy.

"You know, Pedrito, I’ve had to leave my own land. I had to leave my family and my friends, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love them. Sometimes a man must leave, even if it is to save his own life." 

"Papa had to leave Spain, and then Peru and Venezuela because some bad men were trying to kill him," the boy told him. "But that was a long time ago when I was little."

"Does your father think that someone wants to kill him here in Los Angeles? Perhaps the soldiers?" 

Pedrito shook his head. "I don’t know. I don’t think so. The soldiers are nice to us, especially Sergeant García." 

Paddy thought that getting the boy’s mind off of his troubles would be a good thing, so he changed the subject. "Sergeant García is quite a character, isn’t he? Many people would be afraid of a big man like that, but he’s a friendly fellow." 

Pedrito nodded. "I heard that he gets in a lot of trouble with the comandante, but not tonight. He was happy." 

Paddy smiled. "And why was he happy? Was he going for a drink at the inn?" 

"Tonight he got to walk Señorita Flores back to the inn. She was wearing a red dress. It was as red as your hair." The boy sat back and pointed at his hair with a smile. 

"Señorita Flores must like his company," Paddy responded humorously. "Maybe she wanted him to watch her dance." 

"Well, I don’t think so," the boy told him. "She was with Capitán Monastario a long time, until it got dark. That’s when Sergeant García walked with her from the cuartel to the inn." 

O'Leary was startled at the news. "How do you know this, lad?" the Irishman asked him in a calm voice. 

"Oh, I saw them. Sergeant García told me that Señorita Flores visited with the comandante a long time tonight." 

"How interesting," Paddy said lightly, but his brow furrowed. In the dark, the boy did not notice any change in his demeanor. He stood up. "Are you feeling better now, Pedrito?" 

The boy nodded. "I feel much better, now." 

"There’s a good lad," the red-haired man said. "Say, would you like to ride on me new horse. His name is Erin and you won't find a finer horse in all of Los Angeles." 

The boy smiled in the affirmative and the colonel swept him up into the saddle. "Now here's the reins to hold and we'll walk a spell. Tell me, what do you think of Erin? Would you like a horse as fine as this one?" 

"Is he very fast?" asked the young rider. 

"As fast as the wind," replied Paddy. 

"Is he as fast as El Zorro's horse?" 

Paddy smiled, remembering his recent race. "Well, almost as fast," he admitted. "Now that's not bad at all, is it, being almost as fast? Why I don't think El Zorro's horse could beat Erin by more than a nose. Maybe it would only be half a nose. One day when El Zorro's horse gets old, there's bound to be a horse to beat him and…" 

Pedrito Cárdenas smiled knowingly as he listened to the colonel. He knew that no horse in all the world could beat the famous Tornado of El Zorro, not even Colonel O' Leary's horse. Everybody knew that, even Colonel O' Leary.

 

 

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