A heart that ached with a throbbing sorrow which could not be downed as the summer passed and Martin heard again and again the reflexes brought about by the purchase of his snow ploughs. Vainly he stormed up and down the line of the Ozark Central with its thousands of labourers. Vainly he busied himself with a thousand intricacies of construction, in the hope of forgetfulness. None of it could take from his mind the fact that railroad men were laughing at him, that chuckling train-butchers were pointing out the giant machinery to grinning passengers, that even the railroad journals were printing funny quips about Barstow’s prize superintendent and his mountain snow plough. Nor could even the news that Aldrich, over on the Blue Ribbon division, was allowing that once proud bit of rail to degenerate into an ordinary portion of a railroad bring even a passing cheer. They, too, were laughing! In a last doglike hope Martin looked up the precipitation reports. It only brought more gloom. Only four times in thirty years had there been a snowfall in Missouri that could block a railroad!
The summer crept into autumn; autumn to early winter, bringing with it the transformation of the rickety old Ozark Central to a smooth, well-cushioned line of gleaming steel, where the trains shot to and fro with hardly a tremor, where the hollow thunder of culvert and trestle spoke of sturdy strength, where the trackwalker searched in vain for loose plates or jutting joints; but to Garrity, it was only the fulfilment or the work of a mechanical second nature. December was gliding by in warmth and sunshine. January came, with no more than a hatful of snow, and once more Martin found himself facing the president.
“We’ll win that contract, Martin!” It almost brought a smile to the superintendent’s face. “I’ve just been over the road—on the quiet. We made eighty miles an hour with hardly a jolt!”
“Thankee, sir.” A vague sense of joy touched Martin’s aching heart—only to depart.
“By the way, I noticed when I went through Northport that you’ve still got that rotary where everybody can see it. I wish you’d move that stuff—behind the roundhouse, out of sight.”
Then Martin, heavier at heart than ever, went back to Northport. There he said a quaking good-bye to his last hope—and executed the president’s orders, trying not to notice the grins of the “goat” crew as they shunted the machinery into hiding. That night, after Jewel was asleep, and the cat outside had ceased yowling, Martin climbed stealthily out of bed and went on his knees, praying with all the fervour of his big being for snow. And the prayer was answered——
By the worst rain that a Missouri January had known in years, scattering the freshly tamped gravel, loosening the piles of trestles, sending Martin forth once more to bawl his orders with the thunder of the old days back at Glen Echo, even to leap side by side with the track labourers, a tamping bar in his big hands, that one more blow might be struck, one more impression made upon the giant task ahead.