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The Strength of the Pines EDISON MARSHALL Author of “The Voice of the Pack” SIMON, HAVE MERCY! SYNOPSIS.—At the death of his foster father Bruce Duncan, in an eastern city, receives a mysterious message, sent by a Mrs. Ross, sum him peremptorily to &outh em Oregon—to meet "Linda.” Bruce has vivid but baffling recol lections 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 lias been sent to Bruce gets to Simon Turner. Leaving the 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 inflrm, 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 Cue 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 out in search of a trapper named Hudson, a wit ness to the agreement between Linda’s father and Matthew Fol ger. A gigantic grizzly, known as the Killer, is the terror of the vi cinity. Dave Turner, sent by Sdmon, 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. Dave de coys Linda and Aunt Elmira from their home. The man Insults Linda and is struck dow.n by the aged woman. Elmira’s son has been murdered by Dave, and at her com mand, after securely binding the desperado, Linda leaves them alone. Returning, Bruce finds a note, ap parently from Linda, telling him she has been kidnaped by the Turners. Bruce falls into Simon’s trap, and is made prisoner. Charg ing Bruce with attempting to re open the blood-feud, the clan de cides to leave him, bound, in a pasture on the spot where the Killer had slain and half eaten a calf the night before. They look for the return of the grizzly. CHAPTER XXI “If Simon Turner isn’t a coward,” Bruce said slowly to the clan, “he will give me a chance to fight him now.” The room was wholly silent, and the clan turned expectant eyes to their leader. Simon scowled, but he knew he had to make answer. His eyes crept over Bruce’s powerful bodjt “There is no on my part to answer any challenges by you,” he said. “You are a prisoner. But if you think you can sleep better in the pas ture because of it, I’ll let you have your chance. Take off his ropes.” A knife slashed at bis bonds. Simon stood up, and Bruce sprang from his chair like a wildcat, aiming ids hard ened knockleg straight for the leering lips. He made the attack with aston ishing swiftness and power, and his intention was to deliver at least one terrific blow before Simon could get his arms up to defend himself. He had given the huge clan leader credit for tremendous physical strength, but he didn’t think that the heavy body could move with real agility. But the great muscles seemed to snap Into tension, the head ducked to one side, and his own nege fists struck out. If Bruce’s blow had gone straight home where it had been aimed, Simon would have had nothing more to say for a few moments at least. The leap had been powerful and swift yet whol ly inaccurate. And the reason wej just that his wrists and ankles had been numbed by the tight thongs by which they had been confined. Simon met the leap with a short, powerful blow into Bruce’s face; and he reeled backward. The arms of the clansmen alone kept him from falling. Tlie blow seemed to daze Bruce; and at first his only realization was that the room suddenly rang wltii harsh and grating laughter. Then Simon’s words broke through it. “Put back the thongs,” he ordered, “and go get your horses.” l Bruce was dimly aware of the fall ing of a silence, and then the arms of strong men half carrying him to the door. But he couldn't see plainly at first. He knew that the clan had brought their horses and were waiting for Simon’s command. They loosened the ropes from about his ankles, and two of the clansmen’ swung him on to the back of a horse. Then they passed a rope under the horse’s belly and lied his nnkles anew. Simon gave a command, and the strange file started. The night air dis pelled the mists In Bruce’s brain, and full realization of all things came to him again. One of the men—he recognized him as Young Bill—led the horse on which he rode. Two of the clansmen rode in front, grim, silent, incredibly tall fig ures in the moonlight. The remainder rode immediately behind. Simon him self, bowed in his saddle, kept a little to one side. Their shadows were long and grotesque on the soft grass of the meadows, and the only sound was the soft footfall of their mounts. A full mile distant across the lush fields the cavalcade halted about a grotesque shadow in the grass. Bruce didn’t have to look at it twice to know what it was: the half-devoured body of the yearling calf that had been the Killer’s prey the night before. From thence on, their operations became as outlandish occurrences in a dream. They seemed to know just what to do. They took him from the saddle and bound his feet again, then laid him in the fragrant grass. They searched his pockets, taking the forged note that had led to his downfall. “It saves me a trip,” Simon commented. He saw two of them lift the torn body of the animal on to the back of one of the horses, and he watched dully as the horse plunged and wheeled undei the unfamiliar weight. Simon spoke in the silence, but his words seemed to come from far away. “Quiet that horse or kill him,” he Simon Stood Up and Bruce Sprang From His Chair Like a Wildcat. said softly. “You can’t drag the car cass with your rope—the Killer would trace it if you did and maybe spoil the evening for Bruce.” Strong arms sawed at the bits, and the horse quieted, trembling. For a moment Bruce saw their white moon lit faces as they stared down at him. “What about a gag?” one of the men asked. “No. Let him shout if he likes. There Is no one to hear him here.” Then the tall men swung on their horses and headed back across the fields. Bruce watched them dully. Their forms grew constantly more dim, the sense of utter isolation increased. Then he saw the file pause, and It seemed to him that words, too faint for him to understand, reached him across the moonlit spaces. Then one of the party turned off toward the ridge. He guessed that it was Simon. He thought the man was riding toward Linda’s home. He watched until the shadows had hidden them all. Then, straining up ward, he tested his bonds. He tugged with the full strength of his arms, but there was not the play of an inch be tween his wrists. The Turners had done their work well. Not the slight est chance of escape lay In this quar ter. He wrenched himself to one side, then looked about him. The fields stretchdd e?en and distant on one side, but he saw that the dark forest was but fifty yards away on the other. He listened; and the little night sounds reached him clearly. They had been sounds to rejoice In before—lmpulses to delightful fancies of a fawn steal ing through the thickets, or some of the Little People in their scurried, tremulous business of the night hours. But lying helpless at the edge of the forest, they were nothing to rejoice In now. He tried to shut his ears to them. He rolled again to his back and tried to find peace for his spirit in the stars. There were millions of them. They were larger and more bright than any time he had ever seen them. They stood in their high places, wholly Indifferent and impassive to all the strife and confusion of the world be low them; and Bruce wished that he could partake of their spirit enough so that he could rise above the fear and bitterness that had begun to oppress him. But only the pines could talk to Copyright by Little, Brown, and Co. them. Only the tall trees, stretching upward toward them, could reach Into their mysterious calm. His eyes discerned a thin filament of cloud that had swept up from be hind <ie ridges, and the sight recalled him to his own position with added force. The moonlight, soft as it was, had been a tremendous relief to him. At least, it would have enabled him to keep watch, and now he dreaded the fall of utter darkness more than he had ever dreaded anything in his life. It was an ancient instinct, coming straight from the young days of the world when nightfall brought the hunt ing creatures to the mouth of the cave, but he had never really experienced it before. He watched with growing horror the slow extension of the clouds. Finally the moon swepfunder them. The shadow fell around Bruce. For the first time he knew the age-old ter ror of the darkness. He no longer knew himself as one of a dominant breed, master of*all the wild things in the’world. He was simply a Using creature in a grim and unconquered world, alone and helpless In the terror of the darkness. The moonlight alternately grew and died as the moon passed in and out of the heavier cloud patches. Winds must have been blowing In the high lanes of the air, but there was no breath of them where Bruce lay. The forests were silent, and the little rus tlings and stirrings that reached him from time to time only seemed to ac centuate the quiet. He speculated on how many hours had passed. He wondered if he could dare to hope that midnight had al ready gone by and, through some di vergence from wilderness customs, the grizzly had failed to return to his feast. It seemed endless hours since he had re-entered the empty rooms of Linda’s home. A wave of hope crept through the whole hydraulic system of his veins. And then, as a sudden sound reached him from the forests at one side, that bright wave of hope turned black, receded and left only despair. He heard the sound but dimly. In fact, except for his straining with ev ery nerve alert, he might not have heard it at all. Nevertheless, distance alone had dimmed it; it luid been a large sound to start with. So far had it come that only a scratch on the eardrums was left of it; but there was no chance to -misunderstand it. It cracked out to him through the unfath omable silence, and all the elements by which he might recognize It were dis tinct. It was the noise of a heavy thicket being broken down and parted before an enormous body. He listened, straining. Then he heard the sound again. Whoever came toward him had passed the heavy brush by now. The sounds that redched him were just faint and inter mittent whispers—first of a twig cracking beneath a heavy foot, then the rattle of two pebbles knocked to gether. Long moments of utter silence would ensue between, in which he could hear the steady drum of his heart in his breast, and the long roll of his blood In his veins. The limbs of a young fir tree rustled and whispered as something brushed against them. Leaves flicked together, and once a heavy limb popped like a distant small-calibered rifle as a great weight broke it in two. Then, as if the gods of the wilderness W’ere using all their ingenuity to torture him, the silence closed down deeper than ever before. It lasted so long that he began to hope again. Perhaps the sounds had been made by a deer stealing on Its way to feed in the pastures. Yet he knew the step had been too heavy for anything but the largest deer, and their way was to encircle a thicket rather than crash through It. It might have been the step of one of the small, black bears —a harmless and friendly wilderness dweller. Yet the Impres sion lingered and strengthened that only some great hunter, a beast who feared neither other beasts nor men, had been steadily coming toward him through the forest. At that instant the moon slipped under a particularly heavy fragment of cl.' ud, and deep darkness settled over him. Even his white face was no longer discernible in the dusk. He lay scarcely breathing, trying to fight down his growing terror. This silence could mean but one of two things. One of them was that the creature who had made the sounds had turned off on one of the many inter secting game trails that wind through the forest. This was his hope. The al ternative was one of despair. It was simply that the creature had detected his presence and was stalking him In silence through the shadows. He thought that the light would nev er come. He strained again at the ropes. The dark cloud swep? on; and the moonlight, silver and bright, broke over the scene. The forest stood once more in sharp silhouette against the sky. He studied with straining eyes the dark fringe of shadows one hundred feet distant Then he detected a strange variation in the dark border of shadows. It held his gaze, and Its outlines slowly strengthened. So still It stood, so seemingly a natural shadow that some irregularly shaped tree had cast, that his eyes refused to recognize It. But in an instant more he knew the truth. The shadow was that of a great beast that had stalked him clear to the border of the moonlight The Killer had come for his dead. CHAPTER XXII When Linda returned hotne the events of the night partook even of a greater mystery. The front door was open, and she found plenty of evidence that Bruce had returned from his Journey. In the center of the room lay his pack, a rifle slanting across it At first she did not notice the gun In particular. She supposed It was Bruce’s weapon and that he had come In, dropped his luggage, and was at present somewhere in the house. It was true that one chair was upset, but except for an Instant’s start she gave no thought to it She thought that he would probably go to the kitchen first for a bit to eat. He was not In this room, however, nor had the lamp been lighted. Her next idea was that Bruce, tired out, had gone to bed. She went back softly to the front room, intending not to disturb him. Once more she noticed the upset chair. The longer she re garded It, more of a puzzle it be came. She moved over toward the pack and looked casually at the rifle. In an instant more It was in her hands. /he saw at once that it was not Bruce’s gun. The action, make and caliber were different. Besides, it had certain peculiar notches on the stock that the gun Elmira had furnished Bruce did not have. She stood a moment in thought. The problem offered no ray of light. She considered what Bruce’s first action would have been, on returning to the house to find her absent. Possibly he had gone in search of her. She turned end went to the door of his bedroom. She knocked on it softly. “Are you there, Bruce?” she called. No answer returned to her. The rooms, in fact, were deeply silent. She tried the door and found It unlocked. The room had not been occupied. Thoroughly alarmed, she went back into tlie front room and tried to de cipher the mystery of the strange weapon. She couldn’t conceive of any possibility whereby Bruce would ex change his father’s trusted gun for this. Possibly It was an extra weapon that he had procured on his Journey. And since no possible gain would come of her going out into the forests to seek him, she sat down to wait for his return. • The moments dragged by and her apprehension grew. She took the rifle in her hands and, slipping the lever part way back, looked to see if there were a cartridge in the barrel. She saw a glitter of brass, and it gave her a measure of assurance. She had a pistol in her own room—a weapon that Elmira had procured, years before, from a passing sportsman—and for a moment she considered getting it also. She understood its action better and would probably be more efficient with it if the need arose, but for certain never-to-be-forgotten reasons she wished to keep this weapon until the moment of utmost need. Her whole stock of pistol cartridges consisted of six—completely filling the magazine of the pistol. Closely watched by the Turners, she had been unable to procure more. Many a dreadful night these six little cylinders of brass had been a tremendous con solation to her. They had been her sole defense, and she knew that in the final emergency she could use them to deadly effect. Linda was a girl who had always looked her situations in the face. She was not one to flinch from the truth and with false optimism disbelieve it. She knew these mountain realms; bet ter still she understood the dark Pas sions of Simon and his followers, and this little half-pound of steel and wood with its brass shells might mean, in the dreadful last moment of despair, deliverance" from them. It might mean escape for herself when all other ways were cut off. In this wild land, far from the reaches of law and without allies except for a decrepit old wo man, the pistol and its deadly loads had been her greatest solace. The hours passed, and the clouds were starting up from the horizon when she thought she saw Bruce re turning. A tall form came swinging toward her, over the little trail that led between the tree trunks. She peered intently. And In one instant more she knew that the approaching figure was not Bruce, but the man she most feared of anyone on earth, Simon Turner. Her thoughts came clear and true. It was obvious that his watt no mis sion of stealth. He was coming boldly, freely, not furtively; and he must have known that he presented a perfect rifle target from the windows. Never theless, It Is well to be prepared for emergencies. If life in the mountains teaches anything. It teaches that. She took the rifle and laid it behind a little desk, out of sight Then she went to the door. “I want to come In, Linda,” Simon told her. “I told you long ago you couldn't come to this house,” Linda answered through the panels. “I want you to go away.” Simon laughed softly. “You’d bet ter let me in. I’ve brought word of the child you took to raise. You know who I mean.” Yes, Linda knew. “Do you mean Bruce?” she asked. “I let Dave In tonight on the same pretext. Don’t expect me to be caught twice by the same He.” “Dave? Where Is Dave?” The fact was that the whereabouts of his broth er had suddenly become considerable of a mystery to Simon. He hud thought about him and Linda out in the darkness together, and his heart had seemed to smolder and burn with jealousy in his breast. It had been a great relief to him to find her* in the house. “I wonder—where he is by now,” Linda answered In a strange voice. “No one in this world can answer that question, Simon. Tell me what you want.” She opened the door. She couldn’t bear to show fear of this man. And she knew that an appearance of cour age, nt least, was the wisest course. “No matter about him now. I want to talk to you on business. If I meant rough measures, I wouldn’t have come alone.”' “No,” Linda scorned. “You would have brought your whole murdering band with you. The Turners believe in overwhelming numbers." The words stung him, but he smiled grimly into her face. “I’ve come In peace, Linda,” he said gently. “I’ve come to give yoy a last chance to make friends.” He walked past her Into the room. He straightened the chair that had been upset, smiling strangely the while, and sat down In It. “Then tell me what you have to tell me,” she said. “I’m In a hurry to go to bed —and this really Isn’t the hour for calls.” He looked a long time Into her face. She found it hard to hold her own gaze. Many things could be doubted about this man, but his power and his courage were not among them. Tim smile died from his lips, the lines deepened on bls face. She realized as never before the tempestuous passions and unfathomable intensity of bis na ture. “We’ve never been good friends,” Simon went on slowly. “We never could be,” the girl an swered. “We’ve stood for different things.” “At first, my efforts to make friends were just—to win you over to our side. It didn’t work—all It did was to waken other desires in me—desires that per haps have come to mean more than the possession of the landK. You know what they are. You’ve always known —that any time you wished—you could come and rule my house.” She nodded. She knew that she had won, against her will, the strange, somber love of this mighty man. She had known it for months. “As my wife —don’t make any mis take about that. Linda, I’m a stern, hard man. I’ve never known ,iow to woo. I don’t know that I want to “I Told You Long Ago You Couldn’t Come to This House,” Linda An swered Through the Panels. know how, the way it Is done by weaker men. It has never been my way to ask for what I wanted. But, sometimes It seems to me thn\‘. if I’d been a little more gentle—not so mas terful and so relentless—that I’d won 1 you long ago.” Linda looked up bravely Into his face. “No, Simon. You could have never —never won mol Oh, can’t you see—even In this awful place n woman wants sometjiing more than just brute WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER t l|jg . strength and determination. Every woman prays to find strength in the man she loves—but it Isn’t the kind that you have, the kind that makes your men grovel before you, and makes me tremble when I’m talking to you. It’s a blf, calm strength—and I cr.n’t t-81l you what it is. It’s some thing the pines have, maybe— strength not to yield to the passions, but to re strain. not to be afraid of, but to cling to—to stand upright and honorable and manly, and make a woman strong just to see it In the man she loves.” He listened gravely. cheeks blazed. It was a strange seen, the silent room, the implacable foes, the breathless suspense, the prophecy and Inspiration In her tones. “Perhaps I should have been more gentle,” he admitted. “I might have forgotten—for a little while—this surg ing, irresistible impulse in my muscles —and tried just to woo you, gently and humbly. But It’s too late now. I’m not a tool. I can't expect yon to begin at the beginning. I can only go on in my own way—my hard, remorse less, ruthless way. • “It isn’t every man who is brave enough to see what he wants and knock away all obstacles to get It,” he went on. “Put that bravery to my credit To pay no attention to meth ods, only to look forward to the result. That has been my creed. It is my creed now. Many less brave men would fear your hatred—but I don’t fear it as long as I possess what I go after and a hope that I enn get you over it. Many of my own brothers hate me, but yet I don’t enre as long ns they do my will. No matter how much you scorn It, this bravery has always got me what I wanted, and It will get me what I want now.” The high color died in her face. She wondered if the final emergency had come at last “I’ve come to make a bargain. You can take It or you cun refuse. On one side is the end of all this conflict, to be my wife, to have what you want bought by the rich return from my thousands of acres. And I love you, Linda. You know’ that.” The man spoke the truth. IPs ter rible, dark love was all over him—in his glowing eyes, in his drawn, deeply lined face. “In time, when you come around to my way of thinking, you’ll Jove me. If you refuse—this last time—l’ve got to take other ways. On that side is defeat for you—ns sure as day. The time is almost up when the title to those lands Is secure. Bruce is hi our hands—” She got up, whitefaced. “Bruce--?” “Yes! Did you think he could stan 1 against us? I’ll show him to you In the morning. Tonight he’s paying the price for ever daring to oppose my will.” She turned imploring eyes. He saw them, and perhaps—far distant—be saw the light of triumph, too. A grim smile came to his lips. • "Simon,” she cried. “Have mercy." The word surprised him. It was the first time she had ever asked this man for mercy. “Then yon surrender —?’’ “Simon, listen to me,” she begged. “Let him go—and I won’t even try to fight you any more. I’ll let you keep those lands and never try any more to make you give them up. You and your brothers can keep them forever, and we won’t try to get revenge on you, either. He and I will go away. ’ He gazed at her in deepening won derment. For the moment, his mind refused to accept the truth. He had known perfectly the call of the b!<►• "I in her. He had understood her hatred of the Turners; he could hate In the same way himself. He realized her love for her father’s home and how she had dreamed of expelling Its usurp ers. Yet she was willing to renoun-'• It all. The power that had come to her was one that he, a man whose ■ of life w’as no less cruel and renrni less than that of the Killer liim> 'f. could not understand. “But why?” he demanded. “Why are you willing to do all this for him?” “Why?” she echoed. Once more the luster was in her dark eyes. “I sup pose It is because—l love him.” He looked at her with slowly dark ening face. Passion welled within him. An oath dropped from his lips, blas phemous, more savage than any wilder* ness voice. Then he raised his arm and struck her tender flesh. He struck her breast. The brutal ity of the man stood forth at last. No picture that all the dreadful drama* of the wild could portray was more terrible than this. The girl cried out, reeled and fell fainting from the pain, and with smoldering eyes he gated at her unmoved.. Then be turned out of the door. Linda goes to rescue Bruce from the Killer. (TO UR CONTINUED.) Motor Cop Uses “Scooter.” A'traffic policeman In Newark. N rides about on a motor “scooter” t° untangle congested truffle.