Stevenson carefully includes her in his famous 'Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes', written 1879, in particular admiring her bravery in attacking in daylight a party of couriers armed with pistols and swords.



Across the Cevennes with Robert Louis Stevenson

Across the Cevennes with Robert Louis StevensonJack the Ripper officially killed only 5 victims, all women, over a period of 10 autumn weeks (not as foggy as films depict), whereas she often had a mixed bag of 4 or 5 within a single week, for example during a snowy 1st to 7th January 1765 and another 95 over 3 years, once killing 2 and maiming 1 on a mid-summer's solstice.

As usual, the French do it better and she elegantly beat Jack's score by nearly a century not-out, no doubt would have killed JR too, given une demi-chance. One of the few considered English comments appears in 'Walking through France' by Neillands on Pages 142/155. The dates he mentions are confusing and apparently incorrect, suggesting Bete activity as far back as 1745, which is earlier than elsewhere recorded.

He describes St-Juery, where he stayed, as being ravaged by both La Bete in 1764 and, in 1944, by the Waffen-SS from the Das Reich Division. Even in 1988 Neillands admits he was glad to be sleeping within the friendly claw-proof walls of the Hotel du Bes and not outside under thin canvas. Incidentally, a Monsieur Bes of Bessiere wrote a manuscript on a sighting and chase of 23rd December 1764 by a young subaltern called Dulaurier. He had just drawn his saber to strike La Bete when she jumped over a wall and ran across a marsh where his horse could not follow.

A 1992 expensive Canadian book 'Wolf hunting in France in the reign of Louis XV' by R. H. Thompson deals extensively with La Bete, contending that there can be satisfactory explanations based on large wolves for all her depredations.

Across the Cevennes with Robert Louis StevensonOn the other hand, Denneval, a Norman squire known for his surly directness, recognized as the greatest wolf expert in 18th century France and having the advantage (?) of actually being in charge on the spot, firmly and officially asserted that there was indeed something very strange going on in Gevaudan and that 'La Bete is no wolf'. Perhaps that was just because he couldn't catch it. Which one do we believe?

Another recent article writer, C.H.D. Clarke, is an expert in North American wolves. Firstly, he reprimands those who refer to La Bete as a legend, strongly pointing out that she was definitely no legend but was hard fact and really existed. His second important observation is: 'The certainty that no rabies was involved meant that there was something going on that was without precedent.' Rabid wolf attacks are clumsy compared with La Bete's elegant handbaggings.

He considers that one explanation of La Bete is there was more than one and they resulted from a natural cross breeding between large dog, possibly of an Italian hunting breed, and wild wolf. His explanation for the Bete phenomenon is supported by reports published elsewhere of vigorous hybrids between wolf and large dog, for example the wolf of Argenton, killed in 1884.

Another candidate for cross-breeding with wolf might be the Lycaon - a carniverous wild hunting dog still active, and feared, in Africa. It is perhaps a little small but is very savage and cunning. A cross with a wolf would be a formidable animal and a litter of them loose in a district could well be taken as an abnormal phenomenon.

The presence of African animals in the Gevaudan is recorded in cave drawings over thousands of years and even today there are attempts to re-establish them in large game parks. Clarke has noticed the connections between the works of Grimm, Stevenson and La Bete. Grimm, apparently, was a friend of Rousseau; a poem was written on the famous fight between Portefaix, protecting his six child companions, and La Bete on 12th January 1765 at Vileret d'Apcher.

Robert Louis Stevenson possibly based his "beautiful shepherdess" stories on a girl from Paulhac who was killed by her. Clarke quotes 21 references in his study. What coincidental patterns she weaves.

For example, Stevenson carefully includes her in his famous 'Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes', written 1879, in particular admiring her bravery in attacking in daylight a party of couriers armed with pistols and swords. His summation is incomparable: 'if all wolves had been as this wolf they would have changed the history of man.'

Across the Cevennes with Robert Louis StevensonThen by 1886 he writes 'Jekyll and Hyde'. We will never know if his werewolf -like theme - changing, hairy hands etc. - was based on La Bete but it is reasonable to conclude that she played a part. The book opened as a play in London in 1888 just as Jack the Ripper simultaneously started his, compared with La Bete, meager series of 5 murders.

In the war German troops destroyed two villages where La Bete prowled and a chance German bomb on Bournemouth hit the house in which Stevenson had died . Some further examples of what we call coincidences: The old oak table on which this article has been written was made by Filmer & Sons, Berner Street for the home of Dr. Langdon Down, who described Down's Syndrome in 1866. His Kingston upon Thames mansion - Normansfield, - became and still is a hospital. Some say the Ripper was a medical man.

An alley off Berner Street is where Elizabeth Stride died of a severed windpipe and Berner Street itself was a centre of Ripper activity. Incidentally, 'berner' is an old French verb for to mock or make fun of.

Some do say the Ripper - usually described as about 5 feet 7 inches tall - was a woman; there was talk of Jill the Ripper at the time and who had more motive for killing those sad, loose ladies than someone whose husband or son had been ruined by them? Confusing, but can we admit the concept of infinite situations created to allow all possible connections? A long way from our simple Bete, or is it?

Only a god could create such a complicated and extensive system so perhaps Gabriel Florent, wordy bishop of Mende, was not wrong after all when he, like Abbe Pourcher, referred to her in his famous mandate as 'The Scourge of God' and attributed supernatural, indeed heavenly, powers to her.