The Tale of A Scorpion by Henry Seton Merriman
Spain is a country where custom reigns supreme. The wonder of to-day is by
to-morrow a matter of indifference.
The man who came a second time to the Cafe Carmona in the Calle Velasquez
in Seville must have known this; else the politely surprised looks, the
furtive glances, the whisperings that met his first visit would have sent
him to some other house of mild entertainment. The truth was that the Cafe
Carmona was, and is still, select; with that somewhat narrow
distinctiveness which is observed by such as have no friendly feelings
towards the authorities that be.
It is a small Cafe, and foreigners had better not look for it. Yet this
man was a foreigner—in fact an Englishman. He was one of those
quiet, unobtrusive men, who are taller than they look, and more important
than they care to be considered. He could, for instance, pass down the
crowded Sierpe of an evening, without so much as attracting a glance; for,
by a few alterations in dress, he converted his outward appearance into
that of a Spaniard. He was naturally dark, and for reasons of his own he
spared the razor. His face was brown, his features good, and a hat with a
flat brim is easily bought. Thus this man passed out of his hotel door in
the evening the facsimile of a dozen others walking in the same street.
Moreover, he had no great reason for doing this. He preferred, he said, to
pass unnoticed. But at the Foreign Office it was known that no man knew
Spain as Cartoner knew it. Some men are so. They take their work
seriously. Cartoner had looked on the map of Europe some years before for
a country little known of the multitude, and of which the knowledge might
prove to be of value. His eye lighted on Spain; and he spent his next
leave there, and the next, and so on.
Consequently there was no one at the Foreign Office who could hold a
candle to Cartoner in matters Spanish. That is already something—to
have that said of one. He is a wise man nowadays who knows something
(however small it be) better than his neighbour. Like all his kind, this
wise man kept his knowledge fresh. He was still learning—he was
studying at the Cafe Carmona in the little street in Seville, called
When he pushed the inner glass door open and lounged into the smoke-filled
room, the waiter, cigarette in mouth, nodded in a friendly way without
betraying surprise. One or two old habitues glanced at him, and returned
to the perusal of La Libertad or El Imparcial without being greatly
interested. The stranger had come the night before. He liked the place—the
coffee suited his taste—"y bien," let him come again.
The waiter came forward without removing the cigarette from his lips;
which was already a step. It placed this new-comer on a level with the
older frequenters of the Carmona.
"Cafe?" he inquired.
"Cafe!" replied the stranger, who spoke little.
He had selected a little table standing rather isolated at one end of the
room, and he sat with his back to the wall. The whole Cafe Carmona lay
before him, and through the smoke of his cigarette he looked with quiet,
unobtrusive eyes, studying... studying.
Presently an old man entered. This little table was his by right of
precedence. He had been sitting at it the night before when the Englishman
had elected to sit beside him; bowing as he did so in the Spanish manner,
and clapping his hands in the way of Spain, to call the waiter when he was
It was this evening the turn of the old man to bow, and the Englishman
returned his salutation. They sat some time in silence, but when Cartoner
passed the sugar the innate politeness of the Spaniard perceived the call
"His Excellency is not of Seville?" he said, with a pleasant smile on his
wrinkled, clean-shaven face.
"No; I am an Englishman."
The keen old face hardened suddenly, until the features were like the
wrinkles of a walnut; and the Spaniard drew himself up with all the
dignity of his race.
The quiet eyes of Cartoner of the Foreign Office never left his face.
Cartoner was surprised; for he knew Spain—he was aware that the
Peninsular War had not been forgotten. He had never, in whatsoever place
or situation, found it expedient to conceal his nationality.
The old Spaniard slowly unfolded his cloak, betraying the shabbiness of
its crimson plush lining. He lighted a cigarette, and then the national
sense of politeness prevailed against personal feeling.
"His Excellency knows Gibraltar?"
"I have been there."
"Pardon me," said the old man, with a grave bow. "I thought—the
Spanish of His Excellency misled me."
The Englishman laughed quietly. "You took me for a scorpion," he said. "I
am not that. I learnt your language here and in the mountains of
"Then, I beg the pardon of His Excellency."
Cartoner made a Spanish gesture with his hand and shoulders, indicating
that no such pardon was called for.
"Like you," he said, "I do not love the Scorpion."
The Spaniard's eyes lighted up with a gleam which was hardly pleasant to
"I HATE them," he hissed, bringing his face close to the quiet eyes; and
the Spanish word means more than ours.
Then he threw himself back in his chair with an upward jerk of the head.
"I have good reason to do so," he added. "I sometimes wonder why I ever
speak to an Englishman; for they resemble you in some things, these
Scorpions. This one had a fair moustache, blue eyes, clean-cut features,
like some of those from the North. But he was not large, this one—the
Rock does not breed a large race. They are mean little men, with small
white hands and women's feet. Ah, God! how I hate them all!"
The Englishman took a fresh cigarette from a Russia leather case, and
pushed the remainder across the table for his companion to help himself
when he had finished mashing the crooked paper between his lips.
"I know your language," the Spaniard went on, "as well almost as you know
mine. But I do not speak it now. It burns my throat—it hurts."
Cartoner lighted his cigarette. He betrayed not the smallest feeling of
curiosity. It was marvellous how he had acquired the manner of these
self-contained Sons of the Peninsula.
"I will tell it."
The Englishman leant his elbow on the table, and his chin within his hand,
gazing indifferently out over the marble tables of the Cafe Carmona. The
men seated there interchanged glances. They knew from the fierce old face,
from the free and dramatic gestures, that old Pedro Roldos was already
telling his story to the stranger.
"Santa Maria!" the old man was saying. "It is not a pleasant story. I
lived at Algeciras—I and my little girl, Lorenza. Too near the Rock—too
near the Rock. You know what we are there. I had a business—the
contraband, of course—and sometimes I was absent for days together.
But Lorenza was a favourite with the neighbours—good women who had
known my wife when she was the beauty of St. Roque—just such a girl
as Lorenza. And I trusted Lorenza; for we are all so. We trust and trust,
and yet we know that love and money will kill honesty and truth at any
moment. These two are sacred—more sacred than honesty or truth.
Diavolo! What a fool I was. I ought to have known that Lorenza was too
pretty to be left alone—ignorant as she was of the ways of the
"Then the neighbours began to throw out hints. They spoke of the English
Caballero, who was so fond of riding round the Bay, and they hinted that
it was not to see our old town of Algeciras that he came.
"One night I came home after a successful journey. I had been as far as
Buceita with a train of five mules—a clear run. When I opened the
door Lorenza was gone. Mother of God! gone—gone without a word! I
went and fetched Nino—Nino, whose father had been my partner until
he was shot by the Guardia Civile one night in the mountain behind Gaucin.
There was no one like Nino for mule work in the mountains or for the
handling of a boat when the west wind blew across the Bay. Nino, whom I
wanted for a son-in-law, having no Nino of my own. I told him. He said
nothing, but followed me to the quay and we got the boat out. In half an
hour I was at the office of the Chief of the Police at Gibraltar. We sat
there all night, Nino and I. By ten o'clock the next morning we knew that
it was not one of the English officers—nor any civilian living on
the Rock. 'It may,' said the Chief of Police, who seemed to know every one
in his little district, 'be a passing stranger or—or a Scorpion. We
do not know so much about them. We cannot penetrate to their houses.' I
gave him a description of Lorenza; he undertook to communicate with
England and with the Spanish police. And Nino and I went back to our work.
It is thus with us poor people. Our hearts break—all that is worth
having goes from our lives, and the end of it is the same; we go back to
The old man paused. His cigarette had gone out long ago. He relighted it
and smoked fiercely in silence for some moments. Cartoner made a sign to
the waiter, who, with the intelligence of his race, brought a decanter of
the wine which he knew the Spaniard preferred.
During all the above relation Cartoner had never uttered a syllable. At
the more violent points he had given a sympathetic little nod of the head—nothing
"It was from that moment that I began to learn the difference between
Englishmen and Scorpions," Pedro Roldos went on. "Up to then I had not
known that it made a difference being born on the Rock or in England. I
did not know what a Scorpion was—with all the vices of England and
Spain in one undersized body. I haunted the Rock. I learnt English. All to
no avail. Lorenza was gone. Nino never said anything—he merely
stayed by my side—but I think that something—some fibre had
broken within him while he held the sheet that first night, sailing across
the Bay in a gale of wind.
"Thus—for a year. Then came a letter from Cadiz. Lorenza was there,
alone with her child. Her husband had deserted her in England, and she had
got back to Cadiz. We went to her, Nino and I, in our boat. We brought her
back; but she was no longer Lorenza. Our grief, our love were nothing to
her. She was like a woman hewn out of marble. Maria! how I hated that man!
You cannot understand—you Englishmen. Though there is something in
your eyes, senor, which makes me think that you too could have felt as I
"From Lorenza I learnt his name, and without telling her, I went across to
Gibraltar. I inquired and found that he was there—there in
Gibraltar. Almost within my grasp—think of that! At once I was
cunning. For we are a simple people, except when we love or hate!"
"Yes," said Cartoner, speaking for the first time. "I know."
"In an hour I knew where he lived. His father was an English groom who had
set up large breeding stables in Gibraltar, and was a rich man. The son
had the pretension of being a gentleman. He had been in England they told
me for a year, buying stud-horses—and—and something else. He
was married. Ah-ha! He had been married three years before he ever saw
Lorenza, and the ceremony which had been observed in the English Church at
Seville was a farce. My heart was hot within me; hot with the hatred for
this man, and I sat in the Cafe Universal, which you know! Yes, you know
everything. I sat there thinking of how I should kill him—slowly,
taking my own time—talking to him all the while.
"What I had learnt was no more than I expected. The woman (his wife), it
appeared, was the daughter of a merchant at Gibraltar. They were a whole
nest of Scorpions. I went back to Algeciras, and said nothing then to
Lorenza. The next night I heard by chance that he and his wife and
children had taken passage in a steamer that sailed for England in two
days. Madre de Dio! he nearly slipped through our fingers. It was not a P.
and O. ship: the passengers had to take a boat from the Old Mole, which is
always crowded with Algeciras boats and others. Nino and I sailed across
there and waited among the small craft. We saw the woman (his wife) and
the children go on board in the afternoon. In the evening he came. I had
arranged it with the licensed boatmen; a few pesetas did that. Our boat
was nearest the steps. In the dim light of the quay lamp he noticed
nothing, but stepped over the gunwale and mentioned the name of his
steamer in a quick way, which he thought was that of the English.
"Nino took the oars, and when we were round the pier head we hoisted the
sail. Then I spoke.
"'I am the father of Lorenza Roldos,' I said, 'and that man is Nino, her
cortejo. We are going to kill you.'
"He started up, and was about to raise a cry, when Nino whipped out his
country knife. We carry them, you know."
"Yes," said Cartoner, speaking for the second time, "I know."
He was watching the old man now beneath the shadow of his hand.
"'If you raise your voice,' I said, 'Nino will put his knife through your
"I saw him glance sideways at the water.
"'You would have no chance that way,' I said; 'I would turn the boat on
you, and run you down.'
"He gave a sort of gasp, and I had the happiness of hearing his teeth
"'I have money,' he said, in his thin, weak voice; 'not here, on board.'
"We said nothing, but I hauled in the sheet a little, and ran for the
"'We are going to kill you,' I said quietly, without hurry.
"We landed just beyond the lighthouse, where there are no sentinels, and
we made him walk up the Europa Road past the Governor's house. Nino's
knife was within two inches of his throat all the while. I think he knew
that his end was near. You know the Third Europa Advance Battery?"
"Yes," answered Cartoner.
"The cliff recedes there. There is a drop of four hundred metres, and then
"Yes, I know."
"It was there," hissed the old Spaniard, with a terrible gleam in his
eyes. "We sat there on the low walk, and I spoke to him. As we came along,
Nino had said to me in our dialect: 'With a man like this, fear is better
than pain;' and I knew that he was right.
"We did not touch him with our knives. We merely spoke to him. And then we
began quietly making our arrangements. That man died a hundred times in
the ten minutes wherein we ballasted him. We tied heavy stones upon his
body—we filled his pockets with smaller ones. We left his arms free,
but to the palm of each hand we bound a stone as large as my head. The
same to each foot.
"Then I said, 'Lie down! Hands and legs straight out! It is only right
that a Scorpion should die from his own rock, and taking some souvenirs
"I took his arms and Nino his feet. We swung him three times, and let him
fly into the darkness.
"And Lorenza never forgave us. She told me that she loved him still. One
never comes to understand a woman!"