A Place in the Shade

Playwright, actor, and producer, PETER USTINOV is now in Hollywood, where with Sir Laurence Olivier he will play a leading role in the Jilin being made from Howard Fast’s novel, SPARTACUS. Meantime, in occasional sessions behind locked doors. he continues to write for the ATLANTIC his independent and uninhibited stories, each in its way scrutinizing a vulnerable area in contemporary life. This is the sixth.


MOST modern guidebooks on Spain hardly mention Alcañon de la Sagrada Orden; in older ones, its name does not appear at all. And yet, the frequent discovery of Roman coins beneath its soil and a rich treasure of amphorae in its rocky waters testify to the fact that it is one of the oldest villages on the Iberian peninsula. It is not as beautiful or as dramatic as some Andalusian pueblos, but it is unspoiled and dignified.

The Church of La Sagrada Orden is by no means an architectural gem, and the interior is spoiled by some religious pictures of quite frightening sentimentality, ranging from the false Murillo to the Victorian. A vast Virgin Mary, seemingly made of marzipan, with crystal tears embedded in the rosy cheeks, dominates the body of the building as she sits, doll-like, behind glass, in a startling baroque sunburst. Typically, this outsize piece of devotional saccharin is the pride and joy of the village, and it is even said that the crystal tears miraculously turned to water during the last day of the siege of the Alcazar.

There are one or two splendid houses tucked away in side streets, including the headquarters of the local Caïd, dating from the days of the Moorish Caliphate, and a statue of the village’s proudest son, Juan Rodriguez de la Jara, stands copper-green under the trees of the main square.

According to the description of this intolerantlooking hidalgo on the base of his statue, he advanced into Arizona, driving from where Tucson stands today north past Phoenix to Reno, where he died of some local plague, his last words being: “Por España y por Alcañon.”

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the village, however, is its bull ring, which dates from roughly the same time as the one in Ronda and can therefore lay claim to being among the oldest in Spain. White and squat, with weeds growing patchily on its sand, it seems dangerously intimate for such a sport. The words Sol and Sombra are still visible on the dirty wall although the black paint has faded and flaked away, and the arena itself is remarkable because there is no advertisement of any sort, no reminder of a particularly delectable sherry or cognac to desecrate the functional purpose of the ancient edifice.

Although for years past the arena has been used only occasionally, the odor of animals still permeates it, just as the pungent smell of ancient urine still floats unhealthily around the public entrances, meeting places for parliaments of flies. From the days of the Conquistador Juan Rodriguez de la Jara until the end of World War II, Alcañon vegetated comfortably in its poverty and pride. Even the Civil War did not shake it out of its dreams of glory, since it passed to the advancing troops of General Franco with only two casualties. In 1940, however, the rot set in when the great English poet, Oliver Still, decided to retire there. He was one of those men whose reputations increase the less they write. A slim volume of verse published in 1912 attracted some attention, and the agony of waiting for a second volume gradually turned into extravagant adulation. By the time a very short novel appeared in 1925, he was known the world over. A third book, some eighty pages long, crept into print in the late thirties and made of him a demigod. Now he was a familiar figure, with his riot of gray hair and his characteristic turtle-neck jersey, which looked as though it had been knitted years ago for the gallant lifeboat men by some half-blind old lady and which he wore defiantly, regardless of the climate.

In 1948 he produced a few pieces of mysterious, contorted poetry, bursting with rocky metrical variation and so dense as to be barely readable at a normal pace, entitled Recuerdos de Alcañon. These unventilated phrases, a kind of lyrical foie gras, a dense paste of verbless images, were hailed as remarkable, and what Dr. Schweitzer did for Lambaréné, Oliver Still did for Alcañon. The village became a place of pilgrimage, and there was invariably a Swedish journalist in the vicinity, camera at the ready, precariously hidden among the rocks to capture some unique and candid mood in the great man, while the wife waited patiently in a car decorated with flags and messages of good will.

Gradually Oliver Still began to acquire a rival, as the great wave of Americans in search of ancient verities and noble savages began to break across Europe and as the sport of the corrida beckoned the sophisticates with its promise of gaunt and terrible simplicity.

The Mayor of the village, Señor Ramón de Villaseca, who could trace his family back to a mistress of the great de la Jara without any difficulty at all, saw the menace growing and determined to meet it with a cool and arrogant eye.

He disliked everything about Oliver Still, the poetry, the man, and the kind of interest he inspired. First of all, Still roved over the landscape wrapped in distant and impenetrable thoughts, a gnarled walking stick in his hand and an old Boy Scout rucksack on his back, smoking a pipe from which clouds of sickly smoke vomited, too deeply lost in his private world to acknowledge either a stray courtesy or his wife, who trotted behind him, a tragic figure. It had been noticed that the local dogs, who were of one accord unreasonably ferocious, barking at cars and biting the tires, cringed guiltily when they saw him, and this gave him a reputation for subtle, indefinable evil

The pilgrims did not improve matters, with their air of conspiracy and their incessant questioning of the villagers. They seemed to regard the poet with the kind of devotion which was to Señor de Villaseca obscene when lavished on any target smaller than God himself. The fact that Still avoided all publicity assiduously, and did his best to discourage his disciples by ignoring them completely, failed to endear him to the Mayor.

“First of all, it is unnatural for one man to inspire such worship in others. Secondly, once he has inspired it, it is equally unnatural for him to reject it,”he once said to Sergeant Cabrera, of the Guardia Civil.

“It is a case of two minuses making a plus,” Sergeant Cabrera had answered penctratingly.

“Two minuses making a plus? Since when?”

“Since Aristophanes.”

“Not in Spain, thank God. Spain is the one country where Catholic order still prevails and where two minuses still make two minuses.”

Sergeant Cabrera was forced to agree, more out of patriotism than conviction.

SEÑOR de Villaseca wrote poetry himself, ornate stuff of meticulous rhyme and scansión, fired by the unapproachable qualities of Calderon but tempered by a fin de siècle heart and a penchant for the lachrymose. These poems had never been published, but they had been recited frequently on various civic occasions and, owing to their lofty patriotic sentiments intertwined with sonorous references to the moon, roses, the heart, the soul, jasmine, and the state of motherhood, their effect had been immediate and tumultuous. At the same time the verses of Oliver Still, translated into Spanish in a slim volume propagated by the cultural agency of the British government, induced overt hostility when Señor de Villaseca read them aloud to a select body of local intelligentsia.

The priest. Don Evaristo, was the most inclined to be charitable, but then sleep had overtaken him before eight lines had been recited.

“It is to be presumed,” he said, his stout face bathed in a glow of universal brotherhood, “it is to be presumed that some of the beauty and even Some of the meaning of the original have become waylaid in translation.”

“That is out of the question,” Señor de Villaseca replied, “since the expressiveness, the plastic and emotional content of the Spanish language, more than compensates for any loss which may occur.

“Are you suggesting that it is a positive advantage for, a Chinese thought to be transplanted manv thousands of kilometers for the sole purpose of enjoying the privilege of being expressed in Castilian?" the priest asked.

“Certainly.”said Señor de Villaseca calmly. The Chinese language is hardly an agreeable vehicle for the diffusion of any thoughts, even of Chinese ones.”

“I agree with that.”said Sergeant Cabrera. “My brother was in Yokohama for a while.”

And so it went on. this literary discussion. Don Evaristo inclined to tease by suggesting that perhaps Señor de Villaseca would prefer to hear Mass in Spanish, the Mayor replying stoutly that if the Romans had preferred Latin, that had been their loss and was probably the reason for their ultimate decline. All were agreed, however, that the works of Oliver Still were more or less meaningless and consequently an a affront to the Spanish intellect. The world was a bitter place to reward such charlatanism with fame.

“You will reap your harvest in celestial pastures,” Don Evaristo consoled the Mayor.

“I need no comfort,” the Mayor replied stiffly. “My own convictions and the adulation of the good townspeople are sufficient. What revolt me, however, arc the disciples this poetic quack seems to engender.”

“Who are we to say that they are disciples?" asked Don Evaristo. “Can it not be that they are mere tempters, sent to put his vanity to the test?”

“I find it even more intolerable to think that he might be worth tempting.”

“Are we not all worth tempting?”

“On such a scale?”

“Well, after all. Don Juan probably seems to us the most tempted man in history, but is that not because he invariably surrendered to temptation? Do we not all know temptation, and yet does not our religious formation lead us to resist it?”

“Perhaps.”admitted Schor de Villaseca. thinking momentarily of his own mistress.

“To which Don Juan are you referring?” asked Sergeant Cabrera, who knew his way around the family trees of royalty.

THE silent war between the unheeding poet and his cabal of critics continued until the spring of 1950, when a decision by the Duchess of Torrecaliente inspired an invasion as momentous in its small way as that of the Visigoths had been many centuries before.

The Duchess was a bosomy lady, half American and half Polish, who had in her day borne a vague resemblance to Goya’s famous picture of another, more notorious duchess, painted both dressed and naked. As though to compromise between the two aspects of her illustrious predecessor, and thereby to achieve a quintessence in both similarity and subtlety, she dressed as audaciously as the natural amplitude of her frame would allow her to.

The Duke was a man drained of personality by the rigors of breeding and. although he looked remarkably like a King Edward VII shrunk by some irreverent South American Indians, he opened his mouth only to cough. He was just a fraction under five feet tall, and a grandee of Spain. Among his few achievements, perhaps the most noteworthy were that he shot one or two very small birds every season and that he sat and slept on various committees. The Duchess, on whose energies he made no very stringent demands, sat on rather more committees than he and was especially active on the council of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was she who had the brilliant idea of organizing a bullfight in aid of her favorite charity, and she had succeeded in interesting two great toreros in her good works. Cordobano IV. celebrated everywhere for his majestic gloom and more locally for his green Pontiac convertible, one of the newest cars in the entire peninsula, had agreed to appear, as had El Clhaval de Caracas, a Venezuelan matador of incredible daring who was a network of lacerations and whose face was pitted with horrible craters like the moon.

Don Jesús Gallego y Gallego, one of the most erudite of authorities on the corrida, then had a brain wave and suggested that instead of holding this benefit in Madrid, which had become, to use his words, “polluted with turistas Norteamericanos.” it would be fitting to reopen the historic arena at Alcañon, “part of our patnmomo national, which will make of this a Spanish occasion, an occasion on which Spanish bulls are fought by Spanish” — and he faltered in committee — “for the purposes of my contention, I would remind you that Venezucla is part of our cultural and taurine heritage &emdah; Spanish toreros before Spanish spectators, for the benefit of Spanish animals.” The applause was so volcanic that the one whom many consider the greatest of living bullfighters, Rafaelito, decided there and then to come out of retirement and to wield the third sword. With tears streaming from their eyes he and Don Jessú embraced, while the committee shouted vociferously and one or two Pekingese, at bay in the laps of their aristocratic mistresses, began barking fitfully. Rafaelito had withdrawn from the arena for the third time a few months before and was twenty-four years of age. He had recently been unsuccessfully tested for the part of the prophet Isaiah in Hollywood. He spoke no English.

THE next step was for the Duchess of Torrecaliente to visit Alcañon. She traveled together with Don Jesus, Rafaelito, and a friend of hers, the Countess of Zumayor, who was half English and half Italian. They met Scñor de Villaseca in the town hall, and after an agreeable lunch the party, joined by Don Evaristo and Sergeant Cabrera, strolled over to examine the arena. Rafaelito threw his hat onto the hot sand, took off his jacket, and, using it as a cape, performed some exquisite passes against an imaginary bull, while the others shouted, “Ole

“What atmosphere!” he cried, when he had finished his performance with a perfect kill. “It is as though the spirits of past generations of aficionados were fixing me with their critical and hostile eyes. I seem to hear applause from beyond the grave.”

The Duchess closed her eyes.

“Yes, yes, now I hear it, too,” she said.

“It would be an insensitive man who did not hear it,” added Señor de Villaseca.

“What you are probably hearing is the women beating their washing against the side of the bridge.” said Sergeant Cabrera.

Don Jesús cleared his throat. “It will be a really classical corrida. The cream of society will be present. Somehow we must safeguard the purity of our national festival by attempting to exclude all foreigners.”

“No foreigners ever come here,” said Señor de Villaseca, “with the exception of journalists to interview the English mountebank, Sehor Still.”

Rafaelito interrupted. “Since this is a very special corrida in which I am to appear, I think there should be a rejoneador, as a kind of hors d’oeuvre to the main event.”

“You already have Cordobano IV and El Chaval as hors d’oeuvres,” said Don Jesús.

Rafaelito scowled. “Inadequate,” he replied. “Cordobano has no style, no passion, and no courage. As for El Chaval, he is a stunt man, a wall-of-death rider. It needs a rejoneador to begin the thing in style, a horseman. What could be more appropriate to the cause for which we are appealing than a man fighting a bull on horseback?”

The Duchess and the Countess were inclined to agree.

“The horse is such a graceful animal,” the Countess observed.

Señor de Villaseca’s eyes glowed. “As Mayor of this ancient town,” he said, “would it not be appropriate if I began the proceedings?”

“For heaven’s sake, be careful,” Don Evaristo pleaded.

“We know that you are knowledgeable in the matter of tauromachy,” Don Jesús said, “but have you ever fought a bull on horseback before?”

“Frequently. I am the best horseman in Andalusia,” snapped Señor de Villaseca with as much modesty as he could muster. “My filly, Paloma, knows no fear, and she is trained in the most elaborate of haute ecole methods. Her mother was a Lippizaner.”

“Her father was a horse,” said Sergeant Cabrera, “that I knew well. Obrador.”

Don Jesús looked doubtful and lit a huge cigar.

“What could be more in the tradition of our festival than that the Alcalde himself should open it?” said Rafaelito. “Remember, it is a popular festival, and its roots are deep in the soil of our country. It is only in recent years, since Belmonte and Joselito, that it has acquired its elegance, its nobility. Its origins are raucous, popular, rough. When this ring was built, it was still a test of strength and stamina rather than the art it is today. What could be more fitting than that a tribute be paid to the glorious past of Alcañon by its first citizen, an amateur, a Spaniard of mettle, who compensates in sheer arrogance what he may lack in style?”

Señor de Villaseca looked at Rafaelito with loathing, since he intended to have immaculate style, but he was silent, because the great man was evidently swaying opinion. Don Jesús was still a little lacking in enthusiasm. As they left the ring, he drew Rafaelito aside and said softly, “What if he makes a fool of himself?”

“I rather hope he does,” smiled Rafaelito. “What?”

“People take us for granted,” Rafaelito said, his handsome face cold and cruel. “They think our job is easy. They expect more from us than we can give. Even a wiredancer pretends to fall in order to emphasize the danger of his profession. We can’t do that, so let someone do it for us. If he gets hurt, it will remind the crowd that bullfighting is not a ballet but a game played with death.”

A dark cloud passed over Don Jesus’ face. “That is an atrocious hope,” he said.

“It is not the hope which is atrocious,” answered Rafaelito, “but human nature. You remember when I was accused of having the horns of my bulls blunted?”

“Is that why you are so bitter?” asked Don Jesús. “They had no right to accuse you of any such thing.”

“Why not,” said Rafaelito, “since it was true?”

“I know it was,” Don Jesús replied in a dead voice.

Rafaelito smiled the smile of a man twice his age. “Bullfighting is no more corrupt than life, he said.

THE forthcoming corrida attracted great attention. and a famous impresario, Don Jacinto de Costats, decided that, in spite of the somewhat uneconomical size of the arena, a series of events could be run there on the basis of a kind ol Salzburg festival of the bulls. Don Jacinto, a hardheaded and much traveled man from Barcelona. declared in an interview with the assembled press that he foresaw tickets being issued to cover the entire ten days. Furthermore, he said he would hire only the best performers and that the cost of seats would be on the high side to keep the event exclusive. “It will make Madrid’s Feast of San Isidro look like a tavern brawl,”he added.

So taken was Señor de Villaseca with the intoxication of appearing as a rejoneador that he never realized the danger of all this publicity and authorized the use of the ancient bull ring both by the charitable organization and by Don Jacinto largely because he was to appear himself. The businessman had shrewdly insinuated that perhaps the Mayor would care to put in more than one appearance. After an elaborate show of reluctance, Señor de Villaseca allowed himself to be persuaded.

Soon the bills went up all over the town and in neighboring cities. An extraordinary corrida de toros, it was to be. with El Famosissimo Rejoneador, Ramon de Villaseca. May 10 was the date selected, and at the same time other bills went up announcing the Feria de San Mamerto, whom someone had hurriedly raked up as patron saint of Alcanon, running from May 11 to 17, for which the greatest swords in Spain were promised.

On the morning of the seventh, Don Jacinto dc Costats was seated outside the tavern in the main square of the village talking to Gordobano IV, who had just arrived in his green Pontiac. The Don was in a good mood, and his small blue eyes sparkled with pleasure and with malice.

“They do the work, clean up the ring, tear out the weeds, restore it to its original condition, and then I take over. That’s what I call business.” He glanced at Cordobano IV, who was frowning, his face lit with a strange dull glow, as though storm clouds were passing behind the head of a tortured saint on a stained-glass window.

Don Jacinto followed Cordobano’s gaze to a mauve Cadillac which was parked ostentatiously next to the only no-parking sign in town, at the very foot of de la Jara’s statue.

“Rafaelito?” he said. “You don’t have to worry about him. He is essentially a fraud, a matinee idol, without dignity, without melancholy. without honesty.”

“I am not worried about him,”said Cordobano, “I am worried about his Cadillac. A torero is no longer judged by the same pure standards as he was in the old days. Nowadays it is impossible for a torero who arrives at the corrida in a Cadillac to be a coward, even if he retreats before every bull.”

“You exaggerate.”

“Do I? Don’t you think my Pontiac has helped me in my career? Before, when I used to arrive at the Plaza dc Toros in a taxi, it was always my fault if the fight turned out to be indifferent. Ever since I bought my Pontiac, it has always been the bull’s fault. And now here’s this impudent bastard spoiling the market by arriving in a Cadillac. I tell you. Don Jacinto, it’s a deliberate stab in the back, a calculatedly unfriendly act.”

“If he had to rely only on quality, he would be nowhere,” said Don Jacinto.

“You are a true friend,” replied Cordobano warmly.

Later in the day a jeep drove into the square, crammed with electrical equipment.

Judging from the driver’s appearance, he was American. He was very fair, had a crew cut over a face like a depressed pillow, covered in freckles, glasses barely able to find a resting place on a tiny nose, and great white teeth protected from adolescence by dentifrice and science. His wife, seated by his side, was dark and sulky. Both wore blue jeans and T shirts.

A few minutes after their arrival, a sports car roared into the square, driven with unnecessary abandon, and squealed to an abrupt standstill beside the jeep.

“1 got her up to 150 on the straight!” called the driver.

“You mean 144,” cried the exhilarated girl by his side.

“What’s the difference?”

Soon all four of them were seated outside the tavern and conspiring.

Don Jacinto and Cordobano TV were still there, sipping their drinks, and with the instincts of the businessman Don Jacinto was doing his best to overhear the conversation. He spoke a little English, and after a while, detecting a note of perplexity in the discussion at the next table, he leaned over and asked if there was anything they needed. The man with the crew cut introduced himself as Bayard Bruin, Junior, and said that he and his friend, the sports car driver, Lake Linquist, and their wives were all directors of a corporation which produced ethnic records in New York. They had been to Guatemala to record the song of the quetzal, unsuccessfully, and they had been waiting for nearly a year for a visa to go to Romania, in order to capture the sounds of the vagrant gypsies. Bayard Bruin talked big, and there was evidently a weight of inherited money behind his schemes, but he failed to reveal that none of his records had yet succeeded in hitting the market.

“Why are you here?” asked Don Jacinto.

“We are aficionados,” declared Bruin, seriously, “and we hope to put out an authentic disc of the actual sounds of the corrida for the American market — not merely the obvious sounds, the crowd, the paso-dobles— but the noise of man and bull, if possible, the silences, the tensions, the conflict. Lake here does color photography, and we hope to combine in a single exclusive album the photographs of the corrida and the associated sounds, selling for about $30. We have a great letter from Dali, declining to design the cover, but we feel it’s a step on the right road. We may use Joan Miró instead.”

Cordobano, hearing a reference to the American market, talked rapidly to Don Jacinto in Spanish.

Don Jacinto translated into English, while the tragic face of Cordobano was lit by an eager smile.

“He wants to know if you wish to do any interviews with the toreros for the American market.”


“He is ready to do one.” Cordobano was violently jealous of Rafaelito not only because of his popularity but because of that Hollywood test. In the confusion of all things American which exists in many simple European minds, Cordobano imagined that an interview might be halfway to a movie contract.

“Excuse my ignorance,” said Bruin, “but who is your friend?”

“The greatest torero in all Spain,” replied Don Jacinto, “Cordobano IV.”

The girls shrieked with pleasure.

“We so admired your wonderful veronicas in Valencia,” cried Mrs. Linquist.

“Alice, how about that faena we caught in Pamplona !” said Mrs. Bruin.

Cordobano bowed gravely, a medieval knight about to enter the lists.

“Yes, how about that?” echoed Bayard, reverently.

“Greatest faena I ever did see,” added Lake, throwing a piece of sugar into the air and catching it again nonchalantly.

The interview was recorded that afternoon. Cordobano talked for about an hour, attacking his rivals, describing his own genius in grave and haughty tones, and expressing a great interest in the American entertainment industry. All references to the United States were promptly edited out of the tape by Bayard. He wanted his savages really noble for that ethnic trade.

The next morning the boys approached Rafaelito through Don Jesús, who attempted to throw them into the street until he heard that Cordobano had already done an interview. After a furtive discussion in whispers, Rafaelito appeared in a silk dressing gown covered with undersized matadors and oversized bulls, and Lake promptly took more than a hundred pictures, firing like a machine gunner. Rafaelito dismissed all other toreros as frivolous. Cordobano IV? A mortician trying to play Hamlet. Dominguin? Please don’t mention the name in my presence, it gives me migraine. Litri? How do you spell it? Aparicio? Why don’t you start from the top of the list? He ended his interview by sending personal good wishes to Colonel Darryl Zanuck and other close friends in Hollywood, but once again Bayard saw to it that the messages never reached their destination.

On the afternoon of the eighth, El Chaval and his cuadrilla arrived by train, a disreputable and rowdy lot, members of an equatorial beat generation. El Chaval talked English, having been brought up in the oil wells of Maracaibo, and he branded all other bullfighters as effeminate weaklings, more concerned with their physical gentility than with the raw contest. His colleagues, many of whom were as cut up as he, roared with demoniac approval whenever he slammed into his rivals, and Bayard had to hold down the sound on his tape recorder, so uncouth were their jungle noises.

SEÑOR de Villaseca was unaware of these changes in his town, since he was away in a distant field putting his horse through its paces. Sergeant Cabrera stood in the bushes like a racing tout, and a not very happy tout at that. The horse had a highly developed choreographic sense, but the paternal strain had evidently prevailed, and while Sergeant Cabrera played a waltz on an old horn phonograph, the animal seemed to be permeated with the spirit of the sequidillas and the zapateado, making it extremely difficult for Señor de Villaseca to retain his arrogance, or indeed his seat.

“Put a bull in the field as well, and you’ve got chaos,” thought Sergeant Cabrera. “In the words of the immortal Cervantes, lose all hope, you who enter here.”

Oliver Still was also beginning to lose his composure. As he walked through the village, he noticed that there was no one for him to ignore, since they were all busy ignoring him. He heard English spoken everywhere as the caravansary of foreign aficionados streamed into town. The RollsRoyce of a celebrated literary agent who had never heard of Oliver Still arrived, carrying a film star dressed subtly in Spanish national costume in the interest of public relations. Several parties of squeamish British Naval officers accompanied by their bloodthirsty wives came in from Gibraltar. Two busloads of West German tourists from DüsseMorf were joined by a group from Eindhoven and another one from Uppsala. Some professional gypsies pitched their tents on the outskirts of the town, performing authentic flamenco dances for exorbitant fees and playing jazz records while waiting for customers to arrive. Dispensers of artificial lemonade and candy floss filled every train to pull in at the station, while a track for dodg’em cars was erected just outside Oliver Still’s window, so that his august meditations were filled with the commas of lightning from the electrified grid and the hoarse groan of the little vehicles as adults rediscovered their lost childhood by charging into each other inoffensively.

To put it mildly, Oliver Still was in a filthy temper.

He threw a teacup onto the track late that night, and everyone roared with good-natured laughter, believing that he had entered into the spirit of the feria. Someone even threw a bottle of gaseous cherry ade back.

“Pack our bags,”Still barked at his wife.

“What for?”

“Trust you to ask an idiotic question. We re leaving.”


“Not tonight. As soon as bloody well possible.”

“Where are we going?”

“Greece. Greece or Japan. I’ll tell you when I’ve made up my mind.”

“But —”

“Don’t you understand plain English?”

To console himself, the great man picked up a recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly and read: “Without question, Oliver Still, both as a man and as an artist, represents the last remaining example of the civilized man, the liberal humanist who is not scared of doubt, who does not need the poison of conviction as a justification for existence. As he himself says: ‘Is love not enough? It is a river which flows through the pasture of the human heart. What matter if we never find its source? Exploration will never alter the fact that the river is there, that the water is clear, and warm, that it cleanses, that it is. , . .’ ”

“Will you be needing all your books?" asked his wife.

“Don’t interrupt.”

At last the great day arrived. The Military Governor of the region, General Castro de Real Montijo, also known as the Wolf of the Sahara, was the President of the corrida. He weighed more than three hundred pounds, and his breathing was louder than his voice. At precisely six o’clock he took his place in the presidential box, leaning heavily on the arm of an exhausted Moroccan legionary. The Duchess, crowned by a white mantilla which was stretched complicatedly over a network of combs, making her head look like a radar installation under a camouflage net, sat by his side, holding her Pekingese on her knees so that it could sec the sport. The dog, grunting and grumbling adenoidally, had a little black mantilla of its own, and a bullfighter’s coat in red velvet with its name stitched on it in gold thread. The Countess sat next to the Duchess. She wore Andalusian costume, meaning that the score of dignitaries seated immediately behind could not see the ring at all. The Duke sat next to the Countess, mounted on a pyramid of cushions, and Don Jesús, assuming the drawn mouth and dark glasses of the professional critic, looked bored at the end of the line.

The places in the shade were largely taken by the society people who had traveled from Madrid and from Seville for the occasion, but the yellow heads of the Swedish and Dutch contingents could be plainly seen. The Germans were busy passingbeer and sausages to each other over immense distances, and some of the ladies, frightened of sunstroke even in the shade, had made knots at the four corners of handkerchiefs and sat munching their endless picnic with these unbecoming helmets on their heads. The elite of Hollywood sat in the front row, which was a-glitter with telescopic lenses. The people, among them the Bruins and the Linquists, sat in the sun.

Don Jesus was disgusted. Spain was too poor to dispense with foreigners. He had done his best to exclude them, but the dollar and the hard mark and solid krone had spoken. The General looked at his watch, or rather he extended his arm and the Moroccan told him the time. His rate of breathing increased audibly as he reached for his handkerchief in his breast pocket. His medals tinkled like a glockenspiel as he fumfiled. Eventually he found it and, making a supreme effort, held it aloft.

The sour trumpets sounded, a door slowly opened, and two venerable horsemen emerged, dressed from head to foot in black, with orange cockades in their hats. Like all the auxiliary horses seen in the ring, these seemed to be moving on their points, aged ballerinas giving farewell performances. They headed the procession. Behind them came the toreros. Cordobano’s suit of lights was green, the green of his Pontiac, and he strode across the arena oblivious of everything but his comportment, which was dignified to the point of absurdity.

Rafaelito, dressed in a mauve which exactly matched his Cadillac, was smiling in an icily inviting way to his public, while El Chaval seemed frankly out of place in such company, wearing a suit the color of old ivory, which, judging from the ill-disguised patches and rents, had seen more than its ration of corridas. He grinned sheepishly under a montera several sizes too large. Behind them came Señor de Villaseca, who spent most of his time looking nervously over his shoulder, since his horse was giving him trouble already and seemed to prefer walking backwards. The picadors followed, like Sancho Panzas on mounts borrowed from Don Quixote. After them, the team of mules, gaily caparisoned to tug the carcasses from the arena, and an ancient truck, rented from the street-cleaning services of a neighboring township, its rusty sprinklers dropping two parallel tracks of water on the sand.

THE two alguacils bowed to the President, swooping their hats aside, and then galloped stiffly in a great arc, while the matadors bowed in their turn to the President, who responded by nodding. As he did so, the blood was squeezed out of his chins, which became white. The matadors then exchanged their capotes de paseo for their capes, and waited. One of the alguacils cantered back, received the order to proceed from the President, and then handed the key to the keeper of the gate leading to the toril. As he was doing this, Señor de Villaseca reappeared, noble as an equestrian statue if not quite as passive, his filly showing the whites of its eyes in a decidedly disconcerting manner.

Before anyone realized it, the toril gate was open and shut, and one of the ferocious bulls of Doña Concepción Morales Prado, from Albacete, stood in the sun, perplexed yet confident. A gasp of expectancy rose from the crowd. Attracted by vague movements in the crowd, the bull moved forward cautiously and was observed to have a slight limp.

Fuera, Juera!” roared the spectators, “away with it! Another bull!”

Señor de Villaseca studied his adversary without much enthusiasm, since he could not induce his horse to move. Just then, on a signal, the band began a paso-doble. The horse, which had been trained to the sounds of a distant phonograph and which had had no opportunities in its short life for much musical appreciation, suddenly shot forward at a terrific clip and headed straight for the bull. A cry of enthusiasm went up. So precipitate was Señor de Villaseca’s advance that the bull, unable readily to identify the character of the missile heading in its direction, retreated nervously.

“What arrogance!” cried the Duchess, and even the small dog’s eyes seemed to bulge with admiration. For one exquisite moment, the townsfolk were really proud of their Mayor. Even Rafaelito wondered for a second whether he had not made a terrible mistake. The doubt was short-lived, however, because at one and the same time the bull realized that the black blur which had flashed across its field of vision was nothing more than a man on a horse, and the horse realized that the static obstruction in the middle of the arena was something as horrible as a bull.

Señor de Villaseca had very little influence on the chase which followed, except that, to his credit, he managed to stay in the saddle. The bull apparently had a one-track mind and a surprising wind, whereas the horse was a singularly stupid strategist and even tried to leave the ring by pawing the barrier.

Twice the bull’s horns became enmeshed in the horse’s tail, while the crowd was too spellbound to hiss. At last the bull stopped and stood in the bright sunlight, panting. A volcano of booing erupted. Señor de Villaseca, in a fury, managed to bring the horse to a standstill at the other side of the ring. Grimly he took a couple of banderillas from his helpers in the callejon and spurred the wretched animal with all the violence born of his humiliation. Grudgingly it moved sideways to the center of the ring.

“Toro!” he cried, so that all Spain could hear.

“Toro!” he cried again, Roland’s trumpet call at Roncesvalles, the Christian challenge to the infidel.

The uproar was stilled by the magnificence of the challenge, by its indomitable will, by its grandeur. Its effect on men was immediate, but unfortunately the bull heard it too and, turning its head, saw the horse. A second later the horse saw the bull, and the degrading chase began again. To make matters worse, the Mayor attempted to turn in his saddle and place his banderillas in the bull’s back. Both fell harmlessly to the ground. Luckily the bull was a little weary, and the second chase was much shorter than the first. The booing was now mixed with laughter. Señor de Villaseca took a second lot of banderillas from his assistants, said some very offensive things to his mount, and coaxed it toward the puffing bull. This time his approach to his quarry was much more underhanded. He made no attempt to shout. Instead he cleverly profited from his horse’s predilection for walking backwards and gave it its head, so that it neared the bull without seeing it. The bull had come to rest near a burladero, one of the four narrow protected entrances in the barrera, and stood staring at the chipped woodwork, its black tongue just visible.

While Senor de Villaseca was calculating his distance for the great and triumphal assault he was still envisaging, a long metal rod crept out over the bull’s head. The rod had a microphone on one end and Bayard Bruin, Junior, on the other. The bull sniffed the microphone, and Bayard, his anxious eyes just visible over the top of the burladero, shouted in the hope of exciting the bull into some sort of recordable sound. Señor de Yillaseca, livid, waved to the police, ordering them to arrest the criminal, but in doing so he brought the horse’s head round to face the bull. At the moment that the Mayor was leaning heavily to the right side of his horse, pointing at Bayard with both banderillas, the horse decided to bolt toward its left, and Señor de Villaseca dropped like a stone onto the sand. The bull ambled over and sniffed him, toyed with him for a moment, and then responded to the urgent tattoo beaten on his back by the rattan canes of the monosabios, turned, saw the horse, and resumed the traditional chase.

This was enough for the President, who declared the conflict over, sent for the steers, and the bull trotted meekly out of the arena while Senor dc Villaseca wept unashamedly in the arms of the good Don Evaristo, who was ready in the callejon in case any Extreme Unction should be called for.

“The bull didn’t even kill me!” moaned the Mayor.

“There’s always tomorrow,” said Sergeant Cabrera in consolation.

AFTER a fanfare, the second bull emerged. The preliminaries revealed it to be an impulsive and unreliable beast. Cordobano studied it grimly. It was given to sudden rushes and equally sudden doubts. Curiously enough, its interest in the picadors’ horses was inquisitive rather than hostile. Having had the lance dug into its back once, it was reluctant to go too near the horses a second time. The whole episode was drawn out and ugly in the extreme, the picadors being forced to chase the animal slowly toward the center of the ring, amid shouts of derision and fury from the crowd. Eventually the fanfare announced the President’s decision that the animal had had enough of this treatment, and the poker-faced picadors left the ring amid tumult. Cordobano IV walked regally toward the presidential box, where he raised his montera, permitted himself a bow of half an inch, and asked permission to kill the bull. The President blinked his approval of the idea, and Cordobano dedicated the bull to the Duchess, who arched her eyebrows with a sense of the tragic, although any observer might equally guess from her expression that a drop of cold water had fallen on her back.

Slowly Cordobano walked to his selected terrain and stared at the bull. The bull moved an inch or two forward, stopped. Cordobano, his feet close together, his pelvis thrust forward defiantly, and his chin tucked down as though holding a violin in place, prepared to elevate an unpromising adversary onto the plane of tragedy if he possibly could. Just then there was an uncanny gust of wind, the first whisper of a storm. Rafaelito, smoking a cigarette in the callejon, looked upward and assessed the sky with a grim and expert eye. It was still blue, but far away there was a small cradle of a white cloud, turning black at the edges. He grimaced.

The gust of wind had caught Cordobano’s muleta and sent it back like the cloak of a galloping horseman. The bull saw the movement and ran forward to investigate. Quite near Cordobano, it stopped dead. Cordobano, the furrows of melancholy cascading down his cheeks, looked away from the bull in supreme defiance.

“Why don’t you look what you’re doing?” cried the Dutch tourists, who were thorough people.

The bull charged and knocked Cordobano sideways with his bulk.

“What did we tell you?” cried the Dutch, in Dutch.

“I hope they didn’t give you a driving license,” cried one man.

Cordobano tried a series of curtailed and unsatisfactory veronicas, but the bull had excellent brakes and no acceleration whatever, which made the passes extremely dangerous. There were some feeble “oler,” exclusively from tourists, since the word sounded as though they were reminding a receding waiter that they wished milk in their coffee.

“Kill it!” cried the Spaniards, realizing that there was little to be done with such a sly animal.

Cordobano was unwilling to let it go at that, however. That Pontiac had made him the underdog, and he was eager for heroism. Ending his series of passes with a media-veronica, he walked proudly away from his adversary and took up a new position with the intention of performing some Maoletinas, passes in which the torero turns away from the bull, with the muleta lifted above its horns as it passes. The first one was surprisingly successful and brought forth the first full-blooded “ale” of the afternoon. From the sudden wince on Cordobano’s face it was clear, however, that something had gone wrong on the second one. What it was became immediately apparent when Cordobano turned and it was seen that the unpredictable bull, in a sudden tossing motion, had taken away the seat of Cordobano’s trousers, and now, conscious of some annoyance, it was strolling around the ring trying to shake the piece of green silk off its horn.

“How charmingly indecent!” cried the Duchess, lifting a lorgnette to her eyes.

“He really is built like a Greek god,” whispered the Countess. Continued arrogance was difficult for poor Cordobano. The Spanish public was willing to overlook a bare bottom if the contest was noble, but the Northern delegations, with a more Breughelesque sense of impropriety, roared with uncontrolled glee, some of the ladies mingling their fits of schoolgirl giggles with moments of elaborately offended modesty.

Every time Cordobano moved, the fragile cloth gave a little more, and the famous film star exchanged her dark glasses for ones with more powerful lenses. There was nothing for it but to kill the bull quickly, in the interests of decency, and go to the changing room. Cordobano sized up the bull, dropped his mulcta. The bull advanced, and as Cordobano leaned forward to deliver the coup de grâce, he felt that the moment of truth had arrived not only for the bull but also for his pants. Wrapping himself in his muleta, he looked as triumphant as he dared. The kill was a fine, clean, honest one.

One witty townsman shouted to the President, “Grant him an ear to cover himself with, for the sake of decorum.” The President grunted but awarded Cordobano nothing.

RAFAELITO’S bull was more athletic, running around aimlessly and angrily for a while.

“Fuera, fuera!” shouted the crowd, almost out of habit. These bulls seemed to have every variety of vice. The first had a physical deformity, the second was cunning, and now the third lacked concentration. It charged the horses viciously, however, unseating two picadors, but quickly lost interest in its adversaries and rushed off to find something else to attack. It chased the banderilleros all the way to the burladero and even charged the barrera as the crowd gasped.

Rafaelito smiled and dedicated his bull to the film star, who threw him a rose, which he kissed ostentatiously. He placed himself far away from the bull, put a handkerchief on the ground, and stood on it. The crowd applauded. The bull saw him, lowered his head, and came forward, but a high wind suddenly blew, taking the Germans by surprise and carrying the debris of their picnic into the ring like a plague of locusts. Greasy papers which had once enclosed sausages mingled with soiled copies of Düsseldorf newspapers and tin foil and even some handkerchiefs. A few feet away from Rafaelito, the bull found itself met by a torrent of white and silver objects, a greaseproof wrapping fixing itself to its chest like a huge postage stamp and a copy of an evening paper bearing a large picture of Chancellor Adenauer settling over one eye. Furiously the bull changed its course, leaving Rafaelito still standing on his handkerchief, isolated and unchallenged. Although weakened by the picadors, the bull charged the barrera and with an incredible, almost canine leap landed in the callejon.

There was chaos as the doctors, policemen, journalists, and priests ran helter-skelter round the narrow track, followed by Chancellor Adenauer, who was still appealing for European unity on the bull’s eye. By the time the bull was lured to reenter the arena, it was practically cleared except for the small figure of Don Evaristo, who was walking slowly in the sun, his hand grasping his side, and for Rafaelito, who was still standing on his handkerchief.

“Ho, ho!” cried Rafaelito, but the bull, who was quite close to him, evidently enjoyed long sight and saw only Don Evaristo. The crowd called for him to run, but the priest, mistaking their concern for an upsurge of religious conviction, waved back benevolently. Since the yelling increased, he turned around to see the bull rushing in his direction and, gathering up his robes, began to run.

The sight tickled the fancy of the President, who began to rock with laughter, his medals jostling each other.

“It is fitting to see a good friar turning his back on a creature with horns,” he wheezed.

“Is he in any danger?” inquired the Duchess with some alarm.

The dog barked asthmatically.

“This corrida is becoming like ancient Rome,” said Don Jesús sarcastically. “In the absence of competent gladiators we have to sacrifice the Christians.”

“Zigzag!” appealed the crowd.

The bull was almost on Don Evaristo when El Chaval rushed out, confusing the bull by hitting its nose with the palm of his hand. The crowd applauded the daring quite, and Don Evaristo fainted as soon as he reached the callejon. Rafaelito, who seemed to be impaled on his handkerchief, was livid and shouted insults at El Chaval for interfering with his bull. El Chaval made a rude Venezuelan gesture, which few understood, and cockily turned the bull to face Rafaelito, even pointing at his rival. The poor bull was entirely perplexed but obediently moved off toward Rafaelito. The ring was now so covered with refuse that it seemed like a field of dandelions in full bloom. Lowering its head, the bull rushed at Rafaelito, who was forced to give a little ground because the wind was now playing havoc with the muleta, wrapping it around him. After a few unsatisfactory passes, including the Rafaelitina, which is performed on the knees with the back to the bull and the muleta dropped to the ground, so that the animal turns in a slow circle around the matador, Rafaelito decided to kill it. He made four unsuccessful attempts, while the Teutonic women howled their disgust at him. No ears, no tail.

The rain began to fall as El Chaval rushed to the door of the toril, knelt there with his back to the gate, and smiled. “No, no!” chanted the crowd. As the fourth bull appeared, a tremendous gust of wind carried the capote out of El Chaval’s hands, and the enraged beast tossed the Venezuelan high into the air while the spectators screamed. El Chaval landed nimbly on his hands, did a spectacular somersault, and faced the bull again.

“Toro!” he yelled, in a transport of passion.

The bull went for him again, and he, armed with neither sword nor capote, worked the bull all the way across the ring by keeping just inside its turning circle, patting it on the forehead, touching its horns, teasing it. A great shout of acclaim rose from the public, but by now it was raining so hard that it was impossible to see across the arena at all. Evidently the sudden icy downpour excited the patriotism and the nostalgia of the Swedes, who began to sing a hearty Northern drinking song in a depressing unison.

El Chaval and the bull stood like scarecrows in the ring and saw the spectators leave by the thousands. The Moroccan legionary opened a huge umbrella over his master, and the Wolf of the Sahara hobbled to shelter. Mistaking a distant motor horn for the sound of the trumpet. Sergeant Cabrera drove the old street-cleaning truck into the arena, its sprinklers turned full on to help the rain in its work of destruction. After all, he was a soldier, and nobody had countermanded his orders. The bull saw the truck and charged it, lifting the back wheels off the ground and dropping them again so hard that the half shaft broke and the truck came to a standstill. Again and again the bull attacked the vehicle, twisting the sprinklers into grotesque shapes, so that the truck began to look like an ornamental fountain, water squirting in all directions. The bull then turned its attention onto the radiator, which it lifted like a honeycomb and threw away. Sergeant Cabrera was a veteran of the wars against the Riff, and he knew how to deal with insubordination under fire. He drew his revolver and emptied it into the bull.

The disgrace of the occasion was on every tongue. In answer to questions. Doña Concepción Morales Prado, the somewhat masculine breeder of the bulls, said, “One does not give one’s best bulls to charity.” The Duchess of Torrecaliente was nowhere to be found, since her Pekingese had caught pleurisy and she spent the evening in isolation, kneeling by its basket. (The Duke had caught pneumonia the year before, and the Duchess had entrained for Vichy on the very same day, to take the waters.) The film star left that evening for Cannes, accompanied by Cordobano, who blessed the bull for tearing his pants.

“She was slipping from popularity even when I was in Hollywood,” said Rafaelito bitterly.

Most deeply wounded of all, however, was Senor de Villaseca. Don Evaristo tried to console him. “Think how truly humiliating it would have been,” he said, “if the other displays had been magnificent, but they were not. Why, how can you sit there brooding while close friends of yours were exposed to even greater danger? It is not very charitable, my son. Why, the bull only sniffed you. I have a hoof mark on my cassock!”

“I am not concerned about danger,” snapped Señor de Villaseca, “but about honor!”

“There are times when honor is impossible!” cried Don Evaristo.

“In Spain?” The Mayor’s eyes flashed. “It is the fault of the foreigners, los extranjeros, who come here polluted by dishonor and taint us.”

“We must move with the times, my child ! Why. even Sergeant Cabrera had to make use of modern technology in order to dispose of the bull. Had he not had his revolver, he would be an honorable Spanish corpse by now, and I’d have dozens ol’ relatives to console. Now I warrant his revolver is not of Spanish manufacture.”

“It is German,” said Sergeant Cabrera, “a Mozart.”

“Precisely,” declared Don Evaristo. “We must learn, and not only learn, but be better. Then the foreigners will no longer patronize us and come to our country in search of the picturesque, the out of date.”

“By God and all His angels,” cried the Mayor, “you’re right! They have come to regard us exactly as the great de la Jara used to regard them. We have become los Indios, the quaint, the primitive, the savage. They come here to study us as though we were in a zoo. The oversophisticated women of California come here in search of primitive men, machines for uncomplicated, elemental love-making! The men from over there come to record our peculiar habits for posterity on phonographs and on film! It is degrading!”

He took up the telephone and asked for a number in Valencia.

“What arc you going to do?” demanded Don Evaristo.

“You will see.”

After two hours’ delay, the number became available.

“Don Alipio Ybazoa? This is Ramón de Villaseca. After mature consideration, and whatever it may cost me in litigation, I have decided to accede to your terms.”The man on the other end seemed highly delighted.

Late that evening, Señor de Villaseca went to church. On his way, he passed the statue of de la Jara. Looking up at the green copper face, he muttered, “You fool. What you started!”

He knelt before the miraculous Virgin and prayed.

“Blessed Virgin of Alcañon,” he said, “see to it that we find our way in the world again, as once we did, and that we point the path of progress out to others, since our pride will not allow us to follow, but only to lead. Inspire our men of science to produce a Spanish airplane, a Spanish missile, a Spanish rocket, a Spanish artificial moon, and even if this should take time, grant that the next occasion on which Sergeant Cabrera is forced to shoot a bull, let it be with a Spanish revolver.”

The next evening, when the aficionados went to the arena, they were surprised to find notices posted around the bull ring announcing the abandonment of the feria. Inside, workmen were busy erecting an enormous curved screen. In place of the corrida, there was to be a drive-in movie show. With unconscious irony, the film selected to inaugurate this new phase in civic development was Blond and Sand. Señor de Villaseca looked at his handiwork with satisfaction. There was nothing to attract foreigners any more. Oliver Still had slunk off to Lemnos, one of the Greek islands, with his disheveled dreams. The disciples would have further to travel. The town was rediscovering its dignity, its expensive place in the shade, for the price of poverty is always excessive. But it was looking forward with confidence to a more modern future. Was there a screen as large as that in all the New World?

As Señor de Villaseca stood there, proudly confident, a furious Don Jacinto strode up to him.

“Ah, there you are, you twister! I’ve been looking for you all day! I just want you to know that I’m suing you for ten times the amount you’ll ever earn in your life.”

The Mayor closed his eyes benignly and echoed the words of his great forefather.

“I did it,” he said, “par España y por Alcañon!