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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Brent shifted his seat noisily


he did so the two men sat as before. The rifle had already disappeared. The hand that had swept holster-ward had swept out again. Both faces were blankly unconcerned.

Brent dropped into a chair near the door and listened as the clatter inside increased. The rats scrambled about with a multiplicity of light gnawing sounds and the clicking of some trifles unstably balanced. Then slowly the clicking ceased to be random.

It differed from the other little noises only to the practiced ears of Brent himself. That was not because his ears were keener than the other pairs, but because to others there was no comprehensible connection between a faint tapping and the sequence of raps that spells words in the Morse code.

It was strange that from rats at play should issue the coherent sense of consecutive telegraphy.

Brent had been on the _qui-vive_, steadied against any self-betrayal, yet now he struggled against the impulse to tremble with excitement. His fingers gripping the chair arms threatened to betray him by their tautness and he could feel cold perspiration dripping down his body.

He crossed his legs and slouched more indolently into his chair in the attitude of a bored and vacant-minded man--but as he sat his brain was focussed on the clicking.

"Am tied . . . up . . . here,"

spelled out the dots and dashes from the baggage-room. "If you understand, scrape chair on floor." Brent shifted his seat noisily.

"She . . . is . . . caught. . . ." There was a pause there.

"In God's name, how is he doing it?" Brent questioned himself, while inside, bound to his chair, with cuffed wrists, Halloway went on sending--rapping with a pipe stem between parted rows of strong teeth.

"She is held . . . in mine-shaft . . . back of Gap. . . ."

The pressure of concentrating on that faint, but infinitely important sound, and the need of maintaining a semblance of weary dullness was trying Brent's soul. He thanked Heaven for the taciturnity of his companions.

"Get there . . . with all men possible . . . as for me----"

Brent came suddenly and noisily to his feet for just then the operator appeared in the doorway and it would not do for these sounds to continue after his coming.

"Well, here comes the man I've been waiting for," he announced loudly, and once more the clatter in the baggage-room became the random of rats at play. "I wanted to ask you if you had any message for William Brent, from a man named Halloway," he inquired, still speaking as if against the wind, and, receiving a brief negative, he turned toward the outer door.

An exit under such circumstances is always difficult. To curb the urge of haste, to remain casual under lynx-like eyes, these are not untrying tasks. Any slip now and he might be in the same durance as Halloway himself--and when he breathed the outer air it was with a deep-drawn sigh of relief for delivery out of peril.

When he had established connection with O'Keefe and had given him the main facts, withholding, however, his sources of information, he said: "We must get Halloway free before we start."

"Like hell we must!" exploded Jerry. "So long es he lays thar they'll figger they've done fooled us an' beat us. Ef we take him out, thar'll be men in ther la'rel all the way we've got ter go, pickin' us off in ther dark."

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