The Irish Colonel
"Well, Bernardo, what do you think of the
Irish colonel?" Diego asked his manservant upon leaving the tavern
late that night. "I saw that he bought you a few drinks."
Bernardo nodded at the thought of the drinks, but
he had an important observation that he wished to convey. But he waited
until they climbed into the carriage. He did not want to be observed by
anyone. After he sat down in the carriage seat, he began to gesture –
first to himself and then to his eyes.
"All right, you saw him……do what?"
Bernardo did a reenactment of the colonel bumping
into people, chatting with them, and moving on, and repeating this action
a few times. Finally, he gestured with a visual description of a man that
Diego knew all too well.
"Are you sure of what you are saying,
Bernardo? You are telling me that all the men that Paddy O’Leary
‘accidentally’ bumped into, were men he picked the pockets of,
including my father?"
Bernardo smiled sadly and shook his head affirmatively. He held up his hands to indicate the number of times he saw the action take place.
"Ten or twelve times? Just tonight? Are you serious? The colonel must be quite a professional, Bernardo," Diego shook his head just thinking about it. "You know, I really like that Irishman. There’s a real human heart that beats in his breast, despite his bad habits. If he were rich, what he wouldn’t do for people."
Bernardo nodded, but held up his hand. He
indicated hands and pockets full of money – and then hands passing it
"Yes, yes, I know what you mean. He steals,
but then he gives it all away – one way or another. He makes sure he has
enough to pay his bills and then he gives food and drinks away to everyone
- an interesting approach to wealth redistribution." Diego smiled.
"I don’t think we’ll tell my father about it, yet, though. I’d
really like him to meet Colonel O’Leary and I’d hate for him to be
constantly checking his pockets for coins with the colonel standing
Bernardo nodded and laughed in his own way with an
open mouth. He flicked the reins on the horses as he turned the carriage
on the road out of town. When they got far enough out of town, Diego took
over the reins to speed the trip up. When they got back to the hacienda,
Diego discovered that his father had not yet returned. He decided to relax
in the sala for a while before turning in. He kept thinking about what
O’Leary had told him about Monastario and the information they had
Bernardo came back in the room. He gestured to
Diego who looked up. "Something else, Bernardo?"
The man nodded. He gestured as if describing
someone with a mustache and beard. Then pointed to Diego and indicated
taking a drink.
"All right. Monastario at the table. Taking a
drink with him. Oh, that. You know, Bernardo, I had no idea that Paddy was
going to sit me down at a table with the comandante – not in my wildest
imagination. I know what you are thinking; my father is going to be asking
the same question. But you know, Bernardo, Colonel O’Leary told me some
things about Monastario that I would have never believed possible – that
he wasn’t always the way he is now - cruel, manipulating, arrogant.
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I must tell you more about it in the
morning. It’s something I’d like to think about myself."
Bernardo gestured with his hands held up in
despair and an _expression of bewilderment.
"I know. But how do we keep dealing with the problem that we have now – the problem that Monastario is what he is now, today, in the present – a tyrant? Perhaps the colonel has a few ideas that you and I – and Zorro – have not yet thought of yet. Or maybe it’s too late for even that. If you think of anything, be sure to let me know, too." Diego heaved a big sigh. "As for the present, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. I think I’ll turn in. That Irishman has a way of getting me to drink more than what I intend to – and what is good for me. And I always want this head clear for instant action." He paused a moment. "Come to think of it, Monastario is the same way. He never wants to be caught off his guard, and he’ll leave the table so that no one can make him tipsy." He shook his head. "Good night, Bernardo. There is much to sleep on tonight."
Don Alejandro de la Vega found himself at a table
chatting with one of the most formidable conversationalists he had ever
met in a long time. At first he was very wary, observing that the man had
had Capitán Monastario at his table as a guest. But then, he had also had
his own son, Diego, at the table as well, and now he himself sat at that
same table. The colonel only bought the finest wine in the establishment
and drank it slowly with much cultivation, savoring its fruity taste and
comparing it very favorably to the wines of Europe. That was something
that Alejandro could appreciate since he himself was a connoisseur of
wines, including the sparkling variety, champagne.
"As I understand it, Colonel O’Leary, you
spent some time in Malaga. I understand that even the Americanos have been
shareholders in the largest vineyards there?"
"Aye, there was a family from New England, a
wilderness area called Maine, that were part owners in some lands. Last
name was Collins."
Alejandro was amused. "You Irish seem to be
everywhere, Colonel. But where would the world be without you, especially
Spain? The fidelity of the Irish to the cause of Spain is almost
"Of course, all those pretty Spanish girls
help keep us there," the colonel said with a smile and then leaned
over towards the white-bearded don. "Some would even say they’re
more important than the Pope in deciding such matters." He laughed.
Alejandro had to laugh, too, in spite of himself.
"Just watch what you say outside the tavern, Colonel. They say that
the padre has ears everywhere. You may find yourself in confession for
"Confessing my sins would keep the good padre
busy for years. Since that is the case, I am, therefore, more inclined not
burden him unduly and to let others share the booth ahead of me."
Alejandro grinned and shook his head. The man’s
wit was a steady flow, like a refreshing river. "I’m glad you had
the chance to meet my son, Diego. I hope you’ll pardon me if I did not
come over to the table when I came in. I found the other company
"Oh, so he’s your son, is he? That’s where he gets his good taste from," responded the colonel. "I asked him to meet me in town in the morning. It’s about a new wardrobe. I just can’t bear the thought of wearing civilian garb again, but the comandante keeps reminding me that I’m retired. Damnation, I’m not that much older than he is."
"Diego or Monastario?" joked Alejandro.
"Now, I’m not too inclined to answer that
because, like a sword, it has a double edge," replied O’Leary in
the same light-hearted spirit. "Both are young men, but one with the
burden of the Ages on his shoulders and the other, a relative
"Just how well do you know Monastario?"
asked Alejandro, "let alone my son? Can you judge both men in a
single sitting so well?"
"Your point is well taken. But you need to
know this - I knew Monastario back in Spain – a long time ago. We were
in the same theatres of operation on many fronts and in many battles. We
were younger then, with barely any beard and our hearts still full of
ideals and decency. Both of us served with the partisans and both of us
witnessed and participated in all the horror that was that war. Actually,
the word ‘horror’ is inadequate to describe. It was endless
hell." The colonel looked at his drink and studied the liquor a
while. "That is why I call your son a ‘relative innocent.’ I
don’t mean any disrespect at all. I have a high regard for him because
he is intelligent and cultured."
"I understand, " Alejandro said in a
quiet voice, but the colonel continued as if he had heard nothing.
"But Monastario had high stakes in the war
because of the worst betrayal that could ever befall a proud young man
like himself – and none of it his doing." The colonel paused and
shook his head rather sadly. "It will surprise you to hear me
describe him as a victim of all the worst aspects of the French invasion,
occupation, and war."
"A victim? Monastario?" Alejandro exclaimed.
"But instead of learning to reject the worst
aspects of that horror, he embraced it. He learned that cruelty was a most
effective tool and that, if you did not grab what you could for yourself,
others would do it instead. What did this mean to a man, especially to an
aristocrat, who had lost everything – and who longed to reclaim it and
the glory that it once represented?"
"Colonel, I feel like I’m swimming in
circles. What exactly happened to Monastario that’s made him the tyrant
he is today?"
"The bottle’s empty again," O’Leary remarked. "Why don’t we continue this
conversation tomorrow? Don’t misunderstand me.
I’m not excusing his behavior or the choices he’s made. I, myself, am
trying to see how the young man I once knew in the regiment has become
what he is today. Believe me when I tell you, though, there still is a
little bit of the original man there. It’s just that it’s so submerged
in darkness, I….well, good night, my friend. I’m very sorry that I
don’t even have the mind to sing ‘The Parting Glass’ with you."
"You know, Colonel, I still believe that,
despite what you’ve told me, and in spite my own curiosity, my attitude
toward him, my outrage about what he is and what he does, will not change.
He has committed injustices that are, to my mind, unforgivable. If any of
the original man does exist, what has happened to his conscience?"
O’Leary held the older man’s eyes with his own
as he stood up and nodded in understanding. He patted Alejandro on the
shoulder and made his way towards the stairs. The innkeeper accosted him
at the bottom of the stairs and the colonel reached into his pocket and
pulled out several coins. The innkeeper smiled.
Alejandro watched the colonel until he disappeared in the corridor above and rose to leave himself. He, too, would have to sleep on what he had learned and he wondered whether he could believe everything the Irishman had told him. He shrugged, placed a tip on the table and left.