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Corrida de Toros--II

One or two shouts are heard, a murmur passes through the people, and the bull emerges--shining, black, with massive shoulders and fine horns. It advances a little, a splendid beast conscious of its strength, and suddenly stops dead, looking round. The toreros wave their capes and the picadors flourish their lances, long wooden spikes with an iron point. The bull catches sight of a horse, and lowering his head, bears down swiftly upon it. The picador takes firmer hold of his lance, and when the brute reaches him plants the pointed end between its shoulders; at the same moment the senior matador dashes forward and with his cloak distracts the bull's attention. It wheels round and charges; he makes a pass; it goes by almost under his arm, but quickly turns and again attacks. This time the skilful fighter receives it backwards, looking over his shoulder, and again it passes. There are shouts of enthusiasm from the public. The bull's glossy coat is stained with red.

A second picador comes forward, and the bull charges again, but furiously now, exerting its full might. The horse is thrown to the ground and the rider, by an evil chance, falls at the bull's very feet.

It cannot help seeing him and lowers its head; the people catch their breath; many spring instinctively to their feet; here and there is a woman's frightened cry; but immediately a matador draws the cape over its eyes and passionately the bull turns on him. Others spring forward and lift the picador: his trappings are so heavy that he cannot rise alone; he is dragged to safety and the steed brought back for him. One more horseman advances, and the bull with an angry snort bounds at him; the picador does his best, but is no match for the giant strength. The bull digs its horns deep into the horse's side and lifts man and beast right off the ground; they fall with a heavy thud, and as the raging brute is drawn off, blood spurts from the horse's flank. The chulos try to get it up; they drag on the reins with shouts and curses, and beat it with sticks. But the wretched creature, wounded to the death, helplessly lifts its head. They see it is useless and quickly remove saddle and bridle, a man comes with a short dagger called the puntilla, which he drives into its head, the horse falls on its side, a quiver passes through its body, and it is dead. The people are shouting with pleasure; the bull is a good one. The first picador comes up again and the bull attacks for the fourth time, but it has lost much strength, and the man drives it off. It has made a horrible gash in the horse's belly, and the entrails protrude, dragging along the ground. The horse is taken out.

The president waves his handkerchief, the trumpets sound, and the first act of the drama is over.

The picadors leave the ring and the banderilleros take their darts, about three feet long, gay with decorations of coloured paper. While they make ready, others play with the bull, gradually tiring it: one throws aside his cape and awaits the charge with folded arms; the bull rushes at him, and the man without moving his feet twists his body away and the savage brute passes on. There is a great burst of applause for a daring feat well done.

Each matador has two banderilleros, and it is proper that three pairs of these darts should be placed. One of them steps to within speaking distance of the animal, and holding a banderilla in each hand lifted above his head, stamps his foot and shouts insulting words. The bull does not know what this new thing is, but charges blindly; at the same moment the man runs forward, and passing, plants the two darts between the shoulders. If they are well placed there is plentiful hand-clapping; no audience is so liberal of applause for skill or courage, none so intolerant of cowardice or stupidity; and with equal readiness it will yell with delight or hiss and hoot and whistle. The second banderillero comes forward to plant his pair; a third is inserted and the trumpets sound for the final scene.

This is the great duel between the single man and the bull. The matador advances, sword in hand, with the muleta, the red cloth for the passes, over his arm. Under the president's box he takes off his hat, and with fine gesture makes a grandiloquent speech, wherein he vows either to conquer or to die: the harangue is finished with a wheel round and a dramatic flinging of his hat to attendants on the other side of the barrier. He pensively walks forward. All eyes are upon him--and he knows it. He motions his companions to stand back and goes close to the bull. He is quite alone, with his life in his hands--a slender figure, very handsome in the gorgeous costume glittering with fine gold. He arranges the muleta over a little stick, so that it hangs down like a flag and conceals his sword. Then quite solemnly he walks up to the bull, holding the red rag in his left hand. The bull watches suspiciously, suddenly charges, and the muleta is passed over its head; the matador does not move a muscle, the bull turns and stands quite motionless. Another charge, another pass. And so he continues, making seven or eight of various sorts, to the growing approbation of the public. At last it is time to kill. With great caution he withdraws the sword; the bull looks warily. He makes two or three passes more and walks round till he gets the animal into proper position: the forefeet must be set squarely on the ground. 'Ora! Ora!' cry the people. 'Now! Now!' The bull is well placed. The matador draws the sword back a little and takes careful aim. The bull rushes, and at the same moment the man makes one bound forward and buries the sword to the hilt between the brute's shoulders. It falls to its knees and rolls over.

Then is a perfect storm of applause; and it is worth while to see fourteen thousand people wild with delight. The band bursts into joyous strains, and the mules come galloping in, gaily caparisoned; a rope is passed round the dead beast, and they drag it away. The matador advances to the president's box and bows, while the shouting grows more frantic. He walks round, bowing and smiling, and the public in its enthusiasm throws down hats and cigars and sticks.

But there are no intervals to a bull-fight, and the picadors immediately reappear and take their places; the doors are flung open, and a second bull rushes forth. The matador still goes round bowing to the applause, elaborately unmindful of the angry beast.

Six animals are killed in an afternoon within two hours, and then the mighty audience troop out with flushed cheeks, the smell of blood strong in their nostrils.


William Somerset Maugham