Ricardo Palma was born in Lima, Peru in 1833, and died there on October 6, 1919, at the age of 86. He was contemporary to the Mexican writer, Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896) with whom he had quite a few things in common. They were both university educated, had served in the armed forces and dabbled in politics. Palma began his writing career as a poet and published his first verses at the age of only 15. During his life, he published several additional volumes of verse, including Harmonies and Lyre in Paris during a visit there in 1864-65. From 1865 onward until he retired in 1912, he published a series of volumes called Tradiciones, with the first showing up in 1872. These essays, short stories and historical fiction pieces became the core of a six-volume set of the Complete Peruvian Traditions. Like Vicente Riva Palacio, many of his stories and amusing anecdotes are based on folklore and for Ricardo Palma, on Peruvian traditions. The following story about brother (friar) Gómez and the scorpion is an amusing little tale of fantasy that rivals that of Palaciao’s El Buen Ejemplo.
When I was a boy I frequently heard the older people exclaiming, while pondering the value and price of a piece of jewelry “This is as valuable as Brother Gomez’s scorpion!” I propose to explain this adage of the old people with the following story.
Brother Gómez was a lay brother, contemporaneous with Don Juan de la Pipirindica, the valiant lancer and of San Francisco Solano, redeemer in Lima at the convent of the Seraphic Fathers, whose monks were in charge of the infirmary or hospital for old and frail devotees. Brother Gómez created miracles galore in my country, like someone who is not even trying. He was a natural-born miracle-maker, like the person who spoke in prose, not knowing that he did.
It happened one day; the lay brother arrived at a bridge, when a runaway horse threw its rider on the paving stones. The unfortunate soul remained, lifeless, with his battered head spurting blood from nose and mouth.
“He fractured his skull,-he fractured his skull!” shouted the people, “Will someone go to San Lorenzo and fetch some anointing oil?”
Everything was in an uproar and clamor.
Brother Gómez slowly approached the person lying on the ground and put the cord from his garment across the mouth of him, then said three blessings, and without neither doctor, nor medicine, he stood up, fresh, as if he if he never got hurt.
“Miracle, Miracle! Long live brother Gómez!” shouted all the spectators.
Enthusiastically they tried to carry the lay brother in victory. In order to get away from his applauders, he ran down the road to the convent and cloistered himself in his cell.
The Franciscan history explains the latter in a different way. They say that brother Gómez, in order to escape his applauders, lifted himself into the air and flew from the bridge to the tower of the convent. I neither confirm, nor deny this. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. When dealing with miracles, I don’t waste my time nether defending or refuting them.
That day, brother Gómez was in the mood for making miracles, for when he left his cell, he walked to the infirmary, where he encountered San Francisco Solano, resting on a bed, suffering from a severe headache. The lay brother took his pulse and said: “Father, your health is fragile; you would do well to eat some food.”
“Brother, replied the saint, I have no appetite.
“Make an effort, reverent Father, have at least a mouthful.”
So insistent was the monk in charge of the dining hall, that the sick, in order to get rid of the demands that already bordered on nonsense, I got the idea to ask him what even for the viceroy would have been impossibly to obtain, because the season wasn’t right to satisfy his whim
“Look, little brother, if only he would eat a pair of tasty mackerels”
Fray Gómez put his right hand into his left sleeve and pulled out two mackerels as fresh as if they had just come out of the sea.
Here they are Father, and may they bring your good health back. I Am going to cook them.
And with the blessed mackerels San Francisco was cured as if by magic.
There was another morning, brother Gomez was lost in meditation in his cell, when there was some small, discrete knocks on the door and a tetchy voice said:
“Thanks be to God, Praised be the Lord”
“Forever and ever, Amen. Come in dear brother, answered brother Gómez.”
And into the very humble cell came a ragged individual, but in whose face one could perceive the proverbial honesty of an old Castilian.
The furniture in the cell consisted of four leather chairs, a greasy table, and a bunk without mattress, not even sheets, and with a stone for a pillow to rest his head.
Sit down, brother and tell me without detours what brings you here, said brother Gómez.
The fact is, Father that I am an honest man through and through.
That’s apparent and I want to persevere, so that I will deserve peace of conscience in this earthlyl life, and in other one, the blessed place.
The fact is that I’m a peddler with a family and my business does not grow for lack of means, or for idleness and shortage of industry in me.
I’m glad, brother, for God takes care of those who work honestly
But it is the problem, Father that till now God has turned a deaf ear on me, and is late in helping me.
“Don’t despair, brother, don’t despair!”
Well, the situation is that have knocked on many doors in solicitation of a loan for five hundred duros, and I found all of them locked up tight. And it happened that last night in my ponderings, I said to myself: “Hey, Jeromo, cheer up and go and ask for the money from brother Gómez, for if he wants to, beggar and poor as he is, he will find a way to extract me from my troubles.” And this is the reason that I am here, because I have come to ask and request that you, reverend Father, lend me this trifle amount for six months.
“How could you have imagined, son, that you, in this sad cell, would find such wealth?”
Frankly, father I couldn’t answer that; but I have faith that you will not let me leave distressed.
Your faith will save you, brother. Wait a minute!
Looking around the naked, whitewashed walls in the cell, he saw a scorpion tranquilly walking over the window frame. Brother Gómez tore a page from an old book and went over to the window took it cautiously to the bug, wrapped it in the paper and turning towards the old Castilian he said:
“Take this, my good man and pawn this little precious ornament; and don’t forget to bring it back within six month.”
The peddler was overcome with gratitude, and left brother Gómez with great haste and walked to the pawnshop.
The jewel was a splendid, real jewel worthy of a Moorish queen, to say the least. It was a brooch in the shape of a scorpion.
A magnificent emerald mounted in gold, formed the body and a wide brilliant with two rubies for eyes, formed the head.
The pawnshop owner, who was a connoisseur, looked at the jewel with greed and offered to begin with two thousand duros for it; but our Spaniard insisted on not accepting a loan for more than 500 duros for six month and with too much interest, he understood. The lender gave him the money and signed the papers or promissory notes, expecting that, in the end, the owner of the article would come back for more money, which, with the added interest charges, would turn him into the owner of such a priceless jewel, with its intrinsic and artistic value.
But with this little capital, he became quite prosperous in his business and at the end of the time could discharge the loan, and, wrapped in the same paper he had received it in, he returned it to brother Gómez.
He took the scorpion and put it in the window sill, gave a blessing and said:
“Little animal of God, go find your way.”
And the scorpion walked freely on the walls of the cell.
Translated April 7, 2011 by Kenny Beechmount .