The Irish Colonel
The room wasn’t too bad, but on the other hand,
it was not the best he had stayed in. But he didn’t have much to bring
Patrick O’Leary went through the few items in
his chest. It was an iron strapped wooden box that carried odds and ins: A
few changes of uniform, drawers, a nightshirt, an extra pair of boots,
some decorations for special occasions, a razor, some musk oil for other
special occasions, a comb, a brush and a pick for his teeth. There were a
few books, daggers and, carefully wrapped, some locks of hair from fond
memories. And a few war souvenirs. In a leather pouch were official papers
on parchment and some personal letters. Wrapped in a scrap of leather was
another memento, something he had not looked at in a long time, but which
was forever in his subconscious. For now, the man ignored it and decided
that a change of shirt would do in the warm weather. Maybe
I should have gone to the north, to Monterey or San Francisco, he
thought. It’s probably cooler there. Now, after a wash, we’re all set for
some dinner and perhaps there would be some evening entertainment as well.
It was later that evening when he sat at a table
near the great fireplace, that O’Leary contemplated his surroundings. He
had a good feeling about the inn. The barmaids were pretty and friendly.
They seemed quite taken by his astonishing red hair and breezy
friendliness. And he never failed to give them a good tip. Whenever all
the bills got paid, though, they seemed to be a little short at the final
counting at the end of the night.
O’Leary had just put in an order for dinner when
he saw Capitán Monastario enter the inn. He called a barmaid over.
"See that officer over there, darlin’? Why don’t you tell him
that he’s invited to share the table of a grand gentleman." The
girl looked doubtful, but took his coin. He saw her approach the officer
who had just hung up his hat. The man inclined his head as he listened to
Enrique Monastario looked up to see the Irish
colonel raise his mug to him and nod him over. Monastario was not used to
being invited to anyone’s table for dinner and his initial reaction was
wary. However, he decided to accept in order to learn more about the
colonel whom he only vaguely remembered. Many Irishmen had served in the
regiments and not a few had the fiery red hair of O’Leary. Besides, it
had been much too long since he had the chance to talk to anyone about the
war and the battles that had been so much a part of his life before coming
to the Américas. And the colonel’s status, even a retired colonel, was
certainly acceptable for social interaction.
"Ah, Capitán, how fortunate it is, that you
have a little time for dinner this evening," said O’Leary, standing
up as Monastario arrived at his table.
Monastario bowed politely. "It is an honor,
Colonel. Thank you for your invitation."
"What will you have, my lad?" he asked,
sitting down, as the barmaid stood waiting to take the order. "Oh,
don’t pay me no mind," he added seeing an odd expression on
Monastario’s face that he took for unease. "I won’t stand on rank
if you won’t. We’re just two veterans enjoying the evening." As
Monastario sat down, O’Leary leaned over and said to him in a
confidential tone. "Listen to me, Monastario. We share something that
these civilians never can. We are the elite of Spain, the fighters, and
the heroes, with a record that these people can never appreciate. That
makes us special." He poured his guest a mug of wine from the bottle
that sat there. "So, you see why there’s the chains of history that
draw us together, one for the other, for better or for worse."
Monastario looked up at the girl. "The
usual." He watched her leave and turned back to the Irishman. "I
agree with your sentiments, Colonel O’Leary. These people will always be
O’Leary contemplated the officer’s comment a
moment. There was so much said in so few words. He wondered why the
captain was so distant and angry. Here was a man isolated from the
community he served. Not the same
fellow I once knew. The captain would bear some watching and perhaps
some investigation as well.
The evening passed with talk of the campaigns and
the colonel moderated his wine in-take, noting that the captain was very
reserved in his. Monastario seemed to relax and enjoy himself. They talked
about some of the commanders they knew in common and the battles. The
captain's opinions were measured, though, as if not fully trusting the
colonel’s appraisals that were, in actuality, fairly close to his own.
O’Leary grew a little tired of the slow pace of
the evening and ordered another bottle of wine that he ended up drinking
mostly himself. "You know, Enrique," he said familiarly, at
last, and with a slight slur in his voice, "there is but one thing
that has always stuck in my craw. There is nothing worse in all the ranks
of war, than a dastardly traitor."
The sudden statement took Monastario aback.
"What do you mean?" he asked stiffly.
"Oh, not you, lad. No, no, don’t
misunderstand me," the colonel said, laying a hand on the other’s
forearm. "I mean, the traitor that comes from within our ranks; the
one, who at the height of battle becomes a turncoat, an opportunist, a
traitor, to his brothers in battle." He tossed down a glass and
poured himself another. "Bloody bastard, spawn of the devil. A great
enemy of Spain and to all the men of the regiment."
Monastario looked interested. "I don’t
believe I remember the incident, Colonel," he remarked raising his
mug and contemplating the contents before sipping some more.
"He fled here after the war," O’Leary
continued and began to brood. "I traced him to the Vice-Royalty of
Peru, but he seems to have vanished."
"An Englishman, perhaps? I remember a few who
served with Wellington who joined us at…."
"No, my friend. Not a bloody Englishman at
all. And not a bloody Frenchman either. Just a traitorous Spaniard."
"There were plenty of those,"
Monastario’s voice suddenly became bitter and he stared out into space
with some intensity. O’Leary regarded the captain with some apprehension
and then some appreciation.
"I understand, my lad. But it was worse than
that - for me, that is. A bloody Spaniard who was Irish."
Monastario was silent and looked into the green eyes of the Irishman. For once, he thought, I know a man who can understand the intensity of my hatred, and, in particular, to Spaniards close to home, much too close to home. But instead of probing further, he commented, "I know of no such person in Los Angeles, Colonel. And New Spain, indeed the Américas, is a sea where many men have lost their old identities and assumed new ones."
"I didn’t suppose that you would know this
one, for you could never tell by his looks, his name nor his accent that
he was anything other than Spanish," O’Leary said. "But,
let’s drop this subject matter. It’s making me melancholy and the
worse thing is for melancholy to come between me and a bottle of the good
stuff. Let’s order another round."
The colonel looked about him. The inn had filled
up rather quickly and the barmaids were busy waiting on tables. "The
devil take it. I’ll be dry by the time they get to the table. I’ll get
a bottle myself." With that he lurched to his feet and made his way
to the bar.
Enrique Monastario watched him go. He was actually enjoying the evening. The colonel represented some fond memories for him when he was in the whirlwind of battle and glory. Life was simpler in those days. As for now, he was, on the one hand, updating his file on the colonel in his well-ordered mind and, finding a much-needed social outlet on the other. The colonel was right about one thing, though. Regardless of their present circumstances, they were men linked by their past – for better or for worse.