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UNTIL THE LAST SHOT

BY STEWART EDWARD WHITE
AUTHOR OF "THE BLAZED TRAIL," "THE FOREST," "THE RIVERMAN," ETC.


"BOBBY," said Mr. Kincaid gravely, "always remember this all your life, no matter what happens to you: a man is never defeated until the very last shot is fired.

"And remember this, too: that even if he is defeated, he is not beaten, provided he has done the very best he could and has never lost heart."


BOBBY ORDE and his setter dog, Duke, wandering down Main Street, paused to look at the first store window. In it was a weapon which he knew to be a Flobert rifle. It was something to be dreamed of, with its beautiful, blued-steel, octagon barrel, its gleaming gold-plated locks and its polished stock. Bobby was just under ten years old, but he could have told you all about that Flobert rifle—its weight, the length of its barrel, the number of grains of both powder and lead loaded in its various cartridges. Once he had cherished an ambition of saving industriously until he was a very old man and then buying it. Proposing this scheme to Stafford, the storekeeper, he was dashed to find the weapon not for sale.

"It's first prize for the fall shoot of the club," he said.

For some time this made Bobby very sad. Then came the comfort of an inspiration on which he was acting now.

He stepped into the store and asked to examine the Flobert rifle.

"My papa's going to win it and give it to me," he announced.

A very brown-faced man with twinkling gray eyes turned from buying black powder and felt wads to look at him amusedly.

"Hullo, Bobby," said he. "So your father's going to win the rifle and give it to you, is he? Are you sure?"

"Of course," replied Bobby simply, "My papa can do anything he wants to."

The man laughed.

"What do you know about rifles, and what would you do with one?" he asked.

"I know all about them," replied Bobby with great positiveness; "and I know where there's lots of squirrels."

The storekeeper had by now taken the Flobert from the show window. The other man reached out his hand for it.

"Well, tell me about this one," he challenged.

"It's a Flobert," said Bobby without hesitation, "and it weighs five and a half pounds; "and its ri-fling has one turn in twenty-eight inches; and it has a knife-blade front sight, and a bar rear sight; and it shoots 22 longs, 22 shorts, C B caps, and B B caps. Only B B caps aren't very good for it," he added.

"Whew!" cried the man. "Here, take it!"

Bobby looked it over with delight and reverence. This was the first time he had enjoyed it at close hand. The blue of the octagon barrel was like satin; the polish of the stock like a mirror; the gold plating of the most fancy lock and guards like the sheen of silk. Bobby loved, too, the indescribable gun smell of it—compounded probably of the odors of steel, wood and oil. With some difficulty he lifted it to his face and looked through the rather wobbly sights. Reluctantly he gave it back into the storekeeper's hands.

"Would you mind, please," he asked, a little awed, "would you mind letting me see a box of cartridges?"

Stafford smiled and reached to the shelf behind, from which he took a small, square, delightful, red box. It had reading on it, and a portrait of the little cartridges it contained. Bobby feasted his eyes in silence.

"I—I know it's a prize," said he at last, "But—how much was it?"

"Fifteen dollars," replied Mr. Bishop.

Bobby's eyes widened to their utmost capacity.

"Why—why—why!" he gasped; "I thought it must be a thousand."

Both men exploded in laughter, in the confusion of which, stunned, surprised, delighted and excited with the thought of eventual ownership, Bobby marched out the door, where he was joined gravely by Duke, his beautiful feather tail waving slowly to and fro as he walked.

Later in the day Kincaid, the spare, brown man with the twinkling gray eyes, met Mr. Orde on the street.

"Hullo, Orde!" he greeted. "Hear you have a sure win of the tournament."

"Sure win!" said Orde, puzzled, "What you talking about? You know I couldn't shoot against you fellows."

"Well, your small boy told me you were going to win that rifle down at Bishop's, and give it to him."

Orde's face clouded.

"He's been talking nothing but rifle for a month," said he. "I'm going West in September. Wouldn't have any show against you fellows, anyway."

When Bobby heard this paralyzing piece of news, his entire scheme of things seemed shattered. For a long time he sat staring with death in his heart. Then he arose silently and disappeared.

In the Proper Place, among Bobby's other possessions, was a small toy gun. Its stock was of pine, its lock of polished cast iron, and its barrel of tin. The pulling of the trigger released a spring in the barrel, which in turn projected a pebble or other missile a short and harmless distance. Then a ramrod reset the spring. When, the previous Christmas, Bobby had acquired this weapon, he had been very proud of it. Latterly, however, it had fallen into disfavor as offering too painful a contrast to the real thing as exemplified by the Flobert Rifle.

Bobby rummaged the darkness of the Proper Place until he found this toy gun. From the sack in his father's closet—forbidden—he deliberately abstracted a handful of bird-shot. Retiring to the woodshed, he set the spring in the gun, poured in what he considered to be about the proper quantity of shot, and solemnly discharged it at the high fence. The leaden pellets sprayed out and spattered harmlessly against the boards. Thrice Bobby repeated this. Then, quite without heat or rancor, he threw the toy gun and what remained of the shot over the fence into the vacant lot behind it. His common sense had foretold just this result to his experiment, so he was not in the least disappointed; but he had considered it his duty to try the only expedient his ingenuity could invent. For if—by a miracle—the little gun had discharged the shot with force; Bobby might—by a miracle—be permitted to participate with it in the Shoot; and might—by a miracle—win the Flobert himself. Bobby was no fool. He marked the necessity of three miracles; and he did not in the least expect them. Merely he wished to fulfill his entire duty to the situation.

Saturday morning—the very day of the Shoot—Mr. Orde left for California.

After lunch Bobby trudged to Main Street, turned to the right, away from town, and set himself in patient motion toward the shooting grounds.

These were situated some two miles out along the county road. Bobby had driven to them many times, but had never attempted to cover the distance afoot. The sun was hot, and the way dusty. Many buggies and one large carryall passed him, each full of the participants in the contest. No one thought of giving Bobby a lift, in fact no one noticed him at all. He could not help thinking how different it would be if only his father had not gone West.

"Hello!" called a hearty voice behind him.

He turned to see a yellow two-wheeled cart drawn by a gaunt white horse. On the seat close to the horse's tail sat Mr. Kincaid.

"Hello!" called a hearty voice behind him

"Going to the Shoot?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Bobby.

"Well, jump in."

Mr. Kincaid moved one side, and lifted half the seat so Bobby could climb in from the rear. Then he let the seat down again and clucked to the horse.

Mr. Kincaid wore an ancient gray slouch hat pulled low over his eyes; and a very old suit of gray clothes, wrinkled and baggy. Somehow, in contrast, his skin showed browner than ever. He looked down at Bobby, the fine good-humor lines about his eyes deepening.

"Well youngster," said he, "where's your father?"

Bobby's eyes fell; he kicked his feet back and forth. Beneath them lay Mr. Kincaid's worn leather gun-case, and an oblong japanned box which Bobby knew contained shells. For an instant he struggled with himself.

"He—he had to go to California," he choked; and looked away quickly to hide the tears that sprang to his eyes.

Mr. Kincaid whistled and raised his hand so abruptly that the old white horse, mistaking the movement for a signal, stopped dead, and instantly went to sleep.

"Get up, Bucephalus!" cried Mr. Kincaid indignantly.

Bucephalus deliberately awoke, and after a moment's pause moved on. To Bobby's relief Mr. Kincaid said nothing further, but humped over the reins, and looked ahead steadily across the horse's back. He stole a glance at the older man; and suddenly without reason a great wave of affection swept over him. He liked his companion's clear brown skin, and the close clipped gray of his hair, and his big gray mustache beneath which the corners of his mouth quirked faintly up, and the network of fine crow's feet at his temples, and the clear steady steel-color of his eyes beneath the bushy brows. On the spot Bobby enshrined a hero.

But now they turned off the main road through a gap in the snake-fence, and followed many wheel tracks to the farther confines of the field where, under a huge tree they could see a group of men. These hailed Mr. Kincaid with joy.

"Hello, Kin, old man," they roared. "Got here, did you? What day did you start? The old thing must be about dead. Lean him up against a tree, and come tell us about the voyage."

"The cannon-ball express is strictly on schedule time, boys," replied Mr. Kincaid, looking solemnly at his watch.

He drove to the fence, where he tied Bucephalus. The other rigs were hitched here and there at distances that varied as the gun-shyness of the horses. Bobby proudly bore the gun-case. Mr. Kincaid lifted out the heavy box of shells.

Bobby took in the details of the scene with a delight that even his just cause for depression could not quench.

The men, some twenty in number, sprawled on the ground or sat on boxes. Before them stood a wooden rack with sockets, in which already were stacked a number of shotguns. Two pails of water flanked this rack, in each of which had been thrust a slotted hickory "wiper" threaded with a square of cloth. A fairly large empty wooden box, for the reception of exploded shells, marked the spot on which the shooters would stand. The rotary trap lay in plain sight eighteen yards away. That completed the list of arrangements, which were, in the light of modern methods, as every trap shooter of to-day will recognize, exceedingly crude.

The men, however, supplied the interest which the equipment might lack. At that time every trap-shot was also a field shot. The class which confines itself to targets had not even been thought of. And good picked-shots have in common everywhere certain qualities, probably developed by the life in the open, and the unique influences of woodland and upland hunting. They are generous, and large in spirit, and absolutely democratic—the millionaire and the mechanic meet on equal ground—and deliberate in humor, and dry of wit. The quiet chaffing, tolerant, good-humored, genuine intercourse of hunters cannot be matched in any other class.

The components of this group had each served his apprenticeship in the blinds or the cover. They knew each other in the freemasonry of the Field; and when they met together, as now, they spoke from the gentle magic of the open heart.

One exception must be made to this statement, however. Joseph Newmark, in advance of his time, shot methodically and well at the trap, never went afield, and maintained toward his neighbors an habitual dry attitude of politeness.

Bobby seated himself on the ground and prepared to listen with the completest enjoyment. These men were to him great or little according as they shot well or ill. That was to him the sole criterion. It did not matter to him that Mr. Heinzman controlled the largest interests in the western part of the state—he "couldn't hit a balloon"; nor that young Wellman was looked upon as worthless and a loafer—he was well up among the first five.

Nearly everybody smoked something. The tobacco smelled good in the open air.

"Well," remarked Kincaid, "if that Stafford party doesn't show up before long, I'm going home. I can't stand you fellows without some excitement for a counter-irritant."

"That's right, Kin," called somebody, "Better start that old buzzard toward town pretty soon, if you want to get in for breakfast—there's a good moon!"

But at this moment a delivery wagon turned into the field, and drove briskly to the spot. From it Mr. Stafford descended spryly.

"Sorry to be a little late, boys; just couldn't help it," he apologized.

His arrival galvanized the crowd into activity. From the delivery wagon they unloaded boxes of shells, two camp stools and a number of barrels. The driver then hitched his horses to the fence, and returned to act as trap-puller.

One of the barrels was rolled out to the trap, opened, and its contents carefully spilled on the ground. It contained a quantity of sawdust and brown glass balls. These were about the size of a base-ball, had an opening at the top, and were filled with feathers. John, the driver of the delivery wagon, climbed down into a pit below the trap. He set the spring of the trap and placed a glass ball in its receptacle at the end of one of the two projecting arms. A long cord ran from the trap back to the shooting stand.

Mr. Stafford opened a camp stool, sat down, and produced a long blank book. In this he inscribed the men's names. Each gave him two dollars and a half as an entrance fee. A referee and scorer were appointed from among the half-dozen non-shooting spectators.

"Newmark to shoot; Heinzman on deck!" called the scorer in a business-like voice.

The trapper ducked into his hole. Mr. Newmark thrust five loaded shells into his side pocket, picked his gun from the rack and stepped forward to the mark. Then he loaded one barrel of the gun and stood at ready. In those days nobody thought of standing gun to shoulder, as is the present custom. The rule was, "stock below elbow."

"Ready," said he in his dry incisive voice.

"Ready," repeated the trap puller at his elbow.

"Pull!" commanded Mr. Newmark abruptly.

Immediately the trap began to revolve rapidly; after a moment or so it sprung, and the glass ball, projected violently upward, sailed away through the air. The mechanism of the trap was such that no one could tell precisely how long it would revolve before springing; nor in what direction it would throw the target. Nevertheless the mark offered would now, in comparison with our saucer-shaped target, be considered easy. Mr. Newmark brought his gun to his shoulder and discharged it apparently with one motion, before the ball had more than begun its flight. A roar of the noisy black powder shook the air. The glass sphere seemed actually to puff out in fine smoke. Only the feathers it had contained floated down wind.

"Dead!" announced the referee in a brisk business-like voice.

Mr. Newmark broke his gun and flipped the empty yellow shell into the box next him. A cloud of white powder smoke drifted down over the group. Bobby snuffed it eagerly. He thought it the most delicious smell in the world; and so continued to think it for many years until the nitros displaced the old-fashioned compounds. Four times Mr. Newmark repeated his initial performance; then stepped aside.

"Heinzman to shoot; Wellman on deck!" announced the scorer.

Mr. Heinzman was already at the mark; and young Wellman arose and began to break open a box of shells. Mr. Newmark thrust his gun barrels into one of the pails and with the hickory wiper pumped the water up and down.

"He's a good snap-shot," Bobby heard a man tell a stranger, in a half-voice.

"Has a brilliant style," commented the other.

They fell into a low-toned conversation on the partridge season, and the ducks, to which Bobby listened with all his ears, the while his eyes missed nothing of what took place before him. Nobody now spoke aloud. The chaffing had ceased. Shooter's etiquette prohibited anything that even by remote possibility might "rattle" the contestants. Only the voices of the men at mark and the referee were heard, and the heavy hang of the black powder. Bobby liked to listen to the referee. Reporting, as he did, hundreds of results in the course of the afternoon, his intonation became mechanical.

"Dead!" he snapped in the crispest, shortest syllable, when the glass ball was broken by the charge,

"Law-s-s-t!" he drawled when the little sphere sailed away unharmed.

Each shooter on finishing his first string of five, swabbed out his gun, leaned it against the rack, and went to squat in the group where he commented to his friends on his own or others' luck, but always quietly. An air of the strictest business held the entire assembly.

This broke slightly when Mr. Kincaid's name was called. A stir went through the crowd; and some one called out,

"Go it, Old Reliable! Have you had any hoops put around her lately?"

Mr. Kincaid grinned good-naturedly, but made no reply. He had discarded his coat; and now wore a brown cardigan jacket. He took his place with the greatest deliberation, consuming twice as much time as any one else.

"Ready," said he.

"Ready," replied the trapper mechanically.

"Pool!" cried Mr. Kincaid.

The discharge delayed so long that Bobby looked to see if a misfire had occurred; but when the ball reached the exact top of its swing, Mr. Kincaid broke it.

"One of the most reliable duck shots we have," said Bobby's neighbor to the stranger. "He shoots just like that, always. Never in a hurry; but he seems to get there. Kills a lot of game in the season."

The shoot progressed with almost the precision of a machine. Bobby amused himself by closing his eyes to hear the regular ready, pull, bang! that marked the progress of the score. From his level with the tops of the brown grasses of late summer he enjoyed the wandering puffs of hot air, the drift of pungent aromatic powder smoke, the rapid successive bending of the stalks as though fairies were running over them when the breezelets passed. It was all very pleasant and, for the time being, he forgot his disappointment.

The match was to be at one-hundred balls—sixty singles, and twenty pairs of doubles. Early in the game the different shooters began roughly to group themselves on the score-cards according to their ability. One class, among whom were Newmark and Kincaid, continued to break their targets with unvarying accuracy. Young Wellman by rights belonged with these; but he had undershot a strong incomer; and the miss had cost him two others before he could recover his temper. The second class had missed from one to five each. The third class, typified by Mr. Heinzman, had a long string of "goose-eggs" to their discredit.

The fiftieth bird, however, Mr. Kincaid missed. It flipped sideways from the arm of the trap, and flew for twenty feet close to the ground. The referee had actually started to call "no bird"; but Mr. Kincaid elected to try for it; missed, and had to abide by his decision. At the close of the singles, Newmark had a score of sixty straight; Kincaid fifty-nine; and the others strung out variously in the rear.

At this point, a short recess was taken. The crowd of men lit fresh cigars; talked out loud; circulated about; and relaxed generally from the long strain. Some scattered out into the grass to help the trapper to look for unbroken balls. Ordinarily Bobby loved to do this; but to-day he sidled up to where his friend was stooping over the japanned box. Bobby watched him a moment in silence, methodically laying away the used brass shells, one up and one down in regular succession.

"It's too bad you got beat," he ventured timidly at last.

Mr. Kincaid ceased his occupation, removed his pipe from his mouth, and looked up at Bobby searchingly.

"Youngster," he said kindly, "I'm not beat."

"You're behind," insisted Bobby, "and Newmark never misses."

Mr. Kincaid arose slowly, and without a word took Bobby by the arm and led him around the tree. He stopped and raised Bobby's chin in his gnarled brown hand until the little boy's eyes looked straight into his own. Bobby noticed that the twinkle had not disappeared, but drawn far back into their gray depths, which had become unaccountably sober.

"Bobby," said Mr. Kincaid gravely, "always remember this, all your life, no matter what happens to you; a man is never defeated until the very last shot is fired."

He paused.

"And remember this, too: that even if he is defeated, he is not beaten, provided he has done the very best he could, and has never lost heart."

He looked a moment longer into Bobby's eyes; and the little boy saw the gray twinkle flickering back to the surface, and the crow's-feet deepening good-naturedly.

"That's all, sonny," he said, and withdrew his hand from Bobby's chin.

"So you want to see me win the rifle, do you?" asked Mr. Kincaid, as they turned away.

"Yes, sir," replied Bobby.

"Why?"

"Because you're a friend of mine," replied Bobby with simple dignity.

"And that's the very best reason in the world!" cried Mr. Kincaid heartily.

The shooting at the doubles began. Two balls were placed in the trap at once—it will be remembered that it was provided with double arms—and thrown in the air together. At this game many good scores fell into disintegration, for it required great quickness of manipulation to catch both before one should reach the ground. Mr. Newmark's snap method here stood him in good stead. When Mr. Kincaid stepped to the trap, the stranger turned to his friend.

"Here's where the old fellow falls down, I'm afraid," said he a trifle regretfully. "He's too deliberate for this business. I'm sorry. I'd like to see him give Newmark a race for it."

"Deliberate!" snorted the local man.

Mr. Kincaid's preparations were as careful and as wasteful of time as ever. But when he enunciated his famous "pool!" the stranger was treated to a surprise. The first ball was literally snuffed into nothingness before it had risen five feet above the trap! Then quite slowly Mr. Kincaid followed the second to the top of its flight and broke it as though it had been a single.

"Lord!" gasped the visitor. "He surely can't do that with any certainty!"

"Can't he!" said the other grimly, "Watch him."

Interest soon centered on Newmark and Kincaid, as those who had made straight scores on the singles now dropped one or more. Both the contestants named broke their nine pair straight. Bobby sent strong little waves of hope for a miss after each of Mr. Newmark's targets, but without avail. Only one pair apiece remained to be shot at; and in order that Mr. Kincaid should win the match, it would be necessary that Newmark should miss both. This was inconceivable. Bobby threw himself face downward in the grass, sick at heart. He made up his mind he would not look. Nevertheless when, Mr. Newmark's name was called, he sat up.

"Pull!" came Mr. Newmark's dry, incisive voice.

The balls sprang into the air. A sharp click followed. Evidently a misfire. The referee, imperturbable, stepped forward to examine the shell. He found the primer well indented; so, in accordance with the rules, he announced:

"No bird!"

Mr. Newmark's reloaded.

"Pull!" he called again.

On the first bird he scored his first miss of the day.

"Misfire threw him off," exclaimed the spectators afterward.

And then, curiously enough, a queer current of air, springing from nowhere, utterly abnormal, seized the dense powder smoke and whirled it backward, completely enveloping the shooter. The obscuration was momentary, but complete. By the time it had passed the second ball had fallen almost to the ground. Newmark snapped hastily at it.

"Lost! Lost!" announced the scorer.

A deep sigh of emotion swept over the crowd. Bobby gripped his hands so tightly that the knuckles turned white. He resented the intervention of a half-dozen other contestants before Mr. Kincaid should be called; and rolled about in an agony of impatience until his friend stepped to the mark.

The men unconsciously straightened and removed the cigars from their lips. Two hits would win; one miss would tie. Bobby stood up, his breath coming and going rapidly, his sight a little blurred. But Mr. Kincaid went through his motions of preparation, and broke the two balls, with no more haste or excitement than if they had been the first two of the match.

A cheer broke out. Others were still to shoot, but this decided the winner.

"Congratulations!" said Newmark dryly as his rival stepped from the mark.

"That's all right," replied Kincaid, "but it was sheer rank hard luck for you."

On the way home just about sunset many teams passed the old white horse with his old yellow cart, and his driver hunched comfortably over the reins. Everybody shouted final chaffing, kindly congratulations as they sped by.

Bobby, hunched alongside in loyal imitation of his companion's attitude, glowed through and through.

"Papa couldn't have won, even if he'd been here," he said at last. "My! I'm glad you won! Wasn't it exciting?"

Kincaid looked straight ahead of him, his gray eyes pensive, the short pipe shifted to the corner of his mouth. Finally he glanced down amusedly at his ecstatic companion.

"You see, Bobby," he said, "until the last shot is fired."


THE SEQUEL


One afternoon, returning home about two o'clock, he was surprised to find Bucephalus and the yellow cart hitched out in front and Mr. Kincaid sitting on the porch steps.

"No one home but the girl, so I thought I'd wait," he explained, shaking hands with Bobby very gravely. "I brought around the new rifle," he added further. "What do you say to driving up over the hill somewhere and trying her?"

They drove slowly up the road of planks which gave footing over the sandhills. The new shiny Flobert rifle, with its gold-plated locks and trigger guards, rested between Mr. Kincaid's knees. He would not permit Bobby to touch it, however.

When the old white horse had struggled over the grade and into the stump-dotted country Mr. Kincaid hitched him to the fence, and, followed closely by the excited Bobby, climbed into a field. From his pocket, quite deliberately, he produced a small paper target and a dozen tacks wrapped in a bit of paper.

"We'll just nail her up against this big stub," he said to Bobby, tacking away with the handle of his heavy pocket-knife, "and then you can get a rest over that little fellow there."

He stepped back.

"Now let's see you open her," he said, handing over the rifle.

Bobby had long since acquired a theoretical familiarity with the mechanism. He cocked the arm and pulled back the breech block, thus opening the breech with its broken effect due to the springing of the ejector.

"That's all right," approved Mr. Kincaid, pausing in the filling of his pipe; "but you have the muzzle pointing straight at Duke."

"It isn't loaded," objected Bobby.

"A man who knows how to handle a gun," said Mr. Kincaid, emphasizing his words impressively with the stem of his pipe, "never in any circumstances lets the muzzle of his gun, loaded or unloaded, for even a single instant point toward any living creature he does not wish to kill. Remember that, Bobby. When you've learned that, you've learned a good half of gun handling."

"Yes, sir," said Bobby.

"Keep the muzzle up," finished Mr. Kincaid, "and then you're all right."

He led the way to the smaller stump, and nonchalantly, as though it were not one of the most wonderful affairs in the world to own such a thing, produced a little square red box containing the cartridges. This he opened. Bobby gazed with the keenest pleasure on the orderly rows of alternate copper and lead dots.

"Now," said Mr. Kincaid, "kneel down behind the stump." He rested the rifle across it. "You know how to sight, don't you? I thought likely. When you pull the trigger, try to pull it steadily, without jerking. Get in here, Duke!"

Bobby knelt and assumed a position to shoot. To his surprise he found that his heart was beating very fast, and that his breath came and went as rapidly as though he had just climbed a hill. He tried desperately to hold the front sight in the notch of the hind sight and both on the black bull's-eye. It was surprisingly difficult, considering the simplicity of the theory. Finally he pulled trigger for the first time in his life.

"Snap!" said the rifle.

"Now lets see where you hit," suggested Mr. Kincaid.

Bobby started up eagerly, remembered, and with great care laid the Flobert, muzzle up, against the stump,

"That's right," approved Mr. Kincaid.

The bullet had penetrated the exact center of the bull's-eye!

"My!" cried Bobby, delighted. "That was a pretty good shot, wasn't it, Mr. Kincaid? That was doing pretty well for the first time, wasn't it?"

But Mr. Kincaid was lighting his pipe, and seemed quite unimpressed.

"Bullet went straight (puff, puff)," said he. "That's all you can say (puff, puff). No one shot's a good shot (puff, puff). Takes two to prove it (puff, puff)."

He straightened his head and threw the match away.

"It's too good, Bobby, to be anything but an accident," said he kindly. "Now come and try again."

Bobby was permitted to fire nine more shots, of which three hit the paper and none came near the bull's-eye. He could not understand this; for with the dead rest across the stump he thought he was holding the sights against the black. Mr. Kincaid watched him amusedly. The small figure crouched over the stump was so ridiculously in earnest, At the tenth shot he put the cover on the box of ammunition.

"Aren't we going to shoot any more?" cried Bobby, disappointed.

"Enough's enough," said Mr. Kincaid. "Ten shots is practice. More's just fooling—at first, anyway. You can't expect to become a good shot in an afternoon. If you could, why, where's the glory of being a good shot?"

"I don't see what made me miss," speculated Bobby.

"I think I could tell you," replied Mr. Kincaid; "but I'm not going to. You think it over, and next time see if you can tell me. That's the way to learn."

"Next time?" cried Bobby, his interest reviving.

"You aren't tired of it, are you?" inquired Mr. Kincaid, with mock anxiety. "Because I've got ninety cartridges left here that I wouldn't know what to do with."

"Oh!" cried Bobby.

"Well, then," proposed Mr. Kincaid, "I'll tell you what we'll do. You and I will organize the—well, the Maple County Sportsman's Association, say. And we'll hold weekly shoots. These will be the grounds. You and I will be the charter members; but we'll let in others if we happen to want to."

"Papa?" breathed Bobby.

"Moved and seconded that Mr. John Orde, alias papa, be elected. Motion carried," said Mr. Kincaid. "I'll be president," he continued. "I've always wanted to be president of something. And you can be secretary. You must get a little blank book, and rule it off for the scores. Then maybe by and by we'll have a prize or something. What do you think?"

Bobby said what he thought.

"Now," said Mr. Kincaid, opening the the wooden box that ran along the floor of the the two-wheeled cart where the dashboard, had there been one, would have been placed, "this is the next thing: when you're through shooting, clean the gun. If you leave it overnight, the powder dirt will make a fine rust that you may never be able to get out; and rust will eat into the rifling and make the gun inaccurate. No matter how late it is, or how tired you are, always clean your gun before you go to bed. It's the second most important thing I can teach you. You'll see lots of men who can kill game, perhaps, but remember this: the fellow who lets his gun point toward no living thing but his game, and who keeps it bright and clean, is farther along toward being a true sportsman—even if he is a very poor shot—than the careless man who can hit them."

He gave Bobby the steel-wire cleaning rod, the rags, and the oil can, and showed him how to get all the powder residue from the rifling grooves in the barrel.

"There," said Mr. Kincaid, folding back the half seat, "climb in. That settles it for to-day."

Bucephalus came to with reluctance. Going downhill he settled into a slow, steady jog, which soon covered the distance to the Orde house. Bobby climbed out and turned to utter thanks.

"That's all right," said Mr. Kincaid. "Next time I'm going to shoot myself, and you'll have to rustle to beat me. Don't forget the score book."

"When will it be?" asked Bobby.

"Oh, Thursday again," replied Mr. Kincaid. He disengaged the Flobert from between his knees. "Here," said he, "you take this and put it away carefully. I'll keep the ammunition," he added with a grim smile, "Remember not to snap it. Snapping's bad for it when it is empty. Good-by."

He drove off down the street beneath the overarching maples, the old white horse jogging sleepily, the old yellow cart lurching. Over his shoulder floated puffs of smoke from his pipe.

Bobby carried the new rifle into the house, ascended to his own room, and sat down to enjoy it to its smallest detail. The heavy blued octagon barrel bore an inscription which he deciphered—the maker's name, and the patents under which the arm was manufactured. He examined the sights, and how they were fastened to the barrel; the fall of the hammer; firing-pin; the mechanism of the ejector; the butt plate; the polished stock and the manner in which it was attached to the barrel. Over the fancy scroll of the gold-plated trigger guard he passed his fingers lovingly. The trigger guard extended back along the grip of the stock in a long thin metal strip, also gold-plated. It, too, bore an inscription. Bobby read it once without taking in its meaning; a second time with growing excitement. Then he rushed madly through the house shrieking for his mother.

"Mama! Mama!" he cried, "Where are you? Come here!"

Mrs. Orde came on the run, likewise the cook and the butcher. They found Bobby dancing wildly around and around, hugging close to his heart the Flobert rifle.

"Bobby, Bobby!" cried Mrs, Orde. "What is it? What's the matter? Are you hurt?"

She caught sight of the gun, leaped to the conclusion that Bobby had shot himself, and sank limply into a chair.

"See! Look here!" cried Bobby. He thrust the rifle, bottom up, into her lap. "Read it!"

On the plate behind the trigger guard, carved in flowing script, were these words:

To Robert Orde from Arthur Kincaid. September 10, 1870.


(This is the first of a series of stories of boy life)


 

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1946, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.