The practice at the pels which Myles was bidden to attend comprised the chief exercise of the day with the esquires of young cadet soldiers of that time, and in it they learned not only all the strokes, cuts, and thrusts of sword-play then in vogue, but also toughness, endurance, and elastic quickness. The pels themselves consisted of upright posts of ash or oak, about five feet six inches in height, and in girth somewhat thicker than a man's thigh. They were firmly planted in the ground, and upon them the strokes of the broadsword were directed.
At Devlen the pels stood just back of the open and covered tilting courts and the archery ranges, and thither those lads not upon household duty were marched every morning excepting Fridays and Sundays, and were there exercised under the direction of Sir James Lee and two assistants. The whole company was divided into two, sometimes into three parties, each of which took its turn at the exercise, delivering at the word of command the various strokes, feints, attacks, and retreats as the instructors ordered.
After five minutes of this mock battle the perspiration began to pour down the faces, and the breath to come thick and short; but it was not until the lads could absolutely endure no more that the order was given to rest, and they were allowed to fling themselves panting upon the ground, while another company took its place at the triple row of posts.
As Myles struck and hacked at the pel assigned to him, Sir James Lee stood beside him watching him in grim silence. The lad did his best to show the knight all that he knew of upper cut, under cut, thrust, and back-hand stroke, but it did not seem to him that Sir James was very well satisfied with his skill.
"Thou fightest like a clodpole," said the old man. "Ha, that stroke was but ill-recovered. Strike me it again, and get thou in guard more quickly."
"Pest!" cried Sir James. "Thou art too slow by a week. Here, strike thou the blow at me."
Myles hesitated. Sir James held a stout staff in his hand, but otherwise he was unarmed.
"Strike, I say!" said Sir James. "What stayest thou for? Art afeard?"
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