The Irish Colonel
Corporal Reyes and Sergeant
García were already seated at a table in the tavern by the time the
colonel arrived. Both heaved a sigh of relief when he walked through the
door, but immediately looked concerned when he walked right past them as
if he had not seen them at all. García got up from his seat and followed
the colonel to the bar.
O'Leary," began García in his friendliest of voices. "We've
been waiting for you, just like you asked us to."
O'Leary whirled around.
"Why, if it isn't Sergeant García. I didn't even see you. You must
blend right into the scenery, like a blade of grass."
The sergeant looked at
himself a moment. "Like a blade of grass?" He looked around the
room. It was empty of clients, except for themselves. "Well, perhaps.
We have a spot for you at the table." He gestured toward the table
and to Corporal Reyes.
"Ah, yes, now I
remember. Two bottles for the table, Innkeeper," ordered the colonel
and put down some coins. He made his way over to the table with the
Corporal Reyes stood up and
saluted the colonel. He would only sit down after O'Leary did.
"You have the fine
manners of a genteel spirit, Corporal Reyes," the colonel commented.
"Tell me, does your personality change with a few drinks?"
"Thank you, Colonel,
for inviting us for wine," responded Reyes. "I don't change with
any drinks. I stay myself."
"Corporal Reyes only
gets sleepy with a lot of wine," volunteered García, "but he
"Now, here's the wine,
gentlemen," interrupted the Irishman as the barmaid put two bottles
down on the table. He filled all the mugs to the brim and saw how pleased
the two soldiers were at his generosity. "Let's drink a toast, shall
repeated García. "What would the colonel like to drink a toast
"For starters, to the
pretty maid who brought us the glass," the colonel smiled, winking at
the dark-haired girl who smiled, tossed her head and looked back over her
shoulder at him.
"To the pretty maid who
brought us the glass," repeated García and Reyes.
All three took a swig.
O'Leary continued: "And here's to the handsome soldiers who polish
the brass." He inclined his mug to the soldiers. They all drank a
"And to the Colonel,
who pays in cash," laughed García, lifting his mug to salute the
colonel, for the third time.
"And to the comandante,
who wields the lash," volunteered Reyes in a low voice.
"What kind of a toast
is that, Corporal?" admonished García.
"It just rhymes, that's
all. You know, cash, lash, bash, smash," answered Reyes.
García looked annoyed.
"You'll have to excuse the corporal, Colonel," he said to
O'Leary. "Sometimes he doesn't use the few brains that he has."
"That's all right,
Sergeant," responded the colonel. "It actually helps me get to
the point. I want to ask you, confidentially, of course, what you think of
how things are run here. And how are you treated by the comandante?"
"Well, if you must know
the truth, Colonel, it is good and bad here," said García. Reyes
"What exactly do you
García looked over at Reyes
as if seeking his approval. "Well, when Capitán Monastario first
came here a year ago, he made sure that all the food we ate was good. That
made us happy. Then he made everyone clean up the barracks, go out on
patrol, guard the cuartel twenty-four hours a day, and obey his orders
without question. He said we needed discipline. Once, he even shot a
soldier for challenging his orders. Nobody asks any questions
"That's not unusual.
What happened after that?"
"After that, the
comandante began to use the soldiers to collect the taxes and to arrest
anyone who did not pay the taxes. He arrested the Indians, the peons, the
rancheros, anyone and everyone. Sometimes they were even whipped or
beaten. That was the bad part. The jails were filled, like peas in a
"Like fish in a
barrel," chimed in Reyes.
"Who gave him the
authority to raise the taxes so high?" asked O'Leary.
"I don't know,"
responded García. "Capitán Monastario told me that he has the
authority, as comandante, to raise the taxes in order to build roads, pay
for security, and to keep law and order."
"And do you think that
has been achieved?" O’Leary poured more wine.
"Well, I think so,
Colonel. For example, there are no cattle rustlers here in Los Angeles,
although they plague much of California, even Monterey. Capitán
Monastario found out about the robbers, planned an ambush, caught them all
and hanged them all."
"Was there a
trial?" asked O'Leary.
"Oh, no," answered
both soldiers at once, shaking their heads.
said that outlaws did not need a trial, they only needed justice."
García took a deep drink of wine. "Then there were some murders. The
Capitán caught the murderers. Both of them were Indians. A ranchero said
they had murdered his head vaquero. The Indians said they had the right to
avenge his cruelty. The Capitán said no Indian had any right to kill a
white man. The ranchero did not want both Indians to die. He admitted that
the vaquero had been cruel. But Monastario said it was too late for him to
be sorry. Now it was in the hands of the military and that the justice of
the military was not to permit anyone but the comandante to determine the
punishment for crime."
"Did he hang both
Indians?" asked the Irishman.
"No," said García. "He said he would show mercy. The Indian who killed the vaquero was hanged. The one who helped him was shot."
"How about the roads or
forces the Indians to maintain the roads with their labors. All families
must supply a man to work on such projects twice a year for several weeks.
The roads are kept in good repair, but if the comandante does not like the
work, he will order them to be whipped." García paused. "As for
security, the comandante is the security. If you do what he says, you are
secure. If you do not, you are not secure."
"That is a very astute
observation, Sergeant, " commented O’Leary thoughtfully. "How
does he treat you and the other soldiers?" He re-filled their mugs
again with wine.
García was silent a moment.
He looked over at Reyes and uttered a deep sigh. "The capitán is
always calling me an idiot, or stupid, or a fool. Sometimes, he even kicks
me in the rear if I make a mistake. He tells me I'm incompetent and that
he should get rid of me."
"How about you,
"The comandante has
never said anything to me like he does to the sergeant, Señor Colonel. He
calls me an idiot. I think that he ignores me most of the time now. But,
some times he calls all of us soldiers 'stupid idiots.'"
of the time, Corporal,"
"I don’t suppose that
you would be willing to die for Monastario, would you?" asked the
colonel slyly. "I mean, is your affection for him so high, that you
would be glad to die for him?"
Reyes shook his head.
"I don’t think so." He looked at García.
"We will die for the
Capitán, if he orders us to die, Colonel," said García. "But I
don’t think that anybody wants
to die for him."
"You know, lads, there
was a time, once upon a time, back during the war, when we would have died
for him. And he would have died for us, willingly, even with enthusiasm.
Looks like things have changed." The Irishman removed his brown hat.
"Let us remember old loyalties and the noble dead." He took a
Everyone at the table was
silent a moment. Reyes found himself staring at the colonel’s red hair.
"Uh, Colonel, what did the capitán used to be like? I mean, during
O’Leary smiled sadly.
"Young. We were all so young back then. He was one of the most
audacious officers in the regiment. He would be the first to charge out,
the first to bring back prisoners, the first to find you a horse if yours
had been shot out from underneath you. He was the first to leap to the
defense of his comrades in combat. He was the best swordsman in the
"Really? The comandante
used to do those things?" asked Reyes. He was almost awed by the
thought. "He's really different now, except he still is the best
swordsman. Well, almost the best swordsman. Zorro is the best
"The comandante is
always on the move, Colonel," said García. "Sometimes, he even
hunts for Zorro from midnight to dawn. He rides all over Los Angeles
almost every day. He knows all the land, the valleys, the arroyos, the
hidden springs. He is a very smart man, but he has many enemies. As a
matter of fact, I think almost everyone is his enemy."
"Why do you think that
he has so many enemies?" asked O’Leary.
The big sergeant shook his
head. "I don’t think people like to be treated badly. The capitán
gives orders to everyone, even to civilians. He doesn’t seem to care
about anyone. He doesn’t care if he hurts someone’s feelings. He
doesn’t want anyone to know something better than he does or to question
him. He gets angry if you don’t understand what he means. Sometimes he
uses words I don’t understand and then gets mad because I don’t
The Irishman patted the
Sergeant’s arm. "I think that calls for a few more rounds," he
said. "You lads have been very honest with me and I salute you."
García smiled. "Thank
you, Colonel O’Leary. You are very generous and you have a lot of
patience with everyone, I can see that. I hope you won’t mind if I say
that I would very much like to have you as a comandante." Reyes
nodded in agreement.
"With such fine words,
you’ve just earned yourself another bottle of wine, García,"
smiled the Irishman and gestured the barmaid over. "Now, enough of
this serious business. I think there are a few old songs we could share.
Do you have any favorites?"
García beamed. "I know
a lot of songs," he smiled. He put down his mug a moment, wiped his
mouth with his sleeve and began to sing.
"The Army, The Army
The noble Spanish army
It couldn't get along without the Sergeants…."
O’Leary laughed and found himself marveling at the fine quality of the man’s voice. As long as he kept the mugs filled, the singing went on without end. Finally, the corporal fell asleep at the table.