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The STRENGTH By MARS Mi of the PINES Author of “The Voice of the Pack” SETTING THE TRAP SYNOPSIS—At the death of his foster father Bruce Duncan, in an eastern city, receives a mysterious message, sent by a Mrs. Ross, sum moning him peremptorily to south ern Oregon—to meet "Linda.” Bruce has vivid but baffling recol •?ctions of his childhood in an or phanage, before his adoption by Newton Duncan, with the girl Lin da. At his destination. Trail’s End, news that a message has been sent to Bruc*' gets to Simon Turner. Leaving tne train, Bruce Is aston ished at his apparent familiarity with the surroundings, though to his knowledge he has never been there. On the way Simon warns him to give up his quest and return East. Bruce refuses. Mrs. Ross, aged and Infirm, welcomes him with emotion. She hastens him on his way—the end of "Pine-Needle Trail.” Bruce finds his childhood playmate, Linda. The girl tells him of wrongs committed by an enemy clan, the Turners, on her family, the Rosses. Lands occupied by the clan were stolen from the Rosses, and the family, with the exception of Aunt Elmira (Mrs. Ross) and herself, wiped out by assassination. Bruce's father, Matthew Folger, was one of the victims. His mother had fled with Bruce and Linda. The girl, while small, had been kid naped from the orphanage and brought to the mountains. Linda's father had deeded his lands to Matthew Folger, but the agree ment. which would confute the enemy claims on the property, had been lost Bruce's mountain blood responds to the call of the blood feud. A giant tree, the Sentinel Pine, in front of Linda’s cabin, seems to Bruce's excited Imagina tion to be endeavoring to convey a message. Bruce sets <sit in search of a trapper named Hudson, a wit ness to the agreement between Lindr. s father and Matthew Fol ger. A gigantic grizzly, known as the Killer la the terror of the vi cinity. T>ave Turner, sent by Simon bribes Hudson to swear falsely concerning the agreement The Killer strikes down Hudson. Bruce, on his way to Hudson, wounds the Killer, driving him from his victim. Hudson, learning Bruce's identity, tries to tell him the hiding place of the agreement, but death summons him. CHAPTER XVl—Continued. Simon smiled mirthlessly. “The news Is beginning to sound like the rest of yours.’’ “Old Hudson is dead,” Dave went on. “And don’t look at me—l didn’t do it. 1 wish I had, though, first off. For once my Judgment was better than yours. The Killer got him.” “Yes. Go on.” “I was with him when It happened. My gun got Jammed so I couldn’t shoot.” “Where is it now?” Dave scrambled in vain for a story to explain the loss of his weapon to Bruce, and the one that came out at last didn’t do him particular credit. “I—l threw the d —n thing away. Wish I hadn’t now, but it made me so mad by Jamming—it was a fool trick. Maybe I can go back after it and find it.” Simon smiled again. “Very good so far,” he commented. Dave flushed. “Bruce was there, too—fact Is, creased the bear —and the last minute before he died Hudson told him where the agreement was hidden. I couldn’t hear all he said — I was too far away—but I heard enough to think that he told Bruce the hiding place.” “And why didn’t you get that infor mation away from Bruce with your gun?” "Didn’t I tell you the thing was jammed? If it hadn’t of been for that. I’d done something more than find out where it is. I’d stopped this non sense once and for all, and let a hole through that tenderfoot big enough to see through. Then there’d never be any more trouble. It’s the thing to do now." Simon looked at his brother’s face with some wonder. More crafty and cunning, Dave was like the coyote In that he didn’t yield so quickly to fury as that gray wolf, his brother. But when it did come, it scared him. It had come now. Simon couldn’t mis take the fact; lie saw it plain in the glowing eyes, the clenched hands, the drawn lips. Dave was remembering the pain of the blow Bruce had given him and the smart of the words that had preceded it. “You and be must have had a little session down there by the creek,” Simon suggest-xl slowly, “when your gun was Jamined. Os course, he took the gun. What’s the use of trying to lie to me?” “He did. What could I do?” “And now you want him potted— from ambush.” “What’s the use of waiting? Who’d know?” The two men stood face to face In the quiet and deepening dusk of the barn; and there was growing determination on each face. “Every day our chance is less and less,” Dave went on. “With this land behind him, he’d be In a position to pay old debts, I’m telling you. We should have met him on the trail and let the buzzards talk to him.” “Yes,” Simon echoed in a strange half-whisper. “Let the buzzards talk to him.” Dave took fresh heart at the sound of that voice. “No one w'ouid have ever knowed it,” he went on. “No one would ever know it now’. They’d find his bones, some time, maybe, but there’d be no one to point to. They’d never get anything against us. I tell you—it’s all the way, or no way at all. Tell me to wait for him on the trail.” “Wait. Wait a minute. How long before he will come?” “Any time now. And don’t postpone this matter any more. We’re men, not babies. He’s not a fool or a cow ard. either. And he’s a shot —I saw that plain enough—and how’d you like to have him shoot through your windows some time? Old Elmira and Linda have set him on, and he’s hot for it.” “I wish you’d got that old heifer when you got her son,” Simon said. He still spoke calmly; but it was plain enough that Dave’s words were having the desired effect;. “So he’s taken up the blood-feud, has he? I thought I gave his father some lessons in that a long time since. Well, I sup pose we must let him have his way I” “And remember, too,” Dave urged, “what you told him when you met him In the store. You said you w’ouldn’t warn him twice.” “I remember.” The tv?o men w’ere silent, but Dave stood no longer mo tionless. He was shivering all over with malice and fury. “Then you’ve given the word?” he “I’ve given the w’ord, but I’ll do it my own way. Listen, Dave.” Simon stood, head bent, deep in thought. “Could you arrange to have Linda and the old hag out of the house when Bruce gets back?” “Yes—” “We’ve got to work this thing right. We can’t operate in the open like w’e used to. This man has taken up tiie hlond-feud—but the thing to do—is to let him come to us." “But he w’on’t do it. He’ll go to the courts first.” Simon’s face grew stern. “I don’t want any more Interruptions, Dave. I mean we will want to give the impres sion that he attacked us first—on his own free will. What if he comes into our house —a man unknown In these parts—and something huppers to him there —in the dead of night? It wouldn’t look so bad then, would It? Besides—if we got him here—before the clan, we might be able to find out where Hint document is. First, how can you tell when <he’s going to come?” “He ought td be here very soon. The moon’s bright and I cun get up on the ridge and see his shadow tiirough your field glasses when he crosses the big south pasture. That will give me a full half-hour before he comes.” “It’s enough. I’m ready to give you your orders now. They are—just to use your head, and on some pretext get those two women out of the house so that Bruce can’t find them when he returns. Don’t let them come back for an hour, if you can help it. If it works—all right. If it doesn’t, we’ll use more direct measures. I’ll tend to the rest.” He strode to the wall and took down a saddle from the hook. Quick ly he threw it over the back of one of the cow ponies, the animal that he had punished. He put the bridle in Dave’s hand. “Stop at the house for the glasses, then ride to the ridge at once,” he ordered. “Then keep watch.” CHAPTER XVII The day was quite dead when Dave Turner reached his post on top of the ridge. Fortunately, the moon rose early. Otherwise Dave’s watch w’ouid have been in vain. He didn’t have long to wait. At the end of a half hour he saw, through the field glasses, the wavering of a strange black shadow on the distant meadow. He tried to get a better focus. It might be Just the shadow of deer, come to browse on the parched grass. Dave felt a little tremor of excitement at the thought that If It were not Bruce, It was more likely the last of the •grizzlies, the Killer. The previous night tiie gray forest king had made an excursion Into Simon’s pastures and had killed a yearling calf; in all probability he would return tonight to finish tils feast. In fact, this night w ould In all probability see the end of the Killer. Some one of the Turners would wait for him, with a loaded rifle. In a safe ambush. But it wasn’t the Killer, after all. It was before his time; besides, the shadow was too slender to be that of the huge bear. Dave Turner watched a moment longer, so that there could be no possibility of a mistake. Bruce was returning; he was little more than a half-hour’s walk from Linda’s home. Turner swung on his horse, then lashed the animal Into a gallop. Less than five minutes later he drew up to a halt beneath the Sentinel Pine, al most a mile distant. For the first time, Dave began to move cautiously. lit would complicate matters if the two women had already gone to bed. The hour was early—not yet nine— but the fall of darkness is often the golng-to-bad time of the mountain peo- ple. It is warmer there and safer; and the expense of candles is les sened. But tonight Linda and old Elmira were sitting up, waiting for Bruce’s return. A candle flame flickered at the win dow. Dave went up to the door and knocked. “Who’s there?” Elmira called. It was a habit learned in the dreadful days of twenty years ago, not to open a door without at least some knowl edge of who stood without. A lighted For the First Time, Dave Began to Move Cautiously. doorway sets off a target almost as well as a field of white sets off a black bull’s-eye. Dave knew the truth was the proper course. “Dave Turner,” he replied. A long second of heavy, strange si lence ensued, ?hen the woman spoke again. There was a new note in her voice, a curious hoarseness, but at the same time a sense of exultation and excitement. But Dave didn’t notice it. He might, however, have been in terested in the singular look of won der that flashed over Linda’s face-as she stared at her aged aunt. Linda was not thinking of Dave. Her whole attention was seized and held by the unfamiliar note In her aunt’s voice, and a strange drawing of the woman’s features that the closed door prevent ed Dave from seeing. It was a look almost of rapture, hardly to be ex pected in the presence of an enemy. The dim eyes seemed to glow In the shadows. It was the look of one who had wandered steep and unknown trails for uncounted years and sees the distant lights of his home at last. She got up from her chair and moved over to the little pack she had carried on her back when she had walked up from her cabin. Linda still gazed at her In growing wonder. The long years seemed to have fallen away from her; she slipped across the un carpbted floor with the agility and si lence of a tiger. She always had given the impression of latent power, but never so much as now. She took some little object from the bag and slipped it next to her withered and scrawny breast. "What do you want?” she called out into the gloom. Dave had been getting a little rest less in the silence; but the voice reas sured him. “I’ll tell you when you open the door. It’s something about Bruce.” Linda remembered him then. She leaped to the door and flung it wide. She saw the stars without, the dark fringe of pines against the sky line be hind. But most of all she saw the cunning, sharp-featured face of Dave Turner, with the candlelight upon him. The yellow beams were In his eyes, too. They seemed full of guttering lights. Tiie few times that Linda had talked to Dave she had always felt uneasy beneath his speculative gaze. The same sensation swept over her now. She knew perfectly what she would have had to expect, long since, from this man, were It not that he had lived in fear of his brother Simon. The mighty leader of the dan had set a harrier around her as far as personal attentions went —and his reasons were obvious. The mountain girls do not usually attain her perfection of form and face; his desire for her was as Jeiflous ns It was Intense and real. This dark-hearted man of great and terrible emotions did not only know how to hate. In his own savage way he could love too. Linda hated and feared him, but the emotion was wholly different from the dread and abhorrence with which she regarded Dave. “What about Bruce?” she demanded. Dave leered. “Do you want to see him? He’s lying—up here on the hill.” The tone was knowing, edged with cruelty; and it had the desired effect. The color swept from the girl’s face. In a slpgle fraction of an instant it showed stark whits In the candlelight There was an instant’s sensation of terrible cold. But her voice was hard and lifeless when she spoke. “You mean you’ve killed him?” she asked simply. “We ain’t killed him. We’ve just been teaching him a lesson,” Dave ex plained. “Simon warned him not to come up—and we’ve had to talk to him a little —with fists and heels.” Linda cried out then, one agonized syllable. She knew what fists and heels could do in the fights between the mountain men. They are as much weapons of torture as the claws and fangs of the Killer. She had an In stant's dread picture of this strong man of hers lying maimed and broken, a battered, whimpering, ineffective thing in the moonlight of some distant hillside. The vision brought knowledge to her. Even more clearly than in the second of their kiss, before he had gone to see Hudson, she realized what an immutable part of her he was. She gazed with growing horror at Dave’s leering face. “Where is he?” she asked. She remembered, with singular steadfastness, the pistol she had con cealed in her own room. “I’ll show you. If you want to get him In you’d better bring the old hag with you. It’ll take two of you to car ry him.” “I’ll come," tiie old woman said from across the shadowed room. She spoke with a curious breathlessness. “I'll go at once.” The door closed behind the three of them, and they went out into the moon lit forest. Dave walked first. It was wholly characteristic of him that he should find a degenerate rapture in showing these two women the terrible handiwork of the Turners. He re joiced in Just this sort of cruelty. Lin da had no suspicion that this excur sion was only a pretext to get the two women away from the house, and that ills eagerness arose from deeper causes. It was true that Dave exulted in the work, and strangely the fact that it was part of the plot against Bruce had been almost forgotten in the face of a greater emotion. He was alone in the darkness with Linda— except of course for a helpless old woman—and the command of Simon in regard to his attitude toward her seemed suddenly dim and far away. He led them over a hill, into the deeper forest. So intent was lie that he quite failed to observe a singular little signal be tween old Elmira and Linda. The wo man half turned about, giving the girl an instant’s glimpse of something that she transferred from her breast to her sleeve. It was slender and of steel, and it caught the moonlight on Its shining surface. Tiie girl’s eyes glittered when she beheld IL She nodded, scarcely per ceptibly, and the strange file plunged deeper info the shadows. Fifteen minutes later Dave drew up to a halt In a little patch of moonlight, surrounded by a wall of low trees and brush. “There’s more than one way to make a date for a walk with a pretty girl,” he said. The girl stared coldly Into his eyes. “What do you mean?” she asked. The man laughed harshly. “I mean that Bruce ain’t got back yet—he’s still on tiie other side of Little river, for all I know —” “Then why did you bring us here?” “Just to be sociable," Dave returned. *TII tell you. Linda. I wanted to talk to you. I ain’t been in favor of a lot of things Simon’s been doing—to you and your people. I thought maybe you and I would like to be—friends.” No one could mistake the emotion behind the strained tone, the peculiar languor in the furtive eyes. The girl drew hack, shuddering. “I’m going & * She Was in His Arms, Struggling Against Their Steel. back,” she told him. “Walt. I’ll take you back soon. Let’s have a kiss and make friends. The old lady won’t, look—” He laughed again, a hoarse sound that rang far through the silences. He moved toward her, hands reaching. She backed away. Then she half-tripped over an outstretched root. The next Instant she was In his arms, struggling against their steel. She didn’t waste words in pleading. A - sob caught at her throat, and she fought with all her strength against the drawn, nearing face. She had for gotten Elmira; in this dreadful mo ment of terror and danger the old wo ’ man’s broken strength seemed too little to he of aid. And Dave thought her as helpless to oppose him as the tall pines that watched from above them. His wild laughter obscured the single sound that she made, a strange cry that seemed lacking In all human qual ity. Bather it was such a sound as a puma utters as it leaps upon its prey. It was the articulation of a whole life of hatred that had come to a crisis at last—of deadly and terrible triumph after a whole decade of waiting. If Dave had discerned that cry in time he would have hurled Linda from his arms to leap into a position of defense. The desire for women In men goes down to the roots of the world, but self-preser vation is a deeper instinct still. But he didn’t hear it in time. El mira had not struck with her knife. Tiie distance was too far for that. But she swung her cane with all her force. The blow caught the man at the tem ple, his arms fell away from the girl's body, lie staggered grotesquely in the carpet of pin needles. Then he fell face downward. “His belt, quick!” the woman cried. No longer was her voice that of de crepit age. Tiie giri struggled with herself, wrenched back her self-con trol, and leaped to obey her aunt. They snatched the man’s belt from about his waist, and the women locked it swiftly about iiis ankles. With strong, hard hands they drew his wrists back of him and tied them tight with the long i bandanna handkerchief he wore about his neck. They worked almost in si lence, with incredible rapidity and deftness. The man was waking now, stirring in his unconsciousness, and swiftly tiie old woman cut the buckskin thongs from his tall logging boots. These also she twisted about the wrists, knotting them again and again, and pulling them so tight they were almost buried in the lean flesh. Then they turned him face upward to the moon. The two women stood an Instant, breathing hard. “What now?” Linda asked. And a shiver of awe went over her at the sight of the woman’s face. "Nothing more, Linda,” she an swered, in a distant voice. “Leave Dave Turner to me.” It was a strange picture. Woman hood—the softness and tenderness which inen have learned to associate with the name—seemed fallen away from Linda and Elmira. They were only avengers—like the she-bear thnt tights for her cubs or the she-wolf that guards the lair. There was no more mercy in them than in the females of the lower species. Dave awakened. They saw him stir. They watched him try to draw his arms from behind him. It was just a faint, little-understanding pull at first. Then he wrenched and tugged with all his strength, flopping strangely in the dirt. The effort increased until it was some way suggestive of an animal In ’ the death struggle—a fur bearer dying in the trap. Terror was upon him. It was In his wild eyes and his moonlit face; It was in the desperation and frenzy of his struggles. And the two women saw it and smiled Into each other’s eyes. Slowly his efforts ceased. He lay still In the pine needles. He turned his head, first toward Linda, then to the inscrutable, dark face of the old woman. As understanding came to him, the cold drops emerged upon his swarthy skin. “Good G—d I” he asked. “What are you going to do?” “I’m going back," Linda answered. “You had some other purpose In bring ing me out here—or you wouldn’t have brought Elmira, too. I’m going back to wait for Bruce.” “And you and I will linger here,” Elmira told him. “We have many things to say to each other. We have many things to do. About my Abner —there are many things you’ll want to hear of him.” The last vestige of the man’s spirit broke beneath the words. Abner had been old Elmira’s son—a youth who had laughed often, and the one hope of the old woman’s declining years. And he had fallen before Dave’s am bush in a half-forgotten fight of long years before. The man shivered in his bonds. Lin da turned to go. The silence of the wilderness deepened about them. “Oh, Linda, Linda,” the man called. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me here with her!” he pleaded. “Please—please don’t leave me In this devil’s power. Make her let me go.” But Linda didn’t seemed to hear. The brush crackled and rustled; and the two—this dark-hearted man and the avenger—were left together. CHAPTER XVIII The homeward Journey over the ridges had meant only pleasure to Bruce. The days had been full of little nerve-tingling adventures, and the nights full of peace. And beyond all these, there was the hope of seeing Linda again at the end of the trail. It was strange how he remembered her kiss. He had known other kisses in his days—being a purely rational and healthy young man—but there had been nothing of Immortality about them. Their warmth had died quickly, and they had been forgotten. They WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 192? were Just delights of moonlight nights and nothing more. But he would wake up from his dreams at night to feel Linda’s kiss upon his lips. To recall It brought a strange tenderness —a softening of all the hard outlines of his picture of life. But aside from his con temptation a of Linda, the long tramp had many de lights for him. He rejoiced in every manifestation of the wild life about him, whether It was a buShy-taiied old gray squirrel, watching him from a tree limb, a magpie trying Its best to Insult him, or the fleeting glimpse of a deer in the coverts. But he didn’t see the Killer again. He didn’t particularly care to do so. Both days of the journey home he wakened sharply at dawn. The cool morning hours were the best for travel’ He was of naturally strong physique, and although the days fatigued him un mercifully, he always wakened re freshed in the dawn. At noon he would stop to lunch, eating a few pieces of Jerkey and frying a single flapjack In his skillet. And usually, during the noon rest, he would practice with his rifle. He knew that if he were to fight the Turners, skill with a rifle was an ab solute necessity; such skill as would have felled the grizzly with one shot instead of administering merely a flesh wound, accuracy to take off the head of a grouse at fifty yards and at the same time, an ability to swing and alm the weapon in the shortest possi ble space of time. The only thing that retarded him was the realization that he must not waste too many car tridges. Elmira had brought him only a small supply. He would walk all afternoon—going somewhat easier and resting more of ten than In the morning; and these were the times that he appreciated a fragment of Jerked venison He would halt Just before nightfall make his camp. And the best hour of nil was after his meal, as be sat In the growing shadows with his pipe. At this hour he felt the spirit of the pines as never before. He knew their great, brood ing sorrow, their infinite wisdom, their Inexpressible aloofness with which they kept watch over the wilderness. The smoke would drift about him In soothing clouds; the glow of the coals was red and warm over him. He could think then. Life revealed some of its lesser mysteries to him. And he be gan to glimpse the distant gleam of even greater truths, and sometimes It seemed to him that he could almost catch and hold them. Always it was some message that the pines were try ing to tell him —partly In words they made when their limbs rubbed togeth er, partly In the nature of a great alle gory of which their dark, impassive forms were the symbols. If he **ould only see clearly! But It seemed to him that passion blinded his eyes. More and more he realized thnt the pines, like the stars. were living symbols of great powers who lived above the world, powers thnt would speak to men if they would but listen long and patiently enough, and in whose creed lay happiness. The last afternoon he traveled hard. He wanted to reach Linda's house be fore nightfall. But the trnll was too long for that. The twilight fell, to find him still a weary two miles dis tant. And the wny was quite dark when he plunged Into the south pas ture of the Hoss estates. Half an hour later he was beneath the Sentinel Pine. He wandered why Linda was not waiting beneath it; in bls fancy, he thought of It ns being the ordained place for her But per haps she hud merely failed to hear his footsteps. He called Into the open door. “Linda," he said. “I’ve come hack.” No answer reached him. The worth rang through the silent rooms and echoed back to him. He walked over the threshold. A chair In the front room was turned over. His heart leaped at the sight of It. “Linda,” he called In alarm, “where are you? It’s Bruce.” He stood an Instant listening, a great fear creeping over him. Ho called once more, first to Linda and then to the old woman. Then he leaped through the doorway. The kitchen was similarly deserted. From there he went to Linda’s room. Her coat and hat lay on the bed, but there was no Linda to stretch her arms to him. He started to go out the way he had come, but went Instead to hH own room. A sheet of note-paper lay on the bed. It had been scrawled hurriedly; but although he had never received a writ ten word frvln Linda he did nut doubt but that it was hrr hand: "The Turners are coming—l caught a glimpse of them on the ridge. There Is no use of my trying to resist, so I’ll wait for them in the front room and maybe they won’t find this note. They will take me to Simon's house, and I know from Its structure thnt they will lock me In an Interior room In the east wing. Use the window on that side nearest the north corner. My one hope is thnt you will come at once to save me.” Bruce’s eyes leaped over the page; then he thrust It Into his pocket. H» slipped through the rear door of the house, into the shadows. “Linda,” he said again. “It’s Bruce. Are you here?” cru us cu.vfi.'t'bu) His Mystery. “It’s queer,” remarked Jinks. “What is?” asked Binks. “Thnt with all the people looking for and borrowing trouble I can’t get rid of mine,” replied Jinks. —Dstruit Free Press.