“No sign of anyone,” said John. He set down his Hawken rifle, muzzle to the sky, and rolled a lump of tobacco meditatively in and out of a hollow tooth. “Saw a dog, but it ran away. Might have been a stray, might not.”

“Same.” Samuel, though technically the leader of the party, tended to defer to John in military matters. The bullet that still rattled around in his side from the Black Hawk War was enough to see to that. “I haven’t seen anyone but tied-up horses. Turned ’em loose so they wouldn’t starve.”

“What do you suppose,” John said, “happened to upend a town of 100 souls such that we can’t find even one outside the graveyard?”

Samual looked back toward the party they were guiding–15 near-starving souls for whom the settlement of Eldridge had represented salvation. “I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said he. “We take what’s left and bed down here for a few days. If they come back, we’ll pay. If not…” he let the sentence trail off into the raw fall air.

“The tables were set for dinner, flies in the food,” said John. “I’m not sure anything I have could help us against whatever Injun or otherwise takes a man before he’s finished eating his dinner.”

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