She was the princess of the fairy tales longing to become a shepherdess. There she meant to stay, in the shade of her orange-trees, now and then fondling a memory of her old life, perhaps, but wishing eternally to enjoy that tranquillity, fiercely repelling Rafael, therefore, because he had tried to awaken her, as Siegfried rouses Brunhilde, braving the flames to reach her side.
No; friends, friends, nothing else! She wanted no more of love. She already knew what that was. Besides, he had come too late....
And Rafael tossed sleeplessly in his bed, rehearsing in the darkness the story he had been told. He felt dwarfed, annihilated, by the grandeur of the men who had preceded him in their adoration of that woman. A king, great artists, handsome and aristocratic paladins, Russian counts, potentates with vast wealth at their command! And he, a humble country boy, an obscure junior deputy, as submissive as a child to his mother’s despotic ways, forced to beg for the money for his personal expenses even—he was trying to succeed them!
He laughed with bitter irony at his own presumptuousness. Now he understood Leonora’s mocking tone, and the violence she had used in repulsing all boorish liberties he had tried to take. But despite the contempt he began to feel for himself, he lacked the strength to withdraw now. He had been caught up in the wake of seduction, the maelstrom of love that followed the actress everywhere, enslaving men, casting them, broken in spirit and in will, to earth, like so many slaves of Beauty.
“Good morning, Rafaelito ... we are seeing each other betimes today.... I am up so early not to miss the marketing. I remember that Wednesday was always a great event in my life, as a child. What a crowd!...”
And Leonora, with the great swarming cities far from her mind, was really impressed at the numbers of bustling people crowding the little square, called del Prado, where every Wednesday the “grand market” of the Alcira region was held.
Their sashes bulging with money bags, peasants were coming into town to buy supplies for the whole week out in the orange country. Orchard women were going from one stall to the next, as slender of body and as neatly dressed as the peasant girls of an opera ballet, their hair in senorita style, their skirts of bright batiste gathered up to hold their purchases and showing fine stockings and tight-fitting shoes underneath. Tanned faces and rough hands were the only signs to betray the rustic origin of the girls; because those were prosperous days for the orange growers of the District.