Few would have disputed that Maria-Lucia was one of the most beautiful girls in the village, with fine, dark hair, delicate features, skin like new-skimmed cream, and full lips that smiled often, showing even teeth. As she neared womanhood, the legs and arms which had been merely thin assumed the subtle curves which drew men's eyes, and her waist and bosom the less subtle curves that held them. Yet she had no pretensions about her, was quiet and dutiful towards her elders and devout to just such a degree as to seem a "good girl", but without excess. And so there was surprisingly little jealousy directed towards her, until the time of her marriage.
Her offense, when it came, was not of the usual and forgivable sort. Had she married a rich old man, heads would have nodded indulgently as they observed that she was very pretty after all, and from a poor family, and so who would blame her? Many voices would have "hoped she would be happy." Similar hopes would have been expressed had she married one of the more attractive young men -- hopefully in the sort of hurried fashion which would allow people to meditate with satisfaction that beauty was not an unmixed blessing, and be thankful for their own daughters' virtue.
Opinion was, thus, outraged to see itself defied when Maria married Giuseppe. He was a quiet man, five years her senior, with no living family left. His farm was small and his looks were plain almost to the point of ugliness, with very large ears and nose, and a mouth that drooped as if sad, though when he spoke it almost always with cheer and kindness. His hair was naturally disordered, his skin burnt brown with many days under the sun, his shoulders slightly stooped, his arms long and his pace very slightly shuffling, such that when they were first seen entering the parish church together after the marriage (which had been small, with only the families and a few friends in attendance) one sharp tongue remarked afterward, "With his looks next to hers, it looked as if he were a pet ape moping along behind her."
Though the marriage had seemed sudden enough -- or at least, if they had spent much time together in the months beforehand, few had marked it -- few could imagine it was because of necessity, save for a few who darkly muttered that she must have come to grief with a man who wouldn't marry her, and only Giuseppe would take her in that condition. Time, however, proved this not to be the case. There was, of course, speculation that she must be unhappy. And that fall Giuseppe found more than the usual number of young men coming to see if he needed hired laborers for the harvest -- though if he suspected that they had actually come in hopes of finding his wife eager for other male company around the farm, he gave no definite sign of the knowledge as he turned them away.
Though Giuseppe's farm was no more remote than most, they were treated almost as if they lived on the other side of the river, in La Rocca, and if they were mentioned at all it was with the observation, "But surely the children will be ugly."
But that was not in fact to be the case.
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