Текст книги

Джек Лондон
The Night-Born


“I beg pardon,” said John Harned; “but it would seem to me a wise bull. He knows he must not fight man. See! He smells death there in the ring.”

True. The bull, pausing where the last one had died, was smelling the wet sand and snorting. Again he ran around the ring, with raised head, looking at the faces of the thousands that hissed him, that threw orange-peel at him and called him names. But the smell of blood decided him, and he charged a capador, so without warning that the man just escaped. He dropped his cape and dodged into the shelter. The bull struck the wall of the ring with a crash. And John Harned said, in a quiet voice, as though he talked to himself:

“I will give one thousand sucres to the lazar-house of Quito if a bull kills a man this day.”

“You like bulls?” said Maria Valenzuela with a smile.

“I like such men less,” said John Harned. “A toreador is not a brave man. He surely cannot be a brave man. See, the bull’s tongue is already out. He is tired and he has not yet begun.”

“It is the water,” said Luis Cervallos.

“Yes, it is the water,” said John Harned. “Would it not be safer to hamstring the bull before he comes on?”

Maria Valenzuela was made angry by this sneer in John Harned’s words. But Luis Cervallos smiled so that only I could see him, and then it broke upon my mind surely the game he was playing. He and I were to be banderilleros. The big American bull was there in the box with us. We were to stick the darts in him till he became angry, and then there might be no marriage with Maria Valenzuela. It was a good sport. And the spirit of bull-fighters was in our blood.

The bull was now angry and excited. The capadors had great game with him. He was very quick, and sometimes he turned with such sharpness that his hind legs lost their footing and he plowed the sand with his quarter. But he charged always the flung capes and committed no harm.

“He has no chance,” said John Harned. “He is fighting wind.”

“He thinks the cape is his enemy,” explained Maria Valenzuela. “See how cleverly the capador deceives him.”

“It is his nature to be deceived,” said John Harned. “Wherefore he is doomed to fight wind. The toreadors know it, you know it, I know it – we all know from the first that he will fight wind. He only does not know it. It is his stupid beast-nature. He has no chance.”

“It is very simple,” said Luis Cervallos. “The bull shuts his eyes when he charges. Therefore – ”

“The man steps, out of the way and the bull rushes by,” Harned interrupted.

“Yes,” said Luis Cervallos; “that is it. The bull shuts his eyes, and the man knows it.”

“But cows do not shut their eyes,” said John Harned. “I know a cow at home that is a Jersey and gives milk, that would whip the whole gang of them.”

“But the toreadors do not fight cows,” said I.

“They are afraid to fight cows,” said John Harned.

“Yes,” said Luis Cervallos, “they are afraid to fight cows. There would be no sport in killing toreadors.”

“There would be some sport,” said John Harned, “if a toreador were killed once in a while. When I become an old man, and mayhap a cripple, and should I need to make a living and be unable to do hard work, then would I become a bull-fighter. It is a light vocation for elderly gentlemen and pensioners.”

“But see!” said Maria Valenzuela, as the bull charged bravely and the capador eluded it with a fling of his cape. “It requires skill so to avoid the beast.”

“True,” said John Harned. “But believe me, it requires a thousand times more skill to avoid the many and quick punches of a prize-fighter who keeps his eyes open and strikes with intelligence. Furthermore, this bull does not want to fight. Behold, he runs away.”

It was not a good bull, for again it ran around the ring, seeking to find a way out.

“Yet these bulls are sometimes the most dangerous,” said Luis Cervallos. “It can never be known what they will do next. They are wise. They are half cow. The bull-fighters never like them. – See! He has turned!”

Once again, baffled and made angry by the walls of the ring that would not let him out, the bull was attacking his enemies valiantly.

“His tongue is hanging out,” said John Harned. “First, they fill him with water. Then they tire him out, one man and then another, persuading him to exhaust himself by fighting wind. While some tire him, others rest. But the bull they never let rest. Afterward, when he is quite tired and no longer quick, the matador sticks the sword into him.”

The time had now come for the banderillos. Three times one of the fighters endeavored to place the darts, and three times did he fail. He but stung the bull and maddened it. The banderillos must go in, you know, two at a time, into the shoulders, on each side the backbone and close to it. If but one be placed, it is a failure. The crowd hissed and called for Ordonez. And then Ordonez did a great thing. Four times he stood forth, and four times, at the first attempt, he stuck in the banderillos, so that eight of them, well placed, stood out of the back of the bull at one time. The crowd went mad, and a rain of hats and money fell on the sand of the ring.

And just then the bull charged unexpectedly one of the capadors. The man slipped and lost his head. The bull caught him – fortunately, between his wide horns. And while the audience watched, breathless and silent, John Harned stood up and yelled with gladness. Alone, in that hush of all of us, John Harned yelled. And he yelled for the bull. As you see yourself, John Harned wanted the man killed. His was a brutal heart. This bad conduct made those angry that sat in the box of General Salazar, and they cried out against John Harned. And Urcisino Castillo told him to his face that he was a dog of a Gringo and other things. Only it was in Spanish, and John Harned did not understand. He stood and yelled, perhaps for the time of ten seconds, when the bull was enticed into charging the other capadors and the man arose unhurt.

“The bull has no chance,” John Harned said with sadness as he sat down. “The man was uninjured. They fooled the bull away from him.” Then he turned to Maria Valenzuela and said: “I beg your pardon. I was excited.”

She smiled and in reproof tapped his arm with her fan.

“It is your first bull-fight,” she said. “After you have seen more you will not cry for the death of the man. You Americans, you see, are more brutal than we. It is because of your prize-fighting. We come only to see the bull killed.”

“But I would the bull had some chance,” he answered. “Doubtless, in time, I shall cease to be annoyed by the men who take advantage of the bull.”

The bugles blew for the death of the bull. Ordonez stood forth with the sword and the scarlet cloth. But the bull had changed again, and did not want to fight. Ordonez stamped his foot in the sand, and cried out, and waved the scarlet cloth. Then the bull charged, but without heart. There was no weight to the charge. It was a poor thrust. The sword struck a bone and bent. Ordonez took a fresh sword. The bull, again stung to fight, charged once more. Five times Ordonez essayed the thrust, and each time the sword went but part way in or struck bone. The sixth time, the sword went in to the hilt. But it was a bad thrust. The sword missed the heart and stuck out half a yard through the ribs on the opposite side. The audience hissed the matador. I glanced at John Harned. He sat silent, without movement; but I could see his teeth were set, and his hands were clenched tight on the railing of the box.

All fight was now out of the bull, and, though it was no vital thrust, he trotted lamely what of the sword that stuck through him, in one side and out the other. He ran away from the matador and the capadors, and circled the edge of the ring, looking up at the many faces.

“He is saying: ‘For God’s sake let me out of this; I don’t want to fight,’” said John Harned.

That was all. He said no more, but sat and watched, though sometimes he looked sideways at Maria Valenzuela to see how she took it. She was angry with the matador. He was awkward, and she had desired a clever exhibition.

The bull was now very tired, and weak from loss of blood, though far from dying. He walked slowly around the wall of the ring, seeking a way out. He would not charge. He had had enough. But he must be killed. There is a place, in the neck of a bull behind the horns, where the cord of the spine is unprotected and where a short stab will immediately kill. Ordonez stepped in front of the bull and lowered his scarlet cloth to the ground. The bull would not charge. He stood still and smelled the cloth, lowering his head to do so. Ordonez stabbed between the horns at the spot in the neck. The bull jerked his head up. The stab had missed. Then the bull watched the sword. When Ordonez moved the cloth on the ground, the bull forgot the sword and lowered his head to smell the cloth. Again Ordonez stabbed, and again he failed. He tried many times. It was stupid. And John Harned said nothing. At last a stab went home, and the bull fell to the sand, dead immediately, and the mules were made fast and he was dragged out.

“The Gringos say it is a cruel sport – no?” said Luis Cervallos. “That it is not humane. That it is bad for the bull. No?”

“No,” said John Harned. “The bull does not count for much. It is bad for those that look on. It is degrading to those that look on. It teaches them to delight in animal suffering. It is cowardly for five men to fight one stupid bull. Therefore those that look on learn to be cowards. The bull dies, but those that look on live and the lesson is learned. The bravery of men is not nourished by scenes of cowardice.”

Maria Valenzuela said nothing. Neither did she look at him. But she heard every word and her cheeks were white with anger. She looked out across the ring and fanned herself, but I saw that her hand trembled. Nor did John Harned look at her. He went on as though she were not there. He, too, was angry, coldly angry.

“It is the cowardly sport of a cowardly people,” he said.

“Ah,” said Luis Cervallos softly, “you think you understand us.”

“I understand now the Spanish Inquisition,” said John Harned. “It must have been more delightful than bull-fighting.”

Luis Cervallos smiled but said nothing. He glanced at Maria Valenzuela, and knew that the bull-fight in the box was won. Never would she have further to do with the Gringo who spoke such words. But neither Luis Cervallos nor I was prepared for the outcome of the day. I fear we do not understand the Gringos. How were we to know that John Harned, who was so coldly angry, should go suddenly mad! But mad he did go, as you shall see. The bull did not count for much – he said so himself. Then why should the horse count for so much? That I cannot understand. The mind of John Harned lacked logic. That is the only explanation.

“It is not usual to have horses in the bull-ring at Quito,” said Luis Cervallos, looking up from the program. “In Spain they always have them. But to-day, by special permission we shall have them. When the next bull comes on there will be horses and picadors-you know, the men who carry lances and ride the horses.”

“The bull is doomed from the first,” said John Harned. “Are the horses then likewise doomed!”

“They are blindfolded so that they may not see the bull,” said Luis Cervallos. “I have seen many horses killed. It is a brave sight.”

“I have seen the bull slaughtered,” said John Harned “I will now see the horse slaughtered, so that I may understand more fully the fine points of this noble sport.”

“They are old horses,” said Luis Cervallos, “that are not good for anything else.”

“I see,” said John Harned.
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