A Bull Fight – Spain Travel

First, I saw a great wooden circus open to the sky, with one row of boxes above, an amphitheater below, and an immense ring separated from the amphitheater by a red barrier six feet high, and an alley about five feet wide. Then I saw 14,000 Spaniards, the men wearing civilized trousers and chimney-pots, the women occasionally varying bonnets with mantillas. There was no effect of color; saving such as was produced by the waving of cheap and badly tinted fans in that part of the circle exposed to a blazing sun. Everybody appeared excited, and cries of “water, water !” added to the pandemonium.

Next I heard a wretched band play wretched music. Then began the procession of the dramatis personae, who marched round once and disappeared. The play consists of three acts. In the first, the horses are killed; in the second, the bull is worried and wounded; in the third the bull is killed. To every performance there are six plays, in which six bulls and at least twenty-four horses are slaughtered. So you perceive how busy Mr. Bergh* would be if he lived in Spain and there were a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

If the men were killed in bullfights, I should say nothing more than “it serves them right.” But, with the usual amount of justice meted out in this calculating world, they alone escape. Rarely are men injured in the ring. Skill and precaution saves them; unsuspected hacks, blinded on the side presented to their powerful opponent, and bulls that have never been warned of their doom, are gored and butchered amid a multitude of human yells.

There is a deal of fiction about a bullfight. The two alguacils on horseback, who, clothed in black, headed the procession, exhibited two handkerchiefs apiece, peering from pockets on their breasts. Why, no one remembers. An alguacil began Act First by dashing up to the box of the president, from whom he received the key of the gate at which the bulls entered. Was the gate locked? No. The alguacil rode back to the gate, it was thrown open, and out rushed a brown and white bull, wearing the colors of the hidalgo on whose farm he had been bred. The bulls for this occasion were raised by a noble duke, a lineal descendent of America’s discoverer, bearing his honored name, Cristobal Colon. Whether the human stock has degenerated in its pursuits is a matter of taste. We prefer America to bullfights; Spaniards prefer bull-fights to America. But Christopher Columbus raised fine bulls; there are none better.

With a trumpet-blast the “lord of lowing herds” dashed into the ring. For two days he has been kept in the dark without food. Fancy then his bewilderment and rage when, blinded by the sun, and excited by the screams of 14,000 throats; to the left of the gate, which closed immediately, he saw a picador drest in yellow, wearing a broad brimmed hat, mounted on a sorry beast, and holding in his right hand a threatening lance. Could anything have been more inviting to bullish instinct? In one moment the bull’s horns penetrated the horse’s bowels, and the lance was plunged into the bull’s back. The bull was game; he showed unusual pluck, and the Spaniards cheered. Again and again he returned to the charge. There never was a better bull. He lifted the helpless horse off his feet; he almost carried him on his horns; he no more heeded the lance than if it had been the pricking of a pin; he gored and gored until the wretched horse, quivering from head to feet, silently fell to the ground with the picador beneath him.

The man was in no danger. The bull’s attention was quickly distracted by the waving of red banners in another direction, and assistants rescued the picador, whose high tournament saddle pre-vented him from being easily thrown, and whose legs were so cased in iron as to render it impossible for him to move until set upon his feet. On the picador’s removal the teasing ceased, and the bull, seeing the dead horse bathed in his own blood, charged him many times amid bravos of the people. Descrying another horse, off the bull dashed with his hoofs in the air, and so nearly tossed his victim as to unhorse the picador, who clung to the barrier until hauled over it. The horse galloped riderless round the ring with his bowels dragging upon the ground. It was a noble sight. Perhaps you think the suffering brutes are speedily put out of misery. You are wrong. As long as horses can stand up and bear riders, so long they do duty. Contemplating from the middle of the ring the results of his prowess, the bull repeated the pleasing performance, when the picador again mounted.

There are many variations; but the theme never varies, and, before the act closed, six horses lay stark and stiff. Spaniards are intensely critical in the matter of bull fights. When they think they are being cheated out of sport, they do not hesitate to cry for more horses, and in trepidation the managers rush into the street to buy the first cheap hack that offers. Twenty-five dollars apiece is the price generally paid. Six dead horses in one act satisfy the most exacting. Now came the mules. Harnessed three abreast, with nodding flags and tassels, they were driven in to fast music; and per-formed scavenger duty by dragging off their dead relations in a “tempo furioso.” The entrails were raked up, and Act Second began.

Showing no signs of fatigue, Christopher Columbus’s bull made work for the capeadores (the men who shake their cloaks about promiscuously), and fiercely eyed the banderilleros (from banderilla, little banner). who, in the gorgeous livery of “Figaro,” entered the ring, bearing barbs which must be lodged artistically in the bull’s neck. Now began the contest between brute instinct and human skill. Not to poise the barbs in the right place is to excite multitudinous indignation; therefore the banderillero is ever on the alert, coquetting with the bull until the moment for throwing arrives. If the barbs are aimed finely, and go in straight, the banderillero becomes a hero. He bows, he received a shower of cigars, men throw him their hats, which he returns with masterly flings, and the owners are made happy. Picture, if you can, the inexpressible joy of seeing six of these murderous barbs six or eight being the number allowed standing erect in the bull’s neck. Tortured, frenzied, the poor beast still showed pluck.’ Had he not, barbs with fireworks would have been fastened upon his back to give him additional vivacity. With the throwing of the third pair of barbs Act Second ended.

Act Third disclosed the espada (swordsman), vulgarly called matador (slayer), humoring, coaxing, teasing the bull by dexterously handling the cloak, under which was the weapon destined to do the final butchering. The present espada, Lagartijo (Little Lizard), was received with great favor, and certainly he knew every trick of his noble trade. That bull would not give up, but Lagartijo proved equal to the occasion. He magnetized the bull, which for a second was thrown off his guard. In that second, Lagartijo planted the sword between the bull’s horns and the splendid animal dropt dead. Great was the cheering, many were the hats thrown, more were the cigars. An attendant picked them up, and Lagartijo, with his velvet costume embroidered in silver, with his white silk stockings, and with his black hair done up in a pig tail, felt that his supreme ambition had been realized.