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WHEN Señora Angustias was bereft of her husband, Señor Juan Gallardo, the well known cobbler established in a portal in the ward of the Feria, she wept with the disconsolateness due the event, but at the same time, in the depths of her soul, she felt the satisfaction of one who rests after a long journey, freed from an overwhelming burden.
"Poor fellow, joy of my heart! May God keep him in His glory. So good! So industrious!"
During twenty years of life together, he had not caused her greater sorrows than those the rest of the women of the ward had to bear. Of the three pesetas he averaged as a result of his labor he handed over one to Señora Angustias for the support of the house and family, using the other two for personal entertainment and for keeping up appearances among his friends. He was obliged to respond to the attentions of his companions when they invited him to a convivial glass, and the famous Andalusian wine, since it is the glory of God, costs dear. Also it was inevitable that he should go to see the bulls, because a man who does not drink nor attend bull-fights—why is he in the world?
Señora Angustias with her two children, Encarnación and little Juan, had to sharpen her wits and develop numerous talents in order to keep the family together. She worked as a servant in the houses nearest her ward, sewed for the women of the neighborhood, sold clothing and trinkets for a certain brokeress, a friend of hers, and made cigarettes for the gentlemen, recalling her youthful aptitude when Señor Juan, an enthusiastic and favored lover, used to come and wait for her at the door of the Tobacco Factory.
Never could she complain of infidelity or ill-treatment on the part of her husband. On Saturdays when the cobbler used to come home drunk in the late hours of the night supported by his friends, joy and tenderness came with him. Señora Angustias had to drag him into the house, for he was determined to remain outside the door clapping his hands and intoning, with slobbery voice, tender love songs dedicated to his corpulent companion. And when the door was at last closed behind him, depriving the neighbors of a source of entertainment, Señor Juan, in a state of sentimental drunkenness, insisted on seeing the sleeping children; he kissed them, wetting their little faces with great tear-drops, and repeated his verses in honor of Señora Angustias (Hurrah! the greatest woman in the world!) till finally the good wife was compelled to cease frowning and to laugh while she undressed him and managed him as if he were a sick child.
This was his only vice. Poor fellow! There was not a sign of women or of gambling. His self-esteem which made him go well dressed while the family went in rags, and his unequal division of the products of his labor, were both compensated by generous incentives. Señora Angustias recollected with pride the great feast days when Juan had her put on her Manila shawl, her wedding mantilla, and, with the children walking in advance, he strode at her side with white Cordovan hat and silver handled cane, taking a walk along Delicias with the same air as any shopkeeper's family from Sierpes Street. On cheap bull-fight days he courted her pompously before going to the plaza, offering her glasses of wine at La Campana or at a café in the New Plaza. This happy time was now but a faint and pleasant memory in the recollection of the poor woman.
Señor Juan fell ill of phthisis and for two years the wife had to care for him, making still greater exertions in her industries to compensate for the lack of the peseta her husband used to turn over to her. At last he died in the hospital, resigned to his fate, convinced that existence was of no value without Andalusian wine and without bulls, and his last look of love and gratitude was for his wife, as if he would call out with his eyes: "Hurrah! the greatest woman in the world!"
When Señora Angustias was left alone her position did not change for the worse,—rather for the better. She enjoyed greater liberty in her movements, freed from the man who for the last two years had weighed more heavily upon her than the rest of the family. Being an energetic woman and of prompt decision, she immediately marked out a career for her children. Encarnación, who was now sixteen, went to the Tobacco Factory, where her mother was able to introduce her, thanks to her relations with certain friends of her youth who had become overseers. Juanillo, who as a lad had passed his days in the portal of the Feria watching his father work, should be a shoemaker, according to the will of Señora Angustias. She took him out of school, where he had learned to read but poorly, and at twelve he became an apprentice to one of the best shoemakers in Seville.
And now the martyrdom of the poor woman began.
Ah, that boy! Son of such honorable parents! Almost every day, instead of going to his master's shop he went to the slaughter-house with certain rascals who had their meeting place on a bench in the Alameda of Hercules and who delighted to flaunt a cape under the nose of young bullocks for the entertainment of herders and butchers, generally getting upset and trampled upon. Señora Angustias, who often toiled far into the night, needle in hand, so that the boy might go to the shop neat, with his clothing clean and mended, met him at the door when he came home with his pantaloons torn, his jacket dirty, and his face covered with lumps and scratches, afraid to enter yet without courage to flee owing to his hunger.
The welts made by his mother's blows and the marks of the broom-handle were added to the bruises of the treacherous bullocks, but the hero of the slaughter-house suffered them all, provided he did not lack his daily rations. "Beat me, but give me something to eat." And with his appetite awakened by violent exercise, he devoured the hard bread, the spoiled beans, the stale cod-fish, all the cheap food the diligent woman sought in the shops in the effort to maintain the family on her scanty earnings.
Toiling all day scrubbing floors, only now and then did she have an afternoon in which she could concern herself with her son's welfare and go to the cobbler's to learn of the progress of the apprentice. When she returned from the shoe-maker's shop she was puffing and blowing with anger and resolved upon terrible punishments to correct the vagabond.
Most of the time he failed to present himself at the shop at all. He spent the morning at the slaughter-house and in the afternoons he formed one of the group of vagabonds collected at the entrance of Sierpes Street, admiring at close range the bull-fighters out of work who gathered in Campana Street, dressed in new clothes, with resplendent hats but with no more than a peseta in their pockets, though each one was bragging of his exploits.
Little Juan contemplated them as if they were beings of marvellous superiority, envying their fine carriage and the boldness with which they flattered the women. The idea that each of these had at home a suit of silk embroidered with gold, and that with it on he strode before the multitude to the sound of music, produced a thrill of respect.
The son of Señora Angustias was known as the Little Cobbler among his ragged friends, and he showed satisfaction at having a nickname, as have nearly all the great men who appear in the ring. A foundation must be laid somewhere. He wore around his neck a red handkerchief which he had pilfered from his sister, and from beneath his cap his hair fell over his ears in thick locks which he carefully plastered down. He wore his plaited blouses of drill tucked into his trousers, which were ancient relics of his father's wardrobe made over by Señora Angustias; he insisted these must be high in the waist with the legs wide and the hips well tightened, and wept with humiliation when his mother would not yield to these exactions.
A cape! If only he might possess a fighting cape and not have to beg from other more fortunate boys the loan of the coveted "rag" for a few minutes! In a poor little room at home lay an old forgotten empty mattress case. Señora Angustias had sold the wool in days of stress. The Little Cobbler spent a morning locked in the room, taking advantage of the absence of his mother who was working as a servant in a priest's house.
With the ingenuity of a shipwrecked mariner on a desert isle who, thrown upon his own resources, must construct everything necessary to his existence, he cut a fighting cape from the damp and half-frayed cloth. Then he boiled in a pot a handful of red aniline bought at a druggist's, and dipped the ancient cotton in this dye. Little Juan admired his work—a cape of the most vivid scarlet that would arouse the greatest envy at the bull-baiting in the surrounding towns! Nothing remained but to dry it and he hung it in the sun beside the neighbor women's white clothes. The wind blew the dripping cloth about, bespattering the nearest pieces, until a chorus of curses and threats, clenched fists, and mouths that pronounced the ugliest of words against him and his mother, obliged the Little Cobbler to grasp his mantle of glory and take to his heels, his hands and face dyed red as though he had just committed a murder.
Señora Angustias, a strong, corpulent, be-whiskered woman who was not afraid of men, and inspired the respect of women for her energetic resolutions, was disheartened and weak in the presence of her son. What could she do? Her hands had pummelled every part of the boy's body; brooms were broken on him without beneficial results. That little imp had, according to her, the flesh of a dog. Accustomed outside of the house to the tremendous butting of the steers, to the cruel trampling of the cows, to the clubs of herders and butchers who beat the band of vagabond bull-fighters without compassion, his mother's blows seemed to him a natural event, a continuation of his life outside prolonged inside the home, and he accepted them without the least intention of mending his ways, as a fee which he must pay in exchange for his sustenance, chewing the hard bread with hungry enjoyment, while the maternal maledictions and blows rained on his back.
Scarcely was his hunger appeased when he fled from the house, taking advantage of the freedom in which Señora Angustias left him when she absented herself on her round of duties.
In Campana Street, that venerable haunt of the bull-fighters where the gossip of the great doings of the profession circulated, he received information about his companions that gave him tremors of enthusiasm.
"Little Cobbler, a bull-fight to-morrow."
The towns in the province celebrated the feasts of their patron saints with cape-teasing of bulls which had been rejected from the great plazas, and to these the young bull-fighters went in the hope of being able to say on their return that they had held the cape in the glorious plazas of Aznalcollar, Bollullos, or Mairena. They started on the journey at night with the cape over the shoulder if it were summer, or wrapped in it if winter, their stomachs empty, their heads full of visions of bulls and glory.
If the trip were of several days' journey they camped in the open, or they were admitted through charity to the hayloft of an inn. Alas for the grapes, melons, and figs they found by the way in those happy times! Their only fear was that another band, another cuadrilla, possessed of the same idea, would present itself in the pueblo and set up an opposition.
When they reached the end of their journey, with their eyebrows and mouths full of dust, tired and foot-sore from the march, they presented themselves to the alcalde and the boldest among them who performed the functions of director talked of the merits of his men. All considered themselves happy if the municipal generosity sheltered them in a stable of the hostelry and regaled them with a pot of stew in addition, which they would clean up instantly. In the village plaza enclosed by wagons and boards, they let loose aged bulls, regular forts of flesh covered with scabs and scars, with enormous saw-edged horns; cattle which had been fought many years in all the feasts of the province; venerable animals that "understood the game," such was their malice. Accustomed to one continual bull-fight they were in the secret of the tricks of the contest.
The youths of the pueblo pricked on the beasts from their place of safety and the people longed for an object of diversion greater than the bull—in the bull-fighters from Seville. These waved their capes, their legs trembling, their courage borne down by the weight of their stomachs. A tumble, and then great clamor from the public! When one in sudden terror took refuge behind the palisades, rural barbarity received him with insults, beating the hands clutching at the wood, pounding him on the legs to make him jump back into the ring. "Get back there, poltroon! Fraud, to turn your face from the bull."
At times one of the young swordsmen was borne out of the ring by four companions, pale as a sheet of white paper, his eyes glassy, his head fallen, his breast like a broken bellows. The veterinary came, quieting them all on seeing no blood. The boy was suffering from the shock of being thrown some yards and falling on the ground like a rag torn from a piece of clothing. Again it was the agony of having been stepped on by a beast of enormous weight. A bucket of water was thrown on his head and then, when he recovered his senses, they treated him to a long drink of brandy. A prince could not be better cared for!
To the ring again! And when the herder had no more bulls to let out and night was drawing near, two of the cuadrilla grasped the best cape belonging to the society and holding it by its edges went from one viewing stand to another soliciting a contribution. Copper coins fell upon the red cloth in proportion to the pleasure the strangers had given the country people; and, the bull-baiting ended, they started on their return to the city, knowing that they had exhausted their credit at the inn. Often they fought on the way over the distribution of the pieces of copper which they carried in a knotted handkerchief. Then the rest of the week, they recounted their deeds before the fascinated eyes of their companions who had not been members of the expedition.
Once Señora Angustias spent an entire week without hearing from her son. At last she heard vague rumors of his having been wounded in a bull-scrimmage in the town of Tocina. Dios mío! Where might that town be? How reach it? She gave up her son for dead, she wept for him, she longed to go; and then as she was getting ready to start on her journey, she saw little Juan coming home, pale, weak, but talking with manly joy of his accident.
It was nothing—a horn-stab in one thigh; a wound a fraction of an inch deep. And in the shamelessness of triumph he wanted to show it to the neighbors, affirming that a finger could be thrust into it without reaching its end. He was proud of the stench of iodoform that he shed as he walked, and he talked of the attention they had shown him in that town, which he considered the finest in Spain. The wealthiest citizens, one might say the aristocracy, interested themselves in his case, the alcalde had been to see him and later paid his way home. He still had three duros in his pocket, which he handed to his mother with the generosity of a great man. So much glory at fourteen! His satisfaction was yet greater when some genuine bull-fighters in Campana Street fixed their attention on the boy and asked him how his wound was getting along.
His companion in poverty was Chiripa, a boy of the same age, with a small body and malicious eyes, without father or mother, who had tramped about Seville ever since he had attained the use of his faculties. Chiripa was a master of the roving life and had travelled over the world. The two boys started on a journey empty of pocket, without other equipment than their capes, miserable cast-offs acquired for a few reales from a second-hand clothing store.
They clambered cautiously into trains and hid under seats. Often they were surprised by a trainman and, to the accompaniment of kicks and blows, were left by him on the platform of some solitary station while the train vanished like a lost hope. They awaited the arrival of another, spending the night in the open, employing the cunning of primitive man to satisfy their necessities, crawling round about country houses to steal some solitary chicken, which, after wringing the fowl's neck, they would broil over a fire of dry wood and devour scorched and half raw, with the voracity of young savages.
Often when they slept in the open air near a station awaiting the passing of a train, a couple of guards would come up to them. On seeing the red bundles that served as pillows for these vagabonds, their suspicions were quieted. They gently removed the boys' caps, and on finding the hairy appendage they went away laughing without further investigation. These were not young thieves; they were apprentices who were going to the capeas. And in this tolerance there was a mixture of sympathy for the national sport and of respect for the obscure possibilities of the future. Who could tell if one of these ragged youths, despite his present appearance of poverty, might not in the future be a "star of the art," a great man who would kill bulls for the entertainment of kings, and live like a prince, and whose deeds and sayings would be exploited in the newspapers?
One afternoon, the Little Cobbler was left alone in a town of Extremadura. For the admiration of the rustic audience which applauded the famous bull-fighters "come purposely from Seville," the two boys threw banderillas at a fierce and ancient bull. Little Juan stuck his pair into the beast and was posing near a view-stand, proudly receiving the popular ovation of tremendous hand-clappings and proffers of cups of wine, when an exclamation of horror sobered him in his intoxication of glory. Chiripa was no longer on the ground of the plaza; only the banderillas rolling in the dust, one slipper and a cap were there. The bull was moving about as if irritated by some obstacle, carrying hooked on one of his horns a bundle of clothing resembling a puppet. With the violent tossing of his head the shapeless roll was loosened from the horn, ejecting a red stream, but before touching the ground it was caught by the opposite horn which in its turn tossed it about during what seemed an interminable time. At last, the sorry bulk fell to the dust and there it stayed, flabby and inert, like a punctured wine-skin expelling its contents.
The herder with his leaders took the bull into the corral, for no one else dared go near him, and poor Chiripa was carried upon a stretcher to a wretched little room in the town-house that served as a jail. His companion looked at him with a face as white as if made of plaster. Chiripa's eyes were glazed and his body was red with the blood which could not be stopped by the cloths wet with water and vinegar, which were applied in lieu of anything better.
"Adio', Little Cobbler!" he moaned. "Adio', Juanito!"
And he said no more. The companion of the dead youth, terrified, started on his return to Seville still seeing his glassy eyes, hearing his mournful good-bye. He was filled with fear. A gentle cow appearing in his path would have made him run. He thought of his mother and of the prudence of her counsel. Would it not be better to dedicate himself to shoemaking and live tranquilly? But these resolutions only lasted while he was alone. When he reached Seville he felt the return of exhilaration. Friends rushed to him to hear about the death of poor Chiripa in every detail. Professional bull-fighters questioned him in Campana Street, remembering with pity the little vagabond with the pock-marked face who had often run errands for them. Juan, fired by such signs of consideration, gave rein to his powerful imagination, describing how he had thrown himself upon the bull when he had seen his poor companion hooked, how he had grabbed the beast by the tail and achieved even more wonderful feats, in spite of which the other boy had left this world.
The impulse of fear vanished. Bull-fighter—nothing but a bull-fighter! Since others were, why should he not be one? He recollected his mother's spoiled beans and hard bread; the deprivation each pair of new pantaloons had cost him; the hunger, that inseparable companion of many of his expeditions. Moreover he had a vehement desire for all the joys and displays of life; he gazed with envy at the coaches and the horses; he stood transfixed before the doors of the great houses through whose iron grilles he saw courtyards of Oriental sumptuousness and arcades of colored tiles, pavements with marble and chattering fountains casting a stream of pearls day and night into a basin surrounded by foliage. His fate was sealed. To kill bulls or die! To be rich, to have the newspapers talk of him, and to have the people bow to him, even though it were at the price of his life. He despised the lower grades of the art. He saw the banderilleros expose their lives equally with the swordsmen in exchange for thirty duros for each bull-fight; and, after a round of toil and horn-stabs, become old, with no other future than some wretched business bought with paltry savings, or else a position at the slaughter-house. Some died in the hospital; others begged alms from their youthful companions. He would have nothing to do with banderilleros nor with spending long years in a cuadrilla in submission to the despotism of a maestro. He would begin with killing bulls; he would tread the sand of the plazas as a swordsman!
The misfortune of poor Chiripa gave him a certain ascendency over his companions, and he formed a cuadrilla of ragged youths who marched behind him to the capeas of the pueblos. They respected him because he was braver and better dressed. Some young girls of the street, attracted by the manly beauty of the Little Cobbler, who was now in his eighteenth year, and predisposed by his coleta, disputed in noisy competition the honor of taking care of his comely person. Moreover he counted on a patron, an old magistrate who had a weakness for the courage of young bull-fighters and whose friendship infuriated Señora Angustias and caused her to let loose some most indecent expressions which she had learned at the Tobacco Factory in her younger days.
The Little Cobbler dressed himself in suits of English cloth well fitted to the elegance of his figure, and his hat was always resplendent. His friends took scrupulous care of the whiteness of his collars and furbelows, and on certain days he proudly wore on his waistcoat a heavy gold chain, a loan from his respectable friend, that had already figured around the necks of other "boys who were starting out."
He mingled with broken-down bull-fighters; he could pay for the drinks of the old peones who recalled the deeds of famous swordsmen. It was believed for a certainty that some protectors were exerting themselves in favor of this "boy," awaiting a propitious occasion for him to make his début in a fight of young bullocks in the plaza of Seville.
The Little Cobbler was now a matador. One day, at Lebrija, when a lively little young bull came into the plaza, his companions had urged him on to the greatest luck. "Dost thou dare to kill him?" And he killed him! Henceforward, fired by the ease with which he had escaped danger, he went to all the capeas in which they announced that a bull was to be killed, and to all the granges where bulls were to be fought to the death.
The proprietor of La Rinconada, a rich farmer with a small bull-ring, was an enthusiast who kept his table set and his hayloft open for all the hungry who wished to divert him by fighting his cattle. Juan went there in days of poverty with other companions, to eat and drink to the health of the rural hidalgo, although it might be at the price of some rough tumbling. They arrived afoot after a two days' tramp and the proprietor, seeing the dusty troop with their bundles of capes, said solemnly:
"Whoever does the best work, I'll buy him a ticket that he may return to Seville on the train."
Two days the lord of the farm spent smoking on the balcony of his plaza while the boys from Seville fought young bulls, being frequently caught and trampled.
He sharply reproved a poorly executed cape-play, and called out, "Get up off the ground, you big coward! Come, give him wine to get him over his fright," when a boy persisted in remaining stretched on the ground after a bull had passed over his body.
The Little Cobbler killed a bull in a manner so much to the liking of the owner that the latter seated him at his table while his comrades stayed in the kitchen with the herders and farm laborers, dipping their horn spoons into the steaming broth.
"Thou hast earned the return by railroad, my brave youth. Thou wilt travel far if thou dost not lose heart. Thou hast promise."
The Little Cobbler, starting on his return to Seville second class while the cuadrilla tramped afoot, thought that a new life was beginning for him, and he cast a look of covetousness at the enormous plantation with its extensive olive orchards, its fields of grain, its mills, its meadows stretching out of sight in which were pasturing thousands of goats, while bulls and cows lay quietly chewing the cud. What wealth! If only he might some day come to possess something like that!
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