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Corrida de Toros--I

On the day before a bull-fight all the world goes down to Tablada to see the bulls. Youth and beauty drive, for every one in Seville of the least pretension to gentility keeps a carriage; the Sevillans, characteristically, may live in houses void of every necessity and comfort, eating bread and water, but they will have a carriage to drive in the paseo. You see vehicles of all kinds, from the new landau with a pair of magnificent Andalusian horses, or the strange omnibus drawn by mules, typical of Southern Spain, to the shabby victoria, with a broken-down hack and a decrepit coachman.

Tablada is a vast common without the town, running along the river side, and here all manner of cattle are kept throughout the year. But the fighting bulls are brought from their respective farms the morning before the day of battle, and each is put in an enclosure with its attendant oxen. The crowd looks eagerly, admiring the length of horn, forecasting the fight.

The handsome brutes remain there till midnight, when they are brought to the ring and shut in little separate boxes till the morrow. The encierro, as it is called, is an interesting sight. The road has been palisaded and the bulls are driven along by oxen. It is very curious to wait in the darkness, in the silence, under the myriad stars of the southern night. Your ear is astrung to hear the distant tramp; the waiting seems endless. A sound is heard and every one runs to the side; but nothing follows, and the waiting continues. Suddenly the stillness is broken by tinkling bells, the oxen; and immediately there is a tramp of rushing hoofs. Three men on horseback gallop through the entrance, and on their heels the cattle; the riders turn sharply round, a door is swung to behind them, and the oxen, with the bulls in their midst, pound through the ring.

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The doors are opened two hours before the performance. Through the morning the multitude has trooped to the Plaza San Fernando to buy tickets, and in the afternoon all Seville wends its way towards the ring. The road is thronged with people, they walk in dense crowds, pushing one another to get out of the way of broken-down shays that roll along filled with enthusiasts. The drivers crack their whips, shouting: 'Un real, un real a los Toros!'[a] The sun beats down and the sky is intensely blue. It is very hot, already people are blowing and panting, boys sell fans at a halfpenny each. 'Abanicos a perra chica!'[b]

When you come near the ring the din is tremendous; the many vendors shout their wares, middlemen offer tickets at double the usual price, friends call to one another. Now and then is a quarrel, a quick exchange of abuse as one pushes or treads upon his neighbour; but as a rule all are astonishingly good-natured. A man, after a narrow escape from being run over, will shout a joke to the driver, who is always ready with a repartee. And they surge on towards the entrance. Every one is expectant and thrilled, the very air seems to give a sense of exhilaration. The people crowd in like ants. All things are gay and full of colour and life.

A picador passes on horseback in his uncouth clothes, and all turn to look at him.

And in the ring itself the scene is marvellous. On one side the sun beats down with burning rays, and there, the seats being cheaper, notwithstanding the terrific heat people are closely packed. There is a perpetual irregular movement of thousands of women's fans fluttering to and fro. Opposite, in the shade, are nearly as many persons, but of better class. Above, in the boxes sit ladies in mantillas, and when a beautiful woman appears she is often greeted with a burst of applause, which she takes most unconcernedly. When at last the ring is full, tier above tier crammed so that not a place is vacant, it gives quite an extraordinary emotion. The serried masses cease then to be a collection of individuals, but gain somehow a corporate unity; you realise, with a kind of indeterminate fear, the many-headed beast of savage instincts and of ruthless might. No crowd is more picturesque than the Spanish, and the dark masculine costume vividly contrasts with the bright colours of the women, with flowers in their hair and mantillas of white lace.

But also the tremendous vitality of it all strikes you. Late arrivals walk along looking for room, gesticulating, laughing, bandying jokes; vendors of all sorts cry out their goods: the men who sell prawns, shrimps, and crabs' claws from Cadiz pass with large baskets: 'Bocas, bocas!'

The water sellers with huge jars: 'Agua, quien quiere agua? Agua!'[c] The word sings along the interminable rows. A man demands a glass and hands down a halfpenny; a mug of sparkling water is sent up to him. It is deliciously cool.

The sellers of lottery tickets, offering as usual the first prize: 'Premio gordo, quien quiere el premio gordo';[d] or yelling the number of the ticket: 'Who wants number seventeen hundred and eighty-five for three pesetas?'

And the newsboys add to the din: 'Noticiero! Porvenir!' Later on arrives the Madrid paper: 'Heraldo! Heraldo!'

Lastly the men with stacks of old journals to use as seats: 'A perra chica, dos periodicos a perra chica!'[e]

Suddenly there is a great clapping of hands, and looking up you find the president has come; he is supported by two friends, and all three, with comic solemnity, wear tall hats and frock coats. They bow to the public. Bull-fighting is the only punctual thing in Spain, and the president arrives precisely as the clock strikes half-past four. He waves a handkerchief, the band strikes up, a door is opened, and the fighters enter. First come the three matadors, the eldest in the middle, the next on his right, and the youngest on the left; they are followed by their respective cuadrillas, the banderilleros, the capeadors, the picadors on horseback, and finally the chulos, whose duty it is to unsaddle dead horses, attach the slaughtered bull to the team of mules, and perform other minor offices. They advance, gorgeous in their coloured satin and gold embroidery, bearing a cloak peculiarly folded over the arm; they walk with a kind of swinging motion, as ordained by the convention of a century. They bow to the president, very solemnly. The applause is renewed. They retire to the side, three picadors take up their places at some distance from one another on the right of the door from which issues the bull. The alguaciles, in black velvet, with peaked and feathered hats, on horseback, come forward, and the key of the bull's den is thrown to them. They disappear. The fighters meanwhile exchange their satin cloaks for others of less value. There is another flourish of trumpets, the gates are opened for the bull.

Then comes a moment of expectation, every one is trembling with excitement. There is perfect silence. All eyes are fixed on the open gate.


Notes:

[a] 'Twopence-halfpenny to the Bulls.'

[b] "Fans, one halfpenny each!"

[c] 'Water, who wants water? Water!'

[d] 'The first prize, who wants the first prize?'

[e] 'One halfpenny, two papers for one halfpenny.'


William Somerset Maugham