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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Bull-Fight
By Fernán Caballero (Cecilia Böhl de Faber) (1796–1877)
 
From ‘La Gaviota’

WHEN after dinner Stein and his wife arrived at the place assigned for the bull-fight, they found it already filled with people. A brief and sustained animation preceded the fête. This immense rendezvous, where were gathered together all the population of the city and its environs; this agitation, like to that of the blood which in the paroxysms of a violent passion rushes to the heart; this feverish expectation, this frantic excitement,—kept, however, within the limits of order; these exclamations, petulant without insolence; this deep anxiety which gives a quivering to pleasure: all this together formed a species of moral magnetism; one must succumb to its force or hasten to fly from it.  1
  Stein, struck with vertigo, and his heart wrung, would have chosen flight: his timidity kept him where he was. He saw in all eyes which were turned on him the glowing of joy and happiness; he dared not appear singular. Twelve thousand persons were assembled in this place; the rich were thrown in the shade, and the varied colors of the costumes of the Andalusian people were reflected in the rays of the sun.  2
  Soon the arena was cleared.  3
  Then came forward the picadores, mounted on their unfortunate horses, who with head lowered and sorrowful eyes seemed to be—and were in reality—victims marching to the sacrifice.  4
  Stein, at the appearance of these poor animals, felt himself change to a painful compassion; a species of disgust which he already experienced. The provinces of the peninsula which he had traversed hitherto were devastated by the civil war, and he had had no opportunity of seeing these fêtes, so grand, so national, and so popular, where were united to the brilliant Moorish strategy the ferocious intrepidity of the Gothic race. But he had often heard these spectacles spoken of, and he knew that the merit of a fight is generally estimated by the number of horses that are slain. His pity was excited towards these poor animals, which, after having rendered great services to their masters,—after having conferred on them triumph, and perhaps saved their lives,—had for their recompense, when age and the excess of work had exhausted their strength, an atrocious death which by a refinement of cruelty they were obliged themselves to seek. Instinct made them seek this death; some resisted, while others, more resigned or more feeble, went docilely before them to abridge their agony. The sufferings of these unfortunate animals touched the hardest heart; but the amateurs had neither eyes, attention, nor interest, except for the bull. They were under a real fascination, which communicated itself to most of the strangers who came to Spain, and principally for this barbarous amusement. Besides, it must be avowed—and we avow it with grief—that compassion for animals is, in Spain, particularly among the men, a sentiment more theoretical than practical. Among the lower classes it does not exist at all.  5
  The three picadores saluted the president of the fête, preceded by the banderilleros and the chulos, splendidly dressed, and carrying the capas of bright and brilliant colors. The matadores and their substitutes commanded all these combatants, and wore the most luxurious costumes.  6
  “Pepe Vera! here is Pepe Vera!” cried all the spectators. “The scholar of Montés! Brave boy! What a jovial fellow! how well he is made! what elegance and vivacity in all his person! how firm his look! what a calm eye!”  7
  “Do you know,” said a young man seated near to Stein, “what is the lesson Montés gives to his scholars? He pushes them, their arms crossed, close to the bull, and says to them, ‘Do not fear the bull—brave the bull!’”  8
  Pepe Vera descended into the arena. His costume was of cherry-colored satin, with shoulder-knots and silver embroidery in profusion. From the little pockets of his vest stuck out the points of orange-colored scarfs. A waistcoat of rich tissue of silver and a pretty little cap of velvet completed his coquettish and charming costume of majo.  9
  After having saluted the authorities with much ease and grace, he went like the other combatants to take his accustomed place. The three picadores also went to their posts, at equal distance from each other, near to the barrier. There was then a profound, an imposing silence. One might have said that this crowd, lately so noisy, had suddenly lost the faculty of breathing.  10
  The alcalde gave the signal, the clarions sounded, and as if the trumpet of the Last Judgment had been heard, all the spectators arose with most perfect ensemble; and suddenly was seen opened the large door of the toril, placed opposite to the box occupied by the authorities. A bull whose hide was red precipitated himself into the arena, and was assailed by a universal explosion of cheers, of cries, of abuse, and of praise. At this terrible noise the bull, affrighted, stopped short, raised his head; his eyes were inflamed, and seemed to demand if all these provocations were addressed to him; to him, the athletic and powerful, who until now had been generous towards man, and who had always shown favor towards him as to a feeble and weak enemy. He surveyed the ground, turning his menacing head on all sides—he still hesitated: the cheers, shrill and penetrating, became more and more shrill and frequent. Then with a quickness which neither his weight nor his bulk foretold, he sprang towards the picador, who planted a lance in his withers. The bull felt a sharp pain, and soon drew back. It was one of those animals which in the language of bull-fighting are called “boyantes,” that is to say, undecided and wavering; whence he did not persist in his first attack, but assailed the second picador. This one was not so well prepared as the first, and the thrust of his lance was neither so correct nor so firm; he wounded the animal without being able to arrest his advance. The horns of the bull were buried in the body of the horse, who fell to the ground. A cry of fright was raised on all sides, and the chulos surrounded this horrible group; but the ferocious animal had seized his prey, and would not allow himself to be distracted from his vengeance. In this moment of terror, the cries of the multitude were united in one immense clamor, which would have filled the city with fright if it had not come from the place of the bull-fight. The danger became more frightful as it was prolonged.  11
  The bull tenaciously attacked the horse, who was overwhelmed with his weight and with his convulsive movements, while the unfortunate picador was crushed beneath these two enormous masses. Then was seen to approach, light as a bird with brilliant plumage, tranquil as a child who goes to gather flowers, calm and smiling at the same time, a young man, covered with silver embroidery and sparkling like a star. He approached in the rear of the bull; and this young man of delicate frame, and of appearance so distinguished, took in both hands the tail of the terrible animal, and drew it towards him. The bull, surprised, turned furiously and precipitated himself on his adversary, who without a movement of his shoulder, and stepping backward, avoided the first shock by a half-wheel to the right.  12
  The bull attacked him anew; the young man escaped a second time by another half-wheel to the left, continuing to manage him until he reached the barrier. There he disappeared from the eyes of the astonished animal, and from the anxious gaze of the public, who in the intoxication of their enthusiasm filled the air with their frantic applause; for we are always ardently impressed when we see man play with death, and brave it with so much coolness.  13
  “See now if he has not well followed the lesson of Montés! See if Pepe Vera knows how to act with the bull!” said the young man seated near to them, who was hoarse from crying out.  14
  The Duke at this moment fixed his attention on Marisalada. Since the arrival of this young woman at the capital of Andalusia, it was the first time that he had remarked any emotion on this cold and disdainful countenance. Until now he had never seen her animated. The rude organization of Marisalada was too vulgar to receive the exquisite sentiment of admiration. There was in her character too much indifference and pride to permit her to be taken by surprise. She was astonished at nothing, interested in nothing. To excite her, be it ever so little, to soften some part of this hard metal, it was necessary to employ fire and to use the hammer.  15
  Stein was pale. “My lord Duke,” he said, with an air full of sweetness and of conviction, “is it possible that this diverts you?”  16
  “No,” replied the Duke; “it does not divert, it interests me.”  17
  During this brief dialogue they had raised up the horse. The poor animal could not stand on his legs; his intestines protruded and bespattered the ground. The picador was also raised up; he was removed between the arms of the chulos. Furious against the bull, and led on by a blind temerity, he would at all hazards remount his horse and return to the attack, in spite of the dizziness produced by his fall. It was impossible to dissuade him; they saw him indeed replace the saddle upon the poor victim, into the bruised flanks of which he dug his spurs.  18
  “My lord Duke,” said Stein, “I may perhaps appear to you ridiculous, but I do not wish to remain at this spectacle. Maria, shall we depart?”  19
  “No,” replied Maria, whose soul seemed to be concentrated in her eyes. “Am I a little miss? and are you afraid that by accident I may faint?”  20
  “In such case,” said Stein, “I will come back and take you when the course is finished.” And he departed.  21
  The bull had disposed of a sufficiently good number of horses. The unfortunate courser which we have mentioned was taken away—rather drawn than led by the bridle to the door, by which he made his retreat. The others, which had not the strength again to stand up, lay stretched out in the convulsions of agony; sometimes they stretched out their heads as though impelled by terror. At these last signs of life the bull returned to the charge, wounding anew with plunges of his horns the bruised members of his victims. Then, his forehead and horns all bloody, he walked around the circus affecting an air of provocation and defiance: at times he proudly raised his head towards the amphitheatre, where the cries did not cease to be heard; sometimes it was towards the brilliant chulos who passed before him like meteors, planting their banderillos in his body. Often from a cage, or from a netting hidden in the ornaments of a banderillero, came out birds, which joyously took up their flight. The first inventor of this strange and singular contrast could not certainly have had the intention to symbolize innocence without defense, rising above the horrors and ferocious passions here below, in its happy flight towards heaven. That would be, without doubt, one of those poetic ideas which are born spontaneously in the hard and cruel heart of the Spanish plebeian, as we see in Andalusia the mignonette plant really flourish between stones and the mortar of a balcony.  22
  At the signal given by the president of the course, the clarions again sounded. There was a moment of truce in this bloody wrestling, and it created a perfect silence.  23
  Then Pepe Vera, holding in his left hand a sword and a red-hooded cloak, advanced near to the box of the alcalde. Arrived opposite, he stopped and saluted, to demand permission to slay the bull.  24
  Pepe Vera perceived the presence of the Duke, whose taste for the bull-fight was well known; he had also remarked the woman who was seated at his side, because this woman, to whom the Duke frequently spoke, never took her eyes off the matador.  25
  He directed his steps towards the Duke, and taking off his cap, said, “Brindo (I offer the honor of the bull) to you, my lord, and to the royal person who is near you.”  26
  At these words, casting his cap on the ground with an inimitable abandon, he returned to his post.  27
  The chulos regarded him attentively, all ready to execute his orders. The matador chose the spot which suited him the best, and indicated it to his quadrilla.  28
  “Here!” he cried out to them.  29
  The chulos ran towards the bull and excited him, and in pursuing them met Pepe Vera, face to face, who had awaited his approach with a firm step. It was the solemn moment of the whole fight. A profound silence succeeded to the noisy tumult, and to the warm excitement which until then had been exhibited towards the matador.  30
  The bull, on seeing this feeble enemy, who had laughed at his fury, stopped as if he wished to reflect. He feared, without doubt, that he would escape him a second time.  31
  Whoever had entered into the circus at this moment would sooner believe he was assisting in a solemn religious assembly, than in a public amusement, so great was the silence.  32
  The two adversaries regarded each other reciprocally.  33
  Pepe Vera raised his left hand: the bull sprang on him. Making only a light movement, the matador let him pass by his side, returned and put himself on guard. When the animal turned upon him the man directed his sword towards the extremity of the shoulder, so that the bull, continuing his advance, powerfully aided the steel to penetrate completely into his body.  34
  It was done! He fell lifeless at the feet of his vanquisher.  35
  To describe the general burst of cries and bravos which broke forth from every part of this vast arena, would be a thing absolutely impossible. Those who are accustomed to be present at these spectacles alone can form an idea of it. At the same time were heard the strains of the military bands.  36
  Pepe Vera tranquilly traversed the arena in the midst of these frantic testimonials of passionate admiration and of this unanimous ovation, saluting with his sword right and left in token of his acknowledgments. This triumph, which might have excited the envy of a Roman emperor, in him did not excite the least surprise—the least pride. He then went to salute the ayuntamiento; then the Duke and the “royal” young lady.  37
  The Duke then secretly handed to Maria a purse full of gold, and she enveloped it in her handkerchief and cast it into the arena.  38
  Pepe Vera again renewed his thanks, and the glance of his black eyes met those of the Gaviota. In describing the meeting of these looks, a classic writer said that it wounded these two hearts as profoundly as Pepe Vera wounded the bull.  39
  We who have not the temerity to ally ourselves to this severe and intolerant school, we simply say that these two natures were made to understand each other—to sympathize. They in fact did understand and sympathize.  40
  It is true to say that Pepe had done admirably.  41
  All that he had promised in a situation where he placed himself between life and death had been executed with an address, an ease, a dexterity, and a grace, which had not been baffled for an instant.  42
  For such a task it is necessary to have an energetic temperament and a daring courage, joined to a certain degree of self-possession, which alone can command twenty-four thousand eyes which observe, and twenty-four thousand hands which applaud.  43
 
 
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