The Irish Colonel
"No, I don’t like that either. It’s all
the wrong color. No. The cut of the jacket is bad. Christ Jesus, can’t
they make decent clothing now days? Let’s look at the shirts. They’ve
got to be better."
Diego shook his head. The woman with gray hair
waiting on them in the store looked exasperated. There was no satisfying
Paddy O’Leary. He must have tried on a half a dozen frock coats, looked
at the various neckties, and poured over everything in detail. The only
thing he liked was a green sash. Diego could only suggest that he consider
wearing an outfit like his own, that of a ranchero. Maybe tomorrow, the
Irishman had said. Finally, Diego came up with a suggestion."Listen,
Paddy. Why don’t you wear your army blouse, a black frock coat and keep
the breeches and boots. As you feel more comfortable, then you can start
wearing other civilian attire. You can make a transition."
"I know I’m a royal pain in the rear for
you, Diego, but this transition thing is pure torture for me. The blouse
is just fine, but it just doesn’t look right with a frock coat, but
maybe it would be better than nothing. Why can’t they carry a nice dark
green frock? Now, I like your idea about the breeches and boots. Well,
I’ll put it on tomorrow. I know Monastario is going to bait me, but what
the devil. Let him," O’Leary complained. "I’m ready to
re-enlist. I’d even go back as a major. Hell, I’d go back as a
captain. It’d be a devil of a demotion, though, but at least I could
bear it. I like your brown hat, though. I’ll get one for meself."
Diego could only roll his eyes when the
colonel’s back was turned. A sash and a hat. Well, it was a beginning.
Maybe O’Leary was right: he needed to re-enlist.
"I’ve got to meet an acquaintance here in
town, Paddy," Diego said as they walked out of the general store.
"Perhaps we can meet this evening at the inn."
"I’ll be in better humor by then,"
mused O’Leary. "I have a little mission of my own to tend to at the
Diego could only imagine what the Irishman was up
to. "Perhaps Padre Felipe could help out with how you look in
civilian clothes, Paddy. He’s honest."
The Irishman only smiled.
Paddy O’Leary entered the church. It was cool and quiet and he wanted to be alone a while and think out his short-term future. He removed his hat and gazed at the altar. There was only one other person in the church and he looked closely to see whom it might be. A young lady by the appearance of it, a few pews back from the front. He knelt, crossed himself and moved up to within hearing distance and with a good view of her.
He got on his knees and was quiet a spell before he started mumbling and made himself annoying to anyone who might be seeking some meditation. Finally, the young lady turned around and looked at him. He pretended not to see her, closed his eyes, and went on in a similar vein until she got up and came over to him, making her way into the pew.
"Señor," she whispered, sitting close
to him. "Could you please pray to yourself? I can hear you three rows
He opened his eyes and looked startled.
"Heaven bless me," he said, as if seeing an apparition.
"The Lord has sent an angel to me, an answer to me prayers."
The young lady looked taken aback. "I am not
an angel, Señor." She paused in consternation. "Are you all
The colonel blinked several times as if coming out of a trance. "Oh, ah." He blinked again. His eyes came into focus. "Oh, begging your pardon, young Señorita, " he stammered. "I was so deep into prayer that I mistook you for…how silly of me. Grant a poor soldier of Ireland a boon."
"A boon?" she repeated. "I don’t
"Just forgiveness," he smiled.
The young lady looked a little exasperated.
"Very well," she answered, "Granted." With that, she
rose and headed down the isle to leave the church.
O’Leary hastened out after her. When she reached
the doors, she turned around and looked behind her. "Señor, are you
"Who me? No, not at all. It’s just that
I’m all prayed out for today. I’ve made a mess of my prayers and ought
to try again tomorrow."
"Do you go to church everyday?" she
asked as if interested.
"I try, young miss, I try," O’Leary
replied in a voice full of sincerity. "I’ve got more sins to atone
for than a dog has hairs."
The young lady smiled at that. "I find that
hard to believe." She looked him over more carefully. "Have you
just recently arrived, Señor?" she asked. "I don’t believe I
know you. Your uniform is different. I mean, it’s a different
"Colonel Patrick James O’Leary, Royal Irish
Regiment, at your service," he responded somewhat dramatically,
making a sweeping bow. "I trust I do you no harm in speaking with
you. Have you no chaperon, no dueña?"
The young woman blushed. "My mother is meeting me here very soon," she began.
"Well, I won’t speak another word to you
until she arrives. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that we’ve not been
"You’re very kind," she smiled and
lowered her eyes modestly.
He walked away with his hands clasped behind his
back, but did not stray too far. She was a nice looking young lady, he
thought, about eighteen or twenty years of age, brown hair and fair of
figure. She wore a cross around her neck and was well spoken, even
educated, but also a little shy. He was impressed that she wore a green
dress, just the color he liked. His favorite color as a matter of fact. Come
on, little mother, he thought, I
hate waiting. He heard a voice just inside the church door, and
guessed it to be the priest. He retraced his steps and stepped back inside
the doors. There, he saw a white-haired padre in brown Franciscan robes
with a look of timeless serenity on his face.
The padre looked up and saw a stranger. He smiled,
but before he could speak, the man clasped his hands with some urgency.
"Padre, I beg your forgiveness, but there’s an urgent matter at
"What is it, my son?" the padre looked concerned.
The military officer almost pulled the priest out
through the church doors. When the good padre stepped out onto the stone
walk, he saw one of his young parishioners there. There was no one else.
"Padre, this young lady has no chaperon and,
being I was the only person here, I thought it best that you be here so no
one would think that my saying ‘Good day’ to her might be construed as
The padre smiled. "Good morning to you, Señorita
Elena. It seems you have a military escort as well as a spiritual
The young woman smiled. "Good day, Father
Felipe. The Señor Colonel seems to think I need a chaperone, but I told
him that Mother is coming for me right away. It was very kind of him to
show such concern."
"Colonel, welcome to Los Angeles,"
smiled the padre turning to O’Leary. "I am Padre Felipe. I am
always glad to welcome a gentleman into our fold. I don’t think,
however, that exchanging a few pleasantries with Señorita Elena could
ever be misconstrued as a ‘sin.’ There are far worse sins than
"Thank Heaven, to that, then," replied
the Irishman. "Colonel Count Patrick James O’Leary at your service,
Holy Father. It was such a relief being in church again after such a long
voyage." He paused. "This seems like such a fine town. Why,
already I’ve met with some very grand gentlemen who’ve made me feel
right at home."
"That’s good news, Colonel O’Leary. There
are many fine families here in our community," the padre responded.
"And just whom have you met, Colonel
O'Leary?" asked the Señorita Elena with a touch of doubt in her
voice. She wanted to see if the ‘gentlemen’ were indeed ‘grand.’
"Why, Don Alejandro de la Vega and his son,
Diego. Diego and I went shopping at the general store this morning and
he’s a fine judge of the latest fashion," O’Leary remarked
He could see that the priest and the young lady
were both impressed by his new social acquaintances. "Do you know
them well, by any chance?" he asked her.
"Oh, yes," she replied. "The De la
Vegas are very close to my family. They are our neighbors and one of the
most important families in all of Los Angeles."
"As is Señorita Elena's. Her father, Don
Ignacio, is also an important ranchero. I am sure you will meet him,"
said Padre Felipe. "And here comes Señora Torres in her
"Now, Holy Father," whispered O’Leary
in a confidential tone, just loud enough to be overheard by the young
lady, "don’t say anything about my royal blood. I just want to be
introduced as plain Colonel O’Leary of the Irish Regiment. None of my
other titles are important. It might tend to create distance between us
and I left all that behind me in Spain. It’s a new world, it is, and
that’s why I’m here."
"Very well, Colonel," the priest replied. "Ah, good day, Señora Torres. What a beautiful day it is."