His wife, even when talking to him, always called him Monsieur Bistaud, but in all the country round, within a radius of ten leagues in France and Belgium, he was known as cet homme aux chiens1. It was not a very valuable reputation, however, and “That man with the dogs” became a sort of pariah.
1 That man with the dogs.]
In Thierache they are not very fond of the custom-house officers, for everybody, high or low, profits by smuggling; thanks to which many articles, and especially coffee, gunpowder and tobacco are to be had cheap. It may here be stated that on that wooded, broken country, where the meadows are surrounded by brushwood, and the lanes are dark and narrow, smuggling is chiefly carried on by means of sporting dogs, who are broken in to become smuggling dogs. Scarcely an evening passes without some of them being seen, loaded with contraband, trotting silently along, pushing their noses through a hole in a hedge, with furtive and uneasy looks, and sniffing the air to scent the custom-house officers and their dogs. These dogs also are specially trained, and are very ferocious, and easily rip up their unfortunate congeners, who become the game instead of hunting for it.
Now, nobody was capable of imparting this unnatural education to them so well as “the man with his dogs,” whose business consisted in breaking in dogs for the custom-house authorities, and everybody looked upon it as a dirty business, a business which could only be performed by a man without any proper feeling.
“He is a men’s robber,” the women said, “to take honest dogs into nurse, and to make a lot of Judas’s out of them.”
While the boys shouted insulting verses behind his back, the men and the women abused him, but no one ventured to do it to his face, for he was not very patient, and was always accompanied by one of his huge dogs, and that served to make him respected.
Certainly, without that bodyguard, he would have had a bad time of it, especially at the hands of the smugglers, who had a deadly hatred for him. By himself, and in spite of his quarrelsome looks, he did not appear very formidable, for he was short and thin, his back was round, his legs were bandy, and his arms were as long and as thin as spiders’ legs, and he could easily have been knocked down by a back-handed blow or a kick. But then, he had those confounded dogs which interfered with the bravest smugglers. How could they risk even a thrust when he had those huge brutes, with their fierce and bloodshot eyes, and their square heads, whose jaws were like a vise, with enormous white teeth, that were as sharp as daggers, and whose huge molars crunched up beef-bones to a pulp with them? They were wonderfully broken in, were always by him, obeyed him by signs, and were taught, not only to worry the smugglers’ dogs, but also to fly at the throats of the smugglers themselves.
The consequence was that both he and his dogs were left alone, and people were satisfied in calling them names and sending them all to Coventry. No peasant ever set foot in his cottage, although Bistaud’s wife kept a small shop and was a handsome woman, and the only persons who went there were the custom-house officers. The others took their revenge on them all by saying that the man with the dogs sold his wife to the custom-house officers, like he did his dogs.
“He keeps her for them, as well as his dogs,” they said jeeringly. “You can see that he is a born cuckold with his yellow beard and eyebrows, which stick up like a pair of horns.”
His hair was certainly red, or rather yellow, his thick eyebrows were turned up in two points on his temples, and he used to twirl them mechanically as if they had been a pair of moustaches. And certainly, with his hair like that, and with his long beard and shaggy eyebrows, with his sallow face, blinking eyes, and dull looks, with his dogged mouth, thin lips, and his miserable, deformed body, he was not a pleasing object.
But he assuredly was not a complaisant cuckold, and those who have said that of him had never seen him at home. On the contrary, he was always jealous, and kept as sharp a lookout on his wife as he did on his dogs, and if he had broken her in at all, it was to be as faithful to him as they were.
She was a handsome, and what they call in the country, a fine body of a woman; tall, well-built, with a full bust and broad breech, and she certainly made more than one excise man squint at her, but it was no use for them to come and sniff round her too closely, or else there would have been blows. At least, that is what the custom-house officers said when anybody joked with them and said to them: “That does not matter, no doubt, you and she have hunted for your fleas together.”
It was no use for them to defend Madame Bistaud’s fierce virtue; nobody believed them, and the only answer they got was: “You are hiding your game, and are ashamed of going to seduce a woman who belongs to such a wretched creature.”
And, certainly, nobody would have believed that such a buxom woman, who looked as if her crupper were as warm as her looks, and who assuredly must have liked to be well attended to, could be satisfied with such a puny husband; with such an ugly, weak, red-headed fellow, who smelled of his own hair and of the mustiness of the carrion which he gave to his hounds.
But they did not know that “the man with the dogs” had some years before given her, once for all, a lesson in fidelity, and that for a mere trifle, and that for a venial sin! He had surprised her for allowing herself to be kissed by some gallant; that was all! He had not taken any notice, but when the man was gone he brought two of his hounds into the room, and said:
“If you do not want them to tear your inside out as they would a rabbit’s, go down on your knees so that I may thrash you!”
She obeyed in terror, and “the man with the dogs” had beaten her with a whip until his arm dropped with fatigue. And she did not venture to scream, although she was bleeding under the blows of the thong, which tore her dress, and cut into the flesh; all she dared to do was to utter low, hoarse groans; for while beating her, he kept on saying:
“Don’t make a noise, by ——; don’t make a noise, or I will let the dogs fly at your stern.”
From that time she had been faithful to Bistaud, though she had naturally not told anyone the reason for it, nor for her hatred either, not even Bistaud himself, who thought that she was subdued for all time, and who always found her very submissive and respectful. But for six years she had nourished her hatred in her heart, feeding it on silent hopes and promises of revenge. And it was that flame of hope and that longing for revenge which made her so coquettish with the custom-house officers, for she hoped to find a possible avenger among her inflammable admirers.
At last she came across the right man. He was a splendid sub-officer of the customs, built like a Hercules, with fists like a butcher’s, and who had long leased four of his ferocious dogs from her husband.
As soon as they had grown accustomed to their new master, and especially after they had tasted flesh of the smugglers’ dogs, they had, by degrees, become detached from their former master, who had reared them. No doubt they still recognized him a little, and would not have sprung at his throat as if he had been a perfect stranger, but still, they did not hesitate between his voice and that of their new master, and they obeyed the latter only.
Although the woman had often noticed this, she had not hitherto been able to make much use of the circumstance. A custom-house officer, as a rule, only keeps one dog, and this fellow always had half-a-dozen, at least, in training, without reckoning a personal guard which he kept for himself and which was the fiercest of all. Consequently, any duel between some lover assisted by only one dog, and the dog-breaker defended by his pack, was impossible.
But on that occasion, the chances were more equal. Just then he had only five dogs in the kennel, and two of them were quite young, though certainly old Bourreau2 counted for several, but after all, they could risk a battle against him and the other three, with the two couples of the custom-house officer, and they must profit by the occasion.
2 Executioner, hangman.]
And one fine evening, as the brigadier of the custom-house officers was alone in the shop with Bistaud’s wife and was squeezing her waist, she said to him abruptly:
“Do you really want to have something to do with me, Môssieu3 Fernand?”
3 Vulgar for Monsieur.]
He kissed her on the lips as he replied: “Do I really want to? I would give my stripes for it; so you see. . . . ”
“Very well,” she replied, “do as I tell you, and upon my word, as an honest woman, I will be your commodity to do what you like with.”
And laying a stress on that word commodity, which in that part of the country means mistress, she whispered hotly into his ear:
“A commodity who knows her business, I can tell you, for my beast of a husband has trained me up in such a way that I am now absolutely disgusted with him.”
Fernand, who was much excited, promised her everything that she wished, and feverishly, malignantly, she told him how shamefully her husband had treated her a short time before, how her fair skin had been cut, told him her hatred and thirst for revenge; and the brigadier acquiesced, and that same evening he came to the cottage accompanied by his four hounds, with their spiked collars on.
“What are you going to do with them?” “the man with the dogs” asked.
“I have come to see whether you did not rob me when you sold them to me,” the brigadier replied.
“What do you mean by ‘robbed you’?”
“Well, robbed! I have been told that they could not tackle a dog like your Bourreau, and that many smugglers have dogs who are as good as he is.”
“Well, in case any of them should have one, I should like to see how the dogs that you sold me could tackle them.”
The woman laughed an evil laugh, and her husband grew suspicious, when he saw that the brigadier replied to it by a wink. But his suspicions came too late. The breaker had no time to go to the kennel to let out his pack, for Bourreau had been seized by the custom-house officer’s four dogs. At the same time the woman locked the door, and already her husband was lying motionless on the floor, while Bourreau could not go to his assistance, as he had enough to do to defend himself against the furious attack of the other dogs, who were almost tearing him to pieces, in spite of his strength and courage. Five minutes later two of the attacking hounds were totally disabled with the bowels protruding, but Bourreau himself was dying, with his throat gaping.
Then the woman and the custom-house officer kissed each other before the breaker whom they bound firmly, while the two dogs of the custom-house officer, that were still on their legs, were panting for breath, and the other three were wallowing in their own blood, and while the amorous couple were carrying on all sorts of capers, who were still further excited by the rage of the dog-breaker, who was forced to look at them, and who shouted in his despair:
“You wretches! You shall pay for this!” And the woman’s only reply was, to say: “Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!”
When she was tired of larking, her hatred was not yet satisfied, and she said to the brigadier:
“Fernand, go to the kennels and shoot the five other brutes; otherwise he will make them kill me tomorrow. Off you go, old fellow!”
The brigadier obeyed, and immediately five shots were heard in the darkness. It did not take long, but that short time had been enough for “the man with the dogs” to show what he could do. While he was tied, the two dogs of the custom-house officer had gradually recognized him, and came and fondled him, and as soon as he was alone with his wife, as she was insulting him, he said, in his usual voice of command to the dogs:
“At her, Flanbard! At her, Garou!” And the two dogs sprang at the wretched woman, and one seized her by the throat, while the other caught her by the side.
When the brigadier came back, she was dying on the ground in a pool of blood, and “the man with the dogs” said with a laugh: “There, you see, that is the way I break in my dogs!”
The custom-house officer rushed out in horror, followed by his hounds who licked his hands as they ran, and made them quite red.
The next morning “the man with the dogs” was found still bound, but chuckling, in his hovel that was turned into a slaughter-house.
They were both arrested and tried, when “the man with the dogs” was acquitted, and the brigadier sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The matter gave much food for talk in the district, and is, indeed, still talked about, for “the man with the dogs” returned there, and is more celebrated than ever under his nickname, but his celebrity is not of a bad kind, for he is now just as much respected and liked as he was despised and hated formerly. He is still, as a matter of fact, “the man with the dogs,” as he is rightly called, for he has not his equal as a dog-breaker for leagues around, but now he no longer breaks in mastiffs, as he has given up teaching honest dogs to “act the part of Judas,” as he says, for those dirty custom-house officers, and now he only devotes himself to dogs to be used for smuggling, and he is worth listening to when he says:
“You may depend upon it, that I know how to punish such commodities as she was, where they have sinned!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58