A welcome sun poured down upon the steaming prairie which seemed to be bursting now with the first green shoots of spring.
The moist earth was springy beneath the hoofs of Eldridge Sample’s saddle pony and his three pack animals laden with buffalo meat. The blue sky smiled as if pleased by the sweet scent of budding things awakening after the winter sleep.
The plains seemed to give out an aura of peace, but Eldridge was not deceived.
The ex lawman, his face thoughtful, was reacting to the psychic beat of warning drums, something he knew enough never to disregard.
Just as the willow buds would burst into leaf, just as the earth was swelling to the thrust of pale-green shoots, so the rolling prairie sea would spawn its annual threat of feathered death.
Somewhere yonder, where the sky dipped down to kiss the earth, bronzed and restless warriors girded themselves for the trail, groomed their fastest ponies, strung their bows, feathered their lances and made ready their contraband guns.
From lifelong experience with the men of war, Eldridge Sample knew no fear for himself.
The battlefields of the Eastern US robbed him of that with countless battles, and many long nights spent on his own behind enemy lines.
Too long had he pitted his wits, his nerve, patience and resourcefulness against men who wanted him dead to be afraid.
But there were others to be considered now.
The Western Pacific was pushing westward its twin bands of gleaming steel, at from two to five miles a day.
Great crews of graders borrowed earth to rear the embankment. Gangs of tie setters, track layers, sledge men and bolters sweated and delved as they inched across the plains.
Ahead were the engineers, protected by soldiers.
Long lines of freight wagons, drawn by straining mules, raised an endless dust as they hauled supplies forward.
Switch engine crews bucked ties and steel to the railhead, with tooting whistles, hissing steam and a great clatter of drivers.