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DURING the whole night one dominant thought floated over the dark lake of Gallardo's dreams. He must get close! And the next morning the resolution was firmly rooted in his mind. He would get close, and astound the public by his brave deeds. Such was his mettle that he went to the plaza free from the superstitious fears of former times. He felt the certainty of triumph, the presentiment of his glorious afternoons.
The corrida was unlucky from the start. The first bull "came in fighting," furiously attacking the men on horseback. In an instant he had thrown the three picadores who awaited him lance in socket, and two of the hacks, lay dying, streams of dark blood gushing from their perforated chests. The other horse ran across the plaza, mad with pain and surprise. The bull, attracted by this race, ran after him, and lowering his powerful head beneath his belly, raised him on his horns and threw him on the ground, venting his rage on the poor broken and punctured hulk. As the wild beast left it kicking and dying, a mono sabio approached to finish it, burying his dagger blade in the crown of his head. The wretched hack showed the fury of a lion in his death struggles and bit the man, who gave a scream and shook his bleeding right hand, pressing on the dagger until the horse ceased kicking and lay with rigid limbs. Other plaza employees came running from all directions with great baskets of sand to throw in heaps over the pools of blood and the dead bodies of the horses.
The public was on its feet, gesticulating and vociferating. It was filled with enthusiasm by the bull's fierceness and protested because there was not a picador in the ring, shouting in chorus: "Horses, horses!"
Everybody knew they would come in immediately, but it infuriated them to have an interval pass without new carnage. The bull stood alone in the centre of the ring proud and bellowing, raising his blood-stained horns, the ribbons of the emblem on his lacerated neck fluttering in the breeze.
New horsemen appeared and the repugnant spectacle was repeated. The picador had barely approached with spear held in advance, reining his horse to one side so that the bandaged eye would prevent his seeing the bull, when the shock and fall were instantaneous. Javelins broke with the cracking sound of dry wood; the gored horse was raised on the powerful horns; blood spouted; bits of hide and flesh fell after the shock of mortal combat; the picador rolled along the sand like a yellow-legged puppet and was immediately covered by the attendants' capes.
The public hailed the riders' noisy falls with shouting and laughter. The arena resounded with the shock of their heavy bodies and their iron-covered legs. Some fell backwards like stuffed sacks, and their heads, as they encountered the boards of the barricade, awoke a dismal echo.
But he did get up again; he extended his arms, scratched his head, recovered his heavy beaver hat lost in the fall, and remounted the same horse which the monos sabios forced upon its feet with pushes and blows. The gay horseman urged his steed into a trot, and astride the agonized wreck rode to meet the wild beast again.
"Good for you!" he shouted, throwing his hat at a group of friends.
No sooner did he stand before the bull, thrusting his lance into the neck, than man and horse rose on high, the two immediately falling apart from the violence of the shock, and rolling in different directions. Again, before the bull attacked, the monos sabios and some of the audience warned the horseman. "Dismount!" But before his rigid legs would allow him to do so, the horse fell flat, instantly dead, and the picador was hurled over his ears his head striking the arena with a resounding thud.
The bull's horns never managed to gore the riders, but those lying on the ground apparently lifeless were carried by the peones to the infirmary to have their broken bones set or to be resuscitated from deathlike unconsciousness.
Gallardo, eager to attract the sympathy of the audience, hurried from place to place; he received great applause at one time for pulling a bull's tail to save a picador who lay on the ground at the point of being gored.
While the banderillas were being placed, Gallardo leaned against the barrier and gazed along the boxes. Doņa Sol must be in one of them. At last he saw her, but without her white mantilla, without anything to remind him of that Sevillian lady dressed like one of Goya's majas. One might think her, with her blonde hair and her novel and elegant hat, one of those foreign women attending a bull-fight for the first time. At her side was the friend, that man of whom she talked with admiration and to whom she was showing the interesting features of the country. Ah, Doņa Sol! Soon she should see of what mettle was the brave youth she had abandoned! She would have to applaud him in the presence of the hated stranger; she would be transported and moved against her will by the enthusiasm of the audience.
When the moment arrived for Gallardo to kill his first bull, the second on the programme, the public received him kindly as if it had forgotten its anger at the previous bull-fight. The two weeks of suspension on account of the rain seemed to have produced great tolerance in the multitude. They were willing to find everything acceptable in a corrida so long awaited. Besides, the fierceness of the bulls and the great mortality of horses had put the public in a good humor.
Gallardo strode up to the bull, his head uncovered after his salutation, with the muleta held before him, and swinging his sword like a cane. Behind him, although at a prudent distance, followed Nacional and another bull-fighter. A few voices from the rows of seats protested. "How many acolytes!" It resembled a parish priest going to a funeral.
"Stand aside, everybody!" shouted Gallardo.
The two peones paused, because he said it as if he meant it, with an accent that left no room for doubt.
He strode ahead until near the wild beast, and there he unrolled his muleta, making a few passes more like those of his old times, until he thrust the rag near the drivelling muzzle. "A good play! Hurrah!" A murmur of satisfaction ran along the tiers of seats. The bull-fighter of Seville had redeemed his name; he had bull-fighter pride! He was going to do some of his own feats, as in his better days. His pases de muleta were accompanied by noisy exclamations of enthusiasm, while his partisans became reanimated and rebuked their enemies. What did they think of that? Gallardo was careless sometimes—they knew that—but any afternoon when he wished—!
That was one of the good afternoons. When he saw the bull standing with motionless fore-feet, the public itself fired him with its advice. "Now! Thrust!"
Gallardo threw himself against the wild beast with the sword presented, but rapidly moved away from the danger of the horns.
Applause arose, but it was short; a threatening murmur cut by strident hisses followed. The enthusiasts ceased looking at the bull to face the rest of the public with indignation. What injustice! What lack of knowledge! He had started in at the killing well enough—
But the enemies pointed to the bull derisively persisting in their protests, and the whole plaza joined in a deafening explosion of hisses. The sword had penetrated obliquely—passing through the bull's body, its point appearing through one side, near his fore-leg. The people gesticulated and waved their arms with roars of indignation. What a scandal! Even a bad bullock-fighter would not make such a stroke as that!
The animal, with the hilt of the sword in his neck, and the point protruding through the joint of his fore-leg, began to limp, his enormous mass quivering with the movement of his unsteady tread. This spectacle seemed to move the audience with generous indignation. Poor bull! So good; so noble. Some leaned forward, raging with fury, as if they would throw themselves head foremost into the ring. Thief—son of a thief! To thus martyrize an animal that was better than he. And all shouted with impetuous sympathy for the animal's suffering, as if they had not paid their money to witness his death.
Gallardo, astounded at his act, bowed his head beneath the storm of insults and threats. "Cursed be the luck." He had started in to kill just as in his better epoch, dominating the nervous feeling that forced him to turn away his face as if he could not bear the sight of the wild beast that charged him. But desire to avoid danger, to immediately escape from between the horns, had caused him to lose his luck again with that stupid and scandalous thrust.
The people on the tiers of seats stirred restlessly with the fervor of numerous disputes. "He doesn't understand. He turns away his face. He has made a fool of himself." Gallardo's partisans excused their idol, but with less fervency. "That might happen to anybody. It is a misfortune. The important thing is to start in to kill with spirit as he does."
The bull, after running and limping with painful steps which made the crowd howl with indignation, stood motionless, so as not to prolong his martyrdom.
Gallardo grasped another sword, walked up and faced the bull.
The public divined his task. He must finish him by pricking him in the base of the brain; the only thing he could do after his crime.
He held the point of the sword between the two horns, while with the other hand he shook the muleta so that the animal, attracted by the rag, would lower his head to the ground. He pressed on the sword, and the bull, feeling himself wounded, tossed his head throwing out the instrument.
"One!" shouted the multitude with mocking unanimity.
The matador repeated his play and again drove in the sword, making the wild beast shudder.
"Two!" they sang mockingly from the bleachers.
He tried again to touch the vulnerable spot with no other result than a bellow of pain from the animal, tortured by this martyrdom.
Hisses and shouts of protest were united to this ironic chorus on the part of the public. When was that fool going to get through?
Finally he succeeded in touching with the point of his sword the beginning of the spinal cord, the centre of life, and the bull fell instantly, lying on his side with rigid legs.
The swordsman wiped the sweat off his brow and began his return to the president's box with slow step, breathing heavily. At last he was free of that animal. He had thought he would never finish. The public received him with sarcasms as he passed, or with disdainful silence. None applauded. He saluted the president in the midst of general indifference, and took refuge behind the barrier, like a pupil shamed by his faults. While Garabato offered him a glass of water, the matador looked at the boxes, meeting the eyes of Doņa Sol which had followed him into his retreat. What must that woman think of him! How she and her friend would laugh on seeing him insulted by the public! What a damnable idea of that lady to come to the bull-fight!
He remained between barriers avoiding all fatigue until the next bull he was to kill should be let out. His wounded leg pained him on account of his having run so much. He was no longer himself; he knew it now. His arrogance and his resolve to get closer resulted in nothing. His legs were no longer swift and sure as in former times, nor had his right arm that daring that made him extend it fearlessly, eager to reach the bull's neck without delay. Now it bent disobedient to his will, with the blind instinct of certain animals that shrink and hide their faces, thinking thus to avoid danger.
His old-time superstitions suddenly awoke, terrifying and obsessing him.
"I feel that something is going to happen," thought Gallardo. "My heart tells me that the fifth bull will catch me—he'll catch me—there is no escape."
However, when the fifth bull came out, the first thing he met was Gallardo's cape. What an animal! He seemed different from the one he had chosen in the corral the day before. Surely they had changed the order in regard to letting out the bulls. Fear kept ringing in the bull-fighter's ears. "Bad sign! He'll catch me; I'll go out of the ring to-day foot foremost."
In spite of this he kept on fighting the wild beast and drawing it away from picadores in danger. At first his feats were received in silence. Then the public, softening, applauded him mildly. When it came time for the death-stroke and Gallardo squared himself before the wild beast, every one seemed to divine the confusion of his mind. He moved as if disconcerted; the bull no sooner tossed his head than, taking the attitude for an advance, he stepped back, receding by great springs, while the public greeted these attempts at flight with a chorus of jests.
"Ouch! Ouch! He'll catch thee!"
Suddenly, as if he wished to end it by any means, he threw himself upon the animal with the sword, but obliquely, so as to escape from danger as soon as possible. An explosion of hisses and voices! The sword was embedded but a few inches, and after vibrating in the wild beast's neck, was shaken out and hurled far away.
Gallardo took his sword again and approached the bull. He squared himself to go in to kill and the wild beast charged at the same instant. He longed to flee but his legs no longer had the agility of other times. He was struck and rolled over from the shock. Aid came, and Gallardo arose covered with dirt, with a great rent in the seat of his trousers through which his white underclothing escaped, and minus a slipper and the moņa which adorned his queue.
The arrogant youth whom the public had so much admired for his elegance, presented a pitiful and absurd appearance with his clothes awry, his hair disarranged, his coleta fallen and undone like a limp tail.
Several capes were mercifully extended around him to aid and shield him. The other bull-fighters, with generous comradeship, even prepared the bull so that he could finish with it quickly. But Gallardo seemed blind and deaf; no sooner did he see the animal than he stepped back at his lightest charges, as if the recent upsetting had maddened him with fear. He did not understand what his comrades said to him, but, with his face intensely pale, and frowning as though to concentrate his mind, he stammered, not knowing what he said:
"Stand aside, everybody! Leave me alone!"
Meanwhile fear kept singing through his brain: "To-day thou diest. To-day is thy last goring."
The public divined the swordsman's thought from his confused movements.
"The bull makes him sick. He has become afraid!"
Even Gallardo's most fervent partisans kept silent through shame, unable to explain this occurrence never before seen.
The people seemed to revel in his terror, with the undaunted courage of those who are in a place of safety. Others, thinking of their money, shouted against this man who let himself be ruled by the instinct of self-preservation, defrauding them of their joy. A robbery! Vile people insulted the swordsman, expressing doubt as to his sex. Odium had brought to light and spread abroad, after many years of adulation, certain memories of the bull-fighter's youth, forgotten even by himself. They recalled his nocturnal life with the vagabonds on the Alameda of Hercules. They laughed at his torn breeches and at the white clothing that escaped through the rent.
"If thou couldst see thyself!" shouted shrill voices, with feminine accent.
Gallardo, protected by his companions' capes, took advantage of all the bull's distractions to wound him with his sword, deaf to the mocking of the public.
Some blades were scarcely embedded in the flesh, and fell; others remained lodged in bone but were uncovered in their greater length, vibrating with the movements of the bull which walked with lowered head, following the contour of the wall, bellowing as if with weariness at the useless torment. The swordsman followed him, muleta in hand, eager to finish him, yet fearful of exposing himself, and behind came the whole troop of assistants moving their capes as if they wished to induce the animal by the waving of their rags to bend his legs and lie down.
The bull's journey about the ring close to the barrier, his muzzle drivelling, his neck bristling with swords, provoked an explosion of mockery and insult.
"It is the Via Dolorosa," they said.
Others compared the animal to a cushion full of pins. Thief! Miserable bull-puncher!
Some, more vile, persisted in their insults to Gallardo's sex, changing his name.
"Juanita, don't get lost!"
A long time passed and a part of the public, wishing to discharge its fury against something higher than the bull-fighter, turned towards the presidential box. "Seņor Presidente!" How long was this scandal going to last?
The president made a sign that quieted the protestants and gave an order. A minor official with his plumed shovel-hat and floating cape was seen to run along behind the barrier until he stood near the bull. There, turning to Gallardo, he held out his hand, with his index finger raised. The public applauded. It was the first notice. If the bull was not killed before the third, he would be returned to the corral, leaving the swordsman under the stain of the greatest dishonor.
Gallardo, as if awakening from his dream, terrified at this threat, raised his sword and threw himself upon the bull. Another thrust that barely penetrated the bull's body.
The swordsman let fall his arms in dejection. Surely the beast was immortal. Sword-thrusts made no impression on him. It seemed as if he would never fall.
The inefficiency of the last stroke infuriated the public. Every one rose to his feet. The hisses were deafening, obliging the women to cover their ears. Many waved their arms, bending forward, as if they wished to hurl themselves into the plaza. Oranges, bread crusts, seat cushions, flew into the ring like swift projectiles aimed at the matador. Stentorian voices rose from the seats in the sun, roars like those of a steam siren, which it seemed incredible should be produced by the human throat. From time to time a deafening clamor of bells pealed forth with furious strokes. A derisive chorus near the bull pens chanted the gorigori of the dead.
Many turned towards the president. When would the second notice be given? Gallardo wiped off the sweat with his handkerchief, gazing in all directions as if surprised at the injustice of the public, and making the bull responsible for all that occurred. At that moment his eyes rested on Doņa Sol's box. She turned her back so as not to see the ring; perhaps she felt pity for him; perhaps she was ashamed of her condescensions in the past.
Again he threw himself upon the animal to kill, but few could see what he did, for he was hidden by the open capes hung continually about him. The bull fell, a stream of blood gushing out of his mouth.
At last! The public became less restless, ceasing to gesticulate, but the shouts and hisses continued. The beast was finished by the puntillero; the swords were drawn out, he was harnessed by the head to a team of mules and dragged from the ring, leaving a broad belt of smoothed earth and pools of blood which the attendants obliterated with the rake and baskets of sand.
Gallardo hid himself between barriers, fleeing from the insulting protests which his presence raised. There he remained, tired and panting for breath, with his leg aching, but in the midst of his dejection feeling satisfaction at being free from danger. He had not died on the wild beast's horns, but he owed his safety to his prudence. Ah, the public! A multitude of assassins that hankers for a man's death as if they alone made good use of life and had a family.
His departure from the plaza was sad, behind the crowd that filled the environs of the ring, the carriages, the automobiles, the long rows of tram-cars.
His coach rolled along slowly to avoid driving over the groups of spectators coming out of the plaza. These separated to let the mules pass, but as they recognized the swordsman they seemed to repent their amiability. In the movement of their lips Gallardo read tremendous insults. Other carriages in which rode handsome women in white mantillas passed near his. Some turned their heads so as not to see the bull-fighter; others looked on him with eyes of pitying commiseration.
A crowd of boys following the carriage broke out into hisses. Many who were standing on the sidewalks imitated them, thinking thus to avenge themselves for their poverty, which had compelled them to remain outside the plaza the whole afternoon in a vain hope of seeing something.
The news of Gallardo's failure had circulated among them and they insulted him, glad to humiliate a man who earned enormous riches.
This outburst aroused the swordsman from the mute resignation into which he had fallen.
"Curse it! But why do they hiss? Have they been at the bull-fight? Have they paid out their money?"
A stone struck against a wheel of the coach. The vagabonds were shouting at the very steps, but two guards rode up on horseback and quelled the disturbance, afterward escorting all the way up Alcalá Street the famous Juan Gallardo—"the greatest man in the world."
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