At Nismes it is well known that the women wash their clothes either at the fountains or on the banks of streams. There is a large basin near the fountain, where numbers of women may be seen every day, kneeling at the edge of the water, and beating the clothes with heavy pieces of wood in the shape of battledores. This spot became the scene of the most shameful and indecent practices. The Catholic rabble turned the women's petticoats over their heads, and so fastened them as to continue their exposure, and their subjection to a newly invented species of chastisement; for nails being placed in the wood of the battoirs in the form of fleur-de-lis, they beat them until the blood streamed from their bodies, and their cries rent the air. Often was death demanded as a commutation of this ignominious punishment, but refused with a malignant joy. To carry their outrage to the highest possible degree, several who were in a state of pregnancy were assailed in this manner. The scandalous nature of these outrages prevented many of the sufferers from making them public, and, especially, from relating the most aggravating circumstances. "I have seen," says M. Duran, "a Catholic advocat, accompanying the assassins of the fauxbourg Bourgade, arm a battoir with sharp nails in the form of fleur-de-lis; I have seen them raise the garments of females, and apply, with heavy blows, to the bleeding body this battoir or battledore, to which they gave a name which my pen refuses to record. The cries of the sufferers-the streams of blood-the murmurs of indignation which were suppressed by fear-nothing could move them. The surgeons who attended on those women who are dead, can attest, by the marks of their wounds, the agonies which they must have endured, which, however horrible, is most strictly true."
Nevertheless, during the progress of these horrors and obscenities, so disgraceful to France and the Catholic religion, the agents of government had a powerful force under their command, and by honestly employing it they might have restored tranquillity. Murder and robbery, however, continued, and were winked at, by the Catholic magistrates, with very few exceptions; the administrative authorities, it is true, used words in their proclamations, etc., but never had recourse to actions to stop the enormities of the persecutors, who boldly declared that, on the twenty-fourth, the anniversary of St. Bartholomew, they intended to make a general massacre. The members of the Reformed Church were filled with terror, and, instead of taking part in the election of deputies, were occupied as well as they could in providing for their own personal safety.
Outrages Committed in the Villages, etc.
We now quit Nismes to take a view of the conduct of the persecutors in the surrounding country. After the re-establishment of the royal government, the local authorities were distinguished for their zeal and forwardness in supporting their employers, and, under pretence of rebellion, concealment of arms, nonpayment of contributions, etc., troops, national guards, and armed mobs, were permitted to plunder, arrest, and murder peaceable citizens, not merely with impunity, but with encouragement and approbation. At the village of Milhaud, near Nismes, the inhabitants were frequently forced to pay large sums to avoid being pillaged. This, however, would not avail at Madame Teulon's: On Sunday, the sixteenth of July, her house and grounds were ravaged; the valuable furniture removed or destroyed, the hay and wood burnt, and the corpse of a child, buried in the garden, taken up and dragged round a fire made by the populace. It was with great difficulty that M. Teulon escaped with his life.
M. Picherol, another Protestant, had deposited some of his effects with a Catholic neighbor; this house was attacked, and though all the property of the latter was respected, that of his friend was seized and destroyed. At the same village, one of a party doubting whether M. Hermet, a tailor, was the man they wanted, asked, "Is he a Protestant?" this he acknowledged. "Good," said they, and he was instantly murdered. In the canton of Vauvert, where there was a consistory church, eighty thousand francs were extorted.
In the communes of Beauvoisin and Generac similar excesses were committed by a handful of licentious men, under the eye of the Catholic mayor, and to the cries of Vive le Roi! St. Gilles was the scene of the most unblushing villainy. The Protestants, the most wealthy of the inhabitants, were disarmed, whilst their houses were pillaged. The mayor was appealed to; but he laughed and walked away. This officer had, at his disposal, a national guard of several hundred men, organized by his own orders. It would be wearisome to read the lists of the crimes that occurred during many months. At Clavison the mayor prohibited the Protestants the practice of singing the Psalms commonly used in the temple, that, as he said, the Catholics might not be offended or disturbed.
At Sommieres, about ten miles from Nismes, the Catholics made a splendid procession through the town, which continued until evening and was succeeded by the plunder of the Protestants. On the arrival of foreign troops at Sommieres, the pretended search for arms was resumed; those who did not possess muskets were even compelled to buy them on purpose to surrender them up, and soldiers were quartered on them at six francs per day until they produced the articles in demand. The Protestant church which had been closed, was converted into barracks for the Austrians. After divine service had been suspended for six months at Nismes, the church, called the Temple by the Protestants, was re-opened, and public worship performed on the morning of the twenty-fourth of December. On examining the belfry, it was discovered that some persons had carried off the clapper of the bell. As the hour of service approached, a number of men, women, and children collected at the house of M. Ribot, the pastor, and threatened to prevent the worship. At the appointed time, when he proceeded towards the church, he was surrounded; the most savage shouts were raised against him; some of the women seized him by the collar; but nothing could disturb his firmness, or excite his impatience; he entered the house of prayer, and ascended the pulpit. Stones were thrown in and fell among the worshippers; still the congregation remained calm and attentive, and the service was concluded amidst noise, threats, and outrage.
On retiring many would have been killed but for the chasseurs of the garrison, who honorably and zealously protected them. From the captain of these chasseurs, M. Ribot soon after received the following letter:
January 2, 1816.
"I deeply lament the prejudices of the Catholics against the Protestants, who they pretend do not love the king. Continue to act as you have hitherto done, and time and your conduct will convince the Catholics to the contrary: should any tumult occur similar to that of Saturday last inform me. I preserve my reports of these acts, and if the agitators prove incorrigible, and forget what they owe to the best of kings and the charter, I will do my duty and inform the government of their proceedings. Adieu, my dear sir; assure the consistory of my esteem, and of the sense I entertain of the moderation with which they have met the provocations of the evil-disposed at Sommieres. I have the honor to salute you with respect.
SUVAL DE LAINE."
Another letter to this worthy pastor from the Marquis de Montlord, was received on the sixth of January, to encourage him to unite with all good men who believe in God to obtain the punishment of the assassins, brigands, and disturbers of public tranquillity, and to read the instructions he had received from the government to this effect publicly. Notwithstanding this, on the twentieth of January, 1816, when the service in commemoration of the death of Louis XVI was celebrated, a procession being formed, the National Guards fired at the white flag suspended from the windows of the Protestants, and concluded the day by plundering their houses.
In the commune of Anguargues, matters were still worse; and in that of Fontanes, from the entry of the king in 1815, the Catholics broke all terms with the Protestants; by day they insulted them, and in the night broke open their doors, or marked them with chalk to be plundered or burnt. St. Mamert was repeatedly visited by these robberies; and at Montmiral, as lately as the sixteenth of June, 1816, the Protestants were attacked, beaten, and imprisoned, for daring to celebrate the return of a king who had sworn to preserve religious liberty and to maintain the charter.