The Blood of the Arena

Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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JUAN GALLARDO breakfasted early, as he did whenever there was to be a bull-fight. A slice of roast meat was his only dish. Wine he did not even touch; the bottle remained unopened before him. He must keep himself calm. He drank two cups of thick, black coffee, and lighted an enormous cigar, sitting with his elbows on the table and his chin in his hands, looking with dreamy eyes at the guests who one by one filled the dining-room.

It was a number of years ago, not long after he had been given "the alternative" in the bull-ring of Madrid, that he came to lodge at a certain hotel on Alcala Street where his hosts treated him as if he were one of the family, and the dining-room servants, porters, scullions, and old waiters adored him as the glory of the establishment. There, too, he had spent many days wrapped in bandages, in a dense atmosphere heavy with the smell of iodoform, in consequence of two gorings, but the unhappy recollection did not weigh upon him.

In his Southern superstitious mind, exposed to continual danger, he regarded this hotel as a charmed shelter, and thought that nothing ill would happen to him while living in it; accidents common to the profession, rents in his clothing, scratches in his flesh perhaps, but no last and final fall after the manner of other comrades, the recollection of whom haunted even his happier hours.

On the days of the great bull-fights, after the early breakfast, he enjoyed sitting in the dining-room contemplating the movement of travellers. They were foreigners, or people from distant provinces, who passed near with indifferent countenances, and without looking at him; and then became curious on learning from the servants that the fine youth with shaven face and black eyes, dressed like a young gentleman, was Juan Gallardo, by all familiarly called Gallardo, the famous bull-fighter. Thus were whiled away the long and painful hours before going to the plaza.

These moments of uncertainty, in which vague fears emerged from the depths of his soul, making him doubt himself, were the bitterest in his professional experience. He would not go out on the street thinking of the strain of the contest, and of the need of keeping himself rested and agile; and he could not entertain himself at the table on account of the necessity of eating a light meal, in order to reach the ring without disturbance of his digestion.

He remained at the head of the table, his face between his hands and a cloud of perfumed smoke before his eyes, turning his gaze from time to time with a certain fatuousness to look at some ladies who were contemplating the famous bull-fighter with interest.

His pride as the idol of the masses made him feel that he could divine eulogy and flattery in these looks. They thought him smart and elegant. And, with the instinct of all men accustomed to pose before the public, forgetting his preoccupation, he sat erect, knocked off with his finger nails the cigar ashes fallen on his sleeves, and arranged his ring, which covered the whole joint of one of his fingers with an enormous diamond surrounded by a nimbus of colors as if its clear liquid depths burned with magic fire.

His eyes roved with satisfaction over his person, admiring the suit of elegant cut, the cap which he wore around the hotel lying on a nearby chair, the fine gold chain that crossed the upper part of his vest from pocket to pocket, the pearl in his cravat that seemed to illuminate the brown tone of his countenance with milky light, and the shoes of Russia leather showing between their tops and the edge of the rolled-up trousers socks of open-work silk embroidered like the stockings of a cocotte.

An atmosphere of English perfumes, mild and vague, but used with profusion, arose from his clothing and from his black and brilliant hair. This he brushed carefully down over his temples, adopting a style certain to attract feminine curiosity. For a bull-fighter the ensemble was not bad; he felt satisfied with his appearance. Where was there another more distinguished, or one who had a better way with women...?