Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book I. The History of a Bad Reputation.
V. More Suspicious Facts about Gilliatt.
PUBLIC opinion was not yet quite settled with regard to Gilliatt.
In general he was regarded as a Marcou; some went so far as to believe him to be a Cambion. A cambion is the child of a woman begotten by a devil.
When a woman bears to her husband seven male children consecutively, the seventh is a marcou. But the series must not be broken by the birth of any female child.
The marcou has a natural fleur-de-lis imprinted upon some part of his body, for which reason he has the power of curing scrofula, exactly the same as the king of France. Marcous are found in all parts of France, but particularly in the Orleanais. Every village of Gatinais has its marcou. It is sufficient for the cure of the sick that the marcou should breathe upon their wounds, or let them touch his fleur-de-lis. The night of Good Friday is particularly favourable to these Ceremonies. Ten years ago there lived, at Ormes in Gatinais, one of these creatures who was nicknamed the Beau Marcou, and consulted by all the country of Beauce! He was a cooper named Foulon, who kept a horse and vehicle. To put a stop to his miracles it was found necessary to call in the assistance of the gendarmes. His fleur-de-lis was on the left breast; other marcous have it in different parts.
There are marcous at Jersey, Auvigny, and at Guernsey. This fact is doubtless in some way connected with the rights possessed by France over Normandy, or why the fleur-de-lis?
There are also, in the Channel Islands, people afflicted with scrofula, which, of course, necessitates a due supply of these marcous.
Some people, who happened to be present one day when Gilliatt was bathing in the sea, had fancied that they could perceive upon him a fleur-de-lis. Interrogated on that subject he made no reply, but merely burst into laughter. From that time, however, no one ever saw him bathe: he bathed thenceforth only in perilous and solitary places, probably by moonlight-a thing in itself somewhat suspicious.
Those who obstinately regarded him as a cambion, or son of the devil, were evidently in error. They ought to have known that cambions scarcely exist out of Germany. But The Vale and St. Sampson were, fifty years ago, places remarkable for the ignorance of their inhabitants.
To fancy that a resident of the island of Guernsey could be the son of a devil was evidently absurd.
Gilliatt, for the very reason that he caused disquietude among the people, was sought for and consulted. The peasants came in fear, to talk to him of their diseases. That fear itself had in it something of faith in his powers; for in the country the more the doctor is suspected of magic, the more certain is the cure. Gilliatt had certain remedies of his own, which he had inherited from the deceased woman. He communicated them to all who had need of them, and would never receive money for them. He cured whitlows with applications of herbs. A liquor in one of his phials allayed fever. The chemist of St. Sampson, or pharmacies, as they would call him in France thought that this was probably a decoction of Jesuits' bark. The more generous among his censors admitted that Gilliatt was not so bad a demon in his dealings with the sick so far as regarded his ordinary remedies. But in his character of a marcou he would do nothing. If persons afflicted with scrofula came to him to ask to touch the fleur-de-lis on his skin, he made no other answer than that of shutting the door in their faces. He persistently refused to perform any miracles -a ridiculous position for a sorcerer. No one is bound to be a sorcerer; but when a man is one, he ought not to shirk the duties of his position.
One or two exceptions might be found to this almost universal antipathy. Sieur Landoys of the Clos-Landes was clerk and registrar of St. Peter's Port, custodian of the documents, and keeper of the register of births, marriages and deaths. This Landoys was vain of his descent from Peter Landoys, treasurer of the province of Brittany, who was hanged in 1485. One day, when Sieur Landoys was bathing in the sea, he ventured to swim out too far, and was on the point of drowning. Gilliatt plunged into the water, narrowly escaping drowning himself, and succeeded in saving him. From that day Landoys never spoke an evil word of Gilliatt. To those who expressed surprise at this change he replied, "Why should I detest a man who never did me any harm, and who has rendered me a service?" The parish clerk and registrar even came at last to feel a sort of friendship for Gilliatt. This public functionary was a man without prejudices. He had no faith in sorcerers. He laughed at people who went in fear of ghostly visitors. For himself, he had a boat in which he amused himself by making fishing excursions in his leisure hours; but he had never seen anything extraordinary, unless it was on one occasion-a woman clothed in white, who rose about the waters in the light of the moon-and even of this circumstance he was not quite sure. Moutonne Gahy, the old witch of Torteval, had given him a little bag to be worn under the cravat, as a protection against evil spirits. He ridiculed the bag, and knew not what it contained, though, to be sure, he carried it about him, feeling more security with this charm hanging on his neck.
Some courageous persons emboldened by the example of Landoys, ventured to cite, in Gilliatt's favour, certain extenuating circumstances; a few signs of good qualities, as his sobriety, his abstinence from spirits and tobacco; and sometimes they went so far as to pass this elegant eulogium upon him: "He neither smokes, drinks, chews tobacco, nor takes snuff."
Sobriety, however, can only count as a virtue when there are other virtues to support it.
The ban of public opinion lay heavily upon Gilliatt.
In any case, as a marcou, Gilliatt had it in his power to render great services. On a certain Good Friday, at midnight, a day and an hour propitious to this kind of cure, all the scrofulous people of the island, either by sudden inspiration or by concerted action, presented themselves in a crowd at the Bu la de Rue, and with pitiable sores and imploring gestures called on Gilliatt to make them clean. But he refused; and herein the people found another proof of his malevolence.