The Irish Colonel

 

by

Eugene Craig

 

 

Day Two

 

Chapter 7

 

"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 church." 

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.

 

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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 away."

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 right?"

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 understand." 

"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 following me?" 

"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 color."

"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 proper." 

"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 hand." 

"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 a sin."

The padre smiled. "Good morning to you, Señorita Elena. It seems you have a military escort as well as a spiritual one." 

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 that."

"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 casually. 

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 carriage." 

"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."

 

 

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