The Colonel who would not defend his King

December 2, 2013

There was once a young Colonel in the army who owed his promotion to the goodwill of his Sovereign. A short time before he had been raised to that rank, there had been a war between his country and one of the other kingdoms of Europe; but it was now at an end, and there was peace between them.

Prussian Uhlan

During this time of peace, the Colonel asked from the King leave of absence, as he had a great desire to travel, and visit the great cities of Europe and other places of which he had often read. This permission was easily obtained, and he set out on his journey.

Now, it happened that while passing through the kingdom which had lately been at war with his own, he was invited to join a company of the chief officers and to dine with them.

During the course of the repast the conversation turned upon the late war. Some of the company spoke very freely, not only against the country to which the young Colonel belonged, but even against the King himself. They said many bitter things about the way he governed his people, as well as about his private character, and they laughed and found amusement at his expense.

Painting by Viggo Johansen

Painting by Viggo Johansen

These words hurt the Colonel very much. He loved his King, not only because he owed his present position to him, but because he knew him to be upright and good. But now he was at a loss how to act. He said to himself: “If I stand up here in defense of my King and country, or if I show how angry I feel, they will only laugh the more, and I will not be able to do any good, because I am only one, and there are so many against me. I will pretend, therefore, not to heed what they say, for their words cannot do my Sovereign any harm.”

So he made no reply to all their severe remarks, and pretended not to be hurt by what they were saying. He sometimes smiled, when he saw the others laughing, and even added a little word by way of joke, that he might not seem to be offended at them.

soldiers

When the visit was over, he returned to his lodgings, well pleased with the manner in which he had conducted himself during the day. “After all,” he said to himself, “in the circumstances in which I was placed it was best to act as I did.”

But the news of what had occurred reached the ears of the King at home. His indignation was very great, especially when he thought of how kind he had been to the young officer. So as soon as the latter came home, he sent for him.

Prussian Hussars of the 10th Regiment

“What is this I have heard about you?” said the King in an angry tone.

The Colonel hung down his head, and began to make excuses by explaining the difficult position in which he found himself, and said that he did what he thought was the best to be done.

But the King answered: “You did very wrong. It was your duty to have upheld your King and your country even at the risk of your life. Your cowardly conduct has made you unworthy to wear the uniform of a soldier any longer, so begone forever from my presence, degraded and disgraced.”

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Rev. D. Chisholm, The Catechism in Examples (London: R & T Washbourne, Ltd., 1919), 54-6.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 339

 

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