I come as usual, to take my walk. Crippled and podagra that I am, I can't go very far. It is towards Calvary, at the fork of the Chemin de Saint-Chély, that my old legs carry me. I sit at the foot of the cross, it is also old and obsolete, but it still holds. Sometimes in winter, when the wind from the causse blows in a storm, the good people, shut in their houses shaken by the hurricane, say to each other "this time for sure, the Calvary will not resist, tomorrow we will not find any more traces at the crossroads. But nothing could demolish the crucifix, nor the rain which rots the wood, nor the snow which the north wind piles up in this hollow.
There's a pile of rubble there that I've always seen. When I was a child, I came with other pranks of my age, looking for lizards under the stones, less in the hope of catching them than for the pleasure of seeing them spin faster than a ray of light and disappear. . Now they don't care anymore. The old people of my way stay motionless like them for hours on end, warming themselves in the dodger, I take the sun with the lizards. I like silence. Nothing disturbs it except the sound of the wind in the high branches, the crowing of a rooster or the shrill sound of a bird of prey soaring in the sky. When the shade of the chestnut trees lengthens in the fields, I return on my butts to the house.
It is the first in the village, not in importance, it is neither more spacious nor higher than the others, but it is it first that we see. The door opens on the very edge of the royal road which goes from Mende to Saint-Flour in Auvergne. When I don't have the courage to walk, I carry my chair to the threshold and wait for someone or something to pass.
How many times have I left, how many times have I returned during my long life, how many times have I taken the road, then the path, the path, the draille. A merchant of almanacs should feel sorry for neither his trouble nor his time, he must walk in all seasons and follow the hardest course. If he scratches himself in the brush, too bad for him, if he gets lost, he'll be off to sleep under the stars, if the rain takes him, he'll pull his hood over his head and if he meets the wolf, he will try to scare him.
I met him very often, at nightfall. He never caught me off guard. Each time, Finette, my mule, warned me of the danger. When I felt her nervous under me, worried, pointing her ears towards the thicket, I guessed that the wolf was not far away. And, suddenly, my beast stopped short, stumbled on all four feet. I then saw a dark mass, shining eyes. I cocked my old gun, was it the noise that frightened the brigand or the smell of my powder flask, so much was it that I heard him grumbling in the brushwood and fleeing without my having to fire .
Finette took to galloping until I stopped her to reassure her, caress her neck "gentle sweetheart, don't worry, wolves aren't as bad as they say". And, in fact, they confined themselves to coming in the evening to howl around the houses, to blow on the door of the sheepfolds and to make the little children cry out in fear in their beds. They did not attack men, nor even women, except for a certain wolf, a damned beast......
But that's a story I'll tell later.
It is to the priest of Julianges that I owe being what I am and not what I was born for, that is to say a little shepherd on the causse. My parents had nothing and had they even possessed something that being of religion, they would hardly have benefited from it. The dragons were with us as my poor mother gave birth to me. They weren't bad people, they made more noise than harm and even, seeing my mother so close to her due date, they sometimes gave her a hand in the household.
She died giving birth to me and my father followed her closely. The house was sold at auction and a neighbor took care of me. Although a papist, she had a good heart and was saddened at the idea of letting an innocent creature die of misery and starvation, she took me under her roof and raised me at the same time as a little boy whom she had just had "when it's for one, there's for two" she said, caressing her generous breasts which largely filled her camisole.
I grew up like this, busy caring for animals. They were not numerous, a goat, three or four ewes, two thin cows and the dog, my friend. I led them all together to the pasture. You have to go get it high up. The sheep, for centuries and centuries that they go every year, straight from the plain to the mountains, have hardly left any grass in their path. The draille looks like a stream of stone, growing on the banks only broom, brambles and here and there, hard and prickly ferns which the herds do not want.
To live under the sky, with innocent animals, I would perhaps have found wisdom, which consists in not looking further than its horizon. All my life, I would have done nothing but push my cows, my goat in front of me, I would have carried the lambs in my arms and talked with my dog while watching the shadows of the clouds run over the countryside, M. le curé would change my destiny.
One Sunday, as I had just served his mass, he questioned me. He had known my parents and held them, although Huguenots for people of goodness and labor. He spoke to me about them in a friendly way and recommended that I not forget their memory: « You will find them in Paradise my child, I hope to see them there too. I'm not very sure, saying that, to be suspected of heresy. Bah! I wouldn't be grilled for giving my Colas cow friends a thought ». This excellent man took me under his protection, and taught me what little I know.
By dint of reading books, and not being able to buy any, I took it into my head to sell some and go and see outside the limits of my parish, if the sky was clearer, the wind less harsh and there was somewhere a prettier girl than Marinon, the niece of the baker from St. Privas-du-Fau.
I hoped to forget her as I walked away, because the beauty was laughing at the little shepherd. The prestige of the traveler was greater in his beautiful eyes. The first time she saw me, in my Sunday best, my hair neatly combed and tied in a knot, a new satchel around my back, my coat rack rolled up on my saddle, and finely brushed, sanded, hooves waxed, a little bouquet poppies on the headpiece. Marinon didn't turn her head, laughing as she used to.
From her window, she shouted hello to me, « Where are you going so beautiful, little Louis? » Beware of the ladies of the city. It's no game for you, my poor. She was laughing, but I could see that her looks were less mocking than usual.
I thus traveled throughout the country. I learned to open my eyes and ears, not to believe everything people say, and to reason from my own judgment. From village to village, from province to province, I ended up leaving my mountain. I became acquainted with the plain, the fields of vines crushed by the sun, the olive groves, the pine forests. While at home, we ruin ourselves for a glass of piquette, over there we drank old wine from the pitcher and for a few farthings.
At Montpellier, I saw the ladies on the Esplanade, the soldiers who were maneuvering in the Champs-de-Mars, and M. de Saint Priest, intendant of Languedoc, in his carriage. I drooled in the shops, I found plenty there to fill my coat rack with new books, to which I added a few knick-knacks, likely to seduce the ladies and gentlemen of the countryside.
But more than the shops, the shows, the cabarets, all the pleasures delighted me the hours I spent in the company of my foster brother. He had taken service in the King's cavalry and on his return from the war, he had been sent to Montpellier to reassemble his squadron with fresh horses. His task finished, he returned home with me. When he appeared in the uniform of Chamborand, the finest regiment of the Houzards, the whole village stood at the windows to watch him pass. He looked proud with the azure jacket trimmed with silver, the overcoat over the shoulder, his chestnut-colored breeches and his plume.
I remember exactly the last evening we spent together in the village. We were having a pint at the Auberge de la Bonne Rencontre, when a traveler came in and asked for supper. He came from Mende where he belonged, he said, to the house of Monseigneur. His greatness had just held the States of Gévaudan at Marvejols.
- « If one of you, » said the companion, « can ever attend the opening of the States, let him not miss it. It is a rare sight to see gathered in such a poor city so many brilliant personages in full dress. »
And described to us the delegates of the Intendant, the representatives of our lords of Nîmes, Alès, Uzès and Viviers, the seneschal of Beaucaire, the Priors of Sainte Enimie and Langogne, the abbot des Chambons, the eight barons-peers and the twelve gentlemen of Gévaudan, not to mention the consuls of the seventeen notable communes. All these « haughty » as we say at home, having learnedly discussed the interests of the Province, supped at the table of the judge-mayor of Marvejols had returned who to his diocese, who to his town house, who to his Châtellenie.
Not without some concerns, however. Strange noises were going around. The roads were not safe, although the King's Constabulary patrolled them properly. But what can the best-armed gendarmes do against wild beasts? One of these was reported to attack, not the herds, but the Christians, which is why, when taking the mountain paths, the noble lords of the States of Gévaudan trembled in their breeches.
- « They would have done better, said our man, to have a good drink and not linger over these nonsense. The malignant animal that we saw in the countryside is only fond of fresh flesh: that is to say to you if it has nothing to do with the old leather of these gentlemen. It's not like you, my dear, » he added, pinching the chin of Madame Paparel, patroness of the Good Hostess. « There is something under this scarf to whet the appetite of the least hungry werewolves. »
He spoke thus out of politeness. Because the hostess was young, toothless and with a puny bodice, but she let herself be taken in by good manners, which earned us, at her expense and expense, a new round of claret wine.
This autumn evening, I will never forget it in my life, it marked for us, and without our being able to doubt it, the beginning of a nightmare. Death, which was to lurk around us for months and months, came in the form of this stranger, to enter the smoky room of the cabaret and to sit down, invisible at our side.
- « A big wolf », said the man from Mende, « a huge wolf, a wolf such as we have never seen. By the way, is it really a wolf? The most terrible beast, in any case, that we have ever seen. God forbid you ever see her at home. She is currently hunting in Vivarais, but we have seen her elsewhere, in places and places further away, it is to believe that she runs in the mountains faster than the wind, let's hope that we will have killed her before it comes so far. To your health, my braves, to your loves, beautiful lady. »
Having drunk, he opened the door and disappeared into the night, leaving behind him worried faces, troubled minds. My houzard of a brother, himself, seemed disconcerted.
Suddenly he thumped the table hard.
- « Aren't these tales from my grandmother! A wolf ? Who has ever been afraid of a wolf? And what comes of this funnyman to fold our ears with his chatter. If the Beast only cares about sinew, we'll lock women and girls up in the house. If now the bishops and town consuls begin to tremble because a wolf shows its ears at the bend in the road, will it be necessary to send the dragoons and the housards of his majesty to hunt wild animals? Don't look like a yard long, goodnight thunder! There is nothing to fear, I tell you, nothing, and you can believe a soldier of the King returning from war. To hell with the capons, the cowards and the aspens... pour us a drink, mother Paparel, and clink glasses, please, with me. »
He held out his glass, but I saw that it was shaking at his fingertips. Terror had entered us, all of us, I'm not sure, after so many years, that it completely left me.
It is a great miracle, not from God but from the devil, that we do not yet know what this beast was, even today that we have seen it, killed it, died it, stuffed it, that it has been maybe forgotten. Old people like me remember and don't understand yet. Here I am very close to my eightieth birthday, I no longer have a very long journey to make to the cemetery. I saw the great revolution, under the Eagles, I dragged my spats through the worst paths. Death has never scared me, nor its procession. They didn't see me lower my head before the shrapnel, nor my spine before the barking sans-culottes of the guillotines.
And yet, at this hour still, I remain speechless thinking of the Beast, trembling like an old udder. I never saw her, although she disdained to hide herself. Those who saw her, who fought against her, I have an idea that when they saw her, they didn't have their own heads, nor their very clear eyes, otherwise, they probably wouldn't have found themselves so many people to say that she was like this or like that and never twice the same. That beast, you see, was the devil. She transformed, I believe, as she wanted and cast a spell on her opponents that made them blind, weak, helpless against her cursed force.
I was still a little boy when, rummaging in the attic, I found among the poor things I had left from my parents, an old Bible three-quarters torn. My father, I have been told, read it at the wake. I fancied reading it myself. That same evening I confessed to Mr. Le cure, from whom I obtained absolution without difficulty.
There was on the last pages of this book, the engraved figure of a devouring beast, I don't remember the words inscribed around the image, they haunted my nights: « the beast I saw looked like a leopard, its feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. She had seven heads, on each of these heads a name of blasphemy… »
This beast of the apocalypse, of which I have since spoken with Mr. The priest of Julianges, was it not she, perhaps, who returned in this year 1765, in the country of Gévaudan, in the most distant, to the most lost of the kingdom of France, to establish herself as a mistress and to destroy us all in the name of Satan. Father Portal began by shrugging his broad shoulders, but a few days later he confessed to me that he had thought long and hard about the idea that had arisen from an old childhood memory.
Perhaps divine wrath had fallen on our heads because we had deserved it, by our outbursts, the warmth of our faith, our friendship, despite everything kept to the Huguenots. But the beast did not spare them either, it was because they were sinners like us, perhaps more so.
Everything I say here, I've been stirring in my old noggin for years and years. If anyone ever reads this paper that I scribble by candlelight before taking my night, he will doubtless take me for a dotard and will not be wrong. But since I'm talking about the Beast, I have to mark the state of mind that was ours. No one, indeed, man or woman, young or old, noble or peasant, in our mountains, who did not feel a thickening veil of mystery around him and the hand of death on him.
It was from Langogne that the first news reached us. Since the man of the Bishop had, at the cabaret, started to sow excitement, everyone in his house commented on the thing. There was whispering around the hearths, the shutters were drawn and the bolts pushed earlier than usual, and the fathers lectured the daughters.
- « Watch out for anything you see coming out of the woods, shout as loud as you can. Let the Beast rob you of a lamb or a goat if that can satisfy it, it is better to sacrifice a head or two of the herd and keep the shepherdess, and when you leave for the fields, do not forget to take your crook, your knife and your rosary. »
These talks, indeed, and all the like, which were said under every thatched roof in the village, were strange. Wolves abound in our cold country and I said that neither Finette, my mule, nor I pay attention to them. Not a week when the head and legs of a sheep thief were brought to the castle. Our dogs are trained to run after ferocious beasts. If, then, people were shaking so hard in the cottages of Julianges, in Margeride, all along the valley, it was because there was something other than a wolf there. The most clumsy of the mountaineers felt it, the devil, I tell you, it was the devil!
From Langogne, therefore, it was learned that a young woman who was tending her cows in the meadow had suddenly seen an enormous beast come out of the hedge and leap upon her. The dogs, solid Mastiffs, however, had not moved, nor growled. But the cows, head down, had charged the unknown animal, with loud blows of their horns sent back into the thicket. Miraculously saved, the woman had nevertheless had her stomach injured by the monster.
It was indeed a monster, so she said, a beast almost as big as a heifer, black hair, lighter in the chest, a large reddish cross on its back, a strong and constantly wagging tail, a pointed muzzle, eyes of fire and paws, my friends, which looked like hands adorned with sharp and pointed nails as much as needles. The animal was running fast and, according to the young woman, was standing upright like a bear she had seen long ago at the Florac fair. The mouth of the animal, especially was horrible, red, seemed full of blood, with a whole army of teeth, to believe that it has three rows of them said the shepherdess.
A doctor came to see her and Mr the Prior and the captain of the dragoons who were then garrisoned at Langogne. They reported it to the steward. The latter, in his beautiful Hôtel des Minimes in Montpellier, thought he had something else to think about than the adventures of the shepherdesses of Gévaudan. However, when the next day and the following days, similar reports came to him, from other parishes often very far away, and relating the same stories, Mr. De Saint Priest began to be alarmed.
The story didn't vary much. The Beast emerged from a hole, from a bush, from a hollow in the rock. Sometimes she let herself fall from a tree: the shepherdess, seated at the foot of a chestnut tree, busy knitting her stockings while tending the sheep, suddenly collapsed, crushed under the weight of a hairy mass which gripped her neck. with his claws before digging into his belly with his teeth.
When, at his cries, a shepherd, a plowman toiling in the neighboring fields, ran up, he found nothing more, under a body of a torn skirt, a tattered bodice, but a poor body savagely torn to pieces, an open throat from which the blood no longer flowed. The sheep a stone's throw away continued to graze as if nothing had happened. The dogs howled to death in front of the corpse, but none of them bore bite marks or battle marks, as if they had fled when the monster arrived.
Every day it was the same thing, from everywhere the same tragic news arrived from mouth to mouth. From twenty leagues around, death struck through the nails and teeth of a monstrous beast of which no one could trace the trace or discover the shelter, but which never missed its mark.
Never? Once, maybe twice, his prey nearly escaped him. A little fellow, like Rouquet because of his fiery hair, was going about the fields, busy cutting an elderberry stick to make a whistle, when the Beast appeared. She was lying on the ground and crawling forward, shaking her head, protruding between her chops a large bloody tongue.
The child remained there, motionless, rooted, unable to call out, to cry out. The next moment he was rolling in the ditch with the Beast on top of him, suddenly she uttered a shrill cry which was unlike any of those uttered by wild beasts and she fled towards the wood, hopping on her legs. two hind legs, right in the middle of his chest, Rouquet's knife was planted.
The poor little boy hadn't been able to defend himself, he was lying lifeless, but the knife he was holding when the beast attacked him had at least prevented it from devouring him. Jean Peyrou, who was cutting the rye on the hill, told me about it, he very distinctly saw the Beast reach the edge of the wood of the Chapter, a piece of blade shone in the sun. Moreover, little Rouquet's knife, covered in blood, was found quite near the border.
The dreadful beast did not seem to care about herds. Since there have been sheep and wolves in this world, it was the first time that a wolf had been seen to disdain sheep. The lambs could frolic at ease away from their mothers, the ewes ruminate away from the guard dogs, the goats wander off, the donkeys change pastures, the geese and turkeys escape along the hedges, there was no need to worry about them, all these bleating and cackling people returned to the village, without a head of the herd missing, the wolf preferred the shepherdesses.
And he wanted her young and plump and plump. He also liked children, the good rosy cheeks, the chubby little shoulders and the necks crowned with Friesian blonds. No doubt the men's tough meat did not tempt the Beast, no doubt also she was wary of the peasants here who never go out without their "paradon", the round-bladed knife used to trim hooves and which we fixed at the end of a stick.
It is usually employed to kill the vipers which abound in our stones and seek to suckle the sheep. The Beast didn't bother with it. Besides, she wasn't much of a carnivore, this cutthroat, she didn't devour her victims.
All she had to do was bleed them out like weasels do to rabbits, to slash their lower bodies, but she never took away the prey that remained in the fields. The birds of prey came from the depths of the sky to circle around the bloody bodies and it was even by this sign that one knew that a new crime had just been committed.
For two years and more, we lived like this in terror. The Beast went on, strewing its passage with corpses from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley, from wood to wood. Woods abound in the thick, bushy, impenetrable country, strewn with sly bogs. The blackest is that of Chamblard. Although it is close to the village of Besseyre, it dominates the road to Sargues where the muleteers pass, it is a wild place where I did not willingly venture. It seemed to me that from the funereal wood erected at the top of the ridge descended the spells. I vaguely felt that among the misfortunes of the country, my own misfortune would come from its dark borders.
Marinou, with whom my heart was full, took it into his head to go one summer day to pick blackberries in the Chamblard bushes. I had dissuaded her as best I could, but it was enough for me to issue an opinion for her to immediately adopt the opposite design, such was her way of responding to my tenderness. So my loves, dressed in muslin, climbed the slope crowned by the wood. I stayed on the road watching Marinou from afar. The light stain on her dress disappeared in the shadows.
Suddenly I heard a cry, a long wail of terror and despair. I quickly climbed the hill. Marinou was standing, motionless, leaning against a tree, her clothes in disarray, stained with blood. She looked at me coming with wild eyes, but did not let me approach. Like a mortally wounded beast, she fled staggering into the thicket. I never saw her again, her body was found drowned in the Auvers stream.
Days followed days, seasons upon seasons, each evening brought us the echoes of a new attack, of a new crime. One more family was marked with the sign of the Beast, another house on the threshold of which the priest came to throw holy water, a coffin, after so many others, which was taken to the cemetery. Death was everywhere and men could do nothing against it. At least the poor people that we were.
Beatings? We made them every day, the men of the village left with their scythes, their pitchforks, their work tools, with their guard dogs and old saucepans on which they banged to make noise, but the Beast remained crouched and did not move. not. The dogs raised only meager foxes, a few rabbits, the poorest game.
The lords of Apchier, Albaret de Malzieu came to the rescue, they were better armed and sounded their horns at the top of their lungs, but the horses got entangled in the brambles, got bogged down in the bogs. Our good lords made a hollow bush just like the peasants.
We couldn't take it anymore with terror and anguish. The Beast, we saw it everywhere. This shadow that the elms profiled on the road, it was her, these marks in the sand, it was the trace of her footsteps, this bush that was blowing in the wind, this dried up tree trunk, this pile of hay in the path, this piece of stone on the Calvary of Julianges, all that the night deforms, all that, in the darkness, expands, lengthens disproportionately, all this was the Beast on the watch, ready to pounce, crawling towards his work of death.
Thus, this Beast, which killed us with little blows, which sucked the best of our blood, ended up entering our life, merging with it, it became a kind of hideous divinity with whom we were forced to live in a terrible and constant familiarity.
The memory of Marinou often brought me to the Bois de Chamblard. I now go there without fear. No spectacle could be offered to me worse than that of my friend already gripped by death. One day as I was wandering along the edge, calling and chasing by turns the dear vanished image, I saw two men come out of the thicket. I knew Jean Chastel well, the famous hunter, already old but the most enraged wolf-keeper in the country.
He lived in a hovel at the edge of the wood on the side of Auzenc, which no one ever approached and about which strange rumors circulated. It was full, it was said, of hunting remains, wolf skins, terribly toothless skulls. Jean Chastel boasted of never having held a prey at the end of his gun that he hadn't killed. From his fights, he bore many scars, but had always emerged victorious.
- « Hi little Louis, what are you looking for here? It's a very lonely place for a small young man accustomed to running around town. Leave this stay to savages like us. »
He looked sad and worried. His hat pulled over his eyes concealed his gaze from me.
- « You don't know my son, Petit Louis? Nobody knows him. When the Berbers took him, you were at the breast and he hadn't come to the country for a long time. Look closely at Antoine Chastel, in the eyes, if you dare, don't you dare find yourself in his way, one day when he doesn't want company. That's good advice I give you. Farewell Little Louis. »
They went back into the woods and I didn't think of following them. Even if the old man's words had not been laden with mysterious threats, the appearance of his son would have deterred anyone from accompanying them, a tall, thin man, bent double, his skin the color of olive, his low head covered with yellow locks, a long beard at the chin, a humble and worried air at the same time, a je ne sais quoi fierce and fearful, as one sees in captive animals in menagerie cages.
At the words of his father, he laughed, with a grating laugh, I saw his mouth under his mustache, sharp teeth, a red tongue. As he left, he touched the brim of his hat, I'll never forget his hands, long, bony hands with sharp nails, hands like claws.
I no longer thought of this bizarre character. It was only later, much later, that his disturbing face came back to my memory. I remembered that he was constantly prowling the countryside, spending whole days lying in the bushes, far from the paths, on the outskirts of remote pastures or alone with their flocks, the shepherdesses waiting for the evening. By a curious coincidence, it was around where Antoine Chastel was sleeping on dead leaves that the Beast was hitting and he never heard it, nor surprised it...
I saw them scroll. They were wonderful to see. The guards wearing bandoliers bearing the arms of LI, AA. The Dukes of Orléans and Penthièvre rode strong horses, with shiny hair, sumptuously harnessed and saddled. Followed them by a pack of bristling, loud-mouthed griffins, led by dog servants in the livery of princes. All these beautiful people went hunting in a great din of trumpets and barking.
Often on their way, during the beats, the brilliant hunters, saw at the bend of a forest hedge, at the outlet of a clearing, Antoine Chastel who was cutting ferns for his mattress, or who was picking up mushrooms, but they never saw the beast. In the country people were beginning, not to smile, no one thought of it in this atmosphere of terror, but to shrug their shoulders. One fine day, finally, Mr de Beauterne announces that his men have brought down the monster.
His guards reported to Malzieu that a very large wolf, black streaked with fire, a guard from Orleans named Rinchard, had shot him with a duck shot in the right eye. The people of the town who had come there did not fail to recognize him as being the Beast which for nearly three years had been sowing terror. Monsieur de Beauterne returned to the court, he arrived there in triumph, taking with him the famous duly stuffed wolf. The Gazette de France celebrated his achievement, Gévaudan was officially delivered from the Beast. At Versailles they thought of something else.
In Gévaudan, however, we could not forget our misfortune. The King's gamekeepers had not returned home when the Beast began its abominations again. They lasted for another two months. Beautiful youths gave their blood to the monster.
The tocsin began ringing again from steeple to steeple in all the villages, and the death knell succeeded it. Until the day, June 17, 1767, when old Jean Chastel passing through Sogne-d'Auvers, saw the Beast and killed it with a gunshot. He announced the news the same evening on the main square of Besseyre and at the same time the death of his son Antoine who, he said, had shattered his skull falling from a ladder in the hovel of Auzenc.
He had buried it with his hands in the wood. This time the Beast was indeed dead. Jean Chastel made the trip to Paris, carrying the carrion in his cart, hoping to present it to the King. She was so corrupt when she arrived that you could approach her. Mr De Bufflon, director of the Jardin du Roi, wanted to see what this famous Beast was. He had to give it up and thought he would faint, so strong was the stench.
Thus ends the story of the Beast of Gevaudan whose death earned Jean Chastel d'Auzenc a bonus of ten thousand pounds and the consideration of good people.
October 31, 1941
Many thanks to Patrick JEAN for the original document.
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