“No,” Conniston flared out, “you may not! I don’t know you, Mr. Swinnerton, and I don’t want to.”
Only a something akin to the hurt surprise of a child in voice and look alike as Swinnerton queried softly:
“No? Pray, why not? What have I done, Mr. Conniston?”
“You have proven yourself a scoundrel!” burst out Conniston, angrily. “A fair fight in the open is one thing. Such cowardly means as you take to gain your ends is another. And if you will turn your horses and drive back off of Crawford territory I’ll be glad to see the back of you.”
For a moment Swinnerton stared at him in stupefaction. And then he broke into a delighted giggle which drove the tears into his eyes. Jimmie Kent looked from one to the other, and then, whistling softly to himself and saying no word, rode on down the road.
“I don’t know what you are gurgling about,” Conniston said, shortly. “But if you will follow Mr. Kent and get off and stay off this land I shall be much obliged to you.”
Mr. Swinnerton wiped the tears from his eyes and gasped from the depths of his mirth:
“You’ll do, Conniston! He, he! Oh, you’ll certainly do!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” snapped Conniston. “But I tell you what I will do if you don’t get out of here. I’ll just naturally pitch you out!”
“I’d never have guessed it,” chuckled Swinnerton. “Never in the world. I’d never even have thought of such a thing. Conniston, it’s the bulliest scheme I ever heard of! How you managed it so easily—”
“Managed what?” Conniston’s curiosity, in spite of him, had for the moment the upper hand of his anger. “What do you mean?”
“Close-lipped, eh? Close-lipped to the end! That’s business—mighty good business, too. Oh, you’ll do.”
“Are you going to tell me what you mean? I tell you I haven’t any time to waste, and I want to see your back, and see it moving, too. If you have anything to say, say it quick.”
“That’s the stuff, Conniston. Close-lipped to the end. But,” and with a glance over his shoulder at Jimmie Kent, now out of hearing, and leaning a pudgy arm upon a pudgy knee as he smiled confidentially into Conniston’s frowning face, “ain’t it pretty close to the end now?”
“I give you my word, Swinnerton, that if you can’t tell me straight out what you are driving at, off of this land you go.”
The stern assurance of Conniston’s tone seemed to surprise Swinnerton.
“Come, come,” he said, rather sharply. “What’s the use of this shenanigan? Can’t I see through clear window-glass? Am I a fool? Oh, I didn’t guess, I didn’t know that such a man as you were alive; I didn’t so much as know your name until yesterday. But—know a man named Hapgood?” And his eyes twinkled again.
“Yes,” bluntly. “What about him?”
“Oh, nothing much. Only he told me about you. And now what he didn’t guess I know, Mr. William Conniston, Junior.”