The Irish Colonel

 

by

 

Eugene Craig

 

 

 

DAY TWO

 

Chapter 9

 

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. 

"Oh, Colonel 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 sergeant. 

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 doesn't change." 

"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 we?" 

"A toast," repeated García. "What would the colonel like to drink a toast to?" 

"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 second time. 

"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 nodded. 

"What exactly do you mean, Sergeant?" 

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 anymore."

"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 pod." 

"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. 

"Capitán Monastario 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 'security?' 

"Capitán Monastario 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, Corporal?" 

"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.'" 

"Most of the time, Corporal," sighed García. 

"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 drink himself. 

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 the war." 

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 regiment." 

"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 swordsman." 

"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 understand him." 

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.

 

 

Chapter Ten
Chapter One
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