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Knights of the Art

Fra Filippo Lippi
It was winter time in Florence. The tramontana, that keen wind which blows from over
the snow mountains, was sweeping down the narrow streets, searching out every nook
and corner with its icy breath. Men flung their cloaks closer round them, and pulled their
hats down over their eyes, so that only the tips of their noses were left uncovered for the
wind to freeze. Women held their scaldinoes, little pots of hot charcoal, closer under their
shawls, and even the dogs had a sad, half-frozen look. One and all longed for the warm
winds of spring and the summer heat they loved. It was bad enough for those who had
warm clothes and plenty of polenta, but for the poor life was very hard those cold wintry
days.
In a doorway of a great house, in one of the narrow streets, a little boy of eight was
crouching behind one of the stone pillars as he tried to keep out of the grip of the
tramontana. His little coat was folded closely round him, but it was full of rents and holes
so that the thin body inside was scarcely covered, and the child's blue lips trembled with
the cold, and his black eyes filled with tears.
It was not often that Filippo turned such a sad little face to meet the world. Usually those
black eyes sparkled with fun and mischief, and the mouth spread itself into a merry grin.
But to-day, truly things were worse than he ever remembered them before, and he could
remember fairly bad times, too, if he tried.
Other children had their fathers and mothers who gave them food and clothes, but he
seemed to be quite different, and never had had any one to care for him. True, there was
his aunt, old Mona Lapaccia, who said he had once had a father and mother like other
boys, but she always added with a mournful shake of her head that she alone had endured
all the trouble and worry of bringing him up since he was two years old. `Ah,' she would
say, turning her eyes upwards, `the saints alone know what I have endured with a great
hungry boy to feed and clothe.'
It seemed to Filippo that in that case the saints must also know how very little he had to
eat, and how cold he was on these wintry days. But of course they would be too grand to
care about a little boy.
In summer things were different. One could roll merrily about in the sunshine all day
long, and at night sleep in some cool sheltering corner of the street. And then, too, there
was always a better chance of picking up something to eat. Plenty of fig skins and melon
parings were flung carelessly out into the street when fruit was plentiful, and people
would often throw away the remains of a bunch of grapes. It was wonderful how quickly
Filippo learned to know people's faces, and to guess who would finish to the last grape
and who would throw the smaller ones away. Some would even smile as they caught his
anxious, waiting eye fixed on the fruit, and would cry `Catch' as they threw a goodly
bunch into those small brown hands that never let anything slip through their fingers.
 
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