“I tell you what it is,” said the artist one day; “domestic servitude is taking the poetry out of you. You’re getting fat, Giotto! Understand that from henceforth I forbid you to black boots or grates, to brush, dust, wash, cook, or whatever disturbs the peace or hinders the growth of the soul. I must get the widow back!” and the painter heaved a deep sigh.
But Jan was resolute against the widow. He effected a compromise. The bandy-legged boy from the Home was taken into the painter’s service, and Jan made himself responsible for his good conduct. He began by warning his vivacious friend that no freemasonry of common street-boyhood could hinder the duty he owed to his master of protecting his property and insuring his comfort, and that he must sooner tell tales of his friend than have the painter wronged. To this homily the bandy-legged boy listened with his red cheeks artificially distended, and occasional murmurs of “Crikey!” but he took service on these terms, and did Jan no discredit. He was incorruptibly honest, and when from time to time the street fever seized him, and he left his work to play at post-leaping outside, Jan would quietly take his place, and did not betray him. This kindness invariably drew tears of penitence from the soft-hearted young vagrant, his freaks grew rarer and rarer, and he finally became as steady as he was quick-witted.
Jan’s duties were now confined to the painting-room, and he soon became familiar with the studios of other artists, where his intelligent admiration of paintings which took his fancy, his modesty, his willing good-nature, and his precocious talent made him a general favorite.
He went regularly with his master to the early service in the sooty little church, in the choir of which he was finally enrolled. And the man of business kept a friendly eye on him, and gave him many a piece of sensible and very practical advice, to balance the evils of an artistic career.
With the Bohemianism of artist-life Jan was soon as familiar as with the Bohemianism of the streets. A certain old-fashioned gravity, which had always been amongst his characteristics, helped him to preserve both his dignity and modesty in a manner which gave the man of business great satisfaction. He might easily have been spoiled, but he was not. He answered respectfully to about a dozen names which the vagrant fancy of the young painters bestowed upon him: Jan-of-all-work—Jan Steen—The Flying Dutchman—Crimson Lake— Madder Lake—and Miller’s Thumb.
But his master called him giotto.