A Story of the Fourteenth
Century, on Justice and Equity
Visconde de Figanière
Part of the story, as published by the “Daily Alta California”
A 2016 Editorial Note:
The Visconde (Viscount) de Figanière, a Portuguese author, diplomat and historian, was a personal friend and student of Helena P. Blavatsky. Born in New York in 1827, he lived and worked in Brazil, Russia, Spain, England, and France.
Figanière is quoted in the work “The Secret Doctrine”, by Ms. Blavatsky, and has his articles published in the two magazines founded by her. His great 1889 book “Estudos Esotéricos” (“Esoteric Studies”) remains the main classical work of theosophical literature in Portuguese language.
Short stories are not uncommon in theosophical literature. Helena Blavatsky wrote a number of them, some of which involve murder. An assassination also occurs in “The Shoemaker of Seville”. However, the story by Figanière has less blood in its paragraphs than many a scene in Shakespeare’s plays.
This is a story about justice. It describes human despair in social injustice. It offers the reader a moral portrait of Christianity in the late Middle Ages, including its clergy. While it is an illusion to think that violence can bring about justice, sometimes justice is made in ironical ways, and equity and compassion can often emerge as surprises.
“The Shoemaker of Seville” was published several years before Figanière went to Madrid in April 1867 to work for one year as a diplomatic representative of Portugal in Spain.
The story is historical: Pedro of Castile was born 30 August 1334 and died on 23 March 1369. He was the king of Castile and León from 1350 to 1369.
“The Shoemaker of Seville” is reproduced from the “Daily Alta California”, San Francisco, USA, Volume 13, Number 4,132, dated 9 June 1861.
The investigation made by Joana Maria Pinho reveals it was first published in “New York Ledger”, USA, number 8, April 27, 1861. In both occasions the story appeared with no name of author, but there is no doubt about who wrote it. The authorship is indicated in various places, including Figanière’s biography on p. 198 of the book “Portugal e os Estrangeiros”, second part, by Manuel Bernardes Branco, vol. II, Imprensa Nacional, Lisbon, Portugal, 1893, 703 pages.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
The Shoemaker of Seville
Visconde de Figanière
In a wretched hovel in the city of Seville, were seated a woman, whose wrinkles seemed rather the legacy of misfortune than of years, and a youth, but just emerging from boyhood, both busy at work upon a pair of shoes. The scanty furniture and ruined state of the habitation, devoid of aught in the shape of ornament, except a cross carved in black wood, and none the better for age, were tangible proofs of the utterly destitute state of the inmates.
“Gil”, said the woman.
“What is it, mother?” replied the youth.
The former wiped her eyes, suffused with tears, and proceeded in a melancholy tone:
“ ’Tis a sad anniversary this! Today three years ago our home was not so poor, nor our bread to sour; I was not a widow, nor wert thou an orphan! Alas! Today Antonio Peres sleeps in the cemetery of the poor, beside the despised Moor and Jew; we were even deprived of the luxury of giving him a decent burial.”
“And thus”, said the orphan, in a voice of stifled rage, “and thus are my father’s ashes dishonored, and we are living in want, whilst—–”
“Whilst his murderer liveth in the fullness of plenty and prosperity”, added the mother, breaking in upon her son’s speech. “He is a canon of the Cathedral, and the pious people of Seville flock to hear his sermons; he enjoys the King’s favor, and the nobles kneel to him – all pay their respects to the assassin, because he took away the life neither of a noble, nor a priest – he killed a poor artisan, a nobody – thy father!”
Gill sprang up, and seizing an old rusty dagger which lay near him, he went and sat by his mother, saying:
“Mother do let me hear all the particulars of that tragic event.”
“And what good will it do?” said the mother. “Grief is no consolation; tears cannot satisfy vengeance.”
“True: but ’tis well to let wounds bleed, and hate fret itself!” replied the youth, with a grim smile.
The mother perceived her son’s meaning, and seizing one of his hands, gave it a tender pressure.
“Three years ago”, said she, “abundance reigned in the home of Peres, the shoemaker. We were not rich; but cravings of want and the heart-burnings of poverty were unknown to us. Thy father, skilled in his craft, worked night and day, in order to increase his earnings; and we enjoyed that simple, unaspiring state of happiness, which is neither the fruit of idleness, nor of baseness. Meanwhile, Don Pedro came to the throne, ushered in by crimes of the deepest dye. In Seville, there were two enraged factions tearing each other to pieces in the streets and public squares; but obscurity was our shield, and we were left unmolested. There was not a family more united, or more happy than that of the shoemaker, Antonio Peres.”
The widow’s countenance had become animated, as she dwelt upon the pleasing recollections; but now it relapsed into its wonted expression of melancholy, and, resting her head upon the shoulder of her attentive son, she continued:
“That period of happiness proved of short duration. The canon Don Henriquez accompanied the King, Don Pedro, to Seville; he was cemented by blood with the Albuquerques; he was a favorite of the King’s; he was the assassin of Jaques de Calatrava, and born of an illustrious family; he could therefore act with impunity. Don Henriquez led a dissipated life; but this passed unnoticed, because he had sufficient power to keep gossip within bounds, and wealth wherewith to purchase the good graces of justice; he had, however, the misfortune to be lame, and this afflicted him beyond measure. He heard of thy father as being very skillful in his trade, and, thinking that Antonio might succeed in concealing his deformity, he sent for him. Thy father did his best to please the canon; but all in vain. He would not be pleased, and such was his rage on one occasion, that he flung the shoes at thy father’s face, saying that for his want of aptitude he deserved to be sent to the gallows. Although Peres was but a shoemaker, yet possessing as much self-respect as those of a higher station, he ventured to say in reply, that nature had given a bad shape to his reverence’s foot. Stung to the quick, and giving a loose rein to his fury, Don Henriquez seized a staff which stood by, and struck thy father such a violent blow on the head, that he fell never to rise more. The consequences of this murder did not, however, cause him much disquietude, as he relied upon his influence and opulence for safety.”
The son of Peres gnashed hit teeth and the muscles of his face moved convulsively. Sobs and tears choked the utterance of his mother; but after a slight pause she proceeded with her narrative:
“How can I express the emotions that oppressed my bosom when thy father’s corpse was brought home? I had no sooner learnt the name of his murderer, than, frantic with despair, I laid hold of a dagger – this very one”, and she laid her hand on the weapon covered with rust, which her son was sharpening, as he listened to the story. “My design was to revenge the death of my husband; but I remembered that I was a mother, and thought there was a court, where justice would be done, and an executioner to carry its sentence into effect. I presented myself to the Chapter, threw myself on my knees, and with tears in my eyes laid my pitiable case before the canons: and the Lord knows what humble entreaties I addressed to the judges, with what vehemence I endeavored to move them to pity. The judges listened attentively, promised me the most ample satisfaction, and a week later Don Henriquez was condemned——”
“To be quartered alive?” asked the youth, interrupting.
“No: to be deprived from assisting in the choir with the other members of the Chapter during a whole year”, continued the widow.
It was Corpus Christi day; the people of Seville were collected in dense crowds in the vicinity of the cathedral, in order to view the procession. The churches were adorned with all the grandeur of Catholic pomp; the streets were strewed with flowers; in a word, the city which was so often deluged in blood by the broils of the nobles and the savage despotism of the king, had assumed an unusual appearance of gaiety and festivity. In the midst of the general stir and bustle, there was one, seated on the steps of the alcazar, who seemed to take no interest in the tumultuous joy of the crowd. He was still young, but his austere and wrinkled face showed the ravages brought on by harrowing thoughts and premature sorrow. On beholding the disheveled state of his hair, the melancholy glance of his eye, the convulsive vivacity of his gestures, the anomalous combination of feebleness and energy, of wildness and despondency, which discomposed his features, it was easy to guess that his heart was lacerated by the vehemence of his passions, and that the bloom of youth had been withered by misfortunes of no ordinary nature. He remained for several hours buried in thought, his head leaning against one of the columns of the alcazar.
The glimmer of twilight had gradually increased, and the minarets and steeples, which stood in various directions near the alcazar, were now shrouded in darkness. The young man woke from his lethargy, arose, and, casting around him a searching look, murmured to himself:
“Am I again to be doomed to disappointment?”
He had hardly pronounced the words, when he perceived a priest advancing at a slow pace in the direction of the cathedral. The young man rushed upon him, like a tiger upon its prey, and while seizing him by the hand and shaking him, cried out:
“Dost thou know me, Don Henriquez?”
“No”, answered the priest, starting back, and endeavoring to free himself from the grasp of his assailant.
“I am a poor orphan, a workman, one of the people, who can be beaten, trodden upon, insulted, and killed with impunity. I am the son of Antonio Peres!”
At that name the canon turned pale and trembled.
“Dost thou not know me?” continued Gil. “Overloaded with crimes and wealth, thou hast forsooth been neglectful of thy memory! Condemned to put off the cassock for a year, in expiation of the blood shed by thy hands, thou hast not given evidence of the slightest remorse; nay, thou didst seek consolation for this ridiculous sentence in bacchanalian revels. But if God hath delayed chastisement – if the judges, bribed by thy gold, allowed my father’s murderer to go unpunished – Providence hath an avenger in store. Didst thou not remember, Don Henriquez, that thy victim had a son – that this son might grow up to manhood – and that hatred would increase with his years? Didst thou forget that the unhappy man left vengeance as my sole inheritance, or didst thou think that the son of the shoemaker would refuse the legacy?”
“Villain!” exclaimed Don Henriquez, in a faltering tone.
“Assassin!” was the retort. “Long, long have I been wishing to have thee alone in my presence, that I might tell thee thou wert the murderer of my father, that thou wert the cause that my mother died worn down by grief and affliction; thou hast poisoned my existence, and blasted in me the freshness of youth! For three years this has been my nourishment. ’Tis hate that has sustained me in my resolution, while subject to abject poverty; ’tis hate that has kept me from despair! More than twenty times has this dagger been aimed at thy heart; but as often has chance protected thee, and delayed my vengeance. But now neither soldiers nor precautions can save thee! thy calls will not be heard! darkness will conceal thy blood from view, nor could a more appropriate moment be selected for the expiation of thy crime; on this day, six years back, did my father die at thy vile hands!”
The priest had hoped that his clerical office would be a safeguard against violence; but when he heard the youth’s virulent expressions, when he saw the glistening of his eyes and his colorless lips – unmistakable symptoms of merciless wrath – he became aware that hope lay not that way, and that he now must have recourse to humility and entreaty, in order to save his life.
“Involuntary homicide is no crime”, said he. “It is true, I killed thy father; but God knows that I sought not his death. There is no error but that it may be atoned for, no crime which remorse may not purge us of. Young man, say what thou wouldst have – what can I do for thee? Speak! To whatever height thy ambition may aspire, I can satisfy it. I will redeem thee from thy present state of penury; thou shalt rise to prosperity. I will make thee powerful, respected—–”
“But will thy gifts restore my poor father to life?”
“If they cannot bring him back, they will at least enable thee to raise a monument to his memory, and to have masses said for the repose of his soul.”
“And dost thou dare to hope that such offers as these will move me to pardon my father’s murderer?”
“Our lord forgave those who put him to death. Forget the crime, and accept the repentance: if prayers have touched thy heart with pity, tears ——”
“Never!” exclaimed Gil; “tears shall not wipe out thy crime! My father’s blood shall be no object of barter! Thy money succeeded in corrupting justice; Heaven has spared thee a while; but I will prove less venal than thy judges, for I am the instrument of Divine justice!”
As he said these last words, he sheathed his poniard in his victim’s breast; then, whilst he wiped the blood from the weapon with the folds of his cloak, he gazed unmoved upon the lifeless body.
“Thou hast paid the debt”, said he; “I am satisfied!”
No name in the annals of Spain can be compared with that of Don Pedro of Castile in the enormity of his crimes. The poisoning of his wife, Donna Branca, and of his brother Frederic; the murder of Albuquerque, of the Jew Levi, of Mohammed, King of Granada, and of many others; the butcheries of Toledo, the taxes under which he made the people groan, the confiscations he devised, the torments  he invented, and the licentiousness of his conduct have all helped to give to the name of this prince a fearful celebrity.
Yet, notwithstanding the monstrous crimes with which he tainted the throne, Don Pedro of Castile evinced, on a great many occasions, a certain regard for justice; and, although it never proved a barrier to his own passions, he seldom allowed others to follow his example. The Spaniards call him indifferently Pedro the Cruel, or Pedro the Just.
Immediately after he had killed Don Henriquez, Gil gave himself to the authorities of his own accord, confessing the deed he had committed; and, being brought to trial, was condemned. The case, however came to the ears of the king, then at Seville, who gave orders that the matter should be left in his hands, and the culprit brought before him.
“Thou art accused of having assassinated the canon Don Henriquez”, said the king to the prisoner.
“And I most assuredly did kill him”, he replied.
“For what cause?”
“To avenge Antonio Peres, who was murdered by the canon.”
“And why didst thou not apply to the judicial authorities?”
“Because at Seville the scales of justice are not equally balanced. Unable to obtain a judgment against my father’s murderer, I took upon myself the duty of both judge and executioner.”
“But wert thou not aware of the penalty of the deed?”
“Most assuredly I was; the disparity between my position and that of Henriquez was alone sufficient to dispel all doubts as to the consequences.”
The king turned round to the Corregidor, and said to him:
“What sentence was passed upon the assassin of the shoemaker, Peres?”
“He was deprived of the privilege of sitting in the choir during a whole year.”
“And to what has the murderer of the canon Don Henriquez been condemned?”
“To be quartered alive.”
“Por Dios y la Virgin Santa!” exclaimed Don Pedro; “justice should eschew all distinctions of rank, nor admit any claim for privileges. We annul the sentence passed by the court, and are pleased to condemn the son of the shoemaker to the penalty of not making shoes during a whole year.”
 The Alcazar of Seville is a royal palace in Seville, Spain, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. The palace is renowned as one of the most beautiful in the country. (CCA)
 Forms of physical torture used to torment prisoners. (CCA)