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As he did every Sunday, Hartmann went to do some shooting. He opened the door of the gun shop, nodding to Herr Schönebeck.
The shop owner grinned. “Greetings sergeant!”
“Morning, Franz. I came to use the range again.”
“Ah, yes.” Schönebeck lifted the counter section allowing access, and Hartmann walked through to the back. The other owner, Lüdecke Wulff, was standing beside a woman showing her how a weapon operated. He looked up, nodding.
The woman glanced back, then turned. “Sergeant.”
“Frau Schlesier.” He acknowledged Colonel Ludendorf’s daughter.
Aloyse Schlesier relaxed, turning back to the gunsmith. “Explain further, please.”
Hartmann stepped close enough to get a good look at the weapon. It was a small revolver. “It is simple to reload—” As he watched, Wulff took the pistol, pulled on the spindle, and the cylinder dropped into his hand revealing the percussion cap nipples. He held up the cylinder, then slid it back into place to re-engage, pushing the spindle back to lock. “—and be firing again in seconds.”
“I would like to test-fire this weapon, please,” Aloyse said.
Wulff changed out the cylinder for a loaded one and handed it to her as he turned, holding out ear muffs.
“To protect your ears from the noise,” the gunsmith waved at the ones he wore, “It is why I can still hear. Sergeant?”
Hartmann took a small metal tin from his pocket, withdrew two wax impregnated wool strips, and stuffed them into his ears. After putting the muffs on, Aloyse picked up the pistol again. For a moment she looked unsure.
“Problem, Frau Schlesier?”
She looked up at the sergeant, then blushed. “I talked my father into letting me buy a pistol. But I have never even held a gun before.”
He looked down, shaking his head. “It is my day off, but I can work on it this once.” He reached out, taking the weapon into his hand. He aimed it and nodded. “Not too heavy, but with your hands, I would suggest a two-handed grip.”
“With my hands?” Her tone was cold.
”Your hands are small, Frau Schlesier. I have taught enough men with small hands to know a gun can get away from you. With my new pistol, I need to use the same kind of grip because of the recoil.” He handed it back. “Most people’s right hand is stronger. So; strong hand gripping the weapon, the other hand folded around the fingers on the butt both for support and additional strength.”
She placed her hands as instructed.
“Now, aim the weapon downrange. No, don’t close your eye. Use both eyes to capture the sights. Place the front post in the notch of the rear sight and the target mark on top of them both.”
She stood there, as instructed. Hartmann walked around behind her, and she gasped as his arms came around her.
“Tighter with the off hand. Now relax, take a deep breath, let part of it out. Slowly squeeze the trigger finger back until the slack is out of the trigger, nod when you have.”
She nodded slowly. His arms pulled back away from her.
“Now squeeze some more.”
The gun barked. Hartmann looked downrange. “You are holding the sights a bit low. Aim a small bit higher, and do it again.”
Slowly she went through the first cylinder. As she finished, she fumbled a bit but loaded another cylinder. By the last shot, she had the bullet holes in a group small enough to cover with both hands. She set the weapon down.
“I’ll take it, and three more cylinders.”
Wulff began showing her how to reload the cylinders, using the loading arm on the weapon. As she did, Hartmann took his pistol from the holster and began firing.
Hartmann emptied a cylinder, then reloaded, setting the empty back in his bullet pouch to reload later before emptying the second. Both sets were in a space small enough to cover with one hand.
“That is some very impressive shooting, Sergeant.”
He replaced the cylinder with a loaded one, then holstered his weapon, looking at the woman as he pulled out the makeshift earplugs which he returned to the box. “Practice makes perfect in everything, Frau Schlesier. Keep practicing.”
She nodded, but she seemed to have something else on her mind. Wulff led her to the front of the store, Hartmann following. He arranged to have two hundred rounds for the rifle delivered, nodded to the shop owners, and went on into the street. Snow was falling in a gentle wind, and he breathed in, letting his breath out in a slow stream. Winter had always been Marta’s favorite time. How often had they walked in the brief time they had shared, just glorying in the gentle fall of snow?
“Sergeant, may I walk with you?”
He glanced down, and instead of Marta, it was Aloyse.
“Of course.” He motioned, and she fell into step beside him. “I hear General Knyphausen is interested in having women assigned during the next campaign.”
“Yes,” She said proudly. “We will serve our country as the men have.”
“She is wedded to convictions—in default of grosser ties;/ Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!—/ He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,/ Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.”
“How do you do that?” She demanded. At his quirked eyebrow, she motioned to her pocket. “I know you gave me the book. How do you still quote Kipling so readily?”
He gave her a grin. “Practice makes perfect in everything, Schlesier.”
“May I ask a question?” He nodded. “Why didn’t you bring your rifle?”
“Any fool with a matchlock can get a hit from less than fifty yards. I practice with my rifle every week at the base firing range. It has up to five hundred yards of open space now.”
“May I observe?”
“You won’t be alone,” he replied cryptically.
They walked to the Army base, to his barracks, then to the firing range. At the request of the Marine scout-snipers and Thuringian Rifles, it had been expanded from the original three hundred yards to five hundred. As he lay prone, a formed sandbag holding the barrel, Aloyse noticed the silently gathering crowd.
“Luftmann.” Hartmann held up the Bushnell spotting scope he had been given by Cassandra as a Christmas present, “Spot my shots, please.” As he spoke, he lifted that odd new sight and peered through the small pinhole.
The soldier came forward, went prone, and looked through the scope. “Ready.”
Aloyse heard whispered comments behind her. She backed up.
“No way he will hit it as well as he usually does. Not with a new sight. Ten.”
“I bet he will,” she whispered.
“Show me your cash.”
“My father is Colonel Ludendorf. I am good for it.” She tapped the presentation box for her new revolver. “I paid for this with my own money.” Several men gave her provenance, and the man nodded. Others around began furiously betting with her. Each target was marked with crossed white bandoleers about where the heart was.
“Three hundred yards, center target.” The rifle fired.
“Center mass, one inch below the bandoleers.”
The men grumbled, peeling off bills to hand her. Aloyse waved them. “My winnings added to my bet. As good as the last shot.” The men gave her looks from surprised to arch, then nodded.
Hartmann reloaded, then adjusted the sight. “Four hundred yards, center target.” The next shot rang out.
“Center mass lower left quadrant of the center point.”
More groaning. She gathered the bills. “Any more bets? I say he will do better with the last one.” Having already lost twenty dollars each, they were desperate.
Everyone stood with bated breath. The next shot rang out.
Luftmann looked through the glass, then shook his head. “Center of the bandoleers.” There was a chorus of groans from directly behind him.
Hartmann stood, dusting off his trousers, and turned to the crowd. Half were sullen, and the others were busy counting money. “Anyone can shoot well on the target range. The targets are not moving, ducking for cover, or shooting back. I have spent the last four years learning how to shoot the way the up-timers do, yet I am not even worthy of cleaning the rifle of Julie Sims.
“Anyone who bet that I would fail got what they deserved. I am your sergeant because I am better than any of you, except for Wachtmeister Jäger; he has been shooting rifles since he was a child. Now I know you all have the day off, but if you have nothing better to do to than stand around and watch me—” The men scattered like flushed birds, leaving Aloyse Schlesier busily counting a wad of bills. He walked over as she stuffed them into her purse.
“You did well?”
“Betting on you? Of course, I did! I made almost two hundred dollars!”
He smiled then tapped her on the nose. “Then we are going to the Good Samaritan. And you are buying lunch.”
The three senior officers of the Wolverines settled into their chairs as Colonel Ludendorf began the meeting. “Seven new lieutenants. Not as many as we need, but better than I expected.” Finding enough good junior officers was always a problem. He looked at Major Keilberth of the First Battalion. “Joachim, your assessment?”
“Some are pretty good, Sir.”
Ludendorf looked at him calmly. “That statement suggests some are less than adequate.”
“Only two, Sir. Eisner is—from what I am told—making the typical mistakes you would expect from someone fresh out of ritterschule, like Reicher was before Ahrensbök, but not yet learning from his mistakes. He just needs to learn, and his captain is taking that in hand.”
Ludendorf cocked his head. “Joachim, you have been like this since White Mountain, making me draw the facts as if I were pulling teeth. Care to let your ensign know what is wrong?” He glanced at Nudelmann, recently promoted to major in command of the Second. “Let him talk, Albrecht.”
Keilberth looked down. Ludendorf remembered the man had been in the same position at Breitenfeld as Hartmann was when he had offered a promotion before Ahrensbök; a long-term sergeant promoted to officer. “Permission to speak freely, Sir?”
Oh, this was bad. “Granted.”
Keilberth sighed. “I spoke to all of the new second lieutenants as instructed, Sir. The last man, Honeker—I am sorry, Sir, but he has the worst attributes of the Adel with few of the virtues.”
Ludendorf leaned back, “Explain.”
“His father gained renown under Wallenstein before he died fighting at the Alte Veste. His brother has done well since he joined the USE Army. Young Honeker seems to assume that because of his lineage, he is right, and anyone without military leaders in their close lineage must be wrong.”
“How old is he?”
“Eighteen, sir. Worst yet he lets that attitude color his dealings with the other junior officers. In the mess, he expects them to agree with him and is abusive when they do not.” Keilberth ran his hand back over his balding pate, “I have checked with the teachers at his ritterschule. According to them, he should be one of our best. I cannot see him leading even a platoon, not with his attitude about his subordinates.”
“That is bad. Recommendation?”
“Give him a veteran sergeant. Like a man training an unruly horse, perhaps he can learn to be a good officer.”
“As you did for me, all those years ago.” Ludendorf rocked back and forth for a moment. “Albrecht, do you think Hartmann can handle him?”
“It depends, Sir,” Nudelmann replied after a moment of thought. “What with the Gray Wolves raiding us for cadre, he is training more than half of his company again along with Köstner, one of the better junior lieutenants to command his third platoon, which is a heavy load. Adding Honeker to the mix will be a burden.”
“Then maybe the next time we try to promote him, he won’t duck as fast as he has in the past,” Ludendorf replied tartly. “Assign him as a second lieutenant to your first company, and may God have mercy on his soul.”
“On who’s soul, Sir?” Keilberth asked.
Ludendorf grinned. “If I were a betting man I would say it is too close to call.”
“Sir, Second Lieutenant Honeker to see you.”
“Send him in.” Ludendorf set aside the report he was reading, then looked up. Ludwig Honeker was every inch an officer to the eye, but Ludendorf could see the arrogance in his stance. This was only a stepping stone to a general’s stars in his eyes. Ludendorf said nothing for a long while. Most junior officers would be fidgeting a bit by this point. But Honeker just gave him a slight smile, almost a smirk.
“Lieutenant, you have been assigned to the first company of the second battalion. It is understrength in officers so you will assume command of First Platoon in the morning.”
“Yes, sir. Don’t worry; I’ll lick them into shape.”
What was that old phrase the up-timers used? Three strikes and you’re out? Honeker had unknowingly made two so far; first with Keilberth, now with him.
“Your senior company sergeant is a good man, Lieutenant. I expect he will be the one doing the work.”
“Even a sergeant can’t do it all, Sir. I will make sure he does his job.”
Ludendorf resisted the impulse to shout. “I mentioned the sergeant because he is the senior sergeant in the division. He was a soldier before you learned to ride and knows his job. I mentioned him because if there is anything you need to learn about the unit, ask him.”
“Yes, sir.” From the look on his face, Honeker had equated ‘old soldier’ with mercenary trash.
Strike three. They will get along like a house on fire; Ludendorf thought; screaming, confusion and panic.