Read CHAPTER XVIII of Historic Boyhoods , free online book, by Rupert Sargent Holland, on


The Boy of the Mediterranean: 1807-1882

The town of Nice lay blazing with color under the hot August sun. The houses, with their shining red-tiled roofs, their painted yellow walls, their striped and checkered awnings, were scarcely less vivid than the waters of the bay, which sparkled like a sea of opals under the rich blue Mediterranean sky. Color was everywhere, brilliant even in the sun-tanned cheeks, the black hair and eyes, the orange and gold and red caps and sashes of the three boys who stood on the beach, looking out at the home-coming fleet of feluccas and fishing-smacks.

“If only I were a man!” exclaimed one of the boys. “No more Latin lessons with the Padre. I could sail and fish all day like brother Carlo. And sometimes I’d visit strange lands, like Africa, and have the sort of adventures father tells of.”

“I’ll be a sailor too, Cesare,” agreed the tallest of the three, nodding his head. “Only poor Giuseppe here will have to stay ashore and be a priest.” He turned a sympathetic face toward Giuseppe, who stood with his arms folded, his black eyes looking hungrily out to sea.

“Aye, he’ll be teaching other boys just as the Padre teaches us,” said Cesare.

This prophecy was more than the third boy could stand. He turned quickly toward his friends. “I’ll have adventures, too,” he exclaimed. “I’ll not stay here in Nice all my life; I’ll go to Genoa and to Rome, and perhaps I’ll fight the Turks. I want to do things, too.” His deep eyes shone with excitement and his face glowed. “Look you, Cesare and Raffaelle, why shouldn’t we turn sailors now?”

Both boys laughed; they were used to the mad ideas of young Giuseppe Garibaldi. He, however, was not laughing. “Why not? I’ve been out to sea a hundred times with father. He lets me handle his boat sometimes, though he does say that I’m to enter the Church. Your brother, Cesare, has a boat that he never uses. Why shouldn’t we sail in her to Genoa?”

Giuseppe was a born leader. The other boys looked doubtfully at each other, then back at him. The gleam in his eyes held them.

“Let’s sail to-morrow at dawn! You, Cesare, furnish the boat, I’ll bring bread and sausage from home, and Raffaelle shall get a jug of water. Your brother’s boat is sound, Cesare? We’ll sail along the shore to Genoa!”

“Some one will catch sight of us and stop us,” objected Raffaelle.

“Nay, we’ll wait till the other boats are out. They’ll all be off before dawn and we’ll have the beach to ourselves.”

“I’ve a compass my uncle gave me on my name day,” said Cesare. “I’ll bring that.”

“And I’ll bring some fishing lines,” put in Raffaelle, unwilling to be outdone.

So almost before they knew it the other two boys had agreed to Giuseppe’s plan, just as the boys of Nice usually unconsciously followed his lead.

The Mediterranean was all silver and blue when the three boys met next day in the early summer dawn at the pier near the Porto Olimpio where Carlo Parodi’s boat lay. Raffaelle had brought a jug of water and some fishing lines, Giuseppe a basket of provisions, and Cesare his compass. They could hardly wait until the last of the fishing boats had put out to sea before they ran down the pier to embark in their own small craft. The Red Dragon was the boat’s name, given her because of the painted picture of a terrible monster that sprawled across the sail. She was old and weather-beaten, a simple sailboat with only a shallow cabin, such as is used in the Mediterranean to coast along the shore.

Under Giuseppe’s leadership the food and water were stowed on board, the sail raised, and the boat cast off from the pier. Cesare took the tiller and with a light morning breeze the Red Dragon drew proudly away from the beach and headed eastward toward Genoa.

As the sun rose higher the breeze stiffened, the sail filled and the brilliant dragon spread out his red body and tail. Each of the boys had sailed this inland sea a hundred times before, but never had it seemed so wonderful a place as on this summer morning. The water dashed along the gunwale and sometimes sent a warm spray into their faces. Behind them lay the curving harbor, beyond that the red and yellow and brown roofs and walls of Nice, and still farther back the dim blue outlines of the mountains.

They were so excited that for some time they forgot they had had no breakfast. Presently Raffaelle remembered it, and Giuseppe’s basket was opened and its stock of rye bread, bologna sausage and olives handed around. The boys were surprised to find how hungry they were, but like a prudent captain Giuseppe would only let them eat a small part of the rations. “Suppose we should run into a spell of calm weather before we sighted Genoa,” said he.

After breakfast Raffaelle took the helm and Cesare and Giuseppe lay up in the bow and planned what they would do after they landed at Genoa.

Meanwhile the three families of Parodi, Deandreis and Garibaldi in Nice were considerably excited. A boy in each family had disappeared. Knowing what close friends the three boys were the fathers sought each other. Each family had the same tale to tell.

Then came word that Carlo Parodi’s boat was missing, and this gave the searchers a clue. They went to the beach, but only to find that all the fishing-boats had put out to sea some time ago. Signor Garibaldi, however, was a man of resource and influence, and within an hour he had found a coast-guard captain who would take him in pursuit. The coast-guard boat was big and she could triple the speed of the small Red Dragon. By ten o’clock the runaway boat was sighted just opposite Monaco. The boys saw the pursuers coming, but even by crowding on all their sail they could not gain a lead. So when the coast-guard came alongside of them they surrendered.

Even though they had not reached Genoa, the lads had tasted the salt of adventure. Giuseppe’s father boarded the Red Dragon, and, treating the whole matter as a summer’s lark, helped the young sailors to bring their boat about, and tacking across toward Monaco and then out to the deeper sea, gave them a lesson in sailing that made them quickly forget that they were going back to Nice.

On that sail home the father learned a good deal about Giuseppe. He heard the boys talk freely to each other, and as he listened he realized that this son of his was not the quiet type of boy who would make a good priest, but that he craved the roving life of the sea, descended as he was from generations of sailors. He himself knew the perils of the sea only too well, how hard a man must work in its service, and how little he might gain, and how much securer was the life on shore. But he also knew that when once the sea called to a boy of Nice it was useless to try to make him forget the call. Giuseppe would not make a good priest, and he might make a good sailor. So the watchful father decided, as he brought the little boat back to shore, to let his son follow his natural bent.

After their adventure Giuseppe and his two friends went quietly on with their school life. Giuseppe’s father had promised to teach him something about navigation in the evenings, and had told him that, if he would only be patient and wait a short time, he should make a cruise in earnest. One day, as the boy and his father were coming home from church a tall, black-haired man stepped up to them, and, holding out his hand, said, “Signor, will you give us something for the refugees of Italy?” Giuseppe’s father gave the man a few coins, which he received with the greatest thanks. As they walked on the boy kept turning back to look at the tall gaunt-faced man they had met. Finally he said, “Who was he, father, and what did he mean by the refugees of Italy?”

The father looked down into the boy’s eager eyes. “Our poor country,” said he, “has been thrown to the ground, and different people have been beating her and trying to keep her down, but chiefly the big, white-coated Austrians, Giuseppe boy. Every once in a while some of our men band together and try to do something to help Italy get to her feet again. That man who asked for money was such a man.”

“But why did he look so sad and white, father, and why did he say the refugees?”

“Our men are very few, Giuseppe, and have poor arms, and the enemy’s army is very large and their men are veteran soldiers, so that we always lose. Then those who fought, like that poor fellow, have to fly and seek refuge out of Italy until the storm blows past.”

Giuseppe clasped his hands behind his back, and his face grew very thoughtful. “So that man has been to war,” he said, “and for us, and the money you gave him is going to help them the next time?”

“Exactly,” said the father, with a smile at the boy’s serious manner. Giuseppe was not usually very thoughtful.

“How long do you think the refugees will have to go on fighting, father, before the enemy are finally driven out of our land?”

“Oh, they’ll have to fight for years and years, and perhaps they’ll never win, for the enemy is much stronger than we Italians.”

“Then,” said Giuseppe, “I’m glad, for that will give Cesare and Raffaelle and me a chance to help them fight. I’m going to be a refugee myself some day. Will you teach me, father, how to use a sword?”

“All in good time,” said the man, smiling. “You’ve got your hands full learning the points of the compass just now.”

For some reason Giuseppe could not get the tall, black-haired man out of his mind, and the next day, at recess, he told his two friends of his meeting with him and what he had learned about him.

“Couldn’t we find him or another like him, this afternoon?” suggested Cesare, very much interested.

“We’ll hunt,” agreed Giuseppe. “A refugee could tell us much better stories than those old sailors can.”

After school the three boys looked through the main streets of Nice, but saw no one asking for alms for the cause of Italy. They went down to the harbor, but there were no such men there. Finally in a little square they came upon the very man Giuseppe had seen the day before. He was sitting on the grass under a tree, and seemed to be asleep, for his head was sunk on his folded arms. They crossed over to him quietly. Although the day was warm he had a greatcoat fastened about his shoulders and a soft, broad-brimmed hat pulled down upon his head. He looked tired out.

The three boys stood in front of the man, and finally his eyes opened. He smiled as he saw them staring at him. “What do you want with me, signors?” said he.

Giuseppe dropped on to the grass beside him. “I know now what you meant when you said the refugees of Italy yesterday,” he explained. “We three boys mean to be refugees some day. We’ve made a vow that we’ll fight the Austrians until there isn’t one of the three of us left. We’d like very much to hear some of the things you’ve done.”

The man threw back his cloak and sat up a trifle straighten “Three future refugees!” he exclaimed. “The world moves! You want to be pushing me away already, do you? Sit down, I’ll tell you what I can.”

The boys sat in front of him, and listened with rapt attention while he told them that his home was in a little town half-way between Nice and Genoa, that he was a member of a secret society called the Carbonari, and that the first rule of that society was that a man must do exactly as he was told without asking why. Not long before he had received a secret message telling him to go to the city of Milan, taking his sword and pistols with him. He had left his wife and children and gone to Milan, and there he had waited a long time while the leaders of the society planned to surprise the Austrian garrison and drive the troops out of the city.

The night of the attempt finally arrived but some one had betrayed them. No sooner had they met at the place agreed on than word came that they must scatter instantly if they wanted to escape the Austrian bayonets. Each had gone his own way, trying to get as far from Milan as he could. He had managed to get to Nice, where he was near the French border, and could cross it at any time. Meanwhile he and the other refugees had to ask alms or starve.

The boys had heard of the society of the Carbonari which had spread all over Italy, and they listened to this story by one of its members with the greatest interest. They asked him a great many questions, but he would only answer a few of them. He only told them such facts as were public property; inquiries about the society itself were met with a smile and a shake of the head. Before they left him they made him take the few coins they had in their pockets, to help him and other refugees of their country. They also made him write their names on a piece of paper so that when the next uprising should come they might be sent for. And they solemnly organized a secret society among themselves to last until the time when they would be old enough to join the Carbonari.

From that day Giuseppe kept his eyes open for any other refugees who might be roaming through the streets of Nice. Occasionally he found some war-worn soldier or sailor whom the authorities allowed to sit in the sun in one of the city squares or down on the quays, but younger and more active refugees were scarce, and preferred to cross the frontier to Marseilles.

Giuseppe and Raffaelle and Cesare, however, were not to be discouraged, and as soon as they could they laid their hands on long cloaks and broad-brimmed hats, and dressed as nearly as possible like their black-haired friend. They invented countersigns and mottoes, planned conspiracies, and patterned themselves as nearly after the Carbonari as they could. But there was no new uprising at that time, and so after a while the boys lost interest in the game of conspiracy.

His old love of the sea came back more strongly than ever to Giuseppe, and he begged his father to take him with him on his next cruise. His mother thought he was too young to leave the Church school, but the boy, already large and strong for his years, was growing very restless, and there was no telling what mischief he might get into if he were kept at home.

In the long evenings he was always asking his father to describe to him the strange cities he had visited on his travels. He begged him especially to tell him about Rome and her seven wonderful hills, the city which from his earliest childhood had fascinated him more than any other place in the world.

“Do you think I’ll ever get to Rome, father?” Giuseppe would ask.

“Yes. We’ll go there together some day before long, little son,” his father would answer.

So indeed they did. When Giuseppe was about fifteen years old he was allowed to make his first long voyage on a brigantine bound from Nice to Odessa, and a year later he sailed on his father’s felucca to Rome. The city of the Caesars seemed even more wonderful than he had dreamed. It was the heart of the world to him, and he never forgot the deep impression that first sight of it made upon him.

After his first voyage the young Garibaldi sailed with many captains and saw a great deal of the world, rounding Cape Horn, voyaging to the far north, and even crossing the Atlantic and visiting South America. He was always deeply interested in strange lands; he loved the thrill of any adventure, and at the sight of an act of injustice or cruelty nothing could keep him from going at once to the rescue.

When he was in South America he heard that the Italians were rising against their foreign masters and were planning to fight for freedom. He sailed for home instantly, and no sooner did he land than he was leading a company of friends to join the Italian army. He was fearless, generous, and as open-hearted as a child; wherever he went men flocked to his command; within a few months the young man was virtually general of an army, and fighting and winning battle after battle in the Alps. At the end of a year his fame had crossed Europe.

The freedom of Italy, however, was not won in a single campaign. Although Garibaldi’s troops were victorious, some of the other Italian armies were not, and before long that first war of independence came to an end. For a time the Austrians’ hold over the cities of Italy seemed stronger than ever, and Garibaldi and many of his friends were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries. Again Garibaldi crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and this time he went to New York, and took up the trade of candle-maker, living in a small frame house on Staten Island. He liked Americans; they understood him and his burning desire for Italian freedom better than any other foreigners he met.

He stayed on Staten Island until the chance came for him to go to sea again as captain of a merchantman, and after that it was only a short time before he was again in the Alps, his sword drawn, his devoted volunteers behind him.

It was long before the dream of Italian patriots came true and Rome became the capital of a united country, but during those years Garibaldi led crusade after crusade. He wore the simple costume of an Italian peasant, with a red shirt which was copied by all his men. This red-shirted army swept the enemy out of Sicily and Naples, drove them back through the Alps, won so continually that the superstitious Neapolitans believed that their leader must be in league with the Evil One. But the people of Italy worshiped this general beyond all their other heroes.

Even their praises could not spoil the simplicity of Garibaldi’s nature. When his work was done he went home to live quietly with his family. The friends of his boyhood found him very little changed, the same lover of Italy and the sea, the same adventurous, generous spirit he had been as a youth in Nice.

In those youthful days his boy friends had followed him without question, now the whole of Italy looked to him as their leader; he had succeeded in doing what hundreds of other men had dreamed of doing, driving the Austrians permanently out of the peninsula, and restoring to his countrymen the ancient liberty of Italy. Yet whether as a boy upon the Mediterranean or as the liberator of a nation he was always the same frank, straightforward, high-minded Giuseppe Garibaldi.