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The Irish Colonel

 

By Eugene H. Craig

 

 

A retired Irish fighter of the Spanish Army comes to Los Angeles to see his old friend, Monastario.  But people have a way of changing .... and even Paddy, himself holds a mystery that Diego de la Vega feels he must solve.

I am thrilled to be able to include Eugene's works among the other stories that are here.  He is a wonderful writer, with great wit, imagination and an eye for historical detail.

 

 

 

 

 

Day One

 

Chapter 1 – The Arrival

 

The dusty brown coach from San Pedro rolled its way along the bumpy dirt road towards the pueblo of Los Angeles. Inside, three weary passengers half-listened to the non-stop stories of an ex-soldier. Two male travelers, residents of the pueblo, kept their eyes closed in the warmth of the day. The third, a plump, middle-aged merchant’s wife in a black dress and shawl, sighed now and again at the stories and only wished for a quicker end to the journey. Dear God, she prayed, give me a little more strength to endure this braggart's stories of war and death. Only the fourth passenger, a small, slender boy of some nine years of age, seemed endlessly fascinated by the stories. 

A man wearing a lightweight black cape over a green military tunic, concealing its epaulets but not its medals, held the young man spellbound. 

"Now it was his uncle, the great Espoz y Mina, who outfoxed the French time and time again. And what a man he was," the green-eyed traveler enthused. 

The boy interrupted. "But, Señor. What happened to Xavier Mina?" 

"Good question, the lad’s paying attention" the man commented. "It was seven hundred  men of the partisan band against eight thousand of the French devils, Dufour and Suchet, in Navarre. The lads had to scatter to save themselves. At first, Mina escaped, but it was only a few days later that the French nabbed him in Labiano, captured him, my lad. Such a young fellow he was, too. The French wanted to execute him as an example to Spanish youth not to resist them. And what a savage execution Suchet had planned. But the other French general, Berthier, decided to send Mina to prison in France instead of making him a martyr. The French thought that his capture would put an end to the resistance to their occupation, but they had really done the Spaniards a favor." 

"But how could sending him to prison be a favor?" 

"Ah, little did they know that his uncle, the great Espoz y Mina, who took over the command of the resistance, would prove to be a greater adversary. He became the most terrible partisan leader of all. There was not a Frenchman alive who did not cringe at his name." The man paused a moment as if savoring a personal memory. "Now, I remember when we laid an ambush…" 

The woman sitting opposite him turned to the boy. "Now, that’s enough questions for this gentleman," she said. "Look, there, out the window. You can see the pueblo in the distance." 

The boy put his hands on the window and gazed out at the dry landscape and the view of the fields of oak trees that obscured the pueblo of Los Angeles. "Will we be there soon, Mother?" 

"Another half an hour at best," she replied and ruffled his hair. She then looked across at the man in the dark green hat with a white band around it. "I’m sorry, Señor. My son has a very active imagination and may have bad dreams from what you told him about the French." 

The boy began to protest. "I won’t have any bad dreams, Mother." 

The man in the cape sighed. "My apologies, Señora. I do believe that this lad is old enough not to have bad dreams. But if it will make you feel any better, I won’t mention any more stories about their hangings, decapitations, executions, and burnings."

"Señor! Please!"

"My apologies, once again," he said, now in a contrite tone. "I’ll change the subject matter." He retreated into silence. But it was only for a moment. He brightened up at a new thought. "Say, now, did you ever hear about the English pirates along the coasts of New Spain? What devils they were…" 

The boy smiled. His mother rolled her eyes.

 

**********************************************************************

 

The driver pulled his team of mules up opposite the gates of the cuartel of the pueblo of Los Angeles. The coach passengers became animated, straightening their clothing and taking one last look at their traveling companions. Only the man in the cape seemed unmoved by their arrival. He remained composed and calmly watched the activities of his traveling companions. 

The merchant’s wife pulled her shawl around her, then pulled out a cloth bag from in between her son and herself. She pulled his small hat from behind his back and clapped it on his head and dusted off his shoulders. 

The boy stretched his own short legs a little, looking at his small black boots, and noticed the boots of the man opposite him. The man was looking out of the window, but the small boy caught his eye. "Señor, are you an officer or a soldier?" 

The man smiled. "One in the same." When the boy looked confused, he added patiently, "I’m an officer and a soldier." 

The boy smiled in return. "Your uniform is a different color from the soldiers in the cuartel." 

"You are quite observant, my lad. That’s because it’s of the Irish Regiment of the Spanish Army. We’re the fiercest fighters of the King." 

"Oh," the boy seemed impressed. "My name is Pedro Cárdenas. My father owns a store. My mother…." 

"That’s enough, Pedro," said Señora Cárdenas. "Your pardon, Señor, but we must be going." 

"God speed, Señora, Master Pedro. Colonel O’Leary at your service." 

The boy smiled a farewell over his shoulder and took his mother’s hand. Outside the coach he whispered, "Did you see the color of his hair?" 

"The color of the devil," she replied. 

The colonel was the last to leave the coach. He got out on the opposite side of the coach, which faced the plaza, and stretched his arms and legs, emitting a loud groan as he stretched. His sharp eyes took in the bustling life of the plaza with strolling Indians, the central well and shade trees. Men and women walked leisurely and the people seemed well dressed. Even the straw-hatted peons with their grain-filled carts seemed content as they chatted with each other. A few stalls were scattered around the plaza with the merchants offering homemade pottery or foodstuffs to the passersby. 

The colonel continued his survey of the buildings. Opposite the cuartel were merchants’ stores, the livery stable, and, he quickly spotted it, the inn and tavern. Suddenly, the sun seemed rather oppressive and O’Leary opted to get to a shadier spot – the tavern. As he moved off, he heard a loud voice calling for identification papers. He turned back toward the sound, irritated at the interruption. 

Sergeant Demetrio García López, senior soldier at the cuartel, was calling for the passengers to turn over their identity papers for inspection and to prepare for a luggage check. "All passengers present papers," he proclaimed. 

O’Leary rounded the end of the coach and beheld the figure of the sergeant. Before him stood a huge, portly man, with the largest stomach O’Leary had ever seen. Towering over all the passengers, he would have made an intimidating figure except for one thing: his eyes. The sergeant’s eyes were friendly, a man who could be reasoned with, maybe even a man with a sense of humor. 

The sergeant read out all the names on the list of passengers that he got from the driver, identifying each name with the individual in the small group. The very last name he came to was Patricio Diego O’Leary. 

The man in the cape sighed and said in a corrective tone, but in Irish Gaelic – "Padraig Seamus O’Laeghaire."

"I beg your pardon, Señor?" Garcia asked, perking up at the strange name. "What kind of a name is that?" 

The man in the cape looked a little indignant and replied with a raised eyebrow, "That’s Colonel Patrick James O’Leary to you, soldier." 

"A colonel? Oh, yes, of course, Señor!" Garcia was quick to salute the man. The sergeant paused a moment and thought. "Your pardon, Señor, isn’t that an Irish name?" 

"The name isn’t French, Sergeant," O’Leary replied impatiently. "Now, can we get this nonsense over with? I’m in need of a bit of refreshment." 

Sergeant García was immediately sympathetic to that remark. He took a closer look at the new comer - the thick red hair and moustache, the intense green eyes, and the green uniform jacket of the man - O’Leary was impressive to look at for these reasons alone. García was quick to notice that the man was built much like his slender commanding officer, although not quite as tall and a little more robust. The colonel’s fingers beat an impatient tattoo on his leg. 

"I must ask all the passengers to prepare to open their luggage for inspection," announced García. "The comandante will be with you shortly to inspect your papers." With that, he executed an about-face and headed back into the cuartel. 

O’Leary sighed and returned his gaze to the plaza and beyond it, the surrounding blue mountains. You really are at the ends of the Earth, Padraig, me lad, he told himself. Christ Jesus, am I thirsty, and not a drop of the barley for hours. 

The stout sergeant entered the office of the comandante of the cuartel of Los Angeles. At the desk sat a young dark-haired officer with intense blue eyes and a dark moustache and goatee. García saluted the officer. "Here is the list of the passengers on the coach that just now arrived, mi capitán," he said. 

The officer, Capitán Enrique Monastario Sánchez, read over the list of names. When he got to the last name, he read it out loud, "Patricio Diego O’Leary." 

"Sí, Capitán, it is an Irish name," said García. 

"I know that," responded Monastario curtly. 

"Oh, Capitán, Señor O’Leary is also a colonel. He is wearing his uniform under his cape. It is green, like his hat." 

The captain looked up sharply. "Oh, really? How interesting." The slim officer got up from the desk. "Have your soldiers inspect the luggage and bring the passengers here to complete the forms." On second thought, he added, "Wait a moment. I’ll come out myself." He fastened his sword to his belt.

Capitán Monastario put on his friendliest smile when reaching the small but wary crowd. "I am sorry for the delay, Señores, and Señora. Will you please accompany me to the office? I will need you to fill out a travel declaration. It will only take a short while." 

The officer paused, as his eyes flicked over the list, matching the names to the number of bodies present. "And where is Colonel O’Leary?" 

García went around the backside of the coach to check for the man. "I do not see him, Comandante." 

"Well, find him, Sergeant! No one is authorized to leave until everyone is accounted for and fills out the proper forms!" the officer barked. "Well, baboso, what are you standing there for?" 

"At once, Comandante!" García responded, gesturing to a soldier at the entrance of the cuartel. It took almost a quarter of an hour to ascertain that O’Leary was nowhere to be seen or found in the plaza. 

Monastario stood studying the passenger list and becoming more irritated by the minute until García returned. 

"He is nowhere to be found, Capitán. We looked around all the stalls and he is neither in the plaza nor in the streets nearby." 

Monastario looked very displeased. "Well, he must be found. How could you let this happen? Did you not tell all the passengers that they had to wait and be cleared?" 

García sighed. "Yes, mi Capitán. I told everyone, including Colonel O’Leary." The large man paused and smiled. "But, Capitán, he did say he was very thirsty. Perhaps he went to the tavern." 

Monastario rolled his eyes. "You would think of that." He was well on his way toward berating the sergeant further when a thought came to him. "Wait. I will check on this myself." He turned to one of the sentries. "Private Cosio, will you please escort these people to my office and ask them to make themselves comfortable. And stay there yourself until my return." 

The soldier saluted and corralled the unhappy passengers into the cuartel. Only the boy seemed glad to have a look inside the massive masonry walls and to watch the soldiers within. He even waved to the big sergeant as they were moved inside. 

García caught the gesture, smiled and waved with his fingers. "A nice little boy," he commented. "It reminds me of when I was a little boy." 

Monastario thought to himself, when were you ever ‘little,’ estupido? But he held his peace. Children did not interest him, only the matters at hand. Nevertheless, he looked irritated. "Sergeant, come with me. This O’Leary needs to be informed of the strict measures that must be adhered to. The informality he may be used to in Spain is inappropriate here in Los Angeles." 

García nodded and followed the captain towards the inn. He hoped that the Irishman would not cause too much trouble. But, on the one hand, he was a higher rank than the capitán. But, on the other hand, he was not in charge of anything. García sighed again. Vamos a ver.

 

 

Chapter Two
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