But Conniston did not hear him. Already he was running toward the wagons. And there was a light in his eyes which had not been there for many days. A little, youngish man, sandy of hair, with bird-like brightness of eye and the grin of a sanctified cherub, swung down from the seat of the foremost wagon, lifted his hand, thereby stopping the laboring procession, and came forward to meet Conniston.
“I want to talk with the superintendent,” he said, as the two men met. “Where is he?”
“I’m the superintendent. I’m Conniston. You want me?”
“All right, Mr. Conniston. I’m Jimmie Kent.”
He put out his hand, which was painfully small, but which gripped Conniston’s larger hand like a vise. “There are your five hundred men. Or, to be exact, five hundred and five. I started with five hundred and seven. Lost two on the road.”
“But,” interrupted Conniston, staring half incredulously at him, “Mr. Crawford’s telegram—”
Jimmie Kent laughed.
“Mr. Crawford kicked like a bay steer over that telegram. And in the end, when he wouldn’t put his name to a lie, I did the trick for him.”
“Simply, sir, because I am under contract to deliver five hundred men into your hands. Simply because the telegraph agent in Crawfordsville belongs body and soul, bread and butter, to our esteemed friend Mr. Oliver Swinnerton. Know Oliver personally? Capable man, charming host, but the very devil to buck when he has his back aloft! And they tell me that he is playing high this trip. It was just as well, don’t you think, that I sent that wire? Had Oliver known that this consignment of hands was coming, and when they were coming—well, I don’t know how he would have managed it, but one way or another he would have come mighty close to taking them off my hands. And now,” whipping a big, fat note-book from his pocket, “will you sign right there?”
Kent removed the cap from a gold-filigreed fountain-pen, handed it with a bit of paper and the note-book to Conniston, and pointed out where the signature was wanted. And Conniston set his name down under a statement acknowledging the receipt from James Kent of five hundred and five men, “in good and satisfactory shape.”
“Thank you, Mr. Conniston,” as he blotted and returned the document to his breast pocket. “Perhaps, however, you would have preferred to have counted before signing?”
“That’s all right. I’ll take your word for it. If there aren’t five hundred, there are as good as five hundred. And thank God, and you, Jimmie Kent, that they are here!”
“Need ’em pretty bad? Well, I’m glad I got ’em to you in time. And you might as well know how I did it. I unloaded my men at Littleton, two hundred miles east of here. And then I chartered a freight and sneaked ’em into Bolton at night. Got into Bolton last night, and came right out. I don’t believe,” with a genial grin, “that our friend Oliver knows a thing about it yet. I do believe that that wire to you at Crawfordsville has got him sidetracked.”