The sea was icy, the motion of the steamship was a lot like water torture for young Ralfo, who had just left the mountains North of Rome in 1772 with his father Giornale. Mostly due to the lack of medicine and Doctors, with fears of dying of Polio they decided to depart to North America.
Traditions vary around the world, laws back then were based on the size of your fortune, purchasing a ticket to North America would be like winning the lottery for the people at that time. As a lot of Italians were destined for Montreal, (or at least that’s what they thought) there was a military draft in what was the U.S. prior to the declaration of Independence. A lot of Italian people wanted to go to Montreal where a lot of French people spoke Italian.
In their last course of desperation to prepare themselves for the war of 1812, the Americans are trying to divert boats importing immigrant’s from Italy to Montreal. There was no American President at that time. They decided it would be easier to integrate to their new land in Montreal where the language and culture were a lot more similar. The battle was brewing, Giornale wasn’t stupid, his number one concern being Ralfo’s well-being. When most of the ships sailing to the St. Lawrence were being diverted to Boston, Giornale cleverly decided to bargain with the captain of their ship to change the name from passenger to cargo and disguise itself as an American vessel instead of Italian.
The wind was light and it was a slow monogamous travel to make it to the St. Lawrence, but they were insane to attempt diverting their course of sail from St. Lawrence to the Hudson River, because they had invented something important which was aboard the ship, wine was a valuable entity at the time but it was not wine. Giornale knew he had to make it to Montreal without being detected by the Americans.
The American colonies of the time had intentions of building up their military, so it were common for the average trade personnel from Italy to make a good living in their new land. Surveyors, Doctor’s, carpenters; you name it. Giornale was small but deadly, he was familiar with the wilderness being from the Mountains East of Rome, he was an excellent hunter and knew how to survive with the bears and the wolves, but more importantly than that, the Italian colonies were also drafting people at the time. Giornale was a well-known architect, he was an excellent bricklayer and carpenter. Giornale had such a reputation that the military back home was planning on using him as a Military architect, and they had been searching the mountains back home for any trace of him. Giornale was 27 years old and could brick a house by himself in a day as well as wealthy and happy, people were always happy to see him. Giornale had left his wife and daughter behind for hardly anyone knew he had a family, they kept a very low profile in a small mountain village outside Rome with a population of 500 people.
“I don’t want to move to the New World, I won’t have any friends there.” Gasped Ralfo as he poised himself sternly on the bow of the ship heading west, as he asked; “Where are we going anyway?” But it was sometimes like talking to a brick wall sometimes as Giornale’s hearing was adjusting to the lower altitude, it didn’t help that he helped construct half of his hometown. The simplest questions became a mystery to the 5 year old boy named Ralfo, who really had to pry to get his father’s attention away from their ship heading to the New World. Ralfo gasped for air as the cigar smoke from the men playing bocce was as thick of that of a smokestack on a steamboat.
“Ehhh come sti Pasquali, sti bravo du macchina.” Giornale mumbled as he waved three ovular patterns with his left hand towards the captain of the vessel, who for a short bald stocky Italian, his voice would vibrate the entire ship.
“Ehh, whatcha outta: Giornale said to Ralfo as he went for a swig of his daddies wine, although as he amused a deck full of shipmates. “Hey you justa like you papa hugh?”, said one of the crewman to Ralfo as they chuckled. It was Ralfo’s job to entertain, and before you know it he was on the table singing as a crowd of Giornale’s mates formed a circle around the table.
This was a time when sworn enemies became friends against the feuding colonies of Europe and the new world.
As night time drifted in, countless Italian men wondered aimlessly, it was cold and there was uncertainty in the air, as the crew were disputing on whether or not they would make it, it had all seemed so new to them. They were at risk of being drafted into the forming Military of the existing American colonies at the time, where if they were not drafted they would be left to fend for themselves against the harsh conditions of the Canadian wilderness. Most of the reason for their travel was to bring medicine and medical scrolls from the western world.
There was not a lot of entertainment on the barge at the time, but the thrill of moving to new land helped maintain the composure of the sailors. Ralfo had read letters that said some of the remaining buffalo had migrated to Hudson Bay, as he hoped he would see one before as their existence was being rendered to a halt. There weren’t as many words in their Italian dialects as is in the Italian Language today, most of Italy was divided into territories and every part of Italy spoke a little bit differently. The elders on the boat constructed it of a rare source of ironwood from Norway.
This was no ordinary vessel, inspired by Marco Polo’s invention of the hot air balloon, this was to be the hot air balloon of the ocean, as the principals of the hot air balloon were used to engineer the very first steam engine, constructed from cast iron from Italy, the very first of its kind, this was actually two boats in one. On the outside it appeared an ordinary boat except there was a mini steam powered tug boat inside of it near the rear portion, the first ever invented, only it didn’t tug the boat, it propelled it from the rear portion of the ship.
In the event they were intercepted by colonial forces or struck and iceberg, the boat was secretly designed to shed its outer layer, as they feared their invention would be discovered and used against them. Wood structure over reinforced I – Beam frame, it was constructed of two layers and built to withstand an attack with from cannon fire.
Ralfo sat and listened to the elders speaking riddles of collected dialect. Ralfo found the older and wiser they were the easier they were to understand and it Ralfo learned a lot through conversation. The boat was launched from Italy but was helped constructed by French, German, English and Japanese.
Looking down the side of the boat it was difficult for Ralfo to make out the name of the ship. The way the boat curved, you should see in bold lettering; “S.S. Toro Refuge. Ralfo was still learning English but his was pretty good, he thought it was why Toronto and Buffalo had gotten their names, but Giornale told Ralfo it meant “The Ranch of The Toro” or “Buffalo Ranch”
The ship was intended to trade furs, gold, silk, art and any other riches gathered from Europe and Asia. Travels to make trades such as this were frowned upon by the Southern American Colonies. It was believed by Giornale that the Natives which resided on the Newfoundland coal and oil reserves were being with-held medicine by the existent American Forces at that time, the Natives had already contracted some diseases from Europe to which they knew no cure for.
Giornale told Ralfo tale, about a battle which took place 200 years prior, in which the Natives and Italians swapped one another’s clothing and had trouble identifying each other on the battlefield. The Natives had actually familiarized themselves with quite a bit of European culture and languages in 1772. Giornale also said that he knew a lot of Italians in Thunder Bay, but Giornale wanted to explore more to the West of that. Giornale believed that medicine west of that point had been heavily obstructed past that point, a lot of opportunity for Giornale to obtain a great amount of furs.
1772 was a good year to travel, as Giornale and his men had no intent of harming any of the Natives or Canadian citizens, Giornale figured he would make a good living somewhere near a big city after he got his fur money and maybe set up a construction company and build hospitals and so on. Not to mention they were a long way from Italy and heavily outnumbered by the Natives but had brought plenty of herbs, spices, wildlife and silks, not to mention rifles and other highly advanced medical technology for its time.
There was even one Native who had come to Europe and was making his way him, he would act as Giornale’s guide on their quest. He would tell Ralfo stories and Ralfo was happy he would get to camp and explore the new wildlife. Curiosity outweighed his misery as he could Greenland was beginning to vaguely appear in the not too distant Starboard horizon. Ralfo had gotten a wee too excited for a moment and thought it was Canada, he didn’t believe it, he waived his hands in the air as he screamed; “Quanda bella”.
Giornale momentarily loses his composure as he struggles to help contain Ralfo’s joy and excitement, he can’t tell if it’s real or a dream he had been at sea for so long. Ralfo had learned that the boat was heading west, and he soon familiarized himself with North, East and south as well. He spent as much time as he good reading over what little astrology text the ship had on deck, trying to read the books was like waiting for a payphone in jail, , the entire ship was lined up to see the maps. Sometimes they would even serve wine to help settle everybody down.
Serving alcohol was not such a bad thing, as this was just what the captain ordered, a boat full of drunken rowdy sailors aimed to the America’s. The crew was drunk at this point but that was only after a hard day’s work, this ship was the equivalent of a hot air balloon but designed to float instead of fly. The tug boat which also pushed, had enough power to tug the entire fleet of vessels in the event they hit an iceberg or got attacked by American’s at which point they would have to evade. There was 5 ships flying across the ocean in a V pattern, Giornale’s ship leading the way.
The other 4 remaining boats were ordinary wooden vessels with wind sails, they had more crew on board. But only the boat Ralfo was on was carrying the secret steam powered tugboat powered by coal. Coal was in abundance in Canada and Giornale was planning to mine for it in Newfoundland, before the American Government could figure out what they were up to. Giornale had made a deal with the Natives to help refuel the boat once they got to Newfoundland, where the Natives would take Giornale to the coal mine in exchange for medicines and silks they could use to bind their furs.
The water was breathtaking, so clear that you could see the fish swimming around deep beneath them. This was entertainment for Ralfo. Giornale sat and rolled his cigars and had a glass of wine while Ralfo watched the fish.
Ralfo thought they were whales and dolphins when he first saw his very first iceberg, in a time before pollution they had fish as their endless food source. Giornale slouched as he stared off into the horizon.
After a while things got boring and Ralfo noticed some of the other children from Italy playing soccer with a satchel full of corn. They were a group of 13 year old boys from Eastern Italy who thought Ralfo was 8 or nine, they were surprised to learn he was 5 after letting him play soccer with them. “Scopa tu giochi”, one of them murmurs as the group is amazed at what a good soccer player Ralfo was. Ralfo was in good shape because he helped his dad work with bricks back home. Ralfo fits in well with his new found chums as they pass the time playing soccer on deck, Ralph develops a sense of acceptance from his fellow mates.
“Mi chiamo Daniel, questo e il mio amico; Michael e Vincenzo.: As the boat strides along a warm wind from the North picks up and the waves begin to soar, a few of them reaching the stern, and came crashing over the deck. The waves are like turbulence as the deck is slippery, there is not enough railing for all of the children to hold onto, one of the taller children, Michael half hazardly falls as the boat churns almost sending him summersaulting over the railing, but as he is falling towards Ralfo, Ralfo grabs him with both hands by scruff of his clothing as he falls backwards, he turns to brace himself and face plants.
There is not a lot of entertainment on the ship, Ralfo watches as Michael, Vinny and Daniel began to climb one of the wind sails. At first he is scared, and does not want to participate, but after watching the older kids he decides to give it a whirl. The other children were almost at the top and hardly even noticed Ralfo ascending up the ropes to the top of the wind sail. The ropes are wet and slippery, it is windy, Ralfo is more than 2 stories high, he contemplates climbing back down, but after looking down, he is more afraid of climbing down than climbing up. He continues to the top, but wants to impress the other children as he tries to climb to the very top. There are four branches bound together to make a small landing maybe 3 feet by five feet wide with two sticks in the middle for support. Ralfo climbs to the top as the other children notice Ralfo is above them it is too late.
“Attento ralfo!” Yells Michael.
Ralfo was lying on his stomach, he was between four and five stories above the deck. He is lying on his stomach when the platform created from some old branches tilts Ralfo backward as the platform is now at a forty five degree angle. Ralfo tries to sit on his rear end, when the branches snap, sending him crashing feet first to the deck below. Ralfo is unconscious, and has a broken left leg, but is lucky to be alive.
Before you know it the other children have bandaged him up, as to them what Ralfo did seemed like a sign from Jesus, who was heavily regarded in their culture, the children have not experienced this in their hometown of Chiati.
Ralfo was mainly unscuffed except for broken leg and black eye which made the wound difficult to notice until the swelling went down. Most of the blood swells into a bag below Ralfo’s eye which Giornale was forced to cut open. Other than that there is very little blood loss. Michael stays with Ralfo as Vinny and Daniel go to look for silk to stich his wound. There is little to drink at sea, it is not uncommon for 13 year old children to steal a few sips of vino from the bar of the dining hall, half of the ship is too drunk to notice anything anyway.
Vinny notices a piece of silk string dangling from beneath one of the compartments. “eabbastanza?” bolts Vinny. It appears to be enough however when Daniel tries to strike a match on his loafer, he finds the matches are soggy and will not ignite.
They are startled by a noise and Vinny nervously begins to tug on the string swinging a spring loaded wooded door which must have weight 100 lbs water logged, that sent Vinny flying back 6 feet from where they were standing. Daniel was on his knees and slid an additional 4 feet, making room for Vinny to brace himself with his hands behind them as he landed on his tailbone. They both manage to escape unharmed except for minor bruising, other than that nothing that a few deep breaths and some wine won’t fix. Luckily the ship would mostly use wooded cups that would absorb their drink if they did not consume quickly enough. They boys are surprised they stumbled on a secret way to unlock the door.
It is now dark and the matches still refuse to ignite. There is a sign above the entrance to the corridor, however at age 13, curiosity overpowers their conscience, as they decide to ignore the sign and play dumb.
The ship was custom made by Giornale, it has many secret compartments, as well as secret cannons. It was an average looking wooden ship, which secretly had a tug boat built into the tail end, which was so well hidden the only way to reveal it was to destroy the ship, it was spring loaded so if the boat strikes an iceberg, the tug boat would pop out before impact and escape unharmed.
Vinny and Daniel ignore the sign above the corridor and enter the secret compartment, their hearts were beating so hard you could hear the echoes of their hearts thumping in the cold steal room, which caused them to beat even harder. They have no idea that the ship is carrying livestock such as sheep etc., not all compartments have been labeled.