The Secret of the Old Master

I can write no better introduction to this piece by Lucian Cary than this excerpt from Terry Wieland.  If this story strikes your fancy, a collection of Lucian Cary stories is available from Guy Lautard. - GAS -

Lucian Cary is almost forgotten today – an elegant writer from the heyday of magazines in the 1930s whose work graced the old Saturday Evening Post. Cary was among the last of the generation of writers (Robert Ruark was maybe the last) who appeared routinely in both mainstream magazines and the outdoor press.

In the 1930s, shooting was still acceptable in Manhattan, and Cary’s pet subjects were Harry M. Pope, the single-shot target rifle, and the arcane art of cut-rifling a barrel. This may not seem a likely subject for a series of short stories to lay before the non-shooting public, but Lucian Cary was such a good writer he made it work. The fictional barrel maker was J.M. Pyne, closely modeled on Cary’s friend Pope, and he made regular appearances in the fiction pages of the Post.

Of course, at the time, there were still many alive whose memories lingered on the grand days when long-range rifle matches were a staple of the sports pages. Huge crowds turned out at ranges named Creedmoor and Walnut Hill to watch the proceedings, and the names of great riflemen like Farrow and Hudson were as familiar as Ruth and DiMaggio.

The Secret of the Old Master
by: Lucian Cary

Joe Hill had two target rifles in cases of canvas and leather hanging from his shoulder as he walked down a factory-lined street in Jersey City of a hot Saturday afternoon in August.

He guessed, after half a mile, that he had come to the right corner. There was the little red- brick saloon across the street and here beside him was the outside stairway sheathed in corrugated iron.

He eased the rifles off his shoulders. They weighed fourteen or fifteen pounds apiece. He sat down on the curbstone and stood the guns upright between his knees. He wanted to rest. But mostly he wanted a minute or two in which to get up his courage. He had sat up all night and all morning in a day coach. He had slept at times, but he had awakened always to the same anxiety. Somehow he had to impress the old man, and by all accounts the old man was not easily impressed.

A hot breeze came down the street between the gray-brown walls of the factory buildings. The cobblestones shimmered in the heat. He knew how bad the mirage would be on a day like this. You would think you were looking at the target through running water. You wouldn’t know where the bull really was.

He wiped his face with his handkerchief. He could feel the water running down his chest. He could see where the sweat had turned his blue work shirt a darker blue. He got up presently and hung the rifles on his shoulders and tried the door at the bottom of the stairway. The door was locked. He walked across the street into the saloon. The place was empty, except for the bartender.

"Where is J.M. Pyne’s shop?" he asked.

"You mean the old man who fixes the guns?" The bartender pointed through the open door. "Up that stairway. Fourth floor."

"The street door is locked."

"When it’s after hours you have to yell for him to come down and open the door for you."

Joe hesitated. It didn’t seem right that he should yell to a man as famous as J.M. Pyne to come down three flights of stairs and let him in.

"They all yell for him when they come to see him," the bartender said.

Joe walked out into the middle of the street and looked up at the fourth story. The window nearest the corner was open at the top.

"Hey, Pyne!" he yelled as loud as he could.

The window he was watching went up and an old man with a white beard and back engineer’s cap peered out. He pointed to the stairway.

Joe waited at the door. He heard the old man’s slow footsteps. The moment for which he had worked and waited and saved his money was coming.

The door opened and the old man stood there, in a sleeveless undershirt and pants, looking over his spectacle at Joe. The old man had brown eyes. His nose was finely molded. ‘You’d know,’ Joe thought, ‘that he was somebody, even if you didn’t know he was.’

"Mr. Pyne," he said, "my name is Hill – Joe Hill."

"Come in," the old man said, and held the door wide.


Joe waked up the stairs while the old man climbed wearily after him. The air was hot and dead under the iron roof of the stairway and the rifles dragged at Joe’s shoulders. But he was happy. He was going to the place he had dreamed of.

The room he went into was fifty feet long and thirty feet wide, and so full of things that only a narrow gangway remained. He walked toward the bench that ran clear across the room under the bank of windows at the far end, guessing that the long narrow boxed standing on end contained rifles waiting for Pyne barrels, noting a drill press, no longer in use, and what looked like a lathe, but wasn’t. He took another look over his shoulder as he passed the machine. It seemed too light and too simple. But it must be the machine from which, for fifty years, those barrels, so smooth inside, so even, so beautifully rifled, had come.

There was so little room in front of the bench that he paused to let the old man pass him. Except for a small clear space around the vise, the bench was piled three feet deep with open cigar boxes and cartons and letters and tools.

"Take off you coat," J.M. Pyne said. "It’s warm."

Joe took off his coat and hunted for a place to put it. He laid it across a rack of barrel stock.

Mr. Pyne," he said, "I’ve got one of your guns here."

He opened one of his cases and took out a .22 caliber rifle of the sort that is made for offhand shooting when there are no restrictions as to weight or trigger pull or sights. It had a long barrel as thick as a crowbar and a Ballard action with double-set triggers.

The old man opened the vise and dropped clamps of sole leather inside the iron jaws. Joe put the heavy barrel in the vise. The old man opened the gun and picked up a steel rod that stood against the bench, and a pledget of absorbent cotton.

He put two pledgets through the bore to get the oil out and held the up to the light and looked through it. He let the gun down and studied the open breech.

"Who cut it off?" he demanded.

"I did."

"What for?" The old man’s eyes were no longer friendly as he looked at Joe.

"The chamber had been rubbed several thousandths out of round at twelve o’clock, so it wouldn’t shoot any more."

"They will do that," the old man said. "They won’t take the trouble to push a cleaning rod straight, so it doesn’t rub."

The old man pushed the lever back and forth, studying the extractor, which was of the kind that travels parallel to the bore in a T-slot. Joe knew that extractor was a nice job. But the old man said nothing. He closed the action. The lever made a distinct snap as it passed dead center and the block cam home, the way the lever of a falling-block rifle should.

"The action was in tough shaped when I got it," Joe said. "I made new pins for the lever and the link.
The old man took the forearm off the gun and looked at the numbers stamped on the underside of the barrel. The he got an old notebook out of a drawer under the bench and leafed through it.

"I made that barrel in 1923. I didn’t put it on a Ballard action."

"The fellow wanted to keep the action it was on."

Joe picked up a screwdriver and took the block out and handed it over.

The old man studied the face of the blockwith his magnifying glass.

"Where did you get the idea of that circular plate?"

"From one of your guns."

Joe knew his work was good. But he could guess what the old man was thinking. Maybe he was bored.

J.M. Pyne walked down to the other end of the bench and got cigarettes. He offered Joe a cigarette. Joe said he didn’t smoke. The old man lit his cigarette deliberately.

"What’s your trade?"

"I’m a toolmaker."

"How old are you?"


The old man looked at him sharply. "They used to say it took twenty years to make a toolmaker out of a good mechanic."

"I’m still learning."

"So am I," J.M. Pyne said.

He took a cigarette paper and laid it across the breech of the barrel and raised the lever. He had to force it a little. But he closed the gun. He opened it again. The cigarette paper was torn away where the block had met the breech. The block was so closely fitted that it wouldn’t quite accept the cigarette paper, yet it worked freely.

The old man picked up his micrometer and measured the thickness of the paper. It came to an even thousandth of an inch.

"Do you know how much your head space is?"

"Forty-three thousandths."

J.M. Pyne looked down at the gun. I don’t see anything the matter with it," he said. "How does it shoot?"

"Not as well as a Pyne barrel should. I’ve tried every kind of match ammunition in it. I haven’t found anything that will average better than an inch and three eighths for fifty shots at a hundred yards."

The old man went down to the far corner of his shop and turned on a light and put up a card about five by eight inches in front of a small steel plate. He handed Joe a pair of field glasses.

"If you sit on that stool and rest your elbows on the lathe bed so you can hold the glasses steady, you can see."

He took the gun to the other corner of the room and put it in a machine rest. A little telescope was mounted beside the rest. Joe saw, watching everything J.M. Pyne did, that he had a clear line of fire past the rack of barrel stock, between the legs of the rifling machine, and under a step ladder.

J.M. Pyne began to shoot, firing five shorts, and moving the rest a little and firing another five shots. Joe Hill saw that first group was ragged; the second group closed up, as the gun warmed. But he did not know what to expect of a rifle at such a short distance.

J.M. Pyne paused after twenty-five shots and studied a fired case with his magnifying glass. He handed the case and the glass to Joe.

"Your pin is too big," he said. "It’s hitting too far out over the rim."

He took the firing pin out of the breech block and fastened it in the vise.

"Take this stone and the glass," he said. "Reduce it a little at twelve o’clock, but don’t make it any shorter."

Joe worked cautiously with the oil stone. When he paused for a moment the old man took the glass and looked at the rounded end of the pin and nodded to Joe to go on. Joe felt the sweat dripping down his body as he worked. It was hot in the shop. But he would have sweated anyway, doing a job like that with J.M. Pyne watching him.

"All right," the old man said at last. He put the firing pin back and tried a fired case in the gun. He turned the case about under his magnifying glass.

"That may help it," he said. "The area is reduced, so it’s hitting deeper, and in the right place."

He put the gun back in the rest and fired five more groups of five shots each. Joe could see that they were closer than the previous groups. J.M. Pyne went down and got the card and brought it back. The groups were only a trifle bigger in diameter than a .22 caliber bullet.

"That gun is all right," J.M. Pyne said.

"Can you really tell – at fifty feet?"

"Yes. You should get some groups under and inch at a hundred yard. I’d guess it will average an inch and an eighth when everything is going right and there’s no wind. It won’t do it day in and day out of course. It’ll pick up a bit of lead or hard fouling now and then, like any twenty-two, that’ll make it throw wide ones until it shoots out."

Joe knew the moment had come to say what he had come all the way from Indiana to say. How could he say it? Now that he was here he felt how out of line it would sound.

He thought of showing J.M. Pyne the other gun he’d brought along. But it was a Springfield bull gun to which he had fitted a factory-rifled blank. There was nothing about it that would interest the old man.

"I guess…I guess I’ve taken enough of your time."

J.M. Pyne smiled. "I’m old and I’m tired and I ache all over. My eyes are no good. I can’t shoot any more. But I’ve always had time for anybody who was interested in rifles. What do you want to know?"

"Mr. Pyne - -" Joe began, and for a moment the presumption of what he was going to ask overcame him. He knew he was a good workman. But who was he to propose himself as successor to the old master of them all?

"Mr. Pyne," he began again, "couldn’t you use a helper?"

The old man shook his head. "I’ve had two or three helpers in the last thirty years. They got underfoot.

Joe Hill waited.

"Besides," J.M. Pyne said, and Joe could feel that he was softening the blow, ‘making fine shooting rifles isn’t a paying business. I can’t afford a helper."

"I wouldn’t expect to be paid," Joe said. "I’ve saved some money."

He had $229 in his pocket. He knows that a man could live for four or five months on that if he wanted to.

The old man turned on him then. His eyes blazed as he spoke.

"Why do you want to work for me for nothing?"

Joe could not dodge the question. He had to tell the truth.

"I want to learn the secret of Pyne barrels."

The old man nodded grimly. "I thought so. You….and a lot of others.

"You’re the most famous make of rifle barrels that ever lived. What’s wrong with wanting to learn what you know?"

"And setting up shop in competition with me."

"I wouldn’t do that unless you said I could."

J.M. Pyne looked off into the dimming corner of the shop. When he spoke, he seemed to be talking to himself.

"I gave a fellow the run of my shop once. I told him all I know. And he started out making rifles. I wouldn’t have cared, if he’d done a good job. The more fine shooting rifles there are in this country the better. But he didn’t make fine shooting rifles. He chambered guns without a pilot on the reamer, so the chamber wasn’t concentric with the bore. He botched everything he touched. Time after time men came in here with guns he had make and I had to fix them."

Joe wondered why he’d felt he had to fix the guns his rival had spoiled. He thought he knew. It was part of the old man’s passion for fine shooting guns.

"Mr. Pyne - - "Joe began. But it really wasn’t any use. You couldn’t argue with an old master who didn’t choose to give you his secret lest you abuse it.

"You come back tomorrow," the old man said. "Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you how to fix the triggers on that offhand gun of yours so the front one won’t kick. Leave your gun here tonight."

Joe went back to New York by the Hudson Tube and found his way to the Grand Central, where he’d checked his suitcase and his kit of tools. He carried the double load down 42nd Street to Eighth Avenue. He got a room in a small hotel for a dollar. The little room was hot, without a breath of air. He went out and walked back across 42nd Street until he came to Fifth Avenue.

He had never seen Fifth Avenue before. He felt he ought to be thrilled by it. He got on a bus. And there was something about rolling down Fifth Avenue of a summer night, when the biggest city you’d ever known was Richmond, Indiana. But for Joe Hill the magic was in cluttered dusty room, four stories up, in a gray factory building on the other side of the Hudson River, where for so many year J.M. Pyne had done the work no one else in the world could match.

He awoke at dawn the next morning and remembered then that it was Sunday. J.M. Pyne must have forgotten that today would be Sunday, when he’d said to come. But perhaps he hadn’t. Joe took his kit of tools. He might need it, and he didn’t dare leave it where it might be stolen. He couldn’t take a chance on a set of micrometer calipers and a micrometer depth gauge and the chambering reamers and gauges and counter bores and milling cutters he had made for himself through the spare time of several years.

He was sitting on the curbstone close to the locked door of the outside stairway when he saw the old man coming toward him.

"Good morning, Joe," he said. "I’m sorry to be late. I try to sleep on Sunday mornings. I seldom get here before half past eight…

"The trouble with those factory triggers," J.M. Pyne said, when he had taken off his Sunday clothes, "is they’re on small pins. The least bit of wear and they wobble from side to side. They want to be on trunnions. And I put in a kind of recoil block, so the front trigger doesn’t kick."

Joe Hill worked for hours, under the old man’s direction, remaking the triggers of the offhand gun. Toward three in the afternoon J.M. Pyne remembered that they hadn’t eaten. He got out a paper bag of sandwiches and two cans of beer, which he cooled a bit under the tap. They sat opposite each other, eating corned-beef sandwiches and drinking half-warm beer and the old man grew expansive, and told stories of the days when he had made world records with a rifle. Joe Hill asked himself if it was really he, sitting there in friendly conversation, as if he was an equal, with J.M. Pyne.

They went back to work then. They worked until the light failed and J.M. Pyne turned on the powerful electric bulbs over his lathe and bench. Joe thought the job was done at nine o’clock that night. But the old man, trying the triggers, shook his head.

"They’re too light," he said. "Maybe you could shoot them in weather like this. But they would never do in the Election Day match. You can’t feel a light trigger when your finger is cold. We’ll have to make a new spring."

It was nearly midnight when Joe finished the spring. He drew the temper in a gas flame while the old watched the color. He put the spring in place. The old man tried the triggers.

He looked up at Joe Hill, smiling. "I could shoot those triggers myself. Let’s go home."

Joe picked up his kit of tools.

"What do you want to carry that for?’ The old man asked. "Why don’t you lave it here."

"I will," Joe said.

They paused in Exchange Place. The old man was taking a bus and Joe was taking the Hudson Tube.

Joe waited, hoping the old man was going to say he could hang around the shop as long as he wanted to. But J.M. Pyne was looking up at the sky, where the quarter moon gave some light behind the haze.

"Two more weeks of dog days."

Joe Hill was sitting on the curbstone again the next morning when the old man arrived. He hardly spoke. The old man got out a piece of barrel stock and set it up in the lathe. Joe didn’t know what to do with himself, so he sat in a corner and watched J.M. Pyne turn the stock to size.

When he had done that he put the barrel in the drilling and rifling machine and got out a drill with a shank longer than the barrel.

"Come over here, Joe."

It was the first time he had spoken in three hours.

"This is my drill," He said. "It’s better than any other I ever saw. It takes a smaller chip, so it doesn’t choke itself."

Joe studied the odd shape of the cutting surfaces. He could see how well designed it was to drill a deep hole without choking itself. He watched with what care the old man set everything up before he started the machine and the drill began to bite into the rapidly revolving stock.

When everything was going to his satisfaction, the old man asked, "Can you file?"

"Some," Joe said. He knew the things old-timers could do with files. Few living toolmakers could do them.

J.M. Pyne picked up a malleable-iron casting with a curve to take each finger except the trigger finger.

"That’s a blank for a Pyne lever. You ought to have one on your offhand gun."

There was a lot of stock to take off. Joe filed on that lever for two days and a half, trying all through the last day to make the contours perfect.

That was the pattern of the days that followed. Week after week he went to the shop every morning, seven days a week, and stayed until the old man left, which was sometimes at six o’clock and sometimes at midnight. He saw, several times over, the process by which the old man made a rifle barrel – drilling the blank, reaming it, rifling it, fitting it to the action, chambering it, polishing it with a lead lap cast in the muzzle and pushed out just enough so it could be coated with oil and emery and drawn back, and finally testing it in the machine rest.

But watch as he would, he couldn't guess the secret. He suspected that the old man put him to work on some simple job when came to that part.


The money he had saved was almost gone by Christmas. He was lucky enough to sell his Springfield bull gun for a hundred dollars. He lived in a tenement where he got a room for four dollars a week. He did not smoke and he had no time for the movies. He got coffee and rolls for ten cents every morning. The big sandwich he ate for lunch cost fifteen cents and his dinner at a cafeteria was forty cents. He figured he could make a hundred dollars last ten weeks.

The old man came down the street one bitter morning in February, and Joe knew he was sick. His long overcoat hung almost to the ground as he bent against the wind and felt for a footing with his stick. It took him a long time to climb the stairs.

"I’ve got a heck of a cold," he said, when they reached the shop. "I think I’d better lie down for a while."

He spent that day and the next lying on an old couch in a corner. He had a cough that racked him, and when he got up and walked across the shop he staggered like a drunken man.

Joe offered to get a doctor.

"Nonsense," J.M. Pyne said. "I’ve been my own doctor for forty years."

Joe took his arm when they left that night, and went with him on the bus and saw him safely to his room.

But he didn’t stay home. He came staggering down the street the next morning the same as ever.

"I had to come," he said. "I had a letter from Paul French yesterday, saying he’d be in today. His old barrel won’t shoot. He wants a new one for the Metropolitan Championship."

The old man lay on the couch, coughing as if he were turning himself inside out, until there was a rap at the door.

"That’s Paul," the old man said, and staggered to his feet.

Joe opened the door to a solidly built man of fifty with a rifle in a case over his shoulder.

"How are you, Johnny?" the solid man asked J.M. Pyne.

"I’m sick," the old man said. "But I’ll be all right in a couple of days."

The solid man took his rifle out of its case. It was an exceptionally heavy gun on a Ballard action.

"The barrel’s gone," he said.

"Why wouldn’t it be?" J.M. Pyne said. "You’ve been shooting it ten years."

The solid man said he wanted the barrel in a hurry, the match was only two weeks away. J.M. Pyne said he would get the barrel out.

He went back to his couch again when the solid man had left. He lay there the rest of the day. He let Joe take him home again.

"I’ve got to get that barrel out," he said to Joe. "He’s about the best all-round shot there is. He’s got to have a new barrel."

Joe walked up and down the street the next morning in a snowstorm, waiting for the old man. He didn’t come at nine o’clock. Joe kept on pacing back and forth, trying to keep warm, for another hour. Then he went back to Exchange Place and took a bus to the old man’s house.

J.M. Pyne sat up in bed. "I couldn’t make it this morning." A spell of coughing interrupted him. "My keys are in my pants there."

He wouldn’t have a doctor. He insisted that all he needed was to rest until he got over the cold. Joe took the keys and went back to the shop. He measured the barrel of Paul French’s rifle. It was thirty-two inches long and slightly bigger than a Number 4. He found a piece of barrel stock long enough and set it up in the lathe and began to turn it to size.

He knew a sixty-fourth of an inch more or less in outside diameter would make no difference that the man who shot the gun would ever know. But he did the job to a thousandth.

When he called on the old man that night he could see that he was feverish and a little out of his head. He thought he’d better not mention the piece of barrel stock he’d turned to size.

Joe went on with the barrel the next day. He set the barrel up and got everything ready. He checked and rechecked the setup. He want that hole to come out at the other end within a thousandth of dead center, the way it did when the old man drilled it.

It took all the nerve he had to start the machine. But he did it. He stood there anxiously, watching everything. If the drill struck a hard spot in the stock, it would probably break before he could stop it.

When the hole was drilled he took the barrel out and wiped it clean and looked through it at the light, watching the shadow line. It seemed to him that the hole was straight, and as smooth as a hole drilled by J.M. Pyne.

He got out the six-sided reamers that the old man used, and measured until he found the one that was right. He set the barrel up in the lathe and reamed it, watching it every minute, and putting on the oil with a brush the way J.M. Pyne did.

When the reaming was done, he upset a soft lead slug in the bore and pushed the slug through and measured it. The diameter was right.

That night the old man said he felt better. He said he would be around in the morning. Joe said nothing, feeling that if he urged him not to come, the old man would resent it.

Joe went back to the shop at daylight the next morning and hunted out the rifling head. He knew the cutter had to be stoned just so. Sharpening it was the toughest part of the job. It was hard enough to cut glass. And if the old man came in while he was working on that cutter, he’d be furious. What if he spoiled it?

The old man had said that nowadays he had to have bright sunlight, softened by the dirty window panes of his shop, to make a rifling cutter. It took days to make one, even when the sun shone. And in winter you might not get two hours of sun in a week.

Joe waited until after ten o’clock before he dared take the chance that J.M. Pyne might come in. He worked so cautiously that it took him all day to hone the cutter.

The old man was sure that night that he would be around in the morning. Joe caught himself hoping he wouldn’t be.

Joe rifled the barrel the next day, running the rifling head back and forth by hand, the way the old man did, and making a chalk mark on the head of the machine for each pass, and indexing the head for the next cut. It took forty passes of the rifling to cut one groove two and a half thousandths deep. There were eight grooves to cut, three hundred and twenty passes. He finished the job toward six o’clock and took the barrel out and wiped it clean inside.

He took a soft lead slug out of the drawer and upset it in the bore and pushed it through. He thought it felt pretty even – without any loose places where the slug jumped ahead, or any tight place either. But his hands were trembling so that he couldn’t be sure it was as good as he hoped it was.

Then he held the barrel up the light. He could see minute tool marks. But then, of course, you always could – even when J.M. Pyne had rifled a barrel. The tool marks came out when you polished with the lead lap.

Joe finished the barrel the next day and fitted it to action. But he wasn’t ready to test what he had done. The old Ballard action was loose. The lever didn’t snap up. It took a whole day to get that right.

The old man looked a lot better that night. He would be there in the morning. Joe would have liked to stay away. But he couldn’t. He had the key to the shop.

He got there at half past seven the next morning. He took the gun out of the vise and looked through it against the light. It looked good to him. But what did looks amount to? He had made it just the way the old man made his barrels – except that he didn’t know the ultimate secret of a Pyne barrel. The old man had never said a work about that since the first time Joe had talked to him when he had said he didn’t want a helper. Joe put the gun back in the vise. He guessed that was the best way to tell the old man what he had done – to let him see it.

J.M. Pyne knocked on the door at nine o’clock. Joe let him in. The old man walked down the narrow gangway and paused at the vise. He looked hard at the gun in the vise, and went on to the corner where he hung his overcoat.

Joe sat down on the couch in the corner. The old man got into his working clothes and went back to the vise. He took the gun out of the vise and looked through it. He put it back and took a lead slug out of the drawer and pushed it through and caught it in his cap. He picked up his micrometer and measured the slug.

Without a work, he took the gun and it in the machine rest. Joe got up and found the field glasses with which he had so often sat watching the old man shoot.

"Joe," J.M. Pyne said, "what did you do about those triggers you were going to fix on that 32-40?"

"Why," Joe said, "I haven’t done anything."

"You better get to work," J.M. Pyne said.

Joe got out the triggers. The old man began to shoot from the machine rest. Joe’s back was to the target as he worked. He guessed that was what J.M. Pyne intended.

The old man shot the gun all morning, firing five five-shot groups on a card and putting up a new card, while Joe worked on the triggers in an agony of curiosity. He guessed that the old man had fired four hundred shots when he took the gun out of the rest and put it in the vise and cleaned it.

The old man said nothing and Joe didn’t dare say anything.

There was a rap on the door.

"That’ll be Paul," J.M. Pyne said. "How are those triggers coming?"

"All right," Joe said.

"You’d better do something else for a while, so you’ll be out of my way. You go back there and read some of the old copies of Shooting and Fishing. You can learn a lot from those old files of thirty or forty years ago."

Joe went back to the far corner where the pile of Shooting and Fishing lay, while the old man went to the door. He heard Paul French say, "Johnny, I just stopped by to see how you were coming with that barrel."

"It isn’t done yet," J.M. Pyne said.

They moved down to the vise at the far end of the shop and Joe couldn’t hear the rest of their talk. He could only sit there and open one old copy of Shooting and Fishing and look through it and take up another. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he sat up and looked over the boxes between him and the old man and Paul French.

J.M. Pyne had a sheaf of targets in his hand. He was always showing target to customers. They might be targets he’d shot ten or twenty or thirty years ago. But as he watched, the old man laid the targets down. The gun was in the vise. And now the old man was hunting in the drawer under the bench. Joe saw that he had some small tool in his left hand. He was picking up a hammer with his other hand. And now he was holding the small tool o top of the barrel.

It couldn’t be anything but the stamp that cut "J.M. Pyne" in small Roman capitals on a barrel.

Joe leaned forward, staring, and the old man struck the hammer.

Paul French was turning to go. J.M. Pyne walked down the gangway with him. He paused at the door.

"It’ll take a few days to brown that barrel."

"I know," French said. " I’ll be here Saturday to get it."

The old man shut the door and walked wearily back to the vise. Joe got up and went down there. It was true. Cut in the polished steel was the mark of J.M. Pyne.

The old man got a cigarette and lit it with unnecessary deliberation. Then he picked up the sheaf of targets he had been showing Paul French. He leafed through them until he found the one he wanted. He took that one out, and laid the others down and picked up a .22 cartridge. He let the bullet gently into the round hole of the first group.

"You see," he said, "it sticks." He tried the others. The bullet stuck in all of them.

J.M. Pyne looked up at Joe.

"So," he said, "I put my name on it."

"But the secret….. I don’t know the secret of a Pyne barrel."

The old man shook his head.

"There is no secret." He looked at Joe Hill over his spectacles and his eyes were friendly. "Except that you have to know what nice work is and you have to be willing to take the pains to do it. You knew that when you came here – else I wouldn’t have bothered with you."

Related Articles

The Old Master: The Story of Harry Pope

Pope Rifle Barrels

Directions For Handling the Pope Muzzle-Loading Rifles

Another article about Harry Pope can be read via this link, it is from the March 1920 issue of Popular Science magazine.

All contents Copyright 2012 The Rifleman's Journal