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St. Bartholomew’s Day
by [?]

“Kill! kill! kill!” was the cry in Paris. “Blood! blood! death to the Huguenots!” came from the lips of thousands of maddened murderers. Blood flowed everywhere; men dabbled in blood, almost bathed in blood. A crimson tide flowed in the streets of Paris deep enough to damn the infamous Catherine de’ Medici and her confederates. To the crime of assassination on that direful day of St. Bartholomew must be added that of treachery of the darkest hue. Peace had been made between the warring parties. The Protestant chiefs had been invited to Paris to witness the marriage of the young King Henry of Navarre with Marguerite de Valois, sister of the king of France, which was fixed for the 18th of August, 1572. They had been received with every show of amity and good-will. The great Huguenot leader, Admiral de Coligny, had come, confiding in the honor of his late foes, and had been received by the king, Charles IX., with demonstrations of sincere friendship, though the weak monarch warned him to beware of the Guises, his bitter enemies and the remorseless haters of all opponents of the Catholic party.

On the 22d of August the work of treachery began. On that day a murderous shot was fired at Coligny as he stood by the window of his room engaged in reading a letter. It smashed two fingers of his right hand, and lodged a ball in his left arm. The would-be murderer escaped.

“Here is a fine proof of the fidelity to his agreement of the Duke of Guise,” said Coligny, reproachfully, to the king.

“My dear father,” returned the king, “the hurt is yours, the grief and the outrage mine; but I will take such vengeance that it shall never be forgotten.”

He meant it for the moment; but his mind was feeble, his will weak, himself a mere puppet in the hands of his imperious mother and the implacable Guises. Between them they had determined to rid themselves of the opposing party in the state on the death of the admiral and the other Protestant leaders. Sure of their power over the king, the orders for the massacre were already given when, near midnight of August 24, St. Bartholomew’s day, the queen, with some of her leading councillors, sought the king’s room and made a determined assault upon the feeble defences of his intellect.

“The slaughter of many thousands of men may be prevented by a single sword-thrust,” they argued. “Only kill the admiral, the head and front of the civil wars, and the strength of his party will die with him. The sacrifice of two or three men will satisfy the loyal party, who will remain forever your faithful and obedient subjects. War is inevitable. The Guises on one side, and the Huguenots on the other, cannot be controlled. Better to win a battle in Paris, where we hold all the chiefs in our clutches, than to put it to hazard in the field. In this case pity would be cruelty, and cruelty would be pity.”

For an hour and a half the struggle with the weak will of the king continued. He was violently agitated, but could not bring himself to order the murder of the guest to whom he had promised his royal faith and protection. The queen mother grew alarmed. Delay might ruin all, by the discovery of her plans. At length, with a show of indignation, she said,–

“Then, if you will not do this, permit me and your brother to retire to some other part of the kingdom.”

This threat to leave him alone to grapple with the difficulties that surrounded him frightened the feeble king. He rose hastily from his seat.

“By God’s death!” he cried, passionately, “since you think proper to kill the admiral, I consent.” With these words he left the room.

The beginning of the work of bloodshed had been fixed for an hour before daybreak. But the king had spoken in a moment of passion and agitation. An hour’s reflection might change his mind. There was no time to be lost. The queen gave the signal at once, and out on the air of that dreadful night rang the terrible tocsin peal from the tower of the church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, the alarm call for which the white-crossed murderers waited.