Chapter XXI. Off to the Big Race
 

From their task of handing out money to eager depositors, the wearied tellers looked up as Tom and Mr. Damon entered with the big valise crammed full of money. It was opened, and the bundles of bills turned out on a table.

"Perhaps you'd better make an announcement to the crowd, Mr. Pendergast," suggested Mr. Swift. "Tell them we now have cash enough to meet all demands, and that the bank will be kept open until every one is paid."

"I will," agreed the aged president. His announcement was received with cheers, and had exactly the effect the inventor hoped it would.

Many, learning that the bank was safe, and that they could have their money whenever they wanted it, concluded not to withdraw it, thus saving the interest. Scores in the waiting crowd turned out of line and went home. Their example was contagious, and, though many still remained to get their deposits, the run was broken. Only part of the sixty thousand dollars Tom and Mr. Damon had brought through after a race with time, was needed. But had it not been for the moral effect of the cash arriving as it did, the bank would have failed.

"You have a great car, Tom Swift," complimented Mr. Pendergast, when the excitement had somewhat cooled down, and the story of the hold-up had been told.

"I think so myself," agreed the young inventor modestly. "I must get ready for the races now."

"And as for those farmers, I think I'll send them a reward," went on the president. "They deserve something for the trouble they had with the load of hay. I certainly shall send them a reward," which he did, and a substantial one, too.

Of course the hold-up was at once reported to the police after the run had quieted down, but Chief Simonson surprised Tom by saying that he had expected it.

"The gang that held you up," said the police officer, "was one that escaped from a jail, about twenty miles away. I got a tip after you left, that they were going to rob you, for, in some way, they learned about the money you and Mr. Damon were to bring from the bank. The unfortunate part of it was that the tip I got was to the effect that the hold-up would take place just outside of Clayton. I telephoned to the police there, just after you left, and they said they'd send out a posse. But the gang changed their plans; and held you up near here, where I wasn't expecting it. But I'll get 'em yet."

Chief Simonson did not arrest the gang, but some other police officers did, and they were taken back to jail. They were not prosecuted for the attempted robbery of Tom, as it was considered difficult to fix the guilt on them, but they received such a long additional sentence for breaking jail, that it will be many years before they are released.

When Tom reached home that night he found some mail from the officials of the Touring Club of America. It was to the effect that arrangements for the big contest had been completed, and that contesting cars must be on the ground by September first.

"That gives me two weeks yet," thought our hero.

He read further of the regulations covering the race. Each car must proceed from the home town or city of the owner, and go to the track under its own power. This was a new regulation, it was stated, and was adopted to better develop the industry of building electric autos. Two passengers, or one in addition to the driver, must be carried, it was stated, and this one would also be expected to be in the car during the entire race.

Regarding the race proper it was stated that at first it had been decided to make it a twenty-four hour endurance contest, but that for certain reasons this was changed, as it was found that few storage batteries could go this length of time without a number of rechargings. Therefore the race was to be one for distance--five hundred miles, on the new Long Island track, and the car first covering that distance would win. Cars were allowed to change their batteries as often as they needed to, but all time lost would count against them. There were other rules and regulations of minor importance.

"Well," remarked Tom, as he read through the circulars, "I must get my car in shape. It will be quite a tip to Long Island, and I think my best plan will be to go direct to the cottage we had when we were building the submarine, and from there proceed to the track. That will comply with the rules, I think. But who will I get to go with me? I suppose Mr. Damon or Mr. Sharp will be willing. I'll ask them."

He broached the matter to his two friends that night, and they both agreed to go to Long Island in the car, though only Mr. Sharp would accompany Tom in the race. The next two weeks were busy ones for Tom. He worked night and day over his car, getting it in shape for the big event.

The young inventor made some changes in his battery, and also adopted a new gear, which would give greater speed. He also completed the exterior of the auto, giving it several coats of purple paint and varnish, so that when it was finished, though it was different in shape from most autos, it was as fine an appearing car as one could wish. He arranged to carry two extra wheels, with tires inflated, and, under the rear seats, or tonneau, as he called it, Tom fitted up a complete tire-repairing outfit. Mr. Sharp agreed to ride there, and in case there was need to use more than two spare wheels during the race, the rubber shoes or inner tubes could be mended while the car was swinging around the track.

Mr. Damon would ride in front with Tom on the cross-country trip, and occasionally relieve him at steering, or would help to manage the electrical connections. Spare fuses, extra parts, wires and different things he thought he might need, the young inventor stored in his car. He also found means to install a small additional storage battery, to give added power in case of emergency.

Tom learned from the racing officials that if he made a trip from Shopton to the cottage on the coast, near the city of Atlantis, and later traveled from there to the track, it would fulfill the conditions of the contest.

Finally all was in readiness, and one morning, having spent the better part of the night going over his machine, to see that he had forgotten nothing, Tom invited Mr. Damon and Mr. Sharp to enter, and prepare for the trip to Long Island.

"Well, Tom, I certainly hope you win that race," remarked Mrs. Baggert, as she stood in the doorway, waving a farewell.

"If I do I'll buy you a pair of diamond earrings to match the diamond ring I gave you from the money I got from the wreck," promised the lad with a laugh.

"An' ef yo' sees dat Andy Foger," added Eradicate Sampson, while he rubbed the long ears of Boomerang, his mule, "ef yo' sees him, jest run ober him once or twice fer mah sake, Mistah Swift."

"I'll do it for my own, too," agreed Tom.

The youth shook hands with his father, who wished him good luck, and then, after a final look at his car, he climbed to his seat, and turned on the power. There was a low hum from the motor and the electric started off. Would it return a winner or loser of the big race?