Chapter XX. The Government Accepts
 

"Whew! Let me sit down somewhere and get my breath!" gasped Tom, when it was all over.

"I should think you would want a bit of quiet," replied Ned. "You've been on the jump since early morning."

"Bless my dining-room table!" cried Mr. Damon. "I should say so! I'll go tell the cook to get us all a good meal--we need it," for a competent cook had been installed in the old farmhouse where Tom and his party had their headquarters.

"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.

"He sure did," declared the foreman. "No one else could have done it, either."

"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."

"How was that?" asked Mr. Damon.

"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."

"I should say you did take a chance!" declared Ned, who knew how "freaky" the high explosive was, and how likely it was, at times, to be set off by the least concussion.

"But it came out all right," went on Tom. "I bundled it into the other seat of my Humming Bird, and started back."

"Had most of the folks left town?" asked the foreman.

"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."

"Well, they don't need to be scared any more," put in Mr. Damon "You saved their homes for them, Tom."

"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."

But the giant cannon was as perfect as the day it was turned out of the shop. Not even the extra charge of the powerful explosive had injured 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 great gun was covered with tarpaulins to protect it from the weather, and then all retired to the house for a bountiful meal. Late that afternoon nearly all signs of the flood had disappeared, save that along the edges of the creek was much driftwood, showing the height to which the creek had risen. But it would have gone much higher had it not been for Tom's timely shot.

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.

The following day some of the officers of the water company paid a visit to Tom, to thank him for what he had done. But for him they would have been responsible for great property damage, and loss of life might have followed.

They intended to rebuild the dam, they said, on a new principle, making it much stronger.

"And," said the president, "we will have an emergency outlet gate into that valley you so providentially opened for us, Mr. Swift. Then, in time of great rain, we can let the water out slowly as we need to."

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.

He ordered several new projectiles, some of a different type from those heretofore used, and leaving Koku and Ned in charge of the gun, went back to Shopton to superintend the manufacture of an additional supply of his explosive. He took care, too, that no spies gained access to it.

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.

At first he met with no success, and he learned, incidentally, that General Waller had built a new gun, the merits of which he was also anxious to show.

"It's a sort of rivalry between us," said Tom to Ned.

But, in a way, fortune favored our hero. For when General Waller tested his new gun, though it did not burst, it did not come up to expectations, and its range was not as great as some of the weapons already in use.

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.

"I wish the whole board had come," said Tom. "Probably they have only sent a young fellow, just out of West Point, who will turn me down.

"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."

Tom made his preparations carefully, and certainly Captain Waydell, the young officer who came to represent Uncle Sam, was impressed. Tom sent shell after shell, heavily charged, against the side of the mountain. Great holes and gashes were torn in the earth. The gun even exceeded the range of thirty miles. And the heaviest armor plate that could be procured was to the projectiles of the giant cannon like cheese to a revolver bullet.

"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.

He was as good as his word, and a week later the entire ordnance board, from the youngest member to the grave and grizzled veterans, were present to witness the test of Tom's giant cannon.

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.

"We shall certainly recommend your gun, Mr. Swift," declared the Chief of Staff. "It does just what we want it to do, and we have no doubt that Congress will appropriate the money for several with which to fortify the Panama Canal."

"The gun is most wonderful," spoke a voice with a German accent. "It is surprising!"

Tom and Ned both started. They saw an officer, evidently a foreigner, resplendent in gold trimmings, and with many medals, standing near the secretary of the ordnance board.

"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."

Tom bowed and shook hands. He glanced sharply at the German, but was sure he had never seen him before. Then all the board, and General von Brunderger, who, it appeared, was present as an invited guest, examined the big cannon critically, while Tom explained the various details.

When the board members left, the chief promised to let Tom know the result of the formal report as soon as possible.

The young inventor did not have long to wait. In about two weeks, during which time he and Ned perfected several little matters about the cannon, there came an official-looking document.

"Well, we'll soon know the verdict," spoke Tom, somewhat nervously, as he opened the envelope. Quickly he read the enclosure.

"What is it!" cried Ned.

"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!"