“Good-bye, Coon! Hope you come off all right in your turn-up.”
“Good-bye, sir! Hope I’ll train you when you start for the Heavy.”
“I’ll give you the chance if I do. Come along, Raffles.”
When they were outside, Jack said, “By the way, Raffles, this will be your last appearance down here too, eh?”
“I suppose so,” said Raffles, “unless you make it worth my while to come down entirely on your account.”
“H’m, no,” said Jack. “I’m deucedly short now, and when I’ve paid for the last fifty cartridges, and the last rabbits, I’ll be still shorter.”
“Let it stand over, sir.”
“No,” said Jack. “I’ve had the fun, and I’ll pay, of course. Let’s have a last dozen pigeons at the twenty-five yards’ rise.”
Secretly, Jack was rather glad that Raffles’ role of entertainer was finished; for his stolen pleasures had lost a considerable part of their original sweetness, and their cost was heavy. It would be quite a change, too, to get back to Grim and the others, and be the ordinary common sort of fellow again.
Raffles went and wound up the throwing apparatus, and set the clay pigeon on the rest. Jack took his breech-loader, raised it to the shoulder, and said, “Ready!” Raffles pulled the string, the dummy bird rocketed up, and Jack pressed the trigger.
For one second afterwards Jack did not rightly know what had happened. There was a blinding flash before his eyes, a something tore off his cap, and something stung his cheeks like spirts of scalding water. His left hand felt numb and dead. This all happened in the fraction of a moment.
Jack looked at the gun in stupid wonder. The breech was clean blown out! With a groan of horror, he dropped the gun. He realized that he had escaped death by a miracle. He put up his right hand to his face, which felt on fire, and stared blankly at Raffles.
That worthy was scared out of his wits; but when he saw Jack was more or less alive, he managed to jerk out—
“That was a squeak, young shaver! Hurt any?”
“Don’t know,” said Jack, blankly.
Raffles anxiously examined him, and it was with no end of relief he said—
“Clean bill, sir—bar those flecks of powder on your cheek. Considering—well you’re—we’re—lucky.”
“Rather,” said Jack, dizzily. “That’s my cap isn’t it?”
Yards away was Jack’s cap, and Raffles brought it. His face was white—white above a bit. There was a clean cut through the brim, and a neat, straightforward tear-out of an inch or so of the front just above the crest.
“Well,” said Raffles, looking narrowly at that business-like damage. “All I can say is you’re lucky.”
“Lucky! Yes,” said Jack. “I suppose I’d better go. Let’s have the thing. An inch lower down, and I’d have had that piece of barrel in my head—or through it. It wants thinking over.”