“Manage it as you like,” the artist had said to the master of the Boys’ Home. “Lend him, sell him, apprentice him, give him to me,— whichever you prefer. Say I want a boot-black—a clothes-brusher—a palette-setter—a bound slave—or an adopted son, as you please. The boy I must have: in what capacity I get him is nothing to me.”
“I am bound to remind you, sir,” said the master, “that he was picked up in the streets, and has had no training, and earned no outfit from us. He comes to you without clothes, without character” -
“Without character?” cried the artist. “Heavens and earth! Did you ever study physiognomy? Do you know any thing of faces?”
“It is part of my duty to know something of them, sir,” began the master, who was slightly nettled.
“Then don’t talk nonsense, my friend, but send me the boy, as soon as is consistent with your rules and regulations.”
The boy was Jan. The man of business gave his consent, but he implored his “impulsive friend,” as he termed the artist, not to ruin the lad by indulgence, but to keep him in his proper place, and give him plenty to do. In conformity with this sensible advice, Jan’s first duties in his new home were to clean the painter’s boots when he could find them, shake his velveteen coat when the pockets were empty, sweep the studio, clean brushes, and go errands. The artist was an old bachelor, infamously cheated by the rheumatic widow he had paid to perform the domestic work of his rooms; and when this afflicted lady gave warning on being asked for hot water at a later hour than usual, Jan persuaded the artist to enforce her departure, and took her place. So heavy is the iron weight of custom—when it takes the form of an elderly and widowed domestic to a single gentleman—that even Jan’s growing influence would not have secured her dismissal, had not the artist had a particular reason for wishing the boy’s practical talents to be displayed. He suspected his business friend of distrusting them because of Jan’s artistic genius, and he was proud to boast that he had never known the comfort of clean rooms and well-cooked food till “the boy Giotto” became his housekeeper.
The work was play to Jan after his slavery to the hunchback, and on his happiness in living with a painter it is needless to dwell. For a week or two, the artist was busy with his “pot boiler,” and did not pay much attention to his new apprentice, and Jan watched without disturbing him; so that when he offered to set the painter’s palette, his master regarded his success as an inspiration of genius, rather than as a result of habits of observation.
The painter, though clever and ambitious, and with a very pure and very elegant taste, was no mighty genius himself. The average of public taste in art is low enough, but in refusing his “high art” pictures, and buying his domestic ones, the public was not far wrong. It must be confessed that he had also a vein of indolence in his nature, and Jan soon painted most of the pot boilers. Another of his duties was to sit as a model for the picture. The painter sketched him again and again, and was never quite satisfied. What the vision of the windmill had lit up in the depth of his black eyes could not be recalled to order in the painter’s studio.