‘I’m goin’ to lay for a shot at that man,’ said Ortheris, when he had finished washing out his rifle. ‘’E comes up the watercourse every evenin’ about five o’clock. If we go and lie out on the north ’ill a bit this afternoon we’ll get ’im.’

‘You’re a bloodthirsty little mosquito,’ said Mulvaney, blowing blue clouds into the air. ‘But I suppose I will have to come wid you. Fwhere’s Jock?’

‘Gone out with the Mixed Pickles, ’cause ’e thinks ’isself a bloomin’ marksman,’ said Ortheris with scorn.

The ‘Mixed Pickles’ were a detachment of picked shots, generally employed in clearing spurs of hills when the enemy were too impertinent. This taught the young officers how to handle men, and did not do the enemy much harm. Mulvaney and Ortheris strolled out of camp, and passed the Aurangabadis going to their road-making.

‘You’ve got to sweat to-day,’ said Ortheris genially. ‘We’re going to get your man. You didn’t knock ’im out last night by any chance, any of you?’

‘No. The pig went away mocking us. I had one shot at him,’ said a private. ‘He’s my cousin, and I ought to have cleared our dishonour. But good luck to you.’

They went cautiously to the north hill, Ortheris leading, because, as he explained, ‘this is a long-range show, an’ I’ve got to do it.’ His was an almost passionate devotion to his rifle, whom, by barrack-room report, he was supposed to kiss every night before turning in. Charges and scuffles he held in contempt, and, when they were inevitable, slipped between Mulvaney and Learoyd, bidding them to fight for his skin as well as their own. They never failed him. He trotted along, questing like a hound on a broken trail, through the wood of the north hill. At last he was satisfied, and threw himself down on the soft pine-needled slope that commanded a clear view of the watercourse and a brown, bare hillside beyond it. The trees made a scented darkness in which an army corps could have hidden from the sun-glare without.

‘’Ere’s the tail o’ the wood,’ said Ortheris. ‘’E’s got to come up the watercourse, ’cause it gives ’im cover. We’ll lay ’ere. ’Tain’t not arf so bloomin’ dusty neither.’

He buried his nose in a clump of scentless white violets. No one had come to tell the flowers that the season of their strength was long past, and they had bloomed merrily in the twilight of the pines.

‘This is something like,’ he said luxuriously. ‘Wot a ’evinly clear drop for a bullet acrost. How much d’you make it, Mulvaney?’

‘Seven hunder. Maybe a trifle less, bekaze the air’s so thin.’

Wop! wop! wop! went a volley of musketry on the rear face of the north hill.

‘Curse them Mixed Pickles firin’ at nothin’! They’ll scare arf the country.’

‘Thry a sightin’ shot in the middle of the row,’ said Mulvaney, the man of many wiles. ‘There’s a red rock yonder he’ll be sure to pass. Quick!’

Ortheris ran his sight up to six hundred yards and fired. The bullet threw up a feather of dust by a clump of gentians at the base of the rock.

‘Good enough!’ said Ortheris, snapping the scale down. ‘You snick your sights to mine or a little lower. You’re always firin’ high. But remember, first shot to me. O Lordy! but it’s a lovely afternoon.’

The noise of the firing grew louder, and there was a tramping of men in the wood. The two lay very quiet, for they knew that the British soldier is desperately prone to fire at anything that moves or calls.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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