The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY ONE

 

Chapter 5

 

Don Diego de la Vega and his manservant, the mute Bernardo, headed toward the tavern. Life could be monotonous at times out at the De la Vega hacienda and there was much to do in town. Diego found the inn a congenial place where he could run into friends and make new acquaintances. But this was true of just about anyone else as well.

The tavern was the center of social activity and much intelligence could be gleaned just at a single sitting over a glass of wine and a chat with a local friend or even a stranger. It was important to keep abreast of all developments in town, especially under the iron rule of CapitŠn Monastario, where injustice could occur at a momentís notice to anyone who fell afoul of the comandante.

Diego looked around for an empty seat as Bernardo headed toward the bar. He was quick to note the appearance of a newcomer. He saw a man with impossibly red hair in a green military jacket, white breeches and black boots make his way to the bar. He managed to bump into a large number of people on his way across the room. As the man reached the bar, he put a hand on Bernardoís shoulder and made a comment with a smile.

Bernardo reacted with a smile of his own, pointed to his ears and mouth and shook his head. The officer did a double take as Diego headed over, then nodded in understanding.

"Your pardon, SeŮor. This is my manservant, Bernardo. He neither hears nor speaks."

"Colonel OíLeary at your service. War related disability?"

"No, he has been mute since childhood. Your pardon, Colonel OíLeary, my name is Diego de la Vega."

"The honor is all mine, SeŮor de la Vega. I can tell that you are a fine gentleman," said the officer as he gestured the barmaid over and looked Diego up and down. 

"Because of my clothing, SeŮor?" asked Diego in an amused tone. 

"Not at all," responded the colonel. "Itís because you bothered to come over and support the man who works for you. Mutual loyalty seems like a rare virtue in this day and age." 

Diego was pleased by the answer. "It would seem that you, too, are a fine gentleman, to appreciate the fact that loyalty is a two-way road that both must travel upon." 

"Without loyalty and a strong sense of comradeship, I would be dead, SeŮor. And so would all of us that served in the war," commented the colonel thoughtfully. 

"That is so true," remarked Diego. "But there always seems to be some men who forget that Ė and too quickly, once peace has arrived." 

"And some never believe that peace has arrived," OíLeary grunted. Then he gathered up two bottles from the countertop. "I would be very honored if you would join me at the table, young Don," he said . "The more, the merrier."

"Thank you, Colonel. I think I shall," responded Diego. He was curious to check out this new character in town. He followed the officer through the crowd and then saw Enrique Monastario watching the two of them from a table near the fireplace. To his surprise, OíLeary went right up to the table where the comandante was seated and put down the bottles. Diego immediately appreciated OíLearyís last comment about war. 

"Good evening, CapitŠn," said Diego politely as OíLeary offered him a seat at the table. 

Monastario had risen politely and bowed. "De la Vega." There was no warmth in his voice. 

"Seems like you two know each other already," observed the Irishman. "Good. Now we can get down to the business at hand." The other two men sat down. 

"And what business would that be?" asked Monastario. 

"Why, any business you choose," teased OíLeary. "Now Ďbusinessí can be serious or it can be for the light of heart. Now, the capitŠn and I have discussed some serious business up until now, but I see no further need to dwell on the past, that is, for the present. It would seem that there are other very pleasant topics to discuss, donít you agree?" 

"What did the colonel have in mind?" asked Diego, glancing at Monastario who watched the wine being poured. The captain lifted a hand indicating he only wanted a small amount. 

OíLeary poured wine into everyoneís mug and filled them all to the brim and thought a moment. "For starters, letís drop the formality bit, shall we? Just call me Paddy. Outside the bar, we can don our costumes and play our parts, but for now, letís just be ourselves." 

"What do you say to that, CapitŠn? Is it possible to be on a first name basis with the Comandante of Los Angeles?" asked Diego with a bemused smile. 

"The comandante remains what he is whether on or off duty Ė to civilians," replied Monastario casually, but he was in deadly earnest. "However, the colonel may indulge himself, if he wishes."

"The wine here is quite good, just as you said it would be," OíLeary commented to Monastario, ignoring their exchange, "but I still long for some good Dublin stout. They have mild beers in Spain, but nothing matches Ireland."

"Why have you not returned to Ireland, then?" the captain asked in a challenging sort of way, but smiled pleasantly nonetheless. 

"This head would not have a neck under it for long, my dear fellow," the Irishman explained. "The English are not too forgiving to patriots who take up arms against them. If you thought the French were savage, you have never seen the likes of English savagery against an occupied people resisting them or their rule." 

Diego gave a visible shudder. "Well, Paddy, I hope that you will find our California wines good enough to help make up for the lack of stout. Perhaps you could start an importing business to introduce us to a fine drink." 

"Ah, either the competition wouldnít allow it or Iíd drink it all before it got to market," laughed OíLeary. "I know myself too well and donít have a head for business Ė all this profit and bills rubbish. Iíve always been a military man and always will be, I suppose. As they say, Enrique, you can take a man out of the military, but you canít take the military out of the man." 

"That can be a good thing," commented Monastario. "However, now that you are retired, at least for the present, you will have to accommodate yourself to civilian life. That will not be easy for you." 

O'Leary smiled and put his arm around Monastarioís shoulder, much to that officerís discomfort. "Iím glad you understand me so, well, Enrique. You know, Diego, Iíve had a fine reception in this town today, despite minor administrative annoyances. Why, the capitŠn himself recommended the wines. Itís heart-warming to find a fellow war hero, like Monastario here, to relate to."

When Diego raised an eyebrow at that comment, Monastario flicked his eyes over De la Vega and commented, "Don Diego is a poet and scholar. He knows nothing about the art of war and its glories." He smirked.

"You know, Enrique," said the colonel, looking into the intense blue eyes, "there are men like ourselves who contribute to the glory of Spain on the battlefield. But there are also other men who contribute to the glory of Spain by the brilliance of their literary talents, poetry and art. As cultured men ourselves, we need to appreciate both because the majority of people belong in neither category. They exist either to appreciate both or to live in ignorance of both." 

"Colonel OíLeary," remarked Diego, "you neglected to mention the fact that you yourself are a philosopher, in addition to being a soldier. As such, you get along well with soldiers and scholars."

"Ah," responded OíLeary, dropping his arm from around the captain and taking up his mug again, "life without both is barren."

Diego looked at Monastario, "I donít think the comandante will agree Ė on the cultural side, that is."

Enrique Monastario gave as good as he got. "Don Diego is right on that account. But you, De la Vega, are only half of the colonelís equation as well. You do not appreciate the military side." 

OíLeary smiled. "Ho, ho. You two lads are really opposite sides of the same Spanish coin, aren't you now?"

For once De la Vega and Monastario had to agree. "But there are some things that we will never see eye to eye on," the captain commented. 

"Touchť," replied Diego.

 

 

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Don Alejandro de la Vega found that his son and manservant had left for town in the evening and he contemplated an evening home alone. The thought did not lay well with him in the least and he made the decision to travel into town himself. He might even find Diego at the tavern with some of the rancheros. The eveningís entertainment might prove interesting as well. It was said that a new dancer had arrived in town. 

As Don Alejandro entered the tavern he beheld a sight that astonished him. He saw, to his amazement, that his son, Diego, was seated at the same table with CapitŠn Monastario enjoying a drink. At the same table was a stranger in military garb with astonishing red hair. He did a double take. The table was littered with bottles and the aftermath of a meal. Alejandro decided that he would find out what was going on later. He had no intention of interacting with the likes of CapitŠn Monastario, a man he considered a major enemy. 

Diego saw his father and only gave him a look of recognition. OíLeary noticed everything, including the donís expensive clothing. He saw the older man pocket his change at the bar and begin to speak to some of its patrons. He smiled to himself. A crowded tavern was a boon for more reasons than one. 

"Whereís the entertainment?" OíLeary queried, "or is the frontier bereft of music?" 

Diego decided tease the colonel. "If there is none tonight, perhaps we could make our own."

Monastario gave Diego an irritated look, knowing how little it took to provoke the Irishman into song. "A new dancer arrived yesterday. Perhaps she will make an appearance tonight." 

"A comely lass, is she?" asked the colonel. "The capitŠnís rules mean heís the first to see any visitors, of course, especially the pretty ones." He gave the officer a sly smile. 

"Come, CapitŠn, tell us what this dancer looks like," Diego pressed. He wanted to see if Monastario would bend a little. 

"Sheís dark," the officer said slowly and precisely, "like a Moor - small, dark hair, and black eyes. Barely speaks above a whisper. Wonít look you in the eye. Lower class." 

"Ah, Monastario," sighed the colonel. "Thatís not a very inspiring description. You know what the problem is? He needs to know some Irish girls. That would make you sit up and take notice, lad, in more ways than one." 

"Why donít you describe an Irish girl, Colonel," asked Diego with a grin. "I donít believe Iíve seen one myself." 

"Ah," began OíLeary. His eyes shone and took on a far-away look. "Flowing red, yellow, auburn or dark hair, down to the waist, soft as down, smelling like spring flowers and summer rains. Skin as soft as velvet, fair and often freckled. Their eyes Ė blue, green, gray, brown or black Ė dancing, thoughtful, or piercing. Rosy cheeks and fiery lips spouting poetry or brimstone or maybe just soft sighs. Then thereís the comely ankles, hips and bosom, which is all a matter of personal preference on the details." He smiled and emptied the last of the bottle into Diegoís mug. 

"Iíll get another bottle," Diego volunteered, but OíLeary wouldnít hear of it. "Thatís all right, lad. Iíve been sitting here too long as it is and the quality needs to improve." 

Diego watched as the colonel made his way back through the crowd, bumping into the clients and exchanging some small talk on his way to the bar. He turned back toward the capitŠn. "Heís quite a personality, Comandante. You two must go back a long way. When did he arrive in town?" 

Monastario watched the colonel through the haze of cigar smoke. "Today on the coach," he answered. He frowned as if observing something for the first time.

Diego turned to see what Monastario was watching and saw OíLeary reach the bar. The manís back was to him and he saw that he had struck up a conversation with another man he thought he recognized. When the colonel moved to get a bottle, he saw that the man was his father. Don Alejandro was smiling and turned back toward the bar after OíLeary left. He reached into his pocket and seemed unable to find what he was looking for. He looked puzzled and shook his head. He began speaking to the innkeeper and then to a neighbor. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Upon OíLearyís return, Monastario stood up. "Iím afraid that I have some duties to attend to, Colonel. Thank you for your hospitality this evening. It has been enjoyable and enlightening." 

"Donít tell me you are leaving so soon," pouted the Irishman. "And Iíve just brought a new round." 

"There is always another evening," the captain pointed out. 

"Then I take it you will join me again. I want you here when the dancer makes her appearance," OíLeary insisted. "I want to see if your description of her bears out in the flesh." He smiled and winked. 

"You may see me sooner than that. I believe you requested a Ďdebriefing.í Meet me at my office, say late tomorrow afternoon, then we can have another exchange. Until that time, Colonel." Monastario bowed and saluted the colonel. He nodded to Diego and left.

"You really amaze me, Colonel," said Diego in a voice full of wonder. "I believe that this is the longest time that the comandante ever socialized with anyone here at the tavern. He usually sits alone." 

"The lad needs working on," commented the Irishman, sitting down at the table. "Heís a man in a lot of pain." 

Diego looked startled. He only considered Monastario a brutal strongman, albeit one with a strange sense of humor at times. "I donít think I know what you mean," he replied cautiously. 

"Ah, well, itís only obvious to me, I suppose, " the colonel mused. "I take it that he doesnít have too many friends. How long has he been here?" 

"Unfortunately for Los Angeles, he has been here a year. I think that all he has are enemies. You are the closest thing to a friend he has ever had." 

"Now, thatís sad. It really is," the officer said. "You hate to see what war can do to men, especially when war became so much a part of their lives that it is all that they knowÖÖÖÖ.and all that they have left." 

"But youíre not that way, Paddy. You didnít let all the wars twist you the way Monastario is. You have a love for many things Ė the kind of things that make us human and keep us human."

The red-haired man listened to Diego thoughtfully and pushed his own mug away to the center of the table. "Iím no saint, Diego, my friend. Iíve seen and done all sorts of horrors to other men myself. Iím still a sinner, but I try not to let it rule my life. There is a rainbow of colors in the world - itís not all black and white, doom or die." He paused. "Now, I donít know too much about Monastario in the here and now, but I can see that heís never left the war behind. Why donít you tell me what the lay of the land is. I prefer to be well-informed rather than walking blind into a new situation." 

Diego sighed. There was so much that could be said. "Let me start with when I arrived a few months ago," he began.

 

 

Chapter Six
Chapter One
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