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"You canting sneak!" said another boy, putting his fist under the captive's chin; "you
were going to the master to tell of us."
"Pierre," responded Antoine, "you know quite well I never tell lies."
"Indeed!--only this morning you pretended I had taken a book you had lost, and you did
it because I kicked you yesterday, and you didn't dare to kick me back again."
Antoine lifted his eyes to heaven, and folding his arms on his breast
Dear Buttel," he said, "you are mistaken; I have always been taught to forgive injuries."
"Listen, listen! he might be saying his prayers!" cried the other boys; and a volley of
offensive epithets, enforced by cuffs, was hurled at the culprit.
Pierre Buttel, whose influence was great, put a stop to this onslaught.
"Look here, Antoine, you are a bad lot, that we all know; you are a sneak and a
hypocrite. It's time we put a stop to it. Take off your coat and fight it out. If you like, we
will fight every morning and evening till the end of the month."
The proposition was loudly applauded, and Pierre, turning up his sleeves as far as his
elbows, prepared to suit actions to words.
The challenger assuredly did not realise the full meaning, of his words; had he done so,
this chivalrous defiance would simply have been an act of cowardice on his part, for
there could be no doubt as to the victor in such a conflict. The one was a boy of alert
and gallant bearing, strong upon his legs, supple and muscular, a vigorous man in
embryo; while the other, not quite so old, small, thin, of a sickly leaden complexion,
seemed as if he might be blown away by a strong puff of wind. His skinny arms and legs
hung on to his body like the claws of a spider, his fair hair inclined to red, his white skin
appeared nearly bloodless, and the consciousness of weakness made him timid, and
gave a shifty, uneasy look to his eyes. His whole expression was uncertain, and looking
only at his face it was difficult at first sight to decide to which sex he belonged. This
confusion of two natures, this indefinable mixture of feminine weakness without grace,
and of abortive boyhood, seemed to stamp him as something exceptional, unclassable,
and once observed, it was difficult to take one's eyes from him. Had he been endowed
with physical strength he would have been a terror to his comrades, exercising by fear
the ascendancy which Pierre owed to his joyous temper and unwearied gaiety, for this
mean exterior concealed extraordinary powers of will and dissimulation. Guided by
instinct, the other children hung about Pierre and willingly accepted his leadership; by
instinct also they avoided Antoine, repelled by a feeling of chill, as if from the
neighbourhood of a reptile, and shunning him unless to profit in some way by their
superior strength. Never would he join their games without compulsion; his thin,