THE next day was a great day in Monteverde. All the streets were hung with flags; and everywhere gaily dressed crowds were to be seen flocking towards the bull-ring, as the big circus was called where the fights took place.
The news of the Doctor’s challenge had gone round the town and, it seemed, had caused much amusement to the islanders. The very idea of a mere foreigner daring to match himself against the great Pepito de Malaga!—Serve him right if he got killed!
The Doctor had borrowed a bullfighter’s suit from Don Enrique; and very gay and wonderful he looked in it, though Bumpo and I had hard work getting the waistcoat to close in front and even then the buttons kept bursting off it in all directions.
When we set out from the harbor to walk to the bull-ring, crowds of small boys ran after us making fun of the Doctor’s fatness, calling out, “Juan Hagapoco, el grueso matador!” which is the Spanish for, “John Dolittle, the fat bullfighter.”
As soon as we arrived the Doctor said he would like to take a look at the bulls before the fight began; and we were at once led to the bull pen where, behind a high railing, six enormous black bulls were tramping around wildly.
In a few hurried words and signs the Doctor told the bulls what he was going to do and gave them careful instructions for their part of the show. The poor creatures were tremendously glad when they heard that there was a chance of bullfighting being stopped; and they promised to do exactly as they were told.
Of course the man who took us in there didn’t understand what we were doing. He merely thought the fat Englishman was crazy when he saw the Doctor making signs and talking in ox tongue.
From there the Doctor went to the matadors’ dressing-rooms while Bumpo and I with Polynesia made our way into the bull-ring and took our seats in the great open-air theatre.
It was a very gay sight. Thousands of ladies and gentlemen were there, all dressed in their smartest clothes; and everybody seemed very happy and cheerful.
Right at the beginning Don Enrique got up and explained to the people that the first item on the program was to be a match between the English Doctor and Pepito de Malaga. He told them what he had promised if the Doctor should win. But the people did not seem to think there was much chance of that. A roar of laughter went up at the very mention of such a thing.
When Pepito came into the ring everybody cheered, the ladies blew kisses and the men clapped and waved their hats.
Presently a large door on the other side of the ring was rolled back and in galloped one of the bulls; then the door was closed again. At once the matador became very much on the alert. He waved his red cloak and the bull rushed at him. Pepito stepped nimbly aside and the people cheered again.
This game was repeated several times. But I noticed that whenever Pepito got into a tight place and seemed to be in real danger from the bull, an assistant of his, who always hung around somewhere near, drew the bull’s attention upon himself by waving another red cloak. Then the bull would chase the assistant and Pepito was left in safety. Most often, as soon as he had drawn the bull off, this assistant ran for the high fence and vaulted out of the ring to save himself. They evidently had it all arranged, these matadors; and it didn’t seem to me that they were in any very great danger from the poor clumsy bull so long as they didn’t slip and fall.
After about ten minutes of this kind of thing the small door into the matadors’ dressing-room opened and the Doctor strolled into the ring. As soon as his fat figure, dressed in sky-blue velvet, appeared, the crowd rocked in their seats with laughter.
Juan Hagapoco, as they had called him, walked out into the centre of the ring and bowed ceremoniously to the ladies in the boxes. Then he bowed to the bull. Then he bowed to Pepito. While he was bowing to Pepito’s assistant the bull started to rush at him from behind.
“Look out! Look out!—The bull! You will be killed!” yelled the crowd.
But the Doctor calmly finished his bow. Then turning round he folded his arms, fixed the on-rushing bull with his eye and frowned a terrible frown.
Presently a curious thing happened: the bull’s speed got slower and slower. It almost looked as though he were afraid of that frown. Soon he stopped altogether. The Doctor shook his finger at him. He began to tremble. At last, tucking his tail between his legs, the bull turned round and ran away.
The crowd gasped. The Doctor ran after him. Round and round the ring they went, both of them puffing and blowing like grampuses. Excited whispers began to break out among the people. This was something new in bullfighting, to have the bull running away from the man, instead of the man away from the bull. At last in the tenth lap, with a final burst of speed, Juan Hagapoco, the English matador, caught the poor bull by the tail.
Then leading the now timid creature into the middle of the ring, the Doctor made him do all manner of tricks: standing on the hind legs, standing on the front legs, dancing, hopping, rolling over. He finished up by making the bull kneel down; then he got on to his back and did handsprings and other acrobatics on the beast’s horns.
Pepito and his assistant had their noses sadly out of joint. The crowd had forgotten them entirely. They were standing together by the fence not far from where I sat, muttering to one another and slowly growing green with jealousy.
Finally the Doctor turned towards Don Enrique’s seat and bowing said in a loud voice, “This bull is no good any more. He’s terrified and out of breath. Take him away, please.”
“Does the caballero wish for a fresh bull?” asked Don Enrique.
“No,” said the Doctor, “I want five fresh bulls. And I would like them all in the ring at once, please.”
At this a cry of horror burst from the people. They had been used to seeing matadors escaping from one bull at a time. But five!—That must mean certain death.
Pepito sprang forward and called to Don Enrique not to allow it, saying it was against all the rules of bullfighting. (“Ha!” Polynesia chuckled into my ear. “It’s like the Doctor’s navigation: he breaks all the rules; but he gets there. If they’ll only let him, he’ll give them the best show for their money they ever saw.”) A great argument began. Half the people seemed to be on Pepito’s side and half on the Doctor’s side. At last the Doctor turned to Pepito and made another very grand bow which burst the last button off his waistcoat.
“Well, of course if the caballero is afraid—” he began with a bland smile.
“Afraid!” screamed Pepito. “I am afraid of nothing on earth. I am the greatest matador in Spain. With this right hand I have killed nine hundred and fifty-seven bulls.”
“All right then,” said the Doctor, “let us see if you can kill five more. Let the bulls in!” he shouted. “Pepito de Malaga is not afraid.”
A dreadful silence hung over the great theatre as the heavy door into the bull pen was rolled back. Then with a roar the five big bulls bounded into the ring.
“Look fierce,” I heard the Doctor call to them in cattle language. “Don’t scatter. Keep close. Get ready for a rush. Take Pepito, the one in purple, first. But for Heaven’s sake don’t kill him. Just chase him out of the ring—Now then, all together, go for him!”
The bulls put down their heads and all in line, like a squadron of cavalry, charged across the ring straight for poor Pepito.
For one moment the Spaniard tried his hardest to look brave. But the sight of the five pairs of horns coming at him at full gallop was too much. He turned white to the lips, ran for the fence, vaulted it and disappeared.
“Now the other one,” the Doctor hissed. And in two seconds the gallant assistant was nowhere to be seen. Juan Hagapoco, the fat matador, was left alone in the ring with five rampaging bulls.
The rest of the show was really well worth seeing. First, all five bulls went raging round the ring, butting at the fence with their horns, pawing up the sand, hunting for something to kill. Then each one in turn would pretend to catch sight of the Doctor for the first time and giving a bellow of rage, would lower his wicked looking horns and shoot like an arrow across the ring as though he meant to toss him to the sky.
It was really frightfully exciting. And even I, who knew it was all arranged beforehand, held my breath in terror for the Doctor’s life when I saw how near they came to sticking him. But just at the last moment, when the horns’ points were two inches from the sky-blue waistcoat, the Doctor would spring nimbly to one side and the great brutes would go thundering harmlessly by, missing him by no more than a hair.
Then all five of them went for him together, completely surrounding him, slashing at him with their horns and bellowing with fury. How he escaped alive I don’t know. For several minutes his round figure could hardly be seen at all in that scrimmage of tossing heads, stamping hoofs and waving tails.—It was, as Polynesia had prophesied, the greatest bullfight ever seen.
One woman in the crowd got quite hysterical and screamed up to Don Enrique,
“Stop the fight! Stop the fight! He is too brave a man to be killed. This is the most wonderful matador in the world. Let him live! Stop the fight!”
But presently the Doctor was seen to break loose from the mob of animals that surrounded him. Then catching each of them by the horns, one after another, he would give their heads a sudden twist and throw them down flat on the sand. The great fellows acted their parts extremely well. I have never seen trained animals in a circus do better. They lay there panting on the ground where the Doctor threw them as if they were exhausted and completely beaten.
Then with a final bow to the ladies John Dolittle took a cigar from his pocket, lit it and strolled out of the ring.