CHAPTER ONEBROTHER AND SISTER—THE SIGNAL
IT is within my memory that Melville Clarendon, a lad of sixteen years, was riding through Southern Minnesota, in company with his sister Dorothy, a sweet little miss not quite half his own age.
They were mounted on Saladin, a high-spirited, fleet, and good-tempered pony of coal-black color. Melville, who claimed the steed as his own special property, had given him his Arabian name because he fancied there were many points of resemblance between him and the winged coursers of the East, made famous as long ago as the time of the Crusades.
The lad sat his horse like a skilled equestrian, and indeed it would be hard to find his superior in that respect throughout that broad stretch of sparsely settled country. Those who live on the American frontier are trained from their earliest youth in the management of quadrupeds, and often display a proficiency that cannot fail to excite admiration.
Melville's fine breech-loading rifle was slung over his shoulder, and held in place by a strap that passed in front. It could be quickly drawn from its position whenever needed. It was not of the repeating pattern, but the youth was so handy with the weapon that he could put the cartridges in place, aim, and fire not only with great accuracy, but with marked rapidity.
In addition, he carried a good revolver, though he did not expect to use either weapon on the short journey he was making. He followed, however, the law of the border, which teaches the pioneer never to venture beyond sight of his home unprepared for every emergency that is likely to arise.
It was quite early in the forenoon, Melville having made an early start from the border-town of Barwell, and he was well on his way to his home, which lay ten miles to the south. "Dot," as his little sister was called by her friends, had been on a week's visit to her uncle's at the settlement, the agreement all round being that she should stay there for a fortnight at least; but her parents and her big brother rebelled at the end of the week. They missed the prattle and sunshine which only Dot could bring into their home, and Melville's heart was delighted when his father told him to mount Saladin and bring her home.
And when, on the seventh day of her visit, Dot found her handsome brother had come after her, and was to take her home the following morning, she leaped into his arms with a cry of happiness; for though her relatives had never suspected it, she was dreadfully home-sick and anxious to get back to her own people.
In riding northward to the settlement, young Clarendon followed the regular trail, over which he had passed scores of times. Not far from the house he crossed a broad stream at a point where the current (except when there was rain) was less than two feet deep. Its shallowness led to its use by all the settlers within a large radius to the southward, so that the faintly marked trails converged at this point something like the spokes of a large wheel, and became one from that point northward to the settlement.
A mile to the east was another crossing which was formerly used. It was not only broader, but there were one or two deep holes into which a horse was likely to plunge unless much care was used. Several unpleasant accidents of this nature led to its practical abandonment.
The ten miles between the home of the Clarendons and the little town of Barwell consisted of prairie, stream, and woodland. A ride over the trail, therefore, during pleasant weather afforded a most pleasing variety of scenery, this being especially the case in spring and summer. The eastern trail was more marked in this respect and it did not unite with the other until within about two miles of the settlement. Southward from the point of union the divergence was such that parties separating were quickly lost to view of each other, remaining thus until the stream of which I have spoken was crossed. There the country became so open that on a clear day the vision covered all the space between.
I have been thus particular in explaining the "lay of the land," as it is called, because it is necessary in order to understand the incidents that follow.
Melville laughed at the prattle of Dot, who sat in front of him, one of his arms encircling her chubby form, while Saladin was allowed to walk and occasionally gallop, as the mood prompted him....