Little Pearly, aged 10, is "mixed up about heroes" because her little friends tell her heroes do not exist, but she has writen the Any Day column ("so you will set me straight like you are always doing").

Yes, Pearl -- surely Pearly is your nickname -- there are indeed heroes, though your choice of Any Day for illumination on the topic is unusual.

How often a writer must set aside trifling feelings of unworthiness, in addressing some matter, and get right on with it.

To begin with, your little friends are naught but pooky boys, not even in pimples yet, but still in punk. They will be fine once they grow up, but do not rely on them now for your comprehension of anything.

Now there have been five heroes: Socrates, the ever-glorious corrupter, Achilles the faithful; Roland the trumpeter; Tom the fireman and Tim the grunt.

The reason you are in school is partly to learn of famous men, so be patient. But know this, Pearl, that heroes do not spring from anatomy nor from Trojan wars, necessarily. Indeed, as a wit has recently said, they may come and go through a factory gate.

A man may taunt a nice old hound and be painfully chewed to death, very rightly, but he is far from a hero. On the other hand, a hero may come through the world unscathed and yet be a hero indeed.

To go further, there is no doubt a man may often save himself if he is willing to say or do anything. But may fall into mishap, if his feet stand fast.

A hero must risk greatly, for a great thing worth the risk, and he must do this consciously, freely choosing. (The meaning of "freely," "risk" and "worth" you must make it your business to find out.)

A fellow may have a chance to save his own hide if he just runs away from his friends in deep trouble, say.

The essence of heroism is the choice followed by the action or the refusal. He may say -- one assumes he will -- that it would have been awkward or inappropriate to leave his friends behind. A hero need not, in other words, claim or acknowledge that he is a hero. Often they refuse the title because it does, of course, make them feel rather an ass.

A man may discover, on the other hand, a startling variety of reasons why the safe thing is the best thing. Of him, one should not speak the syllables of hero, but should say nothing. Remember that if you can. Nothing.

Now Pearl, dear, you must learn all you can in school, otherwise you will grow up so ignorant as to amount to stupid, and will have dumb notions in your head, and will not even know what was great about Achilles or Tom the fireman. You do not want to be so ignorant of human grandeur that you say well, they're dead.

It's true, we die. Do you think heroes don't know it, who sometimes die sooner than the rest of us? On the contrary, they know death is afoot, but they take care in good time to spit in his face.

There is an element of defiance in the hero, a sort of assertiveness, which is not altogether unattractive, by which the hero claims a descent from that long line.

Not heroes? Ah, Pearly -- I suppose a nickname cannot be helped -- they are as real and as shining as anything ever seen in mortal darkness.

Someday very likely you will meet one. Indeed we have all met many and didn't even know. You will ask, of course, how one speaks to a hero and the protocol is clear and well established:

"How do you do?" is all right, if it suits your usual style. Otherwise you may say:

"Hiyah doon," followed by "Goodahmeecha."

The latter form, I believe, is standard amongst us today, and is possibly best, since it is common, and anything affected is poor form, and (especially with heroes) you take some care not to call attention to yourself.

After the greeting, you seize the paw and shake it, not too enthusiastically, as if he belonged to you more than to others, yet warmly and briefly. Then you say nothing, unless he says something. If the hero should rattle on, you should say "yeah" about every eight seconds.

Anything further is rather poor form. You may feel, after such a meeting, that you have not fully expressed your heart. Know, good child, that is what you have a heart for, to keep things in it that would be awkward or inappropriate to display to the world.

For chokey occasions, it is well not to say even "yeah" too many times, lest awkwardness follow.

Returning home, however, it is permissible (having been correct in your behavior with heroes) to raid the ice box even to the extent of some cold spaghetti and an entire leftover pork chop. Tuna fish and collards are suitable, too, and may be comforting. Otherwise, the ice box should never be approached after 10 p.m. Make that 9 p.m.

As you head for the hay, assuming you are alone, it is permissible to pause (kneeling):

Defend, O Lord, thy bold child with thy fiercest grace forever. Till he stand in thy courts himself like a little sun. The nebulas lit and the sheep impastured, and the wine in flood.