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Martin Garrity Gets Even by Courtney Ryley Cooper and Leo F. Creagan

From American Magazine

The entrance of Martin Garrity, superintendent of the Blue Ribbon Division of the O.R.&T. Railroad, had been attended by all the niceties of such an occasion, when Martin, grand, handsome, and magnificent, arrived at his office for the day. True to form, he had cussed out the office boy, spoken in fatherly fashion to the trainmaster over the telephone about the lateness of No. 210, remarked to the stenographer that her last letter had looked like the exquisite tracks of a cow's hoof—and then he had read two telegrams. A moment later, white, a bit stooped, a little old in features, he had left the office, nor had he paused to note the grinning faces of those in his wake, those who had known hours before!

Home, and stumbling slightly as he mounted the steps of the veranda, he faced a person in screaming foulard and a red toque, Mrs. Jewel Garrity, just starting for the morning's assault upon the market. Wordlessly he poked forward the first of the telegrams as he pulled her within the hall and shut the door. And with bulging eyes Jewel read it aloud:

Chicago, April 30. GARRITY, Montgomery City:

Effective arrival successor J.P. Aldrich must dispense your valuable services. Kindly forward resignation by wire confirming this telegram.

W.W. WALKER, Vice-President &General Manager.

“And who is this Walker person?” Jewel asked, with a vindictive gasp. “'Tis me that never heard of him. Why should he sign hisself vice prisident and giniral manager when the whole world knows Mr. Barstow, bless his soul, is the——”

“Will ye listen?” Martin bellowed with sorrowful asperity. “Somethin's happened. And now:

GARRITY, Montgomery City.

Alabaster abound celebrity conglomerate commensurate constituency effective arrival successor. Meet me Planters Hotel St. Louis this P.M.
                     LEMUEL C. BARSTOW.”

And while Jewel gasped Martin went on:

“'Tis code it is, from Barstow. It says Walker's taken his place—and I'm out.”

Mouth drawn at the corners, hand trembling slightly, Jewel reached for the message and stared blankly at the railroad code. Then silently she turned and thumped up the stairs. In a moment she was down again; the screaming foulard had given place to a house dress; the red toque had been substituted by a shawl. But the lips were drawn no longer—a smile was on them, and a soft hand touched Martin's white cheek as she reached the door.

“'Tis me that's goin' to the cash-carry, Marty darlin',” came quietly. “I never liked that high-toned market annyhow. About—about that other, Marty, me bye, 'tis all right, it is, it is. We can always start over again.”

Over again! It had opened the doors of memory for Martin Garrity as, at the window, he stared after her with eyes that saw in the portly, middle-aged figure a picture of other days, when the world had centred about a fluttering honour flag, which flew above a tiny section house at a bit of a place called Glen Echo, when the rotund form of Jewel Garrity was slender and graceful, when Martin's freckled face was thinner and more engaging, and when——

Visions of the old days floated before him, days on the section with his crew of “snipes” back in the Honour Flag times. Memories returned to him, of blazing hours in the summer, when even the grease-lizards panted and died, when the heat rays curled in maddening serpent-like spirals before his glazed eyes.

And why? Why had he been willing to sacrifice, to work for wages pitiful indeed, compared to the emoluments of other lines of endeavour? Why had she, his Jewel, accepted the loneliness, the impoverishment of those younger days with light-heartedness? He never had thought of it before. Now, deposed, dethroned, defeated at the very pinnacle of his life, the answer came, with a force that brought a lump to his throat and a tear to his eyes. Why? Because they had loved this great, human, glistening thing of shining steel and thundering noise, loved it because the Blue Ribbon division had included the Blue Ribbon section, their section, which they had built together.

Now, all they had worked for, lived for, longed for, and enjoyed together had been taken away, without warning, without reason, and given to another! Martin groaned with the thought of it. Three hours later he kissed his Jewel good-bye, roaring at her because a tear stood in each eye—to cover the fact that tears were in his own. That night, still grim, still white, he faced Lemuel C. Barstow, former vice-president and general manager of the O.R.&T. in his hotel room in St. Louis. That person spoke with biting directness.

“Politics, Martin,” came his announcement. “They shelved me because I wouldn't play the tricks of a clique that got into power before I could stop 'em. You were my pet appointee, so you went, too. It wasn't because we weren't efficient. They lifted the pin on me, and that meant you. So here we are. But”—and a fist banged on the table—“they're going to pay for it! This new crowd knows as much about railroading as a baby does about chess. I tried to tell that to the men with the money. They wouldn't listen. So I went to men who could hear, the Ozark Central. I'm to be the new president of that road.”

“That wooden axle outfit?” Martin squinted. “Sure, Mr. Barstow, I'm not knockin' the new deal, or——”

“Never mind that.” Lemuel C. Barstow smiled genially. “That's where your part of the job comes in. That's why I need you. But we'll let that go for the present. Go back to Montgomery City, turn over the reins to this new fish, who doesn't know an air brake from a boiler tube, and keep quiet until I send for you.”

Then ensued two weeks of nothing to do but wait. Nothing to do but to pace the floor like some belligerent, red-faced caged animal, daring his Jewel to feel hurt because sneering remarks had been made about her husband's downfall. Two weeks—then came the summons.

“Careful now, Martin! No wild throws, remember!” Lemuel Barstow was giving the final instructions. “We've got a big job ahead. I've brought you down here because you have the faculty of making men think they hate you—then going out and working their heads off for you, because well, to be frank, you're the biggest, blunderingest, hardest-working blusterer that I ever saw—and you're the only man who can pull me through. This road's in rotten shape, especially as concerns the roadbed. The steel and ties are all right, but the ballast is rotten. You've got to make it the best in Missouri, and you've got only eight months to do it in. So tear loose. Your job's that of special superintendent, with no strings on it. Pay no attention to any one but me. If you need equipment, buy it and tell the purchasing agent to go to the hot place. By March 1st, and no later, I want the track from St. Louis to Kansas City to be as smooth as a ballroom floor.”

“And why the rush?”

“Just this: The O.R.&T. treated me like a dirty dog. I'm going to make 'em pay for it; I'm after my pound of flesh now! There's just one thing that road prizes above all else—it's St. Louis-Kansas City mail contracts. The award comes up again in March. The system that can make the fastest time in the government speed trials gets the plum. Understand?”

“I do!” answered Martin, with the first real enthusiasm he had known in weeks. “'Tis me budget I'll be fixin' up immejiate at once. Ye'll get action, ye will.” He departed for a frenzied month. Then he returned at the request of President Barstow.

“You're doing wonderful work, Martin,” said that official. “It's coming along splendidly. But—but——I understand there's a bit of a laugh going around among the railroad men about you.”

“About me?” Garrity's chest bulged aggressively. “An' who's laughin?”

“Nearly everybody in the railroad game in Missouri. They say you let some slick salesman sting you for a full set of Rocky Mountain snow-fighting machinery, even up to a rotary snow plough. I——”

“Sting me?” Martin bellowed the words. “That I did not!”

“Good! I knew——”

“I ordered it of me own free will. And if annybody laughs——”

“But, Martin”—and there was pathos in the voice—“a rotary snow plough? On a Missouri railroad? Flangers, jull-ploughs, wedge ploughs—tunnel wideners—and a rotary? Here? Why—I—I thought better of you than that. We haven't had a snow in Missouri that would require all of those things, not in the last ten years. What did they cost?”

“Eighty-three thousand, fi'hunnerd an' ten dollars,” answered Martin gloomily. He had pulled a boner. Mr. Barstow figured on a sheet of paper.

“At three dollars a day, that would hire nearly a thousand track labourers for thirty days. A thousand men could tamp a lot of ballast in a month, Martin.”

“That they could, sir,” came dolefully. Then Garrity, the old lump in his throat, waited to be excused, and backed from the office. That rotary snow plough had been his own, his pet idea—and it had been wrong!

Gloomily he returned to Northport, his headquarters, there to observe a group of grinning railroad men gathered about a great, bulky object parked in front of the roundhouse. Behind it were other contraptions of shining steel, all of which Martin recognized without a second glance—his snow-fighting equipment, just arrived. Nor did he approach for a closer view. Faintly he heard jeering remarks from the crowd; then laughter. He caught the mention of his own name, coupled with derisive comment. His hands clenched. His red neck bulged. His big lungs filled—then slowly deflated; and Martin went slowly homeward, in silence.

“And is it your liver?” asked Jewel Garrity as they sat at dinner.

“It is not!” bawled Martin. He rose. He pulled his napkin from his chin with Garrity emphasis and dropped it in the gravy. He thumped about the table, then stopped.

One big freckled paw reached uncertainly outward and plunked with intended gentleness upon the woman's shoulder, to rest, trembling there, a second. Then silently Martin went on upstairs. For that touch had told her that it was—his heart!

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.

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:


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.


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!

He turned to the telephone and gave his orders. Then up the stairs he clambered and into his clothes. Jewel snorted and awoke.

“Goo'by!” roared Martin as he climbed into his coat. “They've sent for me to open the Blue Ribbon.”

“And have they?” Jewel sat up, her eyes beaming. “I'd been wishin' it—and ye'll do it, Marty; I've been thinkin' about the old section snowed under—and all the folks we knew——”

“Will ye shut up?” This was something Martin did not want to hear. Out of the house he plumped, to the waiting double-header of locomotives attached to the rotary, and the other engines, parked on the switches, with their wedge ploughs, jull-ploughs, flangers, and tunnel wideners. The “high-ball” sounded. At daybreak, boring his way through the snow-clogged transfer at Missouri City, Martin came out upon the main line of the O.R. &T.—and to his duty of revenge.

On they went, a slow, deliberate journey, steam hissing, black smoke curling, whistles tooting, wheels crunching, as the rotary bucked the bigger drifts and the smaller ploughs eliminated the slighter raises, a triumphant procession toward that thing which Martin knew he could attack with all the seeming ferocity of desperation and yet fail—the fifty-foot thickness of Bander Cut.

Face to face, in the gaunt sun of early morning he saw it—a little shack, half covered with snow, bleak and forbidding in its loneliness, yet all in all to the man who stared at it with eyes suddenly wistful—his little old section house, where once the honour flag had flown.

He gulped. Suddenly his hand tugged at the bell cord. Voices had come from without, they were calling his name! He sought the door, then gulped again. The steps and platform of his car were filled with eager, homely-faced men, men he had known in other days, his old crew of section “snipes.”

All about him they crowded; Martin heard his voice answering their queries, as though someone were talking far away. His eyes had turned back to that section house, seeking instinctively the old flag, his flag. It spoke for a man who gave the best that was in him, who surpassed because he worked with his heart and with his soul in the every task before him. But the flag was not there. The pace had not been maintained. Then the louder tones of a straw boss called him back:

“You'll sure need that big screw and all the rest of them babies, Garrity. That ole Bander Cut's full to the sky—and Sni-a-bend Hill! Good-night! But you'll make 'er. You've got to, Garrity; we've made up a purse an' bet it down in Montgomery that you'll make 'er!”

Martin went within and the crew waited for a high-ball order that did not come. In his private car, alone, Martin Garrity was pacing the floor. The call of the old division, which he had loved and built, was upon him, swaying him with all the force of memory.

“I guess we could sell the flivver——” he was repeating. “Then I've got me diamond ... and Jewel ... she's got a bit, besides what we've saved bechune us. And he'll win the test, anyhow ... they'll never beat him over this division ... if I give him back what I've earned ... and if he wins anyhow———”

Up ahead they still waited. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. At last a figure appeared in the cab of the big rotary, looking for a last time at that bleak little section house and the bare flagpole. Then:

“Start 'er up and give 'er hell!”

Martin was on the job once more, while outside his old section snipes cheered, and reminded him that their hopes and dreams for a division still beloved in spite of a downfall rested upon his shoulders. The whistles screamed. The bells clanged. Smoke poured from the stacks of the double-header, and the freshening sun, a short time later, glinted upon the white-splotched equipment, as the great auger followed by its lesser allies, bored into the mass of snow at Bander Cut.

Hours of backing and filling, of retreats and attacks, hours in which there came, time after time, the opportunity to quit. But Martin did not give the word. Out the other side they came, the steam shooting high, and on toward the next obstacle, the first of forty, lesser and greater, which lay between them and Montgomery City.

Afternoon ... night. Still the crunching, whining roar of the rotary as it struck the icy stretches fought against them in vain, then retreated until pick and bar and dynamite could break the way for its further attack. Midnight, and one by one the exhausted crew approached the white-faced, grim-lipped man who stood tense and determined in the rotary cab. One by one they asked the same question:

“Hadn't we better tie up for the night?”

“Goon! D'ye hear me? Goon! What is it ye are, annyhow, a bunch of white-livered cowards that ye can't work without rest?”

The old, dynamic, bulldozing force, the force that had made men hate Martin Garrity only to love him, had returned into its full power, the force that had built him from a section snipe to the exalted possessor of the blue pennon which once had fluttered from that flagpole, was again on the throne, fighting onward to the conclusion of a purpose, no matter what it might wreck for him personally, no matter what the cost might be to him in the days to come. He was on his last job—he knew that. The mail contract might be won a thousand times over, but there ever would rest the stigma that he had received a telegram which should have been plain to him, and that he had failed to carry out its hidden orders. But with the thought of it Martin straightened, and he roared anew the message which carried tired, aching men through the night:

“Go on! Go on! What's stoppin' ye? Are ye going to let these milk-an'-water fellys over here say that ye tried and quit?”

Early morning—and there came Sni-a-bend Hill, with the snow packed against it in a new plane which obliterated the railroad as though it had never been there. Hot coffee came from the containers, sandwiches from the baskets, and the men ate and drank as they worked—all but Garrity. This was the final battle, and with it came his battle cry:

“Keep goin'! This is the tough one—we've got to go on—we've got to go on!”

And on they went. The streaking rays of dawn played for a moment upon an untroubled mound of white, smooth and deep upon the eastern end of Sni-a-bend. Then, as though from some great internal upheaval, the mass began to tremble. Great heaps of snow broke from their place and tumbled down the embankment. From farther at the rear, steam, augmented by the vapours of melting snow and the far-blown gushes of spitting smoke, hissed upward toward the heights of the white-clad hill. Then a bulging break—the roar of machinery, and a monster came grinding forth, forcing its way hungrily onward, toward the next and smaller contest. Within the giant auger a man turned to Garrity.

“Guess it's over, Boss. They said up at Glen Echo—”

A silent nod. Then Garrity turned, and reaching into the telegram-blank holder at the side of the cab, brought forth paper and an envelope. Long he wrote as the rotary clattered along, devouring the smaller drifts in steady succession, a letter of the soul, a letter which told of an effort that had failed, of a decision that could not hold. And it told, too, of the return of all that Martin had worked for—Mr. Barstow had been good to him, and he, Martin Garrity, could not take his money and disobey him. He'd pay him back.

Whistles sounded, shrieking in answer to the tooting of others from far away, the wild eerie ones of yard engines, the deeper, throatier tones of factories. It was the end. Montgomery City!

Slowly Martin addressed the envelope, and as the big bore came to a stop, evaded the thronging crowds and sought the railroad mail box. He raised the letter....

“Mr. Garrity!” He turned. The day agent was running toward him. “Mr. Garrity, Mr. Barstow wants to see you. He's here—in the station. He came to see the finish.”

So the execution must be a personal one! The letter was crunched into a pocket. Dimly, soddenly, Martin followed the agent. As through a haze he saw the figure of Barstow, and felt that person tug at his sleeve.

“Come over here, where we can talk in private!” There was a queer ring in the voice and Martin obeyed. Then—“Shake, Old Kid!”

Martin knew that a hand was clasping his. But why?

“You made it! I knew you would. Didn't I tell you we'd get our pound of flesh?”

“But—but the contract——”

“To thunder with the contract!” came the happy answer of Barstow. “If you had only answered the 'phone, you wouldn't be so much in the dark. What do I care about mail contracts now—with the best two lines in Missouri under my supervision? Don't you understand? This was the hole that I had prayed for this O.R. &T. bunch to get into from the first minute I saw that snow. They would have been tied up for a week longer—if it hadn't been for us. Can't you see? It was the argument I needed—that politics isn't what counts—it's brains and doing things! Now do you understand? Well”—and Barstow stood off and laughed—“if I have to diagram things for you, the money interests behind the O.R. & T. have seen the light. I'll admit it took about three hours of telephoning to New York to cause the illumination; but they've seen it, and that's enough. They also have agreed to buy the Ozark Central and to merge the two. Further, they have realized that the only possible president of the new lines is a man with brains like, for instance, Lemuel C. Barstow, who has working directly with him a general superintendent—and don't overlook that general part—a general superintendent named Martin Garrity!”