experiments paralleled and proved in advance those that
XXV "I'D JUST AS SOON HANG FOR NINE MEN AS FOR ONE"
XXVII LIFE ADJUSTS ITSELF AGAIN TO SMALL THINGS
It was somewhere in the seventies when old Peaceful Hart woke to a realization that gold-hunting and lumbago do not take kindly to one another, and the fact that his pipe and dim-eyed meditation appealed to him more keenly than did his prospector's pick and shovel and pan seemed to imply that he was growing old. He was a silent man, by occupation and by nature, so he said nothing about it; but, like the wild things of prairie and wood, instinctively began preparing for the winter of his life. Where he had lately been washing tentatively the sand along Snake River, he built a ranch. His prospector's tools he used in digging ditches to irrigate his new-made meadows, and his mining days he lived over again only in halting recital to his sons when they clamored for details of the old days when Indians were not mere untidy neighbors to be gossiped with and fed, but enemies to be fought, upon occasion.
They felt that fate had cheated them--did those five sons; for they had been born a few years too late for the fun. Not one of them would ever have earned the title of "Peaceful," as had his father. Nature had played a joke upon old Peaceful Hart; for he, the mildest-mannered man who ever helped to tame the West when it really needed taming, had somehow fathered five riotous young males to whom fight meant fun--and the fiercer, the funnier.
He used to suck at his old, straight-stemmed pipe and regard them with a bewildered curiosity sometimes; but he never tried to put his puzzlement into speech. The nearest he ever came to elucidation, perhaps, was when he turned from them and let his pale-blue eyes dwell speculatively upon the face of his wife, Phoebe. Clearly he considered that she was responsible for their dispositions.
The house stood cuddled against a rocky bluff so high it dwarfed the whole ranch to pygmy size when one gazed down from the rim, and so steep that one wondered how the huge, gray bowlders managed to perch upon its side instead of rolling down and crushing the buildings to dust and fragments. Strangers used to keep a wary eye upon that bluff, as if they never felt quite safe from its menace. Coyotes skulked there, and tarantulas and "bobcats" and snakes. Once an outlaw hid there for days, within sight and hearing of the house, and stole bread from Phoebe's pantry at night--but that is a story in itself.
A great spring gurgled out from under a huge bowlder just behind the house, and over it Peaceful had built a stone milk house, where Phoebe spent long hours in cool retirement on churning day, and where one went to beg good things to eat and to drink. There was fruit cake always hidden away in stone jars, and cheese, and buttermilk, and cream.
Peaceful Hart must have had a streak of poetry somewhere hidden away in his silent soul. He built a pond against the bluff; hollowed it out from the sand he had once washed for traces of gold, and let the big spring fill it full and seek an outlet at the far end, where it slid away under a little stone bridge. He planted the pond with rainbow trout, and on the margin a rampart of Lombardy poplars, which grew and grew until they threatened to reach up and tear ragged holes in the drifting clouds. Their slender shadows lay, like gigantic fingers, far up the bluff when the sun sank low in the afternoon.