Spanish Cabestros

[it happens to be in our power to connect with the foregoing testimony to the talents of oxen a still more striking and novel illustration of the effect with which bulls may be educated. The two papers combined are an answer to the startling question of Michelet: “Those oxen crouching beneath the dark oak, —is there no reason in their long reveries!”— Ed.]

Every traveller who has written on Spain has described more or less correctly a bull-fight— generally prefacing his narrative by abusing the pastime; or at any rate by lamenting that so barbarous a diversion should be sanctioned in a Christian country, and often drawing the conclusion, that the familiarising both sexes of all ages to such a bloody sight, must blunt the feelings; and even go So far as to attribute to it all the assassinations, murders, crimes, and even the bad government, of Spain.

Now I must observe, in the first place, that the assassinations and crimes in Spain are greatly exaggerated; and I very much doubt if one-half of the amount of crimes (and especially the premeditated ones) is committed in the course of a year in that large tract of country as in half that time in this glorious land of philanthropy, mild laws, good government, and charitable institutions.

The hot blood of the child of the sunny south is stirred to frenzy in a fit of jealousy, or when insulted; and in that moment of madness and passion it sometimes happens that he lays his foe prostrate at his feet, from a stab with the knife he ever carries in the folds of his sash, but oftener far he calls on his enemy to defend himself, and the strife is equal: but in that land of bull-fights where do you find the premeditated death by slow poison? Or where the murderer who watches with a smile on his face, with words of affection on his lips, ever with intense longing, the progress of agony, and with exulting delight the death-pangs of his victim? Where do you find the wife beaten and ill-used by her husband, and the luckless stepchildren starved in a cellar, and maltreated by the so-called parent?

But I have wandered far from my idea in this digression, and return to my primary remark, that many have written on bull-fights, but none, I l believe, on the way by which this wild and savage I monarch of the plain is lured to the haunts of man,j and brought willingly in the dead of night to the arena of his triumph and his death.

In the year 18— I went to Xerez de la Frontera to see three bull-fights that were to be given on the opening of the new and beautiful plaza just erected. They were, as usual, to take place at four p.m. But the bulls were to be brought to the plaza at three a.m. This act is called the encierro, or shutting in of the bulls. A wooden balustrade was erected from the door of the bullring, increasing in width to the outskirts of the town.

I proceeded to the plaza, where, from an outer upper corridor, I obtained a full view of the open country.

When I left home the moon was shining in all her glory; but the dawn of day is so rapid, and the twilight so short, that the sun’s rays almost kiss the moon’s silvery track, as she modestly retreats from his ardent and rapid advance. I had but just installed myself in the corridor, when my attention was directed to a dark and rapidly advancing mass, which soon I discovered was composed of mounted picadores, armed each with a very long-poled lance, who headed and surrounded the cavalcade of wild bulls. These again were more immediately hemmed in by bulls, taught by the picador to place themselves between their wild companions and the horses; for, otherwise, both horse and man would be in jeopardy of their lives.

On they came rushing to the mouth (if I may so call it) of the balustrade at full gallop. Here the tamed or decoy-bulls (called “cabrestos”) fell back, with the exception of one which carried round its neck the bell of precedence. This one immediately followed the mounted picador who headed this wild procession. As soon as they entered the balustrade, the other “cabrestos ” followed close behind them, to prevent their turning back.

The doors of the plaza are wide open. On they rush through them, with foaming mouths and panting sides, to the other extremity of the plaza, and through another door. One trembles for the picador in front; but his horse adroitly bounds aside, and keeps within the plaza while the bulls rush through, still closely followed by the decoy bulls; but the moment the eight wild ones pass the door their duty ends, and they retreat, only leaving the leader within.

The doors are shunmed-to, and you hear the roaring and bellowing of the ferocious animals, who find themselves enclosed in a small circular court, surrounded by a high wall, and perforated with loop-holes, through which the excited people look with delight at them, adding to their fury by their yells and hooting. The cabresto that had headed them keeps close to the door, which in an auspicious moment is cautiously opened enough for its egress; it always backs out, to keep the others by its horns from escaping from their prison.

I was so delighted with the instinct of these animals that I determined to inquire of the picador how he trained them: and proceeded with my servant to a room attached to the plaza, where there were stretchers and mattresses, and some very old-looking diachylon plaister for the use of the wounded; and, on a table strewed with fresh flowers, a lighted up shrine of the Virgin and child, placed there by the relatives or sweethearts of some of the actors in the all-exciting bull-fight, and accompanied with fervent prayers for their safe deliverance from the coming perils.

Don Antonio, the owner of the “cabrestos,” was a little man, not five feet in height, with a round head, his thick grey coarse hair closely cropped, little round twinkling black eyes, round face, and round figure.

“Pardon my intrusion,” I exclaimed (as they gazed in wonder at so unexpected a vision), “but I am, though a foreigner, a great lover of this favoured land of ‘la Virgen purissima,’ and a great enthusiast in bull-fights. I have been delighted at the sagacity displayed by your decoy-bulls, and have ventured to come and inquire how yon teach them, and how you manage to bring in the wild ones from the country.”

Every hat was lifted on my entrance, and every one rose from the table, on which were served sweets and liqueurs; and Don Antonio seemed well pleased at my admiration of his pets.

“Come to-morrow, fair lady, to the encierro, and I will show you how well my bulls are trained. I will give you a review, and you will own that they are as well disciplined as an army.”

Whilst he was speaking, four or five others came into the room, who proved to be the picadores and chulillos, who were to show thenprowess in the afternoon. My little friend introduced them to me by name, and told them I was an Inglesita, who loved Spain and their customs.

The first and famous picador (Charpa) begged for my good wishes for his success, and handed me a glass of aniseed-brandy, which I would willingly have declined, but he urged me to drink to then success, and it would have been attributed to English pride had I persisted in refusing it, so I took a sip, after making an appropriate speech, and left them with a “Viva por la rubia inglesa.”

The next morning I was true to my appointment; and as soon as the wild bulls were disposed of, Don Antonio, after bowing to me in my box, called to his cabrestos to guard his horse. One immediately preceded him, and one ranged itself on either side, their horns meeting in front of the horse’s chest, and, three abreast in the rear, his four other companions (picadores) followed, and were surrounded by the remaining cabrestos. With a shout, Don Antonio started off at full gallop round the plaza, the bulls keeping pace and position.

“Now to the right!” he called out, suiting the action to the word, and at the same rapid pace. “Now to the left!” “Now cross over!” They obeyed with such promptitude and precision, that the horses were never for a moment exposed. “Halt!” and he reined in his horse so suddenly, as almost to bring him on his haunches; but the bulls as suddenly halted. He then ordered them to fall in the rear. They immediately separated from the horses, and obeyed his mandate; and so they left the plaza, Don Antonia again bowing, and saying, “Sra., esta v. servida.”

It was indeed a wonderful sight, and my little friend was charmed with my heartfelt enthusiasm when I went to thank him.

“Do you in your country ever see anything like that ?” he exclaimed.

“Certainly not. Is it not very difficult to teach them?”

He said the difficulty was in teaching the first set; they afterwards almost taught each other.

When they went to select the bulls, his horse was always guarded, as I had seen, and followed by the others. With his long lance he touched the bull he selected, when some of the cabrestos quietly surrounded him and lured him away from the herd. The others successively were brought by the cabrestos to where the first had halted, and when the requisite number were detached, the march commenced—the picador in front, followed by the cabresto wearing the bell of precedence, the wild bulls being completely surrounded by the cabrestos, the other picadores ready with their lances to give a poke to any bull who might attempt to escape through the magic circle that was luring him to his destruction.

They start off in a walk, not to startle the bulls; this is gradually accelerated into an amble —then a trot—until they arrive at a little distance from the town they are destined for. Here they halt, and are allowed to graze with the cabrestos until midnight or dawn of day, when they are brought to the plaza in the manner above stated.

I should add that the cabrestos are always brought in first from where they halt to the plaza, to show them the way. When once shown, they never forget it. If the distance is great, they have of course to halt for rest en route.

“And if your horse had stumbled when you were rushing on in front of those bulls to the plaza?”

“Lady,” he answered, “it would have deprived me of the great satisfaction I have had in giving you the pleasure you are pleased to express as having received from seeing the evolutions of my cabrestos; for had my horse stumbled then, I should have been trampled to death. Lady, I kiss your feet. Command me in any way I can serve you, and may God be with you.”

“Adios, senor, un millon de gracias, and may your life long be preserved. I shall never forget your kindness, or your cabrestos.”

Soy Yo.

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About libros19blog

Central Florida
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