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Chapter Twenty - Corrida 1

Corrida 1

BY chance, while I am writing this, the cat has climbed on to my lap and is purring away for all she is worth.   Now I must admit that, although the animal in really in my way and won't take no for an answer.  I somehow couldn't bring it over myself to kill her with a spear or an espada, whether on foot or on horseback.  So you mustn't think that I'm a bloodthirsty or brutal person, although I witnessed the defeat of six bulls, and didn't go away until it was the turn of the seventh one, and even then not on moral grounds, but rather because it had begun to bore me. For one thing, the corrida was dull;  my opinion is that these bulls were too tough

I may say that during the bull-fights I had very mixed feelings ; there were amazing moments which I shall never forget, and painful junctures when I wished that the earth would swallow me up.   The finest sight of all is, of course, the solemn entry of the toreadors into the arena ; what you ought to see is the yellow sand beneath the blue sky, the circular plaza de toros, packed with people ; on top of that the trumpets begin in blare, and the embroidered alguacilillos ride into the arena ; after them, in showy jackets and gold-bespangled cloaks,  cocked hats and silk knickers,  the matadores,  espadas, banderilleros and picadores on their mares, and the chulos and the teams of mules, four-in-hand, festooned with bells ; and they all bear themselves so grandly and yet so buoyantly that no opera chorus on earth can hold a candle to them.

But that day there was something special on the programme : a 'frente-a-frente' contest, i.e. a forehead-to-forehead struggle between two matador soloists, who keep up the old tradition of the aristocratic corrida on horseback.  One was Don Antonio Cañero, a riding-master from Córdoba, who was dressed in Andalusian style, and the other was Joao Branco Nuncio, a Portuguese rejoneador in blue rococo attire.  First of all Don Antonio pranced into the arena on an Andalusian stallion, saluted the Infanta and the President as a cavalier should, and then, with horse and sombrero, brandished a salute to everybody ; next, the gate flew open, and in dashed a black bundle of muscles, a bull with a chest and neck like a crag, stopped short, dazzled by the hot glare of the sun, lashed his tail, and in a cheerful sort of way darted after an enemy who, holding a thin lance, was waiting for him on horseback in the middle of the arena.

I should like to describe what followed, step by step ; but where am I to get the words from, which would do justice to this dance of the bull, the horse and rider ?   A fighting bull is a fine sight when he stands there panting, as glossy as asphalt, a volcanic animal who until then has been provoked to the pitch of frenzy by being kept in a cage; now he was standing still, his hooves wedged in the ground, and with flaming eyes he searched for the opponent whom he should overwhelm. And then the horse pranced up to him with graceful ceremonious movements, waggling its flanks like a ballet-dancer and lifting itself on its sinews ; the pitch-black heap of muscularity began to ripple, and dashed forth in a terrific onslaught, his horns nearly touching the ground, with the momentum of a projectile and the unexpected elasticity of a chunk of indiarubber  

I must confess that at that moment the palms of my hands went damp with fear, just as once before when i was climbing a mountain and my foot slipped. It was only just a moment ; two leaps, and the prancing horse, at a seemly gallop, lifting its feet high, was wheeling behind the bull's bony rump. The cheering which burst forth like a volley, checked the indiarubber tank in his headstrong dash , it seemed to have annoyed the bull , he swished his tail and dashed off at a gallop after the horse.  But the bull's tactics are to attack point-blank ; the tactics of the horse and rider are to wheel in circles.  The bull, with his horns well forward, rushed along with the intention of seizing and tossing his enemy with a terrific blow ; suddenly he came to a standstill with an air of amazement and looking rather stupid, when he found that he was faced with nothing but the empty arena.  But his tactics are not only to gore but also to maul with a dreadful slantwise wrench , even his impetuous onslaught is sometimes delayed by a sudden side movement, straight towards the horse's weak spots  ; I really can't tell you whether it was the horse or the rider who first realised that this tricky move was coming, but I shouted and clapped with enormous relief when at the very next instant the splendid horse was performing his pirouettes five yards further on.  I rather fancy that the horse, too, puts all his heart and nerve into this jousting, because every five minutes the rejoneador gallops off behind the barrier and comes back on a fresh horse