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Now, Monsieur Rupert, we will take our lesson in fencing.”
The above speech was in the French language, and the speaker was a tall, slightly-built man of about fifty years of age. The scene was a long low room, in a mansion situated some two miles from Derby. The month was January, 1702, and King William the Third sat upon the throne. In the room, in addition to the dancing master, were the lad he was teaching, an active, healthy-looking boy between fifteen and sixteen; his partner, a bright-faced French girl of some twelve years of age; and an old man, nearer eighty than seventy, but still erect and active, who sat in a large armchair, looking on.
By the alacrity with which the lad went to an armoire and took out the foils, and steel caps with visors which served as fencing masks, it was clear that he preferred the fencing lesson to the dancing. He threw off his coat, buttoned a padded guard across his chest, and handing a foil to his instructor, took his place before him.
“Now let us practise that thrust in tierce after the feint and disengage. You were not quite so close as you might have been, yesterday. Ha! ha! that is better. I think that monsieur your grandfather has been giving you a lesson, and poaching on my manor. Is it not so?”
“Yes,” said the old man, “I gave him ten minutes yesterday evening; but I must give it up. My sword begins to fail me, and your pupil gets more skillful, and stronger in the wrist, every day. In the days when I was at Saint Germains with the king, when the cropheads lorded it here, I could hold my own with the best of your young blades. But even allowing fully for the stiffness of age, I think I can still gauge the strength of an opponent, and I think the boy promises to be of premiere force.”
“It is as you say, monsieur le colonel. My pupil is born to be a fencer; he learns it with all his heart; he has had two good teachers for three years; he has worked with all his energy at it; and he has one of those supple strong wrists that seem made for the sword. He presses me hard.
“Now, Monsieur Rupert, open play, and do your best.”
Then began a struggle which would have done credit to any fencing school in Europe. Rupert Holliday was as active as a cat, and was ever on the move, constantly shifting his ground, advancing and retreating with astonishing lightness and activity. At first he was too eager, and his instructor touched him twice over his guard. Then, rendered cautious, he fought more carefully, although with no less quickness than before; and for some minutes there was no advantage on either side, the master’s longer reach and calm steady play baffling every effort of his assailant.
At last, with a quick turn of the wrist, he sent Rupert’s foil flying across the room. Rupert gave an exclamation of disgust, followed by a merry laugh.
“You always have me so, Monsieur Dessin. Do what I will, sooner or later comes that twist, which I cannot stop.”
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