From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. VIII, Stories of Today, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 398-401.398
ONCE upon a time —that is, when I was a boy — I often heard the old wives exclaim when praising the beauty and value of a jewel, “This is worth as much as the scorpion of Friar Gomez.”
I have a little daughter, the sweetest girl in the world, the very flower of grace and beauty. In my father’s chatter I call her by the pet-name, “little scorpion of Friar Gomez.” What I am going to do here is to explain at once the old wives’ saying and the pet-name I have given my dear little Angelica.
Friar Gomez was a lay-brother. He had charge of the refectory of the infirmary attached to the Franciscan church in Lima. He performed miracles by the score, making as little fuss about them as though they were quite unimportant things.
For example, it chanced one day that as the friar was crossing a bridge, a runaway horse threw its rider. The poor fellow lay as though dead, his head bruised and blood pouring from his mouth and nose.399
“He’s dead! he’s dead!” the bystanders cried. “Run to San Lorenzo for the holy oil!” Everywhere nothing but uproar and confusion.
But Friar Gomez walked composedly up to the prostrate form, touched the man’s mouth with the girdle of his habit, blessed him thrice, and, lo! without doctor or drugs the supposed corpse got up as fresh and lively as though nothing had happened.
“A miracle! a miracle!” shouted the crowd, and they tried to carry off the friar in triumph. But he, to escape the threatened ovation, ran away as fast as he could to the monastery and shut himself up in his cell.
When he finally emerged and wended his way to the infirmary, he found San Francisco Solano stretched out on a cot, suffering agonies from a sick-headache. The friar felt his pulse and then said to him:
“You are very weak, father; it will do you good to take a mouthful of food.”
“But, brother,” answered the saint, “I have no appetite.”
“Only make an effort, father; take just a little bite.”
And Friar Gomez insisted so strenuously that the sick man, to get rid of his troublesome pertinacity, determined to ask for something that even the viceroy could not have obtained, for the delicacy in question was quite out of season.
“Very good, then, brother,” he said. “There is only one dish, though, that I would relish, and that is a few trout.”*
Friar Gomez quietly thrust his right hand into the left sleeve of his habit and straightway drew out some trout, so fresh that one would have said they had just been taken from the water.
“Here you have them,” he exclaimed. “May they do you good.”
And, truth to tell, San Francisco was cured by them as by a charm.400
One morning, as Friar Gomez was sitting in his cell, plunged in deep meditation, he heard a discreet tapping at the door, and a plaintive voice exclaimed:
“Deo gratias — the Lord be praised.”
“Forever and ever, amen. Enter, brother,” replied the friar.
Whereupon there came into the cell a tattered individual, whose face, however, bore the stamp of the proverbial honesty of the Castilian of the olden time. The entire furniture of the cell consisted of four leather-covered chairs, a grimy table, and a cot without feather-bed, sheets, or covering of any sort, and with a stone for a bolster or pillow.
“Be seated, brother,” said Friar Gomez, “and tell me without hesitation what brings you.”
“Well, father, I can truly say that I am an honest man, and ——”
“We are quite ready to believe that, and you must continue to be so, for you will thus have a quiet conscience in this world and happiness in the world to come.”
“I am a peddler, with a large family to support, and I can’t make my trade prosper for want of capital, not because of idleness or lack of industry on my part.”
“That I am very glad to hear,” rejoined the friar, “for God is sure to help anyone who works honestly.”
“But it seems, father, that God has turned a deaf ear to me, and is very slow in coming to my help.”
“Don’t despair, brother; don’t despair.”
“But I have gone from door to door asking for a credit of five hundred pesos, and every door has been shut against me. So, last night, in turning the matter over in my mind, I said to myself: ‘Come, Juan, pluck up your courage. Go and ask Friar Gomez for the money. If he wishes, beggarly poor as he is, he will find a way to help you out of all your troubles!’ And so, here I am, and I beg and pray, father, that you will lend me the little sum for six months.”
“What could make you think, my son,” queried the friar, “that you could fins such a sum in this poor cell?”401
“That I can’t tell you, father; but I know that you will not send me away disappointed.”
“Your faith has saved you, brother,” rejoined the friar, “Just wait a moment.”
And, casting his eyes over the bare, whitewashed walls of his cell, he espied a scorpion slowly crawling along the window-frame. Tearing a leaf from an old book, he carefully picked off the insect, wrapped it up in the paper, and, turning to the old Castilian, said:
“Take this, my good man, and pawn it. But be sure to bring it back to me within six months.”
The peddler blurted out his thanks, took his leave of the friar, and ran as fast as he could to the booth of a money-lender.
The jewel was a splendid one, worthy to have sparkled on the breast of Moorish queen, to say the least. It was a brooch figuring a scorpion, the body formed of a magnificent emerald, and the head of a diamond, with rubies for the eyes.
The money-lender, who was a connoisseur, gazed with greedy eyes on the gorgeous jewel, and offered to advance two thousand pesos. Our old Castilian, however, persisted in only accepting a loan of five hundred pesos for six months, with usurious interest, of course.
They came to terms and the necessary papers were duly signed, the money-lender cherishing the hope that the owner of the pledge would come back for more money, and that by compounding the interest, he would eventually gain possession of a jewel as remarkable for its artistic merit as for its intrinsic value.
But the peddler made such good use of his little capital that he was able to redeem the pledge before the six months were over. Wrapping it up in the same paper in which he had brought it, he returned it to Friar Gomez.
The friar took out the scorpion from the paper, set it on the window-sill, recited a blessing over it, and said:
“Little creature of God, go your way!”
And the scorpion began to crawl away over the walls of the cell.
* The Spanish is pejereyes, a small fish like the trout..