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TOM SWIFT AND HIS GIANT CANNON OR The Longest Shots on Record
TOM SWIFT AND HIS GIANT CANNON
"I don't know, Alec, I don't know," slowly responded the aged inventor. "I've heard those stories before, and in my experience nothing ever came of them. Buried treasure, and lost vessels filled with gold, are all well and good, but hunting for an opal mine on some little-heard-of island goes them one better."
"No, Alec, I can't say I do. Why, just stop and think for a minute. You're asking me to put ten thousand dollars into a company, to fit out an expedition to go to this island--somewhere down near Panama, you say it is--and try to locate the lost mine from which, some centuries ago, opals and other precious stones came. It doesn't seem reasonable."
"If you find the mine--yes."
Mr. Swift shook his head.
"That's right, Mr. Swift, but I've had bad luck. I did find the lost gold mine I went after some years ago, you remember."
"Yes, I suppose I could; but this is going to be a success--I feel it in my bones."
"Oh, come--do! For the sake of old times. Don't you recall how you and I used to prospect together out in the gold country; how we shared our failures and successes?"
"But now you've struck it rich, pardner," went on the pleader. "Help me out in this scheme--do!"
"Well, it's a fact I'm no longer young. But I'm afraid I'm too old to settle down. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, pardner. This is my life, and I'll have to live it until I pass out. Well, if you won't, you won't, I suppose. By the way, where is Tom? I'd like to see him before I go back. He's a mighty fine boy."
"I guess Tom's ears would burn if he could hear your praises, Mr. Damon," laughed Mr. Swift. "Don't spoil him."
"But where is he?" asked Mr. Peterson, who was evidently unused to the extravagant manner of Mr. Damon.
"He certainly is," agreed Mr. Peterson, as he and Mr. Swift went to the window, from which Mr. Damon had caught a glimpse of the youthful Inventor in his airship. "A great lad. I wish he could come on this mine-hunt with me, though I'd never consent to go in an airship. They're too risky for an old man like me."
"I'm afraid you wouldn't get Tom to go with you, Alec," went on Mr. Swift, as he resumed his chair, the young inventor in his airship having passed out of sight. "He's busy on some new invention now, I believe. I think I heard him say something about a new rifle."
"Well, then I guess there's no hope of my interesting him in my opal mine," said the fortune-hunter, with rather a disappointed smile. "Nor you either, Mr. Swift."
Mr. Peterson shook his head.
"Not much straight business in hunting for a mine that's been lost for over a century," replied the aged inventor, with a glance at Mr. Damon, who was still at the window, watching for a glimpse of Tom on his return trip in the air craft.
"It is good!" cried Mr. Peterson, with fervor, hoping he had found a new "prospect" in Mr. Damon.
Suddenly into the room there ran an aged colored man, much excited.
"Why, what's the matter, Eradicate?" asked Mr. Swift, leaping to his feet, an example followed by the other two men. "What has happened to my son?"
"Bless my shoe buttons!" gasped Mr. Damon. "Come on out, everybody! We've got to help Tom!"
"Now doan't yo' go t' gittin' all excited-laik," objected Eradicate Sampson, the aged colored man. "Remember yo' all has got a weak heart, Massa Swift!"
Mr. Swift ran from the room, followed by Mr. Damon and Mr. Peterson, while Eradicate trailed after them as fast as his tottering limbs would carry him, murmuring to himself.
From his airship there shot dazzling sparks, and streamers of green and violet fire. There was a snapping, cracking sound that could be heard above the whir of the craft's propellers, for the motor was still running.
"Keep back! Don't come too close!" yelled the young inventor, as he clung to the seat of the aeroplane, that was tilted at a dangerous angle. "Keep away!"
"A live wire!" answered Tom. "I'm caught in a live wire! The trailer attached to the wireless outfit on my airship is crossed with the wire from the power plant. There's a short circuit somewhere. Don't come too close, for it may burn through any second and drop down. Then it will twist about like a snake!"
"What can we do to help you?" called Mr. Swift. "Shall I run and shut off the power?" for in the shop where Tom did most of his inventive work there was a powerful dynamo, and it was on one of the wires extending from it, that brought current into the house, that the craft had caught.
"Oh, hurry! hurry! Find Koku!" cried Mr. Swift to Mr. Damon, who had started for the power house on the run.
"Land ob massy! He am suah gwine t' fall!" yelled Eradicate.
"Wait! I think I have a plan!" called Mr. Peterson. "I think I can save Tom!"
"What are you going to do?" yelled Tom, leaning over from his seat to watch the elderly fortune-hunter.
"Don't! If you touch it you'll be shocked to death! I may be able to get out of here. So far I've only had light shocks, but the insulation is burning out of my magneto, and that will soon stop. When it does I can't run the motor, and--"
"But you can't, without pliers and rubber gloves!" yelled Tom. "Keep away, I tell you!"
"I saw a pair of old gloves in the shed!" he cried. "I'll get them--they look like rubber."
"Heah dey be! Heah dey be!" cried Eradicate, as he produced a heavy pair from his pocket. "I--I couldn't find de can-opener fo' Mrs. Baggert, an' I jest got yo' pliers, Massa Tom. Oh, how glad I is dat I did. Here's de pincers, Massa Peterson."
"Just a moment now, and I'll have you safe!" cried the fortunehunter, as he again mounted the ladder. Luckily the charged wire was near enough to be reached by going nearly to the top of the ladder.
In another second he had turned on full power, the propellers whizzed with the quickness of light, and he rose in the air, off the shed roof, the live wire no longer entangling him. Then he made a short circuit of the work-shop yard, and came to the ground safely a little distance from the balloon hangar.
"Thanks, Mr. Peterson!" exclaimed the young inventor, as he left his seat and walked up to the fortune-hunter. "You certainly did me a good turn then. It was touch and go! I couldn't have stayed there many seconds longer. Next time I'll know better than to fly with a wireless trailer over a live conductor," and he held out his hand to Mr. Peterson.
"It would--it would--er--I feel--I--"
"Cotch him!" cried Eradicate. "Cotch him! Massa Tom's hurt!" and only just in time did Mr. Peterson clutch the young inventor in his arms. For Tom, white of face, had fallen back in a dead faint.
"Git a doctor!" murmured Eradicate. "Call someone on de tellifoam! Git fo' doctors!"
They lifted the inert form of our hero and walked toward the mansion with him, Mrs. Baggert, the housekeeper, standing in the doorway in dismay, uncertain what to do.
The first volume was called "Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle," and this machine was the means of his becoming acquainted with Mr. Wakefield Damon, the odd gentleman who so often blessed things. On his motor-cycle Tom had many adventures.
His electric runabout was quite the fastest car on the road, and when he sent his wonderful wireless message he saved himself and others from Earthquake Island. He solved the secret of the diamond makers, and, though he lost a fine balloon in the caves of ice, he soon had another air craft--a regular sky-racer. His electric rifle saved a party from the red pygmies in Elephant Land, and in his air glider he found the platinum treasure. With his wizard camera, Tom took wonderful moving pictures, and in the volume immediately preceding this present one, called "Tom Swift and His Great Searchlight," I had the pleasure of telling you how the lad captured the smugglers who were working against Uncle Sam over the border.
While the house, which was presided over by the motherly Mrs. Baggert, was large, it was almost lost now amid the many buildings surrounding it, from balloon and airship hangars, to shops where varied work was carried on. For Tom did most of his labor himself, of course with men to help him at the heavier tasks. Occasionally he had to call on outside shops.
Mr. Damon was, with Ned Newton, Tom's chum, the warmest friend of the family, and was often at Tom's home, coming from the neighboring town of Waterford, where he lived.
Among other things he had just perfected a new style of magneto for one of his airships. The magneto, as you know, is a sort of small dynamo, that supplies the necessary spark to the cylinder, to explode the mixture of air and gasoline vapor. He was trying out this magneto in the Humming Bird when the accident I have related in the first chapter occurred.
"No--no," faintly murmured Tom, opening his eyes. "I--I've had enough of that, if you please! I'm all right."
"Not a bit, Dad! It was foolish of me to go off that way; but I couldn't seem to help it. It all got black in front of me, and-well, I just keeled over."
"An' ef he hadn't a-been there to cotch yo' all," put in Eradicate, "yo' all suah would hab hit de ground mighty hard."
"I believe you, Tom," said Mr. Swift, solemnly, and he held out his hand to his old mining partner.
"No, I don't need him," replied the young inventor. "Thank him just the same. It was only an ordinary faint, caused by the slight electrical shocks, and by getting a bit nervous, I guess. I'm all right--see," and he proved it by standing up.
"I've been in some tight places before," went on Tom, as he sat down in an easy chair, "and I've had any number of shocks when I've been experimenting, but this was a sort of double combination, and it sure had me guessing. But I'm feeling better every minute."
"You cut that wire as neatly as any lineman could," went on Tom, glancing from Mr. Peterson out of the window to where one of his workmen was repairing the break. "When I flew over it in my airship I never gave a thought to the trailer from my wireless outfit. The first I knew I was caught back, and then pulled down to the balloon shed roof, for I tilted the deflecting rudder by mistake.
"Well, Tom, I have something rather new on," replied Mr. Peterson. "I hoped to interest your father in it, but he doesn't seem to care to take a chance. It's a lost opal mine on a littleknown island in the Caribbean Sea not far from the city of Colon. I say not far--by that I mean about twenty miles. But your father doesn't want to invest, say, ten thousand dollars in it, though I can almost guarantee that he'll get five times that sum back. So, as long as he doesn't feel that he can help me out, I guess I'd better be traveling on."
Mr. Peterson was an old friend, and when he and Mr. Swift were young men they had prospected and grub-staked together. But Mr. Swift soon gave that up to devote his time to his inventions, while Mr. Peterson became a sort of rolling stone.
"No, pardner," he said to Mr. Swift. "It's kind of you to ask me to stay; but this mine business has got a grip on me. I want to try it out. If you won't finance the project someone else may. I'll say good-bye, and--"
"Oh, pshaw! I only acted on the spur of the moment. Anyone could have done what I did," protested the fortune-hunter.
"You won't throw it away in this case!" declared Mr. Peterson, eagerly. "I'm sure to find that mine; but it will take a little capital to work it. That's what I need--capital!"
"Not a bit of it, Dad!" cried the young man, who was now himself again. "I'm glad you took that chance, for, if you hadn't--well, I would have supplied the money myself--that's all," and he smiled at the fortune-hunter.
"I think it can be done, Ned," was the quiet answer of the young inventor. He looked up from some drawings on the table in the office of one of his shops. "Now I'll just show you--"
The two young men--Ned Newton being Tom's special chum--were talking together over Tom's latest scheme.
"Bless my watch chain!" exclaimed that odd gentleman. "I would like to go with you first rate. But I'm so busy--so very busy-that I can't think of it. I have simply neglected all my affairs, chasing around the country with Tom Swift. But if Tom goes I-ahem! I think perhaps I could manage it--ahem!"
"Oh, well, perhaps I could get a few weeks off. But I'm not going--no, bless my check book, I must get back to business!"
So then, a few days after the departure of Mr. Peterson, Tom and Ned sat in the former's office, discussing the young inventor's latest scheme.
"Well," began Tom, "of course some nation may, in secret, be making a bigger gun than any I have ever heard of. As far as I know, however, the largest one ever made for the United States was a sixteen-inch rifled cannon--that is, it was sixteen inches across at the muzzle, and I forget just how long. It weighed many tons, however, and it now lies, or did a few years ago, in a ditch at the Sandy Hook proving grounds. It was a failure."
"No one can tell exactly how much it will weigh," interrupted Tom. "And I'm not altogether certain about the muzzle measurement, nor of the length. It's sort of in the air at present. Only I don't see why a larger gun than any that has yet been made, can't be constructed."
"You flatter me!" exclaimed his chum, with a mock bow.
"Ned!" exclaimed Tom, "you don't look far enough ahead. Now here's my scheme in a nutshell. You know what Uncle Sam is doing down in his big ditch; don't you?"
Yes, the greatest engineering feat of centuries. It is going to make a big change in the whole world, and the United States is going to become--if she is not already--a world-power. Now that canal has to be protected--I mean against the possibility of war. For, though it may never come, and the chances are it never will, still it may.
"Once the Panama Canal is in operation, and the world-changes incidental to it have been made, if it should pass into the hands of some foreign country--as it very possibly might do--the United States would not only be the laughing-stock of the world, but she would lose the high place she holds.
"Now, to protect the canal against such an attack we need guns that can shoot farther, straighter and more powerfully than any at present in use, and we've got to have the most powerful explosive. In other words, we've got to beat the biggest guns that are now in existence. And I'm going to do it, Ned!"
"Yes, I'm going to invent a cannon that will make the longest shots on record. I'm going to make a world-beater gun; or, rather, I'm going to invent it, and have it made, for I guess it would tax this place to the limit.
"And, listen: Uncle Sam thinks the same way. I understand that the best men in the service--at West Point, Annapolis and Sandy Hook, as well as elsewhere--are working in the interest of the United States to perfect a bigger cannon than any ever before made. In fact, one has just been constructed, and is going to be tried at the Sandy Hook proving grounds soon. I'm going to see the test if I can.
"Somewhat, Tom. Since I gave up my place in the bank, and became a sort of handy-lad for you, I know more about your work. But isn't it going to be dangerous to make a cannon like that?"
"Don't you think so?"
"And when do you expect to start on your gun, Tom?"
"Well, I sure will like. When is it?"
"'Scuse me, Massa Tom," broke in Eradicate, as he put his head through the half-opened office door. "'Scuse me, but dere's a express gen'men outside, wif his auto truck, an' he's got some packages fo' yo' all, marked 'dangerous--explosive--an' keep away fom de fire.' He want t' know what he all gwine t' do wif 'em, Massa Tom?"
"Yais, sah, Massa Tom. Dat's all right; but he jest can't bring 'em in," and Eradicate looked behind him somewhat apprehensively.
"'Scuse me, Massa Tom," said the colored man, "but dat express gen'men can't bring dem explosive powder boxes in heah, 'case as how his autermobile hab done ketched fire an' he cain't get near it nohow. Dat's why, Massa Tom!"
"Tom! Tom!" cried Ned, as he watched the disappearing figure of his chum. "Come back here! If there's going to be an explosion we ought to run out of the back door!"
"Bacon and eggs!" yelled Ned. "He's running an awful risk! But I can't let him go alone! I guess we're in for it!"
"If that's some new kind of powder Tom's sent for, to test for his new big gun, and it goes up," Ned said to himself, as he rushed on, "this place will be blown to smithereens. All Tom's valuable machinery and patents will be ruined!"
"Keep away from fire!" murmured the panting lad. "If they can get any nearer fire I don't see how."
"I've got to help him!" cried Ned, for he saw that his chum had rushed to the rear of the auto, and was endeavoring to drag one of the powder boxes across the lowered tail-board. Tom was straining and tugging at it, but did not seem able to move the case. It was heavy, as Ned learned later, and was also held down by the weight of other express packages on top of it.
"No--no water!" yelled Tom, who heard him. "Water will only make it worse--it'll scatter the blazing gasoline. The feed pipe from the tank must have burst. Throw on sand--sand is the only thing to use!"
"Wait, Tom, I'll give you a hand!" cried Ned, as he saw his chum step away from the end of the auto for a moment, as a burst of flame, and choking smoke, driven by the wind, was blown almost in his face. "I'll help you!"
And indeed a giant's strength was needed at that moment.
"Let's have another try now, Ned!" suggested Tom, when a shift in the wind left the rear of the auto comparatively free from smoke and flame.
"That's right!" shouted Tom, as he saw that the edge of one of the wooden cases containing the powder was blazing slightly. "Lively, Ned!"
Together Tom and Ned tugged at the nearest case of powder--the one that was ablaze.
"It--it's caught somewhere," added Ned. "Oh, if Koku were only here!"
"Master want shovel, so Eradicate say--here it is!"
"Koku!" cried Tom. "Quick! Never mind the shovel! Get those powder boxes out of that cart before they go up! Yank 'em out! They're too much for Ned and me! Quick!"
Then, carrying the box, which was now burning quite fiercely on one corner, over toward Tom and Ned, who had moved back, the giant asked:
"Put it down, Koku, and get out all the others! Lively, now, Koku!"
"Quick, Ned!" shouted Tom. "Throw some sand on this burning box! That will put out the fire!"
"Get 'em all, Koku, get 'em all! Then we can put out the fire on the auto."
Soon the fire was out, though not before the truck had been badly damaged, and some of its load destroyed. But, beyond a charring of some of the powder boxes, the explosive was intact.
"I guess yes, Tom."
"Yes, and I'm mighty glad I'm here to sign for it," replied the young inventor. "Now, Koku, I guess you can take that stuff up to the shop; but be careful where you put it."
"What sort of powder is that, Tom?" asked Ned a little later, when they were again back in the office, the excitement having calmed down. The expressman had gone back to town afoot, to arrange about getting another vehicle for what remained of his load. "Is it the kind they use in big guns?"
"Yes, if you think it's safe."
"That powder?" cried Ned. "That's a queer kind. I've seen the kind they use in some guns on the battleships. That powder was in hexagonal form, about two inches across, and had a hole in the centre. It was colored brown."
"That macaroni stick a grain of powder?" cried Ned.
"To do that you have to have every grain acted on at the same moment, and that could not be done if the powder was in one solid chunk, or closely packed. For that reason they make it in different shapes, so it will lie loose in the firing chamber, just as a lot of jack-straws are piled up. In fact, some of the new powder looks like jack-straws. Some, as this, for instance, looks like macaroni. Other is in cubes, and some in long strings."
"Caesar's grandmother!" yelled Ned. "Are you crazy, Tom?" as he started to leap for a window.
"But--but--" stammered Ned.
"Yes--that's all," remarked Ned, grimly, as he nervously watched the burning stick of powder. Tom let it flame for a few seconds, and then calmly blew it out.
"Sure, I've often done that."
"An explosion, you see, is the sudden liberation at one time of the gases which result when the powder is burned. If the gases are given off gradually, and in the open, no harm is done. But put a stick like this in, say, a steel box, all closed up, save a hole for the fuse, and what do you have? An explosion. That's the principle of all guns and cannon.
"Because I was interested. Go on, tell me some more."
Tom was interrupted by the postman's whistle, and a little later Eradicate came in with the mail that had been left in the box at the shop door. Tom rapidly looked over the letters.
"What is it?"
"Did you say 'we' would go down, Tom?"
"Well, I hadn't thought very much about it, but I guess I will. When is it?"
Then the lads stored the powder in a safe place, and soon were busy about several matters in the shop.
"Why, the idea is to see if the gun will work, and do all that the inventor claims for it," was the answer. "They always put a new gun through more severe tests than anything it will be called on to stand in actual warfare. They want to see just how much margin of safety there is."
"Well, Ned, I don't know, exactly. You see, the government isn't telling all its secrets. I assume that it is, and that's why I'm anxious to see what sort of a gun it is.
"Do you think anything will come of that, Tom?"
"Not so very many if you make a gun that will shoot thirty miles," remarked Ned, with a smile.
"But, as I said, I don't know just what type the Ordnance Department will favor, and I want to get a line. Then, even if I invent a cannon that will outshoot all the others, they may not take mine. Though if they do, and buy a number of them, I'll be more than repaid for my labor, besides having the satisfaction of helping my country."
"Not very much. I have heard that it is not quite as large as the old sixteen-inch rifle that they had to throw away because of some trouble, I don't know just what. It was impractical, in spite of its size and great range. But this new gun they are going to test is considerably smaller, I understand.
"Whew! Some shot!"
"You see, Ned, there is, theoretically, nothing to prevent the casting of a steel rifled cannon that would be fifty inches across at the muzzle, and making it a hundred feet long. I mean it could be done on paper--figured out and all that. But whether you would get a corresponding increase in power or range, and be able to throw a relatively larger projectile, is something no one knows, for there never has been such a gun made. Besides, the strain of the big charge of powder needed would be enormous. So I don't want merely to make a giant cannon. I want one that will do a giant's work, and still be somewhere in the middle-sized class."
"I think so. We go day after tomorrow."
"I think not. If he does I'll have to get another pass, for mine only calls for two persons. I got it through a Captain Badger, a friend of mine, stationed at the Sandy Hook barracks. He doesn't have anything to do with the coast defense guns, but he got the pass to the proving grounds for me."
"It isn't just what I want," Tom decided, after he had put small quantities in little steel bombs, and exploded them, at a safe distance, and under a bank of earth, by means of an electric primer.
"I know, but it isn't powerful enough for me. I'm going to send for samples of another kind, and if I can't get what I want I'll make my own powder. But come on now, this stuff gives me a headache. Let's take a little flight in the Humming Bird. We'll go see Mr. Damon," and soon the two lads were in the speedy little monoplane, skimming along like the birds. The fresh air soon blew away their headaches, caused by the fumes from the nitro-glycerine, which was the basis of the powder. Dynamite will often produce a headache in those who work with it.
This long, neck-like strip of land on the New Jersey coast is, as most of you know, one of the principal defenses of our country.
On the Sandy Hook Bay side of the Hook there is a life-saving station. Right across, on the sea side, are the big guns. Between are the barracks where the soldiers live, and part of the land is given over to a proving ground, where many of the big guns are taken to be tested.
A landing was made on the bay side of the Hook, it being too rough to permit of a dock being constructed on the ocean side.
"Look at that gun!" exclaimed Ned, pointing to a big cannon which seemed to be crouched down in a sort of concrete pit. "How can they fire that, Tom? The muzzle points directly at the stone wall. Does the wall open when they want to fire?"
"Oh, you mean a disappearing gun."
The compressed air would fill the cylinders, forcing the gun to rise on toggle-jointed arms, so that the muzzle was above the bomb-proof wall. Then it would be fired, and sink back again, out of sight of the enemy.
"They're making some tests now," said Tom, hurrying forward.
"Are these the proving grounds?" asked Tom. "This is the entrance to them," replied the soldier, bringing his rifle to "port," according to the regulations. "What do you want?"
"That permit is no good here;" the sentry exclaimed.
"No, it has to be countersigned by General Wailer. And, as he's on the proving grounds now, you can't see him. He's getting ready for the test of his new cannon."
"I can't leave my post," replied the sentry, shortly. "You'll have to come another time, when the General isn't busy. You can't get in unless he countersigns that permit."
"I don't think so," replied the sentry. "And I'll have to ask you to leave this vicinity. No strangers are allowed on the proving grounds without a proper pass."
"What's that?" cried Ned, as the earth shook.
"I wish there was some way of getting in there," murmured Tom.
"And we won't see the test of the gun I'm most interested in," objected Tom. "If I could only--"
"Well, well! If it isn't my old friend Tom Swift! So you got here on my permit after all?"
"You can't? Why not?" and he looked sharply at the sentry.
"Oh, that's all right, Flynn," said Captain Badger. "It isn't your fault, of course. I suppose there is no rule against my going in there?" and he smiled.
"Let me have that pass, Tom, and wait here for me," said the Captain. "I'll see what I can do for you," and the young officer, whose acquaintance Tom had made at the tests when the government was purchasing some aeroplanes for the army, hurried off.
"It's all right," he said with a smile. "General Waller countersigned the pass without even looking at it. He's so excited over the coming test of his gun that he hardly knows what he is doing. Come on in, boys. I'll go with you."
"No, they're going to do so in about half an hour. You'll have time to look around a bit. Come on," and showing the sentinel the counter-signed pass, Captain Badger led the two youths into the proving grounds.
"Stand on your tiptoes, and open your mouth when you see a big cannon about to be fired," advised Captain Badger, as he walked alongside the boys.
"It makes your contact with the earth as small as possible-standing on your toes," the officer explained, "and so reduces the tremor. Opening your mouth, in a measure, equalizes the changed air pressure, caused by the vacuum made when the powder explodes. In other words, you get the same sort of pressure down inside your throat, and in the tubes leading to the ear--the same pressure inside, as outside.
The boys tried this when the next big gun was fired, and they found it true. They noticed quite a crowd of officers and men about a certain large barbette, and Captain Badger led them in that direction.
"That's where they are going to test it," was the answer.
"How is that range now?" he asked. "Let me take a look! Are you sure the patrol vessels are far enough out? I think this projectile is going farther than any of you gentlemen have calculated."
"That excited officer is General Wailer," explained Captain Badger, in a low voice, to Tom and Ned.
I say big cannon, and yet it was not the largest the government had. In fact, Tom estimated the calibre to be less than twelve inches, but the cannon was very long--much longer in proportion than guns of greater muzzle diameter. Then, too, the breech, or rear part, was very thick and heavy.
"He is," answered Captain Badger. "Some of us think he is going to use too much, but he says it is impossible to burst his gun. He wants to make a long-range record shot, and maybe he will."
"Yes, that's General Waller's patent, too. They're going to fire soon."
After the central core is made and rifled, thick jackets of steel are "shrunk" on over the rear part of the gun. Sometimes several jackets are put on, one over the other, to make the gun stronger.
A big rifled cannon is loaded from the rear, or breech, just as is a breech-loading shotgun or rifle. That is, the cannon is opened at the back and the projectile is put in by means of a derrick, for often the projectiles weigh a thousand pounds or more. Next comes the powder--hundreds of pounds of it--and then it is necessary to close the breech.
The breech block must be very strong, and held firmly in place, or the terrific force of the powder would blow it out, wreck the gun and kill those behind it. You see, the breech block really stands a great part of the strain. The powder is between it and the projectile, and there is a sort of warfare to see which will give way--the projectile or the block. In most cases the projectile gracefully bows, so to speak, and skips out of the muzzle of the gun, though sometimes the big breech block will be shattered.
"I'm afraid, General, that you are using too much of that strong powder," Tom heard one officer say to the inventor of the gun. "It may burst the breech."
"Very well, I hope it proves a success."
The gun was rather crude in form, not having received its final polish, and it was mounted on a temporary carriage. But even with that Tom could see that it was a wonderful weapon, though he thought he would have put on another jacket toward the muzzle, to further strengthen that portion.
"What's that?" inquired the rather fiery-tempered officer, as he looked sharply at our hero.
"Sir! Do you know what you are saying? How did you come in here, anyhow? I thought no civilians were to be admitted today! Explain how you got here!"
"I came in here on a pass countersigned by you," he replied.
Tom passed it over.
"General Waller, permit me to introduce Tom Swift to you," spoke Captain Badger, stepping forward, and trying not to smile. "He is one of our foremost inventors. It is his type of monoplane that the government has adopted for the coming maneuvers at Panama, you may recall, and he was very helpful to Uncle Sam in stopping that swindling on the border last year--Tom and his big searchlight. Mr. Swift, General Waller," and Captain Badger bowed as he completed the introduction.
"Tom Swift here!" he went on. "I want to shake hands with you, Tom! I haven't seen you since I negotiated with you for the purchase of those submarines you invented, and which have done such splendid service for the government. Tom, I'm glad to see you here today."
There were murmurs throughout the throng about the big gun, as the officer approached Tom Swift and shook hands with him.
"Nothing much, Admiral," answered our hero.
"I--I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Swift before," said the gun inventor, stiffly. "I did not recognize his name when I countersigned his pass."
"Well, if Tom Swift gives you any points about your gun, you want to adopt them," went on the Admiral. "I thought I knew something about submarines, but Tom taught me some things, too; didn't you, Tom?"
"But they changed the whole matter. Yes, General, you take Tom's advice--if he gives you any."
"Very good, sir," spoke the officer in immediate charge of the matter, as he saluted. Soon from the aerials snapped the vicious sparks that told of the wireless telegraph being worked.
"Is everything ready now?" asked General Waller, while Tom was conversing with his friends, Captain Badger and Admiral Woodburn, Ned taking part in the conversation from time to time.
The projectile and powder had been put in, the breech-block screwed into place, the primer had been inserted, and all that remained was to press the button that would make the electrical connection, and explode the charge. This act of firing the gun had been intrusted to one of the soldiers, for General Waller and his brother officers were to retire to a bomb-proof, whence they would watch the effect of the fire, and note the course of the projectile.
"He would be--if it exploded," spoke Tom, for his officer friends had joined their colleagues, most of whom were now walking toward the shelter. "But I think there is little danger.
"I suppose," remarked Ned, "that in actual warfare anyone who fired one of the big guns would have to stand close to it--closer than that soldier is now."
General Waller, having assured himself that everything was as right as possible, had given the last word to the private and was now making his way toward the bomb-proof, within which were gathered his fellow-officers and friends.
"Thank you," said Tom. "We are going to get in a safe place."
As for Ned, he could not help wondering why, if the inventor had such absolute faith in his weapon, he did not fire it himself, even at the risk of a "concussion."
But suddenly, while Tom, Ned and General Waller were still some distance away from the bomb-proof, there was a terrific explosion. It seemed as if the very foundations of the fortifications would be shattered There was a roaring in the air --a hot burst of flame, and instantly such a vacuum was created that Tom and Ned found themselves gasping for breath.
"What--what was it?" cried Ned, as he, too, arose.
He looked to the left and saw General Waller picking himself up, his uniform torn, and blood streaming from a cut on his face. At the same instant Tom was aware of the body of a man flying through the air toward a distant grass plot, and the young inventor recognized it as that of the soldier who had been detailed to fire the great cannon.
Then, coming down from a great height in the air, he saw a dark object. It was another piece of the cannon that had been hurled skyward.
He saw a number of officers running out to assist General Waller, who seemed too dazed to move. Many of them had torn uniforms, and not a few were bleeding from their injuries. Then the air seemed filled with a rain of small missilesÄstones, dirt, gravel and pieces of metal.
Tom Swift bent anxiously over the prostrate form of his chum. A big piece of the burst gun had fallen close to Ned--so close, in fact, that Tom, who saw it as he neared the entrance to the bombproof, shuddered as he raced back. But there was no sign of injury on his chum.
The lad's eyes opened. He seemed dazed.
"No, I should say not," put in Captain Badger, who had run out toward the two lads. "If it had hit you there wouldn't have been much of you left to tell the tale," and he nodded toward the big piece of metal Tom had seen coming down from the sky. That part of the cannon forming a portion of the breech had buried itself deep in the earth. It had landed close to Ned--so close that, as he said, the wind of it, as well as the concussion, perhaps, had thrown him with enough force to send the breath from him.
"That would have been foolish. I took the same chance that you did," answered Ned, as he arose, and limped off between the captain and Tom.
General Waller's comrades had hurried out to him, and were now leading him away. He did not seem to be much hurt, though, like many others, he had received numerous cuts and scratches from bits of stone and gravel scattered by the explosion, as well as from small bits of metal that were thrown in all directions.
"No--that is to say, I don't think so. But what happened? Did they fire some other gun in our direction by mistake?"
"No, General. It was your own gun--it burst."
"That was it. Fortunately, no one was killed."
"But it did burst, General," went on the Admiral. "You can see for yourself," and he turned around and waved his hand toward the barbette where the gun had been mounted. All that remained of it now was part of the temporary carriage, and a small under-portion of the muzzle. The entire breech, with the great block, had been blown into fragments, so powerful was the powder used. The projectile one watcher reported, had gone about three hundred yards over the top of the barbette and then dropped into the sea, very little of the force of the explosive having been expended on that. A large piece of the gun had also been lost in the water off shore.
"But it did," spoke Admiral Woodburn, softly. "Come, you had better see the surgeon. You may be more seriously injured than you think."
"No one seriously, as far as we can learn," was the answer.
"He was blown high into the air," said Tom. "I saw him."
"I am glad of it," said General Waller. "It is bad enough to feel that I made some mistake, causing the gun to burst; but I would never cease to reproach myself if I felt that the man who fired it was killed, or even hurt."
An official inquiry was at once started, and, while it would take some time to complete it (for the parts of the gun remaining were to be subjected to an exhaustive test to determine the cause of the weakness), it was found that there was some defect in the wiring and battery that was used to fire the charge.
"Well, Tom, what do you think of it?" asked Ned, who had now fully recovered from the shock. The two were about to leave the proving grounds, having seen all that they cared to.
"Do you think you can solve it? Are you still going on with your plan to build the biggest cannon ever made?"
"Oh, you do; eh?" suddenly exclaimed a voice, and from a nearby parapet, where he had gone to look at one of the pieces of his gun, stepped General Waller. "So you think I made some mistakes, Tom Swift? Where, pray?"
"Well, you are rather young to give opinions to men who have devoted almost all their lives to the study of high explosives."
"Then you are seriously determined to make a gun that you think will rival mine."
"For what purpose--to sell to some foreign government?"
"Hum! Well, I don't believe you'll succeed. I intend to rebuild my gun at once, though I may make some changes in it. I am sure I shall succeed the next time. But as for you--a mere youth--to hope to rival men who have made this problem a life-study--it is preposterous, sir! Utterly preposterous!" and he uttered these words much as he had declared that it was impossible for his gun to burst, even after it was in fragments."
"Bless my cartridge belt, Tom, you don't really mean to say that stuff is powder!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.
"Why, it looks more like excelsior than anything else," went on the odd man, gingerly taking up some yellowish shreds in his fingers.
"Give me good notice, so I can get over in the next State!" exclaimed Ned Newton, with a laugh.
"For," he said, "there is no use having a big gun unless you can fire it. And the gun I am planning will need something more powerful in the powder line than any I've ever heard of."
"Yes, but I'll make my cannon correspondingly stronger, too, so there will be no danger."
"Oh, the danger was all over soon after it began," spoke Tom, with a smile. "But now I'm going to test some of this powder. If you want to run away, Mr. Damon, I'll have Koku take you up in one of the airships, and you'll certainly be safe a mile or so in the air," for Tom had instructed his giant servant how to run one of the simpler biplanes.
"So will I," added Ned. "How are you going to make the test, Tom?"
Tom had, before going to Sandy Hook, made some experiments in powder manufacturing, but they had not been very satisfactory. He had not been able to get power enough. On his return he had undertaken rather a daring innovation. He had mingled two varieties of powder, and the resulting combination would, he hoped, prove just what he wanted.
"I have shredded the powder in this manner," Tom explained, "so that it will explode more evenly and quickly. I want it to burn as nearly instantaneously as possible, and I think it will in this form."
"Oh, I'll show you," declared Tom. "There are several ways of making a test, but I have one of my own. I am going to take a solid block of steel, of known weight--say about a hundred pounds. This I will put into a sort of square cylinder, or well, closed at the bottom somewhat like the breech of a gun. The block of steel fits so closely in the square well that no air or powder gas can pass it.
"Attached to the steel well, or chamber, will be a gauge, a pressure recorder and other apparatus. When the powder, of which I will use only a pinch, carefully weighing it, goes off, it will raise the hundred-pound weight a certain distance. This will be noted on the scale. There will also be shown the amount of pressure released in the gas given off by the powder. In that way I can make some calculations."
"Well, for instance, if one ounce of powder raises the weight three feet, and gives a muzzle pressure of, say, five hundred pounds, I can easily compute what a thousand pounds of powder, acting on a projectile weighing two tons and a half, would do, and how far it would shoot it."
"That's what General Waller said about his gun; but it burst, just the same," declared Ned. "Poor man, I felt sorry for him. He seemed rather put out at you, Tom."
The giant, who, being more active than Eradicate, had rather supplanted the aged colored man, did as he was bid, and soon Tom, with Ned and Mr. Damon to help him, was preparing for the test.
"I know from personal experience what the two kinds of powder from which I made this sample will do," he said; "but it is like taking two known quantities and getting a third unknown one from them. There is an unequal force between the two samples that may make an entirely new compound."
"Well, I guess we'll start things moving now," went on Tom, as he looked over the things he had brought from his shops to the deserted meadow. The fact of the test had been kept a secret, so there were no spectators. "Ned, give me a hand with this block" Tom went on. "It's a little too heavy to lift alone." He was straining and tugging at the heavy piece of steel.
"Thanks!" exclaimed our hero, with a laugh. "I didn't make any mistake when I brought you home with me, Koku."
The powder had been put in the firing chamber. The steel socket had been firmly fixed in the earth, so that if the force of the explosion was in a lateral direction, instead of straight up, no damage would result. The weight, even if it shot from the muzzle of the improvised "cannon," would only go harmlessly up in the air, and then drop back. The firing wires were so long that Tom and his friends could stand some distance away.
"As ready as we ever shall be," replied Mr. Damon, who, with Ned and the others, had taken refuge behind a low hill.
He pressed the electric button, there was a flash, a dull, muffled report and, for a moment, something black showed at the top of the steel chamber. Then it dropped back inside again.
Followed by the others, the young inventor started toward the small square "cannon." Tom wanted to read the records made by the gases.
"There him be, master! There him be!" and he pointed toward a distant path that traversed the meadow.
"That man what come and look at Master's new powder," was the unexpected answer. "Him say he want to surprise you, and he come today, but no speak. He run away. Look--him go!" and he pointed toward a figure of distinctly military bearing hurrying along the road that led to Shopton.
"Let's chase after him!" yelled Ned.
"Hold on--wait a minute!" exclaimed Tom. "We want to know who that man is--and why we're going to chase after him. Koku, I guess it's up to you. Something has been going on here that I don't know anything about. Explain!"
As he spoke the man, who, even from a rear view, presented all the characteristics of an army man, so straight was his carriage, leaped upon a motor-cycle that he pulled from the roadside bushes, and soon disappeared in a cloud of dust.
"Me tell," said the giant, simply. "Little while after Master come back from where him say big gun all go smash, man come to shop when Master out one day. Him very nice man, and him say him know you, and want to help you make big cannon. I say, 'Master no be at home.' Man say him want to give master a little present of powder for use in new cannon. Master be much pleased, man say. Make powder better. I take, and I want Master to be pleased. I put stuff what man gave me in new powder. Man go away--he laugh-he say he be here today see what happen --I tell him you go to make test today. Man say Master be much surprised. That all I know."
"Is that what you mean, Koku?" asked the young inventor, after a pause. "Did some stranger come here one day when I was out, after I had made my new powder, and did he give you some 'dope' to put in it?"
"I mean any sort of stuff."
"Well, you've done it, all right," said Tom, grimly. "Have you any of the stuff left?"
"Well, then some of it must be there yet. Probably it sifted through the excelsior-like grains of my new explosive, and we'll find it on the bottom of the powder-case. But enough stuck to the strands to spoil my test. I'll just take a reading of the gauges, and then we'll make an investigation."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Tom. "There wasn't much more force to my new powder, doped as it apparently has been, than to the stuff I can buy in the open market. But I'm glad I know what the trouble is, for I can remedy it. Come on back to the shop. Koku, don't you ever do anything like this again," and Tom spoke severely.
"Did you ever see this man before, Koku?"
"What kind of a fellow was he?" asked Ned.
Tom and Ned started and looked at one another.
"Yes, in a way; but it would be out of the question for the General to do such a thing. Besides, the man who ran away, and escaped on his motor-cycle, was larger than General Waller."
"Maybe he hoped to spoil my cannon," remarked Tom, with a laugh that had no mirth in it. "My cannon that isn't cast yet. He probably misunderstood Koku's story of the test, and had no idea it was only a miniature, experimental, gun.
"No, Massa 'Tom. De only s'picious man I see was mab own cousin sneakin' around mah chicken coop de odder night. I tooks mah ole shot gun, an' sa'ntered out dat way. Den in a little while dere wasn't no s'picious man any mo'."
"No, Massa Tom--dat is, I didn't shoot on puppose laik. De gun jest natchelly went off by itself accidental-laik, an' it peppered him good an' proper."
"Well, I were 'shamed ob mah cousin, so I was. Anyhow, I only had salt an' pepper in de gun--'stid ob shot. I 'spect mah cousin am pretty well seasoned now. But dat's de only s'picious folks I see, 'ceptin' maybe a peddler what wanted t' gib me a dish pan fo' a pair ob ole shoes; only I didn't hab any."
They hurried back to the shop where the new powder was kept, and Tom at once investigated it. Taking the steel box from where it was stored he carefully removed the several handfuls of excelsior-like explosive. On the bottom of the box, and with some of it clinging to some of the powder threads, was a sort of white powder. It had a peculiar odor.
"How is it that it didn't blow your test cylinder to bits?" asked Ned.
"That's it, Master."
"Dere's a army gen'men out here to see you. Massa Tom; but I ain't gwine t' let him in lessen as how you says so."
"Yais, sah! He say he General Waller, an' he come on a motorcycle."
"And on a motor-cycle, too!" added Ned. "Tom, what's going on, anyhow?"
"I don't know," he replied; "but I suppose I had better see him. Here. Koku, put this powder away, and then go outside. Mr. Damon, you'll stay; won't you?"
"Show him in, Rad!" called Tom.
"Ah, how do you do, Mr. Swift!" exclaimed General Waller, extending his hand. "I got your letter inviting me to a test of your new explosive. I hope I am not too late."
"You--you got my letter!" stammered Tom, holding out his hand for a missive which the General extended. "I--I don't exactly understand. My letter?"
"But I didn't write you any letter!" exclaimed Tom, feeling more and more puzzled.
But as soon as the young inventor saw it, he knew that it was a forgery.
"Then who did send it?" asked General Waller. "If someone has been playing a joke on me it will not be well for him!" and he drew himself up pompously.
"No, I am visiting friends in Waterford," said the officer, naming the town where Mr. Damon lived. "My cousin is Mr. Pierce Watkins."
General Waller stared at Mr. Damon in some amazement, and resumed:
"I used to be," murmured Mr. Damon; "but I gave it up."
"So, when I got your letter," continued the General, "I naturally jumped on my machine and came over. Now I find that it is all a hoax."
Carefully he scanned it.
"I would, Tom."
At the mention of the word "German" Koku, the giant, who had entered the room, to be stared at in amazement by the officer, exclaimed:
"What do you mean?" inquired Tom.
"What does this mean?" inquired the officer.
"We have a German gardener," went on Tom, "and Koku now recalls that our mysterious visitor had the same sort of speech. This ought to give us a clue."
"I come to this vicinity for my health. That fact, as are all such regarding officers, was doubtless published in the Army and Navy Journal, so it might easily become known to almost anyone. I receive a letter which I think is from Tom Swift, asking me to attend the test. As the distance is short I go, only to find that the letter has been forged, presumably by a German.
"Bless my arithmetic! how concisely you put it!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.
"I believe you are right, General," spoke Tom. "Though why any German would want to prevent my experiments, or even damage my property, and possibly injure my friends, I cannot understand."
"I am sorry you have had your trouble for nothing," went on Tom. "And, if you are in this vicinity when I conduct my next test, I shall be glad to have you come. I will send word by Mr. Damon, and then there will be no chance of a mistake."
"Thank you, sir," replied Tom. "On my part, I shall keep a good lookout. It will be a bold spy who gets near my shop after this. I'm going to put up my highly-charged protecting electric wires again. We were just talking about them when you came in. Would you like to look about here, General?"
"No, but I am working on the plans. I want first to decide on the kind of explosive I am to use, so I can make my gun strong enough to stand it."
"All right, General," answered Tom, genially. "May the best gun win!"
General Waller was much interested in going about Tom's shop, and expressed his surprise at the many inventions he saw. While ordnance matters, big guns and high explosives were his hobby, nevertheless the airships were a source of wonder to him.
"Oh, by keeping at it," was the modest answer. "Then my good friends here--Ned and Mr. Damon--help me."
General Waller soon took his departure, promising to call again, to see Tom's test if one were held. He also repeated his determination to set the Secret Service men at work to discover the mysterious German.
"Do you think they wanted to injure you, General?" asked Mr. Damon.
"Bless my gaiters, yes!" exclaimed Mr. Damon.
Tom, Ned and the others talked the matter over at some length.
"We'll try," decided Tom, energetically, and in the electric runabout, that had once performed such a service to his father's bank, the young inventor and his chum were soon traversing the road taken by the spy. They got some traces of him--that is, several persons had seen him pass--but that was all. So they had to record one failure at least.
"What! To himself?" cried Tom, in amazement.
"But if he did that--which I don't believe--why would he come when there was danger, in case his trick worked, of the whole place being blown to kingdom come
"Oh, pshaw!" cried Tom. "I don't take any stock in that theory."
The days that followed were busy ones for Tom. He worked on the powder problem from morning to night, scoring many failures and only a few successes. But he did not give up, and in the meanwhile drew tentative plans for the big gun.
"Tom," said Mr. Swift, "do you remember that old fortune hunter, Alec Peterson, who wanted me to go into that opal mine scheme?"
"No, he writes to say he reached the island safely, and has been working some time. He hasn't had any success yet in locating the mine; but he hopes to find it in a week or so."
"Well, you're worth it, Tom," replied his father, with a smile.
"Eradicate! Don't you dare stumble while you're carrying that tube. If you do, you'll never do it again!"
Thus Eradicate answered the young inventor, while the giant, Koku, who was carrying a heavy case, nodded his head to show that he understood the danger of his task.
"I'm allowing myself to hope so, Ned."
It was one afternoon, about two weeks after Tom had made his first test of the new powder. Now, after much hard work, and following many other tests, some of which were more or less successful, he had reached the point where he believed he was on the threshold of success. He had succeeded in making a new explosive that, in the preliminary tests, in which only a small quantity was used, gave promise of being more powerful than any Tom had ever experimented with--his own or the product of some other inventor.
Only for the prompt action of Koku, Tom might have been seriously injured. As it was he lost some valuable patterns and papers.
Tom's hope was that this big blast would show such pressure in foot-tons, and give such muzzle velocity to the projectile, and at the same time such penetrating power, that he would be justified in taking it as the basis of his explosive, and using it in the big gun he intended to make.
Now the young inventor and his friends were on their way to the scene of the test, taking the powder and other necessaries, including the primers, with them. Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon had some of the gauges to register the energy expended by the improvised cannon. There were charts to be filled in, and other details to be looked after.
"No," was the reply. "He has gone back to Sandy Hook. He wrote that his health was better, and that he wanted to resume work on a new type of gun."
"Nonsense! I say, Rad! Look out with those primers!"
"Never you mind about the whitewashing, Rad. You just stick around here for a while. I may need you to sit on the cannon to hold it down."
"Why, what's the matter, Rad? Surely you're not afraid; are you?" and Tom winked at Ned.
"Nonsense, Rad! I was only fooling. You can go as soon as we get to my private proving grounds, if you like. But you'll have to carry those primers, for all the rest of us have our hands full. Only be careful of 'em!"
They kept on, and it was noticed that Mr. Damon gave nervous glances from time to time in the direction of Koku, who was carrying the box of powder. The giant himself, however, did not seem to know the meaning of fear. He carried the box, which contained enough explosive to blow them all into fragments, with as much composure as though it contained loaves of bread.
"Good, Massa Tom!" cried the colored man, and from the way in which he hurried off no one would ever suspect him of having rheumatic joints.
And, indeed, the powerful stuff bore a decided resemblance to that peculiar product of the dairy. It was in thin sheets, with holes pierced through it here and there, irregularly.
Even Tom was a little nervous as he prepared for this latest test. But he was not nervous enough to drop any of those queer, cheese-like slabs. For, though he knew that a considerable percussion was needed to set them off, it would not do to take chances. High explosives do not always act alike, even under the same given conditions. What might with perfect safety be done at one time, could not be repeated at another. Tom knew this, and was very careful.
"But we won't attach the battery until the last moment," Tom said. "I don't want a premature explosion."
"Well, I guess we're all ready," he announced to his friends. "I'll hook on the battery now, and we'll get off behind that other hill. I had Koku make a sort of cave there--a miniature bomb-proof, that will shelter us."
"It will, if this larger quantity of explosive acts anything like the small samples I set off," replied the young inventor.
"Here she goes!" exclaimed Tom, after a pause.
"Something happened, anyhow!" yelled Tom above the reverberating echoes.
"Hold on!" shouted Tom, laying a restraining hand on his chum's shoulder.
"Some of that powder may not have exploded," went on the young inventor. "From the sound made I should say the gun burst, and, if it did, that gelatin is bound to be scattered about. There may be a mass of it burning loose somewhere, and it may go off. It ought not to, if my theory about it being harmless in the open is correct, but the trouble is that it's only a theory. Wait a few seconds."
"But there's no smoke," said Mr. Damon. "Bless my spyglass! I always thought there was smoke at an explosion."
He dropped the pushbutton connected with the igniting battery, and, followed by the others, raced to the scene of the experiment. A curious sight met their eyes.
"Why--why--where is it?" asked Ned.
"No, here it is!" shouted Mr. Damon, circling off to one side. "It's been torn from the carriage, and partly buried in the ground," and he indicated a third excavation in the earth.
"Is the gun shattered?" asked Tom, anxious to know how the weapon had fared. It was, in a sense, a sort of small model of the giant cannon he intended to have cast.
"Good cried Tom. "Another steel jacket will remedy that defect. I guess I'm on the right road at last. But now to see what became of that armor plate."
"I expect that is where the armor plate is," said Tom, trying not to laugh at the mistake of his giant servant. "Take a look in there, Koku, and, if you can get hold of it, pull it out for us. I'm afraid the piece of nickel-steel armor proved too much for my projectile. But we'll have a look."
Presently they heard Koku grunting and groaning. He seemed to be having quite a struggle.
"Me get, Master," was the muffled answer.
"Look!" he shouted. "My projectile went part way through and then carried the plate with it into the side of the hill. Talk about a powerful explosive! I've struck it, all right!"
"Bless my spectacle case!" cried Mr. Damon. "This is the greatest ever!"
"I can as soon as I get my giant cannon, perhaps," admitted the young inventor. "I think I have solved the problem of the explosive. Now to work on the cannon."
Concerning Tom's powder, or explosive, I will only say that he kept the formula of it secret from all save his father. All that he would admit, when the government experts asked him about it, later, was that the base was not nitro-glycerine, but that this entered into it. He agreed, however, in case his gun was accepted by the government, to disclose the secret to the ordnance officers.
Tom figured and planned, far into the night, for many weeks after that. He had to begin all over again, working from the basis of the power of his new explosive. And he had many new problems to figure out.
"And the next thing is to get the gun cast," said Tom to Ned one day.
"No; it would be out of the question for me. I haven't the facilities. I'm going to give the contract to the Universal Steel Company. We'll pay them a visit in a day or two."
"We can't cast that gun here!" he said.
"Why, we haven't a mould big enough for the central core," was another objection.
"I never thought of that!" exclaimed the manager. "Perhaps it can be done."
"Oh, yes, we can do that. The initial cast was what stumped me. But we'll go ahead now."
"Yes, I think so. Are you going to have a wire-wound gun?"
"It must be mighty powerful," exclaimed the manager.
I am not going to tire my readers with the details leading up to the casting of Tom's big cannon. Sufficient to say that the general plan, in brief, was this: A hole would be dug in the earth, in the center of the largest casting shop--a hole as deep as the gun was to be long. This was about one hundred feet, though the gun, when finished, would be somewhat shorter than this. An allowance was to be made for cutting.
After this central part was done, steel jackets or sleeves would be put on, red-hot, and allowed to shrink. Then would come a winding of wire, to further strengthen the tube, and then more sleeves or jackets. In this way the gun would be made very strong.
It took many weary weeks to get ready for the first cast, but finally Tom received word that it was to be made, and with Ned, and Mr. Damon, he proceeded to the plant of the steel concern.
Out gushed the liquid steel, giving off a myriad of sparks. The workers, as well as the visitors, had to wear violet-tinted glasses to protect their eyes from the glare.
"Pour!" came the command, and into the pit in the earth splashed the melted steel that was to form the big cannon. From each caldron there issued a stream of liquid metal of intense heat. There were numerous explosions as the air bubbles burst-explosions almost like a battery in action.
"I hope it contains no flaws," spoke Tom, "That is the worst of big guns--you never can tell when a flaw will develop. But I hope--"
"But I tell you I must go in--I belong here in!" a voice cried. It had a German accent, and at the sound of it Tom and Ned looked at each other.
"Oh, a crazy German. He belongs in one of the other shops, and I guess he's mixed up. He thinks he belongs here. I sent him about his business."
"I think I can," murmured Tom, to himself.
"I'd like to, Ned, but I don't want to arouse any suspicion," replied Tom. "I've got to stay here a while yet, and arrange about shrinking on the jackets, after the core is rifled. I don't see how--"
"All right, Ned. Do as you like, only be cautious."
"I dell you dot is my shop!" one of the men was heard to exclaim--a man whom the others appeared to dragging away with main force.
"Oh, iss dot vot vas going on in dere?" asked the man addressed as Baudermann. "Shure den, I makes a misdake. I ask your pardon, Herr Blackwell. I to mine own apartment will go. But I dinks my foreman sends me to dot place," and he indicated the casting shop from which he had just been barred.
"Only just a twisted German employee, I guess," thought Ned, as he was about to turn back. "I was mistaken. He probably didn't understand where he was sent."
But as Ned passed he got one look at the man's face. Instead of a stupid countenance, for one instant he had a glimpse of the sharpest, brightest eyes he had ever looked into. And they were hard, cruel eyes, too, with a glint of daring in them. And, as Ned glanced at his figure, he thought he detected a trace of military stiffness--none of the stoop-shouldered slouch that is always the mark of a moulder. The fellow's hands, too, though black and grimy, showed evidences of care under the dirt, and Ned was sure his uncouth language was assumed.
"Well, what was it?" asked Tom, as his chum rejoined him.
"Do you think that, Ned?"
"I will. But I wonder what object anyone could have in spoiling my gun?"
"Still thinking of General Waller, are you?"
There was nothing more to be done at present, and, as it would take several days for the big mass of metal to properly cool, Tom, Ned and Mr. Damon returned to Shopton.
As for Eradicate, he "puttered around," doing all he could, which was not much, for he was getting old. Still Tom would not think of discharging him, and it was pitiful to see the old colored man try to do things for the young inventor--tasks that were beyond his strength. But if Koku offered to help, Eradicate would draw himself up, and exclaim:
Koku, good naturedly, gave place, for he, too, felt for Eradicate.
Tom and Ned occupied adjoining and connecting apartments, for, of late, Ned had taken up his residence with his chum. It was shortly after midnight that Ned was awakened by hearing someone prowling about his room. At first he thought it was Tom, for the shorter way to the bath lay through Ned's apartment, but when the lad caught the flash of a pocket electric torch he knew it could not be Tom.
Instantly the light went out, and there was silence.
This time he thought he heard a stealthy footstep.
"Someone is in here!" exclaimed Ned. "Look out, Tom!"
The instant Ned answered as he did, and warned Tom, the young inventor slid his hand under his pillow and pressed an auxiliary electric switch he had concealed there. In a moment the rooms were flooded with a bright light, and the two lads had a momentary glimpse of an intruder making a dive for the window.
"What do you want?" demanded Tom, instinctively. But the intruder did not stay to answer.
As Ned and Tom leaped from their beds, Ned catching up the heavy, empty water pitcher as a weapon, and Tom an old Indian war club that served as one of the ornaments of his room, the fellow, with one kick, burst the screen.
"Quick!" cried Ned. "Ring the bell for Koku, Ned. I want to capture this fellow if possible."
"I don't know, but we'll see if we can size him up. Signal for the giant!"
And in this glare the young inventor saw, speeding away over the lawn, the form of a big man.
"So I see. Koku will be right on the job. I told him not to dress. Can you make out who the fellow is?"
"There he goes now!" exclaimed Ned, as a figure leaped from the side door of the house--a gigantic figure, scantily clad.
"Me git, Master!" was the reply, and the giant sped on.
"I'm with you," agreed Tom. "Only I want to get into something a little more substantial than my pajamas."
"What is it, Tom? Has anything happened?"
"A burglar! Good land a massy!" cried Eradicate, who had also gotten up to see what the excitement was about. "Did you cotch him, Massa Tom?"
"Koku? Huh, he nebber cotch anybody. I'se got t' git out dere mahse'f! Koku? Hu! I s'pects it's dat no-'count cousin ob mine, arter mah chickens ag'in! I'll lambaste dat coon when I gits him, so I will. I'll cotch him for yo'-all, Massa Tom," and, muttering to himself, the aged colored man endeavored to assume the activity of former years.
"Sounds like a motor-cycle."
"It's the same chap!" interrupted Tom. "No use trying to chase him on that speedy machine. He's a mile away from here by now. He must have had it in waiting, ready for use. But come on, anyhow."
"Out to the shop. I want to see if he got in there."
"He may have cut them. Come on."
"This looks bad, Tom," said Ned.
But a quick survey of the shop did not reveal any damage done, nor had anything been taken, as far as Tom could tell. The office of his main shop was pretty well upset, and it looked as though the intruder had made a search for something, and, not finding it, had entered the house.
"You mean General Waller?"
"But who is he--what is his object?"
While Tom and Ned were engaged on this, Koku came back, much out of breath, to report:
"So we heard, Koku. Never mind, we'll get him yet."
"That's all right, Rad," consoled Tom. "You did your best. Now we'll all get to bed. I don't believe he'll come back." Nor did he.
"Some of my men are as interested in this as you are," he said to the young inventor. "A number of them declare that the cast will be a failure, while some think it will be a success."
"Oh, you mean Baudermann?"
"Why, it's rather queer about him. The foreman of the shop where he was detailed, saw that he was an experienced man, in spite of his seemingly stupid ways, and he was going to promote him, only he never came back."
"I mean the day after the cast of the gun was made he disappeared, and never came back."
With great care the gun was hoisted from the mould. More eyes than Tom's anxiously regarded it as it came up out of the casting pit.
"Oh, wait until you see it with the jackets on exclaimed Ned, who had viewed the completed drawings. "Then you'll open your eyes."
"Not one!" cried the manager in delight.
"And that was the hardest part of the work," went on the manager of the steel plant. "I can almost guarantee you success from now on."
Then came the almost Herculean task of shrinking on the great red-hot steel jackets and wire-windings, that would add strength to the great cannon. To do this the central core was set up on end, and the jackets, having been heated in an immense furnace, were hoisted by a great crane over the core, and lowered on it as one would lower his napkin ring over the rolled up napkin.
"You cannon is completed, Mr. Swift. I want to congratulate you on it. Never have we done such a stupendous piece of work. Only for your plans we could not have finished it. It was too big a problem for us. Your cannon is completed, but, of course, it will have to be mounted. What about the carriage?"
"Where will you test it?"
"Thirty miles! why, my dear sir--"
"Yes, I guess we can pick one out. I'll let you know."
"Bless my ear-drums!" cried Mr. Damon. "I hope nothing bursts. For if that goes up, Tom Swift--"
"Whew, how it rains!" exclaimed Ned, as he looked out of the window.
"It's beastly," declared his chum. "How can you test your gun in this weather?"
"Bless my rubber boots! it's just got to stop some time," declared Mr. Damon. "Don't worry, Tom."
"Oh, I hope not, Tom!" exclaimed Ned. "I'm going to see what the weather reports say," and he went to hunt up a paper.
The work was not complete, for the steel company employees had been hampered by the rain. Never before, it seemed, had there been so much water coming down from the clouds. Nearly every day was misty, with gradations from mere drizzles to heavy downpours. There were occasional clear stretches, however, and during them the men worked.
Meanwhile nothing more had been heard or seen of the spy. He appeared to have given up his attempts to steal Tom's secret, or to spoil his plans, if such was his object.
The gun was so mounted that the muzzle could be elevated or depressed, or swung from side to side. In this way the range could be varied. Tom estimated that the greatest possible range would be thirty miles. It could not be more than that, he decided, and he hoped it would not be much less. This extreme range could be attained by elevating the gun to exactly the proper pitch. Of course, any shorter range could, within certain limits, also be reached.
At the head of the valley, some miles from where the giant cannon was mounted, was an immense dam, built recently by a water company for impounding a stream and furnishing a supply of drinking water for a distant city. At the other end of the valley was the thriving village of Preston. A railroad ran there, and it was to Preston station that Tom's big gun had been sent, to be transported afterward, on specially made trucks, drawn by powerful autos, to the place where it was now mounted.
The valley, as I have said, was desolate. It was thickly wooded in spots, and in the centre, near the big dam, which held back the waters of an immense artificial lake, was a great hill, evidently a relic of some glacial epoch. This hill was a sort of division between two valleys.
"The paper says 'clear' tomorrow," read Ned, on his return. "'Clear, with freshening winds.'"
"Bless my overshoes!" exclaimed the odd gentleman. "It always has cleared; hasn't it?"
There came a slackening in the showers, and Tom and Ned, donning raincoats, went out to see how the work was progressing. They found the men from the steel concern busy at the great piece of engineering.
"We could finish it in two days if this rain would only let up," replied the man.
"If it doesn't, there's likely to be trouble up above," went on the foreman, nodding in the direction of the great dam.
"I mean that the water is getting too high. The dam is weakening, I heard."
"They evidently didn't count on one like this. They've got the engineer who built it up there, and they're doing their best to strengthen it. I also heard that they're preparing to dynamite it to open breeches here and there in it, in case it is likely to give way suddenly."
"Yes, but it can't hurt us," went on the foreman. "We're too high up on the side of the hill. Even if the dam did burst, if the course of the water could be changed, to send it down that other valley, it would do no harm, for there are no settlements over there," and he pointed to the distant hill.
As the foreman had said, if the waters (in case the dam burst) could be turned into this transverse valley, the town could be saved.
"Yes," said Tom, and then he gave the matter no further thought, for something came up that needed his attention.
"Yes, some of it," said Tom. "I have another supply in a safe place in the village. I didn't want to bring too much here until the gun was to be fired. I can easily get it if we need it. Jove! I wish it would clear. I want to get out in my Humming Bird, but I can't if this keeps up." Tom had brought one of his speedy little airships with him to Preston.
"Well, I think we can try a shot tomorrow!" announced Tom with delight on the evening of the first clear day, when all hands had worked at double time.
"Yes, the gun is all in place," went on the young inventor. "Of course, it's only a temporary carriage, and not the disappearing one I shall eventually use. But it will do. I'm going to try a shot tomorrow. Everything is in readiness."
"Who is it?" he asked.
"Well, what do you want, Koku?"
Tom and Ned looked at each other, suspicion in their eyes.
"If it is, we'll be ready for him," murmured his chum. "Show him in, Koku, and you come in too."
"You folks had better get out of here!" he exclaimed.
"Why? Because our dam is going to burst within a few hours. I've been sent to warn the folks in town in time to let them take to the hills. You'd better move your outfit. The dam can't last twenty-four hours longer!"
"I sure do!" went on the man who had brought the startling news. "And the folks down below aren't going to have any more time than they need to get out of the way. They'll have to lose some of their goods, I reckon. But I thought I'd stop on my way down and warn you. You'd better be getting a hustle on."
"No danger!" cried the man. "Say, when that water begins to sweep-down here nothing on earth can stop it. That big gun of yours, heavy as it is, will be swept away like a straw, I know--I saw the Johnstown flood!"
"Well, I hardly do, or I would not have set the gun where I did. Tell me," he went on to the man, "is there any way of opening the dam, to let the water out gradually?"
"You'd better move, I tell you. The dam is slowly weakening. We've done all we can to save it, but that's out of the question. The only thing to do is to run while there's time. We've tried to make additional openings, but we daren't make any more, or the wall will be so weakened that it will go out in less than twentyfour hours.
"If the dam bursts and the water could only be turned over into the transverse valley, this one would be safe," said Tom, in a low voice.
"Maybe it can," spoke Tom, softly, but no one asked him what he meant.
"Yes, you have," agreed Tom, "and if any damage comes to us it will be our own fault. But I don't believe there will."
"What are you going to do, Tom?" asked Ned.
"But if the dam bursts?"
"Bless my checkbook!" cried Mr. Damon. "But what about those poor people in the valley?"
"Me watch!" exclaimed the giant, significantly, as he picked up a heavy club.
"No, but it's best to be on the safe side," answered Tom. "Now let's turn in."
But, through great pipes that led to the drinking system, though they were unseen, thundered immense streams of solid water, reducing by as much as the engineers were able the pressure on the concrete wall.
"It doesn't look as though it would burst," observed Ned, as the aircraft hovered over the big artificial lake.
He steered his powerful little craft in that direction, and circled low over the spot.
"What trick?" asked Ned, curiously.
"Well, you're talking in riddles today, all right, Tom. When you get ready to put me wise, please do."
There was much to be done, in spite of the fact that the foreman of the steel workers assured Tom that all was in readiness. It was some time that afternoon when word was given for those who wished to retire to an improvised bomb-proof. Word had previously been sent down the valley so that no one, unless he was looking for trouble, need be in the vicinity of the gun, nor near where the shots were to land.
"I guess we're ready now," announced the young inventor, a bit nervously. "Bring up the powder, Koku."
The great projectile was in readiness to be slung into the breech by means of the hoisting apparatus, for it weighed close to two tons. It was carefully inserted under Tom's supervision. It carried no bursting charge, for Tom's first shot was merely to establish the extreme range that his cannon would shoot.
"Bless my doormat!" cried Mr. Damon, who stood near, looking nervously on. "Don't drop any of that."
Tom was busily engaged in figuring on a bit of paper, and Ned, who looked over his shoulder, saw a complicated compilation that looked to he a combination of geometry, algebra, differential calculus and other higher mathematics.
"I'm trying to confirm my own theories by means of figures, to see if I can really reach that farthest target."
"That's it, Ned. I want to get a thirty-mile range if I can."
"Bless my tape measure! I should say not!" cried Mr. Damon.
In a few seconds the great gun was ready for firing.
They all agreed that this was good advice, and soon the steel men and Tom's friends were gathered in a sort of cave that had been hollowed out in the side of the hill, and at an angle from the big gun.
The gun had been pointed, as I have said, at the farthest target--one thirty miles away, telescope sights on the giant cannon making this possible.
"All ready," answered Ned.
It seemed for a moment as if everyone was lifted from his feet. They had all stood on their tiptoes, and opened their mouths to lessen the shock, but even then it was terrific. The very ground shook--from the roof of their cave small stones and gravel rattled down on their heads. Their ear-drums were numbed from the shock. And the noise that filled the valley seemed like a thousand thunderbolts merged into one.
"Hurray!" he cried in delight. "She stood the charge all right. And look! look!" he cried, as he pointed the glasses toward the distant hillside. "There goes my projectile as straight as an arrow. There! By Caesar, Ned! It landed within three feet of the target! Oh, you beauty!" he yelled at his giant cannon. "You did all I hoped you would! Thirty miles, Ned! Think of that! A twoton projectile being shot thirty miles!"
"It certainly is," declared the foreman of the steel workers, who had helped in casting many big guns. "No cannon ever made can equal it. You win, Tom Swift!"
"Not one," declared Tom; "especially after I put a bursting charge into the projectile. We'll try that next."
Once more they retired to the bombproof, and again the great gun was fired. Once more the ground shook, and they were nearly deafened by the shock.
"That does the business!" cried Tom. "My cannon is a success!"
"If that doesn't fortify the Panama Canal nothing will," declared Ned.
The muzzle velocity and the pressure were equal to Tom's highest hopes. He knew, now, that he had hit on just the right mixture of powder, and that his gun was correctly proportioned. It showed not the slightest strain.
It was while the gun was being loaded that a horseman was seen riding wildly down the valley. He was waving a red flag in his hand.
"It looks as though he was coming to give us a warning," suggested the steel foreman.
"I hope not," murmured Tom.
"The dam! The dam!" he cried. "It's bursting. Your shots have hastened it. The cracks are widening. You'd better get away!" And he galloped on.
"I was afraid of this!" murmured Tom. "But, since our shots have hastened the disaster, maybe we can avert it."
"I'll show you. All hands come here and we'll shift this gun. I want it to point at that big white stone!" and he indicated an immense boulder, well up the valley, near the place where the two great gulches joined.
"Don't you remember, Ned? When we were talking about the chance of the dam bursting, I said if the current of suddenly released water could be turned into the other valley, the people below us would be saved."
"Well, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to fire a bursting shell at the point where the two valleys come together. I'll break down the barrier of rock and stone between them."
"If we can turn enough of the water into the other valley, where no one lives, and where it can escape into the big river there, the amount that will flow down this valley will be so small that only a little damage will be done."
"No, a little more toward me," answered Tom, as he peered through the telescope sights. "There, that will do. Now to get the proper elevation," and he began to work the other apparatus, having estimated the range as well as he could.
It was to see that the town was deserted by these late-stayers that the messenger rode, crying his warning as did the messenger at the bursting of the Johnstown dam twenty-odd years ago.
The projectile, with a heavy charge of bursting powder, was slung into the breech of the gun.
"Me fetch," responded the giant, as he hastened toward the small cave where the explosive was kept. As the big man brought the first lot, and Ned was about to insert it in the breech of the gun, behind the projectile, Tom exclaimed:
Critically he looked at the powerful explosive. As he did so a change came over his face.
"In cave, Master."
"Only enough for this one shoot."
"What's the matter?" cried Ned, as he noticed the agitation of his chum.
"Doped the powder?" gasped Ned. "Who could have done it?"
Ned was away like a shot, while the others, not knowing what to make of the strange conduct of the two lads, looked on in wonder. Tom raced toward the cave where the powder was stored, Koku following him.
They gazed to where he pointed. In several places the concrete spillway had crumbled down to a ragged edge, showing that the solid wall was giving way. The amount of water flowing over the dam was greater now. The creek was steadily rising. Down the valley the horseman with the red flag was but a speck in the distance.
Ned had reached the foreman, who, with his helpers, was standing about the big gun.
"Any of my men left? What do you mean?
"Schlichter gone!" exclaimed the foreman. "He was no good anyhow. I think he was a sort of Anarchist; always against the government, the way he talked. So he has left; eh? But what's the matter, Ned?"
"It sure does! And, now I recall it, I saw him yesterday near your powder magazine. I called him down for it, for I knew Tom Swift had given orders that only his own party was to go near it. So the powder is doped; eh?"
He turned to see Tom approaching on the run.
"Not a pound. Did you hear anything?"
"Yes, we can, Ned. If that dam will only hold for half an hour more."
"I mean that I have another supply of good powder in the village. I secreted some there, you remember I told you. If I can go get that, and get back here in time, I can break down the barrier with one shot, and save Preston."
"I can't? Well, I'm going to make a big try, Ned. You stay on the job here. Have everything ready so that when I get back with the new explosive, which I hope hasn't been tampered with, I can shove it into the breech, and set it off. Have the wires, primers and button all ready for me."
"Where are you going?" gasped his chum. "You can never run to Preston and back in time."
"Bless my timetable!" gasped Mr. Damon. "That's the only way it can be done. Lucky Tom brought the airship along!"
The motor was adjusted; Koku whirled the propeller blades. There was a staccato succession of explosions, a rushing, roaring sound, and then the craft rose like a bird, and Tom circled about, making a straight course for the distant town, while below him the creek rose higher and higher as the dam continued to crumble away.
"Not a thing, Mr. Damon. Wait--hold on--no! It's only a bird," and the lad lowered the glasses with which he had been sweeping the sky. looking for his chum returning in his airship with the powder.
"Bless my insurance policy!" cried Mr. Damon. "Don't say such things, my friend."
"Bless my hat-band!" gasped Mr. Damon. "You--you are getting on my nerves
Once more Ned swept the sky with his glasses. The roar of the water below them could be plainly heard now.
"Some spy," declared Ned. "We've been having trouble right along, you know, and this is part of the game. I have some suspicions, but Tom doesn't agree with me. Certainly the fellow, whatever his object, has made trouble enough this time."
"Look, Ned!" cried Mr. Damon. "Is that a bird; or is it Tom?" and he pointed to a speck in the sky. Ned quickly focused his glasses on it.
"Thank Heaven for that!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, fervently, forgetting to bless anything on this occasion. "If only he can get here in time!"
"He'll need to," murmured the foreman, grimly. "That dam can't last ten minutes more. Look at the people fleeing from the valley!"
"Is everything ready at the gun?" asked Mr. Damon.
"I hope he doesn't land too hard, with all that explosive on board," murmured the foreman.
"I guess we can trust Tom," spoke Ned.
Nearer and nearer came the monoplane. It began to descend, very gently, for well Tom Swift knew the danger of hitting the ground too hard with the cargo he carried.
"Have you got it, Tom?" yelled Ned.
"Is it good powder?" asked the foreman, anxiously.
"That's what!" agreed the foreman, as he helped Koku take the cans of explosive.
"It's all right!" he shouted. "Into the gun with it, and we'll see what happens."
Tom Swift took one last look through the telescope sights of his giant cannon. He changed the range slightly by means of the hand and worm-screw gear, and then, with the others, ran to the shelter of the cave. For, though the gun had stood the previous tests well, Tom had used a heavier charge this time, both in the firing chamber and in the projectile, and he wanted to take no chances.
"I--I guess so," answered Ned, somewhat doubtfully.
"The dam! It has given way!" cried Ned.
Tom pressed the button. Once again was that awful tremor of the earth--the racking shake--the terrific explosion and a shock that knocked a couple of the men down.
They all rushed from the shelter of the cave. Before them was an awe-inspiring sight. A great wall of water was coming down the valley, from a large opening in the centre of the dam. It seemed to leap forward like a race horse.
But there was no doubt that they all saw what followed. They heard a distant report as the great projectile burst. Then a wall of earth seemed to rise up in front of the advancing wall of water. High into the air great stones and masses of dirt were thrown.
For a moment it was as though that wall of water hesitated, not deciding whether to continue on down the populated valley, or to swing over into the other gash where it could do comparatively little harm. It was a moment of suspense.
The village of Preston had been saved by the shot from Tom's giant cannon.
"I should think you would want a bit of quiet," replied Ned. "You've been on the jump since early morning."
"But you did the trick, Tom, old man!" exclaimed Ned, fervently, as he looked down the valley and saw the receding water. For, with the opening of the channel into the other valley the flood, at no time particularly dangerous near Preston, was subsiding rapidly.
"Oh, I don't know," spoke Tom, modestly. "It just happened so. There was one minute, though, after I got to the place in Preston where I had stored the powder, that I didn't know whether I would succeed or not."
"Why, in my hurry and excitement I forgot the key to the underground storeroom where I had put the explosive. I knew there was no time to get another, so I took a chance and burst in the door with an axe I found in the freight depot."
"But it came out all right," went on Tom. "I bundled it into the other seat of my Humming Bird, and started back."
"Nearly all," replied Tom. "The last of them were hurrying away as I left. And it shows how scared they were, they didn't pay any attention to me and my flying machine, though I'll wager some of them never saw one before."
"I'd like to get hold of the fellow who doped my powder; that's what I'd like to do," murmured the young inventor. "Ned, we'll have to be doubly watchful from now on. But I must take a look at my gun. That last charge may have strained it."
"That's fine!" cried Tom, as he looked at every part. "As soon as this flood is over we'll try some more practice shots. But we're all entitled to a rest now"
The water from the impounded lake continued to pour down into the cross valley, and did some damage, but nothing like what would have followed its advent into Preston. The few inhabitants of the gulch into which the young inventor had directed the flood had had warning, and had fled in time. In Preston, some few houses nearest the banks of the rising creek were flooded, but were not carried away.
They intended to rebuild the dam, they said, on a new principle, making it much stronger.
Tom's chief anxiety, now, was to bring his perfected gun to the notice of the United States Government officials. To have them accept it, he knew he must give it a test before the ordnance board, and before the officers of the army and navy. Accordingly he prepared for this.
Then, with a plentiful supply of ammunition and projectiles, Tom resumed his practice in the lonely valley. He had, in the meanwhile, sent requests to the proper government officials to come and witness the tests.
"It's a sort of rivalry between us," said Tom to Ned.
Then, too, Captain Badger acted as Tom's friend at court. He "pulled wires" to good advantage, and at last the government sent word that one of the ordnance officers would be present on a certain day to witness the tests.
"But I'm going to give him the surprise of his life; and if he doesn't report favorably, and insist on the whole board coming out here, I'll be much disappointed."
"It's great, Mr. Swift! Great!" declared the young captain. "I shall strongly recommend that the entire board see this test." And when Tom let him fire the gun himself the young man was more than delighted.
It is needless to say that it was successful. Tom and Ned, not to mention Mr. Damon, Koku and every loyal member of the steel working gang, saw to it that there was no hitch. The solid shots were regarded with wonder, and when the explosive one was sent against the hillside, making a geyser of earth, the enthusiasm was unbounded.
"The gun is most wonderful," spoke a voice with a German accent. "It is surprising!"
"Yes, General von Brunderger," agreed the chief, "it is a most timely invention. Mr. Swift, allow me to present you to General von Brunderger, of the German army, who is here learning how Uncle Sam does things."
When the board members left, the chief promised to let Tom know the result of the formal report as soon as possible.
"Well, we'll soon know the verdict," spoke Tom, somewhat nervously, as he opened the envelope. Quickly he read the enclosure.
"The government accepts my gun!" exclaimed the young inventor. "It will purchase a number as soon as they can be made. We are to take one to Panama, where it will be set up. Hurray, Ned, my boy! Now for Panama!"
"You're right, Ned--in a way. And yet, after all the hard work we've done, almost anything is possible."
"Indeed, and you did more than that. If it hadn't been for you, Mr. Damon and Koku we'd never have gotten off as soon as we did. The government is the limit for doing things, sometimes."
This conversation took place on board one of Uncle Sam's warships, which the President had designated to take Tom's giant cannon to the Panama Canal.
"If anyone tries to dope that powder now, and spoil my test at Panama," declared Tom, "he'll wish he'd never tried it."
"But I don't believe there is any danger," went on the young inventor. "I spoke about what had happened, and the ordnance board took extra precautions to see that none but men and officers who could be implicitly trusted had anything to do with this expedition."
"I don't know what to say. Certainly I can't see why anyone connected with Uncle Sam would want to throw cold water on a plan to fortify the canal, even if an outsider has invented the gun--I mean someone like myself, not connected with the army or navy."
"There you go again, Ned. Let's not talk about it. Come on forward and see what progress we are making."
There had been wearying delays, especially in the matter of making the disappearing carriage. At times it seemed as if the required projectiles would never be finished. The powder, too, gave trouble, for sometimes batches would be turned out that were utterly worthless.
But finally the gun had been put aboard the ship, having been transported from the proving ground in the valley, and they were now en route to Panama. There the giant cannon was to be set up, and tried again. If it came up to expectations it was to be finally adopted as the official gun for the protection of the big canal, and Tom would receive a substantial reward.
"But suppose Uncle Sam decides against the cannon on this second test?"
"It certainly is a giant cannon," remarked Ned, as he paused to look at the prostrate monster, lashed to the deck, with its wrappings of tarpaulins. "It looks bigger here than it did when you fired the shot that saved the town, Tom."
"Especially the powder," put in Ned. "If that starts to banging around--well, I'd rather be somewhere else."
"All right, I'll be better," promised Ned, with a laugh.
"Am dere anyt'ing I kin do fo' yo'-all, Massa Tom?" inquired Eradicate, as the young inventor and Ned prepared to go on deck again. The aged colored man had insisted on coming as a sort of personal bodyguard to Tom, and the latter had not the heart to refuse him. Eradicate was desperately jealous of the giant.
It was planned to proceed directly to Colon, the eastern terminus of the canal, from New York, stopping at Santiago to transact some government business there. The big gun was to be mounted on a barbette near the Gatun locks, pointing out to sea, and the trial shots would be fired over the water.
The first few days of the voyage were pleasant enough. The weather was fine, and Tom was kept busy explaining to many of the officers aboard the ship the principles of his gun, powder and projectiles. Members of the ordnance board, who had been detailed to witness the test, were also much interested as Tom modestly described his work on the giant cannon.
"Look, Ned!" he exclaimed, in a low voice.
"At that man--an officer in civilian dress, I should judge-haven't you seen him before?"
"I guess not, Ned. He had on a uniform then."
"You're right, Ned. And he's got his servant with him, I guess," and Tom nodded toward a stolid German who was carrying the other's suitcase.
"We'll soon know," spoke Tom. "He's seen us and is nodding. We might as well go meet him."
"It is going to be a big thing," spoke Tom. "I am proud that my gun is going to help protect it."
"Yes, it's on board," said Tom. "Are you going to Panama for any special purpose?"
"I go but to see the big ditch before the water is let in," he replied. "And since your gun is to have a test I shall be glad to witness that. You see, I am commissioned by my Kaiser to learn all that you Americans will allow me to in reference to your ways of doing things--in the army, the navy and in the pursuit of peace. After all, preparation for war is the best means of securing peace. Your officers have been more than kind and I have taken advantage of the offer to go to Panama. Lieutenant Blake said the ship would stop here, and, as I had business in Cuba, I came and waited. I am delighted to see you both again."
"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Ned.
The storm broke without any unusual preliminaries, but quickly increased to a hurricane, and when night fell it saw the big ship rolling and tossing in a tempestuous sea. Torn was anxious about his big gun, but the captain assured him that double lashings would make it perfectly safe.
Rather anxious as to the outcome of the storm, Tom turned in late that night, not expecting to sleep much, for there were many unusual noises. But he did drop off into a doze, only to be awakened about an hour later by a commotion on deck.
"I don't know, Tom. Something is going on, though. Hear that thumping and pounding!"
"By Jove!" yelled Tom, jumping from his berth. "It's my big gun! It has torn loose from the lashings and may roll overboard!"
It was the officer of the deck giving orders to a number of marines and sailors as Tom hastily clad, leaped on deck, followed by his chum. The warship was pitching and tossing worse than ever in the heaving billows, and the men were engaged in making fast the giant cannon, which, as Tom had surmised, had torn loose from the steel cables holding it down on deck.
"That's right. Look at her swing, would you? If she hits anything it's a goner!"
"Look out for yourselves, boys!" cried the officer, as he saw Tom and Ned. "This is no plaything!"
"That's what we're trying to do," answered the other. "We did get the bight of a cable over the breech, but the men could not hold it, even though they took a couple of turns around the bitts."
"That's right!" declared his chum. "If anyone can hold the cable with the weight of the big gun straining on it, the giant can. I'll get him!"
"But the powder!" asked the big man, simply. "Master told me to guard the powder. I stay here."
Koku stared uncomprehendingly for a moment, while the loosened gun continued to thump and pound on the deck as though it would burst through. Then it filtered through the dull brain of honest Koku what was wanted.
Once more, with the giant strength of Koku to aid in the work, the task of lashing the gun again to the deck was undertaken. A bight of steel cable was gotten around the breech, and then passed to a big bitt, or stanchion, bolted to the deck. Koku, working on the heaving deck, amid the hurricane, took a turn around the brace.
"Quick!" cried Tom. "Now another rope so it can't roll the opposite way, and we'll have her."
"Whew! But that was tough work!" exclaimed Tom, as he once more entered the stateroom with Ned.
"I thought it would surely go overboard," went on Tom. "Only for Koku it would have. Those fellows couldn't hold it when the ship rolled."
"Oh, the cables frayed, I suppose. I'll take a look in the morning. Say, but this is some storm!"
"Yes, it's fastened down like a mummy. It can't get loose unless the whole deck comes with it. We can sleep in peace."
But they did manage to get some rest by morning, at which time the hurricane seemed to have blown itself out. The day saw the sea gradually calm down, and the big cannon was made additionally secure against a possible recurrence of the accident. But a few days more and it would be safe at Colon.
"These seem mighty strong. It's queer how they broke."
Ned did not reply for a moment. Then, as he looked at another piece of a severed cable, he exclaimed:
"What do you mean, Ned?"
He held out the piece of wire rope. There, on the end, could be seen several strands cleanly severed, as though a file or a hacksaw had been used.
"The scoundrels!" exclaimed Ned. "I wish we knew who they were. General Waller isn't aboard, and what other of the officers has a gun of his own that he would rather see accepted by the government than yours?"
"General Waller might have hired someone to--"
"Or perhaps that German, Tom, might--"
"I am glad to see that the accident of last night had no serious effects," he said, smiling.
"No accident? You surprise me. I thought--"
"The cables cut!" exclaimed the German, and his voice indicated anxious solicitude.
"I am glad to hear it. It would be a--er--ah, a national calamity to lose so valuable a gun, and the opening of the canal so near at hand. I am glad that your invention is safe, Herr Swift," and he smiled genially at Tom and Ned.
"Because I didn't want you to make any breaks before him," answered Tom.
"I suspect many things, Ned, but I'm not going to show my hand until I'm ready. I'm going to watch and listen."
But no further accidents occurred. There were no more storms, no attempt was made to meddle with Tom's powder, and in due season the ship arrived at Colon, and after much labor the great gun, its carriage, the shells and the powder were taken to the barbette at the Gatun locks, designed to admit vessels from the Caribbean Sea into Gatun Lake.
"Just a little farther over this way, Ned. That's better. Now mark it there, and we'll have it clamped down."
"Oh, yes, I think so. Besides, I've added a few more inches to the lift of the disappearing carriage, and it will send the gun so much farther in the air. I think this will do. Where is Koku?"
"Just get hold of that small derrick, Koku, and lift up one of the projectiles. I want to see if they come in the right place for the breech before I set the hoisting apparatus permanently."
"Yes, I think that will do," decided the young inventor, as he watched Koku. "Now, Mr. Damon, if you will kindly oversee this part of the work, I'll see if we can't get that motor in better shape. It didn't work worth a cent this morning."
"Massa Tom! Massa Tom!" called Eradicate.
"Heah am dem chicken sandwiches, an' some hot coffee fo' yo' all. I done knowed yo' alt wouldn't hab no time t' stop fo' dinnah, so I done made yo' all up a snack."
As they sat about the place where the gun was being mounted, munching sandwiches and drinking the coffee which the aged colored man had so thoughtfully provided, Eradicate said, with a chuckle:
"He sure is jealous of Koku," remarked Ned, as Tom and Mr. Damon smiled at the colored man.
They had landed from the warship several days before, and from then on there had been hard work and plenty of it. Tom was here, there and everywhere, directing matters so that his gun would be favorably placed.
"It will be some days before you can actually fire your gun; will it not?" asked Ned of his chum, as they finished the lunch, and prepared to resume work.
"Golly! I ain't so old yit but what I knows de stuff Massa Tom laiks!" exclaimed the colored man, moving off with a chuckle.
The German officer, with his body servant, who seldom spoke, had landed at Colon, and was proceeding to make himself at home with the officers and men who were building the canal. Occasionally he paid a visit to Tom and Ned, where they were engaged about the big gun. He always seemed pleasant, and interested in their labors, asking many question, but that was all, and our hero began to feel that perhaps he was wrong in his suspicions.
Slowly the work progressed. The gun was mounted after much labor, and then arrangements began to be made for the test. A series of shots were to be fired out to sea, and the proper precautions were to be taken to prevent any ships from being struck.
"I have," answered Tom, calmly, "and with the increased elevation that I am able to get here, it may exceed that."
A few days before the date set for the test one of the sentinels, who had been detailed to keep curiosity-seekers away from the giant cannon, approached Tom and said:
"Who is it?" asked Tom, laying aside a pressure gauge he intended attaching to the gun.
"Yes, let him come up," directed the young inventor. "Do you hear that, Ned?" he called. "Our fortune-hunting friend is here."
"I hope he has, for dad's sake," went on Tom. "Hello, Mr. Peterson!" he called, as he noticed the old prospector coming along. "Have you had any luck?"
"Fine!" answered Tom. "Have you found the lost mine yet?"
"No, Tom, I haven't succeeded in locating the mine yet. But I-I expect to any day now!" he added, hastily.
"I have, Tom. But I'm not going to give up. Can't you come over and see me before you go back North?"
"Off in that direction," responded the fortune-hunter, pointing to the northeast. "It's a little farther from here than I thought it was at first--about thirty miles. But I have a little secondhand steam launch that my pardners and I use. I'll come for you, take you over and bring you back any time you say."
"No, I must get back to the island. I have some new information that I am sure will enable me to locate the lost mine."
"Do you think he'll ever find the opals, Tom?" asked Ned.
"I don't believe so," he answered. "Alec has always been that way--always visionary--always just about to be successful; but never quite getting there."
"Yes, I suppose so; but, in a way, dad can stand it. And if I make good on this gun test, ten thousand dollars won't look very big to me. I guess dad gave it to Alec from a sort of sentimental feeling, anyhow."
"That's it, Ned. It was a sort of reward, in a way, and I guess dad won't be broken-hearted if Alec doesn't succeed. Only, of course, he'll feel badly for Alec himself. Poor old man! he won't be able to do much more prospecting. Well, Ned, let's get to work on that ammunition hoist. It still jams a little on the ways, and I want it to work smoothly. There's no use having a hitch--even a small one--when the big bugs assemble to see how my cannon shoots."
The two youths labored for some time, being helped, of course, by the workmen provided by the government, and some from the steel concern.
But at last all seemed in readiness. The gun had been tried again and again on its carriage. The projectiles were all in readiness, and the terribly powerful ammunition had been stored below the gun in a bomb-proof chamber, ready to be hoisted out as needed.
The German officer was occasionally seen about the place where the gun was mounted, but he appeared to take only an ordinary interest in it. Tom began to feel more than ever that perhaps his suspicions were unfounded.
"Suppose it fails, Ned?" he said.
Plans had been made for a ship to be stationed near the zone of fire, to report by wireless the character of each shot, the distance it traveled, and how near it came to the target. The messages would be received at a station near the barbette, and at once reported to Tom, so that he would know how the test was progressing.
"Couldn't be better--clear as a bell, Tom."
"Oh, I guess nothing could happen, with Koku on guard."
"That's the ticket!"
On an improvised platform, not too near the giant cannon, had gathered the ordnance board, the specially invited guests, a number of officers and workers in the canal zone, and one or two representatives of foreign governments. Von Brunderger was there, but his "familiar," as Ned had come to call the stolid German servant, was not present.
"Careful with that projectile now. That's it, slip it in carefully. A little farther forward. That's better. Now the powder--Koku, are you down there?" and Tom called down the tube into the ammunition chamber.
"All right, send up a practice load."
"Now, gentlemen," said Tom, "this is not a shot for distance. It is merely to try the gun and get it warmed up, so to speak, for the real tests that will follow. All ready?"
"Here she goes!" cried Tom, and he pressed the button.
"Over eight miles!" declared one grizzled officer; "and that with only a practice charge. What will happen when he puts in a full one?'
Tom soon showed them. Quickly he called for another projectile, and it was inserted in the gun. Then the powder began to come up the hoist. Meanwhile the young inventor had assured himself that the gun was all right. Not a part had been strained.
But Tom, and those who knew the awful power of the big cannon, wore specially prepared eardrum protectors, that served to reduce the shock.
"A little less than twenty-nine miles."
Again came that terrific report, that trembling of the ground, that concussion, that blast of air as it rushed in to fill the vacuum caused, and then the vibrating echoes.
"Possibly," admitted Tom. "Here comes the report." The wireless operator waved a slip of paper.
"Hurray!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my telescope! The longest shot on record!"
"I think I can do better than that," declared Tom, after looking at the various recording gauges, and noting the elevation of the gun. "I think I can get a little flatter trajectory, and that will give a greater distance. I'm going to try."
"Yes, and the heaviest shell we have--the one with the bursting charge. I'll fire that, and see what happens. Tell the zone-ship to be on the lookout," he said to the wireless operator, giving a brief statement of what he was about to attempt.
"Well, not so much. I'm sure my cannon will stand it. Come on now, help me depress the muzzle just a trifle," and by means of the electric current the big gun was raised at the breech a few inches.
Consequently, the flatter the trajectory the farther it will go. Tom's object, then, was to flatten the trajectory, by lowering the muzzle of the gun, in order to attain greater distance.
The young inventor was not a little nervous as he prepared to press the button this time. It was a heavier charge than any used that day, though the same quantity had been fired on other occasions with safety. But he was not going to hesitate.
Following the awful report, the terrific recoil and the howl of the wind as it rushed into the vacuum created, there was an intense silence. The projectile had been seen by some as a dark speck, rushing through the air like a meteor. Then the wireless operator could be seen writing down a message, the telephone-like receivers clamped over his ears.
"Not one of the ships!" cried Tom, aghast.
As he ceased speaking there came from underneath the great gun the sound of confused shouts. Tom and Ned recognized Koku's voice protesting:
"What is it, Koku?" yelled Tom, springing to the speaking tube connecting with the powder magazine, at the same time keeping an eye on the wireless operator. Tom was torn between two anxieties.
"Help! Help! Help!"
"What is it, Koku? What is it?" cried Tom, plunging down into the little chamber.
"It's von Brunderger's servant!" gasped Ned, recognizing the fellow.
"Him sneak in here--have some of that stuff you call 'dope.' I sent up powder, and I come back here to see him try to put some dope in Master's ammunition."
They raced outside to behold a curious sight. Straight toward von Brunderger rushed the man as if in a frenzy of fear. He called out something in German to his master, and the latter's face went first red, then white. He was observed to look about quickly, as though in alarm, and then, with a shout at his servant, the German officer rushed from the stand, and the two disappeared in the direction of the barracks.
"Give it up," answered Tom, "except that Koku spoiled their trick, whatever it was. It looks as if this was the end of it, and that the mystery has been cleared up."
"Yes; what is it?" demanded Tom, so excited that he hardly knew what he was doing.
There was a silence after the inspiring words of the operator, and then it seemed that everyone began to talk at once. The record-breaking shot, the effect of it and the struggle that had taken place in the powder room, together with the flight of von Brunderger and his servant, gave many subjects for excited conversation.
The operator read the message again.
"That's what you did, with that explosive shell, Mr. Swift. The operator on the firing-zone ship saw the top fly off when the shell struck. The ship was about half a mile away, and when they heard that shell coming the officers thought it was all up with them. But, instead, it passed over them and demolished the top of the mountain.
"No, it was an uninhabited island. But you have made the record shot, all right. It went farther than any of the others."
"What was that disturbance, Mr. Swift?" asked the chief ordnance officer, coming forward.
"As he had a right to do. But who was the intruder?"
"Ha! That German officer's! Where is he, he must explain this."
The German officer's servant, it appeared, had managed to gain entrance to the ammunition chamber by means of a false key to the outer door. There were two entrances, the other being from the top of the platform where the cannon rested. Koku had seen him about to throw something into one of the ammunition cases, and had grappled with him. There was a fight, and, in spite of the giant's strength, the man had slipped away, leaving part of his garments in the grasp of Koku.
"But what was the object?" asked Ned.
"Why should von Brunderger want to do that?"
He forged documents of introduction and authority, and was received with courtesy by the United States officials. In some way he heard of Tom's gun, and that it was likely to be so successful that it would be adopted by the United States government. This he wanted to prevent, and he went to great lengths to accomplish this. It was he, or an agent of his, who forged the letter of invitation to General Waller, and who first tried to spoil Tom's test by doping the powder through Koku.
That he would be restored to favor had he succeeded, was an open question, though with Germany's friendliness toward the United States it is probable that his acts would have been repudiated. But he was desperate.
"Well, that explains the mystery," said Tom to Ned a few days later. "I guess we won't have to worry any more."
"Oh, well, he'll never know it, so no harm is done. Oh, but I'm glad this is over. It has gotten on my nerves."
"Bless my pillow sham!" cried Mr. Damon. "I think I can get a good night's sleep now. So they have formally accepted your giant cannon, Tom?"
"Good! I congratulate you, my boy!" cried the odd man. "And now, bless my postage stamp, let's get back to the United States."
But there was no need. That same day Alec Peterson came to Colon inquiring for Tom. His face showed a new delight.
"I have!" exclaimed the fortune-hunter. "Or, rather, Tom, I think I have you to thank for finding it for me."
"Yes. Did you hear about the top of the island-mountain you blew to pieces?"
"That was my island!" exclaimed Mr. Peterson. "The mine was in that mountain, but an earthquake had covered it. I should never have found it but for you. That shot you accidentally fired ripped the mountain apart. My men and I were fortunately at the base of it then, but we sure thought our time had come when that shell struck. It went right over our heads. But it did the business, all right, and opened up the old mine. Tom, your father won't lose his money, we'll all be rich. Oh, that was a lucky shot! I knew it was your cannon that did it."
"You must come and see the mine--your mine, Tom, for it never would have been rediscovered had it not been for your giant cannon, that made the longest shot on record, so I'm told."
It did not take Tom long to do this. His type of cannon was formally accepted as a defense for the Panama Canal, and he received a fine contract to allow that type to be used by the government. His powder and projectiles, too, were adopted.
"And now for the good old U. S. A.!" cried Tom, as they got ready to go back home. "I'm going to take a long rest, and the only thing I'm going to invent for the next six months is a new potato slicer." But whether Tom kept his words can be learned by reading the next volume of this series.
"That's what I say," agreed Ned.
"I guess so, Rad!" exclaimed the young inventor, with a laugh. "Is dinner ready?"
"That's good, Rad," put in Ned. "For we'll all be hungry after that trip to the island. That sure was a great shot Tom--thirtythree miles!"
End of Project Gutenberg's Etext of Tom Swift And His Giant Cannon