About 350 years ago, a boy stood at the door of a palace in Florence, Italy. He was a kitchen boy in the household of a rich and mighty official. He was 12 years old, and his name was Thomas.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and said in great astonishment: “What! Is that you, Peter? What has brought you to Florence? How are all the people in Cortona?”
“They are all well,” answered Peter, who likewise was a boy of 12. “But I’ve left them for good. I want to be a painter. I’ve come to Florence to learn to paint. They say there’s a school here where people are taught.”
“But have you any money?” asked Thomas.
“Not a penny.”
“Then you can’t be an artist. You had better be a servant in the kitchen with me, here in the palace. You will be sure of something to eat, at least.”
“Do you get enough to eat?” asked the other boy reflectively.
“Plenty, more than enough.”
“I don’t want to be a servant: I want to paint,” said Peter. “But I’ll tell you what we’ll do. As you have more than you need to eat, you take me to board, and when I’m a grown-up painter, I’ll settle the bill.”
“Agreed!” said Thomas, after a moment’s thought. “I can manage it. Come upstairs to the garret where I sleep, and I’ll bring you some dinner by and by.”
So the two boys went up to the little room among the chimney pots where Thomas slept. It was a small room, and the only furniture in it was an old straw mattress and two rickety chairs. The walls were white-washed.
Now the food was good and plentiful, for when Thomas went down into the kitchen and foraged, he found abundance that the cook had carelessly discarded. Peter enjoyed the meal, and told Thomas that he felt as if he could fly to the moon.
“So far so good,” said he; “but, Thomas, I can’t be a painter without paper and pencils and brushes and colors. Haven’t you any money?”
“No,” said Thomas, “and I don’t know how to get any. I shall receive no wages for three years.”
“Then I can’t be a painter, after all,” said Peter mournfully.
“I’ll tell you what,” suggested Thomas. “I’ll get some charcoal down in the kitchen, and you can draw pictures on the wall.”
Then Peter set resolutely to work, and drew so many figures of men and women and birds and trees and animals and flowers, that before long the walls were covered with pictures.
At last, one happy day, Thomas came into possession of a small piece of money. I don’t know where he got it, but he was much too honest a boy to take money that did not belong to him.
You may be sure there was joy in the little room up among the chimney pots. Now Peter could have pencils and paper, and other things artists need. By this time the boy had learned to take walks every morning. He wandered about Florence drawing everything he saw: the pictures in the churches, the fronts of the old palaces, the statues in the square, or the outlines of the hills. Then, when it became too dark to work any longer, Peter would go home and find his dinner tucked away under the old bed, where Thomas had put it, not so much to hide it as to keep it warm.
Things went on in this way for two years. None of the servants knew that Thomas kept a boarder, or if they did know it, they good-naturedly shut their eyes. The cook sometimes said that Thomas ate a good deal for a lad of his size.
One day the owner of the palace decided to repair it. He went all over the house in company with an architect and poked into places he had not visited for years. At last he reached the garret, and there he stumbled right into Thomas’s room.
“Why, how’s this?” he cried, astonished at the drawings in the little room. “Have we an artist among us? Who occupies this room?”
“The kitchen boy, Thomas, sir.”
“A kitchen boy! So great a genius must not be neglected. Call the kitchen boy.”
Thomas came in fear and trembling. He had never been in his employer’s presence before. He looked at the charcoal drawings on the wall and then into the face of the great man.
“Thomas, you are no longer a kitchen boy,” said the official kindly.
Poor Thomas thought he was dismissed from service, and then what would become of Peter?
“Don’t send me away!” he cried. “I have nowhere to go, and Peter will starve. He wants to be a painter so much!”
“Who is Peter?”
“He is a boy from Cortona who boards with me. He drew those pictures on the wall, and he will die if he cannot be a painter.”
“Where is he now?”
“He is wandering about the streets to find something to draw. He goes out every day.”
“When he returns, Thomas, bring him to me. Such a genius should not be allowed to live in a garret.”
Strange to say, Peter did not come back to his room that night. One week, two weeks went by, and still nothing was heard of him. At the end of that time a search was made and at last he was found. It seems he had fallen deeply in love with one of Raphael’s pictures that was exhibited in a public building, and had asked permission to copy it. The men in charge, charmed with his youth and talent, had readily consented. They had given him food and a place to stay.
Thanks to the interest the rich official took in him, Peter was admitted to the best school of painting in Florence. As for Thomas, he had masters to instruct him in all the learning of the day.
Fifty years later, two old men were living together in one of the most beautiful houses in Florence. One of them was called Peter of Cortona, and the people said of him: “He is the greatest painter of our time.”
The other was called Thomas, and all they said of him was: “Happy is the man who has him for a friend.”
He was the kind boy who took care of his friend.
Adventure Stories from History, Harvestime Books, Altamont, Tennessee 37301, 407–411.