The Great Spring fair held at Mazlzieu, France, in May 1765 was the scene of much celebration, for the dreaded beast of Gévaudan, which had terrorised the region for nearly a year, was believed to be dead.
But the joy was to be short-lived.  Suddenly a horse rider galloped up and shouted:
'Marguerite is done for.  The beast has got her.'  Marguertie was a friend of Jacques Denis, who had sworm to avenge himself on the beast because of its near-fatal attack his sister, and he rushed away to find her.  At the entrance to the village, where the road turns off towards the fields, Marguerite lay bathed in her own blood.  Her throat was ripped open. 
That day the beast killed three victims but, in its satiated state, did not even bother to eat them.  This time the rage and despair of the peasants drove the to action.  They grabbed long forks and bayonets and put the dogs onto the still fresh scent.  Jacques led them.  He wanted the skin of the beast and would not settle for less
Soon enough he found himself face to face with his enemy for the second time.  He attacked it violently with his bayonet.  The beast seemed unconcerned.  Baring it fangs, it leapt at Jacques.  Luckily the hunters arrived - and it fled.
The King was furious when he heard the news.  Stories of the beast were making France look ridiculous in the eyes of neighbouring countries; Englad especially found it a good opportunity for mocking her rival.  The King charged his personal gun carrier, Antoine de Beauterne, with putting an end to the interminable problem.
Denneval, the King's first emissary to rid Gévaudan of the beast, gave up in June 1765.  In an ironic farewell to him, the beast rampaged.  On 16 June it mangled a little girl who was saved only at the last moment.  On the 21st it killed a boy of 14, devoured a 45 year old woman and carried off a little girl.
Now the priests took up the line that the beast was a 'messenger of evil', sent to punish the people for their sins.  The peasants whispered that witchcraft must be involved.  Did not the Javois castle in the parish of Besseyre have a bad reputation?  Was it not an ancient Druid sanctuary?  And what about the strange family called Chastel?  The son, Jean, lived in the wild in a wood - and people feared to mention his name.
For three months Antoine de Beauterne did little.  He inspected the environs, drew up some maps and made a survery of the routes taken by the beast.  Then on 21 September, he acted, organising a beat with 40 local hunters using 12 dogs.  He chose a starting point near the villageof Pommier not far from Besseyre.  The wood of Pommier contained the Béal ravine at the bottom of which was a wide clearing.  Guided by intuition, de Beauterne encircled the ravine and postioned himself and several armed men on one side of the clearing.  Some beaters with hunting horns and dogs, tightened up the circle.  If the beast were there it would have to pass through the clearing and come out into the open.
The gunmen, their nerves stretched, became impatient.  Suddenly the dogs began barking furiously.  The beast was there.  De Beauterne's intuition was right. 
The dogs were unleashed.  The beast had about 55 yards (50 metres) in front of it.  Now the killer animal was conscious of the men behind and in front.  It began turning wildly at the edge of the wood, looking for a hole in the trap.  It hesitated and then trotted into the sunlight.  De Beauterne shouldered his gun and fired.  Some of the buckshot went through its right eye and its skull.  The beast fell.  The gunmen sounded the horn in triumph.
Suddenly, to everyone's stupefaction, the beast of Gévaudan got up and went towards Antoine de Beauterne.  One man fired at it and the shot went through the beast's thigh.  But, animated by a fantastic energy, the creature turned around and set off towards the edge od the wood, where it ran off into a pasture beyond.  It had found a hole in the net!  It was saved!
Then the beast collapsed - dead at last.
The creature proved to be a rare breed of wolf.  It was enormous, measuring 6 feet (1.8 metres) from nose to tail.  It weighed 143 pounds (63 kilograms) and had a huge head with fangs about 1 and a half inches (3.5 centimetres) long.  The scourge of Gévaudan was stuffed and taken to the King's court where it was an object of curiosity for a time.  It was then kept in the Museum of Natural History at Paris until the beginning of the 20th century.
'The beast is dead!  The beast is dead!'  The shout went up and there was great rejoicing in the villages in the relief after so many deaths.  But still many people did not dare believe it was true.
Jacques Denis, who had followed the great hunt in the Béal ravine, started home, tired but with a light heart.  On the way he met his sister Julienne who exclaimed : 'Ah, you believe that the beast is dead.  I told you it would be that creature or me and I am not dome with it yet.  Jean Chastal knows.  It is still there and it is watching us!  I am going to Besseyre to catch it up again.'  And with her hair flying in the wind Julienne set off across the wood, like someone in a raving frenzy.  Jacques stood dazed from a moment, then continued towards home.  Fortunately, Julienne returned home unharmed, although still greatly troubled. 
In the next two months, until the end of November 1765, people no longer heard the sinister alarm bell sounding a fresh disaster from village to village.  Yet this new-found peace was not all it seemed.  Killings went on, but an order of the King forbad anyone to speak of them.
This 'resurrection' of the beast reinforced supersition.  People said that the vicious animal was not a wolf but a fiend - a messenger from hell, as the priests had said.
The month of December was a nightmare.  On Christmas Day, snow fell.  People entrenched themselves in their homes, with the shutters closed.  There was no sound except the lowing of the cows. 
Jacques Denis set off in search of Julienne, who had not been seen since the day before.  She was never seen again.  The week after her disappearance some unrecognisable remains were found along the narrow ravine of the Planchette stream - shreds of flesh, bones and some rags.
All winter the carnage continued.  Julienne's father, overcome by her loss, started a search with Jacques.  They went among the strange dolems and menhirs that are scattered throughout the region and that are associated by tradition with pagan witchcraft and rituals.  But they found no trace of Julienne - or the beast.
The winter of 1766 to 1767 was calmer with only a few disappearances.  But in the spring the massacres began again.  It was not known how many were killed: many families did not admit to the deaths and the authorities no long registered them.  It came to light however from March to June 1767 there were 14 victims of the beast, all taken in a strip of land 3 miles (5 kilometres) long around Paulhac.
In May and June the peasants went on pilgimages, hundreds of them to Notre Dame de Beaulieu at the foot of Mount Chauvet.  They celebrated mass and took holy communion.  Jean Chastel came armed.  He had his gun and three cartridges blessed.  On 19 June 1767 a noble of the region organised a huge beat.  Three hundred hunters and beaters participated.  Chastel positioned himself on the Sogne d'Aubert, just as Antoine Beauterne had placed himself in the Béal ravine.  He opened a prayer book and read it.  Thus he waited for his adversary.
Suddenly there was a rustling of leaves and a furtive shadow.  The beast, pushed forward by the dogs, came out in front of Chastel a few steps away.  Chastel finished his prayer and slowly closed the book, taking off his glasses and putting them in his pocket.  The beast waited immobile. 
Chastel raised his gun and fired.  THe beast fell.  Chastel said simply: 'Good.  You will kill no more.'
It is said that in the spot where the beast died, the grass no longer grows.

La bete du Gévaudan,
Abel Chevaley,
J'ai Lu (Paris) 1968
Les loups en France,
Claude - Catherine and Gilles Ragache,
Aubier-Montaigne (Paris) 1981