The officer bowed. “Has your majesty nothing else to say to me?”
“No, monsieur; you may retire.”
“Shall I obtain permission not to do so till I have spoken to the king, sire?”
“What do you have to say to me? Explain yourself, monsieur.”
“Sire, a thing without importance to you, but which interests me greatly. Pardon me, then, for speaking of it. Without urgency, without necessity, I never would have done it, and I would have disappeared, mute and insignificant as I always have been.”
“How! Disappeared! I do not understand you, monsieur.”
“Sire, in a word,” said the officer, “I am come to ask for my discharge from your majesty’s service.”
The king made a movement of surprise, but the officer remained as motionless as a statue.
“Your discharge — yours, monsieur? and for how long a time, I pray?”
“Why, forever, sire.”
“What, you are desirous of quitting my service, monsieur?” said Louis, with an expression that revealed something more than surprise.
“Sire, I regret to say that I am.”
“It is so, however, sire. I am getting old; I have worn harness now thirty-five years; my poor shoulders are tired; I feel that I must give place to the young. I don’t belong to this age; I have still one foot in the old one; it results that everything is strange in my eyes, everything astonishes and bewilders me. In short, I have the honor to ask your majesty for my discharge.”
“Monsieur,” said the king, looking at the officer, who wore his uniform with an ease that would have caused envy in a young man, “you are stronger and more vigorous than I am.”
“Oh!” replied the officer, with an air of false modesty, “your majesty says so because I still have a good eye and a tolerably firm foot — because I can still ride a horse, and my mustache is black; but, sire, vanity of vanities all that — illusions all that — appearance, smoke, sire! I have still a youthful air, it is true, but I feel old, and within six months I am certain I shall be broken down, gouty, impotent. Therefore, then, sire — "
“Monsieur,” interrupted the king, “remember your words of yesterday. You said to me in this very place where you now are, that you were endowed with the best health of any man in France; that fatigue was unknown to you! that you did not mind spending whole days and nights at your post. Did you tell me that, monsieur, or not? Try and recall, monsieur.”
The officer sighed. “Sire,” said he, “old age is boastful; and it is pardonable for old men to praise themselves when others no longer do it. It is very possible I said that; but the fact is, sire, I am very much fatigued, an request permission to retire.”
“Monsieur,” said the king, advancing towards the officer with a gesture full of majesty, “you are not assigning me the true reason. You wish to quit my service, it may be true, but you disguise from me the motive of your retreat.”