Through the groves he could see the balcony of the house, and on it a woman unfolding shining gowns of delicate colors. She was shaking the prima donna’s skirts to straighten out the wrinkles and the folds caused by the packing in the trunks.
It was the Italian maid—that Beppa of the reddish hair whom he had seen the previous afternoon with her mistress.
He thought the girl was looking at him, and that she even recognized him through the foliage, despite the distance. He felt a sudden timorousness, like a child caught redhanded doing something wrong. He turned in his tracks and strode rapidly off toward the city.
But later, he felt quite comforted. Merely to have approached the Blue House seemed like progress toward acquaintance with the beautiful Leonora.
All work had stopped on the rich lands of the ribera.
The first winter rains were falling over the entire District. Day after day the gray sky, heavy with clouds, seemed to reach down and touch the very tops of the trees. The reddish soil of the fields grew dark under the continuous downpour; the roads, winding deep between the mudwalls and the fences of the orchards, were changed to rushing streams. The weeping orange-trees seemed to shrink and cringe under the deluge, as if in aggrieved protest at the sudden anger of that kindly, friendly land of sunshine.
The Jucar was rising. The waters, turned to so much liquid clay, lashed red and slimy against the buttresses of the bridges. People living along the banks followed the swelling of the river with anxious eyes, studying the markers placed along the shores to note how the water was coming up.
"Munta?" ... asked the people from the interior, in their quaint dialect.
"Munta!" answered the river dwellers.
And the water was indeed slowly rising, already threatening the city that had so audaciously taken root in the very middle of its bed.
But despite the danger, the townspeople seemed to be feeling nothing more than uneasy curiosity. No one thought of moving across the bridges to take refuge on the high land. Nonsense! The Jucar was always flooding. You had to expect something of the sort every once in a while. Thank heaven there was something to break the monotony of life in that sleepy town! Why complain at a week’s vacation? It was hard to disturb the placid complacency of those descendants of the Moors. Floods had been coming since the days of their fathers, their grandfathers and their great-grandfathers, and never had the town been carried off. A few houses at the worst. Why suppose the catastrophe would be due now?... The Jucar was a sort of husband to Alcira. As happens in any decent family, there would be a quarrel now and then—a thrashing followed by kisses and reconciliation. Just imagine—living seven or eight centuries together! Besides,—and this the lesser people thought—there was Father San Bernardo, as powerful as God Himself in all that concerned Alcira. He was able, single-handed, to tame the writhing monster that wound its coiling way underneath the bridges.