Guernsey Legends – The Sorcerer of Les Landes
Les Landes in the Clos du Valle was at one time common land and an area where the parishioners who lived round there had the right to stake out their cows or goats. However, before it was enclosed in 1864, it was marshy with pools of water in the winter. It was too wet for cows, so the people who lived around there kept often kept geese and when the townspeople came there to pick camomile during the summer it was not surprisingly called Goose Common.
Benez and Rihoy the Fisherman
Beside the main road at L’Ancresse, in a small cottage there lived a man from the Benez family. This man, it was said, could change himself into a duck or cat as he wished. He was a fisherman, often went fishing with his friend Jacques Rihoy. When he had time, Rihoy liked to take his gun and go hunting.
Now behind Benez’ house, there was a pond called the Le Clos au Jaonc where there were lots of rushes where the wild ducks would often find shelter. One morning, Rihoy saw a very large duck on the pond. As he raised his gun and fired he was surprised to see the duck fly off because he was sure that he had hit it.
Later on, as he was fishing, Benez asked his friend if he had shot anything that morning. Rihoy told him the story and Benez laughed heartily and said that he had had bad luck. The next morning the duck was there again. Rihoy took more care with his gun this time but with the same result, but this time it flew over his head whilst loudly quacking. The next time that Rihoy and Benez were together again fishing he told him all about the duck. Again Benez laughed at him and said that the duck was not frightened of him. Rihoy had heard the tales about Benez, and he began to think that his friend had something to do with the duck. That evening he took a silver coin and he cut it into small pieces to use them as shot. In the morning he loaded his gun telling himself ” Let’s see what the old man will say about this!”
The duck was on the pond as usual and when Rihoy was settled at the edge of the water among the rushes. He fired at it and at the same moment, the duck gave a human cry frightening Rihoy as the Duck quickly disappeared amongst the rushes. Rihoy searched for the bird for a long time, but in the end, he gave up.
When Rihoy called for Benez to go fishing, he found him on his bed in the kitchen in great pain. He said that he had had an accident, his arm was broken and he was in so much pain that he couldn’t leave the house. Rihoy would have to go and lift the crab-pots on his own this time. For Rihoy, this was the proof that Benez was a sorcerer.
“You’re a Clever Benez”
There was further tales about old Benez one of which being when he had changed shape into a black cat. It was just before dawn and after a great storm had occurred during the night. He was coming back from a sabbat at the Catioroc (at Perelle) and he had passed Les Hautgards when he saw that Les Landes at the bottom of the road was under water. As a cat he was of course naturally afraid of water and he wasn’t sure what to do. As he looked around him he saw a flock of geese resting among the reeds at the edge of the pond. He thought,” If I can climb on to the back of one of those birds, it will be sure to swim to where it lives.”
After he had chosen his goose he jumped on to its back. The gander was so frightened that he began to swim across the pond. The cat, sitting comfortably on the gander’s back with his claws fixed in his neck was taken safe and sound to the other side of the pond – his paws were not even wet. When he was on land, Benez took on the shape of a man and made his way home.
Over the years these tales about Benez, and others besides, began the saying” You’re a clever Benez” which was often said when someone made a joke or played a trick on another person.