Prosper Merimee (1803—1870)
Born in Paris in 1803, Merimee spent the greater part of his life in the government service and in travelling. In later years he became a senator. His chief works are his stories and the novel Carmen. Me- rim^e was one of the earliest authors who were content to write for the purpose of giving aesthetic pleasure, and is considered, with Gautier, one of the chief exponents of the Art for Art`s Sake theory. His stories are written with great deliberation and care. Mateo Falcone is a masterpiece of its kind.
The present version, anonymously translated, is reprinted by per¬mission from International Short Stories, P. F. Collier`s Sons, New York. Copyright, 1910.
On leaving Porto-Vecchio from the northwest and directing his steps towards the interior of the island, the traveler will notice that the land rises rapidly, and after three hours` walking over tortuous paths obstructed by great masses of rock and sometimes cut by ravines, he will find himself on the border of a great maquis. The maquis is the domain of the Corsican shepherds and of those who are at variance with justice.
It must be known that, in order to save himself the trouble of manuring his field, the Corsican husbandman sets fire to a piece of woodland. If the flames spread farther than is necessary, so much the worse! In any case he is certain of a good crop from the land fertilized by the ashes of the trees which grow upon it. He gathers only the heads of his grain, leaving the straw, which it would be unnecessary labor to cut.
In the following spring the roots that have remained in the earth without being-destroyed send up their tufts of sprouts, which in a few years reach a height of seven or eight feet. It is this kind of tangled thicket that is called a maquis. They are made up of different kinds of trees and shrubs, so crowded and mingled together at the caprice of nature that only with an axe in hand can a man open a passage through them, and maquis are frequently seen so thick and bushy that the wild sheep themselves cannot penetrate them.
If you have killed a man, go into the maquis of Porto-Vecchio. With a good gun and plenty of powder and balls, you can live there in safety. Do not forget a brown cloak furnished with a hood, which will serve you for both cover and mattress. The shepherds will give you chestnuts, milk and cheese, and you will have nothing to fear from justice nor the relatives of the dead except when it is necessary for you to descend to the city to replenish your ammunition.
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