THESE words of my mother, intended to settle matters happily, at once
raised another cloud on my horizon.
“Well then,” answered my father, “if you have taught him all you can, we
must send him to college. Now then, little man, don’t let me see your
nose turn white.”
College! word odious to my ears, and terrible to my imagination. Robert
Boissot, was he not at college? I could judge from this sample of a
schoolboy how horrid all the rest must be. What awful things had that
boy told me about his companions, who set their masters at nought and
fought such terrible fights that they almost tore each other to pieces.
At this fearful thought I instinctively put up my hand to my nose. If I
took that poor nose to school, should I ever bring it back again?
My mother sighed as she answered my father. “I have thought, dear, that
it would be hard upon our boy to send him at once to college. The
college boys are so rough and inclined to bully the little ones: you
see, too, Paul has really not been accustomed to play with boys at all.”
“And whose fault is that?” said my father.
“I know, I know,” answered my poor mother; “but all I would say is,
don’t you think it would be better to send him first to Miss Porquet’s
school? It is so near us; there are not many pupils, and nearly all are
younger than Paul. Miss Porquet is very gentle and at the same time very
firm. And the boys at that school are not always having those dreadful
quarrels and fights which they have at the college. She teaches Latin to
several of the children, for instance to one little boy whose mother I
know, and who told me yesterday that he was getting on extremely well.”
“Very well,” replied my father, “let us settle it so, that he goes to
Miss Porquet’s school first. And now, my poor little Paul, you must try
to be brave. Fight against this terrible cowardice. Little by little, if
you struggle hard, you will be able to overcome your foolish fears. If
you try each day to be a little more courageous, you will at length find
you are as brave as anyone else. Things don’t come all at once. It is
only by striving hard that you can acquire a virtue or overcome a
I promised my father to do all I could to overcome my cowardice. My
mother kissed me fondly in the passage and whispered in my ear, “Poor
I WENT to bed that night with the best intentions in the world, and with
my head resting on the pillow I formed thousands of projects, one more
daring than the other, so that I might show my parents how much I loved
them and how hard I tried to please them. When my mother came up to tuck
me into my little bed, as she did every night, and stooped over me to
kiss me, I threw my arms round her neck and drawing her quite close
whispered in her ear: “I do so love you!”
“Darling little fellow!” she answered, resting her cheek against mine.
I was so excited that I could not go to sleep for a long time. I kept
turning over in my mind a most daring project, a most audacious deed
which I was determined to perform. Yes, I was determined I would walk
into the garden the next day and beard the little bantam-cock. How
surprised he would be to see me come up to him without the least fear.
Ah! it would be his turn to be afraid now. Yes, I would just open the
door leading from the corridor, open it quite wide! then I would walk up
to the apricot tree: walk straight up to it without hurrying, or
trembling. Then he would come up to me; I should just appear as if I did
not see he was there. Then what would he do? He would most likely fly at
me. Very well, let him; but I would raise my hand at the moment he began
his attack, and I would give him such a blow with my fist that he would
not forget it in a hurry. But then, perhaps he would give me a terrible
peck, the vicious little horror! Pooh, what of that? I could easily
Having come to this conclusion, I at last fell asleep. My plan was to
get up early the next morning without making any noise; to go downstairs
and into the garden before anyone was about, for I did not wish people
to witness my exploit. I was determined to try if I could not carry my
project out with courage and success; but I could not be quite sure how
matters would turn out, so I would rather have my first battle over
without a witness.
When I opened my eyes the next morning, it was broad daylight. I jumped
out of bed, said my prayers, and dressed as fast as I could.
FROM the staircase, down which I bounded two or three steps at a time, I
could hear the cock-a-doodle-doo of my enemy. His shrill voice seemed to
pierce through one’s head, it was such a self-satisfied, such a
confident tone of voice, that as I listened I seemed to hesitate in my
design of bearding the little cock. However, after a moment I regained
my courage, and I said to him—just as if he could hear me,—“Hollo, Mr.
Cock, in five minutes you won’t hold your cockscomb quite so high!”
As valour need not altogether exclude prudence, I thought it wise to
take my father’s fishing-rod with me. And I drew my cap well down over
As I entered the kitchen I found my mother already there; she was
engaged in picking lentils and removing the little pebbles which clung
“Are you going out fishing?” she asked laughingly.
“No, mamma, I was only going—” Then it occurred to me that I had
determined I would not tell anybody of my audacious project—that my
intended victory over the bantam was to be a profound secret until I was
the undoubted conqueror. I bit my tongue and prudently cut the sentence
short. As I never told a lie, I did not give a word of explanation.
“Put down the fishing-rod,” said my mother without paying any attention
to my evident embarrassment; “take off your cap, and come and help me.”
I hastened to obey her, and, to tell the truth, I am ashamed to say I
felt some satisfaction in putting off for a day or two, the duty, which
I had imposed upon myself, of teaching a lesson to that impudent little
cock. He, in the meantime, seemed to crow over my infirmity of purpose,
for his cock-a-doodle-doo sounded more loudly than ever all over the
place. “Ah!” said I to myself, “you will lose nothing by waiting; you
would certainly have caught it by this time, I can tell you, if I had
not been kept in.” At that moment my mother went out of the kitchen.
Instigated by a feeling of curiosity to see what was going on inside the
kitchen—or, perhaps, with a baser motive of crowing over me, the little
bantam suddenly flew on the ledge outside the kitchen window, and
putting his head first on one side, and then the other, looked
impertinently through the panes of glass into the kitchen.
“Take that!” cried I; and seizing a handful of lentils, I threw them
against the window. It sounded like a shower of hail. The bantam gave a
hoarse scream of terror, flapped his wings, and disappeared. The rascal,
I have not a doubt, paid the chickens off for the fright I caused him,
as I heard them uttering piercing cries soon afterwards.
I carefully picked up the lentils, and set to work cleaning them again,
feeling quite pleased with my exploit.
“THAT is very nicely done,” said my mother, on her return to the
kitchen. “You are a good helpful little boy; and now go and put on your
best suit for breakfast, as somebody is coming.”
This somebody was Dr. Lombalot, the old surgeon-major of my father’s
former regiment. When he retired from the army he settled at Tours. He
was to arrive by an early train.
“He is a great original,” said my mother, “but your father likes him
He was indeed an original! He had all sorts of theories upon various
subjects and systems of doing things, which he always made out must be
right. For instance, he never ate a boiled egg like the rest of the
world, and he proved that the rest of the world was wrong in the way it
ate them. “Omelettes, yes, Ma’am, omelettes,” said he, looking at my
mother across the breakfast table, “omelettes ought to be done in a
certain particular way known only to myself; but I am willing to give
the receipt”—here he made a little bow to my mother,—“and you should
_always_ pour in the oil before the vinegar in making a salad,”—here he
twinkled his eye maliciously at my father, who was mixing a salad, and
had just poured in the vinegar first.
One of his theories was, he informed us, that neither men nor boys
should wear braces. And then he announced that people should always walk
upstairs backwards, so as not to get out of breath. Here I unfortunately
swallowed some coffee the wrong way, and choked myself, because I was
bursting with laughter; the doctor wiped his spectacles, and putting
them on, stared at my nose, which I felt turn pale.
“And phrenology?” said my father hastily, wishing to divert his
attention, “you still study phrenology?”
[Illustration: “THE DOCTOR STARED AT MY NOSE.”]
The doctor did not appear to hear the question, his eyes were fixed on
my unfortunate nose. At last he uttered the words “_Remarkably_
“What is strange?” enquired my father. The doctor did not at once reply:
lifting up his right hand, he held it before him, moving it first
further and then nearer to him, as if he was trying to get an exact
point of sight to suit him. When he held it still, the back was towards
me, and it hid half his face. His eyes peeped over it as if he was
looking over a wall or as if he was plunged in water to the tip of his
We all gazed at him in great surprise and some consternation. As for
him, he quietly continued his operations, figuratively pulling me to
pieces: his eyes became quite small, and puckers and wrinkles appeared
at the corners.
“Not the least affinity,” said he, in a few seconds, “between the
different features in that face. I take the nose” (here he made a sort
of telescope with his closed fist), “a warlike nose! I hide it” (he hid
himself again behind his wall until I saw only his two eyes), “and I see
a meek forehead, and a timid eye. I look at them altogether again” (here
the wall disappeared), “and what a strange contrast is before me! That
martial nose and that timid physiognomy! that poor face! which is quite
ashamed to have such a nose attached to it, a nose almost…. What was I
going to say? however, no matter. It is just as if you saw a gentle,
peaceable, good-natured shop-keeper giving his arm in the street to some
violent, insolent blusterer. Absurd contrast! a caricaturist would be
delighted to meet with that boy!”
“But,” said my father impatiently, “do tell us something about