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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
|Page 7 of 12||
Meanwhile the captain is superintending firing arrangements.
"Are the first details ready to begin?" he shouts.
"Quite ready, sir," runs the reply down the firing line.
The Captain now comes to the telephone himself. He takes the receiver from Cockerell with masterful assurance.
"Hallo, there!" he calls. "I want to speak to Captain Wagstaffe."
"Honkle yang-yang?" inquires a ghostly voice.
"Captain Wagstaffe! Hurry up!"
Presently the bell rings, and the Captain gets to business.
"That you, Wagstaffe?" he inquires cheerily. "Look here, we're going to fire Practice Seven, Table B,--snap-shooting. I want you to raise all the targets for six seconds, just for sighting purposes. Do you understand?"
Here the bell rings continuously for ten seconds. Nothing daunted, the Captain tries again.
"That you, Wagstaffe? Practice Seven, Table B!"
"T'chk, t'chk!" replies Captain Wagstaffe.
"Begin by raising all the targets for six seconds. Then raise them six times for five seconds each.--no, as you were! Raise them five times for six seconds each. Got that? I say, are you there? What's that?"
"Przemysl" replies the telephone--or something to that effect. "Czestochowa! Krsyszkowice! Plock!"
The Captain, now on his mettle, continues:--
"I want you to signal the results on the rear targets as the front ones go down. After that we will fire--oh, curse the thing!"
He hastily removes the receiver, which is emitting sounds suggestive of the buckling of biscuit-tins, from his ear, and lays it on its rest. The bell promptly begins to ring again.
"Mr. Cockerell," he says resignedly, "double up to the butts and ask Captain Wagstaffe--"
"I'm here, old son," replies a gentle voice, as Captain Wagstaffe touches him upon the shoulder. "Been here some time!"
After mutual asperities, it is decided by the two Captains to dispense with the aid of the telephone proper, and communicate by bell alone. Captain Wagstaffe's tall figure strides back across the heather; the red flag on the butts flutters down; and we get to work.
Upon a long row of waterproof sheets--some thirty in all--lie the firers. Beside each is extended the form of a sergeant or officer, tickling his charge's ear with incoherent counsel, and imploring him, almost tearfully, not to get excited.
Suddenly thirty targets spring out of the earth in front of us, only to disappear again just as we have got over our surprise. They are not of the usual bull's-eye pattern, but are what is known as "figure" targets. The lower half is sea-green, the upper, white. In the centre, half on the green and half on the white, is a curious brown smudge. It might be anything, from a splash of mud to one of those mysterious brown-paper patterns which fall out of ladies' papers, but it really is intended to represent the head and shoulders of a man in khaki lying on grass and aiming at us. However, the British private, with his usual genius for misapprehension, has christened this effigy "the beggar in the boat."
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