And then came Vasquez’s great feat, which no one in all Mexico could duplicate.
A huge, powerful bull with yellow spots on his dirty white hide was let into the arena and instantly turned in a vicious charge against the riders—who nimbly evaded him. The horses themselves seemed to be taking part in this game, unafraid of the deadly horns, trusting to their superior speed. They quietly stood and waited, pawing the sand, letting the bull come close; and then, at the last moment, quickly leaping aside. Several times even the riders were in the path of the attacking bull. But not once did the horns touch the body of a horse.
Then at a wave from Vasquez the riders collected in the center of the ring, turning the bull and surrounding him on all sides. He attacked them left and right, roaring, tossing his head into the air, charging about the sand in impotent rage against these enemies whom he could not catch. Then the riders began to shout at him and their yells were taken up by the thousands of spectators. As the bull raised his head, surprised at this noise, looking around the arena, one of the Mexicans rode up to him and dealt him a blow with his long whip. The bull leaped forward and buried his sharp horns in the sand. On all sides the whips whirred through the air, hissing and cracking and crashing.
And then—suddenly—the courage of the powerful beast broke—he fled, ran through the sand. And after him surged a storm of whips, whizzing, swishing, cracking, whirring through the air. Soon it was the same chase along the fence as they had done before with the horses—hoy! Hoy! And corre! Corre!
Again four riders fell back and again the Arabian mare galloped alone up to the bull. She was a few hundred yards behind him, galloping at full pace, her head stretched forward—one straight line from the nostrils to the tip of her magnificent tail. Her legs were stretched out so that her sides seemed to be touching the sand that she kicked up with her hoofs. Vasquez sat in the saddle with his legs dangling, but with his head and torso bent forward.
The mare came nearer and nearer. Then her nostrils were close to his tail, and then her neck was against the bull’s flanks—then her body tight against his. With a sudden jerk, Vasquez lifted himself in the saddle; turned, bent back—both his hands reached out and held fast.
The mare shot ahead—as her master held tight to the tail of the animal—which he had seized, which he held—for just a moment, but long enough to wheel the powerful beast around, to throw it down and out into the arena.
The bull fell, flipped over and rolled; this enormous animal that weighed over three hundred and fifty kilos. Brought down by its tail, by two human hands!
That was Vasquez Cabrera’s masterpiece.
But that was not yet the end. The bull stood up again; the riders chased him again, lassoed him, threw him to the ground and tied all four feet together. Then one rider climbed down, tied a thin cord around the body of the animal, around the neck, right behind the forelegs. Then Vasquez climbed down from his mare, hobbled through the sand, awkward and clumsy. He bent forward, put his right leg over the bull’s body, and grabbed the rope with both hands. Then he waited, while the others loosened their lassoes.
The bull was freed and stood back up in a second. But a rider sat on his back.
That was unbearable—who in the world rode on a bull? The animal hesitated, stood still for long minutes, appeared to be considering it. Then a strong tremor ran through his hide that would by itself have thrown a man off. But Vasquez didn’t move.
Then it began. The proud bull did like the mustangs did, jumped up high on all four legs. He jumped, fell to the ground, rolled around—but when he stood back up, the rider once more was sitting on top. He reared up on his hind legs, stood there, whirled—but this rider didn’t slide off, his fingers held fast to the taut rope. Then, quickly, the bull leaped forward, kicked his hind legs into the air, drilled his horns into the sand—ah, it looked as if he was standing on his head. But Vasquez remained on top, his arm swinging, his feet stretched out to the animal’s ears, lying along the powerful back.
That was his last attempt. The bull remained standing quietly, pawing, bellowing, moaning, melancholy, then began walking, obeying the pressure from the heels of his master. Through the wide sand, back and forth, like a charming pony.
So rode Vasquez Cabrera.
“Is he a Yaqui?” Frank Braun asked, through the tumultuous applause and cheers.
The adjutant answered, “No, the Yaquis can’t do that, they are a mountain people. Vasquez is a Mayan from Yucatan. He is not one of us; he just came up from the south for the day. Three weeks ago he worked with his men in Jalapa, for Carranza. He does not perform often—only a few times a year—and at very high prices. But he performs everywhere—in front of friends and enemies—whoever is willing to pay his prices: he is the only man whom nobody in all Mexico would harm.”
Again he waved his handkerchief and the band played the Spanish Royal March for a second time. And to the strains of this march, the Goyita strode into the ring.
Frank Braun had often seen similar performances, on farms and ranches in Texas and Coahuila. He had seen it done in more refined ways, more elaborately, but less colorfully, and cheapened, on all kinds of vaudeville stages; the rope-throwing of the cowboys and vaqueros. But it looked so much gayer here in this colorful rodeo, even though her fringed leather skirt smacked of vaudeville, and the ugly brown veil made her head appear like a large wooden egg. She went through the whole series, throwing circles, ovals and spirals, tracing quick figures in the air and in the sand. Then she swung her arms over her head and threw the whirring rope about her like a wide cloak.
She made one of the Mexicans ride through the arena and threw her lasso at fifty meters, tearing him from the saddle. She let another man stand at a considerable distance from her and tied him securely and expertly by throwing her rope around his legs, the right wrist, then the left, over the arms, chest and finally the throat—she tied him up from a distance with nothing but a single rope.
Finally she took the bola—which was new in this part of the country. It was the weapon of the Argentine gauchos—three short ropes, tied together on one end, with heavy lead balls attached to the free ends. She ordered a couple of mustangs and bulls driven into the arena and threw her bola—three times as far as the vaqueros could throw their lassos. The bola whizzed through the air like a wild rocket, caught the galloping animals by the neck and legs and threw them to the ground. The vaqueros rode over, loosened the bola and felt the bones of the frightened animals to see whether the lead weights had broken anything. No, no, the animals were unharmed—that was the trick. But the vaqueros gravely shook their heads; the lasso seemed much safer. The bola could be thrown further, that was true—but what did they have their good horses for?
She performed another number for them. A gray wolf jumped over the fence, and ran right up to her in long leaps—then she had it jump through hoops. It was a very large and beautiful animal, slim and fleet, with a sleek, with well-groomed fur. Frank Braun wondered where she could have got him, since American wolves were not nearly as big.—then an unsaddled horse was brought in. She carefully powdered the soles of her boots, jumped upon the bare back and put the horse into an easy gallop. She rode around, followed by her wolf. She skillfully stood up, stood on the back of the horse, and then jumped through open and paper covered hoops held up before her, while the wolf ran in a serpentine motion between the horse’s hoofs. She also jumped rope on back of the horse.
All this was the common performance of an equestrienne—but then she herself took up one of the hoops, held it high in the air and whistled to her wolf. He took a short start and jumped in one magnificent high leap over the horse, over the dancer and through the middle of the hoop. A beautiful leap.
Then another and another—finally the wolf jumped up to her and stood with her on the horse’s back. Enthusiastic applause followed her as she rode out of the arena just like it had for all the others.
“Doesn’t she dance?” Frank Braun asked.
“Here, in the sand?” Perlstein retorted. “No, she will dance tonight in the General’s quarters! But now comes the main attraction—Villa’s gift to his army.”
The performers had left and the sand was empty. Only the chulos sprinkled water on the sand, smoothed and leveled it out. Then a bugle call—and a quad Riga of mules was driven into the arena. They pulled in a heavy cage mounted on a platform with small wooden wheels; it was covered on all sides with heavy canvas. The chulos placed it exactly in the center of the arena and one of the red shirted fellows reached under the canvas—you could see that he was drawing back a bolt. Then the men jumped aside quickly and ran with their mules head over heels to the sunny side of the arena.
There was a breathless pause of expectation in the great amphitheater—what was in the cage? It must be something dangerous—and Frank Braun noticed that all around the arena soldiers were posted ten yards apart, aiming their rifles over the red boards at the covered cage.
Nothing, nothing, for long minutes nothing.
Then slowly, painfully slowly, the canvas moved. That was not the wind—no, something pushed and stirred beneath it. A yellow paw appeared, and behind it a round whiskered head—oh, a tiger, a tiger!
The animal crept slowly out from under the canvas, lifting it carefully and deliberately, walking forward step by step—
What an animal! Who of all the thousands in the rodeo had ever seen anything like it?
They did not shout—not even the women screamed. They opened their eyes and mouths wide, and stared—fascinated, almost dazzled by the wild beast.
Again a bugle call—and a black bull rushed into the arena. Straight to the center of the ring, heading for the heavy cage—which he knocked over with a single thrust of his powerful horns. The tiger leaped aside—just one leap—then crouched down, ready to attack.
Then the bull caught sight of his opponent and again lowered his horns menacingly—it looked as if he were going to rush at the tiger instantly. But he hesitated, lifted his head slowly and pawed the ground with his forelegs, throwing up the sand behind him.
The two beasts stared at each other.
Both were creatures of attack; the strength of one lay in the leap, that of the other in the thrust. But the bull was the one the crowd knew; he was their symbol of strength and wild courage—he had to begin the attack.
Both seemed to be measuring each other’s strength—the big cat quietly, crouching and waiting—the bull impatient, almost nervous. Whenever the bull stamped the ground, raising and lowering his head, the tiger answered with a warning, ominous snarl—deep and rumbling.
They stood eye to eye—uncertain—
“Cowardly bull!” the Dictator hissed. But the crowd still waited; there was not a sound in the amphitheater—there was only the oppressive, almost suffocating silence.
Then gradually the black bull turned his head and slowly walked away, step by step—never taking his eyes off the beast in the sand. He raised his horns and trotted over to the fence.
One shout, one tremendous shout of ten thousand voices rose up: “Cowardly bull!”
The General’s aide waved his handkerchief. The gates of the arena were opened—two white cows with tinkling bells were let in. Scarcely noticing the tiger, walking along the side, calmly and determinedly they made straight for the bull. One on each side, they led him gently and quietly back to the stall.
The Indians shook with laughter. Their anger at the cowardly bull was gone in an instant—they saw only this amusing picture.
“Las mujeres!” they screamed. “He loves women, and petticoats!”
Pithy jokes flew over to the rows where the prostitutes were sitting, silly, pointed, crude and brutal, all greeted with screams of delight from the women. They bowed, rolling with laughter, proud and flattered in their role, which they now played: Fat cows leading the strong bull to the stall. Over there—
Afternoon shadows had begun to fall over the arena. The sun sank lower and lower. And in the twilight, in the middle of the sand, lay the powerful tiger. No one was paying any attention to the tiger who slowly got to his feet, turned around in a circle and quietly lay down again.
Once more Colonel Perlstein took out his handkerchief.
“I thought so!” he cried gaily. “The cowboys picked out a splendid bull—he was the most peaceful one in the whole herd; besides, he was blind in the left eye, lazy and a coward. He played his role beautifully—better than I could have possibly expected!”
He waved his cloth high in the air—a bugle signal answered.
“But now watch!” he continued; “Now we will have a different kind of bull!”