Colomba

Contents:
Author: Prosper Mérimée

Chapter I

"Pe far la to vendetta,
Sta sigur’, vasta anche ella."

—Vocero du Niolo.

Early in the month of October, 181-, Colonel Sir Thomas Nevil, a distinguished Irish officer of the English army, alighted with his daughter at the Hotel Beauveau, Marseilles, on their return from a tour in Italy. The perpetual and universal admiration of enthusiastic travellers has produced a sort of reaction, and many tourists, in their desire to appear singular, now take the /nil admirari/ of Horace for their motto. To this dissatisfied class the colonel’s only daughter, Miss Lydia, belonged. "The Transfiguration" has seemed to her mediocre, and Vesuvius in eruption an effect not greatly superior to that produced by the Birmingham factory chimneys. Her great objection to Italy, on the whole, was its lack of local colour and character. My readers must discover the sense of these expressions as best they may. A few years ago I understood them very well myself, but at the present time I can make nothing of them. At first, Miss Lydia had flattered herself she had found things on the other side of the Alps which nobody had ever before seen, about which she could converse /avec les honnetes gens/, as M. Jourdain calls them. But soon, anticipated in every direction by her countrymen, she despaired of making any fresh discoveries, and went over to the party of the opposition. It is really very tiresome not to be able to talk abut the wonders of Italy without hearing somebody say "Of course you know the Raphael in the Palazzo---- at ----? It is the finest thing in Italy!" and just the thing /you/ happen to have overlooked! As it would take too long to see everything, the simplest course is to resort to deliberate and universal censure.

At the Hotel Beauveau Miss Lydia met with a bitter disappointment. She had brought back a pretty sketch of the Pelasgic or Cyclopean Gate at Segni, which, as she believed, all other artists had completely overlooked. Now, at Marseilles, she met Lady Frances Fenwick, who showed her her album, in which appeared, between a sonnet and a dried flower, the very gate in question, brilliantly touched in with sienna. Miss Lydia gave her drawing to her maid—and lost all admiration for Pelasgic structures.

This unhappy frame of mind was shared by Colonel Nevil, who, since the death of his wife, looked at everything through his daughter’s eyes. In his estimation, Italy had committed the unpardonable sin of boring his child, and was, in consequence, the most wearisome country on the face of the earth. He had no fault to find, indeed, with the pictures and statues, but he was in a position to assert that Italian sport was utterly wretched, and that he had been obliged to tramp ten leagues over the Roman Campagna, under a burning sun, to kill a few worthless red-legged partridges.

The morning after his arrival at Marseilles he invited Captain Ellis— his former adjutant, who had just been spending six weeks in Corsica— to dine with him. The captain told Miss Lydia a story about bandits, which had the advantage of bearing no resemblance to the robber tales with which she had been so frequently regaled, on the road between Naples and Rome, and he told it well. At dessert, the two men, left alone over their claret, talked of hunting—and the colonel learned that nowhere is there more excellent sport, or game more varied and abundant, than in Corsica. "There are plenty of wild boars," said Captain Ellis. "And you have to learn to distinguish them from the domestic pigs, which are astonishingly like them. For if you kill a pig, you find yourself in difficulties with the swine-herds. They rush out of the thickets (which they call /maquis/) armed to the teeth, make you pay for their beasts, and laugh at you besides. Then there is the mouflon, a strange animal, which you will not find anywhere else— splendid game, but hard to get—and stags, deer, pheasants, and partridges—it would be impossible to enumerate all the kinds with which Corsica swarms. If you want shooting, colonel, go to Corsica! There, as one of my entertainers said to me, you can get a shot at every imaginable kind of game, from a thrush to a man!"

At tea, the captain once more delighted Lydia with the tale of a /vendetta transversale/ (A vendetta in which vengeance falls on a more or less distant relation of the author of the original offence.), even more strange than his first story, and he thoroughly stirred her enthusiasm by his descriptions of the strange wild beauty of the country, the peculiarities of its inhabitants, and their primitive hospitality and customs. Finally, he offered her a pretty little stiletto, less remarkable for its shape and copper mounting than for its origin. A famous bandit had given it to Captain Ellis, and had assured him it had been buried in four human bodies. Miss Lydia thrust it through her girdle, laid it on the table beside her bed, and unsheathed it twice over before she fell asleep. Her father meanwhile was dreaming he had slain a mouflon, and that its owner insisted on his paying for it, a demand to which he gladly acceded, seeing it was a most curious creature, like a boar, with stag’s horns and a pheasant’s tail.

"Ellis tells me there’s splendid shooting in Corsica," said the colonel, as he sat at breakfast, alone with his daughter. "If it hadn’t been for the distance, I should like to spend a fortnight there."

"Well," replied Miss Lydia, "why shouldn’t we go to Corsica? While you are hunting I can sketch—I should love to have that grotto Captain Ellis talked about, where Napoleon used to go and study when he was a child, in my album."

It was the first time, probably, that any wish expressed by the colonel had won his daughter’s approbation. Delighted as he was by the unexpected harmony on their opinions, he was nevertheless wise enough to put forward various objections, calculated to sharpen Miss Lydia’s welcome whim. In vain did he dwell on the wildness of the country, and the difficulties of travel there for a lady. Nothing frightened her; she liked travelling on horseback of all things; she delighted in the idea of bivouacking in the open; she even threatened to go as far as Asia Minor—in short, she found an answer to everything. No Englishwoman had ever been to Corsica; therefore she must go. What a pleasure it would be, when she got back to St. James’s Place, to exhibit her album! "But, my dear creature, why do you pass over that delightful drawing?" "That’s only a trifle—just a sketch I made of a famous Corsican bandit who was our guide." "What! you don’t mean to say you have been to Corsica?"

As there were no steamboats between France and Corsica, in those days, inquiries were made for some ship about to sail for the island Miss Lydia proposed to discover. That very day the colonel wrote to Paris, to countermand his order for the suite of apartments in which he was to have made some stay, and bargained with the skipper of a Corsican schooner, just about to set sail for Ajaccio, for two poor cabins, but the best that could be had. Provisions were sent on board, the skipper swore that one of his sailors was an excellent cook, and had not his equal for /bouilleabaisse/; he promised mademoiselle should be comfortable, and have a fair wind and a calm sea.

The colonel further stipulated, in obedience to his daughter’s wishes, that no other passenger should be taken on board, and that the captain should skirt the coast of the island, so that Miss Lydia might enjoy the view of the mountains.

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Chicago: Prosper Mérimée, "Chapter I," Colomba, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Loyd, Mary in Colomba (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=R129UR3AIZV21MX.

MLA: Mérimée, Prosper. "Chapter I." Colomba, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Loyd, Mary, in Colomba, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 4 Jul. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=R129UR3AIZV21MX.

Harvard: Mérimée, P, 'Chapter I' in Colomba, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Colomba, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 July 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=R129UR3AIZV21MX.