WESTWARD from a town by the Mouths of the Rhone, runs a road so mathematically straight, so barometrically level, that it ranks among the world’s measured miles and motorists use it for records.
I had attacked the distance several times, but always with a Mistral blowing, or the unchancy cattle of those parts on the move. But once, running from the East, into a high-piled, almost Egyptian, sunset, there came a night which it would have been sin to have wasted. It was warm with the breath of summer in advance; moonlit till the shadow of every rounded pebble and pointed cypress wind-break lay solid on that vast flat-floored waste; and my Mr. Leggatt, who had slipped out to make sure, reported that the roadsurface was unblemished.
‘Now,’ he suggested, ‘we might see what she’ll do under strict road-conditions. She’s been pullin’ like the Blue de Luxe all day. Unless I’m all off, it’s her night out.’
We arranged the trial for after dinner — thirty kilometres as near as might be; and twenty-two of them without even a level crossing.
There sat beside me at table d’hote an elderly, bearded Frenchman wearing the rosette of by no means the lowest grade of the Legion of Honour, who had arrived in a talkative Citroen. I gathered that he had spent much of his life in the French Colonial Service in Annam and Tonquin. When the war came, his years barring him from the front line, he had supervised Chinese wood-cutters who, with axe and dynamite, deforested the centre of France for trench-props. He said my chauffeur had told him that I contemplated an experiment. He was interested in cars — had admired mine — would, in short, be greatly indebted to me if I permitted him to assist as an observer. One could not well refuse; and, knowing my Mr. Leggatt, it occurred to me there might also be a bet in the background.
While he went to get his coat, I asked the proprietor his name. ‘Voiron–Monsieur Andre Voiron,’ was the reply. ‘And his business?’ ‘Mon Dieu! He is Voiron! He is all those things, there!’ The proprietor waved his hands at brilliant advertisements on the dining-room walls, which declared that Voiron Freres dealt in wines, agricultural implements, chemical manures, provisions and produce throughout that part of the globe.
He said little for the first five minutes of our trip, and nothing at all for the next ten — it being, as Leggatt had guessed, Esmeralda’s night out. But, when her indicator climbed to a certain figure and held there for three blinding kilometres, he expressed himself satisfied, and proposed to me that we should celebrate the event at the hotel. ‘I keep yonder,’ said he, ‘a wine on which I should value your opinion.’
On our return, he disappeared for a few minutes, and I heard him rumbling in a cellar. The proprietor presently invited me to the dining-room, where, beneath one frugal light, a table had been set with local dishes of renown. There was, too, a bottle beyond most known sizes, marked black on red, with a date. Monsieur Voiron opened it, and we drank to the health of my car. The velvety, perfumed liquor, between fawn and topaz, neither too sweet nor too dry, creamed in its generous glass. But I knew no wine composed of the whispers of angels’ wings, the breath of Eden and the foam and pulse of Youth renewed. So I asked what it might be.
‘It is champagne,’ he said gravely.
‘Then what have I been drinking all my life?’
‘If you were lucky, before the War, and paid thirty shillings a bottle, it is possible you may have drunk one of our better-class tisanes.’
‘And where does one get this?’
‘Here, I am happy to say. Elsewhere, perhaps, it is not so easy. We growers exchange these real wines among ourselves.’
I bowed my head in admiration, surrender, and joy. There stood the most ample bottle, and it was not yet eleven o’clock. Doors locked and shutters banged throughout the establishment. Some last servant yawned on his way to bed. Monsieur Voiron opened a window and the moonlight flooded in from a small pebbled court outside. One could almost hear the town of Chambres breathing in its first sleep. Presently, there was a thick noise in the air, the passing of feet and hooves, lowings, and a stifled bark or two. Dust rose over the courtyard wall, followed by the strong smell of cattle.
‘They are moving some beasts,’ said Monsieur Voiron, cocking an ear. ‘Mine, I think. Yes, I hear Christophe. Our beasts do not like automobiles — so we move at night. You do not know our country — the Crau, here, or the Camargue? I was — I am now, again — of it. All France is good; but this is the best.’ He spoke, as only a Frenchman can, of his own loved part of his own lovely land.
‘For myself, if I were not so involved in all these affairs’— he pointed to the advertisements —‘I would live on our farm with my cattle, and worship them like a Hindu. You know our cattle of the Camargue, Monsieur? No? It is not an acquaintance to rush upon lightly. There are no beasts like them. They have a mentality superior to that of others. They graze and they ruminate, by choice, facing our Mistral, which is more than some automobiles will do. Also they have in them the potentiality of thought — and when cattle think — I have seen what arrives.’
‘Are they so clever as all that?’ I asked idly.
‘Monsieur, when your sportif chauffeur camouflaged your limousine so that she resembled one of your Army lorries, I would not believe her capacities. I bet him — ah — two to one — she would not touch ninety kilometres. It was proved that she could. I can give you no proof, but will you believe me if I tell you what a beast who thinks can achieve?’
‘After the War,’ said I spaciously, ‘everything is credible.’
‘That is true! Everything inconceivable has happened; but still we learn nothing and we believe nothing. When I was a child in my father’s house — before I became a Colonial Administrator — my interest and my affection were among our cattle. We of the old rock live here — have you seen? — in big farms like castles. Indeed, some of them may have been Saracenic. The barns group round them — great white-walled barns, and yards solid as our houses. One gate shuts all. It is a world apart; an administration of all that concerns beasts. It was there I learned something about cattle. You see, they are our playthings in the Camargue and the Crau. The boy measures his strength against the calf that butts him in play among the manure-heaps. He moves in and out among the cows, who are — not so amiable. He rides with the herdsmen in the open to shift the herds. Sooner or later, he meets as bulls the little calves that knocked him over. So it was with me — till it became necessary that I should go to our Colonies.’ He laughed. ‘Very necessary. That is a good time in youth, Monsieur, when one does these things which shock our parents. Why is it always Papa who is so shocked and has never heard of such things — and Mamma who supplies the excuses? . . . And when my brother — my elder who stayed and created the business — begged me to return and help him, I resigned my Colonial career gladly enough. I returned to our own lands, and my well-loved, wicked white and yellow cattle of the Camargue and the Crau. My Faith, I could talk of them all night, for this stuff unlocks the heart, without making repentance in the morning . . . Yes! It was after the War that this happened. There was a calf, among Heaven knows how many of ours — a bull-calf — an infant indistinguishable from his companions. He was sick, and he had been taken up with his mother into the big farmyard at home with us. Naturally the children of our herdsmen practised on him from the first. It is in their blood. The Spaniards make a cult of bull-fighting. Our little devils down here bait bulls as automatically as the English child kicks or throws balls. This calf would chase them with his eyes open, like a cow when she hunts a man. They would take refuge behind our tractors and wine-carts in the centre of the yard: he would chase them in and out as a dog hunts rats. More than that, he would study their psychology, his eyes in their eyes. Yes, he watched their faces to divine which way they would run. He himself, also, would pretend sometimes to charge directly at a boy. Then he would wheel right or left — one could never tell — and knock over some child pressed against a wall who thought himself safe. After this, he would stand over him, knowing that his companions must come to his aid; and when they were all together, waving their jackets across his eyes and pulling his tail, he would scatter them — how he would scatter them! He could kick, too, sideways like a cow. He knew his ranges as well as our gunners, and he was as quick on his feet as our Carpentier. I observed him often. Christophe — the man who passed just now — our chief herdsman, who had taught me to ride with our beasts when I was ten — Christophe told me that he was descended from a yellow cow of those days that had chased us once into the marshes. “He kicks just like her,” said Christophe. “He can side-kick as he jumps. Have you seen, too, that he is not deceived by the jacket when a boy waves it? He uses it to find the boy. They think they are feeling him. He is feeling them always. He thinks, that one.” I had come to the same conclusion. Yes — the creature was a thinker along the lines necessary to his sport; and he was a humorist also, like so many natural murderers. One knows the type among beasts as well as among men. It possesses a curious truculent mirth — almost indecent but infallibly significant —’
Monsieur Voiron replenished our glasses with the great wine that went better at each descent.
‘They kept him for some time in the yards to practise upon. Naturally he became a little brutal; so Christophe turned him out to learn manners among his equals in the grazing lands, where the Camargue joins the Crau. How old was he then? About eight or nine months, I think. We met again a few months later — he and I. I was riding one of our little half-wild horses, along a road of the Crau, when I found myself almost unseated. It was he! He had hidden himself behind a wind-break till we passed, and had then charged my horse from behind. Yes, he had deceived even my little horse! But I recognised him. I gave him the whip across the nose, and I said: “Apis, for this thou goest to Arles! It was unworthy of thee, between us two.” But that creature had no shame. He went away laughing, like an Apache. If he had dismounted me, I do not think it is I who would have laughed — yearling as he was.’
‘Why did you want to send him to Arles?’ I asked.
‘For the bull-ring. When your charming tourists leave us, we institute our little amusements there. Not a real bull-fight, you understand, but young bulls with padded horns, and our boys from hereabouts and in the city go to play with them. Naturally, before we send them we try them in our yards at home. So we brought up Apis from his pastures. He knew at once that he was among the friends of his youth — he almost shook hands with them — and he submitted like an angel to padding his horns. He investigated the carts and tractors in the yards, to choose his lines of defence and attack. And then — he attacked with an elan, and he defended with a tenacity and forethought that delighted us. In truth, we were so pleased that I fear we trespassed upon his patience. We desired him to repeat himself, which no true artist will tolerate. But he gave us fair warning. He went out to the centre of the yard, where there was some dry earth; he kneeled down and — you have seen a calf whose horns fret him thrusting and rooting into a bank? He did just that, very deliberately, till he had rubbed the pads off his horns. Then he rose, dancing on those wonderful feet that twinkled, and he said: “Now, my friends, the buttons are off the foils. Who begins?” We understood. We finished at once. He was turned out again on the pastures till it should be time to amuse them at our little metropolis. But, some time before he went to Arles — yes, I think I have it correctly — Christophe, who had been out on the Crau, informed me that Apis had assassinated a young bull who had given signs of developing into a rival. That happens, of course, and our herdsmen should prevent it. But Apis had killed in his own style — at dusk, from the ambush of a wind-break — by an oblique charge from behind which knocked the other over. He had then disembowelled him. All very possible, but — the murder accomplished — Apis went to the bank of a wind-break, knelt, and carefully, as he had in our yard, cleaned his horns in the earth. Christophe, who had never seen such a thing, at once borrowed (do you know, it is most efficacious when taken that way?) some Holy Water from our little chapel in those pastures, sprinkled Apis (whom it did not affect), and rode in to tell me. It was obvious that a thinker of that bull’s type would also be meticulous in his toilette; so, when he was sent to Arles, I warned our consignees to exercise caution with him. Happily, the change of scene, the music, the general attention, and the meeting again with old friends — all our bad boys attended — agreeably distracted him. He became for the time a pure farceur again; but his wheelings, his rushes, his rat-huntings were more superb than ever. There was in them now, you understand, a breadth of technique that comes of reasoned art, and, above all, the passion that arrives after experience. Oh, he had learned, out there on the Crau! At the end of his little turn, he was, according to local rules, to be handled in all respects except for the sword, which was a stick, as a professional bull who must die. He was manoeuvred into, or he posed himself in, the proper attitude; made his rush; received the point on his shoulder and then — turned about and cantered toward the door by which he had entered the arena. He said to the world: “My friends, the representation is ended. I thank you for your applause. I go to repose myself.” But our Arlesians, who are — not so clever as some, demanded an encore, and Apis was headed back again. We others from his country, we knew what would happen. He went to the centre of the ring, kneeled, and, slowly, with full parade, plunged his horns alternately in the dirt till the pads came off. Christophe shouts: “Leave him alone, you straight-nosed imbeciles! Leave him before you must.” But they required emotion; for Rome has always debauched her loved Provincia with bread and circuses. It was given. Have you, Monsieur, ever seen a servant, with pan and broom, sweeping round the base-board of a room? In a half-minute Apis has them all swept out and over the barrier. Then he demands once more that the door shall be opened to him. It is opened and he retires as though — which, truly, is the case — loaded with laurels.’
Monsieur Voiron refilled the glasses, and allowed himself a cigarette, which he puffed for some time.
‘And afterwards?’ I said.
‘I am arranging it in my mind. It is difficult to do it justice. Afterwards — yes, afterwards — Apis returned to his pastures and his mistresses and I to my business. I am no longer a scandalous old “sportif” in shirt-sleeves howling encouragement to the yellow son of a cow. I revert to Voiron Freres-wines, chemical manures, et cetera. And next year, through some chicane which I have not the leisure to unravel, and also, thanks to our patriarchal system of paying our older men out of the increase of the herds, old Christophe possesses himself of Apis. Oh, yes, he proves it through descent from a certain cow that my father had given his father before the Republic. Beware, Monsieur, of the memory of the illiterate man! An ancestor of Christophe had been a soldier under our Soult against your Beresford, near Bayonne. He fell into the hands of Spanish guerrillas. Christophe and his wife used to tell me the details on certain Saints’ Days when I was a child. Now, as compared with our recent war, Soult’s campaign and retreat across the Bidassoa —’
‘But did you allow Christophe just to annex the bull?’ I demanded.
‘You do not know Christophe. He had sold him to the Spaniards before he informed me. The Spaniards pay in coin — douros of very pure silver. Our peasants mistrust our paper. You know the saying: “A thousand francs paper; eight hundred metal, and the cow is yours.” Yes, Christophe sold Apis, who was then two and a half years old, and to Christophe’s knowledge thrice at least an assassin.’
‘How was that?’ I said.
‘Oh, his own kind only; and always, Christophe told me, by the same oblique rush from behind, the same sideways overthrow, and the same swift disembowelment, followed by this levitical cleaning of the horns. In human life he would have kept a manicurist — this Minotaur. And so, Apis disappears from our country. That does not trouble me. I know in due time I shall be advised. Why? Because, in this land, Monsieur, not a hoof moves between Berre and the Saintes Maries without the knowledge of specialists such as Christophe. The beasts are the substance and the drama of their lives to them. So when Christophe tells me, a little before Easter Sunday, that Apis makes his debut in the bull-ring of a small Catalan town on the road to Barcelona, it is only to pack my car and trundle there across the frontier with him. The place lacked importance and manufactures, but it had produced a matador of some reputation, who was condescending to show his art in his native town. They were even running one special train to the place. Now our French railway system is only execrable, but the Spanish —’
‘You went down by road, didn’t you?’ said I.
‘Naturally. It was not too good. Villamarti was the matador’s name. He proposed to kill two bulls for the honour of his birthplace. Apis, Christophe told me, would be his second. It was an interesting trip, and that little city by the sea was ravishing. Their bull-ring dates from the middle of the seventeenth century. It is full of feeling. The ceremonial too — when the horsemen enter and ask the Mayor in his box to throw down the keys of the bull-ring — that was exquisitely conceived. You know, if the keys are caught in the horseman’s hat, it is considered a good omen. They were perfectly caught. Our seats were in the front row beside the gates where the bulls enter, so we saw everything.
‘Villamarti’s first bull was not too badly killed. The second matador, whose name escapes me, killed his without distinction — a foil to Villamarti. And the third, Chisto, a laborious, middle-aged professional who had never risen beyond a certain dull competence, was equally of the background. Oh, they are as jealous as the girls of the Comedie Francaise, these matadors! Villamarti’s troupe stood ready for his second bull. The gates opened, and we saw Apis, beautifully balanced on his feet, peer coquettishly round the corner, as though he were at home. A picador — a mounted man with the long lance-goad — stood near the barrier on his right. He had not even troubled to turn his horse, for the capeadors — the men with the cloaks — were advancing to play Apis — to feel his psychology and intentions, according to the rules that are made for bulls who do not think . . . I did not realise the murder before it was accomplished! The wheel, the rush, the oblique charge from behind, the fall of horse and man were simultaneous. Apis leaped the horse, with whom he had no quarrel, and alighted, all four feet together (it was enough), between the man’s shoulders, changed his beautiful feet on the carcass, and was away, pretending to fall nearly on his nose. Do you follow me? In that instant, by that stumble, he produced the impression that his adorable assassination was a mere bestial blunder. Then, Monsieur, I began to comprehend that it was an artist we had to deal with. He did not stand over the body to draw the rest of the troupe. He chose to reserve that trick. He let the attendants bear out the dead, and went on to amuse himself among the capeadors. Now to Apis, trained among our children in the yards, the cloak was simply a guide to the boy behind it. He pursued, you understand, the person, not the propaganda — the proprietor, not the journal. If a third of our electors of France were as wise, my friend! . . . But it was done leisurely, with humour and a touch of truculence. He romped after one man’s cloak as a clumsy dog might do, but I observed that he kept the man on his terrible left side. Christophe whispered to me: “Wait for his mother’s kick. When he has made the fellow confident it will arrive.” It arrived in the middle of a gambol. My God! He lashed out in the air as he frisked. The man dropped like a sack, lifted one hand a little towards his head, and — that was all. So you see, a body was again at his disposition; a second time the cloaks ran up to draw him off, but, a second time, Apis refused his grand scene. A second time he acted that his murder was accident and he convinced his audience! It was as though he had knocked over a bridge-gate in the marshes by mistake. Unbelievable? I saw it.’
The memory sent Monsieur Voiron again to the champagne, and I accompanied him.
‘But Apis was not the sole artist present. They say Villamarti comes of a family of actors. I saw him regard Apis with a new eye. He, too, began to understand. He took his cloak and moved out to play him before they should bring on another picador. He had his reputation. Perhaps Apis knew it. Perhaps Villamarti reminded him of some boy with whom he had practised at home. At any rate Apis permitted it — up to a certain point; but he did not allow Villamarti the stage. He cramped him throughout. He dived and plunged clumsily and slowly, but always with menace and always closing in. We could see that the man was conforming to the bull — not the bull to the man; for Apis was playing him towards the centre of the ring, and, in a little while — I watched his face — Villamarti knew it. But I could not fathom the creature’s motive. “Wait,” said old Christophe. “He wants that picador on the white horse yonder. When he reaches his proper distance he will get him. Villamarti is his cover. He used me once that way.” And so it was, my friend! With the clang of one of our own Seventy-fives, Apis dismissed Villamarti with his chest — breasted him over — and had arrived at his objective near the barrier. The same oblique charge; the head carried low for the sweep of the horns; the immense sideways fall of the horse, broken-legged and half-paralysed; the senseless man on the ground, and — behold Apis between them, backed against the barrier — his right covered by the horse; his left by the body of the man at his feet. The simplicity of it! Lacking the carts and tractors of his early parade-grounds he, being a genius, had extemporised with the materials at hand, and dug himself in. The troupe closed up again, their left wing broken by the kicking horse, their right immobilised by the man’s body which Apis bestrode with significance. Villamarti almost threw himself between the horns, but — it was more an appeal than an attack. Apis refused him. He held his base. A picador was sent at him — necessarily from the front, which alone was open. Apis charged — he who, till then, you realise, had not used the horn! The horse went over backwards, the man half beneath him. Apis halted, hooked him under the heart, and threw him to the barrier. We heard his head crack, but he was dead before he hit the wood. There was no demonstration from the audience. They, also, had begun to realise this Foch among bulls! The arena occupied itself again with the dead. Two of the troupe irresolutely tried to play him — God knows in what hope! — but he moved out to the centre of the ring. “Look!” said Christophe. “Now he goes to clean himself. That always frightened me.” He knelt down; he began to clean his horns. The earth was hard. He worried at it in an ecstasy of absorption. As he laid his head along and rattled his ears, it was as though he were interrogating the Devils themselves upon their secrets, and always saying impatiently: “Yes, I know that — and that — and that! Tell me more — more!’ In the silence that covered us, a woman cried: “He digs a grave! Oh, Saints, he digs a grave!” Some others echoed this — not loudly — as a wave echoes in a grotto of the sea.’
‘And when his horns were cleaned, he rose up and studied poor Villamarti’s troupe, eyes in eyes, one by one, with the gravity of an equal in intellect and the remote and merciless resolution of a master in his art. This was more terrifying than his toilette.’
‘And they — Villamarti’s men?’ I asked.
‘Like the audience, were dominated. They had ceased to posture, or stamp, or address insults to him. They conformed to him. The two other matadors stared. Only Chisto, the oldest, broke silence with some call or other, and Apis turned his head towards him. Otherwise he was isolated, immobile — sombre — meditating on those at his mercy. Ah!
For some reason the trumpet sounded for the banderillas — those gay hooked darts that are planted in the shoulders of bulls who do not think, after their neck-muscles are tired by lifting horses. When such bulls feel the pain, they check for an instant, and, in that instant, the men step gracefully aside. Villamarti’s banderillero answered the trumpet mechanically — like one condemned. He stood out, poised the darts and stammered the usual patter of invitation . . . And after? I do not assert that Apis shrugged his shoulders, but he reduced the episode to its lowest elements, as could only a bull of Gaul. With his truculence was mingled always — owing to the shortness of his tail — a certain Rabelaisian abandon, especially when viewed from the rear. Christophe had often commented upon it. Now, Apis brought that quality into play. He circulated round that boy, forcing him to break up his beautiful poses. He studied him from various angles, like an incompetent photographer. He presented to him every portion of his anatomy except his shoulders. At intervals he feigned to run in upon him. My God, he was cruel! But his motive was obvious. He was playing for a laugh from the spectators which should synchronise with the fracture of the human morale. It was achieved. The boy turned and ran towards the barrier. Apis was on him before the laugh ceased; passed him; headed him — what do I say? — herded him off to the left, his horns beside and a little in front of his chest: he did not intend him to escape into a refuge. Some of the troupe would have closed in, but Villamarti cried: “If he wants him he will take him. Stand!” They stood. Whether the boy slipped or Apis nosed him over I could not see. But he dropped, sobbing. Apis halted like a car with four brakes, struck a pose, smelt him very completely and turned away. It was dismissal more ignominious than degradation at the head of one’s battalion. The representation was finished. Remained only for Apis to clear his stage of the subordinate characters.
‘Ah! His gesture then! He gave a dramatic start — this Cyrano of the Camargue — as though he was aware of them for the first time. He moved. All their beautiful breeches twinkled for an instant along the top of the barrier. He held the stage alone! But Christophe and I, we trembled! For, observe, he had now involved himself in a stupendous drama of which he only could supply the third act. And, except for an audience on the razor-edge of emotion, he had exhausted his material. Moliere himself — we have forgotten, my friend, to drink to the health of that great soul — might have been at a loss. And Tragedy is but a step behind Failure. We could see the four or five Civil Guards, who are sent always to keep order, fingering the breeches of their rifles. They were but waiting a word from the Mayor to fire on him, as they do sometimes at a bull who leaps the barrier among the spectators. They would, of course, have killed or wounded several people — but that would not have saved Apis.’
Monsieur Voiron drowned the thought at once, and wiped his beard.
‘At that moment Fate — the Genius of France, if you will — sent to assist in the incomparable finale, none other than Chisto, the eldest, and I should have said (but never again will I judge!) the least inspired of all; mediocrity itself, but at heart — and it is the heart that conquers always, my friend — at heart an artist. He descended stiffly into the arena, alone and assured. Apis regarded him, his eyes in his eyes. The man took stance, with his cloak, and called to the bull as to an equal: “Now, Senor, we will show these honourable caballeros something together.” He advanced thus against this thinker who at a plunge — a kick — a thrust — could, we all knew, have extinguished him. My dear friend, I wish I could convey to you something of the unaffected bonhomie, the humour, the delicacy, the consideration bordering on respect even, with which Apis, the supreme artist, responded to this invitation. It was the Master, wearied after a strenuous hour in the atelier, unbuttoned and at ease with some not inexpert but limited disciple. The telepathy was instantaneous between them. And for good reason! Christophe said to me: “All’s well. That Chisto began among the bulls. I was sure of it when I heard him call just now. He has been a herdsman. He’ll pull it off.” There was a little feeling and adjustment, at first, for mutual distances and allowances.
Oh, yes! And here occurred a gross impertinence of Villamarti. He had, after an interval, followed Chisto — to retrieve his reputation. My Faith! I can conceive the elder Dumas slamming his door on an intruder precisely as Apis did. He raced Villamarti into the nearest refuge at once. He stamped his feet outside it, and he snorted: “Go! I am engaged with an artist.” Villamarti went — his reputation left behind for ever.
‘Apis returned to Chisto saying: “Forgive the interruption. I am not always master of my time, but you were about to observe, my dear confrere . . .?” Then the play began. Out of compliment to Chisto, Apis chose as his objective (every bull varies in this respect) the inner edge of the cloak — that nearest to the man’s body. This allows but a few millimetres clearance in charging. But Apis trusted himself as Chisto trusted him, and, this time, he conformed to the man, with inimitable judgment and temper. He allowed himself to be played into the shadow or the sun, as the delighted audience demanded. He raged enormously; he feigned defeat; he despaired in statuesque abandon, and thence flashed into fresh paroxysms of wrath — but always with the detachment of the true artist who knows he is but the vessel of an emotion whence others, not he, must drink. And never once did he forget that honest Chisto’s cloak was to him the gauge by which to spare even a hair on the skin. He inspired Chisto too. My God! His youth returned to that meritorious beef-sticker — the desire, the grace, and the beauty of his early dreams. One could almost see that girl of the past for whom he was rising, rising to these present heights of skill and daring. It was his hour too — a miraculous hour of dawn returned to gild the sunset. All he knew was at Apis’ disposition. Apis acknowledged it with all that he had learned at home, at Arles and in his lonely murders on our grazing-grounds. He flowed round Chisto like a river of death — round his knees, leaping at his shoulders, kicking just clear of one side or the other of his head; behind his back, hissing as he shaved by; and once or twice — inimitable! — he reared wholly up before him while Chisto slipped back from beneath the avalanche of that instructed body. Those two, my dear friend, held five thousand people dumb with no sound but of their breathings — regular as pumps. It was unbearable. Beast and man realised together that we needed a change of note — a detente. They relaxed to pure buffoonery. Chisto fell back and talked to him outrageously. Apis pretended he had never heard such language. The audience howled with delight. Chisto slapped him; he took liberties with his short tail, to the end of which he clung while Apis pirouetted; he played about him in all postures; he had become the herdsman again — gross, careless, brutal, but comprehending. Yet Apis was always the more consummate clown. All that time (Christophe and I saw it) Apis drew off towards the gates of the toril where so many bulls enter but — have you ever heard of one that returned? We knew that Apis knew that as he had saved Chisto, so Chisto would save him. Life is sweet to us all; to the artist who lives many lives in one, sweetest. Chisto did not fail him. At the last, when none could laugh any longer, the man threw his cape across the bull’s back, his arm round his neck. He flung up a hand at the gate, as Villamarti, young and commanding but not a herdsman, might have raised it, and he cried: “Gentlemen, open to me and my honourable little donkey.” They opened — I have misjudged Spaniards in my time! — those gates opened to the man and the bull together, and closed behind them. And then? From the Mayor to the Guardia Civil they went mad for five minutes, till the trumpets blew and the fifth bull rushed out — an unthinking black Andalusian. I suppose some one killed him. My friend, my very dear friend, to whom I have opened my heart, I confess that I did not watch. Christophe and I, we were weeping together like children of the same Mother. Shall we drink to Her?’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56