Custodio is a druggist. His knowledge of modern medicine makes him a provider of miraculous cures from the point of view of the ignorant peasants. They attribute his cures to his potions, potions that are made up of young maidens’ hearts which he cuts out. A peasant comes to his shop and offers to cut out the heart of a young maiden, her niece, whom she treats with cruelty, for the price of two gold coins.
Throughout the story a canon scoffs at the ignorance of the peasants who want to believe in the druggist’s black magic. He says there is no sense in trying to tell the peasants the truth about what the druggist does. He suggests that the woman peasant who offered the maiden’s heart could have been put off if he had told her that only he, the druggist, could cut out the heart, not the peasant who offered to. Of course, the druggist scoffs at that type of thinking. But too late now.
Sure enough, the druggist finds the mangled body of a young maiden on the path in the woods. The woman peasant who cut out the maiden’s heart is hanged. Her husband is sentenced to the penitentiary. And the peasants believe the druggist is the true murderer.
The title, of course, is ironic.
Fifty Great European Short Stories.” Ed. Edward and Elizabeth Huberman. New York: Bantam Books. 1971.