Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
A great satisfaction was added to the numerous conceits which served to flatter Gallardo's vanity. When he talked with the Marquis of Moraima, he contemplated him now with an almost filial affection. That señor dressed like a country gentleman, a rude centaur in chaps, with a strong lance, was an illustrious personage who could cover his breast with official sashes and wear in the palace of kings a coat covered with embroidery, with a golden key sewed to one lapel. His most remote ancestors had come to Seville with the monarch that expelled the Moors, receiving as a reward for their deeds immense territories taken from the enemy, of which the great plains where the Marquis' bulls now pastured were the remains. His nearest forefathers had been friends and councillors of monarchs, spending a large part of their patrimony in the pageantry of court life. And this great lord, kind and frank, who maintained in the simplicity of his country life the distinction of his illustrious ancestry, was almost like a near relative of Gallardo. The cobbler's son was as haughty as if he had become a member and formed a part of a noble family. The Marquis of Moraima was his uncle, although he could not confess it publicly and, though the relationship was not legitimate, he consoled himself thinking of the dominion he exercised over a woman of that family, thanks to a love that seemed to laugh at all law and class prejudice. His cousins also, and relatives in greater or less degree of proximity, were all those young gentlemen who used to receive him with that somewhat disdainful familiarity which connoisseurs of rank bestow upon bull-fighters; these now began to treat him as equals. Accustomed to hear Doña Sol speak of them with the familiarity of kinship, Gallardo thought it disadvantageous to him not to treat them with equal freedom.
His life and habits had changed. He seldom entered the cafés on Sierpes Street where his old admirers gathered. They were good fellows, simple and earnest, but of little importance; small merchants, workmen who had risen to be employers; modest employees; vagabonds of no profession who lived miraculously by unknown expedients, with no other visible occupation than talking of bulls.
Gallardo passed the windows of the cafés and bowed to these devotees, who responded with eager signs for him to come in. "I'll return soon." But he did not. He entered an aristocratic club on the same street, with servants in knee breeches, with imposing Gothic decorations and silver service on its tables. The son of Señora Angustias felt a glow of vanity whenever he passed among the servants standing so erect, with a military air, in their black coats, and a lackey, imposing as a magistrate, with a silver chain around his neck, offered to take his hat and stick. It pleased him to mix with so many distinguished people. The young men, sunk down in high chairs like those seen in romantic dramas, talked of horses and women, and kept account of all the duels that took place in Spain, for they were men of fastidious honor and unquestioned valor. In an inside room they shot at targets; in another they gambled from the early evening hours until after sunrise. They tolerated Gallardo as an "original" of the club, because he was a reputable bull-fighter, who dressed well, spent money, and had good connections.
"He is very celebrated," said the members, with great tact, realizing that he knew as much as they did.
The character of Don José, who was charming and well-born, served the bull-fighter as a guarantee in this new existence. Moreover, Gallardo, with his cleverness as an old-time street gamin, knew how to make himself popular with this assemblage of gay youths in which he met acquaintances by the dozens.
He gambled much. It was the best means of coming into contact with his "new family" and strengthening the relationship. He gambled and lost with the bad luck of a man fortunate in other undertakings. He spent his nights in the "hall of crime," as the gambling room was called, and he seldom managed to gain. His ill-luck was a cause of pride to the club.
"Last night Gallardo took a good laying out," said the members. "He lost at least eleven thousand pesetas."
And this prestige as a strong "bank," as well as the serenity with which he gave up his money, made his new friends respect him, finding in him a firm upholder of society's game. The new passion rapidly took possession of him. The excitement of the game dominated him even to the point of sometimes making him forget the great lady who was to him the most interesting object in the world. To gamble with the best in Seville! To be treated as an equal by the young gentlemen, with the fraternal feeling that the loaning of money and common emotions creates!
Suddenly one night a great cluster of electric globes that stood on the green table and illuminated the room went out. There was darkness and disorder, but Gallardo's imperious voice rose above the confusion.
"Silence, gentlemen! Nothing has happened. On with the game! Let them bring candles!"
And the game went on, his companions admiring him for his energetic oratory even more than for the bulls he killed. The manager's friends asked him about Gallardo's losses. He would be ruined; what he earned by the bulls was being eaten up by gaming. But Don José smiled disdainfully, doubling the glory of his matador.
"We have more bull-fights for this year than any one else. We're going to get tired of killing bulls and earning money. Let the boy amuse himself. That's what he works for, and that's why he is what he is—the greatest man in the world!"
Don José considered that the people's admiration for the serenity with which he lost added glory to his idol. A matador could not be like other men who keep chasing after a cent. He did not earn his money for nothing. Besides, it pleased him as a personal triumph, as something that was an accomplishment of his own, to see him established in a social set which not everybody could join.
"He is the man of the day," he said with an aggressive air to those who criticised Gallardo's new habits. "He doesn't go with nobodies, nor does he sit around taverns like other bull-fighters. And what does that prove? He is the bull-fighter of the aristocracy, because he wants to be, and can be. The others are jealous."
In his new existence, Gallardo not only frequented the club, but some afternoons he mingled with the Society of the Forty-five. It was a kind of senate of tauromachy. Bull-fighters did not find easy access to its salons, thus leaving the respectable nobility of the connoisseurs free to voice their opinions.
During the spring and summer the Forty-five gathered in the vestibule and on the sidewalk, seated in willow arm-chairs, to await the telegrams from the bull-fights. They had little faith in the opinions of the press; moreover they must get the news before it came out in the papers. Telegrams from all parts of the Peninsula where bull-fights were held came at nightfall, and the members, after listening with religious gravity to their reading, argued and built suppositions upon these telegraphic brevities. It was a function that filled them with pride, elevating them above common mortals, this of remaining quietly seated at the door of the Society, enjoying the cool air and hearing in a certain manner, without prejudiced exaggerations, what had occurred that afternoon in the bull plaza of Bilbao, or of Coruña or Barcelona, or Valencia, of the ears one matador had received or the hisses that had greeted another, while their fellow-citizens remained in the saddest depths of ignorance and walked the streets obliged to wait till night for the coming out of the newspapers. When there was an accident, and a telegram arrived announcing the terrible goring of a native bull-fighter, emotion and patriotic sentiment softened the respectable senators to the point of communicating the important secret to some passing friend. The news instantly circulated through the cafés on Sierpes Street, and no one doubted it at all. It was a telegram received at the Forty-five.
Gallardo's manager, with his aggressive and noisy enthusiasm, disturbed the social gravity; but they tolerated him on account of his being an old friend and they ended by laughing at his ways. It was impossible for such critical persons to discuss the merits of the bull-fighters tranquilly with Don José. Often, on speaking of Gallardo as "a brave boy, but with little art," they looked timorously toward the door.
"Pepe is coming," they said, and the conversation was suddenly broken off.
Don José entered waving the blue paper of a telegram above his head.
"Have you got news from Santander? Here it is: Gallardo, two strokes, two bulls, and with the second, the ear. Now, didn't I tell you? The greatest man in the world!"
The telegram for the Forty-five was often different, but the manager scarcely conceded it a scornful glance, bursting out in noisy protest.
"Lies! All jealousy! My message is the one that's worth something. That one shows pique because my boy gets all the favors."
And the members in the end laughed at Don José, touching their foreheads with a finger to indicate his madness, joking about "the greatest man in the world" and his funny manager.
Little by little, as an unheard of privilege, he managed to introduce Gallardo into the Society. The bull-fighter came under the pretext of looking for his manager and finally seated himself among the gentlemen, many of whom were not his friends and had chosen their matador among the rival swordsmen.
The decorations of this club-house had distinction, as Don José said; high wainscotings of Moorish tiles, and on the immaculately white walls, gay posters recalling past bull-fights; mounted heads of bulls famous for the number of horses they had killed or for having wounded some celebrated matador; glittering capes and swords presented by certain bull-fighters on "cutting the queue" and retiring from the profession.
Servants in frock coats waited on gentlemen in country dress or in negligee during the hot summer afternoons. In Holy Week and during other great feasts of Seville, when illustrious connoisseurs from all over Spain called to greet the Forty-five, the servants dressed in knee breeches and wore white wigs with red and yellow livery. In this guise, like lackeys of a royal house, they served trays of manzanilla to the wealthy gentlemen, some of whom had even taken off their cravats.
In the afternoons, when the dean of the Club, the illustrious Marquis of Moraima, presented himself, the members formed in a circle in deep arm-chairs and the famous cattle-breeder occupied a seat higher than the others like a throne, from which he presided over the conversation. They always began by talking about the weather. They were mostly breeders and rich farmers who lived on the products of the earth when favored by the variable heavens. The Marquis expounded the observations drawn from the knowledge acquired on interminable horseback rides over the Andalusian plain. Upon this immense desert, with a boundless horizon like a sea of land, the bulls resembled drowsy sharks moving slowly among the waves of herbage. The drought, that cruel calamity of the Andalusian plains, led to discussions lasting whole afternoons, and when, after long weeks of expectation, the lowering sky let fall a few drops, big and hot, the great country gentlemen smiled joyfully, rubbing their hands, and the Marquis said impressively, looking at the broad circles that wet the pavement:
"The glory of God! Every drop of these is a five dollar gold piece!"
When they were not busying themselves talking about the weather, cattle became the subject of their conversation, and especially bulls, as though they were united to them by a blood relationship. The breeders listened with respect to the Marquis' opinions, recognizing the prestige of his superior fortune. The mere amateurs, who never went out of the city, admired his skill as a raiser of noble animals. What that man knew! He showed himself convinced of the greatness of his occupation when he talked of the care the bulls needed. Out of every ten calves eight or nine were only good for meat, after being tested for their temper. Only one or two which proved themselves ferocious and aggressive before the point of the spear came to be considered animals suitable for combat, living apart, with all manner of care—and such care!
"A herd of fierce bulls," said the Marquis, "should not be treated as a business. It is a luxury. They give, for a fighting bull, four or five times more than for an ox for the butcher-shop—but what they cost!"
They must be cared for at all hours, heed must be taken in regard to their pasture and water, they must be moved from one place to another with changes of temperature. Each bull costs more to maintain than a family. And when he is ready he must be watched till the last minute so that he may not disgrace himself in the ring but do honor to the emblem of the breeder which he wears on his neck.
The Marquis had been compelled to quarrel with the managers and authorities of certain plazas, and had refused to furnish his animals because the band of music was placed over the bull-pens. The noise of the instruments upset the animals, taking away their courage and serenity when they entered the arena.
"They are just like ourselves," he said with tenderness. "They lack only speech. What do I say? Like us? There are some that are better than some people."
And he told about Lobito, an old bull, a leader, which he declared he would not sell even if they would give him the whole of Seville with its Giralda. He no sooner galloped in sight of the drove in which this jewel lived on the vast pastures, than a shout was enough to call his attention. "Lobito!" And Lobito, abandoning his companions, came to meet the Marquis, moistening the horseman's boots with his gentle muzzle; yet he was an animal of immense power and the rest of the herd lived in fear of him.
The breeder dismounted, and taking a piece of chocolate out of his saddle bags, he gave it to Lobito, who gratefully bowed his head armed with its gigantic horns. The Marquis advanced with an arm resting over the leader's neck, walking quietly through the drove of bulls, which grew restless and ferocious at the presence of the man. There was no danger. Lobito marched like a dog, covering the master with his body, looking in all directions, compelling respect among his companions with his flashing eyes. If one more audacious drew near to nose the Marquis he encountered the threatening horns of the leader. If several united with dull stupidity to bar his passage, Lobito thrust his armed head among them and opened the way.
An expression of enthusiasm and tenderness moved the Marquis' beardless lips and his white side-whiskers as he recalled the great deeds of some of the animals produced in his pastures.
"The bull! The noblest animal in the world! If men were more like them the world would be better off. There was Coronel. Do you remember that treasure?"
And he showed an immense photograph with a handsome mounting, that represented himself in mountaineer dress, much younger and surrounded by several girls dressed in white, all seated in the centre of a meadow on a dark mass at one end of which was a pair of horns. This mass was Coronel. Immense and fierce toward his companions in the herd, he showed affectionate submission to the master and his family. He was like a mastiff, fierce to strangers, but letting the children pull him about by the tail and ears and put up with all their deviltry with growls of kindness. The Marquis had with him his young daughters, and the animal smelt of the little girls' white skirts as they timidly clung to their father's legs, until, with the sudden audacity of childhood, they ended by rubbing his nose. "Down, Coronel!" Coronel went down on his knees and the family seated themselves on his side, which moved up and down like a bellows with the ru-ru of his powerful respiration.
One day, after much hesitation, the Marquis sold him to the plaza of Pamplona and attended the bull-fight. Moraima was moved by the recollection of this event; his eyes filled with emotion. He had never in all his life seen a bull like that. He came courageously into the arena and stood planted in the middle of it, surprised at the light after the darkness of the bull-pen, and at the clamor of thousands of persons after the silence of the stables. But the moment a picador pricked him he seemed to fill the whole plaza with his tremendous fierceness.
Before him, men, horses, nothing could stand. In one minute he threw the horses and tossed the picadores into the air. The peones ran. The plaza was like a regular branding-pen. The public shouted for more horses, and Coronel, in the meantime, stood waiting for some one to stand up and face him. Nothing like that for nobility and power will ever be seen again.
As soon as they incited him to come on, he rushed up with a courage and speed that set the public wild. When they gave the sign to kill, with the fourteen stabs he had in his body, and the complete set of banderillas, he was as brave and valiant as though he had never gone out of the pasture. Then—
The breeder, when he arrived at this point, always stopped, to strengthen his voice, which grew tremulous.
Then—the Marquis of Moraima, who had been in a box, found himself, he knew not how, behind the barrier among attendants who were running about with the excitement of the eventful contest, and near to the matador, who was making ready his muleta with a certain deliberation, as if wishing to put off the moment for standing face to face with an animal of such power. "Coronel!" shouted the Marquis, leaning his body half over the barrier and beating the boards with his hands.
The animal stood still but raised his head at these cries—distant calls from a country he would never see again. "Coronel!" Turning his head the bull saw a man calling to him from the wall and he started in a direct line to attack him. But in the midst of his advance he slackened his pace and slowly approached until he touched with his horns the arms held out to him. His throat was varnished red with little streams of blood which escaped from the barbs buried in his neck and from the wounds in his hide, in which the blue muscle could be seen. "Coronel! My son!" And the bull, as if he understood these outbursts of tenderness, raised his dripping muzzle and dampened the Marquis' white beard. "Why hast thou brought me here?" those wild and blood-shot eyes seemed to say. And the Marquis, unheeding what he did, pressed kisses upon the animal's nose that was wet with his furious bellowings.
"Don't let him be killed!" shouted a good soul in the galleries; and as if these words reflected the mind of the public, an explosion of voices filled the plaza, while thousands of handkerchiefs fluttered above the tiers of seats like flocks of doves. "Don't let him be killed!" For a moment the multitude, moved by a vague tenderness, despised its own diversion, hated the bull-fighter with his glittering dress and his useless heroism, admired the valor of the animal, and felt inferior to it, recognizing that among so many thousands of reasoning beings the greater nobility and sensibility were represented by the poor brute.
"I took him back," said the Marquis, with emotion. "I returned the management their two thousand pesetas. I would have given my whole hacienda. After he had been pastured in the meadow a month he didn't even have the scars on his neck. It was my intention to let that brave beast die of old age, but the good do not prosper in this world. A tricky bull that was not fit to look him in the face treacherously gored him to death."
The Marquis and his fellow cattle-breeders passed suddenly from this tenderness toward the animals, to the pride they felt in their ferocity. One should see the scorn with which they talked of the enemies of bull-fights, of those who protested against this art in the name of prevention of cruelty to animals. Foreigners' nonsense! Errors of ignoramuses, who only distinguish animals by their horns and think a slaughter-house ox the same as a fighting-bull! The Spanish bull was a wild-beast; the most heroic wild beast in the world. And they recounted the numerous combats between bulls and terrible felines, always followed by the noisy triumph of the national wild beast.
The Marquis laughed as he recollected another of his animals. A combat was arranged in a plaza between a bull, and a lion, and a tiger belonging to a certain famous tamer, and the breeder sent Barrabas, a wicked animal he had always kept by himself in the pasture because he was ever goring his companions, and had killed many cattle.
"I saw that, also," said Moraima. "A great iron cage in the centre of the ring, and in it was Barrabas. First they let the lion loose at him and the damned beast, taking advantage of the bull's lack of cunning, jumped onto his hind quarters and began to tear him with his claws and teeth. Barrabas jumped with fury to unfasten him and get him in front of his horns where his defences lay. At last, in one of his turns, he managed to toss the lion in front of him and gored him, and then, gentlemen, just like a ball, he smelled him from tip to tip a long while, shook him about like a figure stuffed with straw, till finally, as if he despised him, he tossed him to one side and there lay what they call the 'king of beasts' rolled up into a heap, mewing like a cat that has had a beating. Then they let the tiger at him and the affair was shorter yet. He had scarcely stuck his nose in before Barrabas hooked him and tossed him up, and after getting a good shaking, he went into the corner like the other, curling himself up and playing baby."
These recollections always provoked great laughter at the Forty-five. The Spanish bull! Little wild beasts to face him! And in their joyful exclamations there was an expression of national pride, as if the arrogant courage of the Spanish wild beast signified equally the superiority of the land and race over the rest of the world.
At the time Gallardo began to frequent the Society, a new subject of conversation interrupted the endless discussions about bulls and the country's crops.
At the Forty-five, as well as all over Seville, they talked about "Plumitas," a bandit celebrated for his audacity, who each day acquired fresh fame by the fruitless efforts of his pursuers. The newspapers related his deeds as if he were a national personage; the Government was interpellated in the Cortes and promised an immediate capture which never took place; the civil guard concentrated and a regular army was mobilized for pursuing him while Plumitas, always alone, with no other auxiliary than his carbine and his restless steed, slipped in and out among them like a phantom. When their numbers were not great he faced them and dropped some one of them lifeless, and he was revered and assisted by the poor country people, miserable slaves on enormous estates, who saw in the bandit an avenger of the hungry, a quick and cruel justice, like that exercised by the ancient mail-clad knight errant. Plumitas demanded money from the rich and, with the air of an actor who sees himself watched by an immense audience, from time to time he succored some poor old woman or a laborer burdened with a family. These acts of generosity were enlarged upon by the gossips of the rural multitude, who at all hours had the name of Plumitas on their lips but who were blind and dumb when questioned by the military or the police.
He passed from one province to another with the ease of one who knew the country well, and the land-owners of Seville and Córdova contributed equally to his sustenance. Whole weeks would pass without talk of the bandit, when he would suddenly present himself on a plantation, or make his entrance into a town, scornful of danger.
At the Forty-five they had direct news of him, the same as if he were a killer of bulls.
"Plumitas was at my place yesterday," said a rich farmer. "The overseer gave him thirty duros and he went away after breakfast."
They patiently tolerated this contribution and did not communicate the news to any but their friends. A denunciation meant declarations and all kinds of turmoil. Of what use? The civil guard pursued the bandit fruitlessly and when he became angry with the informers their property was at the mercy of his vengeance, utterly unprotected.
The Marquis talked about Plumitas and his deeds without dismay, smiling as if he were discussing a natural and inevitable calamity.
"They are poor boys that have been unlucky and have taken to the woods. My father (may he rest in peace!) knew the famous José María and breakfasted with him twice. I have come across many of less fame who went around doing mischief. They are like bulls; courageous, simple people. They only attack when they are pressed, growing hotter under persecution."
"He had left orders at his farmhouses and at all the herders' huts on his vast territories for them to give Plumitas whatever he asked for. According to tales of the overseers and cowboys, the bandit, with the old time respect of the peasant for good and generous masters, spoke in greatest praise of him, offering to kill any one who might offend the Señor Marqués in the least. Poor fellow! For a pittance, which was what he asked when he presented himself, tired and hungry, it was not worth while to irritate him and attract his vengeance."
"The breeder, who galloped alone over the plains where his bulls pastured, had a suspicion of having several times crossed Plumitas' path without recognizing him. He must be one of those gaunt-looking horsemen he met in the country solitudes with no town in sight and who raised his hand to his grimy hat, saying with respectful simplicity:
"God be with you, Señor Marqués!"
"Some fine day he'll present himself to thee at La Rincona', boy," said the Marquis with his grave drawl.
"Damn it! Well, that will not please me, Señor Marqués. Man alive! And must one pay such heavy taxes for that?"
No; it would not please him to run against that bandit on his excursions at La Rinconada. He was a brave man when killing bulls, and he forgot his life in the ring; but these professional man-killers inspired him with the terrors of the unknown.
His family was at his plantation. Señora Angustias loved country life after years spent in poverty in city houses. Carmen also enjoyed the peace of the country. Her industrious disposition inclined her to see to the work of the farm, enjoying the sweetness of ownership as she realized the extent of her property. Moreover, the leather-worker's children, those nephews and nieces who consoled her for her barrenness, needed the country air for the good of their health.
Gallardo had promised to join them, but put off his trip with all manner of pretexts. He lived in his city house without other companionship than that of Garabato, like a bachelor, and this permitted him complete liberty in his relations with Doña Sol. He thought this the happiest time of his life. Sometimes he even forgot the existence of La Rinconada and its inhabitants.
Mounted on fiery steeds he and Doña Sol rode out in the same costumes as on that day when they first met, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of Don José, who by his presence seemed to mollify the scandal of the people at this exhibition. They were going to see bulls on the pastures near Seville, to test calves in the Marquis' herds, and Doña Sol, eager for danger, was enraptured when a young bull, instead of running away, turned against her at the prick of her javelin and attacked her so that Gallardo had to rush to her rescue.
Again they went to the station at Empalme, if a shipment of bulls had been announced for the plazas which gave extra bull-fights late in the winter.
Doña Sol curiously examined this place, the most important centre of exportation for the taurine industry. Near the railroad there were extensive enclosures in which enormous boxes of gray wood, mounted on wheels, and with two lift-doors, stood by the dozens, awaiting the busy times of exhibitions, or the summer bull-fights. These boxes had travelled all over the Peninsula, carrying noble bulls to distant plazas and returning empty to be occupied by another, and yet another.
Human fraud and cunning succeeded in managing as easily as merchandise these wild beasts habituated to the freedom of the country. The bulls that were to be sent off on the train came galloping along a broad dusty road between two barbed wire fences. They came from far away pastures, and as they drew near Empalme their drivers started them on a disorderly race, so as to deceive them more completely by their scurrying speed. In advance, at full gallop, rode the overseers and herders, with pikes over their shoulders, followed by the prudent leaders covering the others with enormous horns, showing them to be old cattle. After them trotted the fierce bulls, the wild beasts destined for death, marching well flanked by tame bulls, who prevented their getting out of the road, and by strong cowboys who ran, sling in hand, ready to check with an unerring stone the pair of horns that separated from the group.
When they reached the enclosures the advance riders separated, remaining outside the gate, and the whole troop of bulls, an avalanche of dust, kicking, bellowing, and bell ringing, rushed impetuously into the place, the barricade suddenly closing behind the tail of the last animal. People astride the walls or peering through the galleries excited them with shouts or by waving hats. They crossed the first enclosure, not noticing that they were shut in, but as though they still ran in the open country. The leaders, taught by experience and obedient to the herders, stood to one side as soon as they went through the door, letting the whirlwind of bulls that ran snorting after them, pass quietly through. They only stopped, with surprise and uncertainty, in the second enclosure, seeing the wall ahead of them, and as they turned, they found the gate closed in the rear.
Then the boxing up began. One by one the bulls were urged, by the waving of rags, by shouts and blows, toward a little lane in the centre of which was placed the travelling box with its lift-doors. It was like a little tunnel at the end of which could be seen the open space of other grassy enclosures and leaders that walked peacefully about; a fiction of a far-away pasture which attracted the wild beast.
He advanced slowly along the lane, now suspicious of danger and fearing to set his feet on the gently sloping gangway that led to the box mounted on wheels. The bull divined peril in this little tunnel which presented itself before him as an inevitable passage. He felt on his hind quarters the goad that urged him along the lane, obliging him to advance; he saw above him two rows of people looking over the barriers and exciting him with gesticulations and whistles. From the roof of the box, where the carpenters were hidden ready to let the doors fall, hung a red rag, waving in the rectangle of light framed by the other exit. The pricks, the shouts, the shapeless mass that danced before his eyes as if defying him, and the sight of his tranquil companions pastured on the other side of the passage, finally decided him. He began to run through the little tunnel; he made the wooden inclined plane tremble with his weight, but he had scarcely entered the box when the door in front fell, and before he could turn back the one behind him slid down.
The loud grating of the locks was heard and the animal was swallowed up in darkness and silence, a prisoner in a little space wherein he could only lie down with his legs doubled up. Through a trap in the roof armfuls of forage fell upon him; men pushed the perambulating dungeon on its little wheels toward the nearby railroad, and immediately another box was placed in the passage, repeating the deception, until all the animals for the corrida were ready to start on their journey.
Doña Sol admired these proceedings in the great national industry with all her enthusiasm for "color," and longed to imitate the overseers and cowboys. She loved life in the open, the gallop over the immense plains followed by sharp horns and bony foreheads that could give death with the slightest movement. Her soul overflowed with strong love for the pastoral life which we all feel sometimes within us, as an inheritance from remote ancestors in that epoch in which man, not yet knowing how to extract riches from the womb of the earth, lived by gathering the beasts together and depending on their products for his sustenance. To be a herder, and a herder of wild beasts, seemed to Doña Sol the most interesting and heroic of professions.
Gallardo, when he had overcome the first intoxication of his good luck, contemplated the lady in wonder in the hours when they were alone, asking himself if all women of the great world were like her. Her caprices, her versatility, astounded him. He dared not thou her; no, not that. She had never encouraged him to such familiarity, and once when he tried it, with hesitating tongue and trembling voice, he saw in her eyes of gilded splendor such an expression of aloofness that he drew back ashamed, returning to his old form of address.
She on the other hand used thou in her speech to him, as did the great gentlemen friends of the bull-fighter, but this was only in hours of intimacy. Whenever she had to write him a short note, telling him not to come because she was obliged to go out with her relatives, she used you, and in her letters were no other expressions of affection than the coldly courteous ones which she might employ when writing to a friend of the lower class.
"That gachí!" murmured Gallardo disheartened. "It seems as if she has always lived with scrubs who might show her letters to everybody and she is afraid. Anybody would say she doesn't think me a gentleman because I am a matador!"
Other peculiarities of the great lady made the bull-fighter sulky and sad. Sometimes, when he presented himself at her house, one of those servants who looked like fine gentlemen in reduced circumstances coldly barred the way. "The Señora is not in. The Señora has gone out." And he guessed it was a lie, feeling Doña Sol's presence a short distance away on the other side of door and curtains. No doubt she was getting tired, was feeling a sudden aversion to him, and just at the moment of the call gave orders to her servants not to receive him.
"Well; the coal is burned up!" said he as he walked away. "I'll never come back again. That gachí is amusing herself with me."
But when he returned he was ashamed of having believed in the possibility of not seeing Doña Sol again. She received him holding out to him white firm arms like those of an Amazon, her eyes wide and wandering, with a strange light that seemed to reflect mental disorder.
"Why dost thou perfume thyself?" she complained, as though she perceived the most repugnant odors. "It is something unworthy of thee. I wish thee to smell of bulls, of horses. What rich odors! Dost thou not love them? Tell me yes, Juanín; beast of God, my animal!"
One afternoon the bull-fighter, seeing her inclined to confidences, felt curiosity regarding her past and asked about the kings and great personages who, according to gossip, had crossed Doña Sol's life.
She responded with a cold look in her light eyes.
"And what does that matter to thee? Thou art jealous, maybe? And even if it were true, what then?"
"Thou must have beaten women," she said, looking at him with curiosity. "Deny it not. That would greatly interest me! Not thy wife; I know that she is good. I mean other women, all those that bull-fighters meet; the women that love with more fury the more they are beaten. No? Truly hast thou never beaten one?"
Gallardo protested with the dignity of a brave man, incapable of ill-treating those who were not so strong as he. Doña Sol showed a certain disappointment on hearing his explanations.
"Some day thou must beat me. I want to know what that is." She spoke with resolution, and then her face clouded, her brows met, a blue effulgence animated the gold dust of her pupils.
"No, my strong man; mind me not; risk it not. Thou wouldst come out the loser."
The advice was valid and Gallardo had occasion to remember it. One day, in a moment of intimacy, a somewhat rude caress from his bull-fighter hands awoke the fury of this woman who was attracted to the fellow—and hated him at the same time. "Take that!" And her right hand, clenched and hard as a club, gave a blow up and down the swordsman's jaw, with an accuracy that seemed to follow fixed rules of defence.
Gallardo was stupefied with pain and shame, while the lady, as if she understood the suddenness of her aggression, tried to justify it with a cold hostility.
"That is to teach thee a lesson. I know what you are, you bull-fighters. If I should let myself be trampled on once thou wouldst end by flogging me every day like a gypsy of Triana. That was well done. Distances must be preserved."
One afternoon, in the early spring, they were returning from a testing of calves in the Marquis' pasture. He, with a troop of horsemen, rode along the highway. Doña Sol, followed by the swordsman, turned her horse through the fields, enjoying the elasticity of the sod under the horses' feet. The setting sun dyed the verdure of the plain a soft purple, the wild flowers dotted it with white and yellow. Across this expanse, on which the colors took the ruddy tone of distant fire, the shadows of the riders were outlined, long and slender. The spears they carried on their shoulders were so gigantic in the shadow that their dark lines were lost on the horizon. On one side shone the course of the river like a sheet of reddish steel—half hidden in the grass. Doña Sol looked at Gallardo with imperious eyes.
"Put thy arm around my waist!"
The swordsman obeyed and thus they rode, the two horses close together, the riders united from the waist up. The lady contemplated their blended shadows through the magic light of the meadow moving ahead of their slow march.
"It seems as though we were living in another world," she murmured, "a world of legend; something like the scenes one sees on tapestries or reads of in books of knight errantry; the knight and the Amazon travelling together with the lance over the shoulder, enamoured and seeking adventure and danger. But thou dost not understand that, beast of my soul. Isn't it true that thou dost not comprehend me?"
The bull-fighter smiled, showing his wholesome, strong teeth of gleaming whiteness. She, as if charmed by his rude ignorance, pressed her body against his, letting her head fall on his shoulder and trembling at the caress of Gallardo's breath upon her neck. Thus they rode in silence. Doña Sol seemed to be sleeping. Suddenly she opened her eyes and in them shone that strange expression that was a forerunner of the most extravagant questions.
"Tell me, hast thou ever killed a man?"
Gallardo was agitated, and in his astonishment drew away from Doña Sol. Who? He? Never! He was a good fellow who had made his way without doing harm to anybody. He had scarcely ever quarrelled with his companions in the capeas, not even when they kept the copper coins because they were stronger. A few fisticuffs in some disputes with his comrades in the profession; a blow with a flask in a café; these were the sum of his deeds. He was inspired with an invincible respect for the life of man. Bulls were another thing!
"So thou hast never had a desire to kill a man? And I thought that bull-fighters—!"
The sun hid itself, the meadow lost its fantastic illumination, the light on the river went out, and the lady saw the tapestry scene she had admired so much become dark and commonplace. The other horsemen rode far in advance and she spurred her steed to join the group, without a word to Gallardo, as if she took no heed of his following her.
|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.