NEXT morning we were awakened by a great racket. There was a procession coming down the street, a number of men in very gay clothes followed by a large crowd of admiring ladies and cheering children. I asked the Doctor who they were.
“They are the bullfighters,” he said. “There is to be a bullfight to-morrow.”
“What is a bullfight?” I asked.
To my great surprise the Doctor got red in the face with anger. It reminded me of the time when he had spoken of the lions and tigers in his private zoo.
“A bullfight is a stupid, cruel, disgusting business,” said he. “These Spanish people are most lovable and hospitable folk. How they can enjoy these wretched bullfights is a thing I could never understand.”
Then the Doctor went on to explain to me how a bull was first made very angry by teasing and then allowed to run into a circus where men came out with red cloaks, waved them at him, and ran away. Next the bull was allowed to tire himself out by tossing and killing a lot of poor, old, broken-down horses who couldn’t defend themselves. Then, when the bull was thoroughly out of breath and wearied by this, a man came out with a sword and killed the bull.
“Every Sunday,” said the Doctor, “in almost every big town in Spain there are six bulls killed like that and as many horses.”
“But aren’t the men ever killed by the bull?” I asked.
“Unfortunately very seldom,” said he. “A bull is not nearly as dangerous as he looks, even when he’s angry, if you are only quick on your feet and don’t lose your head. These bullfighters are very clever and nimble. And the people, especially the Spanish ladies, think no end of them. A famous bullfighter (or matador, as they call them) is a more important man in Spain than a king—Here comes another crowd of them round the corner, look. See the girls throwing kisses to them. Ridiculous business!”
At that moment our friend the bed-maker came out to see the procession go past. And while he was wishing us good morning and enquiring how we had slept, a friend of his walked up and joined us. The bed-maker introduced this friend to us as Don Enrique Cardenas.
Don Enrique when he heard where we were from, spoke to us in English. He appeared to be a well-educated, gentlemanly sort of person.
“And you go to see the bullfight to-morrow, yes?” he asked the Doctor pleasantly.
“Certainly not,” said John Dolittle firmly. “I don’t like bullfights—cruel, cowardly shows.”
Don Enrique nearly exploded. I never saw a man get so excited. He told the Doctor that he didn’t know what he was talking about. He said bullfighting was a noble sport and that the matadors were the bravest men in the world.
“Oh, rubbish!” said the Doctor. “You never give the poor bull a chance. It is only when he is all tired and dazed that your precious matadors dare to try and kill him.”
I thought the Spaniard was going to strike the Doctor he got so angry. While he was still spluttering to find words, the bed-maker came between them and took the Doctor aside. He explained to John Dolittle in a whisper that this Don Enrique Cardenas was a very important person; that he it was who supplied the bulls—a special, strong black kind—from his own farm for all the bullfights in the Capa Blancas. He was a very rich man, the bed-maker said, a most important personage. He mustn’t be allowed to take offense on any account.
I watched the Doctor’s face as the bed-maker finished, and I saw a flash of boyish mischief come into his eyes as though an idea had struck him. He turned to the angry Spaniard.
“Don Enrique,” he said, “you tell me your bullfighters are very brave men and skilful. It seems I have offended you by saying that bullfighting is a poor sport. What is the name of the best matador you have for to-morrow’s show?”
“Pepito de Malaga,” said Don Enrique, “one of the greatest names, one of the bravest men, in all Spain.”
“Very well,” said the Doctor, “I have a proposal to make to you. I have never fought a bull in my life. Now supposing I were to go into the ring to-morrow with Pepito de Malaga and any other matadors you choose; and if I can do more tricks with a bull than they can, would you promise to do something for me?”
Don Enrique threw back his head and laughed.
“Man,” he said, “you must be mad! You would be killed at once. One has to be trained for years to become a proper bullfighter.”
“Supposing I were willing to take the risk of that—You are not afraid, I take it, to accept my offer?”
The Spaniard frowned.
“Afraid!” he cried, “Sir, if you can beat Pepito de Malaga in the bull-ring I’ll promise you anything it is possible for me to grant.”
“Very good,” said the Doctor, “now I understand that you are quite a powerful man in these islands. If you wished to stop all bullfighting here after to-morrow, you could do it, couldn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Don Enrique proudly—“I could.”
“Well that is what I ask of you—if I win my wager,” said John Dolittle. “If I can do more with angry bulls than can Pepito de Malaga, you are to promise me that there shall never be another bullfight in the Capa Blancas so long as you are alive to stop it. Is it a bargain?”
The Spaniard held out his hand.
“It is a bargain,” he said—“I promise. But I must warn you that you are merely throwing your life away, for you will certainly be killed. However, that is no more than you deserve for saying that bullfighting is an unworthy sport. I will meet you here to-morrow morning if you should wish to arrange any particulars. Good day, Sir.”
As the Spaniard turned and walked into the shop with the bed-maker, Polynesia, who had been listening as usual, flew up on to my shoulder and whispered in my ear,
“I have a plan. Get hold of Bumpo and come some place where the Doctor can’t hear us. I want to talk to you.”
I nudged Bumpo’s elbow and we crossed the street and pretended to look into a jeweler’s window; while the Doctor sat down upon his bed to lace up his boots, the only part of his clothing he had taken off for the night.
“Listen,” said Polynesia, “I’ve been breaking my head trying to think up some way we can get money to buy those stores with; and at last I’ve got it.”
“The money?” said Bumpo.
“No, stupid. The idea—to make the money with. Listen: the Doctor is simply bound to win this game to-morrow, sure as you’re alive. Now all we have to do is to make a side bet with these Spaniards—they’re great on gambling—and the trick’s done.”
“What’s a side bet?” I asked.
“Oh I know what that is,” said Bumpo proudly. “We used to have lots of them at Oxford when boat-racing was on. I go to Don Enrique and say, ‘I bet you a hundred pounds the Doctor wins.’ Then if he does win, Don Enrique pays me a hundred pounds; and if he doesn’t, I have to pay Don Enrique.”
“That’s the idea,” said Polynesia. “Only don’t say a hundred pounds: say two-thousand five-hundred pesetas. Now come and find old Don Ricky-ticky and try to look rich.”
So we crossed the street again and slipped into the bed-maker’s shop while the Doctor was still busy with his boots.
“Don Enrique,” said Bumpo, “allow me to introduce myself. I am the Crown Prince of Jolliginki. Would you care to have a small bet with me on to-morrow’s bullfight?”
Don Enrique bowed.
“Why certainly,” he said, “I shall be delighted. But I must warn you that you are bound to lose. How much?”
“Oh a mere truffle,” said Bumpo—“just for the fun of the thing, you know. What do you say to three-thousand pesetas?”
“I agree,” said the Spaniard bowing once more. “I will meet you after the bullfight to-morrow.”
“So that’s all right,” said Polynesia as we came out to join the Doctor. “I feel as though quite a load had been taken off my mind.”