Chapter XVI. Trouble at the Bank

Coming in rather late from his trip to Mansburg, and thinking of some things he and Miss Nestor had talked about, Tom was rather surprised, on reaching the house, to see a light in his father's particular room, where the aged inventor did his reading and his planning of new devices.

"Dad's up rather late," said Tom to himself. "I wonder if he's studying over some new machine."

The lad ran his auto into the temporary garage he had built for it, and connected the wires of a burglar alarm he had arranged, to give warning in case any of his enemies should seek to damage the car.

Tom encountered Garret Jackson, the aged inventor who was going his rounds, seeing that everything was all right about the various shops.

"Anybody with my father, Garret?" asked the lad. "I see he's still up."

"Yes," was the rather unexpected reply. "Mr. Damon is with him. They've been in your father's room all the evening--ever since you went away in the car."

"Anything the matter?" inquired the young inventor, a bit anxious, as he thought of the Happy Harry gang.

"Well, I don't know," and the engineer seemed puzzled. "They called me in once to know if everything was all right outside, and to inquire if you were back. I saw, then, that they were busy figuring over something, but I didn't take much notice. Only I heard Mr. Damon say: 'There's going to be trouble if we can't realize on those bonds,' and then I came away."

"Is that all he said?" asked Tom.

"No, he said 'Bless my buttons,' or something like that; but he blesses so many things I didn't pay much attention."

"That's right," agreed the lad. "But I wonder what the trouble is about? I must go see."

As he passed along the hall, out of which his father's combined study and library opened, the aged inventor came to the door.

"Is that you, Tom?" he asked.

"Yes, Dad."

"Come in here, if you haven't anything else to do. Mr. Damon is here."

Tom needed but a single glance at the faces of his father and Mr. Damon to see that something was troubling the two. The table in front of them was littered with papers covered with rows of figures.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom.

"Well, I suppose I ought not to let it bother me, but it does," replied his father.

"Something wrong with your patents, Dad? Has the crowd of bad men been bothering you again?"

"No, it isn't that. It's trouble at the bank, Tom."

"Has it been robbed again?" asked the lad quickly. "If it has I can prove an alibi," and he smiled at the recollection of the time he and Mr. Damon had been accused of looting the vault, as told in "Tom Swift and His Airship."

"No, it hasn't been robbed in just that way," put in Mr. Damon. "But, bless my shoe laces, it's almost as bad! You see, Tom, since Mr. Foger started the new bank he's done his best to cripple the one in which your father and I are interested. I may say we are very vitally interested in it, for, since the withdrawal of Foger and his associates, your father and I have been elected directors."

"I didn't know that," remarked the lad.

"No, I didn't tell you, because you were so busy on your electric car," rejoined Mr. Swift. "But Mr. Damon and I, being both large depositors, were asked to assume office, and, as I was not very busy on patent affairs, I consented."

"But what is the trouble?" inquired Tom.

"I'm coming to it," resumed Mr. Damon. "Bless my check book, I'm coming to it! You see we have lost several good customers, by reason of Foger opening the new bank. That wouldn't have mattered so much, as between your father and myself, and one or two others, we have enough capital to carry on the business of the bank. But there is a more serious matter. We hold a number of very good securities, but they are of a class hard to realize cash for, on short notice. In other words they are not active bonds, though they are issued by reliable concerns. Then, too, the bank has lost considerable money by not doing as much business as it formerly did. In short we don't know just what to do, Tom, and your father and I were discussing it, when you came in."

"Do you need more money?" asked Tom. "I have some, that is my share from the submarine treasure, and some I have allowed to accumulate as royalties from my patents. It's about ten thousand dollars, and you're welcome to it."

"Thank you, Tom," spoke his father. "We may use your cash, but we'll need a great deal more than that."

"But why?" asked the lad. "I don't understand. If you have good bonds, can't you dispose of them, and get the money?"

"We could, Tom, yes, if we had time," replied Mr. Damon. "But to throw the bonds on the market at short notice would mean that we would not get a good price for them. We would lose considerable."

"But why do it in a hurry?"

"Because there is need of hurry," responded Mr. Swift.

"That's it," joined in Mr. Damon. "We have to have cash in a hurry, Tom, to meet pressing demands, and we don't just see our way clear to get it. I am trying to raise it on some private securities I own, but I can't get an answer within several days. Meanwhile the bank may fail, because of lack of funds. Of course no one would lose anything, ultimately, as we could go into the hands of a receiver, and, eventually pay dollar for dollar. Your father and I, and some of the other directors, might lose a little, but the depositors would not. But your father and I don't like the idea of failing. It's something I've never done, and I'm too old to start in now, bless my cash ledger if I'm not!"

"And for the sake of my reputation in this community I don't want to see the bank close its doors," added Mr. Swift. "It would give Foger too good a chance to crow over us."

"And you need cash in a hurry," went on Tom. "How much?"

"Fifty thousand dollars at least," replied Mr. Damon.

"And if you don't get it?"

The eccentric man shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," remarked Mr. Swift musingly, "I don't see that we need worry you about it, Tom. Perhaps--"

Mr. Swift was interrupted by a ring at the front door. The three looked at each other. It was late for a caller, and Mrs. Baggert had gone to bed.

"I'll answer it," volunteered Tom. He switched on the electric light in the hall, and opened the door. He was confronted by Mr. Pendergast, the president of the bank.

"Is your father in?" asked Mr. Pendergast, and he seemed to be much agitated.

"Yes, he is," replied the lad. "Come this way, please."

"I want to see him on important business," went on the president, as he followed the young inventor. "I'm afraid I have bad news for him and Mr. Damon. Bad news, Tom, bad news," and the aged banker's voice trembled. Tom, with a chill of apprehension seeming to clutch his heart, threw open the library door.