“You ever seen these fellows?” Zurito asked, big and looming beside Manuel in the dark.
“No,” Manuel said.
“They’re pretty funny,” Zurito said. He smiled to himself in the dark.
The high, double, tight-fitting door into the bullring swung open and Manuel saw the ring in the hard light of the arc-lights, the plaza, dark all the way around, rising high; around the edge of the ring were running and bowing two men dressed like tramps, followed by a third in the uniform of a hotel-boy who stooped and picked up the hats and canes thrown down on to the sand and tossed them back up into the darkness.
The electric light went on in the patio.
“I’ll climb onto one of those ponies while you collect the kids,” Zurito said.
Behind them came the jingle of the mules, coming out to go into the arena and be hitched onto the dead bull.
The members of the cuadrilla, who had been watching the burlesque from the runway between the barrera and the seats, came walking back and stood in a group talking, under the electric light in the patio. A good-looking lad in a silver-and-orange suit came up to Manuel and smiled.
“I’m Hernandez,” he said and put out his hand.
Manuel took it.
“They’re regular elephants we’ve got tonight,” the boy said cheerfully.
“They’re big ones with horns,” Manuel agreed.
“You drew the worst lot,” the boy said.
“That’s all right,” Manuel said. “The bigger they are, the more meat for the poor.”
“Where did you get that one?” Hernandez grinned.
“That’s an old one,” Manuel said. “You line up your cuadrilla, so I can see what I’ve got.”
“You’ve got some good kids,” Hernandez said. He was very cheerful. He had been on twice before in nocturnals and was beginning to get a following in Madrid. He was happy the fight would start in a few minutes.
“Where are the pics?” Manuel asked.
“They’re back in the corrals fighting about who gets the beautiful horses,” Hernandez grinned.
The mules came through the gate in a rush, the whips snapping, bells jangling, and the young bull plowing a furrow of sand.
They formed up for the paseo as soon as the bull had gone through.
Manuel and Hernandez stood in front. The youths of the cuadrillas were behind, their heavy capes furled over their arms. In black, the four picadors, mounted, holding their steel-tipped push-poles erect in the half-dark of the corral.
“It’s a wonder Retana wouldn’t give us enough light to see the horses by,” one picador said.
“He knows we’ll be happier if we don’t get too good a look at these skins,” another pic answered.
“This thing I’m on barely keeps me off the ground,” the first picador said.
“Well, they’re horses.”
“Sure, they’re horses.”
They talked, sitting their gaunt horses in the dark.
Zurito said nothing. He had the only steady horse of the lot. He had tried him, wheeling him in the corrals, and he responded to the bit and the spurs. He had taken the bandage off his right eye and cut the strings where they had tied his ears tight shut at the base. He was a good, solid horse, solid on his legs. That was all he needed. He intended to ride him all through the corrida. He had already, since he had mounted, sitting in the half-dark in the big, quilted saddle, waiting for the paseo, pic-ed through the whole corrida in his mind. The other picadors went on talking on both sides of him. He did not hear them.
The two matadors stood together in front of their three peones, their capes furled over their left arms in the same fashion. Manuel was thinking about the three lads in back of him. They were all three Madrileños, like Hernandez, boys about nineteen. One of them, a gypsy, serious, aloof, and dark-faced, he liked the look of. He turned.
“What’s your name, kid?” he asked the gypsy.
“Fuentes,” the gypsy said.
“That’s a good name,” Manuel said.
The gypsy smiled, showing his teeth.
“You take the bull and give him a little run when he comes out,” Manuel said.
“All right,” the gypsy said. His face was serious. He began to think about just what he would do.