Mr. Incoul's Misadventure
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The Blydenburgs, less luxuriously inclined, remained at the hotel. Mr. Blydenburg had not as yet enjoyed an opportunity of conversing in Basque; he had indeed attempted to address a mildewed little girl whom he encountered one day when loitering on the cliffs, but the child had taken flight, and a mule that was pasturing on a bramble, threw back its ears, elongated its tail and curving its lips, brayed with such anguish that Mr. Blydenburg was fain to delay his studies until fortune offered a more favorable opportunity.
It was at San Sebastian, he thought, that such an opportunity would be found ready made, and on the morning of the projected excursion he was in great and expectant spirits.
The morning itself was one of those delicious forenoons that reminded one of Veronese. In the air was a caress and in the breeze an exhilaration and a tonic. In the streets and about the squares there was an unusual liveliness, much loud talking, a great many oaths, and the irritation and excitement which is the prelude to a festival. The entire summer colony seemed to be on its way to Spain.
In the court-yard of the Villa Zunzarraga four horses harnessed to a landau stood in readiness. On the box the driver glistened with smart buttons and silver braid. His coat was short, his culottes were white, his waistcoat red, and he had made himself operatic with the galloons and trappings of an eighteenth-century postilion. It was not every day in the year that he drove to a corrida. By way of preparation for the coming spectacle, Karl, who stood at the carriage door, had already engaged a palco.
When Blydenburg and Milly arrived, and the party had entered the landau, there was a brisk drive through the town and a long sweep down the Route d’Espagne than which even the Corniche is not more lovely. The vaporous Pyrenees seemed near enough to be in reach of the hand, the elms that lined the roadside were monstrous, like the elms in a Druid forest, the fields were as green as had they been painted. There were pink villas with blinds of pale yellow, white houses roofed with tiles of mottled red, gardens splendid with the scent of honeysuckle, and children, bright-eyed, clear-featured, devoured by vermin and greed, ran out in a bold, aggressive way and called for coin.
“Estamos en Espa?a!” The carriage had come to a sudden halt. In the beauties of the landscape the journey had been forgotten. But at the driver’s word there came to each of them that sudden thrill which visits every one that crosses a new frontier. Blydenburg looked eagerly about him. He had expected to be greeted by alcaldes and alguacils, he had fancied that he would view a jota, or at the very least a roadside bolero. “Are we really in Spain?” he wondered. In places of ladies in mantillas and short skirts there was a group of mangy laborers, the alcaldes and alguacils were represented by a sullen aduenaro, and the only trace of local color was in a muttered “Co?o de Dios” that came wearily from a bystander.Certainly they were in Spain.
The custom-house officer made a motion, and the carriage swept on. To the left was Fuenterrabia, dozing on its gulf of blue, and soon they were in Irun. There was another halt for lunch and a change of horses, and then, on again. The scenery grew wilder, and the carriage jolted, for the road was poor. They passed the Jayzquibel, the Ga?nchurisqueta, the hamlet of Lezo, Passaje, from whence Lafayette set sail; Renteria, a city outside of the year of our Lord; they crossed the Oyarzun, they passed Alza, another stream was bridged and at last the circus hove in sight.
The bull-ring of San Sebastian is sufficiently vast for a battalion to man?uvre in at its ease. It is circled by a barrier some five feet high, back of which is another and a higher one. Between the two is a narrow passage. Above the higher barrier rise the tendidos – the stone benches of the amphitheatre – slanting upwards until they reach a gallery, in which are the gradas – the wooden benches – and directly over these, on the flooring above, are the palcos or boxes. Each box holds twenty people. They are all alike save that of the President’s, which is larger, decorated with hangings and furnished with chairs, the other boxes having only seats of board. Under the President’s box, and beneath the tendidos, is the toril from which the bulls are loosed. Opposite, across the arena, is the matedero, the gateway through which the horses enter and the dead are dragged out. In the passage between the two barriers are stationed the “supes,” who cover up the blood, unsaddle dead horses, and attend to other matters of a similar and agreeable nature. There, too, the carpenters stand ready to repair any injury to the woodwork, and among them is a man in black, who at times issues furtively and gives a coup de grace to a writhing beast. There also are usually a few privileged amateurs who seek that vantage ground much as the dilettanti seek the side scenes of the theatre.
These arrangements, which it takes a paragraph to describe, are absorbed at a glance, but with that glance there comes an aftershock – a riot of color that would take a library to convey. For the moment the eye is dazzled; a myriad of multicolored fans are fluttering like fabulous butterflies; there are unimagined combinations of insolent hues; a multitude of rainbows oscillating in a deluge of light. And while the eye is dazzled the ear is bewildered, the pulse is stirred. The excitement of ten thousand people is contagious; the uproar is as deafening as the thunder of cannon. And then, at once, almost without transition, a silence. The President has come, and the most magnificent of modern spectacles is about to begin.
Almost simultaneously with the appearance of the chief magistrate of the town, the Incouls and Blydenburgs entered their box. There was a blast from a trumpet and an official in the costume known as that of Henri IV. issued on horseback from the matedero. The ring which a moment before had been peopled with amateurs was emptied in a trice. The principal actor, the espada, Mazzantini, escorted by his cuadrilla and followed by the picadors, advanced to the centre of the arena and there amid an explosion of bravos, bowed with a grace like that which Talma must have possessed, first to the President, who raised his high hat in return, and then in circular wise to the spectators.
He was young and exceedingly handsome, blue of eye and clear-featured; he smiled in the contented way of one who is sure of his own powers, and the applause redoubled. The Basques have made a national idol of him, for by birth he is one of them and very popular in Guipuzcoa. He was dressed after the fashion of Figaro in the “Barbiere,” his knee breeches were of vermilion silk seamed with a broad spangle, his stockings were of flesh color, he wore a short, close-fitting jacket, richly embroidered; the vest was very low but gorgeous with designs; about his waist was a scarlet sash; his shoulders were heavy with gold and on his head was a black pomponed turban, the torero variety of the Tam O’Shanter. His costume had been imitated by the chulos and banderilleros. Nothing more seductive could be imagined. They were all of them slight, lithe and agile, and behind them the picadors in the Moorish splendor of their dress looked like giants on horseback.
The President dropped from his box the key of the toril. The alguacil is supposed to catch it in his hat, but in this instance he muffed it; it was picked up by another; the alguacil fled from the ring, the picadors stationed themselves lance in hand at equal distances about the barrier, the chulos prepared their mantles, there was a ringing fanfare, the doors of the toril flew open, and a black monster with the colors of his ganaderia fastened to his neck shot into the arena.
If he hesitated no one knew it. There was a confused mass of horse, bull and man, he was away again, another picador was down, and then attracted by the waving cloak of a chulo he turned and chased it across the ring. The chulo was over the fence in a second, and the bull rose like a greyhound and crossed it, too. Truly a magnificent beast. The supes and amateurs were in the ring in an instant and back again when the bull had passed. A door was opened, and surging again into the ring he swept like an avalanche on a picador, and raising him horse and all into the air flung him down as it seemed into the very pits of death. The picador was under the horse and the bull’s horns were seeking him, but the brute reckoned without the espada. Mazzantini had caught him by the tail, which he twisted in such exquisite fashion that he was fain to turn, and as he turned the espada turned with him. The chulos meanwhile raised the picador over the barrier, for his legs and loins were so heavy with iron that once down he could not rise unassisted. Across the arena a horse lay quivering in a bath of gore, his feet entangled in his entrails, and another, unmounted, staggered along dyeing the sand with zigzags of the blood that spouted, fountain-like, from his breast. And over all was the tender blue of the sky of Spain.
When Mazzantini loosed his hold, he stood a moment, folded his arms, gave the bull a glance of contempt, turned on his heel and sauntered away. The applause was such as no cabotin has ever received. It was the delirious plaudits of ten thousand people drunk with the sun, with excitement – intoxicated with blood. Mazzantini bowed as calmly as were he a tenor, whose ut de poitrine had found appreciation in the stalls. And while the applause still lasted, the bull caught the staggering, blindfolded, unprotected horse and tossed him sheer over the barrier, and would have jumped after him had he not perceived a fourth picador ambling cautiously with pointed lance. At him he made a fresh rush, but the picador’s lance was in his neck and held him away. He broke loose, however, and with an under lunge disemboweled the shuddering horse.
There was another blast of the trumpets, the signal for the banderilleros whose office it is to plant barbs in the neck of the bull – a delicate operation, for the banderillero must face the bull, and should he trip he is dead. This ceremony is seldom performed until the bull shows signs of weariness; then the barbs act like a tonic. In this instance the bull seemed as fresh as were he on his native heath, and the spectators were clamorous in their indignation. They called for more horses; they accused the management of economy; men stood up and shook their fists at the President; it was for him to order out fresh steeds, and, as he sat impassible, pollice verso, as one may say, they shouted “Fuego al presidente, perro de presidente” – dog of a president; set him on fire. And there were cat-calls and the screech of tin horns, and resounding and noisy insults, until the general attention was diverted by the pose of the banderillas and the leaping and kicking of the bull, seeking to free his neck from the torturing barbs. At last, when he had been punctured eight times, he sought the centre of the ring, and stood there almost motionless, his tufted tail swaying nervously, his tongue lolling from his mouth, a mist of vapor circling from his nostrils, seething about his splendid horns and wrinkled neck, and in his great eyes a look of wonder, as though amazed that men could be crueler than he.
Again the trumpets sounded. Mazzantini, with a sword concealed in a muleta of bright scarlet silk, and accompanied by the chulos, approached him. The chulos flaunted their vivid cloaks, and when the bull, roused by the hated colors to new indignation, turned to chase them, they slipped aside and in the centre of the ring stood a young man dressed as airily as a dancer in a ballet, in a costume that a pin would have perforated, and before him a maddened and a gigantic brute.
In a second the bull was on him, but in that second a tongue of steel leaped from the muleta, glittered like a silver flash in the air, and straight over the lowered horns it swept and then cleaved down through the parting flesh and touched the spring of life. At the very feet of the espada the bull fell; he had not lost a drop of blood; it was the supreme expression of tauromaquia, the recognition that skill works from force.
And then the applause! There was a whirl of hats and cigars and cigarettes, and had San Sabastian been richer there would have been a shower of coin. Women kissed their hands and men held out their arms to embrace him. It was the delirium of appreciation. And Mazzantini saluted and bowed and smiled. He was quite at home, and calmer and more tranquil than any spectator. Suddenly there was a rush of caparisoned mules, ropes were attached to the dead horses, the bull was dragged out, the blood was concealed with sand, the toilet of the ring was made, the trumpets sounded and the last act of the first of the wonderful cycle of dramas was done.
There were five more bulls to be killed that day, but with their killing the action with which these pages have to deal need not be further delayed. From the box in the sombra Mr. Incoul had watched the spectacle with unemotional curiosity. Blydenburg, who had fortified himself with the contents of a pocket flask, manifested his earliest delight by shouting Bravo, but with such a disregard of the first syllable, and such an explosion of the second, that Mr. Incoul mistaking the applause for an imitation of the bark of a dog had at last begged him to desist.
The adjoining box was crowded, and among the occupants was a delicious young girl, with the Orient in her eyes, and lips that said Drink me. To her the spectacle was evidently one of alluring pathos. “Pobre caballo,” she would murmur when a horse fell, and then with her fan she would hide the bridge of her nose as though that were her organ of vision. But no matter how high the fan might be raised she always managed to see, and with the seeing there came from her compassionate little noises, a mingling of “ay” and “Dios mio,” that was most agreeable to listen to. Miss Blydenburg, who sat so near her that she might have touched her elbow, took these little noises for signals and according to their rise and fall learned when and when not to look down into the terrible ring below.
In the momentary intermission that occurred after the duel between the espada and the first bull, a mozo, guided by Karl, appeared in the box bearing with him cool liquids from the caverns beneath. Blydenburg, whose throat was parched with brandy and the strain of his incessant shouts, swallowed a naranjada at a gulp. Mr. Incoul declined to take anything, but the ladies found much refreshment in a concoction of white almonds which affects the tonsils as music affects the ear.
It was not until this potion had been absorbed that Maida began to take any noticeable interest. She had been fatigued by the drive, enervated by the heat, and the noise and clamor was certainly not in the nature of a sedative. But the almonds brought her comfort. She changed her seat from the rear of the box to the front, and sat with one arm on the balustrade, her hand supporting her delicate chin, and as her eyes followed the prowess of the bull she looked like some fair Pasiphae in modern guise.
It must have been the novelty of the scene that interested her. The light, the unusual and brilliant costumes, the agility of the actors, and the wonder of the sky, entered, probably, as component parts into any pleasure that she experienced. Certainly it could have been nothing else, for she was quick to avert her eyes whenever blood seemed imminent. The second bull, however, was far less active than the first. He had indeed accomplished a certain amount of destruction, but his attacks were more perfunctory than angered, and it was not until he had been irritated by the colored barbs that he displayed any lively sense of resentment. Then one of the banderilleros showed himself either awkward or timid; he may have been both; in any event his success was slight, and as the Spanish audience is not indulgent, he was hissed and hooted at. “Give him a pistol,” cried some – the acm? of sarcasm – “Torero de las marinas,” cried others. He was offered a safe seat in the tendidos. One group adjured the President to order his instant imprisonment. One might have thought that the tortures of the Inquisition could not be too severe for such a lout as he.
Maida, who was ignorant of the duties of a banderillero, looked down curiously at the gesticulating crowd below. The cause of their indignation she was unable to discover, and was about to turn to Mr. Blydenburg for information, when there came a singing in her ears. The question passed unuttered from her thoughts. The ring, the people, the sky itself had vanished. Near the toril, on a bench of stone, was Lenox Leigh.