January slid by; February went into the third week before the job was finished. Martin looked at the sky with hopeful eyes. It was useless. March the first—and Martin went into St. Louis to make his report, and to spend an uneasy, restless night with the president in his room at the hotel.
“It’s only a few days off now”—they were in bed the next morning, finishing the conversation begun the night before—“and I want you to keep your eyes open every second! The mail marathon agreement reads that no postponement can be made on account of physical or mechanical obstacles. If a trestle should happen to go out—that would be our finish.”
“I wish”—Martin rolled out of bed and groped for his shoes—“we’d been workin’ with me old Blue Ribbon division. I know every foot o’ ——”
“Oh, chase the Blue Ribbon division! Every time I see you you’ve got something on your chest about it. Why, man, don’t you know it’s the Blue Ribbon division that I’m counting on! Aldrich has let it run down until it’s worse than a hog trail. If they can make forty-five an hour on it, I’m crazy. You can’t win mail contracts with that. So forget it. Anyhow, you’re working for the Ozark Central now.”
Martin nodded, then for a long moment crouched silent humiliated, his thick fingers fumbling with the laces of his shoes. At last, with a sigh, he poked his shirt into his trousers and thumped across the room to raise the drawn shades.
He stared. He gulped. He yelped—with an exclamation of joy, of deliverance, of victory! The outside world was white! A blinding, swirling veil shrouded even the next building. The street below was like a stricken thing; the vague forms of the cars seemed to no more than crawl. Wildly Martin pawed for the telephone and bawled a number. Barstow sat up in bed.
“Snow!” he gasped. “A blizzard!”
“Order the snow ploughs!” Garrity had got the chief dispatcher, and was bawling louder than ever. “All of thim! Put an injine on each and keep thim movin’! Run that rotary till the wheels drop off!”
Then he whirled, grasping wildly at coat, hat, and overcoat.
“And now will ye laugh?” he roared, as he backed to the door. “Now will ye laugh at me snow plough?”
Twenty-four hours later, when trains were limping into terminals hours behind time, when call after call was going forth to summon aid for the stricken systems of Missouri, when double-headers, frost-caked wheels churning uselessly, bucked the drifts in a constantly losing battle; when cattle trains were being cut from the schedules, and every wire was loaded with the messages of frantic officials, someone happened to wonder what that big boob Garrity was doing with his snow ploughs. The answer was curt and sharp—there on the announcement board of the Union Station: