On He Who Would Valiant Be

“He who would valiant be had better buck his ideas up and stop cowering behind that shrubbery.”

I made this observation to my companion as, during a morning stroll, we spotted a puny nincompoop quaking with terror behind a clump of shrubbery. I could tell he would valiant be because he was wearing the uniform – cap and smock and leggings and boots – of the School of Valour, a nearby institution where, once upon a time, I had given some lectures.

My companion was a little more quick-witted than me.

“It occurs to me,” she said, “That as he who would valiant be is quaking with terror, there must needs be some disaster in the offing, of which we would do well to take note, and if necessary to guard against, or overcome, or stymie.”

“How right you are!” I hastened to agree, “But I wonder what the nature of the disaster is. He who would valiant be would, in the words of the hymn, be valiant ‘gainst all disaster. It could be anything from an erupting volcano to a bittern storm.”

“Indeed it could,” she said, “Though I am not sure a bittern storm fits into the category of a disaster. It is more a natural phenomenon, an anomalous one to be sure, but hardly disastrous.”

“You have a point,” I said, “But a sky teeming with birds in terrible numbers seems just the kind of thing that might frighten this puny nincompoop cowering behind the shrubbery. Look at him!, quaking there, as unvaliant a specimen as has ever worn the cap and smock and leggings and boots of the School of Valour!”

“Well, let us approach him, you and I,” she suggested, “First to discover from his own drooling lips what it is that has him so frit, and second to put some fire in his belly.”

I agreed, and we turned back and pranced arm in arm behind the clump of shrubs. Our appearance – me drastically tall and engarbed in Tyrolean hiking gear, my companion with the elegance of a swan but with a swan’s savagery in her eyes – alarmed he who would valiant be. His quaking grew the more tremulous, and he made the little whimpering noises of a born milksop.

“Hey ho!” said my companion, kindly, “Of what are you afeared, young student of valour?”

“Oh pity me,” he wailed, “For I have been so beset round with dismal stories that my legs are like jelly and I have piddled myself!”

At this intelligence my ears pricked up.

“Dismal stories?” I asked.

“Yes sir, truly dismal stories,” he answered, “I have been so beset round with dismal stories of the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer Babinsky that I scarce dare to move in case he comes a-leaping upon me with his butcher’s cleaver or other instrument of violence.”

My companion and I withdrew to one side to confer.

“Neither an erupting volcano nor a bittern storm, then,” I said, “But awful disaster in the form of Babinsky!”

“Indeed so,” she said, “Even I quake with something not unakin to terror at mention of that dreadful name, and I, as you know, was one of the top scholars ever to study at the School of Valour.”

“I know it well,” I said, “Though as I recall you never attended any of the lectures I delivered in its august hall.”

“No, I did not,” she said, “For I was too busy learning valour in the field, as we say, armed with sword and cudgel, fighting giants.”

“Then you will have missed my lecture on Babinsky, in the course of which I gave a series of tips to those who would valiant be on how to counter the sense of dread and jellying of the legs and piddling brought about by the very thought of the fiend.”

“Tips which I am sure would be of immediate benefit to the puny nincompoop,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “And as luck would have it I think I have my lecture notes scrunched up in a pocket of my Tyrolean hiking jacket.”

“Then rummage them out and let us return behind the clump of shrubs so you can impart them to he who would valiant be. When you are done, he will valiant be, I expect.”

“A capital idea,” I said, and duly rummaged.

Unfortunately, when we returned behind the shrubbery, he who would valiant be was lying on the ground in several separate pieces, each soaked in gore. While our backs were turned, he had been set upon by the lumbering walrus-moustached serial killer and chopped to bits by his butcher’s cleaver. We span around, quaking with terror, knowing Babinsky was close. But he had already lumbered away, out of sight, bent on further enormities behind other clumps of shrubbery, elsewhere.

“Gosh!”, said my companion, “That was a close shave!”

“It was indeed,” I said, “Oh look! Up there, in the sky! Do you see that bittern storm?”

“I do,” she said, “And I find it not the least bit terrifying, for I would valiant be.”

“Unlike the puny nincompoop,” I said.

“Unlike the puny nincompoop,” she agreed.

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