HomeAlbertaLa Bete a Grand’Queue (The Big-Tailed Beast; English Translation)

La Bete a Grand’Queue (The Big-Tailed Beast; English Translation)

La Bete a Grand’Queue

or

The Big-Tailed Beast

From Honore Beaugrand’s La Chasse Galerie: Legendes Canadiennes (1900; English Translation)

Back to Honore Beaugrand’s Classic French-Canadian Folktales.

 

I

IT’S ABSOLUTELY like I tell you”, insisted little Pierriche Desrosiers, “I saw the tail of the beast. One scarlet-red hairy tail cut in ripples near the core. A tail of six feet, my friend!”

“Yes, it’s pretty good to see the tail of the beast, but this Fanfan Lazette is such a fibber that I would more proof than that before I would believe him.”

“First,” said Pierriche, “you have to agree that he’s the perfect candidate to get pursued by the big-tailed beast. He’s a joker, like you just said; he likes to drink, everybody knows; and it’s been rumoured that he’s gone to confession after Easter for eight years. If you manage to neglect your Easter duties for seven years without being turned into a werewolf, you’ll surely be attacked by the big-tailed beast. He met the beast in front of Dautraye Manor, in the big trees near the road where the sun never penetrates even in midday. The same place where Louison Laroche lost one eye to a wolf about ten years ago.

And so were Pierriche Desrosiers and Maxime Sanssouci talking and covertly enjoying some drinks inside the house of their old friend, Andre Laliberte, who was offering liquor here and there to people that he knew, without bothering about the local laws or the priest’s pretentions.

“And you, Andre, what do you think about all this?” asked Pierriche. “You must have seen lots of big-tailed beasts in your time. Do you believe that Fanfan Lazette met one at Dautraye?”

“That’s what he says, my son, and since he’s just coming in for his regular ration, you might as well ask him yourself if you want to know more.”

 

II

Fanfan Lazette was a bad fellow and the despair of his parents, mocking the priest’s sermons, sowing disorder in the parish, and, unfortunately, was the darling of all the pretty girls in the neighborhood.

Father Lazette has sent him to L’Assomption College, where he ran away to pursue work in Montreal. Then he worked a couple of seasons in the timber camps just to come back home to his aging father who needed a foreman on the farm.

Fanfan was a tough guy at work, you’ve got to give him that, and a working horse when motivated; but he was just a worker, like we say in this country, and often did things which were not always under the invocation of St. Francois-Xavier.

Because he was self-minded, he had taken the habit of going to confession after the period of grace, and had developed some disbelief towards the sacraments and the doctrines of the church.

For a time, Fanfan was a carefree individual and the subject of all the village gossip, and whom all the mothers with unmarried daughters feared like the plague. All considered him either a harmless rascal or a bad character.

Pierriche Desrosiers and Maxime Sanssouci stood up to welcome him with invitation to have a drink, which he acknowledge with no hesitation.

“And now, Fanfan, tell us the story of the big-tailed beast. Incredulous Maxime can’t believe it and thinks that you are just trying to make a tale for us.”

“Indeed! Well, all I can say is that if Maxime Sansscouci had met the beast instead of me, I think there would be nobody here to tell the story today.”

Then addressing Maxime Sanssouci:

“And you, my little Max, all I wish is for you to never be in such company; your arms are not long enough, your back is not strong enough, and your strength is not solid enough for you to survive such an encounter. Listen to my story, and you be the judge yourself.

“Also:

“Andre, three small Molson.” [1]

 

III

“First and foremost, I have no objection acknowledging that it’s been seven years that I’ve been late under the rules of pardon. [2] Come to think of it, I confess that I did not do it for two years when I was in the timber camps. I had it coming to meet the beast, if we trust the words of Baptist Gallien, who studied all those things in the big books that he found at Latour notary.

“I used to laugh at that sort of thing; but, after I tell you what happened to me at Dautraye, that particular Saturday night and Sunday morning, you will tell me otherwise. I was on my way to Berthier on Saturday morning with twenty-five sacks of oats to deliver at Remi Tranchemontagne’s, and to pick up some merchandise: a small barrel of molasses, one quart of brown sugar, one cheese wheel, a Jamaican carboy and few pounds of tea for the winter. ‘Longneck’ Big-Louis Champagne was along for the ride and we were doing the trip with my blonde filly hauling the big chariot – the best horse of the parish, and I don’t want to brag but she was. We got to Berthier at eleven in the morning and after doing business with Tranchemontagne, unloading our oats and packing the provisions, all we had to do was have a little drink and wait for the cool evening breeze to ride back on Lanoraie road. ‘Longneck’ Champagne was seeing a Laviolette girl from Berthier River and he just went along to flirt with his alleged bride before we headed back out.

“I was supposed to take him on the run around 8 pm so, to kill some time, I went to meet some friends, first Jalbert, then Gagnon and Guillemette, where we had a few drinks, but without anybody losing it seriously. It was a nice day, but by evening the temperature was getting heavy and I noticed that a thunderstorm was on the way. I would have departed around 6 o’clock, but I had agreed to meet with ‘Longneck’ at eight and I did not want to bother my friend without serious cause. I waited patiently and fed my filly, because I intended to hop back to Lanoraie on the double. At 8 o’clock sharp, I was at the creek, at Father Laviolette’s, where I had to unsaddle to take a drink and toast everyone. As the old saying goes, we never leave on one leg. We had another round of drinks to be air, as Baptist Gallien says, and after bidding everyone goodnight, we hit the highway.

“Rain was not falling yet, but we could tell that it was on its way, and it was in vain that I kicked my filly in an effort to spur her home.

 

IV

“When I walked in at Father Laviolette’s, I noticed right away that ‘Longneck’ had a little too much to drink; and it’s easy to see that, because you know he’s got eyes like a frozen cod when he parties, but the last two rounds took him out and he fell asleep like a groundhog to the rocking of the wagon. I put his head on a haystack that I had in the cart and then just took off full speed. I had travelled barely half a league when the storm just came in furiously. You remember that storm last Saturday. Rain fell like a flood, the wind whistled in the trees, and it was only by the light of the lightning that I saw the path. Lucky enough, my filly had enough instinct to keep me on the right track, because it was as dark as an oven. ‘Longneck’ was still sleeping even though he was soaked like a mop. I don’t have to tell you that I was in the same boat. We arrived at Louis Trempe’s, whose yellow house I saw in a lightning bolt that blinded me, which was followed by a thunderclap that made my filly tremble in fear and made her stop abruptly. ‘Longneck’ woke up from his dreams and shouted aggressively in terror:

“‘Look, Fanfan! The big-tailed beast!’

“I looked back to see two big eyes burning like fire behind the wagon. At the same moment, a strike of lightning revealed an animal, which roared like a seven-headed beast and swept its six-foot-long tail from side to side. I have the tail at my place, and I will show it to you whenever you wish!

“I don’t usually fear anything, but I have to admit, in the dark, alone with a drunk fellow, in the middle of a storm in front of a beast like that, I felt a shiver pass through my spine, so I jumped on my filly with a strong whip and we just set off like an arrow. I would have figured that I’d have had twice as great a chance of breaking my neck or rolling down to the bottom of the hill than coming face-to-face with the famous big-tailed beach which everyone talked about, but in which I never really believed. It was at this moment that all my missed confessions came to mind, and I swore to do my duties like everyone else if God would help me this one time.

I knew that the only way to get out of this would be to confront the beast at close quarters and cut its tail off at the base. I double-checked my pocket for this good knife from the timber camps which cuts like a razor. As these thoughts flashed through my mind, and as my horse flew vigorously, ‘Longneck’ Champagne, half sober by fear, shouted:

“Whip, Fanfan! The beast is following us. I see those eyes in the darkness.”

“We rode like hell. We passed the village of Blais and continued down the road alongside Dautraye Manor. The road is narrow, as you know. On one side was a hedgerow guarding a deep ditch dividing the park and the road, and on the other side, a row of tall trees bordering the roadside towards Dautraye Bridge. Lightning barely penetrated through the foliage of the trees, and any false move from my filly would throw us into the ditch of the manor, or break the cart in pieces crashing upon the big trees. I told Louis:

“‘Hold on tight ,my friend! We will have an accident.’”

“And Bam! Badaboum! A great thunderclap burst, and my panicked filly plunged right into the ditch, flipping our cart upside down. It was dark enough that we could not see the ends of our noses, but as I rose I saw above me the two eyes glaring at me fiercely. Fumbled to see if I had broken any bones. I had no pain, so my first thought was to grab the tail of this animal and get rid of this jaw of hell. I crawled on the ground, opened up my spring knife which I had put in my belt, and at the moment when the beast rushed towards me bellowing an infernal roar, I stepped aside and grabbed his tail firmly with both my hands. You should have seen the fight that followed. The beast, feeling my tight grip, made terrible jumps, trying to shake me off, but I was holding and grasping like a desperate man. All this went on for at least fifteen minutes. I was flying right, flying left, like a flea at the end of a dog’s tail, nevertheless holding on. I would have loved to take out my knife to cut off the devil’s tail, but it was impossible to do so with the monster’s brutal antics. In the end, realizing that she could not toss me away, she took off down the road at a gallop, with me, of course, trailing behind.

“I never traveled so fast in my life. My hair curled in spite of the rain, which was still coming down hard. The beast bellowed intensely, hoping to make me more afraid, and by the light of a lucky thunderbolt, I realized that we were heading to Dautraye Bridge. I was thinking about my knife, but I would not risk using it with one hand. When we arrived at the bridge, the beast turned to the left tried to jump the fence. The damned animal wanted to jump in the water to drown me. Fortunately, the first attempt failed; with the air I would had acquired, I certainly would have taken the plunge. She stepped back to gain new momentum, and that was what gave me my chance. I grabbed my knife with my right hand, and as she jumped, I used all my strength and hit just right, and the tail stayed in my hand. I was free, and heard the beast struggling in the waters of the Dautraye River and finally disappear in the current. I went to the mill where I told my story to the miller, and we both examined the tail that I just retrieved. It was a five to six-foot-long scarlet-red hairy tail; a real tail of a demon!

“The storm calmed down, so with a lantern I sought my cart that I found stuck in the ditch, with ‘Longneck’ Champagne, who was completely sober, and able to unleash my horse and gather our cargo, which was strewn all over the place.

“Louis was flabbergasted to see me coming back in one piece, because he actually believed that the demon had taken me away.

“After borrowing a harness from the miller to replace ours, which we had cut in half to free the horse, we headed down the path to the village and arrived at midnight.

“That’s my story, and I invite you to visit my place one of these days to check out the tail. Baptist Lambert is in the process of stuffing it.”

 

V

This story gave rise, few days later, to an unprecedented affair still famous in the criminal records of Lanoraie. To prevent a real trial and the ruinous costs which would necessarily accompany it, recourse was made to arbitration, the minutes of which are as follows:

This 7th day of November 1856, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we, the undersigned, Jean-Baptiste Gallien, graduate teacher and master cantor of Parish of Lanoraie, Onesime Bombenlert, beadle [3] of this parish, and Damase Briqueleur, grocer, having been chosen as arbitrators of the will of the interested parties in this case, have rendered the following arbitration in the dispute between Francois-Xavier Trempe, nicknamed Francis Jean-Jean, and Joseph, nicknamed Fanfan Lazette.  

The above-named F.X. Trempe claims damages, at the sum of 100 francs, to Fanfan Lazette, accusing him of cutting the tail of his red bull in the night of this last Saturday, October 3rd, and caused the death of said bull in a cruel, illegal, and surreptitious manner, on the bridge over the Dautraye River, near the manor of the lords of Lanoraie.

Said Fanfan Lazette vigorously denies the accusation of said F.X. Trempe and declares it malicious and irreverent, at the highest degree. He acknowledges having cut the tail of an animal known in our countryside as the big-tailed beast in conditions dangerous for his bodily life and the salvation of his soul, but to defend himself because it was the only way he believed he could get rid of the beast.

Each party called forth one witness to sustain their pretentions, as agreed in the terms of arbitration.

Pierre Busseau engaged the services of said F.X. Tempering, declaring that the tail produced by the aforesaid Fanfan Lazette appears to him to be the tail of the late bull of his master, whose carcass was discovered on the shore a few days earlier in a state of advanced decomposition. The bull disappeared precisely on the night of October 3rd, when the said Fanfan Lazette claims to have met the big-tailed beast. What confirms this in his conviction is the color of the aforementioned tail of the aforementioned bull which, a few days before, took pleasure in scratching itself against a fence recently painted with vermillion. [4]

Next to present was Louis Champagne, nicknamed Tall-big-Louis, who wished to confirm in the most absolute way the statements of Fanfan Lazette, because he was with him during the storm of October 3rd and distinctly saw the big-tailed beast as described in the deposition of said Lazette.

In view of these testimonies and depositions and:

Considering that the existence of the big-tailed beast was from time immemorial recognized as real, in our campaigns, and that the only way to protect oneself against the above-mentioned beast is to cut its tail as seems to have been done bravely by Fanfan Lazette, one of the interested parties in this case;

Considering, on the other hand, that a red bull belonging to F.X. Trempe disappeared on the same date and that the carcass of this animal was recovered without a tail on the shores of the St. Lawrence by witness Pierre Busseau a few days later;

          Considering, in light of such contradictory testimonies, it is difficult to please everyone, while remaining within the bounds of a premptory decision;

          We decide:

  1. that in the future, said Fanfan Lazette will be forced to make his pre-Eastern confessions under the conditions prescribed by our Holy Mother Church, which will protect him against encounters with werewolves, big-tailed beasts, and wills-o’-the-wisp of any kind from Berthier or elsewhere.
  2. The above F.X. Trempe be forced to shut up his bulls so as to prevent them from frequenting public roads and attacking passers-by in the darkness, at odd hours of the day and night.
  3. That both interested parties in this case, the aforesaid Fanfan Lazette and F.X. Trempe, are condemned to take the tail cut by Fanfan Lazette and put it in a lottery among the inhabitants of the parish so as to raise money to compensate for this arbitration, and for following the good tradition that in dubious trials, judges and lawyers are paid, regardless of the plight of the litigants dismissed back to back, each paying fees.

In faith whereof we have signed,

Jean Baptiste Gallien,

Onesime Bombenlert,

Damase Briqueleur.

Copy: H. Beaugrand

Written by

I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.