Posts Tagged ‘Latin American short stories’

Marco Denevi

Marco Denevi was born in Saenz Pena, Argentina 12 May 1922 and died in Buenos Aires 12 December 1998.  He was both a writer and political journalist.  His first successful novel was “Rosaura a las diez” (Rosaura at ten o’clock), which won the Kraft award.  It became a best seller and was translated into several languages as well as being made into a movie.

Marco stayed in Buenos Aires and wrote his novels and short stories there; among them “The Bronze Bees”, which has become one of his more popular short stories. It is a satire on greed and what happens when nature is interfered with, as well as a marvellous  piece of fantasy, widely used by teachers of Spanish in both high school and university. Typical of Latin American writers, he uses a very literary language, which is challenging to translate into English, without loosing some of the intrinsic flavours of the original Spanish words.


Las Abejas de Bronze

 (The Bronze Bees)

By Marco Denevi (Argentina, 1922- 1998)

 Since the beginning of time, the fox had lived by selling honey. It was, apart from
being a family tradition, a kind of inheritance. On the one hand, nobody had
the fox’s knack of handling the Bees (when the bees were live insects and very
aggressive) and make them perform at their best. On the other hand the Fox
understood the bear, a great consumer of honey, and thus his best

It wasn’t easy to get along with the Bear. The Bear was a bit brutal, a little wild, but if life in the outdoors maintained it in good health, it would refrain from its rough ways that not everyone was willing to tolerate.

Even the fox, despite his practice, had to undergo some unpleasant experiences in this regard. Once, for example, (I don’t know what trivial matter caused it), the bear destroyed the scale, used to weigh the honey, with his claws. The Fox didn’t flinch and never lost his smile. (He will be buried with a smile on, his uncle, the tiger, disdainfully said of him.) But I pointed out to bear, that according to the law, he was obliged to compensate me for the loss.

“Naturally,” laughed the bear, I will compensate you.  You just wait, I’ll break my neck running to pay you back for the damage.”

He laughed loudly and beat his thigh with his paw.

“Yes,” said the Fox in a calm voice, “yes, I recommend you to hurry, because the bees are impatient.”Look, sir!” he said, making a theatrical gesture, a studied gesture, toward the hives. The Bear noticed and instantly stopped laughing, because he saw thousands of bees had abandoned hives, with his face red with anger, frowning and mouth clenched, he looked at him from head to foot and seemed ready to attack.

“They do not wait for a sign from me, added the Fox, sweetly. You know, they hate disrespect.

The Bear, which in spite of his strength was a braggart, turned pale with fear

“It’s all right Fox, he babbled, I will restore the scales.” But please, tell
them not look at me that way; order them to return to their hives.

“Listen sweet little ones”, said the Fox gently to the Bees, “Mister Bear has
promised to bring us another scale.”

The Bees buzzed in unison. The Fox listened to them with a respectful expression. All the while he was agreeing with the queen bee he was murmuring:

“Yes, yes, agree. Ah, it is understood. Who doubts it? I will tell him.”

The bear was going out of his good skin.

What are they saying, fox? You are keeping me in suspense!

The fox fixed his eyes on him.

They say that the scales must be brand new.

Yes, of course they will be brand new. Now, what kind of finish do you want on them?


In agreement, nickel-plated.

Foreign manufacture.

Also that.

Preferably Switzerland.

Ah, no, it is too much.

You are extorting me.

“Can you repeat that a little louder, Mr. Bear? they haven’t heard you!”

“I said I support that!”…

“It’s OK, it’s OK. I will try to like them. But once and for all, tell them to return to their honeycombs.  So many bees’ heads all  looking at me,  makes me nervous.”

The fox made a rare gesture, like an illusionist, and the bees, after throwing the bear a last warning look, disappeared inside the beehives. The bear moved away, ever so gloomy and with the vague sensation that the bees had cheated him. But on the following day he reappeared, bringing in his arms a brand new nickel-plated set of scales, with a little bronze plate that read: “Made in Switzerland.”

As I have said: the fox knew how to handle the bees and could handle the bear; but who didn’t, that foxiest of all foxes, know how to boss around?

That was until one day they invented artificial bees.

Yes!  Insects made of bronze, directed electronically, by remote control (as it said  in the illustrated brochures); they could do the same work as the living bees; but with enormous advantages. They would not get tired, would not get lost, would not stay caught in the spider webs, and not devoured by birds; they did not feed on honey, like the natural Bees (honey, that in the accounting and in the soul of the fox, appeared with big red numbers); between them, there were no queens, no drones.  They were all equal, all workers, docile and obedient, strong and active, with unlimited life.  In any sense, they appeared to him to be infinitely superior to live bees.

The fox immediately saw the business potential, and did not hesitate. He killed all his swarms, demolished the hives of wax, and with his savings bought a thousand bronze bees  and its corresponding hives, also of bronze, ordered  installation of the control board, learned how to handle it, and one morning the animals watched, stunned, how the bronze bees flew in the air for the first time.

The Fox was not wrong. Without even getting up from his seat, he moved a lever, and a cloud of bees went roaring toward the North, moving another lever, and another group of bees barreled toward the South, a new movement of the lever, and a third swarm flew in the direction East, et sic de ceteris(1).The bronze insects were soon flying at speeds never seen, with a sort of buffered buzz that sounded like the echo of another buzz; they cascaded like an arrow to the flower cups, quickly sucking up the nectar, returned to flight, went back to the hive, deposited the nectar it carried in its pocket, did a few quick contortions, and some small, dry noises. , tric, trac, cruc (1), and within a few moments they had created honey, pure, clean, golden, uncontaminated, aseptic honey; and were able to resume again. No distraction, no fatigue, no fad, no anger, for twenty-four hours a day. The fox was beside himself with joy.

The first time the bear tried the new honey, he rolled his eyes, smacked his tongue and not daring to express an opinion, he asked his wife:

-Have a go, what do you think?

-“I don’t know, she said, I get a metal taste from it.”

-“Yes, I think so too.”

But the children protested in unison:

“Dad, Mom, what nonsense. The taste proves that this honey is very superior. Superior in every way. How can you prefer the other, made by a few dirty bugs? On the other hand it is cleaner, more hygienic, and more modern; in short, better honey.”

The bear and his wife did not find reasons to refute their children and remained silent. But when they were alone they insisted:

-Say what you want,  I still prefer the old type. It had a flavor…

-Yes, me too. We can agree that without doubt it comes pasteurized. But that flavor…

Ah, the flavor!

They didn’t dare to tell anyone, because, basically, they felt proud to serve in an establishment where this eighth wonder of the world, the bronze bees, was operating.

If one really thinks about it, the bronze bees were invented exclusively for us… – said the  bear’s wife. The bear didn’t comment and appeared to be indifferent, but inside he was proud as his wife.

So no-one in the world would stop to buy and eat the honey distilled by artificial bees, and even less when they realized other animals also flocked to fox’s shop to buy honey; not because they liked the honey, but because of the bronze bees and to brag about being modern.

And, with all this, the Fox’s profits grew like wildfire in the forest. He had to hire an assistant to help him and after much thinking, chose a Raven; above all because it assured him that it abhorred the honey. Soon the thousand bees were five thousand; and the five thousand, ten thousand. They began to consider the fox’s wealth a fabulous fortune. The Fox smiled and rubbed his hands with delight.

And meanwhile the swarms came, and went. Animals could barely se or follow the bursts of golden points crossing over their heads. The only ones who didn’t admire them were the
ignorant spiders, who complained loudly that the bronze bees went straight through their cobwebs and tore them to pieces.

What is this? The end of the world? – Those affected the first time squawked, but when someone explained to them what is was, they threatened to sue the fox for damages.

What stupidity! Said the bear’s wife.

-It is the eternal struggle between light and shadow, between good and evil, between civilization and barbarism.

The birds were also a surprised, because one of them, when first it saw a bronze bee, opened its beak and swallowed it. Poor devil!

The metal bee tore its vocal cords, and embedded itself in the body, where it he formed a tumor,  as a result of which it died shortly after, in the midst of the cruelest suffering and without the consolation of singing because the other birds had flown away, having learned a lesson.

After the fox had relished its prosperity for a time, some problems began to appear. First it was just a little cloud, then another little cloud, until the entire sky looked like a threatening storm. The chain of disasters began with the event of the goose’s peonies. One afternoon, while emptying a hive, the Fox discovered some small flecks of grey in the golden honey, opaque and repugnant. He tasted it on the tip of his finger and found it to have a noxious odor and bitter taste. He had to pull all the remaining honey that was contaminated. It was the goose’s peonies that changed the storm to  a hurricane.

-“Fox -he whistled, do you remember those artificial peonies that adorned the porch  of my house in memory of my deceased husband? Do you remember them? Well: look what your bees have done to my peonies”. (3)

He raised a hand. The Fox looked, saw the mess, understood, and as a good merchant, didn’t beat around in the bush.

How much? He asked.

Twenty pesos, said the goose





-Are you crazy? If you think that this is the stock market…

I do not think that it is the stock market. But I do charge interests.

-Hold it! Take your twenty pesos.


Okay, stop it, I’ll pay.

When the goose had counted its money and gone, the Fox let go of all his frustrations. He walked through the store, kicked the ground, and struck the walls with its fist, screaming between his teeth.

The first time- the first time that someone charges me money. And look at this idiot goose. Thirty-two pesos for a few artificial peonies, which are not worth more than forty. And all because of the bronze bees- be damned. They make mistakes because of their lack of instinct. They have confused artificial flowers with fresh flowers. The others would never make such a mistake. But who thinks of the others. Well, not everything is perfect in this life.

Another day, a bee, entering the crown of a lily, cut the throat of a hummingbird that was feeding there. The blood of the bird dyed the lily red; but as the bee was insensitive to smells and tastes, reacting only to electrical impulses, it mixed the nectar and blood together. The honey thus turned pink, which alarmed the fox. Fortunately his employee took the worry off his shoulders.

If I were you, chief, he said with his little voice, hoarse and with the air of a spinster- I, would sell it as a special children’s honey.

And if it turns out to be poisonous?

If such was the unfortunate scenario, I would be dead, chief.

Ah, so you have tasted it. So you, my junior, are robbing me of honey.  And did you not tell me that you abhorred it?

One sacrifices himself and look how you pay me back – muttered the Raven, putting on a face of outraged dignity-. I loathe it; I abhorred it all my life. But I wanted to test it to see if it was poisonous. I ran the risk for you. Now, if you think that I have acted badly, fire me, chief.

What was it they wanted but to make the fox follow the advice of the Raven? It was a great success, this special pink kid’s honey. He sold it entirely, and no one complained. (The only one who could complain was the pig, because of certain poetic whims which in those days inflicted their children). (But no pig in its right mind is capable of relating this strange madness to produce verses, to a bottle of honey, colored by the blood of a hummingbird).

The fox felt safe. Poor fox, he ignored that his troubles would be the same for his bees.

A few days later, he noticed that the insects took more and more time to return to the hive.

One night, locked in the store, he and the Raven began to ponder this new enigma.

Why are they so late? Said the fox-. Where do those devils go? Yesterday a swarm took five hours to return. The daily production, thus, reduces, and electricity costs increase. Furthermore, this pink honey is still stuck in my throat. Every moment I wonder: what will appear today? Green honey? Black honey? Blue honey? Salt honey?

Accidents such as the with the peonies have not been repeated, chief. As for the rose honey, I don’t think you have anything to complain about.

-I agree. But what about the mystery of the delays? What can the explanation be?

Nothing.  Except —

Except what?

The Raven, looking serious, crossed its legs, joined hands and looked up.

“Chief” he said, after reflecting a few moments-. “To go and watch the bees is not easy.
They fly too fast. No one or almost no one can follow them. But I know a bird that, if you grease his palm, would deal with the case. And I give you my word that he would not return without having learned the truth.”

And who is this bird?

Yours truly.

The fox opened his mouth to cover his insults to the Raven, but then thought the better of it and chose to accept the offer, since any remedy was preferable to staying with their arms crossed,contemplating the progressive and relentless decline in earnings.

The Raven returned very late, gasping as if it had flown all the way from China. (The fox suspected that this was all a farce and that perhaps his employee knew the truth from the first day). The expression on his face did not portend anything good.

Boss – he stammered-, I don’t know how to say this, but the bees are late, and will be so more and more, because there are no flowers in the region and they must go to feed abroad.

What do you mean; there are no flowers in the region. What foolishness is that?

“Listen chief! It seems that the flowers, after that the bees have sucked their nectar, bend,
weaken and die

“And why are they dying?”

-“They can’t tolerate`the bees’ metal tube.”


– “And it doesn’t end there. The plant, after that the bees have assassinated the flowers, die.”

“Assassinate! I forbid you to use that word.”

Let alone killed. The plant, after that the bees have killed the flowers, they won’t flower again. Consequence: there are no more flowers in the whole region. What do you say, chief?

The fox didn’t say anything. Nothing. It was stupefied.

And the worst thing is that the Raven was not lying. The artificial bees had devastated the flowers in the country. Then they went to neighboring countries, then to the closest, then to
the less close, later to the remote and distant, and thus, from country to country, then all the world and then returned to the starting point.

That day the birds were overwhelmed by a strange grief and no one knew why. Some inexplicably, committed suicide. The Nightingale had stopped singing and the colors of the Robin paled. It is said that, for example, the rivers stopped running and the springs no longer babbled. I do not know. All I know is that, when the bronze bees went from country to country, they turned the whole world upside-down; there were no flowers in the world, there were no flowers in the field, in the cities nor in the forests.

The bees returned from their travels, they nested in their combs, they writhed, did tric, trac, cruc(2), but the fox didn’t collect a single, miserable drop of honey. The bees returned as empty as they had left.

The fox was desperate. His business collapsed. It prevailed a while thanks to his reserves, but even these were exhausted. He should bid farewell to the Raven and close the store, losing all his customers.

The only one that didn’t give up was the bear.

“Fox! – vociferous-, either I get honey or I’ll  beat your brains out.”

Wait. Day after tomorrow I have some coming from abroad – the fox promised .But the supply never came.

He made a few attempts at rewarding them. He sent swarms in different directions. All useless. He said the tric, trac, cruc (2), all in mockery, but no honey.

Finally, one night the fox disconnected all the cables, destroyed the control board, buried the bronze bees in a pit, picked up his money and, under the cover of darkness, fled in an unknown direction.

As he crossed the border he heard behind a few giggles and some old voices that called him.

-Fox! Fox!

That was the spiders, who in the light of the Moon wove their prehistoric webs.

Fox made an obscene grin and took off in great strides.

Since then, no one has ever seen it again.

Translated in April, 2011, by
Kenny Beechmount

(1) Latin – and the same for all the rest(2)

(2) Combination of syllables used to teach children pronunciation.

(3) Some versions of the story use roses, rather than peonies as the artificial
flower type.

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Enrique Anderson Imbert (1910–2000) was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1910 and studied at Universiy in Buenos Aires, where he graduated  and received his doctorate in philosophy and arts and where he later taught at several universities.  He was a brilliant contemporary critic of Hispanic-American literature and became known for his short-stories, essays, novels and collections of parables, many of which were published under the title The Other Side of the Mirror.  He became Professor of Hispanic-American Literature at Harvard University.

El Fantasma is one of many stories that deal with fantasy and it remains one of the more popular.  The Spanish language versions of this and many more can be read or downloaded at http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/cuentos/esp/anderson/eai.htm  His microcuentas (flash fiction) features prominently there and he was a pioneer in this field of writing.


   Enrique Anderson Imbert

EL FANTASMA (The Phantom)

       By Enrique Anderson Imbert
       Translated to English by Kenny Beechmount

He realized he had just died when he saw his own body; like if it wasn’t his, but more like a double, collapsed in the chair that he had overturned when he fell.

The body and the chair were located on the carpet, in the middle of the room.

So, this was death!

“What a disappointment! He had wanted to find out what the journey to another world was like and it turned out there isn’t another world! The same opaqueness of the walls, the same distance between furniture, the same sound of the rain falling on the roof… and above all, how immutable, how indifferent to his death the objects were that he had always been familiar with. The lighted lamp, the hat on the hanger…everything, everything was the same, except for the overturned chair and the body, facing the ceiling.”

He leaned over and looked at his body, like before, when he usually looked in the mirror. “How old!, and those wrinkles of worn-out skin!” – If I could open the eyelids, perhaps the blue light of my eyes would once again ennoble the body – he thought. Because this way, without the look of  the chubby cheeks and wrinkles, the downy curves of the nose and two yellow teeth, biting the bloodless lip, they were revealing his detested mammal condition.

Now that I know that there are neither angels nor abysses on the other side, I returned to my humble residence.

With good humour, he approached his empty corpse and went to enter it, to animate it again, and how easy it could have been, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t, because in that instant, the door opened and my wife came in, alarmed at the noise of the falling chair and body.

“Don’t come in,he shouted, but no sound came out.

It was late. The woman threw herself on her husband and on sensing it lifeless, cried and cried.

“Shut up, you have ruined everything,” he shouted, but without voice.

“What bad luck”, why hadn’t it occurred to him to lock the door during the experience. Now, with a witness, he couldn’t revive; he was dead, definitely dead. What bad luck?”

He watched his wife almost fainted over his corpse; his own corpse, with the nose as a bow between the waves of his wife’s hair. His three children burst in, running, as if they were in dispute over a candy, stopped in their tracks, and little by little approached and all at the same time they began to cry.

He also cried, seeing himself there on the floor, because he understood that to be dead is like being alive, only lonely, very lonely.

He left the house saddened.

Where would he go?

He did not have any hopes of a supernatural life. No, no there was no mystery.

He began descending the stairs, step by step, with great sorrow.

He stopped at the landing. He noted that, dead and all, he had persisted in believing that he was moving as if he had legs and arms. He chose, as perspective, the height where earlier he was seeing with his eyes! Pure habit. . He wanted to test the new advantages and began to fly around in the air in curves. The only thing that he could not do was penetrate solid objects, so dense bodies were as impenetrable as always. He collided with those.  It wasn’t as if it hurt him, he just couldn’t cross through them. Doors, windows,hallways, all the openings that man uses for his activity, kept on imposing directions to his flying. He could slip in through the keyhole of a lock, but with difficulty. He, a dead person, was not a sort of penetrating virus which could pass through anything without limits; he could only penetrate perceptible cracks, even if they were only the size of the pupil of an eye?  Nevertheless, he was feeling as when he was alive, invisible yes, but disembodied. He did not want to fly any more, and went down on the ground to return to his normal height. He recalled the memory of his absent body, of the customary positions, of the precise distances to where would be his skin, his hair, his limbs. He remembered this all over his body; and they were inserted where earlier they had resided.

This night, he flew over to his body, alongside his wife.  He also closed in on his friends and listened to their conversations.  He saw it all, right up to the last moment, when the cemetery soil, sounding lugubrious on the coffin, covered it.

He had all his life been a domestic man. From his office to his house, from his house to his office and had no-one else, outside of his wife and his daughters. He did not like to mingle with the teaming crowds. He preferred to imagine sitting in the old armchair, enjoying the peace around him.

Soon he resigned himself to not being able to communicate his presence to them. It was enough for him that his wife was lifting her eyes and looking at his portrait high upon the wall.

Sometimes he regretted not meeting other dead persons on his excursions, to exchange impressions with, but he didn’t get bored. He accompanied his wife everywhere and went to the movies with the children.

During the winter, his wife fell ill, and he wanted her to die.
He was hoping that upon her death, her spirit would join him for company.  She died, but her spirit was invisible to him, the same for the orphans.

He was alone again, more alone, since he could no longer see his wife.  He consoled himself with the fact that her spiritl was on his side, perhaps contemplating their children. His wife would know that he was here.  Yes, of course…how could he doubt it?  It was quite natural.

Until one day he had, for the first time since he had died, that sensation of the great beyond, of mystery, that he had sensed so many times when alive; as If the house was populated by shadows of distant relatives, forgotten friends, and of snoopers, who entertain their eternity spying on the orphan girls?

He trembled with disgust, as if it had put his hand in a hole full of worms. Spirits, spirits, hundreds of strange spirits mingling, blind amongst themselves, but with their malicious eyes open in the air that his daughters were breathing!

He could never get over that suspicion, although with time it stopped worrying him: What was he going to do!? His sister in law had taken theorphans.  He felt at home again. The years went by and he saw his three children die, one after the other. The burning sensation inside him, which, in extensive families, keeps spreading like a wildfire the country, extinguished forever.

But he knew that even in the invisibility of death, his family kept on triumphing, that they all liked to be visible together, inhabiting the same house, clinging to his sister-in-law as shipwrecked people on the last life raft.

His sister-in law also died.

He approached the coffin, where they were watching her, looked at herface, which was still shown as a mirror to the mystery, and he sobbed, alone, alone, how alone. Now there was nobody alive that would attract everyone with the force love. Now there would be no possibility of meeting somewhere in the universe.   Now there would be no hope.

There, between the burning candles, must be the spirits of his wife and of his  daughters.  He said goodbye to them, well knowing that they couldn’t hear him, he went outside and flew out into the night.

Translated by Kenny Beechmount, April 13, 2011

To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Fantasma translated to English.

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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 .

To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Alecran  by Ricardo Palma, translated to English.

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El Buen Ejemplo

by Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896)

Translated to English from the Spanish original by Kenny Beechmount


Vicente Riva Palacio was born in Mexico City in 1832, studied law and became a lawyer in 1854. He became interested in politics, but joined the army, from which he retired as a general in 1865, two years after the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla in 1862.  He dedicated most of the rest of his life to writing and published several novels about the colonial era in Mexico,
including the influence that the Spanish inquisition had.

He also wrote a number of short stories and anecdotes, and these are perhaps his
greatest contribution to the literature of the time. His marvelous way of
describing life in rural Mexico and bringing life to imaginary events is
particularly well demonstrated by in El Buen Ejemplo (The Good Example)


If I said that I have seen what I’m going to tell you, without a doubt,  someone would say that this was not true; and it would make sense because I didn’t see it, but I believe it, because an old lady told me, referring to persons she trusted, that they had heard it from a person, who had been friends with a credible witness, and on such a basis, one can well give credence to the following story.

In the southern part of the Mexican Republic in the foothills of Sierra Madre, which extends to the waters of the pacific, there is a little village, all of which in general are like this: small, white houses, roofed with red tiles or shining palm leaves, sheltering from the burning rays of the tropical sun, under the cool shade, provided by towering coconut palms, copiously crowned tamarinds, rustling plantains and gigantic cedars.

Small streams of water runs across all the lanes and sometimes hide between beds of flowers and vegetables.

There was a school in the village and it must still be there. At that time, the
principal, Don Lucas Forcida, a character very much-loved by all the
neighbours, never failed to fulfill his heavy obligation during the customary
hours.  “What a calling for martyrdom those village school teachers must have.”

In this school, following traditional customs and general use in those times, the boys studied like a kind of choral society,  in different tones, but always with exasperating monotony, in choir they studied, in choir they counted and the same with the letters and the syllables and with the Christian doctrine or the multiplication tables.

With heroic resignation, don Lucas withstood this daily opera, but there were times when the boys excitedly shouted to see who could do it the loudest and the best and one could see the stupidity of it all moulded in the factions of the likeable and honourable face of Don Lucas.

At five o’clock in the afternoon, the boys left the school, throwing stones, pulling dog’s tails, shouting and whistling, but only once outside the jurisdiction of don Lucas, who watched them leaving, trembling with satisfaction, as a novelist would say.

Then don Lucas took a great rattan armchair out to the street; a servant brought him a cup of chocolate with a large bread pudding, and don Lucas, enjoying the fresh air of the afternoon, receiving on his bald forehead the light, scented breeze, arriving from the forests, as if to comfort the neighbours from the chores of the day, began to consume his modest snack, sharing it affectionately with his parrot.

Because don Lucas had a parrot which was, as they say these days, his weakness, and which always was on a perch at the door in the school, at a respectable height to escape the boys and sheltered from the sun by small pieces of palm leaf. This parrot and don Lucas understood each other perfectly. Occasionally, it mixed its words, more or less well understood, with the sing-songs of the boys, not clashing or increasing the uproar with shrill cries it had learned in its maternal home.

But when the school was deserted and don Lucas went out to drink his chocolate, the two friends freely showed all their affections.  The parrot went up and down the perch, saying what it knew and what it didn’t; rubbing its beak on it with satisfaction, and hung in its feet, head down, to receive the soup and bread with chocolate which don Lucas gave it with paternal affection.

And this happened every afternoon.

Several years went by and don Lucas gained such confidence in his beloved perico, as the boys called it, that he didn’t cut its wings nor took care to put the string on its legs. One morning at about ten o’clock, one of the boys, who by chance was outside the school, shouted “Mr Teacher, Perico is flying away” No sooner had they heard this, when the teacher and pupils charged forward to the door in a
wild rush; and there, in the distance, like a grain of green enamel, struck by the rays of the sun, they saw it, unfortunately increasing its passage , before escaping to the nearby forest.

Pursuit was impossible because not even by having the affiliation of the runaway, could one have picked him out in the multitude of parrots that populate those forests. Don Lucas, speaking from deep within his breast, uttered: “It is God’s will,” returned to his seat and the school lessons continued, as if this terrible event had never taken place.

Several months past and don Lucas, who had forgotten the ingratitude of Perico, had to go on a trip to one of the nearby villages, using some vacation time.

At daybreak, he saddled his horse, took a light breakfast and left the village, cordially greeting the few neighbours he met in the streets.

In that country, nearby villages are those separated by a distance of some twelve to fourteen leagues, and don Lucas had to travel most of the day.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon; the sun poured torrents of heat and the wind not so much as stirred the tufts of the palms, silhouetted against a blue sky, with the indolence of a tree of cicadas, singing tenaciously in the middle of the blue, terrible silence of mid day.

Don Lucas’s horse trotted noisely  with the measured beat of its footsteps hitting like the monotonous sound of a ticking clock.

Suddenly don Lucas thought he heard, in the distance, the singing of the children when they were studying the letters and syllables.

At first, it sounded like a hallucination produced by the heat, like the music and beats that those who suffer from dizzy spells at first may hear; but as he got closer, the sounds became more distinct and perceptible; it was a school in the middle of the deserted forest.

He stopped surprised and fearful, when from the nearby trees a flock of parrots took flight, singing rhythmically ba, be, bi, bo, bu; La, le. li, lo, lu.  Behind them, a parrot flying majestically, passed close to the frightened teacher, turned its head and said cheerfully:

“Don Lucas, I have school now.”

Since this time, the parrots from that region,ahead of their time, have vitnessed the disappearance of the shadows of obscurantism and ignorance.

To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Buen Ejemplo by Vincente Riva Palacio, translated to English.

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