When the plan was proposed to the party at large, the vote was unanimous. Rafe agreed to keep close to Harrison through the evening and follow him once he left for the meeting, with Fetch along for backup.
“Do I have to bring the blue thing?” Rafe asked, scowling. “It gives me the creeps.”
“For an imp, he’s incredibly useful,” said Stian. The imp in question made an obscene gesture at his employer in response.
“It’s got… bug eyes,” said Rafe.
“The better to watch you arse with,” said Casmin.
“He’s not the one I want watching my… oh, never mind,” said Rafe. “Just tell him to keep out of my way.”
The next day dawned bright and clear, and still unseasonably warm. After breakfast, Stephen and Willamina sat reading in the parlor with Casmin when Rafe leaned in the door, grinning eagerly. “It’s on.” Looking at Casmin he said, “You’re going to want to see this.”
Willamina clapped happily and squealed, and Stephen grinned.
“What’s the excitement?” Casmin asked.
“You know how Rafe’s good with a blade?” Stephen said.
“You could say that, yes.”
Stephen grinned wickedly, an expression his sister mirrored. He said, “Give Edmund a rifle and he’s even better.”
“Sir Thomas was laughing at a story he’d heard from an American friend,” Willamina continued. “The man claimed that one of their frontiersman could simultaneously hit two targets some bit apart with the same bullet.”
Casmin raised an eyebrow. “How did he manage that?”
“The American said he did it by shooting an axe head. It splits the shot,” Stephen began.
“And the two halves then each hit the targets,” Willamina finished.
“The theory seems sound…”Casmin said, skeptically.
“Edmund said he could do it, at fifty yards.”
“You’re right,” Casmin said, standing. “This, I have to see.”
The targets had been set up on the back lawn. They had erected a post and sunk a double-headed axe into it. Behind that, two more posts held a pair of ceramic plates that Lady Hughes had agreed to sacrifice to the contest. When Casmin and the twins reached the group outside, Edmund had already taken his rifle out of the case and was checking the sights. Young Thomas stood chatting with him while his father, Sir Thomas watched, smirking.
“He really doesn’t think Edmund can do it,” Willamina said. She was positively gleeful.
“Your pride and joy, is she?” Thomas was asking.
“I don’t know about that,” Edmund responded drily. “But I am fond of her. Martini-Henry Mark IV,” he said, handing the rifle to Thomas. “I just had the sights customized to 400 yards.”
“Enough stalling, Edmund,” Sir Thomas called.
“Who’s stalling?” They paced off the fifty yards, and the party fell silent as Edmund set up the shot.
“They agreed to three attempts,” Stephen told Casmin quietly.
Rafe snorted. “Showmanship. I’ve seen half-drunk men do this trick with a quick-drawn revolver.”
“Careful dear, you’re getting green all over yourself,” Willamina twittered at him.
Edmund raised the rifle to his shoulder, fired, and the two plates shattered. Sir Thomas looked absolutely gobsmacked, while Willamina cheered and Stephen laughed loudly. He and Willamina ran to the targets to try and find the split ball.
Rafe laughed under his breath. “I’d complain about Edmund’s already overdeveloped sense of superiority, but he’s taken the stuffing out if Sir Thomas at least.”
Then, as he watched the small celebration, his expression turned rueful. “And someone knows how to take advantage of Edmund’s good mood.”
Thomas had pulled Edmund aside. Edmund looked serious while Thomas looked merely nervous.
“Interesting,” Casmin said, frowning slightly. “How do you think she’ll respond?”
Rafe thought before he answered. “With Willamina? Who knows.”
“Think he’ll make a fine addition to the family?”
“Hmpf.” Rafe fished a cigarette out if the case in his pocket. “He’s a boy.”
Casmin laughed at that. “He’s your age.”
Rafe took the time to get the tobacco well lit before he exhaled heavily, an irritable dragon. “It’s not the years. He’s an all right sort, I suppose, but he’s got no sense of imagination. He’s… reliable, and wealthy, and everything Edmund thinks she needs.”
“And you disagree?”
Rafe gave Casmin a long look. “I think she can do better.”