The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY SIX

 

Chapter 29

 

 

Long after Enrique Monastario had left the tavern, a man dressed in a green ranchero's outfit with a red sash sat at a table and drank another bottle of wine. At the comandante's instructions, the barmaid brought the man over a meal, but Paddy only picked at the food now and again. He was vaguely aware that the tavern had filled up and there was noise all around him. So it came as some surprise when he finally noticed someone standing across the table addressing him. 

"Hello, Paddy," the voice kept repeating. "Colonel O' Leary?" 

The Irishman recognized the young ranchero, Diego de la Vega, through a drunken haze. "Ah, young don," he said in an unusually loud voice. "Why are you speaking so softly? I can hardly hear you." 

"Well, Colonel, I've always heard that a loud voice tends to grate on the ear of the inebriated," Diego remarked. "I take it you won't mind if I have a seat." 

"Go ahead," Paddy smiled. He leaned across the table. "You buy the next bottle." 

"I would like to," Diego said quietly. "But tonight I need to ask you a favor."

"Anything," the colonel replied and tried to focus his thoughts on the young don's words.

The barmaid brought a mug and O' Leary downed the contents without looking at it. When he put the mug down, he muttered. "She brought me a mug of tea and I barely noticed what I drank."

Diego gave a short laugh. "My fault, Colonel. I asked her to."

"I take it you want a serious word with me," the Irishman reflected. "But my judgement is good, drunk or sober."

"Paddy, you are a friend. I am worried about you. You are really drinking too much tonight," Diego said as gently as he could.

"Thirst is a shameless disease, so here's to a shameful cure," Paddy remarked, raising an empty mug. He noticed the mug was empty and looked baffled a moment. 

"Let's go, Colonel. Tonight is a time to discover who we really are," Diego said, standing. 

"All right," responded Paddy, lurching to his feet. "I enjoy a challenge now and then." He was on Erin and was turning a corner when he mused, "I've been down this street tonight." 

Diego could only smile. A cool breeze was up and a ride would help sober up the colonel a bit. Diego sensed instinctively that a crisis was coming, perhaps this very night. Monastario was too calculating, the Irishman too disturbed for him not to believe that something was in the making. And he wanted to find out what it was. 

After a good hour of riding down the road, Diego felt that the Irishman was reasonably alert and he turned his palomino into a dry seco. Actually, they were on the lands of the De la Vega hacienda and Diego wanted to be able to deal with the colonel should there be trouble. 

Paddy and Diego dismounted. Diego pulled a flint out of his saddlebag and within minutes had lit a small fire of grasses and stray branches and twigs. There was an old log nearby and they sat themselves down in front of it. 

"Ahh," said Paddy stretching his legs and arms out in front of him. "Now, what can old Paddy do for you?"

Diego relaxed beside the Irishman. "You know, Paddy, the stars are so beautiful tonight, I just wanted someone to observe them with me. You can see thousands of them from here. The night air is clear and cool and it can give one a different perspective on life by just contemplating the universe." He let out a sign of contentment.
 

The colonel was expecting something quite different, but he took the change of mood in stride. He looked up at the stars. "Look at that," he exclaimed, "a shooting star. Some will say that it portends great luck or maybe even great misfortune." 

"I would like to think it would be good luck," responded Diego. "I would hate to think that anyone would be stricken with misfortune, especially someone I know." He glanced over at the Irishman to gauge his reaction. 

The Irishman was quiet for a spell and continued to look up at the stars. Over the course of another hour, they watched a cascade of shooting stars, a common phenomenon for that time of year, but it left the colonel uneasy. 

"Now, I wonder what all these shooting stars mean?" Diego pressed the subject. "Do you think it's a calamity approaching, or maybe a great injustice is about to occur?" 

Paddy O' Leary stood up and began to pace in front of the log. Finally, he stopped and looked down at his friend. "Something is going to happen, Diego," he said. 

"It is?" Diego responded. "How do you know? Who is going to do it? Not Monastario again?" 

Paddy sat on the log and put his head between his hands. "I should like you to know this," he began. "I'm going to kill a man. I must kill him. It is a question of honor." 

"Paddy, who are you going to kill? Not Monastario?" Diego asked urgently. 

"No, Diego, not Monastario. This has nothing to do with him," the colonel replied and he seemed very tired. "It is an affair of honor that goes back to the old war. It is about treason, deception, and death, the death of thousands caused by one man's betrayal." 

"It must have been a terrible thing," Diego observed, "to have kept itself buried inside your heart for so long." 

"It was a terrible thing and its consequences have never been rectified, Diego." 

"Rectified for the man or in your own heart?" the young don asked quietly. 

"And what do you mean by that?" asked Paddy testily. 

"Paddy, you just said that the incident happened in the old war. That was a long time ago. Many people have been born and others have died since that time. It may just be the time to let go of the past and let bad memories die as well." 

"If you had been there," the colonel responded angrily, "you might very well sing a different tune." 

"That's true, I might," replied Diego. "But Paddy, does this man have a wife or a child now? Would his death lead to more injustice than the original injustice? Do you think that he might be as troubled by this old incident as you still are? Could not the re-opening of this old wound make things even worse than they were?" 

The Irishman was stricken. There was an agonized _expression on his face that spoke of his dilemma. It pained Diego to see the battle going on within the red-haired man that he had become fond of and respected for his principled approach to life. 

Paddy reacted the only way he could under the crush of events and drink. He lashed out. "Christ Jesus!" he shouted. "And don't you think that I don't know it! But that remains only one side of the equation, just as Monastario said. Enrique was right: you cannot see the other equation. You just don't see it!" He felt as if he was going to weep and he took a big breath of air. 

Diego knew what the other side was. It was a side that would take as much courage to face and to resolve as it did to pursue for so many years. 

The colonel headed over to his horse and held the reins. His expression was now sad, not angry, not accusing. 

Diego rose to his feet and approached him. "Wouldn't it be best to sleep on this and make a decision later, Paddy? You've had quite a bit to drink tonight and wine never helps a man make a good decision." 

"'Drunkenness and anger, 'tis said, tell the truth'," he replied, turning back towards Diego. 

"Colonel, I've read quite a bit of the book you lent me. In it is an old Irish proverb that I think applies: 'Let your anger set with the sun and not rise with it again.' Paddy, why can't you let your anger over this old incident set and not rise again either - for your own sake, as well as his." 

"A lot of nerve you have, quoting me self to me self!" the colonel roared. He took a step towards Diego and swung a fist. 

Diego dodged but felt the fist clip his cheek. He made a show of going down to see if it would give Paddy a pause for thought, but the Irishman swung himself up into the saddle and rode off. 

Several minutes later, Bernardo emerged on horseback from behind some trees. He gestured as if asking why Diego was still sitting on the ground. 

Diego looked up at the mozo. "So much for diplomacy, Bernardo. Colonel O' Leary is a man in battle with himself and I think his good side may be losing this fight. Let's see where he's going." 

Bernardo gestured towards the south, not towards the pueblo of Los Angeles. 

Diego nodded. "So, the battle is still waging. He's riding away from Los Angeles - for now. You know, Bernardo, I think it is time for Zorro to help prevent a tragedy." He stomped out the fire, then mounted the palomino. 

With that, both men disappeared into the darkness. Far above them, the cascade of meteorites streaked and glowed in the night sky.

 

*****************************************************************

 

The hour was growing late and the tavern was emptying of clients. Señor Pacheco and the barmaids had already wiped down the drink-strewn tables and took away the last of the empty bottles on pewter trays, along with empty and partially filled mugs. 

Over in a corner sat Rosita Flores. The hour was growing late and she was used to Paddy being there and having a long drink of wine with her before turning in. 

"I am sorry, Señorita Flores, but Colonel O' Leary left some time ago with Don Diego," the innkeeper responded to her numerous inquiries. "No, he did not leave any messages and he did not say where they were going." 

Rosita had changed her red dress for a green one. Her mood had changed, too, and she needed to talk with Paddy - urgently. She thought about how Capitán Monastario had summoned her - very politely, of course - to the cuartel. He had questioned her regarding Paddy's social contacts, where he went, whom he met with, and so on. 

"I really don't know the answers to many of your questions," she had told him, arranging her red skirts to reveal her ankles as she sat cross-legged on the wooden chair in his office. She smiled coquettishly, "Paddy doesn't tell me all his business and I don't ask." 

"Surely he must speak to you of his opinions or his impressions of the people he meets here in Los Angeles," Enrique Monastario insisted. "Some of these people may intend to use him for their own purposes. I ask you these questions because Paddy's life might be in danger." 

Rosita reacted in surprise to these words. "Oh, Comandante, I don't see how that is possible!" 

"What do you mean?" he asked. 

"Well," she began. "Everyone loves Paddy. Everyone is his friend. No one would want to hurt Paddy." She fluttered her eyes. "Believe me. I know." She smiled seductively. 

"Don't tell me that you can't think of a single person who doesn't like Colonel O' Leary?" he responded emphatically. "Think hard. Now who is it?" 

Rosita hemmed and hawed, ran her hand through her hair several times, smoothed her dress, twirled the ring on her finger numerous times and moved her head back and forth. She pretended not to notice the captain's impatience. 

"Oh, now I know," she said after a long while. Her expression indicated a secret that she held within her. She looked at him with wide eyes. 

The officer smiled. "Now we're getting somewhere." 

She lowered her voice to a whisper and he leaned forward eagerly to catch her words.

"There is one man who doesn't like Paddy at all," she said, barely audibly. 

Enrique Monastario straightened up in his chair. "Really, Señorita Flores, you don't have to whisper here in my office. We are quite secure, I assure you." 

"Oh," she said. "But you never can tell who might be listening." She looked over to the window and door. 

The man with the moustache and goatee nodded, approving of her appreciation of the need for vigilance and discretion. He rose from his desk and looked out the window. Then he went to the door and opened it. "You see, no one is near at hand to overhear your secrets," he told her. He closed the door. 

She sighed and nodded happily. 

He walked over to her with a smile on his face. His blue eyes were bright and he put his hand on the arm of her chair while his eyes casually, but politely and appreciatively, noted her slim ankles. "And what is his name?" 

"All right. But don't tell anybody that I told you," she insisted. 

"I won't," he promised. 

Her voice became indignant. "It's that Don Carlos! He hates Paddy. He's so incredibly rude. Why, he wouldn't help Paddy if he needed the hair of a dog to save his life! And is he mean. And what eyes he doesn't make at me! Why, you wouldn't believe the things he has been saying behind my back about Paddy and me…" 

Enrique Monastario closed his eyes and moaned audibly. He put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. It was going to be a long evening.

   

****************************************************************

 

Paddy rode Erin into the darkness quite a long time after he left the campfire. He stuck to the main road. Even from there he could hear the howls of the coyotes, the hoots of the owls and the movement of animals. They seemed to be calling to him, mocking him, or reproving him in turn. 

He turned back towards Los Angeles. From the road, the small pueblo was hidden in darkness and he would return to its heart. He traveled the road to the point where Diego had turned off and they had sat along a dry arroyo and looked up at the stars. He knew Diego was long gone and he mourned having struck the man in anger over their disagreements. No, it wasn't about anger, he told himself, as he dismounted. I struck him because he was telling me some truths that I don't want to hear.  

Paddy went back over to the dead fire and found some still glowing embers. He gathered some twigs, grasses and branches and rekindled the fire and sat down as he had done before. He watched as the meteorites continued to fall and he listened to the sounds of the crickets chirping and saw bats swooping in and around the campfire that attracted the moths. 

He had faced the enemy in battle a thousand times, he thought. And there was no greater enemy in all the world than himself. I wonder if this is our purpose here on Earth, he asked himself. Are these kind of moral dilemmas the true battles that are fought? Is this the real reason that God put us on this Earth - to make a final reckoning of what is right and what is wrong? How easy King Solomon's task seemed in comparison to his! 

Christ Jesus, I've tried to pray and it won't work. It won't work because I'm a sinner and a fool and worse. He began to think of his friends and comrades who died one night on a battlefield, on a battlefield as dark as this night. And was it just a coincidence that there was a shower of stars in the sky, a coincidence of a man who wouldn't take a drink, and a man whom many would have given their lives to take to task for treason - in Spain, in Peru, and in Venezuela. But I have sworn an obligation to the dead and I must keep my promise, made though it was more than seven years ago. 

There was the hint of a disturbance nearby and Paddy thought it an omen. He leaped to his feet. "By all the saints," he shouted to the listening trees and stones, "advise me, tell me what's do be done!" But there was only the silence of the wind that seemed to whip up his words and carry them beyond the fire's light. 

"I cannot betray those who died then or become weak now because of sentimentality," he shouted to the silent hills. "What is right and what is wrong?" His arms swept up to the heavens. 

Suddenly, a voice answered him from out of the darkness. "You must let your conscious be your guide, no other." 

Paddy O' Leary spun around toward the sound, his eyes seeking out a figure, or an apparition. "Come forward and be known to me!" he replied in defiance. "I will not listen to the voices of the devil or of heaven in the darkness!" He put his hands on his hips.

Erin nickered and nodded his head up and down as if in recognition. 

There was the sound of an approaching horse. Out of the night a rider became more visible as he approached the small light of the campfire. It was a man on a black horse and he was dressed in black from head to foot. Behind him fluttered a black cape. El Zorro halted several feet away. 

"Zorro!" exclaimed Paddy. "Ha, the last man I need to see at a time like this. Haven't I seen enough of you for one day already?" 

"Perhaps not, Colonel," replied the man in black. "However, I subscribe to an old Irish proverb which says 'The fox never found a better messenger than himself.'"

Paddy had to pause and grin a moment at that. "Well, then, what's your message?" 

"A serious one. Colonel, I've watched you a while and it seems to me that you are bent on doing an injustice to an innocent boy and woman. I will not allow that." 

"Oh, you won’t?" retorted the Irishman, " well, then, just try and stop me." With that he drew his sword. 

"Very well, " chuckled El Zorro. "If you insist, but I warn you that in your present drunken state, you do not stand a chance."

"Don’t let the vintage come between you and me," shouted O’Leary. "I’m not a coward, drunk or sober. Get off your horse and fight." 

Paddy waited as Zorro dismounted and drew his sword. The two men began to circle each other warily. Zorro smiled confidently. O’Leary swirled his blade, watching the other closely and appraising the light steps of his opponent. In every movement he found Zorro a mirror image of himself - and more. 

Paddy feigned an attack and stepped quickly to meet the repose of the other, countering thrusts and slashes again and again. Their blades clashed in intimate engagement, then both withdrew and continued circling until Zorro launched an attack meant to disarm his opponent quickly. But Paddy showed that he was quick and experienced as well, turning the blade and making a lunge. Zorro stepped lightly out of the way and counterattacked. The blades flashed back and forth with advances and retreats, slashes and lunges, parries and outright misses. This went on for a spell until O’Leary tripped on a rock, lost his balance, and was sent sprawling. 

He felt stunned by the sudden turn of events and looked up at the man in black. "Well, come and do your worst to me." 

"I never take unfair advantage of an opponent’s misfortune," replied Zorro. "Let me give you a hand up." 

O’Leary accepted his hand and was powerfully pulled to his feet. But rather than draw up his sword again he said, "I can see that you are an honorable man, Señor Zorro, and a fine swordsman. But I’ll have you know that had I not had so much to drink, our positions would be reversed." 

"Perhaps, Señor," replied the masked man, "but I wonder if you would also give me the same courtesy." 

Instead of getting angry, Paddy considered his position, and condition, and opted to give a lecture instead. "I’ll have you know that it’s an Irishman you’re talking to and there are no people in the world with more honor than the people of the Gael," he admonished the man who stood opposite him.

"I’m gratified to have my suspicions confirmed, Señor," replied El Zorro, not taking offense. "And as an honorable man, you will no doubt realize that your dilemma is one of honor as well." 

"Those are true words. What have you heard?" 

"That you swore that you would avenge the deaths of many men whom you thought were betrayed by a man in your regiment. That you have hunted this man from Spain to the New World; that you befriended a kind woman and her son and in all honesty have helped them both financially and spiritually. And now you find that this woman is married to your enemy and that the boy is his son. Would you carry your retribution into the ranks of the innocents as well?" 

"You have no idea how these questions have tormented me," Paddy replied with great emotion. He tossed his sword aside and sat down on the log. "The men who died in my arms asked me to avenge them and I swore that I would. And they were the ones on the battlefield. My friends of the regiment, wounded ones who died in my arms - my best friend Hernan, and Carlos, Jimmy O’Reilly, and the Moor, also asked me to swear vengeance. I did so. How could I fulfill my oaths to them, they who are in Heaven and looking down on me now?"

"Ultimately, I cannot stop you from visiting vengeance upon this man," said Zorro, "but consider this fact: he, too, must have a story to tell. And you may find it worth listening to. Don't you Irish have a saying that ' There are two tellings to every story'?"

"His tale would be one of treason against his own comrades. I saw his treason myself," O’Leary explained. "If he was truly not guilty, then why would he continue to flee? His very flight confirms his guilt."

"I wonder if that is true or not," countered the man in black. "For if he suspected that you would not even give him a modicum of a chance to explain himself, then perhaps he has been wise to avoid you." 

"Be that as it may," began Paddy. 

"Be that as it may," finished Zorro, " but you have appointed yourself as his sole judge, jury and executioner without hearing the defendant’s side of the story. Every man has the right to a fair trial and he is not being given one. You criticized Monastario for doing the same, yet would you conduct yourself no differently? I expected much more of you." 

Paddy felt diminished, but he was still defiant. "I know what you are saying: ‘This is what the bloody English do to your people every day’ and, hell’s damnation, it’s true. It’s bloody true. But in this instance, the man marched into our midst playing the Judas Goat. Every eye was on him. We all thought, oh, how safe we were and that we’d surprise the French up over the next rise, only to find we had been lambs led to the slaughter. Can you not understand, man, what this meant to us? What it still means to me after all these years? Even Monastario understands this one." 

"I’m truly sorry," replied the masked man. "But my position remains the same. Hear him out, then decide if the pain you’ve suffered warrants imposing the same on Pedro and his mother." 

It was late that night when Paddy arrived at the inn. He had promised el Zorro that he would think on what he had said. How strange, he mused. I believed, until now, the old proverb that 'Time and Patience would bring the snail to Jerusalem,' and my enemy to justice. Now it seemed that this no longer mattered. El Zorro's message was clear and it seemed to point to another proverb which was close to his heart - 'A man may be his own ruin'."

 

 

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