Pulling God’s Teeth: Book One of The Last Italian, A Saga in Three Parts by Anthony Delstretto

October 17, 2019
pulling gods teeth cover

PULLING GOD’S TEETH is the first volume of The Last Italian, A Saga in Three Parts, a gripping tale that begins in 1882, in Italy, and spans more than six decades of social and political tumult. Three generations of the Como and Vacci families face rapacious landowners, deadly epidemics, harrowing warfare, perilous immigration, and fascist brutality during the Kingdom of Italy’s final sixty-three turbulent years. Throughout, as the characters balance their commitments to love, loyalty, and honor against the implacable demands of physical survival, Fate forever stands ready to abruptly intervene.

The other books of the trilogy include:

BOOK TWO: FATE’S RESTLESS FEET (1911-1913)

BOOK THREE: DEATH TO THE WOLF (1942-1945)

PULLING GOD’S TEETH (1882-1886)

Twenty-four-year-old Carlo Como goes out fishing one dawn on the wide river near his northern Italian village of Castrubello. The Pirino has provided a living for the Como family for generations, but this morning Carlo hauls in a very different catch: three large white rocks known as “God’s Teeth.” The valuable stones, coveted by local ceramic-makers, will allow him to marry his love, Tonia Vacci, a worker in the town’s dismal silk mill.

But the fisherman’s good fortune is resented by estate manager Baldassare Gaetano, greedy both for Tonia and the profit from the stones. Carlo’s discovery unleashes a chain of love and jealousy, courage and betrayal, violence and resolve that will define the Como and Vacci families for tumultuous decades to come.

Tonia’s brother, Ettore, is determined to advance through life on his own merits and bids farewell to Castrubello. With a hot-headed partner, he forms a construction company and heads south to carve The King’s Road through the mountains of Campania. Ettore soon finds himself fighting an impossible deadline and a band of cut-throat brigands led by the legendary “Corsicano”, who swears to halt the brazen intruder who threatens his mountain lair.

Excerpt

Part I: The Rocks

Chapter 1 June 1882: Castrubello, Lombardia, Kingdom of Italy. Flowing black water spangled bright silver as daylight awoke over the ancient canal. Another oven of a day, thought Carlo, eyeing the cloudless sky. The fisherman crab-walked sideways down the sloped bank of Naviglio Largo until he stood at the quay under the old stone bridge. Ponte Spagnolo stood on pilings sunk three hundred years earlier by Filippo II of Spain. The Spaniards were long gone, replaced by Austrians, the French, then Austrians again. Wars of national independence had finally driven off such foreign powers; the fledgling Kingdom of Italy was but twenty years old. The span protected a cluster of twenty-foot-long fishing dinghies beached on the slanted, slick embankment. The batelli were shallow-drafted and narrow-beamed, bows sharply pointed, their sterns flat across. The shape allowed efficient navigation on the nearby Pirino River’s rills, sandbars, and half-sunk boulders. Carlo added the long-shafted pitchfork he carried to the gear already in his boat’s gunwale, and with a heave, slid the craft into the water. He knew his father, brother, and brother-in-law Vito would soon be out casting their nets for the whitefish and trout that flourished in the waters near the commune. And at some point today, he would be also. But right now, his prey were three rocks. Carlo boarded his boat with a final push. The water was calm under the bridge’s four arches. He fixed the single oar in the notch at the stern, then stood and sculled back and forth to line up the craft. As the batello caught the slight current, Carlo worked a figure-eight pattern with the oar. On an embankment nearby, he saw Castrubello washerwomen starting their day, like their mothers and fore-mothers had done. The women knelt on stone slabs and pulled shirts, sheets, and linens from deep wicker baskets and rubbed each with lye soap on flat rocks embedded at water’s edge. After a hard scrub and rinse, they wrung and slapped the items on the stones with sharp—even bitter—ferocity. The distinctive silhouette of Torrquadro loomed as the bridge fell behind. The wooden-soled clogs of hundreds of women and children clacked on the cobblestone walkways as they arrived for their shifts at the big silk mill. Food was scarce for local families; labor came cheap. The mill paid women one lira per thirteen-hour shift, children one sack of corn every week. The Austrians originally built Torre Quadrate fortress to impose tolls on bridge and Naviglio traffic. The hulking square structure with its four brooding towers served as a landmark for miles. The crenellations along the thick stone ramparts stood out like stunted teeth above the canal’s tree line. In time, a Milanese count acquired the property; his most recent heir was gripped by a vision. Adding gas lighting, brick smokestacks, and three hundred imported machines, he converted the building into a smoke-belching, loom-clattering, steam-powered silk factory. The sputtering gas lamps and a dearth of natural light kept the work floor in gloom. Rows of great iron vats bubbled on hearths, boiling silkworm pupae to death. Workers unbound the softened cocoons then spun the twisted strands into silk thread. Carlo turned his face from the stink. Inside the building the stench was far more appalling. The only ventilation was whatever squeezed through narrow gun-slits designed for Austrian musketeers. The fetid air reeked of sweat, machine oil, mildew, dye vats, and worms-a-boil. In summer, the intense heat made workers regularly pass out. Like he did every day, Carlo craned his neck as he passed, hoping to see Tonia arriving. This was about the time she began her long day. But he could not spot her among the shawled shadows hurrying through the doorway. He dismissed his disappointment with a hard push on his oar that sent the dinghy gliding into the center of the canal. Trenched as an irrigation ditch seven centuries prior, widened and deepened as the decades progressed, the Naviglio extended from the great northern lakes all the way through Milan. Hundreds of barges used the waterway daily to transport produce, passengers, and increasingly, manufactured goods of all types. The fisherman soon steered the batello’s bow into a skinny side channel that connected to the parallel Pirino River farther east. Much wider than the Naviglio, the Pirino flowed south from alpine Lake Maggiore into the great Po Valley. Unnavigable in many places for larger craft, fishermen along the shore and in their small boats had been pulling trout, eel, whitefish, sturgeon, and pike from the rich river for millennia. As the broad expanse of water caught the sun’s sharp glare, Carlo tugged at the brim of his hat. He was childish to fret about not seeing her, he thought. Better to concentrate on what he was doing out here right now. After all, it was for his Tonia that he was doing it. “My Tonia,” he self-mocked. Not yet his. He and Tonia had been aware of each other for some time; among the residents of Castrubello there were no strangers. She was slender and tall with startling gray-blue eyes and light hair. Her lithe gracefulness was apparent even when she walked to market with a basket on her head. Perhaps especially then, Carlo mused, remembering the sway of her hips. Her parents served as domestics at the great villa of the Marchese d’Ambrosso. The estate rented out Tonia and her brother Ettore, the last of eight siblings still living at home, as laborers at the silk factory. Tonia also at times helped in the villa’s kitchens, and it was there that three weeks before, he’d last seen her. Occasionally the d’Ambrosso manor house ordered fresh fish from the Comos for the marchese’s meal. Lorenzo, his father, had sent Carlo up to the estate with a delivery. “What are those fish you bring, Carlo Como?” Tonia asked, drying her hands as she stood in the doorway. “Today, fresh trout, a fine batch,” he answered, holding up two pails. “Where do you want them?” “There.” She pointed to the butcher block. “On the butcher block?” he asked, like a dumb one. She had nodded, stood aside. He set down the pails, looked up, cleared his throat, examined his boots, departed. ‘On the butcher block?’ He still cringed, recalling his slow-witted words. Not exactly inspired poetry, thought Carlo. But their eyes had stayed fixed on each other’s the whole time, and a smile played on Tonia’s lips as she’d spoken. He had felt his heart leap and a stirring in his loins and knew he was in love. So, I will marry Tonia, he decided then and there. But Carlo knew he must offer her father more than self-confidence and a pail of fish. He needed two things. The soldi—the cash—to prove that Tonia would not merely be trading one version of threadbare poverty for another. And he needed to offer her a home within Casa Como. A hundred years earlier, Ambrogio Como, born near the great northern lake of the same name, mustered out of the Austrian army and settled in Castrubello. He bought a small casa with his bonus pay, then set to work starting a family. In fits and starts over the subsequent years, the Comos built extensions onto the original structure. The result was a quirky two-story rectangle surrounding an open courtyard. The building now housed Carlo, his parents, his brother Francesco and his family, and his sister Rina and hers. Carlo had two corner rooms with an attic to call his own. Not much, but Carlo was confident he could make the space worthy of a bride. Tonia was a poor man’s daughter. Her dowry would be modest at best. To Carlo her dowry was non importa, though, naturally, it must not be an insult to his parents. But it was up to Carlo to provide her security and a home. And now, with yesterday’s astounding discovery, perhaps the means was at hand. Pirino fisherman instinctively kept their eyes out for rocks. But not only for rocks that might stove their hulls. They all knew that ceramic makers prized certain large, densely white river stones that tumbled downriver many leagues from the mountains. So white were these large stones, so smooth to the touch, and so fortuitous to find, that the locals called them Denti di Dio, ‘God’s Teeth.’ The ceramisti crushed the stones into powder and melted the dust to make a superb glaze for their wares. The rare stones brought a high price. They lay thinly strewn along the many miles of the Pirino’s bed, resting among thousands of ordinary boulders and rocks. Though very white, they were difficult to spot even in shallow water. Finding even one was worth nearly a full month of fish-catching, as much as thirty or forty lire. Such a sum was a windfall at a time when five hundred lire could support a family for a year. All week the river had been a challenge for Carlo. He came home every night exhausted from fighting the surging waters caused by the spring melt-off farther north. The icy torrents gave the Pirino the raw strength to carve away whole stretches of riverbank. The day before, an unexpected boulder forced Carlo to suddenly veer, and he’d slammed his boat’s prow into what he thought was the shoreline. Instead he broke through a debris dam and into a calm pool. The surge had scoured the soft soil along the steep shore, freeing trapped rocks and creating a crescent the current didn’t touch. As he used his oar to prod the batello away from a toppled tree trunk, he’d looked into the clear water and gasped. There, before his eyes, clustered three of the great white denti! But daylight was fading, and he had no tools. After carefully noting landmarks, he had sculled the batello out from the pond and back into the current. Today he would harvest his windfall. He skirted the east shore looking for the copse of four trees he had marked in his memory. After several false sightings he finally saw them, their long shadows casting over the water. Carlo skirted his way again through the debris until he spotted his three prizes, waiting like giant eggs in a gravel-bottomed nest. He sculled the craft sideways and dropped his bow and stern anchors, heavy flat rocks with a forged iron ring bore through them. Setting his feet, Carlo stood with the rake he brought with him today, the one he used to land the big sturgeon when they were running. Similar to pitchforks used by peasants to heft fresh-sickled hay, the river version had a longer shaft that flexed with the weight of a catch. With a bend of his knees, he leaned towards the water where the denti waited plucking. The first rock lay angled in a declivity. Carlo reversed the fork and tried to snag its three long tines on top of the rock. After failing twice, he felt the prongs catch the rock’s edge, and he pulled it free from the shallow hole. He scooped under the white stone, then lifted and swung the bending fork around and placed the bulging catch gently in the boat. He knew he had rushed his first effort and determined to work more patiently going forward. Consequently, the second stone gave him less trouble. Using the age-old technique of the Pirino’s ‘fishers-of-rocks’, he deftly pried the stone from the riverbed and, careful to stay balanced, painstakingly freed the sunken treasure and smoothly brought it aboard. Carlo drank water from the wineskin in the bow. He looked at the sun, was surprised to see how high it had risen. Two down. Now to finish. Hefting the fork overhead and down, Carlo pursued the last and biggest rock, this one as large as an anvil. He pushed the tines under the stone and lifted. The rock tipped a bit as one side lifted but then rolled farther away. Carlo oared the batello closer to where the stone now lay. This time he pushed the prongs fully underneath. As he slowly raised it to the surface he leaned forward too far. The large rounded stone rolled off and back to the river bottom. “Sangue dolce di Cristo!” he exclaimed. His back was stiffening and his forearms burnt from exertion. He shortened his grip and, leaning back, raised the rake. Pivoting, he carefully, carefully brought his dripping prize up and around and gently lowered it next to the others. He stared at his bonanza and raised both arms to the heavens. The denti were his!

A sudden hoof-stamping and a whinny sounded from the riverbank. “You, man, in the boat! What is that you have there?” Intent on distributing the weight from the rocks along his boat’s bottom boards—and distracted by his daydreams—Carlo had not heard anyone approach. He looked up to see two horsemen near the shoreline, peering down from their perches. The horses were fine and well-groomed, their noses in the scrub grass. Carlo knew the rider of the smaller chestnut horse from his visits to Villa d’Ambrosso. Gaetano Baldassare, the estate manager, was in his forties, lean, with a hound’s face. He wore a dark coat and gloves, tan breeches, tall boots. And the other? The sun was behind him, his mount now nervously cantering. “Do you not see who is here, you ignorant clown?” Baldassare barked. “It is Marchese d’Ambrosso himself, show him respect!” Carlo lifted his hat to shade his eyes. It was indeed the marchese. Known to everyone as a heavy gambler and spendthrift, Federico Benedetto Lucantonio d’Ambrosso was the latest rendition of a much-diminished line. Carlo had seen him occasionally through the window of the villa’s coach as it passed. He recognized the nobleman from his large gray mustache waxed up on its ends and the red, heavy-lidded eyes. The marchese wore a black silk top hat and grasped a telescope in one hand. His paunch protruded through his unbuttoned blue coat onto his saddle. “What is your name, fisherman?” asked d’Ambrosso, with a tug on the reigns to stop his mount from fidgeting. Carlo held his hat forward to provide further shade and spread his feet for balance. “I am Carlo Como, Marchese,” he said. “Forgive me, signore, for not greeting you. The sun, you see.” “Ah.” The aristocrat nodded knowingly. Resting the bronze-trimmed telescope across his saddle, he opened a small silver box from his wainscot, pinched snuff up his nose and convulsively sneezed. His big horse nickered at the shifted weight. “I asked what you have there,” called Baldassare. “It is certainly not fish.” Carlo looked down at the three stones sitting plain in their stark whiteness. “No, signore, you are exactly right. Not fish,” Carlo responded. “They are rocks!” Carlo heard a snort from the marchese. Baldassare frowned and dismounted, keeping hold of his reins. “Your rudeness is appalling,” the estate manager said. “Let me remind you. To fish on this river is a privilege, it is not a right!” The fisherman drew in a breath. His smart mouth had put him in hot water before. Baldassare was known to be a prickly one, keen to assert his authority. The marchese leaned heavily on Baldassare’s advice. It was a stupid gamble to cross him. “Yes, I understand this, excuse me, Signor Baldassare.” “The fee that you people pay to do your business out here, the estate can refuse your annual payment, you know. Then where would you be?” Nearby, the marchese raised his telescope again and stood in his stirrups as an elegant, black-crowned heron glided overhead. Refuse my annual payment? Carlo inwardly scoffed. Certainly, a joke. Everyone knew the lord spent money like water. He steadied his boat with a push on his oar. “Believe me, signore, we fishermen know exactly how thoroughly you bless us.” Baldassare gave a sharp look. Carlo bit his evil tongue. “Stand to the side, let me see better,” said Baldassare. Carlo slid a step, slightly rocking the boat. The white rocks shone against the worn brown boards beneath them. Carlo saw a glitter of greed in the manager’s eyes as he recognized their value. But the flash of avarice quickly returned to a blank stare. “Those belong to the marchese, not to you,” he said officiously. “Signore, surely you are mistaken,” Carlo said, too quickly. “As you say, we pay for the right to support ourselves from this river. Why would there be any question about this?” He fought to keep quick anger from affecting his voice. His temper had never been his friend. “You purchase from the estate the right to catch fish,” replied Baldassare. “Not to dredge the riverbed for whatever you want. Bring those to me.” “Marchese d’Ambrosso, good signore, I appeal to you,” called out Carlo, looking past the manager. “My family and I, we use these stones to weigh down our nets in those parts of the river where the current is strongest.” The startled nobleman had barely been tending to the conversation. “What is this fuss, Baldassare?” he said, flustered at being caught off-guard. “We have wasted too much time with this meaningless matter. Let the man be.” The estate manager’s color rose on his neck. “Don Federico, this man is a poacher,” Baldassare insisted. “Of course, the stones in themselves are meaningless, you are right to care nothing for them. It is the principle, my lord. He has not the right to scavenge!” Carlo viewed Baldassare with a thin-lipped disdain. Obviously, the manager was angling to sell the stones for himself, to line his pockets with Carlo’s hard-earned prizes. A corrupt man, thought Carlo. D’Ambrosso squeezed his eyes closed and sneezed loudly from another snuff dose. “Poaching rocks, Baldassare? Tish, Tosh. Lying about fishnets? Enough of this nonsense. They are just stones, after all! Look around, we have plenty, everywhere! I want to get on with my morning ride.” He suddenly stopped talking and again stood in his stirrups. “Dio mio, man! A red-throated diver!” With that, he spurred away. Carlo suppressed his smirk by pursing his lips. Baldassare’s face was a mask as he turned back to Carlo. He leaned toward the boat, pointing at the fisherman’s chest with a gloved finger. “Listen to me, Como. You may think you won here today but think again. I will not be made the fool.” He remounted and followed Marchese d’Ambrosso, riding in hard pursuit of his bird.

Chapter 2 Carlo arrived home to find dinner nearly complete. He’d unloaded the rocks at a storage shed the family kept on the Pirino and covered them with unused netting. With only half of a day to fish, his catch had been pathetic, though he remained on the water an extra futile hour. His lateness was a rare occurrence, and, without words, the family awaited the explanation. He thanked his mother for the plate she brought him and finally said, “My apologies, Papà. I stayed out longer trying to make up for a poor day.” “A poor day?” Lorenzo responded, seated at the table finishing his fish stew and fried polenta. He scraped his chair back and folded his arms. His shrewd eyes pierced Carlo’s. “Yet elsewhere today we found success. True, Vitorio?” he asked, looking at his son-in-law to his left. Vito Ameretti, nodded, clearing his throat. “It was good, yes, Papà. Francesco and I both worked our usual places. The hook lines were only half-full, but our gillnets yielded plenty.” Francesco sopped a piece of polenta in the juice on his plate and teased, “Our Carlino is smitten, this is the problem. Every day, he drifts past the silk mill with longing eyes and sighs like a poet. While he daydreams of love, the fish make a buffoon of him!” “Oh, look at the pulpit this sermon comes from!” Carlo retorted, glad for the banter. “Tell me, Francesco, who wept with heartache before Gemella lost her wits and said she would marry you?” Francesco’s wife, pregnant, laughed from the cucina where she and the other women of the house cleaned up from dinner, listening. “Don’t hide your shame by changing the subject, little Carlino,” answered Francesco in a sing-song voice, wagging a finger. He knew how his younger brother hated that childhood nickname! “Tomorrow, the catch must be better,” Lorenzo interrupted, ending the exchange. “A full stomach comes before love!” The women in the cucina rolled their eyes. The time was now, Carlo judged. “I have something to say.” With that, he told of his discovery of the rocks, of his intentions for Tonia, and, briefly, of the encounter with Baldassare and the marchese. After a momentary silence, during which the women emerged, wiping hands on aprons, Lorenzo spoke up. “Baldassare is a thief, I have always thought so. You and I will sell the Denti di Dio in Guardetto, there is a man I know. And I will speak to Luigi Vacci about the dowry, then you shall go ask for his blessing.” His mother Lucrezia added, “She is a good choice, Carlo. Tonia Vacci will make you a fine wife. She is from a hard-working family, like our own. We share some relatives with the Vaccis, you know.” Francesco laughed and slapped his brother’s shoulder. “I knew that love was your problem, Carlino. How can you hope to outwit the fish with your brains addled that way?” He smelled the sweat and the river on his brother. “At least now as a suitor maybe you will find a reason to bathe!” Carlo smiled banally and flipped his right forefinger several times under his chin in reply. Lorenzo said, “Mauro La Porta is the ceramics man in Guardetto. He is fair in his dealings, as far as that goes,” Lorenzo told Carlo. “But it will be good for me to be with you. Merchants are never not merchants.” Two days later, they started out early on a barge heading south. Batta the Boatman was Lucrezia’s distant cousin. As family, Lorenzo and Carlo and their freight naturally traveled gratis; to offer payment would have precipitated a loud, time-wasting melodrama with no change in the outcome. They floated south past mulberry groves and fields of maize to where the Largo linked with the smaller Guardetto Canale. The narrower channel continued south for seven miles until it dead-ended a mile short of their destination. “In the ass of a whale!” shouted Batta cordially, as he left them on shore. Lorenzo answered the good-natured wish for good luck with its typical response. “Just pray it doesn’t shit!” Ashore, Carlo hefted the handles of the old barrow loaded with the three heavy denti. The creaky wooden carriola had certainly seen better days. The uneven roundness of its single wheel, fashioned from a single thick slice of hard tree stump, made for a balky push, forcing numerous pauses. A distant locomotive whistle echoed. Pavia, he thought. The elder Como watched from behind as his son muscled the primitive barrow. The boy has resolve, I must give him that, Lorenzo thought, perspiring in the sun. Ahead, the dusty road sloped down a slight incline revealing the first outlying buildings of Guardetto. At age twenty-four it was time his son married, Lorenzo knew. Carlo’s account of his attraction to the Vacci woman, of his determination to provide for her, and of his enterprise in securing the three white stones, all had impressed him. But his son’s story of the exchange with Baldassare had interested him as much. Lorenzo despised the greedy manager who continually pressed him for extra lire beyond the annual river license. To not pay the bribe meant several weeks’ delay with tiresome, needless obstructions. Lorenzo had a family to feed. Consequently, like the others, he bitterly paid the blatant rake-off. It was not as if there was a magistrate he could turn to! This chance to give the manager a good kick in the culo was too good to ignore. The road took a turn, and with that, they were on the bustling main street of Guardetto. “I have not been here for some time. But I am certain that is the place, on the right,” Lorenzo declared. They quickly arrived at the three-chimneyed brick building. A sign shaped like a miniature door hung above its entry with writing across it. “La Porta,” Carlo confirmed. A long wagon sat in an open bay next to the shop’s door. Two men loaded heavy wooden crates as a third provided slouched supervision. The wagoneer sat hunched over the reins of a sag-backed white nag that had obviously been there before. Carlo set the barrow down on its square peg legs. The factory extended farther back than Carlo first thought. Heat quivered from three large kilns along a side wall. Closer to the door, workers shaped clay forms on turning, horizontal wheels. Elsewhere, artisans at workbenches painted elaborate designs on pottery pieces. “How can I help you, signori?” asked a short, heavy-set man from inside the showroom. He took off his spectacles as he approached and mopped the sweat from his bald head with a red handkerchief. “I am La Porta,” he said. “Lorenzo Como, signore, and here is my son, Carlo,” said Lorenzo, giving La Porta’s hand a vigorous shake. “We did business together a few years ago.” La Porta listened, folding his arms. He wore his sleeves rolled up, his thick forearms bristled with black hair. “My Carlo here has something that you will want to buy.” La Porta smiled and waited, having heard such claims before. Carlo stepped to the side of the carriola and dramatically threw back the cloth covering the three rocks. “From the bed of the River Pirino, signore.” “Ah.” La Porta drew in his breath as he recognized them for what they were. “Perhaps.” Before Carlo finished the story of fishing the rocks from the river, and why, La Porta raised his hand. “Stop there. You are a zealous young man in love, this is what I am hearing.” He paused. “And so, these rocks, other than knowing they bring you closer to the young woman you desire, do you have any idea what they are? Or do you, signore?” he added, thrusting his face towards Lorenzo. Lorenzo straightened his shoulders. “I am no mineral expert. I only know that these types of stones fetch money. It is why we are here. Are you interested? Have we come to the wrong place? I believe we saw another factory down the road.” La Porta snorted. “Rocco? He steals the food from the mouth of his dying mother.” He gesticulated with both arms. “But by all means, go, go ahead, if you think he is your man.” Carlo broke in, “No. Tell us your price.” Lorenzo scowled. La Porta smiled. The young one’s impatience is to my advantage, he thought. “First, signori, I ask you both, please come with me.” They walked past artisans with fine-tipped paint brushes beside shelves where their work slowly dried. At one table, a worker used tongs to dip a painted vase into a yellow emulsion. In less than a minute, she pulled out the dripping bowl. “Now here, this is a glaze,” La Porta said. “When pigmented, as this type is, a function of the rock it came from, it changes the color of the vessel we are creating, altering the colors of the paint we use. The final product is as you see.” He gestured to a rack of finished vases and small statuary with intricately painted designs. “Quality work, you will agree, but because of the glaze, the colors are not exactly true. Now, compare.” He opened the door of a wooden cabinet and carefully removed an elegant platter painted in vivid blues, yellows, and greens. With both hands, La Porta held it up to the light. Carlo’s eyes widened as the lustrous colors jumped from the surface. “Here you are seeing the actual paint colors, completely unclouded by its coating. Only certain rocks”—he glanced to where the carriola stood—“when crushed and heated, provide such a glaze of absolute purity. We dip three times, drying between each. The result is a glass-like surface that magnifies the brilliance of the colors beneath. The process makes the piece more durable, incidentally. As a result, its price is higher!” Carlo spoke. “With all respect, what you say is spellbinding. But perhaps you can tell us, what will you pay?” Thirty minutes later, when the haggling, remonstrations, feigned final offers and gesticulating entreaties finally concluded with warm handshakes all around, Carlo was beyond pleased. In his hand was a leather pouch containing one hundred thirty lire in gold coins. He counted forty of them out to Lorenzo. “Please accept these, Papà,” he said. “Is it enough?” Pride swelled within Lorenzo. While his son had much to learn about business transactions—he felt his boy’s obvious impatience had cost them at least another ten lire—overall, Carlo had performed well in this matter of the stones, from the river to the purse. He knew of sons who would have cheated their own families—Oh yes! Such was the corrupting power of gold.

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