Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
GALLARDO'S prowess in fighting young bulls in the pueblos, heralded in Seville, caused the restless and insatiable amateurs, ever seeking a new luminary to eclipse those already discovered, to fix their attention upon him.
"He certainly is a boy of wonderful promise," they used to say, on seeing him pass along Sierpes Street with short step, swinging his arms arrogantly. "He must be seen on classic ground." This ground for them and for the Little Cobbler was the ring of the plaza at Seville. The boy was soon to find himself face to face with the real thing. His protector had acquired for him a spangled costume, somewhat worn, a cast-off of some bull-fighter who had failed to win a name. A corrida of young bulls was arranged for a benefit, and influential devotees, eager for novelty, managed to include him in the programme gratuitously, as matador.
The son of Señora Angustias declined to appear in the announcements under his nickname of Little Cobbler, which he desired to forget. He would have nothing to do with stage names, and less with menial offices. He wished to be known by the names of his father, he desired to be Juan Gallardo; no nickname should recall his origin to the great people who undoubtedly would become his friends of the future.
The whole ward of the Feria flocked en masse to the corrida with a noisy and patriotic fervor. The dwellers in the ward of Macarena also showed their interest and the other popular wards allowed themselves to be carried away with equal enthusiasm. A new matador for Seville! There was not room for all and thousands were left outside the plaza anxiously awaiting the news of the corrida.
Gallardo fought, killed, was knocked down by a bull without being hurt, and kept the public in constant anxiety by his daring, which generally resulted fortunately and provoked colossal bellowings of enthusiasm. Certain devotees, esteemed for their opinions, smiled complacently. He had much to learn but he had courage and ambition, which is the important thing.
"Above all, he goes in to really kill 'in classic style,' and he keeps inside the field of reality."
At the opposite side of the plaza the old magistrate smiled compassionately beneath his white beard, admiring the boy's bravery and the fine appearance he made in the spangled costume. When he saw him knocked down by the bull he fell back into his seat as if he were going to faint. That was too much for him.
In one section proudly strutted the husband of Encarnación, Gallardo's sister, a leather-worker by trade, a prudent man, an enemy of vagrancy, who had married the cigarette girl, captured by her charms, but under the express condition of having nothing to do with her scamp of a brother.
Gallardo, offended by his brother-in-law's distrust, had never ventured into his shop, which was situated in the outskirts of Macarena, nor descended from the ceremonious you when now and then of an afternoon he met him at his mother's house.
"I am going to see how that shameless brother of thine dodges the oranges," he had said to his wife as he set out for the plaza.
And now, from his seat, he bowed to the swordsman, calling him Juaniyo, saying thou, playing the peacock, content when the young bull-fighter, attracted by the many shouts, saw him at last and returned the greeting with a salute of his sword.
"He is my brother-in-law," said the leather-worker so that those near him might admire him. "I have always known the boy would amount to something at bull-fighting. My wife and I have helped him much."
The finale was triumphal. The multitude rushed impetuously upon Juanillo, as if they were about to devour him by their outbursts of enthusiasm. Fortunately the brother-in-law was present to impose order, to shield him with his body, and to conduct him to the hired coach in which he seated himself at the bull-fighter's side.
When they arrived at the house in the ward of the Feria an immense crowd was following the carriage with shouts of joy and acclamations of praise that brought the people crowding to the doors. The news of the triumph had reached there ahead of the swordsman and the neighbors ran out to see him and to press his hand.
Señora Angustias and her daughter were at the door. The leather-worker stepped out almost arm in arm with his brother-in-law, monopolizing him, shouting and gesticulating in the name of the family that nobody should touch him, as if he were a sick man.
"Here he is, Encarnación," he said, shoving him toward his wife, "Not even Roger de Flor himself—"
And Encarnación had no need to ask more, for she knew that her husband vaguely considered this historic individual the personification of all greatness and that he only ventured to connect his name with portentous circumstances.
Certain enthusiastic neighbors who came from the corrida flattered Señora Angustias, crying, "Blessed be the mother that has given birth to such a valiant youth!"
Her friends overwhelmed her with their exclamations. What luck! And what sums of money he soon was going to earn!
The poor woman wore in her eyes an expression of astonishment and doubt. And was it really her little Juan that had made the people run with such enthusiasm? Had they gone mad?
But she suddenly fell upon him as if all the past had vanished; as if her worry and fretting were a dream; as if she confessed a shameful error. Her great flabby arms wound around the bull-fighter's neck and her tears wetted his cheeks.
"My son! Little Juan! If thy poor father could only see thee!"
"Don't cry, mother—for this is a day of joy. You shall see. If God gives me luck I will build you a house and your friends shall see you in a carriage and you shall wear all the Manila shawls you want."
"Yes, Encarnación; this youth will do it all if he undertakes it. It was extraordinary. Not even Roger de Flor himself—!"
That night in the taverns and cafés of the popular wards they talked only of Gallardo. The bull-fighter of the future! He has flourished like the very roses. This boy is going to get away the favors from all the Cordovan caliphs.
In these assertions was revealed Sevillian pride in constant rivalry with the people of Córdova, which was also a land of good bull-fighters.
Gallardo's existence changed completely from this day. The young gentlemen greeted him and made him sit among them around the doors of the cafés. The pretty girls who formerly satisfied his hunger and took care of his adornment, found themselves little by little repelled with smiling disregard. Even the old protector prudently withdrew in view of a certain indifference and bestowed his tender friendship on other boys who were just beginning.
The management of the bull-plaza sought out Gallardo, humoring him as if he were already a celebrity. By announcing his name on the programmes success was assured, the plaza filled. The masses applauded wildly the "boy of Señora Angustias," giving tongue to tales of his valor. Gallardo's fame extended through Andalusia, and the leather-worker, without being solicited, mixed in everything and played the part of defender of his brother-in-law's interests. A thoughtful and expert man in business, according to himself, he saw the course of his life marked out.
"Thy brother," he would say to his wife at night as they went to bed, "needs a practical man at his side to manage his interests. Dost thou suppose he would think well of naming me his manager? A great thing for him! Not even Roger de Flor himself! And for us—?"
The leather-worker contemplated in imagination the great riches Gallardo was going to gain, and he thought also of his own five sons and those that were still to come. Who could tell if what the swordsman earned should fall to his nephews?
For a year and a half Juan killed bullocks in the best plazas of Spain. His fame had reached Madrid. The devotees at the capital felt a curiosity to see the "Sevillian boy" of whom the newspapers talked so much and of whom the "intelligent" Andalusians boasted.
Gallardo, escorted by a group of friends from his native city who were residing in Madrid, strutted along the sidewalk of Seville Street near the Café Inglés. The pretty girls smiled at his compliments and their eyes followed the toreador's heavy gold chain and his big diamond ornaments acquired with his first earnings and on credit—discounting the future. A matador must show that he has an overplus of money by decorating his person and treating everybody generously. How far away were those days when he, with poor Chiripa, tramped along that same pavement, afraid of the police, contemplating the bull-fighters with admiration and picking up the stubs of their cigars!
His work in Madrid was lucky. He made friends and formed around him a group of enthusiasts hungry for novelty who also proclaimed him the "bull-fighter of the future" and complained because he had not yet received the "alternative."
"He's going to earn money by basketfuls, Encarnación," said the brother-in-law. "He is going to have millions, if he doesn't have some bad luck."
The life of the family changed completely. Gallardo, mingling with the young gentlemen of Seville, did not wish his mother to continue living in the house where she had passed her days of poverty. On his account they had moved to a better street in the city, but Señora Angustias inclined to remain faithful to the ward of the Feria, with the love which simple people feel as they grow old for the places where their youth was spent.
They lived in a much better house. The mother did not work and the neighbors paid her homage, finding in her a generous lender in their days of stress. Juan possessed, besides the loud and showy jewels with which he adorned his person, that supreme luxury of every bull-fighter, a powerful sorrel mare, with a cowboy saddle and a fine blanket bordered with multicolored fringe across the pommel. Mounted on her he trotted along the streets with no other object than to receive the homage of his friends, who greeted his elegance with noisy "Olés!" This satisfied his desire for popularity for the moment. On other occasions he rode with the young bloods, forming a sightly troop of horsemen, to the pasture of Tablada, on the eve of a great corrida, to see the herd that others had to kill.
"When I take the 'alternative,'" he was saying at every step, making all his plans for the future depend on that.
The day of the "alternative" came at last, the day of Gallardo's recognition as a killer of bulls. A celebrated maestro ceded to him his sword and muleta in the open ring of Seville and the crowd went mad with enthusiasm, seeing how he felled with a single sword-thrust the first "formal" bull that appeared before him. The following month, this tauromachic degree was bestowed again in the plaza of Madrid where another maestro, not less celebrated, again gave him the "alternative" in a corrida of Miura bulls.
He was no longer a novillero; he was a matador, and his name figured beside those of old swordsmen whom he had worshipped as unapproachable gods when he was going about among the little towns taking part in the bull-baitings. He remembered having lain in wait for one of them at a station near Córdova to ask aid from him when he passed through on the train with his cuadrilla. That night he had something to eat, thanks to the generous fraternity that exists among the people of the queue which impels a swordsman of princely luxury to hand out a duro and a cigar to the unfortunate little vagabond on the road to his first capeas.
Contracts began to shower upon the new swordsman. In all the plazas of the Peninsula they desired to see him, moved by curiosity. The newspapers devoted to the profession popularized his picture and his life, distorting the latter with novel episodes. No other matador had so many engagements. He was going to make money abundantly.
Antonio, his brother-in-law, told of this success with clouded brow and loud protestations to his wife and her mother. The swordsman was an ungrateful fellow—the history of all who rise suddenly. And he had worked so hard for Juan! With what firmness had he argued with the managers when the bullock-fight was arranged for him. And now that he was a maestro he had as a manager a gentleman he had met only a short time ago; one Don José who was not one of the family but one for whom Gallardo showed esteem on account of his prestige as an old connoisseur.
"And he will be sorry for it," he ended, adding, "A man has only one family and where will he find such loving care as we have given him ever since he was little? He is the loser. With me he would flourish like Roger de—"
He interrupted himself, swallowing the famous name for fear of the jokes of the banderilleros and amateurs who frequented the house and who had no respect for the historical object of the leather-worker's adoration.
Gallardo, with the generosity of a victor, gave some satisfaction to his brother-in-law by putting him in charge of the house he was having built, with carte blanche as to expenses. The swordsman, overcome by the ease with which money came into his hands, was willing to let his brother-in-law rob him, thus compensating him for not having been chosen as manager.
The torero was to realize his desire of building a house for his mother. She, poor woman, who had spent her life scrubbing floors for the rich, should have her beautiful courtyard with marble pavements, with tiled wainscot, and rooms with furniture like those of the gentry, with servants, yes, many servants to wait upon her. He also felt united by a traditional affection to the ward where his childish poverty had slipped from him. He rejoiced to outshine the very people who had employed his mother as a servant and to give a handful of pesetas, in moments of need, to those who had taken shoes to his father or who had given him a crumb in those sorrowful days. He bought several old houses, one of them the same in whose portal the cobbler had worked. He had them torn down and began to build an edifice that was to have white walls with green painted grilles, a vestibule lined with tiles, and a barred gate of delicately wrought iron through which should be seen the courtyard with its fountain in the centre and its marble columns, between which should hang gilded cages with chattering birds.
Antonio's satisfaction at having full license in the direction and profit of the works was diminished somewhat by terrible news,—Gallardo had a sweetheart! He was travelling now in mid-summer, running over Spain from one plaza to another, making famous sword-thrusts and receiving applause; but almost daily he sent a letter to a certain girl in the ward and in the short respites between wandering from one corrida to another abandoned his companions and took the train to spend the night in Seville, courting her.
"Have you seen?" shouted the leather-worker, scandalized at what was taking place "in the bosom of the home" before the very eyes of his wife and mother-in-law. "A sweetheart! without saying a word to the family, which is the only thing worth while in the whole world! The Señor wants to marry. Without doubt he is tired of us. What a shameless fellow!"
Encarnación approved these assertions with rude grimaces of her strong, fierce face, content to be able to express herself thus against the brother who filled her with envy by his good fortune. Yes, he had ever been a shameless fellow.
But the mother protested. "No, indeed! I know the girl and her poor mother was a chum of mine in the Factory. She is as pure as nuggets of gold, trim, good, fine-looking. I have already told Juan that it would please me and the sooner the better."
She was an orphan, living with an aunt and uncle who kept a little grocery store in the ward. Her father, an old-time dealer in brandies, had left her two houses on the outskirts of Macarena.
"A little thing," said Señora Angustias, "but the girl doesn't come empty-handed. She brings something of her own. And as for clothes—Josú! you ought to see her little hands of gold; how she embroiders the clothes, how she is preparing her trousseau."
Gallardo vaguely recollected having played with her when they were children near the portal where the cobbler worked while the two mothers chatted. She was a sprightly creature, thin and dark, with eyes of a gypsy—the pupils black and sharply rounded like drops of ink, the corneas bluish white and the corners a pallid rose-hue. In their races she was as agile as a boy and her legs looked like reeds; her hair hung about her head in thick rebellious locks twisting like black snakes. Then she had dropped out of his sight and he did not meet her until many years afterward when he was a novillero, and had begun to make a name.
It was one Corpus Christi day—one of the few feasts when the women, shut up in the house through Oriental laziness, go out upon the streets like Moorish women at liberty, wearing mantillas of silk lace and carnations on their breasts. Gallardo saw a young girl, tall, slender, and at the same time strongly built, the waist confined in handsome firm curves with all the vigor of youth. Her face, of a rice-like pallor, colored on seeing the bull-fighter; her great luminous eyes hid themselves beneath their long lashes.
"That girl knows me," said Gallardo to himself. "She must have seen me in the ring."
And when, after having followed her and her aunt, he heard that it was Carmen, the companion of his infancy, he was astonished and confused by the marvellous transformation from the dark thin girl of the past. They became sweethearts and all the neighbors discussed their affair, seeing in them a new honor for the neighborhood.
"This is how it is with me," said Gallardo to his enthusiasts, adopting a princely air. "I don't want to imitate other bull-fighters who marry señoritas that are all hats and feathers and flounces. For me, those of my own class; a rich mantilla, a fine carriage, grace; that's what I want—Olé!"
His friends, enraptured, spoke highly of the girl,—a splendid lass, with curves to her body that would set any one wild, and what an air! But the bull-fighter only made a wry face. The less they talked of Carmen the better.
In the evening, as he conversed with her through a grated window, contemplating her Moorish face framed in the flowering vines, the servant of a nearby tavern presented himself, carrying glasses of Andalusian wine on a painted tray. He was the envoy who came to collect the toll, the traditional custom of Seville, which demanded pay from sweethearts who talk through the grille.
The bull-fighter drank a glass, offering another to the girl, and said to the boy:
"Give the gentlemen my thanks, and say I'll come along by the shop after a while. Also tell Montañés to allow no one else to pay, that Juan Gallardo will pay for everybody."
And when he had finished his talk with his betrothed he went into the tavern where he was awaited by the tipplers, some enthusiastic friends, others unknown admirers anxious to toast the health of the bull-fighter in tall glasses of wine.
On returning from his first trip as a full-fledged matador he spent the winter evenings close by Carmen's grated window, wrapped in his cape of greenish cloth, which had a narrow collar and was made generously ample, with vines and arabesques embroidered in black silk.
"They say that thou dost drink much," sighed Carmen, pressing her face against the bars.
"Nonsense! Courtesies of friends that one has to return and nothing more. Thou knowest that a bull-fighter is—a bull-fighter, and he is not going to live like a begging friar."
"They say that thou goest with bad women."
"That's a lie! That was in other days, before I met thee. Man alive! I would like to meet the son of a goat that carries thee such tales."
"As soon as the house is finished, and would to God it were to-morrow! That worthless brother-in-law of mine will never get it done. He knows that it's a good thing for him and he is sleeping on his luck."
"I'll set things to rights, Juaniyo, after we are married. Thou shalt see how well everything will run along. Thou shalt see how thy mother loves me."
And so their dialogues continued while waiting for the hour of the wedding which was being talked about all over Seville. Carmen's aunt and uncle and Señora Angustias discussed it whenever they met, but in spite of this the bull-fighter scarcely ever entered the home of his betrothed. They preferred to see one another through the grille, according to custom.
The winter passed. Gallardo mounted his horse and went hunting in the pasture lands of some gentlemen who thou-ed him with a protecting air. He must preserve the agility of his body by continual exercise, in preparation for the next bull-fight season. He feared losing his strength and nimbleness.
The most tireless propagandist of his glory was Don José, a gentleman who performed the office of his manager, and always called him his matador. He intervened in all Gallardo's affairs, not admitting a better right even to his own family. He lived on his rents with no other occupation than talking about bulls and bull-fighters. For him bull-fights were the only interesting thing in the world and he divided the human race into two classes, the elect nations who had bull-rings, and the dull ones for whom there is no sun, nor joy, nor good Andalusian wine—in spite of which they think themselves powerful and happy though they have never seen even a single ill-fought corrida of bullocks.
He brought to his enthusiasm the energy of a warrior and the faith of an inquisitor. Fat, still young, bald, and with a light beard, this father of a family, happy and gay in everyday life, was fierce and stubborn on the benches of a ring when his neighbors expressed opinions contrary to his. He felt himself capable of fighting the whole audience in defence of a bull-fighter friend, and he disturbed the ovations with extemporaneous protests when they were offered to an athlete who failed to enjoy his affection.
He had been a cavalry officer, more from love of horses than of war. His corpulence and his enthusiasm for the bulls had caused him to retire from the service. He spent the summer witnessing bull-fights and the winter talking about them. He was eager to be the guide, the mentor, the manager of a bull-fighter, but all the maestros had their own and so the advent of Gallardo was a stroke of fortune for him. The slightest aspersion cast upon the merits of his favorite turned him red with fury and converted the tauromachic dispute into a personal question. He counted it as a glorious act of war to have come to blows in a café with a couple of contemptuous amateurs who criticised his matador as being too boastful.
He felt as though there were not enough papers printed to publish Gallardo's glory, and on winter mornings he would go and place himself on a corner touched by a ray of sunlight at the entrance of Sierpes Street, and as his friends passed, he would say in a loud voice, "No! there is only one man!" as if he were talking to himself, affecting to not see those who were drawing near. "The greatest man in the world! And let him that thinks to the contrary speak out. The only one!"
"Who?" asked his friends, jestingly, pretending not to understand him.
"Who can it be? Juan!"
With a gesture of indignation and surprise he would answer, "What Juan could it be? As if there were many Juans! Juan Gallardo."
"But, man alive," some of them would say to him, "one might think you two lie down together! It is thou, may be, that is going to get married to him?"
"Only because he don't want it so," Don José would stoutly answer, with the fervor of idolatry.
And on seeing other friends approach, he forgot their jibes and continued repeating:
"No! there is only one man. The greatest in the world. And he that doesn't believe it let him open his beak, for here am I!"
Gallardo's wedding was a great event. The new house was opened with it—the house of which the leather-worker was so proud, where he showed the courtyard, the columns, the tiles, as if all were the work of his hands.
They were married in San Gil, before the Virgin of Hope, called the Virgin of Macarena. At the church door the hundreds of Chinese shawls embroidered with exotic flowers and birds, in which the bride's friends were draped, glistened in the sunshine.
Above the black and white felts of the majority of the guests rose the shining tall hats of the manager and other gentlemen, Gallardo's devotees. All of them smiled with satisfaction at the deference of popularity that was shown them on going about with the bull-fighter.
Alms were given at the door of the house during the day. The poor came even from the distant towns, attracted by the fame of this gorgeous wedding.
There was a great feast in the courtyard. Photographers took instantaneous views for the Madrid newspapers. Gallardo's wedding was a national event. Far into the night guitars strummed with melancholy plaint, accompanied by hand-clapping and the click of castanets. The girls, their arms held high, beat the marble floor with their little feet, whirling their skirts and mantillas around their slender bodies, moving with the rhythm characteristic of the Sevillanas. Bottles of rich Andalusian wines were uncorked by the dozen; from hand to hand passed cups of ardent sherry, of strong montilla, and of the wine of San Lúcar, pale and perfumed. Every one was drunk but their intoxication left them sweet, subdued, and sad, with no other manifestation than sighs and songs, many starting at once to intone melancholy chants that told of prisons, of deaths, and of the poor mother, the eternal theme of the popular songs of Andalusia.
The last guests took their leave at midnight and the bride and groom were left in the house with Señora Angustias. The leather-worker, going out with his wife, made a gesture of desperation. He was drunk and furious because no one had paid him any attention during the entire day. As if he were nobody! As if the family did not exist!
"They cast us out, Encarnación. That girl, with her little face like the Virgin of Hope, is going to be mistress of everything and there won't be even a crumb left for us. Thou shalt see how they will fill the place with children."
And the prolific man grew indignant thinking of Gallardo's future offspring being brought into the world with no other purpose than to harm his own.
Time went on. A year passed without Señor Antonio's prediction being fulfilled. Gallardo and his wife appeared at all the functions with the pomp and show of a rich and popular bridal pair; she with mantillas that drew forth screams of admiration from the poor women; he, wearing his brilliants and ever ready to draw out his pocket-book to treat the people and to succor the beggars that came in bands. The gypsies, coppery of skin and chattering like witches, besieged Carmen with happy prophesies. Might God bless her! She was going to have a boy, a little prattling babe, more beautiful than the sun itself. They read it in the white of her eyes.
But in vain Carmen flushed with joy and modesty, lowering her eyes; in vain the espada walked erect, proud of his achievements, believing that the coveted fruit would soon appear.
And then another year passed without the realization of their hopes. Señora Angustias was sad when they spoke to her about it. She had other grandchildren, Encarnación's little ones, who by order of the leather-worker spent the day in their grandmother's house trying in every way to please their uncle. But she, wishing to compensate Gallardo for the hardships of the past, prayed with fervent affection for a child of his to care for, yearning to shower upon him all the love she could not give the father in his infancy because of her poverty.
"I know what is the matter," said the old woman sadly, "poor Carmen has no peace of mind. Thou shouldst see that unhappy creature when Juan is travelling about the world."
During the winter, in the season of rest when the bull-fighter was at home or went to the country testing bullocks and joining in the hunt, all was well. Carmen was then content knowing that her husband was in no danger. She laughed on the slightest pretext; she ate heartily; her face was animated by the color of health; but as soon as the spring came and Juan left home to fight bulls in the rings of Spain the poor girl, pale and weak, would fall into a painful stupefaction, her eyes enlarged by fear and ready to shed tears.
"Seventy-two bull-fights this year," said the friends of the house, commenting on the swordsman's contracts. "No one is so sought after as he."
And Carmen smiled with a grimace of pain. Seventy-two afternoons of agony like a criminal doomed to death, awaiting the arrival of the telegram at nightfall and at the same time dreading it! Seventy-two days of terror, of vague superstitions, thinking that a word forgotten in a prayer might influence the luck of the absent one! Seventy-two days of painful paradox, living in a tranquil house, seeing the same people, her accustomed existence running on, calm and peaceful as though nothing extraordinary were happening in the world, hearing the play of her husband's nephews in the courtyard and the flower-seller's song on the street, while far, very far away, in unknown cities, her Juan, in the presence of thousands of eyes, fought with wild beasts, seeing death pass close to his breast at each movement of the red rag he held in his hands!
Ah! those days of bull-fights, feast-days, on which the sky seemed more beautiful and the once solitary street resounded beneath the feet of the holiday crowd, when guitars strummed with accompaniment of hand-clapping and song in the tavern at the corner. Carmen, plainly dressed, with her mantilla over her eyes, left the house as if fleeing from evil dreams, going to take refuge in the churches. Her simple faith, which uncertainty burdened with superstitions, made her go from altar to altar as she recalled to mind the merits and miracles of each image. She went to San Gil, the church that had seen the happiest day of her existence, she knelt before the Virgin of Macarena, provided candles, many candles, and by their ruddy glow contemplated the brown face of the image with its black eyes and long lashes, which, it was said, resembled her own. In her she trusted. For a good reason was she Our Lady of Hope. Surely at this very hour she was protecting Juan by her divine power.
But suddenly indecision and fear rudely burst through her beliefs, tearing them asunder. The Virgin was a woman and women are so weak! Her destiny was to suffer and weep, as she wept for her husband, as the other had wept for her Son. She must confide in stronger powers; she must implore the aid of a more vigorous protection. And, in the stress of her agony, abandoning the Macarena without scruple as a useless friendship is forgotten, she went at other times to the church of San Lorenzo in search of Jesus, He of the Great Power, the Man-God crowned with thorns with the cross on his back, sweaty and tearful, the work of the sculptor Montañés, an awe-inspiring image.
The dramatic sadness of the Nazarene stumbling against the stones and bent beneath the weight of the cross seemed to console the poor wife. Lord of the Great Power! This vague and grandiose title tranquillized her. If the god dressed in brown velvet and gold would but deign to listen to her sighs, to her prayers repeated in eager haste, with dizzy rapidity, she was sure that Juan would walk unscathed out of the ring where he was at that moment. Again she would give money to a sacristan to light candles, and she passed hours contemplating the vacillating reflection of the red tongues on the image, believing she saw in the varnished face, by these alternations of shade and light, smiles of consolation, kind expressions that promised felicity.
The Lord of Great Power did not deceive her. On her return to the house she was presented with the little blue paper which she opened with a trembling hand: "As usual." She could breathe again, she could sleep like the criminal that is freed for the instant from immediate death; but in two or three days again came the agony of uncertainty, the terrible torture of doubt.
Carmen, in spite of the love she professed for her husband, had hours of rebellion. If she had known what this existence was before she married! At certain moments, craving the sisterhood of pain, she went in search of the wives of the bull-fighters who figured in Juan's cuadrilla, hoping they could give her news.
Nacional's good woman, who kept a tavern in the same ward, received the master's wife with tranquillity, wondering at her fears. She was accustomed to such an existence. Her husband must be all right since he sent no word. Telegrams cost dear and a banderillero earns little. If the newsboys did not shout an accident it was because none had happened. And she continued attentive to the service of her establishment as if no trace of worry could make its way into her blunted sensibility.
Again, crossing the bridge, Carmen went to the ward of Triana in search of the wife of Potaje, the picador, a kind of gypsy that lived in a hut like a hen-house surrounded by coppery, dirty youngsters whom she threatened and terrified with stentorian yells. The visit of the master's wife filled her with pride, but the latter's anxiety almost made her laugh. She ought not to be afraid. Those on foot always escaped the bull and Señor Juan Gallardo's good angel watched over him when he threw himself upon the beasts. The bulls killed but few. The terrible thing was being thrown from the horse. It was known to be the end of all picadores after a life of horrible falls; those who did not die suddenly from an unforeseen and thundering accident finished their days in madness. Thus poor Potaje would die—and so many hard struggles in exchange for a handful of duros,—while others—
This last she did not say but her eyes revealed the protest against the favoritism of Fate for those fine youths who, by a thrust of the sword, took the applause, the popularity, and the money, with no greater risks than those faced by their humbler associates.
Little by little Carmen grew accustomed to this new life. The cruel suspense on bull-fight days, the visits to the saints, the superstitious fears, she accepted them all as incidents necessary to her existence. Moreover, her husband's good luck and the continual conversation in the house on the events of the contest finally familiarized her with the danger. The fierce bull became for her as for Gallardo a generous and noble beast come into the world with no other purpose than to enrich and give fame to those who kill him.
She never attended a bull-fight. Since that afternoon on which she saw him who was to be her husband in his first novillada, she had not returned to the plaza. She lacked courage to witness a bull-fight, even one in which Gallardo did not take part. She would faint with terror on seeing other men face the danger dressed in the same costume as her Juan.
In the third year of their marriage Gallardo was wounded at Valencia. Carmen did not know it at once. The telegram arrived on time with the customary, "As usual." It was a merciful act of Don José, the manager, who, visiting Carmen every day and resorting to skilful jugglery to prevent her reading the papers, put off her knowledge of the misfortune for a week.
When Carmen heard of it through the indiscretion of some neighbor women she wished to take the train immediately to go to her husband, to take care of him, for she imagined him abandoned. It was not necessary. Before she could start the swordsman arrived, pale from the loss of blood, and with one leg doomed to a long season of immobility, but happy and anxious to tranquillize his family. The house was from that time a kind of sanctuary, hundreds passing through the courtyard to greet Gallardo, "the greatest man in the world," seated there in a big willow chair with his leg on a tabourette and smoking as tranquilly as though his body were not torn by an atrocious wound.
Doctor Ruiz, who came with him to Seville, prophesied that he would be well before a month, marvelling at the energy of his constitution. The facility with which bull-fighters were cured was a mystery to him in spite of his long practice of surgery. The horn, dirty with blood and animal excrement, often breaking into splinters at the blow, tore the flesh, scratched it, perforated it, making at once a deep penetrating injury and a bruised contusion, and yet these atrocious wounds healed with greater ease than those in ordinary life.
"I don't know what it is, this mystery," said the old surgeon with an air of doubt. "Either those boys have got the flesh of a dog, or else the horn, with all its filth, carries a curative virtue that is unknown to us."
A short time afterward, Gallardo went back to bull-fighting, his ardor uncooled by the accident, contrary to the prediction of his enemies.
Four years after his marriage the swordsman gave his wife and mother a great surprise. They were becoming landed proprietors, yea, proprietors on a great scale, with lands "stretching beyond view," with olive orchards, mills, great flocks and herds, and a plantation like those of the rich gentlemen of Seville.
Gallardo experienced the desire of all bull-fighters, who long to be lords over lands, breeders of horses, and owners of herds of cattle. Urban wealth? No. Values in paper do not tempt them nor do they understand them. The bull makes them think of the green meadow; the horse recalls the country to their minds. The continual necessity of movement and exercise, the hunt, and constant travel during the winter months, cause them to desire the possession of land. According to Gallardo the only rich man was he who owned a plantation and great herds of animals. Since his days of poverty, when he had tramped along the roads through olive orchards and pasture grounds, he had nursed his fervent desire to possess leagues and leagues of land, enclosed with barbed-wire fences against the depredation of other men.
His manager knew these desires. Don José it was who took charge of his affairs, collecting the money from the ring-managers and carrying an account that he tried in vain to explain to his matador.
"I don't understand that music," said Gallardo, content in his ignorance, "I only know how to despatch bulls. Do whatever you wish, Don José; I have confidence in you and I know that you do everything for my good." So Don José, who scarcely ever thought about his own property, leaving it to the weak administration of his wife, occupied himself at all hours with the bull-fighter's fortune, placing his money at interest with the heart of a usurer to make it fruitful. One day he fell upon his client joyfully.
"I have what thou desirest, a plantation like a world, and besides, it is very cheap; a regular bargain. Next week we will get it into writing."
Gallardo was eager to know the name and situation of the plantation.
"It is called La Rinconada."
His desires were fulfilled! When Gallardo went with his wife and mother to take possession of the plantation he showed them the hayloft where he had slept with the companions of his wandering misery, the room in which he had dined with the master, and the little plaza where he had stabbed a calf, earning for the first time the right to travel by train without having to hide beneath the seats.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.