Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lilian's Deer

Like her husband, King Leopold III, Princess Lilian of Belgium loved nature. For years, she faithfully tended a large herd of deer in the magnificent park at Argenteuil. (Two finely carved marble stags with bronze antlers crowned with gilded stars, designed at Lilian's request and mounted on plinths, also adorned the esplanade behind the chateau). Visiting the park and admiring the herd became a hospitable ritual for the Princess' guests, as described poetically by journalists Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré in Un couple dans la tempête (2004). Even in her old age, the frail but intrepid Lilian continued to care personally for the herd, feeding the animals as part of her afternoon routine. 

On October 22, 1997, as related by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), her temerity in this regard led to a serious accident. As she was emptying a bucket of grain onto the soil, an elderly stag, one of her favorites, whom she called "my friend",  hurtled the Princess into the air with his antlers. Miraculously, she managed to avoid being stabbed, but fell to the ground, badly bruised and unconscious. After some time, she revived, but found herself unable to rise, her hips and shoulders in sharp pain. No help was at hand, since Lilian had left the chateau alone. Weakly, between fainting spells, she called for assistance, but the staff of Argenteuil, hundreds of meters away, could not hear her. 

Towards evening, however, two worried gendarmes, Henri Dutrieux and Alain Pierlot, began a search for their missing mistress. Around the corner from her car, amidst a few deer ambling peacefully through the grass, they found the Princess, immobilized on the ground, where she had been suffering for over an hour. Still lucid, however, Lilian herself gave instructions as to her care. A gendarme returned to the chateau to sound the alert and to find a stretcher, where the Princess was cautiously placed. Transported by ambulance to the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, she was diagnosed with a fractured hip and right shoulder and hospitalized for over a month, while her loyal housekeeper, Madame Jeannine, remained comfortingly at her side. After returning home, Lilian had to spend a few more weeks confined to her room. 

Barely recovered, however, the Princess fearlessly resumed her evening ritual of feeding the deer, even offering them apples by hand. Unable to dissuade her from going out alone, her anxious entourage gave her a portable telephone, but she never used it. Meanwhile, she continued to suffer from the scars of the accident. Despite physical therapy, her right arm and hand remained stiff and painful. Writing even a few words became difficult. Relief finally came, in a mysterious manner, after an injection in the biceps to prepare for cataract surgery. Always curious about medicine, the Princess asked various specialists why this apparently unrelated treatment might have soothed her arm, but nobody had a rational explanation for the pleasant surprise. 


MadMonarchist said...

When I still pretty "new" my grandmother kept a pet baby deer. It was very adorable but, after it reached a certain size she had to let it go lest it get too friendly or too hostile and hurt someone. As I recall, somewhere, there is a picture of yours truly and the baby deer playing tug-of-war over a milk bottle.

May said...

That sounds like a cute picture. Yes, all animals, pretty much, can be dangerous, no matter how appealing they may be.

How is your father, by the way?

MadMonarchist said...

He's recovering very quickly but still not soon enough for him and he's been in a little more pain lately I think because he's doing too much too fast. But, he's good and getting better, thank God.

May said...

Thank God, indeed.