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The Gadfly   By: (1864-1960)

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By E. L. Voynich

"What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth?"


MY most cordial thanks are due to the many persons who helped me to collect, in Italy, the materials for this story. I am especially indebted to the officials of the Marucelliana Library of Florence, and of the State Archives and Civic Museum of Bologna, for their courtesy and kindness.




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... Continue reading book >>

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