Giuseppe and Lucia

by Grace Greenwood

In a little mountain town not far from the beautiful lake of Como, in the North of Italy, in the early part of the last war between the Austrians and the Italians, a poor peasant-woman lay dying. Beside her bed stood a fine, sturdy-looking lad, some fourteen years of age, listening reverently to the last words of his mother. On the bed, with her face hidden against that dear mother's breast, lay a little girl of six or seven, trying to keep down her sobs, and to take into her half-broken little heart the fond farewells, the tender and solemn advice of the beloved one who was going home to God.

The dying mother grieved to leave her poor children alone in the world, for they were fatherless, and had no near relatives; but she believed that the same Heavenly Father who was calling her from them would care for them and bring them home to her at last. To the tender love of that Father, and to the protection of the holy saints, she commended them, kissed them and blessed them, and went softly to sleep, to awake in Heaven.

After the burial of their mother, Giuseppe and Lucia found themselves nearly penniless. They had no friends except among the poor, so they must help themselves, or suffer extreme poverty. The boy possessed a great deal of musical talent, and played well upon several instruments. He resolved that somehow he would make this talent serve for the support of himself and his little sister. He could have enlisted as a drummer, but he regarded the Austrians, who then held that part of Italy, as the cruel oppressors of his country. He had an especial horror of them, from the fact that his father had been shot several years before, for joining an unsuccessful rising against them in Milan.

At last, Giuseppe Benedetti fixed upon a calling. With the small sum of money which a sale of the cottage furniture brought he purchased a set of puppets, or marionettes,—quaint little figures, that would dance very nimbly if not gracefully to the notes of the pipes, which he played like a master. This is a rather rude, but quite an inspiring musical instrument, belonging mostly to the mountain regions of Italy. Those who play it are called pifferari, or pipers.

When all was ready, Giuseppe and Lucia took an affectionate leave of their kind neighbors, and set bravely out on their travels, to seek their fortune. They tramped from town to town, sometimes getting very weary and discouraged, but often having very pleasant times together, and never suffering from actual want. One day they found themselves within a few hours' walk of Mancini, the little village in which their mother had died, and concluded to revisit it. At noon, they stopped to rest in an olive-grove by the wayside. After eating their simple dinner of brown bread and fresh figs, and drinking from a cool spring near by, Lucia, who never tired of the wonderful performances of the marionettes, asked her brother to play for them, and sat watching the dancing of the miniature men and women with true childish delight.

In the midst of their enjoyment, they were startled by the tramp of horses and men coming up the road. Giuseppe ran forwards, and looked down on a band of some two hundred Italian soldiers, led by a noble-looking man, mounted on a fiery white horse; but wearing, instead of a showy uniform, a red-flannel shirt, gray trousers, and a slouched felt hat. As this officer saw Giuseppe standing on the high bank, with little Lucia behind him, peering timidly between his legs, he reined up horse, and asked in a voice sweet and sad, yet grand and commanding, if there was a spring of water near by. Giuseppe replied by offering to show him the one he had found, and soon conducted him and his men to a little green nook, where the water gushed up sweet and fresh. The lad noticed that the noble-looking leader waited till all his soldiers had quenched their thirst before he drank.

When he was ready to resume the march, he thanked the peasant-boy, and kindly asked his name.

"Giuseppe Benedetti."

"Ah, Giuseppe! that is my name also," said the officer.

"Yes, General, Giuseppe Garibaldi," said the lad, smiling.

The General started, and asked how he knew him.

"My father served under you at the siege of Rome, and he had a picture of you."

"Ah, your father, I remember him; where is he now?"

"He was shot at Milan, General."

The noble face of Garibaldi grew stern, but softened again as he looked pityingly on the orphans. After giving them a little money—he was himself too poor to give them much—he turned away and began consulting with one of his officers in regard to their march. Giuseppe understood that their plan was to go on to Mancini, where they expected to raise some more men, and to camp for the night near the village. After a few energetic words away he dashed, followed by his brave, devoted band.

When they were gone, Giuseppe and Lucia lay down on the soft turf, and talked of all they had seen and heard, till, overcome by the heat and lulled by the murmur of the brook, they fell asleep. They slept till late in the afternoon, when they were awakened by the tramp of soldiers again coming up the road.

"Here comes more of our brave Italians," exclaimed Lucia.

"No, these are Austrians," said Giuseppe, looking down upon them from the olive-grove. "I know them by their hateful colors, black and yellow. I 'm afraid they are after Garibaldi. If they overtake him they will cut his little band to pieces, for here is a whole regiment of the bloodthirsty tyrants."

Just then an Austrian officer caught sight of the lad, and leaped his horse up the bank, followed by a file of soldiers. "Tell me, my boy," he said, with a terrible scowl, "have you seen anything of Garibaldi and his men?"

Giuseppe stood quite still, but replied not a word. The officer drew his sword and threatened him with instant death, yet still he would not speak. But poor Lucia could not see her brother murdered; she flung herself between him and the officer, crying out, "Yes, we did see him; but please don't hurt him, or any of his brave soldiers."

Giuseppe and Lucia

Giuseppe and Lucia

The Austrian laughed a cruel sort of a laugh, and asked, "Which way did they go?"

Poor Lucia could not say any more for sobbing, but pointed with her hand up the road,—never in her innocence thinking of misleading him. It was enough; in another moment he was leading on his men, with the hope of soon surprising and destroying the Italians.

When they were out of hearing, Giuseppe flung himself on the ground, crying bitterly. "Ah, little Lucia," he said, "how could you betray our General, the hope of Italy? Why did you not let the Austrian kill me?"

"O brother, brother," replied the child, weeping, "how could I let him? I love you better even than Garibaldi; besides, he is such a great fighter, may be he will kill them all."

"No, no," groaned the poor lad, "they are too many for him, if they take him by surprise."

Suddenly he sprang up, his face looking all bright and eager, and said, "Little sister, now you have done our General so much mischief, are you brave enough to try to save him?"

"Why, what can such a little thing as I do?"

"I will tell you. You can stay here with the pipes and marionettes, while I run over the mountain by a little path,—a cross-cut I know,—and warn Garibaldi that the Austrians are after him. I will be back by midnight, I hope, but you must stay here till I come; there will be moonlight, and it will not be cold. Dare you stay alone?"

"Yes," answered Lucia, firmly, though turning quite pale; "the blessed Mother of our Lord will watch over me, and may be our mother will come with her. I think she 's a saint; I am sure she ought to be made one."

With a tender kiss on the lips of his heroic little sister, Giuseppe sprang away and soon disappeared over a ridge of the mountain. After some narrow escapes in pursuing his perilous path along precipices and over torrents, he reached Mancini in time not only to warn Garibaldi, but to allow him to march back through a deep ravine and intercept the Austrians. Taken by surprise, and in the dim evening light mistaking Garibaldi's dashing little band for a large force, they made little resistance, but such as were not killed in the first charge, fled or surrendered. After sending his prisoners to one of his secret mountain strongholds, Garibaldi despatched a trooper with Giuseppe to the olive-grove, whore Lucia had been left alone. They found her safe, quietly sleeping, with her sweet little face upturned in the soft moonlight. The trooper took her up before him, on his strong, black horse, and the three returned to Garibaldi's camp.

Giuseppe and his little sister remained with the brave mountain men for several weeks. The little girl became a great pet with the rough but kindly soldiers, and many a night she sat with them beside the camp-fire, sometimes on Garibaldi's knee, and sung sweet, wild songs, while Giuseppe played on his pipes, and the funny little marionettes danced right merrily.

But at last, General Garibaldi found for the good little girl a home with a kind lady, who promised to bring her up as her own child. That home was in a pretty villa, on the lovely shore of Lake Como. Giuseppe remained with Garibaldi, and became a soldier.

After the Austrians had been driven from Milan, he entered that city in the suite of his beloved general. One day, he went to the spot just outside the walls, where a few years before his poor father was shot. He picked a wild poppy, and put it in his bosom, thinking that it might be it had received its rich red color from the life-blood of that brave father. Then, as he looked over the beautiful city, and saw waving from every public building the banner of the gallant King of Sardinia, instead of the ugly flag of Austria, he thanked God for Victor Emanuel, Garibaldi, and liberty.