Chapter XVII. A Run on the Bank
 

"Why, Mr. Pendergast!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, rising quickly as Tom ushered in the aged president. "Whatever is the matter? You here at this hour? Bless my trial balance! Is anything wrong?

"I'm afraid there is," answered the bank head. "I have just received word which made it necessary for me to see you both at once. I'm glad you're here, Mr. Damon."

He sank wearily into a chair which Tom placed for him, and Mr. Swift asked:

"Have you been able to raise any cash, Mr. Pendergast?"

"No, I am sorry to say I have not, but I did not come here to tell you that. I have bad news for you. As soon as we open our doors in the morning, there will be a run on the bank." "A run on the bank?" repeated Mr. Swift.

"The moment we begin business in the morning," went on Mr. Pendergast.

"Bless my soul, then don't begin business!" cried Mr. Damon.

"We must," insisted Mr. Pendergast. "To keep the doors closed would be a confession at once that we have failed. No, it is better to open them, and stand the run as long as we can. When we have exhausted our cash--" he paused.

"Well?" asked Mr. Damon.

"Then we'll fail--that's all."

"But we mustn't let the bank fail!" cried Mr. Swift. "I am willing to put some of my personal fortune into the bank capital in order to save it. So is my son here."

"That's right," chimed in Tom heartily. "All I've got. I'm not going to let Andy Foger get ahead of us; nor his father either."

"I'll help to the limit of my ability," added Mr. Damon.

"I appreciate all that," continued the president. "But the unfortunate part of it is that we need cash. You gentlemen, like myself, probably, have your money tied up in stocks and bonds. It is hard to get cash quickly, and we must have cash as soon as we open in the morning, to pay the depositors who will come flocking to the doors. We must prepare for a run on the bank."

"How do you know there will be a run?" asked the young inventor.

"I received word this evening, just before I came here," replied Mr. Pendergast. "A poor widow, who has a small amount in the bank, called on me and said she had been advised to withdraw all her cash. She said she preferred to see me about it first, as she did not like to lose her interest. She said a number of her acquaintances, some of whom are quite heavy depositors, had also been warned that the bank was unsound, and that they ought to take out their savings and deposits at once."

"Did she say who had thus warned her?" inquired Mr. Swift.

"She did," was the reply, "and that shows me that there is a conspiracy on foot to ruin our bank. She stated that Mr. Foger had told her our institution was unsound."

"Mr. Foger!" cried Mr. Damon. "So this is one of his tricks to bolster up his new bank! He hopes the people who withdraw their money from our bank will deposit with him. I see his game. He's a scoundrel, and if it's possible I'm going to sue him for damages after this thing is over."

"Did he warn the others?" inquired the aged inventor.

"Not all of them," answered the president. "Some received letters from a man signing himself Addison Berg, warning them that our bank, was likely to fail any day."

"Addison Berg!" exclaimed Tom. "That must have been the important business he had with Mr. Foger, the day I showed him the watch charm! They were plotting the ruin of our bank then," and he told his father about his disastrous pursuit of the submarine agent.

"Very likely Foger is working with Berg," admitted Mr. Damon. "We will attend to them later. The question is, what can we do to save the bank?"

"Get cash, and plenty of it," advised Mr. Pendergast. "Suppose we go over the whole situation again?" and they fell to talking stocks: bonds, securities, mortgages and interest, until the youth, interested as he was in the situation, could follow it no longer.

"Better go to bed, Tom," advised his father. "You can't help us any, and we have many details to go over."

The lad reluctantly consented, and he was soon dreaming that he was in his electric auto, trying to pull up a thousand pound lump of gold from the bottom of the sea. He awoke to find the bedclothes in a lump on his chest, and, removing them, fell into a deep slumber.

When the young inventor awoke the next morning, Mrs. Baggert told him that his father and Mr. Damon had risen nearly an hour before, had partaken of a hearty breakfast, and departed.

"They told me to tell you they were at the bank," said the housekeeper.

"Did Mr. Pendergast stay all night?" inquired Tom.

"I heard some one go away about two o'clock this morning," replied the housekeeper. "I don't know who it was."

"They must have had a long session," thought Tom, as he began on his bacon, eggs and coffee. "I'll take a run down to the bank in my electric in a little while."

The car was still in rather crude shape, outwardly, but the mechanism was now almost perfect. Tom charged the batteries well before starting put.

The youth had no sooner come in sight of the old Shopton bank, to distinguish it from the Second National, which Mr. Foger had started, than he was aware that something unusual had occurred. There was quite a crowd about it, and more persons were constantly arriving to swell the throng.

"What's the matter?" asked Tom, of one of the few police officers of which Shopton boasted, though the lad did not need to be told.

"Run on the bank," was the brief answer. "It's failed."

Tom felt a pang of disappointment. Somehow, he had hoped that his father and his friends might have been able to stave off ruin. As he approached nearer Tom was made aware that the crowd was in an ugly mood.

"Why don't they open the doors and give us our money?" cried one excited woman. "It's ours! I worked hard for mine, an' now they want to keep it from us. I wish I'd put it in the new bank."

"Yes, that's the best place," added another. "That Mr. Foger has lots of money."

"I can see the hand of Andy's father, and that of Mr. Berg, at work here," thought Tom, "They have spread rumors of the bank's trouble, and hope to profit by it. I wish I could find a way to beat them at their own game."

As the minutes passed, and the bank was not opened, the ugly temper of the crowd increased. The few police could do nothing with the mob, and several, bolder than the rest, advocated battering down the doors. Some went up the steps and began to pound on the portals. Tom looked for a sight of his father or Mr. Damon, but could not see either.

It was not the regular hour for opening the bank, but when the police reminded the people of this they only laughed.

"I guess they ain't going to open anyhow!" shouted a man. "They've got our money, and they're going to keep it. What difference is an hour, anyway?"

"Yes, if they have the money, why don't they open, and not wait until ten o'clock?" cried another. "I've got a hundred and five dollars in there, and I want it!"

More excited persons were arriving every minute. The crowd surged this way, and that. Many looked anxiously at the clock in the tower of the town hall. The gilded hands pointed to a few minutes of ten. Would the bank open its doors when the hour boomed out? Many were anxiously asking this question.

Tom sat in his electric car, near the front of the bank. The interest of the crowd, which under ordinary circumstances would have been centered in the queer vehicle, was not drawn toward it. The people were all thinking of their money.

Suddenly one of the two doors of the bank slowly opened. There was a yell from the crowd, and a rush to get in. But the police managed to hold the leaders back, and then Tom saw that it was Ned Newton, who stood in the partly-opened portal. He held up his hand to indicate silence, and a hush fell over the mob.

"The bank is open for business," Ned announced, "but there must be no rush. The building is not large enough to accommodate you all. If you form a line, you will be admitted in turn. The bank hopes to pay you all."

"Hopes!" cried a woman scornfully. "We can't eat hopes, young man, nor yet pay the rent with it. Hopes indeed!"

But Ned had said all he cared to, and, with rather a white face, he went back inside. The one door remained open and, with a policeman on either side, a line of anxious depositors was slowly formed. Tom watched them crowding and surging forward, all eager to be first to get their cash out, lest there be not enough for all. As he watched, the young inventor was aware that some was signaling to him from the big window of the bank. He looked more closely and saw Ned Newton beckoning to him, and the young cashier was motioning Tom to go around to the rear, where a door of the bank opened on a small alley. Wondering what was wanted, Tom slowly ran his machine down the side street, and up the alley. No one paid any attention to him.

A porter admitted the lad, and he made his way to the private offices, where he knew his father and Mr. Damon would be. In the corridors he could hear the murmur of the throng and the chink of money, as the tellers paid it out.

"Well, Tom, this is bad business," remarked Mr. Swift, as he saw his son. The lad noticed that Mr. Damon was in the telephone booth.

"Yes, Dad," admitted Tom. "It's a run, all right. What are you going to do?"

"The best we can. Pay out all the cash we have, and hope that before that time, the people will come to their senses. The bank is all right if they would only wait. But I'm afraid they won't and, after we pay out all the cash we have, we'll have to close the doors. Then there's sure to be an unpleasant scene, and maybe some of the more hot-headed ones will advocate violence. We have given orders to the tellers to pay out as slowly as possible, so as to enable us to gain some time."

"And all you need is money; is that it, Dad?"

"That's it, Tom, but we have exhausted every possibility. Mr. Damon is trying a forlorn hope now, but, even if he is successful--"

Before Mr. Swift had ceased speaking, Mr. Damon fairly burst from the telephone booth. He was much excited.

"I've got it! I've got it!" he cried.

"What?" asked Mr. Swift and Tom in the same breath.

"The cash, or, what's just as good, the promise of it. I called up Mr. Chase, of the Clayton National Bank, and he has agreed to take the railroad securities I offered him as collateral, and let me have sixty thousand dollars on them! That will give us cash enough to weather the storm. Hurrah! We're all right now. Bless my check book!"

"The Clayton National Bank," remarked Mr. Swift, and his voice was hopeless. "It's forty miles away, Mr. Damon, and no railroad around here runs anywhere near it. No one could get there and back with the cash to-day, in time to save us from ruin. It's impossible! Our last chance is gone."

"How far did you say it was, Dad?" asked Tom quickly.

"Forty miles there, over forty, I guess, and not very good roads. We would need to have the cash here before three o'clock to be of any service to us. No, it's out of the question. The bank will have to fail!"

"No!" cried the young inventor, and his voice rang out through the room. "I'll get the cash for you!"

"How?" gasped Mr. Damon. "You can't get there and back in time?"

"Yes, I can!" cried Tom. "In my electric runabout! I can make it go a hundred miles an hour, if necessary! Probably I'll have to run slow over the bad roads; but I can do it! I know I can. I'll get the sixty thousand dollars for you!"

For a moment there was silence. Then Mr. Damon cried:

"Good! And I'll go with you and deliver the securities to Mr. Chase. Come on, Tom Swift! Bless my collar button, but maybe we can yet save the old bank after all!"