But Martin had only one remark to make, that it still was snowing. Noon of the third day came, and the Ozark Central became the detour route of every cross-Missouri mail train. Night, and Martin Garrity, snow-crusted, his face cut and cracked by the bite of wind and the sting of splintered, wind-driven ice, his head aching from loss of sleep, but his heart thumping with happiness, took on the serious business of moving every St. Louis-Kansas City passenger and express train, blinked vacuously when someone called him a wizard.
Railroad officials gave him cigars, and slapped him on his snow-caked shoulders. He cussed them out of the way. The telephone at Northport clanged and sang with calls from President Barstow; but Martin only waved a hand in answer as he ground through with the rotary.
“Tell him to send me tilegrams!” he blustered. “Don’t he know I’m busy?”
Twelve hours more. The snow ceased. The wind died. Ten miles out of Kansas City Martin gave the homeward-bound order for Northport, then slumped weakly into a corner. Five minutes before he had heard the news—news that hurt. The O.R.& T., fighting with every available man it could summon, had partially opened its line, with the exception of one division, hopelessly snowed under—his old, his beloved Blue Ribbon.
“Tis me that would have kept ’er open,” he mused bitterly. “And they fired me!”
He nodded and slept. He awoke—and he said the same thing again. He reached Northport, late at night, to roar at Jewel and the hot water she had heated for his frost-bitten feet—then to hug her with an embrace that she had not known since the days when her Marty wore a red undershirt.
“And do ye be hearin?” she asked. “The Blue Ribbon’s tied up! Not a wheel——”
“Will ye shut up?” Martin suddenly had remembered something. The mail test! Not forty-eight hours away! He blinked. One big hand smacked into the other. “The pound of flesh!” he bellowed. “Be gar! The pound of flesh!”
“And what are ye talkin’ ——”
“Woman, shut up,” said Martin Garrity. “‘Tis me that’s goin’ to bed. See that I’m not disturbed. Not even for Mr. Barstow.”
“That I will,” said Jewel—but that she didn’t. It was Martin himself who answered the pounding on the door four hours later, then, in the frigid dining room, stared at the message which the chief dispatcher had handed him:
GARRITY, NORTHPORT: If line is free of snow assemble all snow-fighting equipment and necessary locomotives to handle same, delivering same fully equipped and manned with your own force to Blue Ribbon Division O.R. & T. Accompany this equipment personally to carry out instructions as I would like to have them carried out. Everything depends on your success or failure to open this line.
LEMUEL C. BARSTOW.
So! He was to make the effort; but if he failed that mail contract came automatically to the one road free to make the test, the Ozark Central! That was what Barstow meant! Make the effort, appear to fight with every weapon, that the O.R. & T. might have no claim in the future of unfairness but to fail! Let it be so! The O.R. & T. had broken his heart. Now, at last, his turn had come!