An Excerpt from ‘The Corsican Widow’

#22 Nonza - la tour Paoline 2

The Paoline Tower in Nonza, Corsica, built in the 18th century. It features in The Corsican Widow.

With less than two weeks to go before the publication of the second novel in my Tales of Corsica series, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of The Corsican Widow. Set in mid/late 18th-century Corsica and Marseille, the novel concerns a young Corsican woman, Valeria Peretti, who must marry a wealthy widower she does not know. A quiet, respectable life apparently awaits her, but a prophecy on the eve of her betrothal spells misfortune ahead.

Corsica is a captivating island, with a turbulent history and a fascinating culture all its own. The Corsicans have always had strong beliefs in magic and the supernatural and a rigid code of moral behaviour. I have woven these aspects into the story of Valeria, which says a lot about injustice and the role of women in society at that time.

The book will be published on 10th May. The Kindle version is on pre-order on Amazon and a paperback version will also be available on publication day.

Chapter 1

Felicavo, Corsica: April 1755

The girl’s naked feet turned this way and that, the heels black and scored with scratches. The breeze ruffled the hem of her skirt, but the body sagged at the end of the cord like a sack of grain. For a moment, Valeria’s heart seemed to stop beating, and then the bile seared her gullet and she sank to her knees in the dust.

“Oh, no. Delfina…”

She raised her head. Below Delfina’s darkened face the loose dress failed to conceal the bulge in the girl’s belly. Valeria closed her eyes and her chin dropped. A gaggle of village women rustled and muttered and shook their heads, crows gathering to pick over the carcass. A few crossed themselves and turned away. Three men elbowed through and held up the body while one scaled the tree and cut the rope.

“At least she’s spared her family the job… What a disgrace… Stupid girl.”

Valeria crammed a fist against her mouth to stop the words that boiled up, turned and ran back along the track towards Felicavo. The breath caught in her chest, but she stumbled on, past the village. She pushed aside the machja thorns that tore at her dress, and fell on her hands and knees, gasping. The bile spilled from her mouth.

***

In Margherita’s one-roomed cottage, Valeria clasped her hands together on the scarred table top until the knuckles whitened. Delfina’s swaying feet crossed her vision every time she closed her eyes. Better to keep them open, but nothing could take away the hollowness inside. She looked across at Margherita, who was chopping herbs.

“They say Delfina had been living rough in the machja since February, when her parents threw her out. I can’t imagine how she managed all that time. Why didn’t she let me know where she was? I would have tried to help her, but I thought she’d gone away.”

Margherita’s pin-bright eyes, filled with trouble, met Valeria’s. She tightened the shawl around her and shook her silvered head. “We all did. You couldn’t have done much for her. If she’d come to me earlier, as soon as she knew she was pregnant, well, things might have been different. By the time it came out, it was too late.”

Valeria turned her gaze to the fire. Delfina was only eighteen, two years her junior, and should have had many more years in her. “But taking her own life? She must have felt so alone to have done it. How could her parents have driven her out? It seems so cruel.”

Margherita shrugged. “Once that fellow of hers had disappeared, it was either that or wait for the elders to set up a hearing. To have her judged in public would have brought even more shame on the family, and she would probably have been banished anyway.”

“The women who saw her said that she’d saved her family a job.” Valeria’s hand formed a fist on the table top. “I wanted to pull their hair out, but I ran away instead.”

“I would have felt the same, but it wouldn’t have done any good to turn them against you.”

They fell silent while the fire burnt low. Valeria twisted her hands and opened her mouth to speak several times.

“What is it?” Margherita said.

“I was going to come and see you anyway, before this happened,” Valeria said. “I told you Mother and Pietro had been talking with this Signore Santucci about marrying me.”

Margherita nodded.

“Well, it’s all arranged now, and he’s coming up from Zaronza tomorrow to meet me.” She sighed and looked down. “Mother hasn’t told me anything, except that his first wife died without children and that he’s quite rich. I don’t even know what he looks like. I don’t have any say in it, of course.”

Margherita reached across the table and took her hand. “It might not be as bad as all that.”

Valeria returned the pressure of the knotted fingers. “If only I knew what to expect. After what’s happened to Delfina, I’m so empty and hopeless. I’d feel much better if only I knew how my life is going to turn out. That’s what I wanted to ask you…”

Margherita sat up a little straighter. “Go on.”

“Read the bone for me, please. You once said you know how it’s done. I need to know the future.”

Margherita’s face closed up and she turned away.

“People don’t practice it here,” she said at last. “I haven’t read it for years, and I’d be taken for a witch if I did it, even more than I am already. Remember your neighbour’s grandmother, who had the wasting sickness? She was beyond my help, but your neighbour was convinced I’d put the Eye in her. No good would come of doing this. Don’t ask me, Valeria.”

Valeria gripped her friend’s hand tighter. “I had such a terrible feeling when I saw Delfina. It was almost as if I saw myself swinging there. Please do this for me, and set my mind at rest.”

Margherita was silent for a long moment, and then gave an almost imperceptible nod.

“Very well. If it means so much to you, I’ll do it. But only this once, and you’re not to tell anyone.”

You might also like:

Women in Traditional Corsican Society
Courtship and Marriage Corsican-Style
5 Facts You Might Not Know About Corsica

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Nonza on Cap Corse

Nonza on Cap Corse, source of much inspiration

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2018, all rights reserved

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