Alchemist's Gift

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And So You Shall Reap

Father Silva entered the sacristy. He shook the rain from his hair and rubbed his face dry with his hail-bruised hands. The sacristy was dark but warm and cozy. He looked through the little peephole into the nave. The small church was completely full. The air was heavy with the animal scent of wet skin, wet clothing, and wet hair. The only sounds came from a few babies who cried. The rain fell in an endless cascade of tears streaming down the stained glass windows.

The hail became smaller, but the rain still raged. The thunder sounded like distant cannon fire as it echoed all about the town, in and around every building and through the close alleyways.

Another bolt of lightning streaked down from the black sky and again struck the bell tower, this time ripping the bell loose and tossing it into the piazza. The bell landed in front the dais, not more than two paces from where Bishop DiMars and Monsignor Petri were crouched. Steam poured off of the searing bronze. The bell quivered for a few long seconds as if under the force of an invisible hand as it slowly rocked back and forth and came to a stop.

“Dear God in heaven!” croaked the bishop.” Let us away to shelter. This rain will never end.”

Even though the monsignor was fairly soaked, he barely raised his head. “It will end.” He hunkered down.

“Gaspare, what is the matter with you? You would sit here and be soaked to the skin just to wait for the rain to stop? Why? Come now.”

“It cannot last much longer. I walk much better than I run.” Petri slumped back down.

“The witch is right. You will be your own undoing.” DiMars braced himself, pulled his collar up, and entered the downpour. He went the forty-odd paces as quickly as he could. The water was ankle-deep, and it seeped into his shoes, making his already cold feet wet and now freezing.

He entered the soldier’s barracks. The cold wind raced in and was met by the swirling heat of two large bronze braziers on low tripods aglow with orange coals. The low ceiling and its hand-hewn beams were soot and smoke-blackened. The plastered walls were a dingy white, and quite plain. Except for a few small windows high on the wall, candles gave off the only light. Storm victims and their kin clustered around some of the cots.

Lorenzo Patriarca, a distinguished middle-aged man, was one of the most influential men in the Republic. He stood with his distraught wife Penelope and two very concerned and tearful servants, all looking down at his fourteen-year-old daughter Gina, who was unconscious. When he heard the door open and felt the cold breeze on the back of his neck, he turned, hoping to see his personal doctor, Jacopo Gallo. When he recognized the bishop, he greeted him with a hateful glare.

“You and your cleansing. Look! Look what you have done!” He pointed at his daughter. DiMars approached the cot and looked down at the girl. Her arms and hands were covered with red welts, and her scalp, forehead, and face with sizable knots and bruises where the hail had pelted her. There was a crescent of dried blood in the lower corner of each nostril. Her half-opened eyes were terribly bloodshot and blank. A crimson trickle ran from her left ear, down her neck, and into an expanding blot on the pillow.

“I told Renaldi I did not want the burning today. Did he not tell you of my wishes?” Patriarca roared. His wife began to make a calming gesture with her hands but withdrew on second thought when her husband puffed out his chest and leaned toward the bishop.

“He may have mentioned it,” said Bishop DiMars softly. He extended his hand to take Gina’s. Lorenzo Patriarca snatched the bishop’s hand away.

“You have done enough to this family today. Do not touch my child.”

A few cots away Anna Piccarello, the miller’s wife let out a tearful cry. “Giani… oh, Giani, no, no…” Her voice trailed off most sorrowfully. She fell to her knees, took her husband’s hand, and held it against her heart. She put her head on his chest and wept. Her son, daughter-in-law, and their three children all knelt next to her, bowed their heads, and prayed.

Giani Piccarello was a heavy-set man. His skin had a blue-gray cast. In the excitement and rush for shelter, his heart failed him. He was just able to make it to the soldier’s quarters, where he collapsed. His wife and son helped him into the barracks and put him on a cot.

Doctor Gallo flung the door open and entered with his boy and the Patriarca’s servant who had been sent to fetch him. Gallo barely looked at Lorenzo and Penelope. He did acknowledge them with a slight nod. With one sweeping motion, the doctor undid his rain-speckled cape and let it drop to the floor. His boy, Marco, picked up the cape, dusted it off, and draped it over a nearby table. The doctor was of short stature and, to appear taller, he stood up very straight and held out his chest. He combed his thinning auburn hair over in an attempt to cover his baldness. His hair had a natural wave that made it lie in a severe peek down the center of his head. Gallo’s face was pale and narrow; his brow was permanently furrowed; his eyes small and dark with a slight bulge; his nose large, sharp, and beak-like; and his thin lips were framed in a well-waxed goatee.

Lorenzo Patriarca approached and was about to say something, but Gallo held up his hand, shook his index finger, and cocked his head a little to the side. He abruptly turned on his heel and looked down at the injured girl.

The boy handed the doctor his bag. The doctor opened it and took out a copper hearing horn and placed the bell at different spots on Gina’s chest. He listened with a very concerned expression. He handed the hearing horn back to Marco. He took the girl’s wrist and felt her pulse, all the while nodding as if in thoughtful agreement with himself. The doctor gently put the girl’s hand back down at her side. Gallo wiggled his index finger at the boy. Marco came forth again with the doctor’s bag and opened it. The doctor took out a small brown bottle of smelling salts. He uncorked the bottle and, with his boy supporting Gina’s lolling head, held the bottle under her nose. She did not flinch. The boy placed her head back onto the pillow and stepped away. The doctor crossed his arms over his chest and silently looked at Gina. Gallo took the girl’s hands in his. He slipped off her shoes and felt her feet. Her feet were as cold as her hands.

The doctor squinted, pursed his lips, and pinched at his chin with his thumb and index finger, and searched his mind. The Patriarcas looked hopeful as Gallo reached an epiphany that opened his eyes wide and arched his eyebrows. The parents leaned in closer and waited for the doctor to say something. Their hopes were dashed as Gallo dismissed his notion with a quick shake of his head, a wave of his hand, and a guttural grunt that could not be mistaken for anything other than “no.”

“Doctor Gallo, tell us,” Lorenzo asked impatiently.

The doctor answered by holding up his hand for silence. He then knelt, gently cradled the girl’s head in his left hand, and gave her a sharp slap on the cheek with his right hand. The girl did not stir. Gallo laid Gina’s head back on the pillow and grimaced as he spoke. “I have done all that I can. It is now in God’s hands. Take her home and keep her warm. I will stop by tomorrow in the morning to bleed the ill humors away.”

The Patriarcas were silent. Gallo’s boy picked up his master’s cape off the side table and handed it to the doctor. The doctor whirled the cape over his shoulders, ruffled it into place, and took a step toward Lorenzo and his wife. He cleared his throat, bowed, and held out his hand with his palm up.

Distracted, visibly distraught, and now irritated, Lorenzo took his purse off his belt, opened it, and fished out a gold coin. He handed the coin to the doctor, who looked at it for a second. Gallo, still with head bowed, kept his hand open. “Tomorrow, then. Do send word if anything changes. Right now prayers are the best remedy.”

Before Doctor Gallo could leave, Anna Piccarello came to his side. “Please, doctor, please help my husband!”

“What? Your husband? Who are you? You want me to look at your husband?” Gallo seemed perplexed, almost confused.

“Please?” asked the tearful woman.

“I really have no time.” Then, he added in a quiet but condescending tone, “But only out of charity.” Jacopo Gallo followed Anna Piccarello. He avoided looking at the anxious people who were trying to get his attention. He stopped by the cot and looked down over the heads of the kneeling family members, who were deep in prayer. He extended both arms a little ways from his chest, elbow bent and palms up. He crooked his head forward, and frowned. “It does not take a doctor to see the obvious. He is dead.”

On turning his back on the grieving widow, the doctor was stopped by the other three families whose loved ones were injured. He reluctantly looked in on each one. A five-year-old little girl named Angela Garabaldi, daughter of Fabio Garabaldi the chandler, fell and was trampled in the rush to get out of the hail. She was covered with dark red bruises. She was awake, but in shock. Gallo told the parents to keep her warm, give her bed rest for a week, and feed her clear soup, spinach, and toasted bread with honey.

Gallo’s next patient was a heavy-set woman with a permanent squint. She was Teresa Orlandini, the seamstress. He took her pulse. It was racing. She was anxious. Though bundled with blankets, she kept shivering and had difficulty breathing. She complained of pain in her chest. The doctor told her not to worry so much and to trust more in God. He prescribed as much brandy as she could hold, an infusion made from the chamomile flower and honey in boiling water, bed rest, and warm compresses on her forehead.

The last was a young man of nineteen. He was the goldsmith’s apprentice, close to becoming a journeyman. His name was Giancarlo Terranova. He was a victim of neither the panic nor the hail. The youth lie on the cot and nervously looked past the doctor toward the door. Giancarlo’s concerned mother watched as Jacopo lifted her son’s bloody shirt and found three stab wounds, two in the young man’s chest and one in his belly. The wounds hardly penetrated the muscle and were certainly not threatening. The doctor had his boy apply a dark brown salve to the wounds. Gallo told the young man he should recover in a week or two and to pick the scabs off when they formed. Gallo also told him to be true to his master, to be sure to go to confession, and to stay away from dangerous people.

Giancarlo’s mother took her son’s hand. “You do what the doctor says. He is a wise man. Now what did he tell you?”

Giancarlo reluctantly did as his mama asked. “I must be true to my master, I must confess, and I must stay away from dangerous people.

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