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sold ; until at length poor Martin Franc was forced to “ drag the devil by the tail"; in other words, beggary stared him full in the face. But the fair Marguerite did not even then despair. In those days a belief in the immediate guardianship of the saints was much more strong and prevalent than in these lewd and degenerate times; and as there seemed no great probability of improving their condition by any lucky change which could be brought about by mere human agency, she determined to try what could be done by intercession with the patron saint of her husband. Accordingly she repaired one evening to the abbey of St. Anthony, to place a votive candle and offer her prayer at the altar, which stood in the little chapel dedicated to St. Martin.
It was already sunset when she reached the church, and the evening service of the Virgin had commenced. A cloud of incense floated before the altar of the Madonna, and the organ rolled its deep melody along the dim arches of the church. Marguerite mingled with the kneeling crowd, and repeated the responses in Latin, with as much devotion as the most learned clerk of the convent. When the service was over, she repaired to the chapel of St. Martin, and, lighting her votive taper at the silver lamp which burned before his altar, knelt down in a retired part of the chapel, and, with tears in her eyes, besought the saint for aid and protection. While she was thus engaged, the church became gradually deserted, till she was left, as she thought, alone. But in this she was mistaken; for, when she arose to depart, the portly figure of Friar Gui was standing close at her elbow !
“Good evening, fair Marguerite," said he. " St. Martin has heard your prayer, and sent me to relieve your poverty."
“ Then,” replied she, “ the good saint is not very fastidious in the choice of his messen
heartily for the interest you still take in him and his poor wife.”
“ He has done me wrong," continued the friar. “But it is our duty to forgive our enemies; and so let the past be forgotten. I know that he is in want. Here, take this to him, and tell him I am still his friend."
So saying, he drew a small purse from the sleeve of his habit, and proffered it to his companion. I know not whether it were a suggestion of St. Martin, but true it is that the fair wife of Martin Franc seemed to lend a more willing ear to the earnest whispers of the friar. At length she said,
“Put up your purse; to-day I can neither deliver your gift nor your message. Martin Franc has gone from home."
" Then keep it for yourself.”
• Nay,” replied Marguerite, casting down her
eyes; “ I can take no bribes here in the church, and in the very chapel of my husband's patron saint. You shall bring it to me at my house, if
will." The friar put up
and the conversation which followed was in a low and indistinct undertone, audible only to the ears for which it was intended. At length the interview ceased ; and O woman! the last words that the virtuous Marguerite uttered, as she glided from the church, were,
“To-night; — when the abbey-clock strikes twelve; - remember!"
It would be useless to relate how impatiently the friar counted the hours and the quarters as they chimed from the ancient tower of the abbey, while he paced to and fro along the gloomy cloister. At length the appointed hour approached; and just before the convent-bell sent forth its summons to call the friars of St. Anthony to their midnight devotions, a figure, with a cowl, stole out of a postern-gate, and passing silently along the deserted streets, soon turned into the little alley which led to the dwelling of Martin Franc. It was none other than Friar Gui. He rapped softly at the tradesman's door, and casting a look up and down the street, as if to assure himself that his motions were unobserved, slipped into the house.
" Has Martin Franc returned ?” inquired he in a whisper.
" Nay, goodwife," answered the friar, not at all abashed by this ungracious reply, “if the tidings are good, what matters it who the messenger may be? And how does Martin Franc these days ?”
“ He is well,” replied Marguerite; “and were he present, I doubt not would thank you
"No," answered the sweet voice of his wife; “ he will not be back to-night.”
“ Then all good angels befriend us !” continued the monk, endeavoring to take her hand.
“ Not so, good monk,” said she, disengaging herself. “You forget the conditions of our meeting."
The friar paused a moment; and then, drawing a heavy leathern purse from his girdle, he threw it upon the table; at the same moment a footstep was heard behind him, and a heavy blow from a club threw him prostrate upon the floor. It came from the strong arm of Martin Franc himself!
It is hardly necessary to say that his absence was feigned. His wife had invented the story to decoy the monk, and thereby to keep her husband from beggary, and to relieve herself, once for all, from the importunities of a false friend. At first Martin Franc would not listen to the proposition; but at length he yielded to the urgent entreaties of his wife; and the plan finally agreed upon was, that Friar Gui, after leaving his purse behind him, should be sent back to the convent with a severer discipline than his shoulders had ever received from any penitence of his own.
The affair, however, took a more serious turn than was intended; for, when they tried to raise the friar from the ground, — he was dead. The blow aimed at his shoulders fell upon his shaven crown; and, in the excitement of the moment, Martin Franc had dealt a heavier stroke than he intended. Amid the grief and consternation which followed this discovery, the quick imagination of his wife suggested an expedient of safety. A bunch of keys at the friar's girdle caught her eye. Hastily unfastening the ring, she gave the keys to her husband, exclaiming, –
“For the holy Virgin's sake, be quick! One of these keys doubtless unlocks the gate of the convent-garden. Carry the body thither, and leave it among the trees!”
Martin Franc threw the dead body of the monk across his shoulders, and with a heavy heart took the way to the abbey. It was a clear, starry night; and though the moon had not yet risen, her light was in the sky, and
came reflected down in a soft twilight upon earth. Not a sound was heard through all the long and solitary streets, save at intervals the distant crowing of a cock, or the melancholy hoot of an owl from the lofty tower of the abbey. The silence weighed like an accusing spirit upon the guilty conscience of Martin Franc. He started at the sound of his own breathing, as he panted under the heavy burden of the monk's body; and if, perchance, a bat flitted near him on drowsy wings, he paused, and his heart beat audibly with terror. At length he reached the garden-wall of the abbey, opened the postern-gate with the key, and bearing the monk into the garden, seated him upon a stone bench by the edge of the fountain, with his head resting against a column, upon which was sculptured an image of the Madonna. He then replaced the bunch of keys at the monk's girdle, and returned home with hasty steps.
When the prior of the convent, to whom the repeated delinquencies of Friar Gui were but too well known, observed that he was again absent from his post at midnight prayers, he waxed exceedingly angry; and no sooner were the duties of the chapel finished, than he sent a monk in pursuit of the truant sacristan, summoning him to appear immediately at his cell. By chance it happened that the monk chosen for this duty was an enemy of Friar Gui; and very shrewdly supposing that the sacristan had stolen out of the garden-gate on some midnight adventure, he took that direction in pursuit. The moon was just climbing the convent-wall, and threw its silvery light through the trees of the garden, and on the sparkling waters of the fountain, that fell with a soft lulling sound into the deep basin below. As the monk passed on his way, he stopped to quench his thirst with a draught of the cool water, and was turning to depart, when his eye caught the motionless form of the sacristan, sitting erect in the shadow of the stone column.
“ How is this, Friar Gui?” quoth the monk. “Is this a place to be sleeping at midnight, when the brotherhood are all at their prayers?"
Friar Gui made no answer.