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The Stuff Of Heroes
by [?]

Springtime on the prairies of South Dakota. It is early morning, the sun is not yet up, but all is light and even and soft and all-surrounding, so that there are no shadows. In every direction the gently rolling country is dotted brown and white from the incomplete melting of winter’s snows. In the low places tiny streams of snow-water, melted yesterday, sing low under the lattice-work blanket the frost has built in the night. Nearby and in the distance prairie-chickens are calling, lonely, uncertain. Wild ducks in confused masses, mere specks in the distance, follow low over the winding curves of the river. High overhead, flocks of geese in regular black wedges, and brant, are flying northward, and the breezy sound of flapping wings and of voices calling, mingle in the sweetest of all music to those who know the prairies–Nature’s morning song of springtime.

“What a country! Look there!” The big man in the front seat of the rough, low wagon pointed east where the sun rose slowly from the lap of the prairie. The other men cleared their throats as if to speak, but said nothing.

“And I’ve lived sixty years without knowing,” continued the first voice, musingly.

“I’ve never been West before, either,” admitted De Young, simply.

They drove on, the trickling of snow-water sounding around the wagon wheels.

The third man, Clark, pointed back in the direction they had come.

“Did any one back there inquire what we were doing?” he asked.

“A fellow ‘lowed,’ with a rising inflection, that we were hunting ducks,” said De Young. “I temporized; made him forget that I hadn’t answered. You know what will happen once the curiosity of the natives is aroused.”

“I wasn’t approached,” Morris joined in, without turning. The corners of the big man’s mouth twitched, as the suggested picture formed swiftly in his mind.

After a pause, De Young spoke again.

“I gave the postmaster a specially good tip to see that we got our mail out promptly.”

“So did I,” Clark admitted.

The face of the serious man lighted; and, their eyes meeting, the three friends smiled all together.

The sun rose higher, without a breath of wind from over the prairies, and one after another the men removed their top-coats. The horses’ hoofs splashed at each step in slush and running water, sending drops against the dashboard with a sound like rain.

The trail which they were following could now scarcely be seen, except at intervals on higher ground, where hoof-prints and the tracks of wheels were scored in the soft mud, and with each mile these marks grew deeper and broader as the partly frozen earth softened.

The air of solemnity which had hung about the men for days, and which lifted from time to time only temporarily, now silenced them again. Indeed, had there been anybody present to observe, he doubtless would have been impressed most of all with the unwonted soberness of the wagon’s occupants, a gravity strangely at variance with the rampant, fecund season.

And the object of their journeying into this unknown world was in all truth a matter for silence rather than speech; its influence was toward deep and earnest meditation, to which the joyous, awakening world could do no more than chant in a minor key a melancholy accompaniment. Never did a soldier advancing upon a breach in the enemy’s breastworks more certainly confront the grinning face of Death, than did this trio in their progress across the singing prairie; but where the plaudits of the world spelled glory for the one, the three in the wagon knew that for them Death meant oblivion, extinction, a blotting out that must needs be utter and inevitable.

The thoughts of each dwelt upon some aspect of two scenes which had happened only a brief fortnight previously. There had been a notable convention of physicians in a city many miles to the east. One delegate, a man young, slender, firm of jaw, his face shining with zeal and the spirit which courts self-immolation, had addressed the body. His speech had made a profound impression–after its first effect of sensation had subsided–upon the hundreds gathered there, who hearkened amazedly; but of those hundreds only two had been moved to lay aside the tools of their calling and follow him.