Chapter IV. Big Tusks Wanted
 

"Well, are you all ready for me?" asked the young inventor, as he took up his curious weapon, and followed Ned out into the yard. It was so dark that they had fairly to stumble along.

"Yes, we're ready," answered Ned. "And you'll be a good one, Tom, if you do this stunt. Now stand here, "he went on, as he indicated a place as well as he could in the dark. The box is somewhere in that direction," and he waved his hand vaguely. "I'm not going to tell you any more, and let's see you find it.

"Oh, I will, all right--or, rather, my electric rifle will," asserted Tom.

The inventor of the curious and terrible weapon took his position. Behind him stood Ned and Mr. Jackson, and just before Tom was ready to fire, his father came stalking through the darkness, calling to them.

"Are you there, Tom?"

"Yes Dad, is anything the matter?"

"No, but I thought I'd like to see what luck you have. Rad was saying you were going to have a test in the dark."

"I'm about ready for it," replied Tom. "I'm going to blow up a box that I can't see. You know how it's done, Dad, for you helped me in perfecting the luminous charge, but it's going to be something of a novelty to the others. Here we go, now!"

Tom raised his rifle, and aimed it in the dark. Ned Newton, straining his eyes to see, was sure the young inventor was pointing the gun at least twenty feet to one side of where the box was located, but he said nothing, for from experiences in the past, he realized that Tom knew what he was doing.

There was a little clicking sound, as the youth moved some gear wheel on his gun. Then there came a faint crackling noise, like some distant wireless apparatus beginning to flash a message through space.

Suddenly a little ball of purplish light shot through the darkness and sped forward like some miniature meteor. It shed a curious illuminating glow all about, and the ground, and the objects on it were brought into relief as by a lightning flash.

An instant later the light increased in intensity, and seemed to burst like some piece of aerial fireworks. There was a bright glare, in which Ned and the others could see the various buildings about the shed. They could see each other's faces, and they looked pale and ghastly in the queer glow. They could see the box, brought into bold relief, where Ned and the engineer had placed it.

Then, before the light had died away, they witnessed a curious sight. The heavy wooden box seemed to dissolve, to collapse and to crumple up like one of paper, and ere the last rays of the illuminating bullet faded, the watchers saw the splinters of wood fall back with a clatter in a little heap on the spot where the dry- goods case had been.

A silence followed, and the darkness was all the blacker by contrast with the intense light. At length Tom spoke, and he could not keep from his voice a note of triumph.

"Well, did I do it?" he asked.

"You sure did!" exclaimed Ned heartily.

"Fine!" cried Mr. Swift.

"Golly! I wouldn't gib much fo' de hide ob any burglar what comed around heah!" muttered Eradicate Sampson. "Dat box am knocked clean into nuffiness, Massa Tom."

"That's what I wanted to do," explained the lad. "And I guess this will end the test for tonight."

"But I don't exactly understand it," spoke Ned, as they all moved toward the Swift home, Eradicate going to the stable to see how his mule was. "Do you have two kinds of bullets, Tom, one for night and one for the daytime?"

"No," answered Tom, "there is only one kind of bullet, and, as I have said, that isn't a bullet at all. That is, you can't see it, or handle it, but you can feel it. Strictly speaking, it is a concentrated discharge of wireless electricity directed against a certain object. You can't see it any more than you can see a lightning bolt, though that is sometimes visible as a ball of fire. My electric rifle bullets are similar to a discharge of lightning, except that they are invisible."

"But we saw the one just now," objected Ned.

"No, you didn't see the bullet," said Tom.

"You saw the illuminating flash which I send out just before I fire, to reveal the object I am to hit. That is another part of my rifle and is only used at night."

"You see I shoot out a ball of electrical fire which will disclose the target, or the enemy at whom I am firing. As soon as that is discharged the rifle automatically gets ready to shoot the electric charge, and I have only to press the proper button, and the 'bullet,' as I call it, follows on the heels of the ball of light. Do you see?"

"Perfectly," exclaimed Ned with a laugh. "What a gun that would be for hunting, since most all wild beasts come out only at night."

"That was one object in making this invention," said Tom. "I only hope I get a chance to use it now."

"I thought you were going to Africa after elephants," spoke Mr. Swift.

"Well, I did think of it." admitted Tom, "but I haven't made any definite plans. But come into the house, Ned. and I'll show you more in detail how my rifle works."

Thereupon the two chums spent some time going into the mysteries of the new weapon. Mr. Swift and Mr. Jackson were also much interested, for, though they had seen the gun previously and had helped Tom perfect it, they had not yet tired of discussing its merits.

Ned stayed quite late that night, and promised to come over the next day, and watch Tom do some more shooting.

"I'll show you how to use it, too," promised the young inventor, and he was as good as his word, initiating Ned into the mysteries of the electric rifle, and showing him to store the charges of death- dealing electricity in the queer-looking stock.

For a week after that Tom and Ned practiced with the terrible gun, taking care not to have any more mishaps like the one that had marked the first night. They were both good shots with ordinary weapons and it was not long before they had equaled their record with the new instrument.

It was one warm afternoon, when Tom was out in the meadow at one side of his house, practicing with his rifle on some big boxes he had set up for targets, that he saw an elderly man standing close to the fence watching him. When Tom blew to pieces a particularly large packing-case, standing a long distance away from it, the stranger called to the youth.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but is that a dynamite gun you are using?"

"No, it's an electric rifle," was the answer.

"Would you mind telling me something about it?" went on the elderly man, and as Tom's weapon was now fully protected by patents, the young inventor cordially invited the stranger to come nearer and see how it worked.

"That's the greatest thing I ever saw!" exclaimed the man enthusiastically when Tom had blown up another box, and had told of the illumination for night firing. "The most wonderful weapon I ever heard of! What a gun it would be in my business."

"What is your trade?" asked Tom curiously, for he had noted that the man, while aged, was rugged and hearty, and his skin was tanned a leathery brown, showing that he was much in the open air.

"I'm a hunter," was the reply, "a hunter of big game, principally elephants, hippos and rhinoceroses. I've just finished a season in Africa, and I'm going back there again soon. I came on to New York to get a new elephant gun. I've got a sister living over in Waterford, and I've been visiting her. I went out for a stroll to- day, and I came farther than I intended. That's how I happened to be passing here."

"A sister in Waterford, eh?" mused Tom, wondering whether the elephant hunter had met Mr. Damon. "And how soon are you going hack to Africa, Mr.--er--" and Tom hesitated.

"Durban is my name, Alexander Durban," said the old man. "Why, I am to start back in a few weeks. I've got an order for a pair of big elephant tusks--the largest I can get for a wealthy New York man,-- and I'm anxious to fulfil the contract. The game isn't what it once was. There's more competition and the elephants are scarcer. So I've got to hustle."

"I got me a new gun. but my! it's nothing to what yours is. With that weapon I could do about as I pleased. I could do night hunting, which is hard in the African jungle. Then I wouldn't have any trouble getting the big tusks I'm after. I could get a pair of them, and live easy the rest of my life. Yes, I wouldn't ask anything better than a gun like yours. But I s'pose they cost like the mischief?" He looked a question at Tom.

"This is the only one there is," was the lad's answer. "But I am very glad to have met you, Mr. Durban. Won't you come into the house? I'm sure my father will be glad to see you, and I have something I'd like to talk to you about," and Tom, with many wild ideas in his head, led the old elephant hunter toward the house.

The dream of the young inventor might come true after all.