The Irish Colonel

 

by 

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY SIX

 

Chapter 28

 

 

"You know, Bernardo," Diego de la Vega noted as he put down the book on Irish history, "it might be very enlightening to go into town and see the aftermath of Zorro's activities. If Sergeant García is not in the brig, he will probably be in the tavern. Then we can find out what happened and see if we need to do anything more." 

Bernardo nodded and picked up his own jacket and hat which he began putting on.

Diego laughed. "Hmm, you seem to be in a hurry to satisfy your curiosity. All right, let's do it." With these words he rose from his chair and took the hat that Bernardo handed him. Within a few minutes, both men were out on the road headed for Los Angeles. 

As they headed down the road, they were overtaken by a troop of six soldiers with torches. At their head was Capitán Monastario. 

"What are you doing out here on the road, De la Vega?" he asked as he road up alongside Diego's palomino. He ignored the servant. 

"Good evening, Capitán," Diego responded. "It's so boring at home that I thought I would ride into town this evening and see if there is any entertainment at the tavern. What are you doing out here so late?" 

"We have been looking for an escaped prisoner," the officer responded. "You haven't seen anything or anyone suspicious have you?" 

"Only you, Comandante," Diego replied in an innocent voice. "Is this man dangerous? Would you be my escort into town? I would be very upset to think a criminal is on the loose. How did it happen?" 

"Never mind how it happened," Enrique Monastario replied in an irritated tone. "As for an escort, if you want one, you had better keep up with His Majesty's troops, if you can."

With that, he spurred his white stallion forward and the troops followed at a rapid pace. 

"I think we had better hurry to keep up appearances, Bernardo," Diego said as he dug his heels into the horse's side and urged him forward.

   

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"Why here he is," exclaimed Isabel Cárdenas, answering the persistent knock on the door at the back of the store. "Pedrito, darling, where have you been? I've been so worried about you. Your father has been searching for you everywhere. Where on earth did you disappear to?" 

"I'm afraid it's all my fault," Paddy said. "I've been giving Pedrito a ride on my new horse, Erin. I wanted to convince Pedrito that he is faster than the horse of El Zorro, but I'm afraid we only came in second place." 

Pedrito looked up at the colonel and smiled. He could see that the Irishman did not want him to get into trouble and would "fib" a little to save him a scolding. But the fib was not a big one and he did get to ride the great brown stallion, although it wasn't very far. 

"Oh, thank you, Colonel O' Leary," Isabel answered warmly. "How kind you are. You are a true friend to care so much about Pedrito and our family." 

Paddy felt a pang of guilt as he smiled, bowed to the woman and boy, and bid them a pleasant evening. He knew now that the boy's father was his enemy and he had sworn that he would kill him. He had sworn that he would kill him for the honor of the regiment and for the honor of Ireland.

 

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"You should have been here this afternoon, Corporal," Sergeant Demetrio García López was saying as he poured a modest amount of wine in his friend's mug. "Zorro came right over the wall of the cuartel. He snapped the lash out from Martin's hands with a bull whip and knocked him right off his feet." 

"What did you do then, Sergeant?" Reyes asked with wide eyes. 

"I charged at him with my sword. He ran around the whipping posts and cut the ropes of the prisoners as he ran. I blocked his way, raising my sword in the air. He ran around the other way, trying to escape me. Here I was, all by myself. All the other soldiers were sleeping or outside of the cuartel. No one seemed to notice that a great battle was happening inside." He took a long drink of wine. 

"Well, how did the prisoners escape?" asked the corporal. 

"Despite my heroic efforts to stop them, they managed," the sergeant explained. "It was three against one, stupid." 

"But the prisoners didn't have any weapons, Sergeant," Reyes pointed out. 

"What does that have to do with anything?" García grumbled. "By then some soldiers began to notice the noise and charged out of the barracks. They ran so fast that they ran into me and knocked me over. All of us were knocked over. In the confusion, the prisoners took two horses and escaped with the help of El Zorro." 

"Oh," the corporal replied. He was silent a moment before he asked, "Say Sergeant, wasn't Zorro supposed to attack tonight? Why did he come this afternoon?" 

"How should I know, stupid? When I see him, I'll be sure to ask him!" García was getting tired of the questions. "Have some more wine, Corporal. At least the comandante left for a little while this afternoon. If he had come back sooner, though, this would have never happened." 

"I'm not so sure about that, Sergeant," the corporal responded. 

García thought about that for a moment. "You might be right," he said. 

A hand suddenly clamped him on the shoulder. "Well, Sergeant," said the voice of Don Diego, "I heard that you almost captured Zorro again this afternoon." He had overheard the sergeant's rendition of the rescue and had to wipe the grin off his face before approaching the two soldiers. Bernardo had turned his back and was laughing silently at the bar. 

"Oh, good evening, Don Diego," García smiled. "Yes, Zorro barely got away from me again today, but I will get him another time." 

"You know, Sergeant," continued Diego, "each time Zorro is barely escaping from you with his life. How is it that he manages to get away at the last minute?" 

García shook his head. "I have often wondered that myself, Don Diego. You must remember that Zorro is very clever. This time he came armed with a bullwhip. He was knocking soldiers over right and left with it. How can you fight a man with a bull whip?" 

"Uh, Sergeant, I thought you said that," began Reyes with a finger raised to make a point. 

"Quiet, baboso! Who is telling the story, me or you? Who was there, me or you? Let me tell Don Diego what happened." 

While García spoke, the door to the inn opened and a grim Paddy O' Leary entered the room. He made for a table near the cold fireplace and sat down at it. He looked very preoccupied. He seemed not to notice anyone else in the room. 

Diego turned slightly in his chair and looked over at the colonel. He glanced at Bernardo and shook his head slightly. Bernardo nodded. Diego turned back again to listen to García's story. 

The barmaid spotted the colonel and took a bottle over to him. He looked up at her and smiled and nodded. She put down a mug for him and poured out some wine. She could see that his mind was leagues from the tavern and she left him in peace. 

Diego was about to excuse himself and head over to O' Leary's table when Capitán Enrique Monastario entered the tavern. He glanced over at the table with the two soldiers and Diego de la Vega, then saw Paddy seated near the fireplace. He hung up his hat and went up to the Irishman. 

"Good evening, Paddy. May I join you?" the captain asked politely. 

Paddy O' Leary looked up at the comandante and gestured him to sit down. The captain waved a barmaid over. She brought over another mug and bottle of wine. Both men were silent a while before Monastario spoke. 

"Paddy, are you going to tell me about what happened between you and the bandit, Zorro?" he asked. 

O' Leary sighed. "I suppose so, Enrique." He took a long drink of wine. He watched as Monastario sipped his. There was a long silence. 

"Is something bothering you, Paddy?" the officer asked after a while. 

"There are a number of things bothering me, Enrique," Paddy responded quietly. "But first, I'll tell you what happened, briefly. The man's horse is like the wind, even with a neck wound. I chased him until it was too dark to follow. There were times in which I was fairly close to him, but the man knows the land like you know your own face and that is a definite advantage. I will give you my analysis in sum. It is my contention that El Zorro is, first of all, a military veteran with the elite corps. As a first class swordsman, you should recognize this. Secondly, knowing the land as he does, he grew up here as a native, and last, he is well-educated and committed to challenging everything he views as injustice, no matter what quarter it comes from." 

"Tell me something I don't know, Paddy," Monastario snapped. "I'm surprised that your final analysis does not say that this bandit is also a republican, a rebel of the worst political type. Look at the traitors he rode to free. These prisoners are not just petty criminals. They are traitors. Anyone who frees a traitor is one himself!" 

Paddy took another long drink of wine and regarded the comandante very calmly. "And what is your analysis of the traitor's reference to Mina?" 

The officer sipped his wine again. "It must be some kind of code word," he replied thoughtfully, without a trace of his original anger. "I was thinking back to what he did in Spain before he came to the colonies." 

"And what were his crimes there? Blasphemy? Exile? " the Irishman asked flatly. 

"It was treason, pure and simple," Monastario said, putting the mug down. "Imagine, Mina demanding that our king accept a constitutional form of government!" he continued with vehemence. "The next step would be exactly what the French attempted - to destroy the monarchy, to destroy the nobility, to destroy the Church, and to destroy civilization. Look what happened to all of Europe because of those republicans! Millions died in nearly twenty-five years of continuous wars. All of our lives were disrupted and changed for the worse!" 

Monastario was angry, but his anger was controlled. He paused and looked into the Irishman's green eyes. "I hate them, Paddy. I hate them all because of what they did to Spain and because of what they did to me and to my family. That is why I have no pity for them. It is why I will fight them by any and all means necessary." 

"We are talking about Spaniards here, Enrique, men who define loyalty to Spain differently than you and I do," Paddy pointed out. "Yet it is a concept that unites us all."

He searched for the right words. "Loyalty to Spain for many men is almost spiritual. For others it is cultural and historic, or it is emotional and is based on a feeling of community. Some men might feel a stronger loyalty, say, to Navarre, or to Aragon, some to Andalusia or to the Canary Islands. Sometimes that can assume a higher form other than just to the system of monarchy alone. It is a concept of Spain in its entirety, a concept of all the people." 

O'Leary paused as he put down his own mug, then he continued. "Does this mean that the De la Vegas and the Torres are all in the category as Mina? How about the Alcalde, the Calderons, the Villas, and others?" 

Monastario gave him a hard look. "Those old bastards. Both of them deserve the gibbet. The rest are followers, not leaders. Their offspring might be redeemable, though. I told you that I would try many methods to, how should I put it, bring them back into the fold. But my patience is limited. Spain is the monarchy and the monarchy is Spain. Everything that is historic and cultural is the monarchy. You come from the old nobility of Ireland, Paddy. Surely you should understand that the nobility is the backbone of civilization. When you free your land from the English, you will assume your rightful place in your land as a lord. Don't destroy yourself by sympathizing with these republicans. Even your life could be in danger." 

"Is that a threat, Enrique?" 

"Consider it a warning from an old friend, Paddy. There are those far less tolerant than I. General Morillo would have leveled Los Angeles." Enrique Monastario poured each of them a little more wine. "What are your other concerns?" 

"Since Zorro is possibly a veteran, who are the veterans in the area and ones young enough to pull off such exploits?"   

"My major suspect is old man Torres. He was in the wars long before Bonaparte and is a well-known republican." 

"You can't be serious," Paddy admonished him. "Do you really believe that the man who fought with you this afternoon is Torres? Such a man would have to be little older than you or I and perhaps even younger. Torres is much too old for such feats." 

"I will gather more information on who has served in the military," Monastario replied. "Then I will see who is right on this issue." He waved a barmaid over. "I'm ordering dinner, Paddy. What would you like?" 

"More wine," answered the Irishman.

 

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"No, I'm not angry at you, Pedrito," Roberto Cárdenas told his son. "I'm sorry I was angry this afternoon. My anger had nothing to do with you." He held the boy close and caressed his hair. 

"But why are you leaving, Papa?" his son asked again. "Is someone trying to kill you again? Why can't you tell me?" 

"Sometimes it is dangerous to tell anyone anything, son. If Capitán Monastario were to question you or your mother, it might be very dangerous for you to know anything. If you know nothing, then you can honestly say that you know nothing. Often, mean men can frighten people in to telling them secrets, even if we don't want to tell them anything at all. Fear is a powerful weapon that the powerful can use against us. Do you understand, Pedrito?" 

The boy nodded. "I think so, Papa. But I wouldn't tell anybody." 

"I know," the father said. "I'm glad that we could have this talk. Sometimes the people that seem to be our friends turn out to be our enemies. Sometimes we never know who is telling the truth and who is lying, until it is too late. I am leaving because I must. I will be in contact with your mother. When it is safe for all of you to join me, we will be together again." 

"Will it be a long time?" Pedrito asked. "And who are our friends who could be our enemies?" 

"I don't know for sure," Roberto answered carefully. "Sometimes you just have to go on a feeling." He knew he was misleading the boy, but that is the way it had to be. He knew exactly who Patrick O' Leary was and he knew that he had to avoid him to prevent him from avenging an injustice that was in itself an injustice. And Roberto Cárdenas was an enigma wrapped in an enigma and there were those, like spiders, who were unraveling his web of deception and who were getting dangerously near to him once again - both Loyalists and Republicans.

 

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Enrique Monastario pushed his plate back and took a sip of his wine. He regarded the brooding Irishman thoughtfully. 

"Tell me this, Paddy. What exactly are your intentions regarding Señorita Torres?"

"And what's it to you?" Paddy retorted sharply.

"That should be obvious. I suggest that you take your interests elsewhere." The comandante's intent was unmistakable despite his calm demeanor.

The colonel perked up at the challenge and gave a sly smile. "All's fair in love and war, Enrique."

"This goes far beyond that!" Monastario responded with a hostile coolness. 

"Who I chose as me friends are my affair, Enrique. If I chose to have Señorita Torres as a friend, that is likewise my business. I suggest that you try not to dictate to me my social relations. If you are so worried about our relationship, then perhaps you need to improve your own. Don't let your tongue cut your throat." 

"That advice applies both ways. I once told you, Colonel, that the affairs of state here in Los Angeles are multi-structured. There is a dire need to create stability where chaos lurks and I intend to prevent California from following the example of México or Venezuela. You know my intentions in this regard. I will allow nothing to stand in my way of attaining these goals." 

"Very well, Enrique. Let the best man win," Paddy said with a yawn. "Shall I fill your glass?" 

When the other man regarded him with a stony silence, he shrugged. "Well, then, I'll just offer a toast: Better the coldness of a friend than the sweetness of an enemy." He tipped his mug towards the officer opposite him and drank. When he put down the empty mug, he poured himself out more wine. 

"Tell me, this, Enrique," Paddy continued, putting his own mug down, "since we're on the subject of social relationships and ladies: just what are your intentions regarding Señorita Flores?" He regarded the officer with a cool look of his own. 

The bright blue eyes did not avoid his and there was a slight smile on the face of the man with the moustache and goatee, a kind of grudging admiration for the other's ability to parry and repose whenever he could. "My congratulations, Paddy," he responded. "Despite your reluctance to part with any significant information that you have obtained while here in Los Angeles, you retain my respect for your intelligence-gathering capabilities. It is why I engaged you to begin with." 

"And what have you gleaned, Capitán, from that political innocent?" 

"Many interesting things, Paddy," Monastario replied in an easy manner. "Let's say that a republican conspiracy lurks below the surface and that many republicans are gathered here in Los Angles. Some of them have very checkered pasts and some are in hiding. You yourself seem very interested in a certain storekeeper or a member of his family and their past." 

Paddy gave a short laugh. "And I thought you were going to accuse me of conspiring with Don Nacho. Enrique, for once you are off the mark. Next to the tavern, the general store has been the recipient of my business. I'm a good customer and the family is rather fond of me for that reason alone. I take it that you've investigated Señor Pacheco as well? He might be smuggling me some stout from Ireland." 

The comandante of Los Angeles looked doubtful at his words but picked up the wine bottle and poured more into both mugs. He knew Paddy was lying about the storekeeper, but he did not know why. But he did know why he might lie about the storekeeper's wife. 

"I won't mince words, Paddy," Monastario came to the point. "I know exactly who Isabel Cárdenas is. She is the wife of a traitor whom I hanged in Peru. General Morillo told me later that, of the two, she should have been the one hanged. I have kept watch on her ever since I arrived last year." He paused and took a sip of wine. "She's a few years older and put on some weight, but you can't hide beauty like that." 

Paddy marveled at the comandante's political scope of the community. He honestly liked Isabel Cárdenas and admired her even more now knowing the breadth of her past activism. He decided to risk a little information in order to save her life. 

"You know, Enrique," he began casually, "I've gotten to know the family quite well. Isabel actually confided to me what happened to her husband in Peru. But I think you did your work well there. She has not been active since she arrived here with her new husband. She has a child to worry about now and nothing makes a woman more cautious than having a child to worry about. I don't think you'll find a republican conspiracy lurking in the general store. No matter what her past might have been, she wants a quiet life without troubles here in Los Angeles."

"For once, you've given me some useful information," the captain remarked. "I have had serious doubts about your intentions, Paddy. You were much better in Spain at finding out who our enemies were." 

"Life isn't as clear cut as it once was," the Irishman mused. "We didn't even run after the same kind of girls." 

"You couldn't be more wrong," Monastario responded sharply. "If anything, the lines drawn today are even sharper, more distinct. Republicanism never changes. It may have a French face at first, then it changes to an English face. Here, it has a Spanish face, but it is still the face of subversion and it must be fought with resolution, without hesitation!"

The Spanish officer paused, looked up and watched Diego de la Vega go up to the bar and order another bottle of wine for the soldiers at the table. He returned his attention to the red-haired man next to him. "As for girls, I suggest you meet the other charming ladies of this pueblo. I do not intend to lose the campaign I am waging. I do not lose campaigns."

Paddy smiled easily. "It's always a good idea to have an alternative, Enrique, because nothing in life is certain, not even the relentless waging of war. Surely, a sword and a pistol are not the only weapons in your arsenal."

"True," the man with the goatee and moustache acknowledged," but, my eyes will always be on this prize." He startled the Irishman by raising his mug of wine to him and adding, "Oh, by the way, Colonel, when you finally deal with your enemy, I agree not to interfere in your administration of 'justice'. You just do the same with me."

 

 

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