"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
The fourth and final part of the story of “The Litri and Manuelito” by Dr. Halliday Sutherland.
Within five years Manuelito had surpassed his father and was acclaimed “the best in Spain.” His timing with the capa or the sword was perfect, and he had done the “twist” sitting on a chair in the centre of the ring. It is true of many other games, such as tennis and cricket, that the timing of the stroke proclaims the champion. Manuelito made money, and had a novia [girlfriend]. She was of the people, but very beautiful, modest and loyal. This fight was in Malaga, and in the presence of King Alfonso, Queen Ena, and twenty thousand people. The Litri was one of the other matadors in the ring.
When the bull was released for Manuelito, experts in the audience became apprehensive. The bull was not charging straight, but often jabbed to one or other side. Had the bull defective vision? No one knew, but when Manuelito went to kill the bull he was caught, gored through the muscles of the right thigh, and thrown. It was then that the Litri entered the ring and killed his last bull. They carried Manuelito to the clinic of a Spanish surgeon in Malaga. He was an able surgeon, had been educated in Germany, and his treatment was orthodox. Yet the wound went badly for Manuelito, and on the fourth day the Litri telegraphed to Huelva.
My uncle had died, and the clinic had passed to my cousin, Ian Macdonald, the pioneer of abdominal surgery in Southern Spain. He left Huelva for Malaga in his car at eleven p.m., and a large crowd assembled outside his house to see him go. Such was the popularity of Manuelito.
As Macdonald drove through the night to Malaga he remembered a professional secret, a thing that Manuelito had revealed to him alone. Occasionally the matador suffered from a slight twitching of the left eye. This only lasted for a few minutes, but while it did, the man saw double. Macdonald had warned him that no man with such a defect should risk his life in the ring, but Manuelito had only laughed. “It never comes on in the arena.” Did it come on in the Malaga ring, and was the vision of both man and beast distorted on that Sunday afternoon? Who can say?
In the morning Macdonald found that the case was hopeless. Gas gangrene had supervened, and Manuelito died.
Then the surgeons had a strange talk. The Spaniard said: “I must send his body to-night to a private mortuary. My other patients would not like the idea of it remaining here.” He had been educated in Germany, and in sentiment had lost touch with his own race.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Macdonald, “you can’t do that. What harm is his body do to your other patients? There are walls between his room and theirs. Don’t you realise that this man was the idol of Spain, and that these people hate the idea of being placed in a mortuary? If you send the body out of your place before the funeral, it is not what the people will say but what they will do. They might burn the clinic to the ground. Let us go for a drive in the open air and discuss this matter quietly.”
The two surgeons went driving for an hour and continued the argument. On their return to the clinic they saw four silent men standing on the pavement. Three were dressed as toreros and the fourth was in mufti. Macdonald recognised them as Maluelito’s cuadrilla [bullfighting team], and the tall, good-looking man in mufti was the sobresoliente [understudy]. As the surgeons alighted, the sobresoliente stood in front of the Spaniard, looked him straight in the face, and spoke three words in a low voice: “He stays here.”
It was a command, and the surgeon agreed.
In Malaga they still talk of the funeral of Manuelito, when the streets were lined by several hundred thousand people, and all traffic in the city was suspended.
After the funeral the Litri cut his pigtail and left the ring for ever, and when he died there was scarcely a hundred people at his funeral. It was not that the people had forgotten the famous matador, but that they remembered one other thing. The Litri was a widower, and when Manuelito died he invited the son’s novia to his house. A year later he married the girl. And the people did not approve.