The narrator is driving through the foothills of the Alps along with his companion. While driving on the outskirts of Verona, two young boys, the two "gentlemen" of the title, Proteus and Valentine who sell wild strawberries stop their car. The small boys appear to be quite shabby and the driver is not keen on buying strawberries from them. Then the narrator’s companion gets to know that the boys are brothers. The elder one aged 13 is Nicola, and the younger brother, aged 12, is Jacopo. The narrator and his companion buy the biggest basket of strawberries from the boys and go towards the city. The next morning, they again see the same two boys doing the shoe shining job and on being asked, they say that they do many things for a living. They also tell the narrator and his companion that they could work as guides and show the visitors places of interest in the town. So, the narrator asks them to take them to Juliet’s tomb. During the time of their stay in the town, the two young boys turn out to be very helpful to the visitors.
Then, the boys are found with a bundle of unsold newspapers and are ready to sell them when the last bus arrived one night. The narrator then talks to them and asks them why they are working so hard. He also told them that they seem to fetch sufficient money, so why were they not spending anything on clothes and food. Nicola tells him that they had something in their minds but he does not elaborate.
Jacopo then requests the narrator to drop them in his car to the village polenta that is around 30 kilometers away. He requests him and says that it would be a great favor. Although, Nicola does not like the fact that his brother is troubling the narrator. But the narrator gladly agrees to help the boys with reaching that place. So, the next afternoon, he along with his companion drives to the village. After dropping them, the small boys enter a large red-roofed villa, which is actually a hospital.
The narrator hesitates to enter the hospital room. He tries to find out from the nurse about the girl in the hospital and the boys. Later, the nurse tells him that Lucia is the sister of these two boys and is suffering from tuberculosis. She also mentions that a bomb destroyed their home during the war. And even their father, a widower, had got killed during the early part of the war. When he died, his three children were left to starve. She told the narrator that the boys also started hating the Germans who came to rule the city and even became a part of the resistance movement. Once the war was over, Lucia got afflicted with tuberculosis and the boys had to admit her to the hospital. So, they have been trying their best to make the payments regularly to the hospital.
The narrator waited outside the room. He did not say anything to the boys on their way back in order to give the impression that they did not know about their secret.