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The Gadfly centres on the life of the protagonist, Arthur Burton, a member of the Youth movement, and his antagonist Padre Montanelli. Arthur becomes a journalist, expounding radical ideas in brilliant satirical tracts published under the pseudonym 'the gadfly'. The local authorities are soon dedicated to capturing him. A thread of a tragic relationship also develops between Arthur and his love, Gemma. With the central theme of the book being the nature of a true revolutionary, The Gadfly was exceptionally popular in the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Iran, exerting a large cultural influence.
This book has 317 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1897.
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Excerpt from 'The Gadfly'
Arthur sat in the library of the theological seminary at Pisa, looking through a pile of manuscript sermons. It was a hot evening in June, and the windows stood wide open, with the shutters half closed for coolness. The Father Director, Canon Montanelli, paused a moment in his writing to glance lovingly at the black head bent over the papers.
“Can't you find it, carino? Never mind; I must rewrite the passage. Possibly it has got torn up, and I have kept you all this time for nothing.”
Montanelli's voice was rather low, but full and resonant, with a silvery purity of tone that gave to his speech a peculiar charm. It was the voice of a born orator, rich in possible modulations. When he spoke to Arthur its note was always that of a caress.
“No, Padre, I must find it; I'm sure you put it here. You will never make it the same by rewriting.”
Montanelli went on with his work. A sleepy cockchafer hummed drowsily outside the window, and the long, melancholy call of a fruitseller echoed down the street: “Fragola! fragola!”
“'On the Healing of the Leper'; here it is.” Arthur came across the room with the velvet tread that always exasperated the good folk at home. He was a slender little creature, more like an Italian in a sixteenth-century portrait than a middle-class English lad of the thirties. From the long eyebrows and sensitive mouth to the small hands and feet, everything about him was too much chiseled, overdelicate. Sitting still, he might have been taken for a very pretty girl masquerading in male attire; but when he moved, his lithe agility suggested a tame panther without the claws.
“Is that really it? What should I do without you, Arthur? I should always be losing my things. No, I am not going to write any more now. Come out into the garden, and I will help you with your work. What is the bit you couldn't understand?”
They went out into the still, shadowy cloister garden. The seminary occupied the buildings of an old Dominican monastery, and two hundred years ago the square courtyard had been stiff and trim, and the rosemary and lavender had grown in close-cut bushes between the straight box edgings. Now the white-robed monks who had tended them were laid away and forgotten; but the scented herbs flowered still in the gracious mid-summer evening, though no man gathered their blossoms for simples any more. Tufts of wild parsley and columbine filled the cracks between the flagged footways, and the well in the middle of the courtyard was given up to ferns and matted stone-crop. The roses had run wild, and their straggling suckers trailed across the paths; in the box borders flared great red poppies; tall foxgloves drooped above the tangled grasses; and the old vine, untrained and barren of fruit, swayed from the branches of the neglected medlar-tree, shaking a leafy head with slow and sad persistence.
In one corner stood a huge summer-flowering magnolia, a tower of dark foliage, splashed here and there with milk-white blossoms. A rough wooden bench had been placed against the trunk; and on this Montanelli sat down. Arthur was studying philosophy at the university; and, coming to a difficulty with a book, had applied to “the Padre” for an explanation of the point. Montanelli was a universal encyclopaedia to him, though he had never been a pupil of the seminary.
“I had better go now,” he said when the passage had been cleared up; “unless you want me for anything.”
“I don't want to work any more, but I should like you to stay a bit if you have time.”
“Oh, yes!” He leaned back against the tree-trunk and looked up through the dusky branches at the first faint stars glimmering in a quiet sky. The dreamy, mystical eyes, deep blue under black lashes, were an inheritance from his Cornish mother, and Montanelli turned his head away, that he might not see them.
“You are looking tired, carino,” he said.
“I can't help it.” There was a weary sound in Arthur's voice, and the Padre noticed it at once.
“You should not have gone up to college so soon; you were tired out with sick-nursing and being up at night. I ought to have insisted on your taking a thorough rest before you left Leghorn.”
“Oh, Padre, what's the use of that? I couldn't stop in that miserable house after mother died. Julia would have driven me mad!”
Julia was his eldest step-brother's wife, and a thorn in his side.
“I should not have wished you to stay with your relatives,” Montanelli answered gently. “I am sure it would have been the worst possible thing for you. But I wish you could have accepted the invitation of your English doctor friend; if you had spent a month in his house you would have been more fit to study.”
“No, Padre, I shouldn't indeed! The Warrens are very good and kind, but they don't understand; and then they are sorry for me,—I can see it in all their faces,—and they would try to console me, and talk about mother. Gemma wouldn't, of course; she always knew what not to say, even when we were babies; but the others would. And it isn't only that——”
“What is it then, my son?”
Arthur pulled off some blossoms from a drooping foxglove stem and crushed them nervously in his hand.
“I can't bear the town,” he began after a moment's pause. “There are the shops where she used to buy me toys when I was a little thing, and the walk along the shore where I used to take her until she got too ill. Wherever I go it's the same thing; every market-girl comes up to me with bunches of flowers—as if I wanted them now! And there's the church-yard—I had to get away; it made me sick to see the place——”
He broke off and sat tearing the foxglove bells to pieces. The silence was so long and deep that he looked up, wondering why the Padre did not speak. It was growing dark under the branches of the magnolia, and everything seemed dim and indistinct; but there was light enough to show the ghastly paleness of Montanelli's face. He was bending his head down, his right hand tightly clenched upon the edge of the bench. Arthur looked away with a sense of awe-struck wonder. It was as though he had stepped unwittingly on to holy ground.
“My God!” he thought; “how small and selfish I am beside him! If my trouble were his own he couldn't feel it more.”
Presently Montanelli raised his head and looked round. “I won't press you to go back there; at all events, just now,” he said in his most caressing tone; “but you must promise me to take a thorough rest when your vacation begins this summer. I think you had better get a holiday right away from the neighborhood of Leghorn. I can't have you breaking down in health.”