Doctor. Tuberculosis pioneer. Best-selling author. Convert to Catholicism. Enemy of eugenics, and eugenicists.
This is the second part of the story of The Litri and Manuelito from The Arches of The Years by Dr. Halliday Sutherland.
My attention was distracted from the bull’s eyes by what seemed to be a shadow above me. I looked up and saw the Litri standing astride me, and heard his shout of “Olle!” as he played the bull away from my body, first one side, then on the other without moving his own feet. One of the bull’s hoofs trod on and bruised my thigh. Now other people were shouting “Olle!” and when the Litri helped me to rise I saw that two of his men were enticing the bull away from us. The three of them had galloped out as soon as the performance began. I had not seen them, and it seemed a long time since I had seen anything except the eyes of the bull. I should not easily forget them. Nor had I felt the cactus spikes, although now my back was smarting and bleeding from them. The bull was on his way across the plain. The horses of the Litri and his men had, like mine, departed when left alone, and we all walked back to rejoin the party.
As we approached them I saw that my uncle was standing apart from the others. The courteous Spaniards had probably withdrawn lest their presence should mar the affectionate reunion of nephew and uncle. I found my uncle in a temper that did not suit me at that moment, but which was doubtless well deserved.
“A poor show, sir. What the devil would your father have said to me had you been killed? You have no regard for other people. You think only of yourself.”
To which I replied: “You think only of yourself. Talk of family feeling! I leave for Madrid to-night.”
Our reunion, or parting, was interrupted by the approach of the Litri, followed by all the Spaniards.
“I’m off,” I said. “I don’t want any of their palaver. I know that I played the bull badly, and so do they.”
“Don’t be an ass,” said my uncle, “and don’t let us row in front of the Spaniards. After all, the man saved your life. The least you can do is to stay and shake hands with him.”
The Litri came up, solemnly held out his hand and took off his hat, as did all the others. We shook hands, and I again thanked him. From the serious faces of the others we might have been holding a religious service in the open air.
The Litri spoke: “Senores, I am a matador de toros, and I cannot congratulate Don Enrique on the manner in which he played the bull. Never in my life, senores, have I seen a man who played the bull more on to his own body and less on to the capa. That is not why I congratulate him. I congratulate him because he is the first Englishman I have known who tried to play a fighting bull. Olle!”
Next Sunday I went for a long ride with the British vice-consul, and we stopped at a village five miles from the ganaderia. There was a posada with a rustic fence round a little garden. We fixed our reins to this fence on either side of the gate and went in to drink beer in a cool room with white-topped tables and sawdust on the floor. Four other customers, villagers, were refreshing themselves, and a billy-goat went from table to table begging scraps. The Spanish beer tastes cool, and that is the best I can say of it, because it is as sweet as glycerine. As we drank I noticed that the other people in the room were looking at us with interest, and when I called for the reckoning, the landlord said: “Is your honour the English Senor who played a bull last Sunday ? Senor, there is nothing to pay. You have done my poor posada a great honour, and you are always welcome as my guest.”
The vice-consul was as surprised as myself. “What the deuce is all this about?” I had said nothing to anyone about the adventure, because it was neither a feather in my cap nor a bee in my bonnet. The landlord told him, and the story had grown. A bull, so fierce that it might have come from the Herd of Death, had been played by the senor for twenty minutes alone. The Senor was thrown. This narrative was interrupted by a disturbance outside the posada, and we all went out. My horse had knocked down a portion of the rustic fence, and was dragging it at the end of the reins across the road. I offered to pay for the damage, but the landlord declined. “It is nothing. I can repair it in a minute.”
We said good-bye to him and rode homewards. After a time the vice-consul remarked: “I think you will become a legend in this place.” He was right. Years later, in London, an English girl told me how she had heard around Huelva the story of the English doctor who wished to be a matador, but was prevented by an uncle from adopting this promising career!
From: Spanish Journey by Dr Halliday Sutherland.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Lies at unsplash.com
Click here for Part 3.