Green and peaceful, the long, low undulations of the prairie sea of southern Kansas spread away to the horizon in lines as graceful and pleasing as those of a reclining Venus. Here and there against a hillside the emerald waves broke in a bright foam of many-colored flowers. In all that vast extent over which I could look, there was visible no living creature save the tiny furred and feathered things whose home it was. The soft prairie wind blew caressingly against my cheek and seemed to whisper in my ear: “Why do men cling to the boisterous, cruel, lying sea as the emblem of freedom? Is not here beauty that allures with freedom’s own charms? Is not here freedom herself, serene, smiling, constant, and blessed with a blessedness the sea knows not?”
The prairie wind blew the freedom it sang of into my heart, and it dwelt there with joy and exultation as I drove on and on over the waves of that smiling emerald sea. I salved my eyes, wearied and scorched by brick walls and city pavements, with those long, swinging reaches of green, and their silent benediction filled and soothed my very soul.
At last, when the low-lying hills began to cast cool shadows down their eastern slopes, there appeared against the velvet green of the distance the sprawling blotch of a little town, ugly, naked, and unashamed in its bustling newness. And nearer, by a mile or more, on a green slope which caught the golden-red rays of the sinking sun, was a little enclosure, naked and ugly as the town itself, but silent and awe-inspiring with the silence and awe of death. A barbed-wire fence enclosed it, and the prairie turf still covered much of its space. There were here no sunken mounds, no reeling headstones, no discolored marbles. The grave heaps were trimly rounded, the wooden crosses which marked most of them grinned their newness, and the few headstones and monuments shone upstartishly white in the sun. Barren of that curtain of verdure with which love strives to conceal the footprints of death, the little cemetery lay there against the green hillside like some fresh, gaping, ghastly wound in the face of a loved one.
One grave stood out startlingly from the rest. On the others only an infrequent trailing vine or a faded bunch of flowers told of loving effort to cover death’s nakedness. But this one, which lay in the centre of the enclosure, was covered from headstone to foot-cross with a dense growth of hollyhocks. Their tall shafts were clothed with a luxuriance of vivid red bloom, as if they had sucked into their petals the life blood of the sleeper below. In the level red sun-rays they glowed with lusty contempt of the silent impotence beneath them.
A woman in a white dress, with her hands full of the red hollyhock blooms, walked between the graves down to the barred gate and came out upon the road as I drove up. I recognized her as the woman whose acquaintance I had made in the train a few days previously, and in whose company I had travelled from Chicago hither. She had been a pleasant chance acquaintance—intelligent, gentle, and refined.