“Two Gentlemen of Verona“ is written by A.J Cronin (Archibald Joseph Cronin), who was not only a novelist but also a dramatist, and a Scottish Physician.
The story “Two Gentlemen of Verona” by A.J. Cronin begins with the two little boys selling wild strawberries on the outskirts of Verona, at the foothills of the Alps.
Their appearance was dirty and beggarly for the narrator’s (Cronin’s) driver, but the same faces were artless, innocent and genuine for the Narrator (A.J Cronin). He could not take his eyes off from their “brown skins, tangled hair and dark earnest eyes”. Later, he discovered by his companion that the two little boys were brothers-Nicola, the elder one and Jacopo, the younger one.
Both the siblings were self-sacrificing, sincere and hard working.
Despite the driver’s suggestion not to buy the wild fruits, the narrator bought the biggest basket and drive towards the town.
This was the first scene of growing intimacy between the two boys and the narrator.
Next morning, the narrator was astonished and amazed on seeing the boys working hard as Shoeshine boys, in the public square beside the fountain. On questioning about their fruit job, Nicola (the elder brother) informed him that they do various jobs whether its selling fruits, shining shoes, selling newspapers or showing the visitors through the town to Juliet’s tomb and other places of interests. This was another scene, where the narrator was mesmerised by their remarkable appearance and mentality. He describes them as childish enough and compared Jacopo to a squirrel.
However, he could not understand the seriousness on their faces as they were far beyond the age group to which they belonged.
During the summer week, the narrator described the brothers extremely useful to him. The two boys used to help him by arranging seats for the Opera, providing a pack of American Cigarettes, taking him around Juliet’s tomb. Whenever, he wanted the name of a good restaurant, they used to suggest him. Thus, they helped him in many ways.
The narrator was strucked by their willingness to work hard with great sincerity. Under the hot sun, they shined shoes, sold fruits, sold newspapers, conducted tourists round the town and ran errands.
“But why? ”- was the only unanswered question which used to run into the narrator’s mind.
One night,the narrator found both the boys quite worn out and tired waiting for the last bus from Padua to sell their newspapers.
Next morning, the narrator could not stop himself from asking the boys that despite of working hard and earning a good amount of money, why they bear up poor clothes and eat unsatisfactory meals (black bread and figs). He questioned what do they actually do with their earnings!
On being asked about their earnings, the two brothers grew pale and had some sort of guilt and awkwardness on their faces.
To lighten the environment and their mood, the narrator comforted them by pointing out a suggestion that they might be wanting to emigrate to America.
But understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nicola interrupted in between and informed him that they had some plans so they need to leave immediately to which the narrator agreed and informed them that he is about to leave on Monday, so he is ready to offer any sort of help if they needed.
Inquisitive Jocopo could not control himself and immediately asked the narrator to offer a car so that they can go to their respective State, Poleta (30km far from the place). But this cry of help did not go well with Nicola, who got annoyed with his brother, out of the fear that their biggest secret, which they were hiding for so long, can be disclosed soon.
The same afternoon, following the directions instructed by Jacopo, the narrator drove them to the little village set high upon the hillside. They stopped at a large red-roofed villa, surrounded by a high stone wall. This was unbelievable for the narrator but before he could ask anything, he found them out of the car. The boys asked him whether he needs a cafe for a drink and disappeared after informing him that they won’t stay for too long and would be back in an hour.
Unable to control his eagerness, the narrator followed them and reached a grilled side entrance where he rang the bell. After the door opened, he found a nurse dressed in a white uniform. Confused narrator immediately informed her that he brought two boys over here to which the nurse replied in a low tone ”Ah, Yes”.
She led him through a cool, tiled lobby into the hospital, the villa had become. She left him at the door of a little cubicle from where he can watch unseen Nicola and Jacopo chatting their ailing sister.Beside her, a jar of wild flowers, a dish of fruits and several books were lying on the table.
The nurse asked the narrator whether he wants to go inside or not, because Lucia might become happy on seeing him.
Not wanting to interrupt a happy family party, the narrator shook his head and refused to go inside. But he was eager to know the story about the boys and his family.
This was the time when the narrator got to know the reality behind the hardships of the boys. He was completely shattered to know that their mother died at their early age, their father (the only earning member of his family) became the victim of the German War. Their village suffered due to the German occupation. The war snatched all the comfort, love and cultured lives they were living in and exposed them to a life full of miseries.
They had suffered from starvation and exposure to cold winter.
The boys joined the secret service of resistance moment as they hated Germans. When they returned home after the war, they discovered that their sister has developed tuberculosis of the spine. Being the only surviving member of the family, Nicola and Jacopo were supposed to earn the money for the treatment of their sister, Lucia. The brothers lived in a shelter and literally starved only so that they could pay for their sister’s treatment.
The nurse further added that the food and work is so scarce in Verona, that one could not simply survive without money. But despite this unfortunate fact, both the brothers are totally devoted towards their work, and they have made their payment every week. Although she had no idea about the work that they do, but she is pretty sure that they do it very well.
After some time, the boys came out and re-joined the narrator and flew back to the city. The narrator kept quiet and made them comfortable by showing that they are successful in keeping up their secrets and it is not revealed to the narrator.