The Irish Colonel
The livery stable in town bustled with activity
earlier this Tuesday morning, for the coach and horses were being readied
for the trip to San Pedro, the port of entry in southern California.
There, passengers would board a scheduled ship and head south towards the
warmer Pacific harbors of México. On occasion, passengers would board
other ships that paused at San Pedro before the final leg of their journey
north to Monterey, the capital, or to San Francisco.
The blacksmith and his assistant would check the
iron shoes of the team of horses chosen, inspect the long leather reins,
the wooden shaft, the axles, the wheels, and finally, the interior of the
coach. Then, they would be hitched up and brought just outside the stables
to wait for the boarders. The blacksmith's assistant would load up the
luggage and strap it down on top of the coach as well as securing boxes
and chests to the back.
In the general store, Isabel Cárdenas was folding
the last of her husband's shirts into an ironbound chest that had seen
much use in its day. Roberto was, as usual, preparing items in the store
as if he had no plans whatsoever to leave and journey far from Los
And at the inn, a red-haired Irishman took his
breakfast as normal. He had slept without dreams or perhaps he didn't
remember that he dreamt at all. The night had been both long and short.
When he got back to the inn, Sergeant García had entertained him, with
stories of what had happened at the cuartel that afternoon with El Zorro's
raid. For once, the Sergeant had the entire bottle to drink for himself
and even Paddy's own melancholy had disappeared for a while in the telling
of tragedy and farce. Finally, Rosita had sat up with him and gave him a
long report on her encounter with Enrique Monastario. Paddy laughed in
spite of himself and then fell off into a deep sleep.
At the distant hacienda of Don Nacho Torres, Elena
Torres lay in bed and dreamed of a green-eyed Irishman who brought her
flowers and who would fight in battle with her father against a blue-eyed
captain on a white stallion.
Diego de la Vega opened the door to his room and
looked out over the patio of green trees and colorful flowers at the
distant hills of yellow grasses and green oaks trees. He turned to his
faithful servant. "Today is the day of reckoning, Bernardo. I only
hope that Paddy O' Leary will act in the manner that my faith in him will
Bernardo nodded. He indicated someone on the patio
below. It was Diego's father, Alejandro.
The white-bearded don looked up to the balcony and
saw his son standing among the hanging plants. He waved a book at him.
Diego headed down the stairs. "Good morning,
Father. What are you reading?"
Alejandro took him by the arm. "Diego, I've
been reading the book that Colonel O' Leary loaned you about the history
of Ireland. The more I read, the more I become struck by something that
the colonel said to me about Capitán Monastario."
Diego was interested. "And what was that,
"When I first met Colonel O' Leary, he
described the comandante as a man 'with the burden of the Ages on his
shoulders.' Yet as I read this tragic and inspiring history, it seems to
me that it is really the colonel who embodies that description."
Diego nodded. "I know what you mean. That
also reminds me of something that Paddy said about the comandante,
something that applies to him as well. He remarked that 'the belief in the
possibility for salvation and redemption has given many men hope. But take
that hope away, and what do you have left?' "
"You know, my son, Don Patricio is a complex
man, but a man after our own heart. He has tried to be fair to everyone,
including the comandante. His actions seem to reveal a man whose heart is
torn between the past and the present and how to come to terms with
both." He began looking at his son's face with concern. "Where
did you get that bruise from?"
Diego touched his cheek. "Paddy gave it to
me. We had a disagreement last night and he took a swing at me. I was
trying to get him to deal with his past - and he had had too much to
drink. I should have known better."
"Well, my son, each man must make the
decision on what to do with his own life. As friends, we can only advise,
we cannot decide for him. Somehow, in spite of my past misgivings of his
intentions, I feel that the colonel will make the right decisions and for
the right reasons. He is a man of honor." With that comment, father
and son strode inside for a quiet breakfast.
Paddy was dressed in brown and wore a red sash.
His hat was black and he wore a pistol in his belt.
He walked casually out of the inn and towards the
general store. It was much too early for the store to be open, but the
front door was not the only entrance. He took a side street that led to
the back of the store and saw that the door was partly opened. He walked
up to it and listened carefully before opening it and stepping inside.
The red-haired man was only a step or two inside
when he heard the voices of two people. One was Isabel Cárdenas, the
other was a voice from a memory, a distant and dark memory. But it was his voice. The man's measured dialogue and intonation was
unmistakable. Paddy pressed himself against the wall as he listened to the
conversation of a man telling his wife that the trunk was packed, and that
all he needed was to fetch his bag. There was only an hour left before the
coach would leave.
Paddy's moment of truth had come. He turned and
left the way he had come, leaving the door as he had found it. He took
long strides down the short street, then slowed his pace to a casual walk
as he made his way back to the inn. He knew what he had to do.
The colonel went up stairs to his room and tossed
his hat on the bed. He opened his shirt and removed a key on a leather
string from around his neck. Taking the key in his right hand, he knelt
down in front of his trunk and opened the lock. He took out his uniform,
his regimental hat and boots, and laid them out on the floor. Then he
reached deep into the bottom of the trunk.
Wrapped in a piece of leather, bound by a strap of
leather string, was the object of his intent. He laid it on the dresser.
He turned and began to change his clothes. Colonel Patrick James O' Leary
of His Majesty's Irish Regiment would make his appearance for an execution
in full dress uniform, with its epauletts, medals, sash and polished
boots. He fastened on his sword. He contemplated taking the pistol. It was
a pistol that Monastario had given him. For some reason, it seemed wrong
to take that pistol because of its symbolism, so he put it in a drawer of
The Irishman picked up the scrap of leather and
untied the cord that bound it. Within the folds was revealed an old knife
with ancient bloodstains on it, bloodstains from an old war. The knife was
unique for on its elaborate hilt bore an inscription in Irish gaelic -‘Is treise tuath no tighearna’ – "A people is stronger than
a lord." How his enemy had twisted that truth when he chose to betray
the cause of Spain and to serve a foreign lord. Paddy put it in his sash.
He put on his hat. He left the room.
Sergeant Demetrio García López was standing at
the open gates of the cuartel when he looked across the plaza at a man
taking very purposeful strides. "Look, Corporal. Isn't that Colonel
O' Leary over there?"
The sleepy-eyed corporal followed the line of his
pointed finger. "It looks like him, Sergeant."
The big man watched as the colonel reached the general store and went in through the front door. "I thought Colonel O' Leary had retired. Maybe he decided to re-enlist."
When the officer had disappeared from sight, the
sergeant turned back towards the corporal. "You know, Reyes, Colonel
O' Leary should never have retired. We still need men like him in the
"Well, Sergeant, maybe he never really
The store was empty and the minutes were flowing away like the grains of sand in an hourglass. The bins of fruits and grains, cloth and timber, plates and delicate wine glasses, sweets and salt passed him by in a blur, yet he saw everything distinctly.
Paddy O' Leary reached the back of the store. He
went through the cloth curtain that separated the private and public
areas. There was an open doorway on his right. He put his hand on the hilt
of his sword.
Roberto Cárdenas was kneeling and shutting the
travel bag when he heard steps stop abruptly behind him. He looked up and
froze and the sound of a stern voice.
Cárdenas looked up and the blood drained from his
face. He saw a man in the uniform of the Irish regiment with a drawn
sword. "Is mise, Padraig
O’Laeghaire," he replied in Irish Gaelic. "It is I,
Patrick O' Leary. Somehow I knew you would come, Rory. Somehow I knew this
moment would arrive." He rose slowly to his feet.
"Are you ready to flee again from a comrade
and brother you betrayed?" Paddy admonished him gesturing to the bag.
"Will ye not stand up and take your punishment like a member of the
"Punishment?" replied the brown-haired
man. "Punishment, Rory! As if I’ve not been punished all these
years with men who would not listen to the truth, men who closed their
ears to anything but their own passions, their own version of the
"And what is the truth, Ciarán? What is the
truth for those in Heaven and those in Hell? How can you live with
yourself after all these years?"
"How can I live with myself you ask? And how
have you lived, Rory?" asked Roberto. "Is revenge so important
to you that it has become the kind of nightmare that I've lived?" The
man sat back down on a wooden crate. He stared at the floor as he spoke.
"You have no idea how miserable I've been." He looked up at the
"Well, I'm here to end your misery and to
avenge those who are no longer able to avenge themselves because of how
you betrayed them," Paddy told him coldly.
There was a movement behind him and Paddy glanced
over his shoulder. In the short hall stood Isabel Cárdenas and her son,
Pedro. Her face was full of fear and the boy looked shocked.
Paddy was startled at their sudden appearance.
"Señora Cárdenas," he exclaimed and saw the boy's face.
"Will you please leave us?"
"No, Padraig," interrupted Roberto,
"it is only right that they know the truth, too."
Isabel Cárdenas pushed her way into the room.
"What is going on, Roberto?" She turned to the Irishman.
"Colonel O' Leary what is happening between you two?" She was
anguished at the scene before her.
"I am sorry to inform you that I am here to
avenge the deaths of thousands of men in our regiment who lost their lives
as a result of your husband's treason during the war, Señora," Paddy
"What right do you have to kill my
husband?" she challenged him, although the tears streamed down her
face. "What gives you the sole right to be his executioner?"
"Isabel," began Roberto.
"I have a greater right than anyone in the
regiment, Señora, because Ciarán - Roberto's real name - is my own
half-brother," Paddy replied. "I must show you some
evidence." He pulled the dagger from his sash. "This is his
knife, the one that smote me and almost killed me. The blood you see on it
is my blood. My own kin attempted to assassinate me in battle, a man I
loved and trusted. His treason not only shamed the regiment, but it did
the same to my family. I am under a great obligation for the honor of
"What Rory says is true, Isabel, but only
from the view of a man who only knows half the story," Roberto told
her. He turned to O' Leary. "Every man has a right to make a last
request before he dies and my last request is to tell the entire
"It is a reasonable request," Paddy
acknowledged. "I am sure that we all want to hear it." He
stepped far away from the door for the boy to enter the room.
Pedro ran to his father and hugged him, weeping.
"It's all right, Pedrito," Roberto told him, holding him and
stroking his hair. It was many long minutes before the boy composed
himself. "Sit down here with me and I'll tell you what happened a
long time ago." The man put his arm around his son's slender
" I was a member of the Irish regiment of the
Spanish army," the man began. "My name was Seamus Ciarán O'
Flaherty. My father was Rory's father, but my mother was not married to
him. I took her last name, not his, and this was the custom of my people.
Still, we grew up as brothers and treated each other as brothers do -
fishing and fighting, going to school and church together, and serving in
the same regiment in Spain to fight Bonaparte, to fight the French
invaders. Rory and I were the best of friends." Roberto paused and
looked up at his half-brother who nodded.
"But what happened that tore us apart, we two
who had been inseparable as youngsters, in the army, and later as
guerillas?" His eyes looked beyond the walls of the store and he saw
another past world unfolding before his eyes, a world full of the smell of
gunpowder, of the sound of cannon balls whistling through the air, of men
shouting as they rushed forward, often barely seeing each other's features
in the smoke, fogs or rains that could obscure any battlefield. "It
was the day of a great planned offensive. I was assigned to a scouting
expedition with a few men. Rory was not there with me at the time."
O' Leary spoke. "We were preparing the troops
for a surprise attack that would happen when the scouts got back."
The man with the brown hair nodded. "Our
mission was to find out exactly where the French pickets were, to estimate
the number of troops at their command, and to report with preciseness the
layout of the land so we could launch a surprise attack and follow
"Just don't neglect to mention, for the sake
of the record," Paddy interrupted, "that of all the men of the
regiment, Ciarán, it was you who doubted the victory of our arms and
predicted a disaster if we rode forth."
"It was Spain and the war for the
North," Roberto explained to Isabel. "It was 1812 and the French
were on the march throughout Europe. There were many battles and Bonaparte
had reached Moscow. All of Europe seemed to lay prostrate at his feet.
Many were weary of war. It is true that I often doubted the outcome of
arms, but was I alone in my doubts, Rory? Do you really think that just
because a man expresses doubts and frustrations that this fact alone means
that he committed treason?"
"So you say," responded the colonel.
"Continue with the story."
"Unknown to us, a French scouting patrol had
the same mission against our troops. They saw us coming and laid out an
ambush. We fought our way back as best we could, but most of the men were
killed. Only a few of us survived and we were taken prisoner."
"What happened to you Papa?" asked
Pedrito, speaking for the first time. "What did the French do to
"The French interrogated us, but we told them
nothing. Their commanding officer was determined to get the most out of us
that they could. When he could not, he decided to use us instead. He came
up with a plan. This plan forever changed the lives of everyone - both the
French and the Spanish. And it changed the lives of Rory and me,
"What was it you sold out for, Ciarán, gold?
Your life?" asked Paddy indignantly.
His half-brother ignored these questions, yet
answered them. "It was decided to take our uniforms and disguise
French soldiers as Spaniards in an attempt to lure our troops into a false
sense of security," Roberto explained. "One of the sad aspects
of our people's lot under English rule is how many of us have been driven
out of our native land into the armies of foreign nations. There were
Irishmen serving in the forces of Bonaparte, not just in the armies of
Spain. We were often on the opposite sides from each other in battle - for
different and for the same reasons. Rory can explain the history better
than I can. The officer commanding the French troops was a Captain Liam
Maguire. His family was originally from Ulster."
"Was the French captain Irish like you,
Papa?" asked the boy.
His father smiled. "Yes, Pedrito. He was from
a different part of Ireland."
"So the Spanish thought that it was their own
troops who were coming toward them when it was really the French?"
Paddy was silent.
"That is true, but there is another detail to
know. Many of us used to wear distinguishing feathers or decorations on
our uniforms or caps, just a matter of personal pride or vanity. We were
young in those days and did things like that," he responded.
"We still do," added Paddy. "But
tell me this, how is it that I saw you with my own eyes and you carried
this dagger aimed at my heart?"
Roberto looked Paddy in the eye. "Captain
Maguire knew that if one of his men, resembling me in the dark, wore my
uniform with my feathers, appeared along with that of other Spaniards,
then our troops would suspect nothing." Then he smiled and said
unexpectedly. "But I must leave the story here because we were bound
and hauled away. He turned to his half-brother. "Rory, it is you that
must now continue the story."
Paddy looked as if his mind were thousands of
miles away and years in the past. In his mind's eye he saw the glimmer of
distant campfires, like the stars in the sky. He saw the forms of men
approaching him casually, and the chaos that followed.
"When the scouts returned, we thought that
they had cleared the way for the attack, for there was nothing in their
actions that indicated the grave danger we were in. I saw Ciarán,"
he indicated his head in Roberto's direction, "because of his
feathers and walked out to meet him. I greeted him in Irish and he
returned my greeting - though I admit, it was at a distance. I turned
round to gesture to our men to move forward and I felt him race suddenly
to my side. I turned in surprise and saw the upraised dagger, your dagger,
"You saw my dagger, Rory, because the
Frenchman had it in his possession as well. How amusing they thought it
was that an Irish dagger would possibly kill an Irishman serving the cause
The young boy turned to O' Leary uncertainly.
"Did the French soldier stab you?" he asked.
"Yes. He aimed for my heart, but caught me in
the side when I turned back on him. We fought. There was a rush of men on
all sides, the French attacking and the Spaniards fighting back and being
"What happened to you, Rory?" asked
Roberto. "How did you make your escape?"
O’ Leary did not like how the conversation was
being personalized, but he wanted all the facts brought out, including his
own. "I was wounded in the side and fell. Our men were rushing
forward with bayonets and sabers drawn. You turned and charged forward
towards our men. I rose to follow you and was hit in the head with a blow
of a musket butt. I felt the feet of men trample me and I lost
consciousness for a while. When I came to, there were dead and dying men
all around me. I came across our boys as I staggered across the field -
the Moor, Jimmy O' Reilly, Carlos and others. Some of them were dying and
asked me was it really you that had led the French attack. I told them
that I had seen you with my own eyes and swore I would avenge them. They
asked me to do so and then I shut their eyes."
"But this is not the end of the story, is it,
Roberto?" asked Isabel. "How is it that you had to flee from
Spain?" Paddy looked surprised at her question, but nodded in
"Over the next several days, some of our
troops were taken prisoner. When they saw us in the rear, they assumed the
same thing you had - that we had led the French in exchange for our lives
- and they cursed us. The French were too clever to allow us to explain to
them what had really happened and kept us separated.
"It was common practice, Isabel, for each
side to exchange each other's prisoners from time to time," her
husband explained. "The French had no more use for us and, about a
year later, we were in a group that was exchanged for their own captured
"Upon our return we assumed that we would
rejoin the ranks and continue in the war. And so it was for a few of us.
However, it came to the notice of the army command that there was some
controversy regarding our actions and accusations began to be made. The
colonel who summoned me to answer the charges, informally, of course, told
me that a few of my comrades who had been released had already been killed
by former members of our regiment. Although he listened to my story, he
told me that feelings were so strong against us, that he advised me to
disguise myself, change my name and serve elsewhere against the
Roberto Cárdenas sighed. "I was indignant
but I took his advice. My cause was still the cause of Spain. Better to
fight against Bonaparte in disguise than not at all. But it was not that
easy. The stigma of the events of those days carried far and wide and
wherever I went, I heard whispers about this and such a fellow who was
coming to the regiment might be 'one of them.' Finally, Joachim Morales,
an old comrade from the regiment, saw me and opened fire on me with his
gun, shouting to some soldiers that I was a traitor. I fled to save my
life and threw myself on the mercy of one Colonel Santos. He sent me into
hiding after hearing my report."
"Now my story is almost over. I wrote to
Lieutenant-General Salazar, explaining the situation, and had it delivered
by a trust-worthy Spanish friend. General Salazar was known as a man of
compassion and tolerance. He was a man who would tell you the truth. But
one of his aides saw the letter and saw the chance to make some political
fortune for himself. He sent men to capture and arrest me. I was warned of
their coming and finally met up with English forces under Wellington. I
told them what happened and they allowed me to join their ranks. I served
with them until the war was over."
"What did you do after the war, Father?"
"I sent a secret message to my mother who was
living with my first wife, María. She sent word back that María had died
a few years before. She traveled to Lisbon with a boy and then she
returned to Spain. I was never to see my mother again."
"I was the boy, wasn't I, Papa?" the
"Yes," smiled his father. "Yes, you
were. We traveled to Jamaica on an English vessel. We got on another
vessel that took us to Cuba. From there we went to the colonies in the Américas
because there were many veterans of the war who went to Cuba and I wanted
to get away from them. I thought that in a new land where no one knew us,
we could start over again. I wanted Pedro to have a life without a
history. Peru seemed as remote a place as any to start a new life, but
little did we know of the turmoil we would encounter. All I wanted was
peace and quiet and to forget the past. We fled war in Peru, in Venezuela
and Columbia. Finally, I chose to come to California because it seemed
like it was the 'ends of the Earth.'"
Roberto Cárdenas paused. He looked over at Paddy
O' Leary. "Then I overheard Rory speaking in the store. I knew that I
would have to leave again because all Rory knew was what he thought he had
He turned to O' Leary. "I always knew you
well, my brother. I knew that if other men were as intent on killing me
and not knowing the facts, that you would not be far behind. I cannot say
that I don't blame you, but I also know that you will give every man his
due before you dispatch him. And this is all that I ask."
The room was silent a long time after he finished
speaking. Everyone's eyes then turned to the man in the white breeches,
black boots and green regimental jacket and hat who had returned his saber
to the scabbard.
"You have no idea how much I want to believe
you, Ciarán," Paddy said. "But this is a case like no other and
men change. Can you give me any positive proof that what you have told me
is God's truth other than your own word?"
The other nodded. "In the old days, a man's
word was his honor, but I submit to you that, at least in your own mind,
you have a right to demand more of me. Allow me, if you will, to get some
documents from my bag."
The man knelt down and opened the travel bag. He pulled out several documents and handed them to O' Leary. Then he sat back down on the box. Isabel sat next to him and put her arm around his shoulder. Together, all three of them watched the Irish colonel.
Paddy O' Leary read through the documents. They told him that Roberto Cárdenas served with distinction with His British Majesty's forces in Portugal against the French. He read through a diary that documented what happened from the time he was released from the French back into the custody of Spain. He saw a copy of the letter he had written to Lieutenant Salazar and he saw the stamped custom forms from England, Jamaica and Cuba. Paddy stopped reading and folded the documents, and walked over to Seamus Cianán O' Flaherty, his own half-brother. He handed him the documents. Then he spoke.
"The snail has come to Jerusalem, Cianán.
But, how do I know these documents are not forged? And how do I know that
you didn't take the name Roberto Cárdenas from some other man who did
serve with distinction?"
"I don't know if you could ever find the
answer to that, Rory. I had to change my name. But if it means anything to
you at all, I do have a postscript from the war I would like to
"What is a postscript, Papa?" asked the
"A postscript is a short story to tell after
the main story has already been told. It gives you more information to
think about after the long story is finished," explained his father.
He turned to the colonel.
"Do you remember the Irish captain, Liam
Maguire, of the French Army who set me and the others up? After the war
was over, Captain Maguire joined the liberation struggle in Spain for a
republic. He became an agent to bring news to the Américas regarding
support in Spain for the independence of the colonies and the struggle to
bring down the tyranny of Ferdinand."
"Interesting," remarked Paddy. "It
would seem the logic of his republicanism would bring him to fight against
monarchy in Spain, something that Spaniards would have welcomed. But how
does this prove to me that these documents are really yours? How will I
ever know that you did not betray the cause of Spain and the cause of
republicanism? There is still reasonable doubt on my part. Tell me
"What you don't know is that our struggle for
freedom has received a set-back. Captain Maguire was captured here in Los
Angeles several days ago. He did not go by his real name. His code name
was Vincente. He would not talk. Capitán Monastario killed him before he
had time to get word to republicans of the feeling in Spain and before El
Zorro could rescue him," Roberto told him sadly. "He felt he
could best serve our cause by being the messenger. We had no idea that the
royalists would get him. Now we will never know if California will move
with the ranks of a republican Spain and vice-versa. And you will never
hear my story from his lips."
It was these words that drew a surprised look from
Paddy O' Leary. "Christ Jesus!" he exclaimed. "With these
very words you vindicate yourself!"
Now it was Roberto's turn to look stunned and
puzzled. "How do you mean?"
Paddy strode over to stand before his seated
brother. He had a big smile on his face. "By Christ, I believe you
now, Cianán. What you don't know is that El Zorro rode to free the
prisoners in the late afternoon and they escaped. Maguire was almost dead
and fell off his horse while fleeing. Monastario and I found him in a
ditch. Monastario called him 'Vincente' and tried one last time to get him
"Did he succeed?" asked Isabel
"He did indeed, but it was not an answer
Enrique was expecting. Maguire uttered a name that astonished the
comandante. The name he managed to utter was 'Mina.' Enrique thought that
it referred to Xavier Mina. That is all that he knows."
"What can it mean, then?" asked Roberto.
"Not to worry," Paddy answered him.
"Before I came back to Los Angeles, Don Alejandro told me the news
that he had learned in secret. Maguire had
made contact, only not to republicans here in Los Angeles. And the word is
this: our belovéd Espoz y Mina has returned from exile to Spain! He has
declared himself for a republic. He summons all of us to fight for a
republican Spain and to defeat the forces of the royalists."
There was a joyful expression on the faces of
Roberto and Isabel Cárdenas. "Then, his mission was not in
vain," Roberto exclaimed, standing up before his brother.
"No, it was not," Paddy said with great
emotion. "Cianán, I've done you a great wrong. I came to the Américas
searching for a man who I thought had betrayed the cause of Spain and
republicanism to self-interest. I can see now that you have never left the
cause behind." With these words, both men embraced, holding each
other tightly in that kind of bear grip that conveys more in its depth of
feeling than in its show of strength.
When they finally released one another, Roberto Cárdenas,
in actuality Seamus Cianán O' Flaherty, remarked. "You know, Rory,
deep down I had this sneaking suspicion that you had a lot more sense than
I ever gave you credit for. I wasn't sure when you drew the sword, but you
always did followed the saying that 'there are two tellings to every
story.' I need to give you a lot of credit for meeting my highest
"I don't deserve that," Paddy mused.
"You see, I was really all set to do my worst to you. Then I met up
with this fellow Zorro, not just once, not just twice, but three times.
Did you hear me now? Three blesséd times. And what did the man have to
say to me? Why, he quoted more Irish proverbs to my face than Father
Murphy did in a sermon. And the sermons he gave me would do a bishop
justice, not just a priest. As for running into him, you should have seen
the chase he led me on, and me, no closer to catching him than you would
if you tried to snatch a moonbeam. And then there was our swordfight. Did
I ever tell you about the bullwhip he carries? You should have seen him
knock over the soldiers at the cuartel with it, why he was knocking them
over, left and right…."
"Uncle Paddy, why does Papa call you 'Rory'
all the time? And why do you call him Cianán? I thought he said that his
real first name is Seamus," Pedro Cárdenas asked the Irish colonel
as all four walked out into the front of the store. Roberto and Isabel
began hurriedly serving several customers who had been loitering about for
some time as they waited for someone to appear.
"That's a very good question to ask, Pedrito,"
answered the man with the red hair. "In Old Irish the name Rory means
a person with red hair. It's a nickname. I call your father Cianán
because it's an old word that means 'dark' or 'black.' It usually refers
to the hair color."
"Oh," replied the boy thoughtfully.
"But Papa doesn't have black hair, it's brown."
"Now, that all depends on your point of view.
You see, so many of us have blond or red hair that all the ones with
darker hair are called the 'Dark Irish," but it doesn't mean they are
Don Diego de la Vega entered the store and saw the
colonel seated on a box with the boy on his knee. He was showing the boy a
knife with an elaborately carved hilt.
"Good morning, Colonel. Looks like you've
rejoined the regiment," Diego observed cheerfully.
"Ah, Diego," the colonel said looking
up. He lifted the boy high up in the air and then put him feet first on
the floor. As he rose, he observed the cheek of the other as he came
forward. "I need to apologize for my behavior last night. I ask your
"We all have bad nights, Paddy. But like
storms, they pass, and then the sun comes out again. Sometimes there is
even a rainbow at the end."
The colonel nodded but before he could speak,
Diego turned to the boy. "Hello Pedro. Tell me something. There is a
large trunk outside. It has your father's name on it. Is he going
anywhere? The stage coach already left."
Roberto Cárdenas overheard him. "Heaven help
me, I forgot about the trunk." He hastened out of the store door.
Pedrito Cárdenas looked up at the tall ranchero.
"Hello, Don Diego. No, Papa is not going anywhere now. He does not
need to." He looked up at the red-haired Irishman. "Do you want
to know a secret, Don Diego?"
Diego smiled at Paddy and knelt down beside the
boy. "Yes, I would," he said. "Is it about the trunk?"
The boy smiled shyly in turn. "Oh, no, Don
Diego." He looked up again at the red-haired man who nodded.
"Nobody knew that my father and Uncle Paddy are brothers. I mean,
they are half-brothers, but they are still brothers. It was a secret. It's
not a secret any more."
"And does everyone get to live happily ever
after now?" Diego asked the child. "Is it the end of a good
Pedrito Cárdenas smiled happily but then shook
his head. "Oh, no, Don Diego. It is not the end of the story. It is
only the beginning. Did you know that Uncle Paddy met El Zorro and chased
him on his horse? Not just one time, not just two times, but three times.
And you should have seen Uncle Paddy on his new horse, Erin. Erin is
almost as fast as El Zorro's horse and he almost caught El Zorro!"
The boy's eyes were wide with excitement.
Paddy moaned and put his hand to his forehead in
mock shock. "Christ Jesus, my nephew is a born Irishman. Now who
would have thought that?"
"Do you really have to leave us so soon,
Paddy?" asked Isabel Cárdenas as the red-haired Irishman slung two
heavy leather bags over the saddle and climbed up on the great brown
stallion. "We’ve had so little time together. When will we see you
"Oh, I'll be back," he assured her
cheerfully. "Now, I can't promise when. I've a little mission to
perform of me own, but I'll send word."
"You'll always have a home with us,
brother," Roberto Cárdenas told him. "Don't stay away too long.
Remember this - May the Lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist
too tight on you."
"He never has to either of us, Cianán,"
he responded with a smile.
"Good-bye, Uncle Paddy," waved Pedro.
"Come back soon."
Diego de la Vega mounted his palomino and
accompanied Paddy O' Leary to the edge of town, to the El Camino Real
which led north towards Monterey and to San Francisco.
"How did Señorita Flores take the news of your departure? Was she quite upset?" Diego asked.
"Diego, my friend, Rosita Flores is a
formidable little woman and an independent one. She's a lot like me. But
neither of us are quite ready to settle down yet. She wants to see more of
the world and on her own terms, not anyone else's. We'll meet again some
day," the colonel added philosophically.
"And the Torres family?"
"We had a very long talk. Don Nacho and I had
some very important words together on how to organize to fight the
royalists both now and when the time comes for real action. He was greatly
saddened by the death of Captain Maguire, but I told him that Liam would
be happy knowing that he served the cause of republicanism here in the New
World. We are part of a mighty historical struggle between the Old World
and the New, Diego, and there are those of us who understand that every
birth causes pain, and sometimes injustice, but that in every historical
epoch change must happen. In my life I have seen the possibility for good
change and I want to be on the side of a world that will be as different
from this one as ours once was from the one we sprang from so long
"If you don't mind my asking, how did Elena take the news?"
"And what about the comandante, Paddy? You
probably didn't make him too happy by pulling up stakes and deciding to
"Ah, Enrique. What can I say? If any a man
ever believed that he embodied the need to preserve the world he was born
into, it is Enrique. He really wants to recreate an old feudal Spain here
in California. I sympathize with his hatred of the French, but not with
his hatred of republicans. Had Bonaparte never attacked Spain, he probably
would have been a nice fellow, happy in the knowledge that his older
brother was disinherited by his father and that he, the worthy son, became
the heir to their estates because he was the honorable one. But life
didn't turn out like that. It's one reason why war is so bloody rotten and
criminal. It can change our lives from white to black and set us on roads
that we were never meant to travel."
"In our new world, Monastario, hopefully, will be an anachronism, but for now, he is a dangerous one," Diego commented thoughtfully.
"Like any petty tyrant, he is, Diego. But
don't forget - tyrants come and they go. Remember our saying - Is treise tuath no tighearna’ – "A people is stronger than
"Have you reached any final decisions, Paddy,
on what to do next?" Diego asked. He handed the Irishman a small
leather-bound book on the history of Ireland. Paddy tucked it into his
"I've a small mission of me own in a quaint
town called Monterey," Paddy responded with a smile. "There is a
new governor, just appointed, an older gentleman. They say that he's quite
a republican. He might just want to start looking into the affairs of Los
Angeles - if not right away, then certainly in the time to come. If I can
do anything to help the Torres family - and yours - I'll try - for 'you'll
never plow a field by turning it over in your mind'."
They reached the edge of town and Paddy gave a
sigh. "Well, here we are at last." He leaned over to the young
don and stretched out his hand.
"I'll be sure to remember that," Diego
said, taking his in a firm grasp. "Who knows, I might even have to
learn to fight with a sword meself."
Paddy grinned. "You just remember this old
Irish saying, Diego - 'A scholar's ink lasts longer than a martyr's
He chuckled and kept on as he turned his horse
away. "Now I've always believed that the longest road out is the
shortest road home and it's no use boiling your cabbage twice. The older
the fiddle, the sweeter the tune. By degrees, castles are built. It's
difficult to choose between two blind goats. Men are like bagpipes - no
sound comes from them until they're full. The one who waits for the fine
day, will get the fine day. The person who brings a story to you will take
away two from you. The dog that's always on the go is better than the one
that's always curled up. Better own a trifle than want a great deal.
Remember, even if you loose all, keep your good name for if you loose
that, you are worthless. Wisdom is what makes a poor man a king, a weak
person powerful, a good generation of a bad one, and a foolish man
smiled to himself. "Colonel, you've kissed the blarney stone."
He knew the colonel could no longer hear him.
In the distance, a man in a lightweight black cape
suddenly stopped on the hillcrest, turned, and shouted back to Diego.
"Oh, Diego, when you see El Zorro tell him that…."
Diego strained to hear the words, but they were
whipped away by the breeze. The colonel waved and disappeared over the
Diego turned his horse back toward Los Angeles. He had a good idea of what the Irish colonel had intended to tell El Zorro. He knew that the colonel had learned and gained something incomparable in his interactions with the people of Los Angeles and his encounters with the Fox - his family, new friends and allies, and a sense of his own continuity in struggle - from Ireland, to Spain and at last to California. Here was another man who took his place in the struggle for a new and better world for all - the kind of world that El Zorro not only dreamed of, but fought for.