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Chapter Twenty One – Corrida 2

Corrida (Part Two)

NOW this dance is so gorgeous and exciting that I almost forgot to mention that those who take part in it are out to kill; or rather, I forgot it while I was still actually in the arena. I had noticed, of course, that more than once during the onrush the rejoneador propped himself up with his lance against the bull’s neck, but the bull merely shook himself and galloped on; it looked as if they were just playing.

The second lance lodged in his neck and stuck there quivering, just like a penholder when the point of the nib has got fixed on the floor. The bull tried desperately to shake away the thing that had bitten its way into his throat; he jerked his head to and fro, he stood up on his hind-legs; but the spike was firmly fixed in that solid mass of muscle.

There stood the bull, scooping the sand with his feet, as if he wanted to dig himself in, and he bellowed with pain and anger; froth trickled from his jowl – perhaps that is how a bull sheds tears.

But now the horse with his opponent was able to raise itself briskly and nimbly in front of him. The wounded animal stopped roaring, began to snort, humped its back and made a frenzied onslaught. I closed my eyes, because I expected this would lead to a tangle of crushed and mauled legs and bodies in the sand of the arena. When I opened my eyes, the bull stood there with his head upraised; the broken lance was twitching to and fro in his neck, while the horse was tripping along towards him like a ballet-girl; only its drooping ears showed any sign of terror.

What a stout heart this colt has; what daring, what elegance in the aspect of this smart rider who manages his horse with his knees, while he plunges his eyes into those of the bull; but what a magnificent and natural hero is this bull which, though he can weep, cannot retreat.

The man masters the horse, and ambition masters the man; but all the bull wants is to be alone in the arena: who is putting himself between me and all the cows in the world? See, now he is lowering his forehead, and once more he dashes forward full-tilt, with all his terrific bulk against this one opponent who trips along the arena; he hurls himself like a rock, but there are moments when the sinews of his feet suddenly give way in a ghastly manner. Is he wavering? No, that is nothing; full speed ahead! Three cheers for the Bull! At this moment the third lance shot out like lightening.

The bull staggered and then pulled himself together; he was just about to brace his muscles for a new clash, when suddenly he lay down almost peacefully like a cow chewing the cud. The rider drove his horse round the resting warrior. Now the bull made a lunge as if he were about to jump up, but then he seemed to change his mind: well, perhaps, after all, I’ll rest here a little.

At this the rider wheeled around on his horse and galloped from the arena amid a drum-fire of clapping and shouting. The bull laid his head on the ground as if resting only a moment, only an instant, whereupon his body relaxed and braced itself again, his legs gawkily stretched themselves out, and queerly, almost unnaturally projected from the black bulk of his body.

Rigor Mortis.

From the opposite gate, a team of mules comes rushing in, with a tinkle of bells; after a few seconds, amid the flicking of whips, they drag the burden of the dead bull at a gallop through the sand of the arena.

Well, I have kept nothing from you as how it strikes a spectator. Is it magnificent or cruel? I do not know; what I saw was, if anything, most magnificent; and when I look back at it now – I cannot help wondering whether it would be better for that dauntless and noble specimen of a bull to end in the shambles by being banged on the head with a bludgeon!

Would that be more humane than for him to perish this way in a fight, as befits his mettlesome and pugnacious heart? Well, I don’t know, but it was a relief to me when I was able to look at the empty arena, yellow as fire, beneath the blue sky and surrounded by a noisy and excited crowd.