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My Friend El Toro
by [?]

How hard I worked on that Sonoma County ranch I can hardly say. I had horses in the stable and horses outside. The cattle outside were mine. Three hundred sheep I was responsible for. Some young motherless foals I nursed. I milked six cows. I chopped wood. I cleaned buggies. I drove wagons and carriages and cleaned and greased them. Sometimes I stood in the middle of the great barn-lot or barnyard and tore my hair in desperation. I had so much to attend to that only the strictest method enabled me to get through it. And, as Jack had told me would happen, my method was knocked endways by the requirements of the lady who was my “boss.” What a woman wants done is always the most important thing on earth. She used to ask me to do up her acre of a garden in between times when the sheep wanted water or twenty horses required hay. She was amiable, kindly, but she never understood. At such times who could blame me if I went to the bull’s stable when I saw her coming. Though the bull was the sweetest character on the ranch, she went in mortal terror of him. She would try to find me in the horse stable, but she would not come near El Toro for her very life. It was better to sit quietly with him and recover my equanimity while she called. I knew her well enough to know that in a quarter of an hour something else of the vastest importance would engage her attention and I should be free to attend more coolly to my own work.

Yet sometimes she stuck to my track so closely that there was nothing for me to do but to turn El Toro loose. Then I could say, “Very well, madam, but in the meantime I must go after the bull.” She knew what the bull being loose meant; he carried devastation wherever he went. He was the greatest fighter in the whole county. I had to get my whip and my fastest horse to try and catch him. I can hardly be blamed if I did not catch him till the evening. For in that way I got a wild kind of holiday on horseback and was saved from insanity. Certainly, when El Toro got away on the loose and was looking for other bulls to have a row with I could think of nothing else. Sometimes he got free by the rope rotting close up to his ring. In that case he went headlong. If he took the rope with him he sometimes trod on it and gave himself a nasty check. Usually, however, he got it across his big neck and kept it from falling to the ground. He never stopped for any gate. When he saw one he gave a bellow, charged it and went through the fragments with me after him. If I was really anxious to get him back at once I usually caught him within a mile. When I wanted a rest I only succeeded in turning him five or six miles away, after he had thrashed a bull or two belonging to other ranchers. No fence was any use to keep him out or in. On one occasion he broke into a barn in which a rash young bull was kept. When the row was over that barn stood sadly in need of repair: and so did the young pedigree bull. I may say that on this particular occasion El Toro got away entirely by himself, and I only knew he was free when I found the door of his stable in splinters.

There was a magnificent difference between El Toro as I sat on him and scratched him with a nail and as he was when he turned himself loose for a happy day in the country. In the stable he was as mild as milk. I could have almost imagined him purring like a cat. He chewed the cud and made homely sloppy noises with his tongue, and regarded me with a calm, bovine gaze, which was as gentle as that of any pet cow’s. I could have fallen asleep beside him. It is reported that my predecessor Jack, on one occasion, came home much the worse for liquor and was found reclining on El Toro. There was not a soul on the ranch who dared disturb the loving couple. But when the rope was parted and El Toro loped down the road to seek a row as keenly as any Irishman on a fair day, he was another guess sort of an animal. He carried his tail in the air and bellowed wildly to the hills. He threw out challenges to all and sundry. He gave it to be understood that the world and the fatness thereof were his. This was no mere braggadocio; it was not the misplaced confidence of a stall-fed bull in his mere weight; he really could fight, and though he was only on the warpath about once a month, there was not a bull in the valley which had not retained in his thick skull and muddy brains some recollection of El Toro’s prowess. The only trouble about this, from my pet bull’s point of view, was that he could rarely get up a row. Most of his possible enemies fled when he tooted his horn and waltzed into the arena through a smashed fence. He was magnificent and he was war incarnate.