wiry, blue-eyed young man leaped before him and said softly: "I am the man."
Don Luis leaned back, clasped his manicured hands over his cane and studied the intruder. He saw an insolence that he liked, a quick movement that was essential, and an inherent grace that sometimes came with a Sevillian bullfighter. "Your name?" he asked.
"Bernardo Leal," the young man replied.
"If you're twenty-six and any good, why haven't I heard of you?"
"Because you are from Madrid, Don Luis," the young man replied with quiet assurance. "In Seville everyone has heard of me. There is no better banderillero."
"You!" the Italian called imperiously to a youth pressing forward to hear the conversation. "You are the bull." And he gave the lad two forks to serve as horns. Then he grabbed two knives and threw them to Leal. 'These are your banderillas. Let me see you place a pair power-to-power."
The wedding guests fell back to form a small ring that included Mazzantini, who leaned forward in his chair. The "bull" stood off to one side, pawing with his feet and lowering his head with thumbs pressed against his temples, his forefingers thrust forward like horns.
Bernardo Leal, knowing that his future depended upon this moment, tucked in his shirt and tightened his belt in order to display his trim torso. Mazzantini marked this and approved: "The young man is aware of his lithe figure. That's good." But what the great Italian saw next was much better. Leal raised his arms until they were extended full length above his head and, arching his back, thrust his head and neck forward. Then, with swaying body and mincing steps he started his approach to the bull, and when it charged, snorting like a real animal, Leal broke into a deft run, allowed the bull almost to gore him, leaped into the air like a dancer, and came down with the two knives exactly in the hump of the bull's neck.
" Ole !" shouted the wedding guests, rewarding Leal with the traditional cry of praise for a bullfighter who has done well. Mazzantini made no sign of approval, but merely gave a new command: "Now a pair shifting the body."
Leal complied, gaining fresh oles. His examiner, somewhat irritated by the intrusive enthusiasm of the crowd, commanded, "From the barrier."
This was one of the more difficult ways of placing the banderillas, for the fighter had to stand close to the wooden barrier while inciting the bull to charge directly at him. At the last moment the man was supposed to swing clear, place the sticks as the bull thundered past parallel to the barrier, and make his escape from the horns by pressing himself back against the boards.
"You," Mazzantini shouted at some of the guests, "you be the barrier." Quickly the men formed a segment of circle against which Leal took his position. The bull was pawing the pavement and snorting, waiting for the incitement to charge, when young Leal had an inspiration. Grasping the two knives in his right hand, he raised them over his head, caught the free end with his left, and made believe that he was bringing them down forcefully over the imaginary barrier, thus breaking them in two. Throwing away the invisible long ends, he displayed the supposedly shortened sticks to the crowd. A great cheer went up at this gesture, for placing short sticks against the barrier was extremely perilous.
"Ho, bull, ho!" Leal cried, moving his hips to attract the animal. The bull pawed again, snorted furiously, and charged at his tormentor. With exquisite grace Leal threw his left hip toward the face of the bull, then withdrew the lure and placed the shortened sticks as the bull swept past.
The crowd exploded with joy and even Mazzantini applauded politely: "Can you do these things with a real bull?" Bernardo Leal replied, in the hearing of all the wedding guests, "Like you, matador, I do my finest work only with real bulls."
The tall Italian looked down at the would-be peon and said, "You shall come with me to Mexico, and I