“HISH! Swish! there goes the Beetle!” cried an impudent voice in my ear.

I turned round quickly, and grinding my teeth, asked: “Who said that?”

Brideau, nicknamed “Cock of the Walk,” who was walking just behind me,
was so surprised at the expression of my face, that he retreated a step
or two.

“Was it you?” I demanded.

He did not dare to deny it before all the other boys, lest they should
think that he was afraid of me. So he replied in an insolent tone of
voice, “Yes it _was_ me!”

I threw myself upon him with clenched fists and my eyes shut. I dashed
myself against something, and something was dashed against me. I felt a
violent shock. My left eye suddenly became extremely painful, felt very
heavy, and seemed to see ten thousand lighted candles at once. It seemed
as though my knees gave way, that I staggered two or three steps
backwards and leant against something hard. I soon opened my eyes, or
rather the right eye,—for the left was still tightly closed—and the ten
thousand candles had turned into a number of bright circles which
twisted about in the dark. I discovered that I had backed into a
grocer’s shop, between a barrel of herrings and a case of dried figs.
Everyone looked at me with surprise. Some of my schoolfellows cried out
“Bravo!” (most likely in derision) and others asked me, “if it hurt me

“Not at all,” I answered; I was so excited, that I very nearly said, “on
the contrary I feel the better for it!” Strange to say, nobody laughed
at me. One boy kindly bathed my eye with cold water. To tell the truth I
was very much surprised to find that a blow from my fist struck just by
chance, in that way, should seem to change so entirely the conduct of my
schoolfellows towards me.

Casting my sound eye round me, I tried to find out what had become of
Brideau. I expected to see him come rushing at me; imagine my
astonishment at seeing him going off with a crest-fallen and discomfited
air. He had had one of his eyes much damaged, and his nose was bleeding
into the bargain. It seemed that I had knocked him down. Someone said to
me: “You’ve beaten him!” And, then only, I discovered to my intense
surprise, that I was the conqueror.

Fancy! me the conqueror! Could it be so? It seemed so strange that I
could scarcely believe it! A conqueror, and gloriously wounded. I smiled
involuntarily as I bathed my eye, which now saw black circles revolving
in the light, and which seemed to me to be tremendously swelled! However
I did not mind a black eye or anything else: I had fought in a good
cause, and had conquered.


WHEN I discovered that my coat had not suffered in the fray I was quite
contented, and I returned home whistling as I went, for the first time
since I had been to college. What balm victory spreads upon our wounds!
By the time I reached our house I merely seemed to feel a little
stiffness in my left eye. My father was quite right when he said that
nothing was easier than to give a blow with your fist. Nothing is
easier, and nothing easier than to receive one. In the twinkling of an
eye I had given one and had it returned; though, for the life of me, I
could not say how it came about: and I do not therefore intend to give a
lecture upon the subject.

I would not have told my parents what had taken place for anything in
the world: they would have been sure to ask what I had fought about, and
they would have felt hurt had they known the reason. My mother, seeing
that I appeared troubled at her anxious inquiries about my black eye,
and that my replies were evasive, thought it wiser not to question me
further; and my father dreamed so little that his poor coward of a son
could have received his wounds in battle that he imagined every possible
reason for them rather than the true one.

The news was now spread in the college that Bicquerot was decidedly
eccentric, that he had curious fancies, and this was why they thought
so. I had allowed them all, even the very little boys, to call me all
sorts of names and I had taken no notice, but had appeared meek and
gentle to a fault: I had been called Azor, Toucan and Borniquet, and had
not stirred, but being once called a beetle! my nature was changed, I
became furious, and hit out right and left, in the blindness of my rage.

At the end of the term my father almost fell off his chair when reading
my report from the college. All was well enough till he arrived at the
remarks upon my general conduct, and then came the words “Very bad.”

“What does this mean?” inquired my father in an angry tone of voice,
marking, with his thumb, the objectionable adjective. As I did not
reply, he read on the next page the following words, “quarrelsome and
fond of fighting.” He appeared stupefied. Could it be possible that my
conduct was described as very bad, because of my love of fighting? He
turned to me, and resting his first finger on my chest, exclaimed, “You!
You have fought! Is it true?”

“Yes, papa,” I answered.

“Were you beaten?” he then inquired.

“No,” said I; “I gave some blows with my fist, and had some given back
to me.”

“Real good blows?” cried my father, “bang, bang?”

“Real good blows,” I answered.

“Often?” he asked.

“Well, yes, pretty often,” said I.

“What a young rascal!” said my father, pretending to pinch my ear; and
in a whisper he continued: “kiss me, my boy!”

IT is often difficult for men—then how much more so for boys—to avoid
running into extremes. I ought to have been contented with being no
longer a coward, but alas! I was not, for I now became somewhat of a
bully. I grew excited and furious at very little. It did not require the
opprobrious name of beetle to be applied to me now in order to make me
angry. The time arrived when the least word would make me begin a fight
at once. I began to amuse myself by frightening the smaller boys and
making them fly before me. And the big boys, even, were very careful how
they approached me.


One day I called at Miss Porquet’s school merely to see _The Count_. I
found him—poor creature, left still by his parents in this baby
school—standing in the playground with his cap on one side and his hands
in his pockets. I stared at him from head to foot, and asked him if he
had any remark to make about my coat, my trousers, my neck-tie, or any
part of my dress. And I inquired if he was sure that he wouldn’t like to
come into a corner with me and learn how they fought at college? He
stared at me with frightened eyes, declined my offer, and rushed into
the schoolroom, where he locked himself in, screaming as loud as he
could. As for Brideau, I called him any nickname I chose, and he dared
not say anything. But alas! I was puffed up with pride and vanity! I
used to look at myself in the glass with admiration and respect, and
murmur to myself the words, “Bravest of the brave!” But everything has a
reverse side: the “Bravest of the brave” unfortunately had his ears one
day well pulled by a footman whose afternoon nap he disturbed by ringing
a large bell close to his head. The “Bravest of the brave” one day had a
dispute with a cur in the street whose temper was more imperfect than
his teeth, the consequence of which was that the brave one’s trowsers
were shortened on one leg by a foot, and his mamma had to sit up half
the night repairing the disaster. Seeing which the “Bravest of the
brave” cried himself to sleep under the bed clothes, vowing he would
never disturb street dogs again.


The “Bravest of the brave” did not like Robert Boissot, and lost no
opportunity of contradicting him and of being generally disagreeable to
him, in order to pay off old scores. Alas! the brave one received from
the said Robert Boissot so violent a blow on the top of his nose, that
he was obliged to bury it in his pocket-handkerchief and fly home amid
shouts of derision. The mischief done was very considerable, the
toucan’s beak had been so badly treated that it was obliged to be
wrapped up in as many bandages as a mummy, and it was more than three
weeks before it could be unrolled, and viewed again by the light of day.
When it was again displayed to the eyes of the public it was discovered
to lean over considerably to one side.

They say that Michael-Angelo one day received a blow on the nose from
his friend Torregiani. This knock on the nose changed for ever the
expression of the great man, and made him morose and solitary. The knock
on _my_ nose, given by Robert Boissot, also changed _my_ expression, and
my character. During the time that my nose was recovering itself I had
leisure to reflect. Those reflections changed my ideas upon many
subjects; and made me wiser.

Little by little, I learned to live without running into the extreme of
either cowardice or bullying; and my life passed much as the lives of
other people.

HERE terminate the confessions of a coward as told by himself. But I
will add some details respecting his after life which his own modesty
prevented him from relating. When he says that his “life passed much as
the lives of other people,” he should have added, “like the lives of
those who, first distinguishing themselves at the college of Saint Cyr,
follow a glorious career in the army.”

When sub-lieutenant, Bicquerot was the first to scale the walls of a
certain Arab village, and then received a severe sabre cut which helped
his promotion to lieutenant.

Lieutenant Bicquerot became captain without any wounds, as he was then
with his regiment at Bordeaux, and not near any fighting. As peace
prevailed at that time and he had not seen his parents since he left
Saint Cyr, he got leave; and then might be observed by the worthy
inhabitants of Loches, two Captains Bicquerot walking arm-in-arm about
the streets.


Captain Bicquerot did his duty nobly at the siege of Sebastopol. He was
wounded by a ball, and became insensible; when he regained consciousness
in the hospital he was shown the rosette of the Legion of Honour which
now decorated his buttonhole, and was told that he lost consciousness as
a Captain, but that he awoke to find himself Major.

At the commencement of the Italian campaign Bicquerot was
Lieutenant-Colonel. He was made full Colonel at the battle of Magenta.
He owed this promotion to his extreme courage and presence of mind
displayed upon the occasion. And he was publicly complimented by the
general in command.

On his return to France, Colonel Bicquerot was sent to Tours with his
regiment. He often went over from thence to Loches to see his beloved
mother and father. Captain Bicquerot called his son “the colonel” with
immense pride. His mother did not call him “the colonel,” but how
rejoiced she was when “_her Paul_” came to see her, and on Sunday gave
her his arm to take her to church.

Dr. Lombalot’s mind was greatly disturbed while Colonel Bicquerot lived
at Tours. He would have liked him to live there always for one reason,
and that was because he played chess so admirably, and often had a game
with the worthy doctor. But for the sake of his phrenological theories
the doctor would have liked to see the colonel start for Cochin China.
For after having said that so distinguished an officer was wanting in
the bump of combativeness, how could he talk of the truths of phrenology
again! However, he did talk of them, though in his heart the obstinate
old man could not have believed in them.

At the time when Bicquerot and his friend Marc Sublaine passed that
happy holiday at Bois-Clair, there was a little baby sister of Marc’s
being carried about by her nurse. Miss Marie Sublaine was then cutting
her first teeth. As that young person, at that time of her life, was of
a somewhat misanthropical turn of mind, and passed all her time in the
nursery, it is not to be wondered at, that “the Coward” omitted to
mention her when he recounted his confessions. However, one knows that,
in general, young gentlemen of nine or ten profess the most extreme
contempt for the society of babies; above all, babies that have a habit,
like Miss Marie Sublaine, of crying for nothing, and of scratching and
biting the noses and fingers of their friends.

Nevertheless Miss Marie Sublaine became in time the wife of Colonel
Bicquerot. And a very happy couple they were.