Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
DON José, firm friend of the Marquis of Moraima, and related to the best families of Seville, had often talked to Gallardo concerning Doņa Sol.
She had returned to Seville only a few months before, arousing the enthusiasm of the young people. She came, after a long absence in foreign lands, eager for everything pertaining to la tierra, enjoying the popular customs and finding it all very interesting, "very artistic." She went to the bull-fights arrayed in the ancient costume of a maja, imitating the dress and pose of the beautiful women painted by Goya. Strong, accustomed to sports, and a great horsewoman, the people saw her galloping around the outskirts of Seville, wearing with her black riding skirt a man's jacket, a red cravat, and a white beaver hat perched on top of her golden hair. Sometimes she carried a spear across the pommel of the saddle and with a party of friends converted into piqueros, she went to the pasture grounds to tease and upset bulls, enjoying this wild festivity, abounding as it did in danger. She was not a child. Gallardo had a confused recollection of having seen her in his youth on the paseo of Delicias, seated beside her mother and covered with white frills, like a luxurious doll in a show-case, while he, a miserable vagabond, dashed under the wheels of the carriage in search of cigar stubs. They were undoubtedly the same age,—she must be at the end of the twenties; but how magnificent! So different from other women! She seemed like an exotic bird, a bird of paradise, fallen into a farmyard among mere shiny, well fed hens.
Don José knew her history. An eccentric mind had Doņa Sol! Her mother was dead and she had a considerable fortune. She had married in Madrid a certain man older than herself, who offered to a woman eager for splendor and novelty the advantages of travelling about the world as the wife of an ambassador who represented Spain at the principal courts.
"The way that girl has amused herself, Juan!" said the manager. "The heads she has turned in ten years from one end of Europe to the other! She must be a regular geography with secret notes at the foot of each page. Surely she cannot look at the map without making a little cross of memory near all the great capitals. And the poor ambassador! He died, of despondency, no doubt, because there was no longer any place to which he could be sent. The good gentleman, accredited to represent our country, would go to a court and inside of a year, behold! the queen or the empress of that land was writing to Spain asking the minister to retire the ambassador and his dreaded consort, whom the newspapers called 'the irresistible Spanish woman.' The crowned heads that gachí has turned! Queens trembled when they saw her come, as if she were the Asiatic cholera. At last the poor ambassador saw no other place for his talents but the republics of America, but as he was a gentleman of good principles and the friend of kings, he preferred to die. And don't think that the girl contented herself only with personages who eat and dance in royal palaces. Not if what they say be true! That child is all extremes; it is all or nothing! She will as soon go after one that digs in the ground as the highest above it. I have heard that there in Russia she was running after one of those bushy-haired fellows that throw bombs, a youth with a woman's face, who paid no attention to her because she disturbed him in his business. But the girl kept chasing and chasing after him until finally they hung him. They say, too, that she had an affair with a painter in Paris, and they even say he painted her in the nude, with one arm over her face so as not to be recognized, and that the picture travels around that way on match-boxes. That must be false; an exaggeration! What seems more certain is that she was the great friend of a German, a musician—one of those who write operas. If thou couldst hear her play the piano! And when she sings! Just like one of those singers that come to the theatre of San Fernando in the Easter season. And think not that she sings in Italian only; she talks anything—French, German, English. Her uncle, the Marquis of Moraima, when he talks about her at the Forty-five says he has his suspicions that she speaks Latin. What a woman! Eh, Juanillo? What an interesting creature!
"In Seville," he went on, "she leads an exemplary life. On that account I think what they tell of her foreign affairs may be false; lies of certain young cocks that go for grapes and find them sour."
And laughing at the spirit of this woman, who at times was as bold and as aggressive as a man, he repeated the rumors that had circulated in certain clubs on Sierpes Street. When the "Ambassadress" came to live in Seville, all the young people had formed a court around her.
"Imagine, Juanillo, an elegant woman, different from those around here, bringing her clothes and hats from Paris, her perfume from London; besides being a friend of kings, branded with the brand of the finest stock in Europe, so to speak. They followed in her wake like mad men, and the girl permitted them certain liberties, wanting to live among them like a man. But some of them transgressed the bounds, mistaking familiarity for something else, and, at a loss for words, they made too free with their hands. Then there were blows, Juan, and something worse. That young lady is dangerous. It seems that she shoots at a mark, that she knows how to box like an English sailor, and knows besides, that Japanese way of fighting that they call jitsu. To sum it all up, if a Christian dares to give her a pinch, she, with her dainty little fists, without even getting angry, will grasp thee and leave thee torn to shreds. Now they attack her less, but she has enemies who go about talking evil of her; some praising what is a lie, others even denying that she is clever."
Doņa Sol, according to the manager, was enthusiastic over life in Seville. After a long sojourn in cold, foggy lands she admired the intensely blue sky and the winter sun of soft gold, and she discoursed on the sweetness of life in this country—so picturesque!
"The simplicity of our customs fills her with enthusiasm. She is like one of those English women that come in Holy Week—as if she had not been born in Seville; as if she saw it for the first time! They say she spends her summers in foreign cities and her winters here. She is tired of her life in palaces and courts, and if thou didst but see the people she goes with! She has made them receive her like a sister in the convent of Cristo de Triana and that of the Most Holy Cachorro, and she has spent a pot of money on wine for the brotherhood. Some nights she fills her house with guitarists and dancers, for so many girls in Seville are good singers and dancers. With them go their teachers and their families, even to their most distant relatives; they all stuff themselves with olives, sausages, and wine, and Doņa Sol, seated in a big chair like a queen, spends the hours demanding dance after dance, all which must be native to the country. They say this is a diversion equal to that which was given to I don't know what king, who had operas sung for himself alone. Her servants, foreign fellows that have come with her, long-faced and serious as parrots, go about in their evening dress with great trays, passing glasses to the dancers who in plain sight box their ears and snap olive stones in their eyes. Most honest and diverting games! Now, Doņa Sol receives Lechuzo in the mornings, an old gypsy who gives guitar lessons, master of the purest style; and when her visitors don't find her with the instrument on her lap, she is with an orange in her hand. The oranges that creature has eaten since she came! And still she isn't satisfied!"
Thus continued Don José, explaining to his matador the eccentricities of Doņa Sol.
Four days after Gallardo had seen her in the parish church of San Lorenzo, the manager approached the matador in a café on Sierpes Street with an air of mystery.
"Gachó, thou art a child of good fortune. Knowest who has been talking to me about thee?"
She had asked him about his matador, and expressed a desire to meet him. She was such an original type! So Spanish!
"She says she has seen thee kill several times, once in Madrid and again, I know not where. She has applauded thee. She recognizes that thou are very brave. What if she should take up with thee! Imagine it! What an honor! Thou wouldst be a brother-in-law, or something like that, of all the high-toned fellows on the European calendar of swells."
Gallardo smiled modestly, lowering his eyes, but at the same time he twisted his handsome person proudly as if he did not consider his manager's hypothesis either difficult or extraordinary.
"But do not form illusions, Juanillo," continued he; "Doņa Sol wishes to study a bull-fighter at close range, with the same interest that she takes lessons from the master Lechuzo. Local color and nothing more! 'Bring him day after to-morrow to Tablada,' she told me. Thou knowest what that will be—a baiting of the cattle of the Moraima herd; an entertainment the Marquis has gotten up to divert his niece. We will go; she has invited me also."
Two days later, in the afternoon, the maestro and his manager started from the ward of the Feria like gentlemen picadores, eagerly watched by the people who peeped out of the doors and stood in groups on the sidewalks.
"They are going to Tablada," they said. "There is to be a bull-baiting."
The manager, mounted on a large-boned mare, was in the dress of the country, short jacket, cloth trousers with yellow gaiters, and leather leggings. The swordsman had arrayed himself for the event in his usual bizarre dress of the ancient bull-fighters, before modern fashion had levelled their apparel to that of other mortals. A crush hat of velvet with a plaited band was held on by a chin-strap; the collar of the shirt, innocent of cravat, was fastened with a pair of brilliants and two larger ones sparkled on the undulating bosom; the jacket and waistcoat were of wine-colored velvet with black loops and hangings; lastly there was a red silk belt and tight knee-breeches of dark mixed weave bound at the knees with garters of black braid. His leggings were amber-colored, with leather fringes along the side, and boots of the same color, half hidden in the wide Moorish stirrups, exposed to view great silver spurs. Over the saddle-horn, on top of the gay Jerez blanket whose tassels hung on both sides of the horse, lay a gray jacket with black trimmings and red lining.
The two horsemen rode at a gallop, carrying on their shoulders javelins made of fine elastic wood, with balls on the end to guard the tip. Their passage through the populous ward aroused an ovation. Hurrah! The women waved their hands.
"God be with you, Seņores! Amuse yourself, Seņor Juan!"
They spurred their horses to escape from the crowd of youngsters that ran after them, and the narrow lanes with their blue pavements and white walls rang with the rhythmic beat of the horseshoes.
On the quiet street of manorial houses with massive grilled gates and great balconies, where Doņa Sol lived, they met other riders before the door, sitting on their horses, leaning on their lances. They were young gentlemen, relatives or friends of the lady, who greeted the bull-fighter with amiable familiarity, happy to have him in the party. The Marquis of Moraima came out of the house and immediately mounted his horse.
"The child will be down immediately. Everybody knows the women—how long they take to get ready."
He said this with the sententious gravity that he gave to all his words, as if he were uttering oracles. He was a tall, big-boned old man, with long white whiskers in the midst of which his mouth and eyes preserved an infantile ingenuousness. Courteous and measured in his speech, genteel in manner, moderate in his smile, the Marquis of Moraima was a fine gentleman of the type of by-gone days. He was dressed almost always in riding clothes, hating the city life, bored by the social demands of his family when detained by them in Seville, and eager to fly to the country among shepherd-foremen and cattlemen, whom he treated with the familiarity of comrades. He had almost forgotten how to write, from lack of practice, but as soon as the talk turned to cattle, to the raising of bulls and horses, or to agriculture, his eyes shone and he expressed himself with the skill of one deeply learned.
The sunlight clouded. The golden glow on the white walls on one side of the street grew pale. People looked aloft. Along the blue belt between the two rows of eaves, a dark cloud passed.
"There is no danger," said the Marquis gravely. "As I came out of the house I saw a bit of paper which the wind blew in a direction I understand. It will not rain."
Then he faced Gallardo.
"This year I am going to provide for thee some magnificent corridas. What bulls! We shall see if thou sendest them to death like good Christians. Thou knowest that this year I have not been quite satisfied. The poor things deserved better."
Doņa Sol appeared, holding up her black riding-skirt in one hand and showing beneath it the tops of her high gray leather boots. She wore a man's shirt with a red tie, a jacket and waistcoat of violet velvet, a velvet three-cornered hat gracefully tipped to one side over her curls. She mounted her horse with ease, in spite of the abundant plumpness of her well-developed form, and took her javelin from a servant's hands. She greeted her friends, excusing her tardiness, while her eyes travelled toward Gallardo. The manager spurred his mare closer to make the presentation, but Doņa Sol, drawing near, rode up to the bull-fighter.
Gallardo was disturbed at her presence. What a woman! What should he say to her?
He saw that she extended him her hand, a fine hand that was gloriously fragrant, and in his perturbation he could only press it with his great fingers that better knew how to throw wild beasts. But the delicate and rosy palm, instead of cringing under the involuntary and brutal pressure that would have drawn from another a shriek of pain, tightened its muscles with vigorous force, freeing itself easily from his clasp.
And Gallardo, feeling in his confusion the necessity of answering something, stammered, as if he were greeting a devotee:
"Thanks. The family well?"
Doņa Sol's discreet laugh was lost in the noise of the horseshoes that resounded on the stones with the first movement of the cavalcade. The lady put her horse to a trot and the whole troop followed, forming an escort around her. Gallardo, abashed, travelled in the rear, not recovering from his stupefaction, and vaguely guessing that he had said something foolish.
They galloped along the outskirts of Seville beside the river; they left behind them the Tower of Gold; they followed shady avenues of yellow sand and then a high-road beside which stood inns and lunch-booths.
As they drew near Tablada they saw, on the green expanse of plain, a dark mass of people and carriages near the palisade that separated the pasture from the enclosure containing the cattle.
The Guadalquivir swept its current through the length of the pasture-grounds. On the opposite bank rose the hill called San Juan de Aznalfarache, crowned by a ruined castle. The country houses loomed white against the silver gray masses of the olive groves. On the opposite wing of the extended horizon, against a blue background on which floated fleecy clouds, was Seville, its houses dominated by the imposing mass of the cathedral and the marvellous Giralda, a tender rose-color in the afternoon light.
The riders advanced with much care through the dense crowd. The curiosity which Doņa Sol's eccentricities inspired had attracted nearly all the ladies of Seville. Her friends bowed to her from their carriages, thinking her most beautiful in her mannish costume. Her relatives, the daughters of the Marquis, some unmarried, others accompanied by their husbands, cautioned her to prudence. "For mercy's sake, Sol! Don't do crazy things!"
The bull-baiters entered the enclosure, welcomed as they passed through the palisade by the applause of the common people who had come to the festivity. The horses, scenting the enemy, and seeing them in the distance, rose on their hind legs and began to prance and neigh, held in by the firm hand of the riders.
The bulls were grouped in the centre of the enclosure. Some were quietly feeding, some were lying on the reddish green winter field. Others, more rebellious, trotted toward the river, and the older bulls, the trained leaders, ran after them, ringing the bells that hung around their necks, while the cowboys helped them in this rounding up, slinging well-aimed stones that struck the horns of the fugitives. The horsemen remained motionless a long time, as if holding council before the eager gaze of the public awaiting something extraordinary.
The first to start was the Marquis, accompanied by one of his friends. The two riders galloped toward the group of bulls and reined in their horses when near them, standing in their stirrups, waving their javelins in the air, and making loud outcries to frighten them. A black bull with strong legs separated from the band, running toward the end of the enclosure.
The Marquis was justly proud of his herd, which was composed of fine selected animals. They were not oxen destined to the production of meat, with filthy, loose, and wrinkled hide, nor with broad hoofs, nor drooping head, nor with big ill-placed horns. These were animals of nervous vigor, strong and heavy enough to make the earth tremble, raising a cloud of dust beneath their feet; their hide was fine and glossy like that of a thoroughbred horse, their eyes flashed, their neck was thick and proud, and they had short legs, fine delicate tails, slender horns, sharp and clean, as if polished by hand, and round and small hoofs, so hard that they cut the grass as though made of steel.
The two horsemen rode behind the black bull, attacking him on both sides, barring his way when he tried to make for the river, until the Marquis, setting spur to his mare, gained distance and rode up to the bull, with the javelin held before him and, lodging it under his tail, managed, with the combined strength of his arm and horse, to make the beast lose his equilibrium, rolling him on the ground, with his belly up, his horns driven into the earth and his four feet in the air. The rapidity and ease with which the breeder accomplished this trick provoked an explosion of enthusiasm from behind the palisade. Hurrah for the old man! No one understood bulls like the Marquis. He managed them as if they were his own children, following them from the time of their birth in the cow-herd until they went to their death in the plazas like heroes worthy a better fate.
Other horsemen wished to start at once to win the applause of the crowd but Moraima held them back, giving preference to his niece. If she were determined to try her luck it would be better for her to begin now before the herd grew ugly with continued attacks. Doņa Sol spurred on her horse which was pawing the ground with his fore feet, excited by the presence of the bulls. The Marquis desired to accompany her in her race, but she objected. No; she would rather have Gallardo, who was a bull-fighter. Where was Gallardo? The matador, still ashamed of his stupidity, placed himself at the lady's side without a word. The two set out on a gallop toward the centre of the drove of bulls. Doņa Sol's horse reared several times, standing almost upright, as if resisting, but the strong Amazon forced him to advance. Gallardo waved his javelin, uttering shouts that were more like bellows, just as he did in the ring when he incited the beasts to show their mettle.
It took but little urging to make an animal separate from the drove. A white creature with cinnamon-colored spots, an enormous sloping neck, and horns of the finest point, started out. He ran toward the end of the enclosure as if it were his customary haunt, to which he was irresistibly drawn by instinct, and Doņa Sol galloped after him, followed by the matador.
"Look out, Seņora," called Gallardo. "That bull is old and knows the game! Be careful that he doesn't turn on you!"
When Doņa Sol prepared to achieve the same feat as her uncle, reining her horse alongside to thrust her javelin under the animal's tail and upset him, he turned as if he suspected the danger, planting himself in a threatening attitude before his pursuers. The horse passed in front of the bull, Doņa Sol being unable to rein him in on account of his speed, and the beast plunged after him, converting the besieger into the besieged. The lady did not think of flight. Many thousands of people were watching her from a distance. She feared her friends' laughter and the commiseration of the men, so she reined in her horse, making him face the bull. She sat with the javelin under her arm like a picador, and she thrust it into the bull's neck as he came on bellowing, his head down. The great cervix reddened with a stream of blood, but the beast continued to advance from mere momentum, not feeling that he enlarged the wound, till he thrust his horns beneath the horse, shaking him and lifting his fore feet off the ground. The Amazon was thrown from her saddle while a shout of horror from hundreds of throats arose in the distance. The horse, freeing himself from the horns, began to run like mad, his belly stained with blood, the girths broken, the saddle hanging over his back. The bull started to follow him, when at that instant something nearer attracted his attention. It was Doņa Sol, who, instead of lying motionless on the ground, had just arisen, and picking up her javelin, placed it bravely under her arm to hold off the bull again. It was mad arrogance, due to her consciousness of the many who watched her. It was a challenge to death rather than yield to cowardice and ridicule.
They no longer shouted behind the palisade. The crowd was motionless with the silence of terror. The whole troop of bull-baiters rode up on a mad gallop in a cloud of dust, the riders seeming to gain in size at every bound. Aid would come too late. The bull pawed the ground with his fore feet and lowered his head to attack the audacious little figure that stood threatening him with the lance. One little horn-stab would make an end of it! But at the same instant, a fierce bellowing distracted the bull's attention and something red passed before his vision like a flame of fire. It was Gallardo, who had thrown himself off his mare, abandoning the javelin to grasp the jacket which he carried on the pommel of his saddle.
"Aaaa! Come on!"
The bull came on, running past the red-lined jacket, attracted by an adversary worthy of him, and turned his hind quarters toward the figure in the black skirt and violet bodice, that, in the stupefaction of danger, still stood with the lance under her arm.
"Have no fear, Doņa Sol; he is mine now!" cried the bull-fighter, still pale with emotion but smiling, sure of his skill. Without other defence than the jacket, he fought the beast, drawing him away from the lady and escaping from its furious attacks with graceful movements.
The crowd, forgetting the recent fright, commenced to applaud, enraptured. What joy! To go to a simple baiting and to find themselves at an almost formal corrida, seeing Gallardo work gratis.
The bull-fighter, fired by the violence with which the brute attacked him, forgot Doņa Sol and every one else, intent only on evading his attacks. The bull became furious, seeing that the man slipped unharmed from between his horns, and fell upon him again, never encountering anything but the brilliant red lining of the jacket.
At last he wearied and stood still, his mouth frothing, his head low, his legs trembling; then Gallardo took advantage of the brute's stupefaction and taking off his hat touched his head with it. An immense shout arose behind the palisade, greeting this heroic exploit. Then yells and ringing of bells sounded at Gallardo's back, cattlemen with lead-bulls appeared and, surrounding the animal, drove it slowly toward the thick of the herd.
Gallardo went in search of his mare, which stood motionless, accustomed to being near the bulls. He picked up his javelin, mounted, and rode back toward the palisade at a gentle gallop, prolonging the noisy applause of the crowd by this slow riding. The horsemen who had taken Doņa Sol away greeted him with wild enthusiasm. The manager winked one eye at him, saying mysteriously, "Gachó, thou hast not been slow. Very good, but very good! Now I tell thee that thou'lt get her."
Doņa Sol was in the landau of the Marquis' daughters, outside the palisade. Her cousins surrounded her, anxious, feeling her over, almost expecting to find some bone broken by her fall. They gave her glasses of manzanilla to help her recover from her fright but she smiled with an air of superiority, passively receiving these feminine demonstrations.
As she saw Gallardo breaking through the lines of people on his horse, amidst waving hats and extended hands, the lady smiled yet more brightly.
"Come here, Cid Campeador. Give me your hand!"
And again their hands clasped, with a pressure that lasted long.
In the evening, in the house of the matador, this event, which was talked about throughout the whole city, was commented upon. Seņora Angustias displayed satisfaction, just as after a corrida. Her son saving one of those seņoras on whom she gazed with admiration, habituated to reverence by long years of servitude! Carmen remained silent, scarcely knowing what to think.
Several days passed without Gallardo's receiving news from Doņa Sol. The manager was out of the city hunting with some friends of the Forty-five. One afternoon, near nightfall, Don José sought him in a café on Sierpes Street where the connoisseurs met. He had returned from the hunt two hours before and had had to go immediately to Doņa Sol's house in response to a certain note that awaited him at his domicile.
"But, man alive, thou art worse than a wolf!" said the manager, drawing his matador out of the café. "This lady expected thee to go to her house. She has spent most of her afternoons at home, thinking thou wouldst come any moment. This shouldn't be. After my having introduced thee, and after all that happened, thou owest her a call; a question of asking for her health."
The matador stopped in his walk and scratched his head beneath his hat.
"Well, but," he murmured with indecision, "well, but I am embarrassed. Yes, that is it; yes, sir, embarrassed. You know that I have my affairs with women and that I know how to say a half dozen words to any common gachí; but to this one, no. This is a lady, and when I see her I realize that I am rough and coarse, and I keep my mouth shut, for I can't speak without putting my foot in it. No, Don José, I am not going. I ought not to go."
But the manager, sure of convincing him, conducted him toward Doņa Sol's house, talking of his recent interview with the lady. She showed herself somewhat offended by Gallardo's forgetfulness. The best in Seville had gone to see her since her accident at Tablada, but not he.
"Thou knowest that a bull-fighter should stand well with the people who are worth while. One must have education and show that he is not a herder raised in the branding-pen. A lady of so much importance who honors thee and expects thee! Come! I will go with thee."
"Ah! If you accompany me!" And Gallardo drew a deep breath on hearing this, as if he were freed from the weight of a great danger.
They entered Doņa Sol's house. The courtyard was in Moorish style, its many colored arcades of beautiful designs recalling the horseshoe arches of the Alhambra. The fountain flowing into a basin where gold-fish were swimming sang with sweet monotony in the afternoon stillness. In the four surrounding passages with carved ceilings separated from the courtyard by the marble columns of the arcades, the bull-fighter saw ancient mosaics, time-darkened paintings, images of saints with livid countenances, and wood-work worm-eaten as though it had been fusilladed with small shot.
A servant conducted them up the broad marble stairway, and there again the bull-fighter was surprised to see paintings on wood of rude figures with a gilded background; voluptuous virgins that seemed to be hewn out with an axe, with delicate colors and faded gold, looted from ancient altars; tapestries of the soft tone of dry leaves, bordered with flowers and fruits, some representing scenes from Calvary, others full of hairy satyrs with hoofs and horns with whom nude girls seemed to play as men play with bulls in the ring.
"How vast is ignorance," he said to his manager. "And I had thought that all this was only good for convents. How much these people seem to value it."
Gallardo received new surprises. He was proud of his own furniture brought from Madrid, all of gaudy silk and complicated design, heavy and rich, seeming to proclaim, as it were by shouts, the money it had cost, but here he was dazzled at the sight of delicate and fragile chairs, white or green, tables and cupboards of simple lines, walls of a single tint with no other ornament than small paintings separated by great distances, and hanging by heavy cords, the whole giving a tone of subdued and quiet elegance that seemed the handiwork of artists. He was ashamed of his own stupefaction and of what he had admired in his house as the supreme of luxury. "How vast is ignorance!" And as he seated himself he did so with care, fearing lest the chair would crumble beneath his weight.
Doņa Sol's presence banished these thoughts. He saw her, as he had never before seen her, without mantilla or hat, her glossy hair hanging, and seeming to justify her romantic name. Her arms, of superlative whiteness, escaped from the silken funnels of a Japanese tunic crossed over the breast, which left uncovered a space of adorable neck, slightly amber-colored, with the lines that suggest the neck of the mother Venus. Stones of all colors set in rings of strange design covered her fingers and scintillated with magic splendor as she moved her hands. On her youthful wrists glistened bracelets of gold, some of Oriental filigree with mysterious inscriptions, others massive, from which hung amulets and little foreign figures, mementoes of distant travels. She had crossed one leg over the other with manlike freedom, and on the point of one of her feet dangled a red slipper with a high, gilded heel, tiny as a toy, and covered with heavy embroidery.
Gallardo's ears buzzed, his vision was clouded, he only managed to distinguish a pair of blue eyes fixed on him with an expression half caressing, half ironic. To hide his emotion, he smiled, showing his teeth,—the expressionless smile of a child who wishes to be amiable.
"No, Seņora—many thanks. That amounted to nothing."
Thus he received Doņa Sol's expressions of gratitude for his heroic feat of the other afternoon. Little by little Gallardo began to acquire a certain composure. The lady and the manager talked of bulls, and this gave the swordsman a sudden confidence. She had seen him kill several times, and she remembered exactly the principal incidents. Gallardo felt pride that this woman had gazed upon him at such moments and had even kept fresh the memory of his deeds. She opened a lacquer box, decorated with weird flowers, and offered the men cigarettes with golden mouthpieces which exhaled a strange and pungent perfume.
"They contain opium; they are very agreeable."
And she lighted one, following the smoke spirals with her greenish eyes which acquired a tremor of liquid gold as they refracted the light. The bull-fighter, accustomed to the strong Havana tobacco, smoked the cigarette with curiosity. Pure straw; a mere treat for ladies. But the strange perfume of the smoke slowly overcame his timidity.
Doņa Sol, looking at him fixedly, asked questions about his life. She wished to get a glimpse behind the scenes of glory, of the subterranean ways of celebrity, of the miserable wandering life of the bull-fighter before he gained public acclamation; and Gallardo, with sudden confidence, talked and talked, telling of his youthful days, dwelling with proud delectation on the lowliness of his origin, although omitting all that he considered questionable in his eventful adolescence.
"Very interesting, very original!" said the handsome lady, and withdrawing her eyes from the bull-fighter they became lost in wandering contemplation, as if fixed on something invisible.
"The greatest man in the world!" exclaimed Don José in frank enthusiasm. "Believe me, Sol; there are no two youths like this. And the way he recuperates from horn-stabs—!"
Happy in Gallardo's fortitude, as if he were his progenitor, he enumerated the wounds he had received, describing them as if they could be seen through his clothing. The lady's eyes followed him in this anatomical journey with sincere admiration. A true hero; timid, shy, and simple, like all strong men. The manager spoke of taking his leave. It was after seven and he was expected at home. But Doņa Sol rose to her feet with smiling determination as if to oppose his going. He must remain; they must dine with her; a friendly invitation. That night she expected no one else. The Marquis and his family had gone to the country.
"I am alone—not another word. I command. You will stay and take pot-luck with me."
And as if her orders admitted of no question, she left the room.
The manager protested. No, he could not remain; he had come from outside the city that very afternoon, and his family had scarcely seen him. Besides, he had invited two friends. As for his matador, it seemed to him natural and proper that he should stay. Really, the invitation was meant for him.
"But stay a while at least!" said the swordsman, distressed. "Damn it! Don't leave me alone. I shall not know what to do; I shall not know what to say."
A quarter of an hour afterward Doņa Sol appeared again, dressed in one of her Paris gowns, a Paquin model, the desperation and wonder of relatives and friends.
Don José insisted again. He must go, but his matador should stay. He would take care to let them know at home so that they would not wait for him. Again Gallardo made a gesture of agony, but he grew calm at a look from the manager.
"Don't worry," he whispered, going toward the door, "dost thou think I am a child? I will say thou art dining with some connoisseurs from Madrid."
What torment Gallardo suffered during the first moments of the dinner! He was intimidated by the grave and lordly luxury of the dining-room in which he and the lady seemed to be lost, seated face to face at the centre of a great table, under enormous silver candelabras with electric lights and rose-colored shades. The imposing servants inspired awe; they were ceremonious and impassive as if habituated to the most extraordinary actions; as if nothing this lady did could surprise them. He was ashamed of his dress and manners, feeling the strong contrast between the environment and his appearance. But this first impression of fear and shyness vanished little by little. Doņa Sol laughed at his moderation, at the fear with which he touched the plates and cups. Gallardo ended by admiring her. What an appetite the blonde woman had! Accustomed to the squeamishness and abstinence of the seņoritas he had known, who thought it bad taste to eat much, he marvelled at Doņa Sol's voracity and at the naturalness with which she disposed of the viands. Mouthfuls disappeared between her rosy lips without leaving the slightest trace of their passage; her jaws worked without in the least diminishing the beautiful serenity of her countenance; she carried the glass to her mouth without the slightest drop of liquor spilling a colored pearl upon her clothing. Surely thus must goddesses eat!
Gallardo, fired by her example, ate, and above all, drank much, seeking in the varied and heavy wines a remedy for that stupidity that made him silent as if abashed in the lady's presence, and unable to do more than to smile and repeat, "Many thanks."
The conversation grew animated; the matador became loquacious and talked of funny incidents in the tauromachic life, ending by telling about Nacional's original propaganda, and the feats of his picador Potaje, a wild fellow who swallowed hard-boiled eggs whole; how he was minus half an ear on account of one of his compadres having bitten it off, and how, on being carried injured into the infirmaries of the ring, he would fall on the bed with such a weight of armor and muscle that he would cut through the mattresses with his enormous spurs, and then had to be unriveted.
"Very original! Very interesting!"
Doņa Sol listened, smiling at the details of the existence of these rough men, ever close to death, whom she had until then admired only at a distance.
The champagne completed the work of upsetting Gallardo, and when he rose from the table he gave his arm to the lady, surprised at his own audacity. Did not they do so in the great world? He was not so ignorant as he seemed at first sight!
In the drawing-room where coffee was served he saw a guitar. Doņa Sol offered it to him, asking him to play.
"But I don't know how! I am the most unskilled fellow in the world, aside from killing bulls!"
He regretted that the puntillero of his cuadrilla was not there, a boy who set the women crazy with his "hands of gold" for plucking the strings of a guitar.
Gallardo was leaning back on a sofa smoking the magnificent Havana a servant had offered him. Doņa Sol was smoking one of the cigarettes whose perfume created such a vague drowsiness. The heaviness of digestion weighed upon the bull-fighter, closing his mouth and permitting him no other sign of life than a fixed smile of stupidity. The lady, wearied, doubtless, at the silence in which her words were lost, seated herself before a grand piano, and striking the keys with virile force, drew forth the gay rhythm of Malagueņas followed by Sevillanas, and then all the old Andalusian songs, melancholy and of Oriental dreaminess, which Doņa Sol had stored in her memory as an enthusiastic admirer of la tierra.
Gallardo interrupted the music with his exclamations, just as he did when seated near the stage of a music-hall.
"Good for those little hands of gold! Let's hear another."
"Oh, very much!" Gallardo had never been asked this question until now, but undoubtedly he enjoyed it.
Doņa Sol passed slowly from the lively rhythm of the popular songs to other music more slow, more solemn, which the matador, in his philharmonic wisdom, recognized as "church music." He no longer shouted exclamations of enthusiasm. He was overcome by a delicious quiet, trying to keep awake by contemplating the handsome lady whose back was turned toward him. What a figure—Mother of God! His Moorish eyes fastened themselves on the nape of her neck, round and white, crowned by an aureole of wild, rebellious, golden hair. An absurd idea danced through his blunted mind, keeping him awake with the tickling of temptation.
"What would that gachí do if I should rise and creep up behind her step by step and give her a kiss on that rich little neck of hers?"
But his design did not venture beyond a tempting thought. That woman inspired an irresistible respect. Moreover, he remembered his manager's talk of the arrogance with which she could frighten away troublesome bores; of that little game learned in foreign lands which taught her how to manage a strong man as if he were a rag. He continued gazing at the white neck, like a moon surrounded by a nimbus of gold seen through the clouds which drowsiness hung before his eyes. He was going to fall asleep! He feared that suddenly a loud snore would interrupt the music, a music incomprehensible to him, and which, consequently, must be magnificent. He pinched his legs to keep awake; stretched out his arms; covered his mouth with one hand to stifle his yawns.
A long time passed. Gallardo was not sure whether he had slept or not. Suddenly Doņa Sol's voice woke him from this painful somnolence. She had laid down her cigarette with its blue spirals of smoke, and in a low voice that accentuated the words, giving them impassioned trembling, she sang, accompanying herself by the melody of the piano.
The bull-fighter cocked his ears to try to understand something. Not a word. They were foreign songs. "Damn it! Why not a tango or a soleá? And yet a Christian is expected to keep awake."
Doņa Sol ran her fingers over the keys, casting her eyes upward, throwing her head back, her firm breast trembling with musical sighs. It was Elsa's prayer, the lament of the blonde virgin thinking of the strong man, the brave warrior, invincible before men, and sweet and timid with women. She dreamed awake in her song, throwing into her words tremors of passion, the moisture rising to her eyes. The simple strong man! The warrior! Maybe he was behind her! Why not?
He did not have the legendary aspect of the other; he was rough and unpolished, but she could yet see, with the clarity of a vivid recollection, the grace with which days before he had rushed to her rescue; the smiling confidence with which he had fought a bellowing, infuriated beast, just as the Wagnerian heroes fought frightful dragons. Yes; he was her warrior. And shaken from her heels to the roots of her hair by a voluptuous fear, giving herself up for conquered in advance, she thought she could divine the sweet danger that was approaching behind her. She saw the hero, the knight, rise slowly from the sofa, his Moorish eyes fixed upon her; she heard his cautious steps; she felt his hands on her shoulders; then a kiss of fire on her neck, a brand of passion that marked her his slave for all time—But suddenly the romance ended, and nothing had happened; she had experienced no other impression than her own thrills of timid desire.
Disappointed, she turned around on the piano stool; the music ceased. The warrior was there, buried in the sofa, with a match in his hand, trying to light his cigar for the fourth time, and opening his eyes immeasurably wide to drive the torpor from his senses.
Seeing her eyes fastened upon him, Gallardo rose to his feet. Ah, the supreme moment was coming! The hero strode toward her, to press her with manly passion, to conquer her, to make her his.
"Good-night, Doņa Sol. I must go, it is late. You will want to rest."
Impelled by surprise and dismay, she extended her hand, not knowing what she did. Strong and simple like a hero!
All the feminine conventionalisms went rushing in confusion through her mind, the traditional expressions a woman never forgets, not even in the moments of her greatest abandon. Her desire was impossible. The first time he entered her house? Without the slightest pretence of resistance? Could she go to him? But when the swordsman clasped her hand she looked into his eyes, eyes that could only gaze with impassioned steadiness, that in their mute tenacity expressed his timid hopes, his silent desires.
"Don't go—come; come!"
|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.