TO THE WEST
To stand by the open grave of one you have loved, and feel the sky shut down over less worth in the world is the supreme test.
There you prove your worth, if ever.
You must live and face the day, and face each succeeding day, realizing that “the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on, nor all your tears shall blot a line of it.”
Heroes are born, but it is calamity that discovers them.
Once in Western Kansas, in the early Eighties, I saw a loaded four-horse wagon skid and topple in going across a gully.
The driver sprang from his seat and tried to hold the wagon upright.
The weight was too great for his strength, powerful man though he was.
The horses swerved down the ditch instead of crossing it, and the overturning wagon caught the man and pinned him to the ground.
Half a dozen of us sprang from our horses. After much effort the tangled animals were unhitched and the wagon was righted.
The man was dead.
In the wagon were the wife and six children, the oldest child a boy of fifteen. All were safely caught in the canvas top and escaped unhurt. We camped there—not knowing what else to do.
We straightened the mangled form of the dead, and covered the body with a blanket.
That night the mother and the oldest boy sat by the campfire and watched the long night away with their dead.
The stars marched in solemn procession across the sky.
The slow, crawling night passed.
The first faint flush of dawn appeared in the East.
I lay near the campfire, my head pillowed on a saddle, and heard the widowed mother and her boy talking in low but earnest tones.
“We must go back—we must go back to Illinois. It is the only thing to do,” I heard the mother moan.
And the boy answered: “Mother, listen to what I say: We will go on—we will go on. We know where father was going to take us—we know what he was going to do. We will go on, and we will do what he intended to do, and if possible we will do it better. We will go on!”
That first burst of pink in the East had turned to gold.
Great streaks of light stretched from horizon to zenith.
I could see in the dim and hazy light the hobbled horses grazing across the plain a quarter of a mile away.
The boy of fifteen arose and put fuel on the fire.
After breakfast I saw that boy get a spade, a shovel and a pick out of the wagon.
With help of others a grave was dug there on the prairie.
The dead was rolled in a blanket and tied about with thongs, after the fashion of the Indians.
Lines were taken from a harness, and we lowered the body into the grave.
The grave was filled up by friendly hands working in nervous haste.