Doolin’s Story

February 27, 2020

Now, we find that the old Count Guy de Maience used to live in a castle on the bank of the Rhine, low down-near the mouth of the river, not very far from the “salt sea.”

This gentleman was an indefatigable sportsman, and a mighty hunter; in the whole course of his existence he had had only two desires—but they were grand passions—fighting, and the chase! These were his hobbies. It came to pass one day while he was hunting the deer in the profound depths of the forest, he was very considerably astonished to see the animal suddenly take refuge within the little courtyard which enclosed a hermitage; and to see the hermit fall at his feet, soliciting respite for the poor deer which claimed his protection.

“No, no; no quarter,” exclaimed the implacable hunter, launching the heavy spear he carried at the unfortunate animal. But, somehow or other, the ill-aimed dart missed the deer and pierced the hermit to the heart! The angels descended to receive his soul, and he died!

Nothing could exceed the grief of the involuntary murderer, who exclaimed in his remorse—“I make a vow! I vow to take the place of the holy man whom I have just slain, and to remain in this hermitage all the days of my life!”

Up to this time we have not encountered the traitor; here he comes now! Attention!

The traitor is the seneschal of the old count, who was thought by everyone to be dead. As a matter of fact, seneschals have not altogether a good time of it in our old poems. But this particular seneschal surpassed all other seneschals in treachery, and proposed to possess himself at one fell swoop of the widow and of the territory of his late liege lord.

But the lady resisted his proposals; so he beat her cruelly and would have slain her on the spot had not a beautiful little boy of seven years old, the eldest of Guy’s three sons, named Doolin, interfered. This youthful partisan heroically came to the aid of his mother, and threw himself with all the energy of a young lion upon the miserable wretch who had dared to strike the widow of his late liege lord. Doolin is henceforth the hero of the poem. . . .

Now, in order to rid himself of the three children, the most treacherous of seneschals made a dastardly attempt to drown them, but only succeeded in the case of the youngest, and the other two lads were launched into the open sea in a miserable little cockleshell of a boat by themselves.  They floated away; away out to sea, and were lost to view. Lost! No! Doolin never despaired.  But his brother, alas!  had not strength sufficient to endure the terrible trial. He was only five years of age, poor little fellow. So pretty too, and with such beautiful bright eyes, as keen as those of a falcon.  Hunger assailed him; he could not endure it: he grew paler and paler, and at length his beautiful eyes closed and he rendered up his soul. Then Doolin was left all by himself.

A child of seven years of age afloat on the open sea in a small boat! Picture it! Just as his little brother had expired in Doolin’s arms, his kisses on his lips, the sun set, and night came on! And what a night it was! Doolin could see nothing, and he was famishing. He fainted, and lay motionless in the boat for many hours; but at length the sun, which, says the poet, “Providence caused so beautifully to rise,” reappeared in the sky, and Hope once more animated the breast of the now re-awakened Doolin.

There! There! Yonder is a black speck. What can it be?

It is land! But alas it is seven leagues away, and yet he must reach it. Now the child is so terribly weak that he cannot even raise his hand to his head—à peine peut ses bras vers sa teste lever!  Moreover, a storm was rising, and in a short time it burst in terrible fury over the ocean.  The enormous waves tossed the tiny boat up and down like a shuttlecock; the wind howled and roared; the rain and hail fell in torrents, and thunder crashed over all.

In this fearful strait the child commended himself to the mercy of Heaven. But how hungry be was! He was constrained to catch a few hailstones in the palms of his hands, and to suck them, to allay his terrible thirst.  There were fortunately some branches of trees now floating on the waves—he ate them—what do I say? —he browsed on the leaves. Mercifully, the storm passed away, the sun shone out warmly again, and the breeze impelled the little boat towards the distant shore.  The bark grounded on the beach, and not one moment too soon!

What land was this? What country was this on which the boat had grounded so fortunately, and on which the wind had cast our little navigator? It was covered with an immense forest, in which trees abounded with wild apples and nuts, upon which our little hero regaled himself and appeased his hunger thereby. But this forest was very extensive, very lonely, and very dark, and Doolin was tempted to regret his own bed. Then there were wolves besides!

“Bah,” he said to himself;” if they come I will plunge my knife in their stomachs!”

Nevertheless, he felt constrained to seek for a resting-place where he could sleep. An old and magnificent oak tree suddenly came under his observation, hollowed out by time in most comfortable fashion. Here was a bed readymade! It was more, it was a hiding-place. . . .

At the time these events occurred our poet would have us believe that lions and tigers frequented the country at the mouth of the Rhine. This is a fact in natural history which I confess I have not ascertained, nor can I altogether unreservedly endorse the science of the narrator, who also believes in a species of tiger—absolutely unknown to modern zoologists—a tiger with prickles, a porcupiny tiger. However this may be, it is stated that the lad witnessed from his hiding-place in the tree a terrific combat between a lion and a tiger of this porcupiny species. That these two animals killed each other goes without saying, and then a leopard arose, but he did not dare attack the desolate child. Fancy a leopard in the neighborhood of the Zuyder Zee! This is all that is necessary to complete the picture. But let us proceed.

The sun rose brightly, and the weather cleared up. The birds sang merrily; the wild boars and the deer rushed around him in the depths of the forest, and the wolves howled; but Providence, with a mercifully guiding hand, led the courageous child-who had never lost his presence of mind—through the greatest perils, armed only with his knife, and singing hymns.

This wood was the very one (as our readers doubtless have already guessed) in which Doolin’s father was living in the hermitage. The time was approaching—as was to be expected—when the father and son would meet again and recognize each other—but not yet. . . .

A sudden change of fortune, very happily introduced by the author of our romance, comes in to complicate, in a very curious manner, the situation of the old man and the child.

It seems that the father, the hermit, momentarily oblivious of the vow he had made, had thought of abandoning his solitary life, and returning again to his place and habit as a knight.  He burned to regain his wife and his inheritance from the arch-traitor who had possessed himself of his property. This idea was only a vague one, and had no fixed tenure in his mind—had nothing precise in it at all; yet one cannot even in thought violate a solemn vow with impunity, and Providence punished the aged count. An angel descended from heaven, and deprived him of his eyesight. Thenceforth he was blind!

And now begins the most interesting part of our story. . . .

We follow him in the story for many years, day by day, interested in the life of this gallant youth, who makes clothes from the skins of wild beasts, who goes hunting every morning, and brings game home every evening to the blind man, who himself prepares all the meals of the family, salts his food with the sea­salt, and makes mats of the bark of the trees. But one can understand that such a childhood cannot last long, and Doolin’s came to an end at Inst.

One day in the forest they heard the tramp of a horse and the clatter of the armor of his rider. This person was an envoy from the wicked seneschal, the traitor, from him who had incarcerated, and who wished to put to death, Doolin’s mother. The young man threw himself upon the wretch and killed him with a blow of a club. Then in a rapt condition of mind, he contemplated for the first time in his life—what he had never hitherto seen—a gilded shield, a glittering helmet, a coat made of little steel rings, and above all a sword—a steel sword!  At the sight of this weapon all his true nature awoke, his heart bounded. How could he learn to bear those arms? He had never learnt to use them, he did not know how to wear them! . . .

But Nature taught him, and Providence directed him. In default of knowledge, he possessed instinct, and in a few minutes he was able to leap upon the back of the steed, helmet on head, sword in hand. Then he galloped to and fro in triumph.  The blind man heard him, and cried- What is that? Who is there on horseback?”

He came forward as the rider halted, and feeling his way with his hands, came upon his son!

“Oh, Heaven,” he prayed, “grant that I may see him, let me behold my son!”

Then a miracle was performed! The old count’s vision was mercifully restored, and he gazed upon his son. Could he have looked upon a more beautiful sight!

Doolin, however, had no wish to remain in the forest. He had his patrimony to regain, his mother to avenge, and also to punish the traitor. He leaves his father in the hermitage, and so the story closes.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 103–7.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 715






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