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