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ERNEST HAYCOX

FAREWELL TO THE YEARS

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First published in Collier's, 8 May 1937

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Collier's, 8 May 1937, with "Farewell to the Years"



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JUST before he came to the crest of this long "road he remembered Sunny Crandall's last words in Salt Lake. They had stood on the platform near the train, both too deeply involved in their own thoughts to say much. She had worn a gray suit that showed the slim, almost rangy lines of her body, and beneath the little brim of her hat was a face smooth and smart and cool. Like the rest of her generation, Sunny kept emotion well concealed behind her eyes; but he did notice her wide lips turn in the briefest smile.

She had said: "Well, go back and visit the scenes of your childhood. How long has it been since your last exit—ten years? And a certain memory has bothered you all this while. So you've got to see if it's real or only something you dreamed. Part of that story you never have told me, old-timer."

"Maybe," he said. "Maybe."

Her cool eyes had glowed a little. "Only two things could pull you there. War or a woman."

"Is that my life?" he had asked her.

"War, because fighting is in your blood. Women, because they seem always to see something in you."

"Speaking for yourself, Sunny?"

The train bell had started to ring and then she had said with a vehemence that wasn't like her: "I have so strange a feeling about this, Miles. Go see the old home place, if you must. I hope she's married and fat and has many children. But if she isn't, if she hasn't—"

On the steps of the car he looked back to see this girl, always so smartly self-contained, showing him a smileless glance in which there was the blur of tears. At Winnemucca he bought a horse and rode north through a land that plagued him with clearer and clearer memories and now at last he reached the crest of the road and saw the country of his youth after ten years' absence.

So he rode, this Miles Fanning, drinking in the familiar scenes. He was at thirty a long and broad-shouldered man whose square, weather-darkened face held the seasoning and the sedateness of a life fully lived and almost beyond surprise. His eyes were quiet and the line of hair along his forehead showed ink-black and there was a faint white scar crossing his right temple.

"Maybe," he said, "I should have come sooner." For he had returned to find the answer to a question ten years old and he had returned to feel the eagerness and the hungry anticipation which had been so strong in the youthful Miles Fanning that it had sent him out of the valley. In ten years that hunger had died.


All this was in his mind as the road led him into the single dusty street of Antelope, between weather-gray buildings asleep in the sun. Nothing, he thought with a growing sense of relief, had changed. A few horses drooped hitched at the racks. One auto, caked with dust and simmering steam from its cap, stood in the shade of the livery stable's locust tree, and a man old and fat slept in a chair on the store porch, his white head dropped toward his chest. Miles Fanning rounded in at that porch and saw, with a strange sensation in his mind, that this was Henry Liederman.

Liederman opened his eyes—a more faded blue than they had been so long ago—and looked carefully. And sat up and said, "Well, by Godfrey! Miles Fanning. Well, by Godfrey!" He didn't rise and Fanning, stepping onto the porch to catch the old man's hand, saw the cane beside the chair. There was a strange expression on Liederman's cheeks, a revival of feeling long dormant. But it went away as he spoke slowly:

"Saw where you took first again in the buckin' at Cheyenne. Always was a one to like a little snort at hell. Back for a while?"

"Just a while," said Miles Fanning. He let his arm rest on Liederman's shoulder, but he was looking down this tattered little town's street and seeing himself in it as he had been then. A gaunt kid, too restless to stay still, with that hunger to ride over the hill and paint the world. "Quiet here."

Liederman said: "Oh, sure. But it ain't changed so much. The youngsters still ride out of the brush on Saturday night."

It made him think instantly then of Lily Maidment and the question almost got out of him. But it was a thing he feared to ask, even though he had to have the answer.

He looked at Dreer's saloon across the street. The same faded sign was dimly on its square false front and the same door with the bull's-eye window swung at the hinge; and directly above the left-hand window he saw the bullet hole marking the gray wood. It all came back at a rush.

"Dreer still run that?"

"Died two years ago. Well, you sure cut a notch in this country, Miles. Now and then, some of the new crop stand on my porch and talk about that."


Miles Fanning dropped off the store porch and crossed the street. He pushed into the saloon, into a sudden, airless twilight. A bar ran down one side of the room, and the faded back-bar mirror still remained and the same round poker tables were in the rear of the room. This was one of the things he had returned for—to shake off the years and feel that rash recklessness which took no account of time or consequences; to be the young Miles Fanning with the brightness of a fresh world blinding his eyes. For a minute he had that feeling and was that young kid again as he sat down behind the corner table and faced the length of the room.

He had been here, with Jim Brown and Pete Madden. At this table. And Chris Royal had come in with the five or six other Mogul Rim boys. All of them had grown up in the country and all of them had inherited that old hatred. The Mogul Rim was one world and Powder Desert was another. And so they were two wolf packs face to face, three against those six or seven. He could remember the way Jim Bown turned to stare at Chris Royal and he could remember that Pete Madden whispered, "I guess we got to fight."

Chris Royal had said: "What you hidin' for?" And Jim Bown drawled: "We're right here, Chris. You want anything?" Then the three of them had risen and walked on toward Chris Royal's bunch and some other men in the saloon got out of the way and Henry Dreer pounded his fist on the bar and yelled: "Dammit, this is my place!" But Chris Royal was laughing and he made a long jump at Miles Fanning and the fight was on.

He had been backed up against the far corner of the room, at the end of the bar, with Jim Bown still beside him and the Rim outfit beating forward. Owens Smith was crying at them and the Rim boys broke away to clear this spot and Chris Royal dragged himself off the floor, where Miles's fist had put him, and tried to talk. Sitting so quietly in this chair now, Miles Fanning remembered that he had reached behind the bar and seized Henry Dreer's Winchester which always stood in the corner. Owens Smith had fired, that shot howling up a wicked echo in the cramped saloon. Chris Royal had yelled: "Owney—Owney!" Then Miles Fanning had lifted Dreer's rifle and, seeing Owens Smith turn his revolver deliberately down upon him, had fired twice. He could remember now, how still Owens Smith had stood against the single lamp's light; and how, afterward, he had fallen away from the bar, dead.


He was sitting there thinking of that fight, his mind gray and a little tired, when he heard a voice say, as calm and slow as anything in the world: "Well, kid, I kind of wondered if you'd ever come back." And so the picture of that fight faded and he saw Jim Bown standing beyond the table.

Miles Fanning stood up. He pushed the table aside and caught Jim Bown's hand; and they stood there a long while, smiling at each other and not speaking. Bown, at twenty, had been a chunky kid with few words and a loyalty that never wavered. He was heavier now, with ten years of work rounding his shoulders a little and a faint premature touch of gray at the edge of his temples. His eyes were deeper; the fire in him burned slower and farther down.

"You look the same," Miles Fanning said.

"Sure. So do you, which makes us both liars. Looks natural to see you sitting in that corner. I ain't been in here for six years."

"Just as well, I guess. Time goes."

Jim Bown said, "Yeah," gently. And they were both smiling again, their thoughts running backward.

Miles Fanning said, "Well," and they walked together through the twilight of the saloon, out to the street. The sun was behind Mogul Rim and the beautiful color of evening began to trickle down that giant wall like water. A few people stirred on the street and Liederman still sat in the chair, his white head rolling. A cowbell tingled across the housetops, loud in the town's silence. The smell of cut hay and drying sagebrush and juniper lay in the air. Jim Bown said: "You'll stay at my place." They got to their horses and went out of Antelope at a walk, along a road that turned up a little bay running off the main valley floor. "I bought sixty acres from the old Homan and Lafferty outfit." And afterward they rode in silence. He could remember, Miles Fanning could, that neither of them had ever been hands for talking; and couldn't talk now.


But he was thinking of Lily Maidment and the question in him grew more and more insistent, though he couldn't ask it. It was a fear, maybe, that the answer might be wrong. So he held his peace as they followed the road he had traveled so many times, and came upon the sloping entrance to Black Valley and saw the white house and the corrals and barns sitting between straight rows of poplars. They rode around to the back and got off and Jim Bown grinned widely and called: "Sally, here's a pilgrim."

Jim Bown's wife, who had been Sally Granger, came out of the kitchen with her cheeks flushed from the stove's heat. She looked at Miles Fanning a long moment and her mouth opened as though to say, "Oh!" And then she ran down the steps and took Miles Fanning by both arms. "Miles!" she said. "Miles!" and raised on her toes and hugged him. Jim Bown's laughter roared into the yard and a long-legged girl and two boys appeared on the porch and made a silent, sober audience. Jim Bown named them off. "That's young Sally; that's young Jim—and that's Bert. This is Miles Fanning, kids." A hired man came over from the corral, looking curiously on.

Miles Fanning reached down and lifted Jim Bown's wife, hefting her. He said: "When was the last time you jumped Chickman Creek on a horse, Sally?"

"Oh," she said, "I'm an old woman now," and laughed, a pleasant color crossing her cheeks, and ran up the steps. "There's dinner scorching on the stove." She had been a slim, dark-eyed kid—and now was Jim Bown's wife with three children at the age of legginess. He stood there while Jim Bown took the horses back; and afterward at Sally's call they washed up and went in to eat.


Miles Fanning thought of all the wild youngsters he had known, of that valley crowd which had raced so carelessly out of the desert into Antelope on a Saturday night. He sat at this table now, and saw Lily Maidment as though she faced him, her lips smiling in that quiet way; he could see the outline of her shoulders and head and the way she had of looking direct at him, with a pride and with a touch of that gay insolence that she had always used on him—to keep him humble. To recall it now was to run strange cold currents through him and make him suddenly aware of all the years between and the time wasted. But he couldn't ask the question.

On the porch later, with Jim and Sally, and the three kids gravely listening through the dark, he hoped Jim would speak of it. The crickets were filling the night with a minor rustling and the wind rolled down Mogul gentle and crisp and all the shadows in the valley were black against a pale moon. It was as it had always been. Nothing changed this country much. The change was all in him.

Jim said: "Let's see. When you left here you went up to Montana. I had a letter from you. The year we got married."

Miles told him: "I was in South America for a cattle outfit until a revolution broke out. So I came back and tried the rodeo game. That's most of it. I guess I'll ride horses till they carry me off."

The wind had a colder bite and the three youngsters were immobile shadows on the porch steps. They were listening and Jim and Sally were listening. And then he knew something had changed here. For a little while he had been back home and for a little while they were tied together by the thought of what they had known as youngsters. Now he was a stranger, the talk of strange places setting him farther and farther away from them.

Jim Bown's cigarette made a bright glow in the shadows. He said quietly: "Must have been fun, knockin' the edges off the wide old world."

"Maybe," murmured Miles Fanning. "Maybe."


But later, up in the little corner room of the house, he sat on the bed's edge and slowly smoked his cigarette and wondered if it had been fun. His raw-boned hands slowly scrubbed across each other and quick lines netted around his eye corners. He made a stubborn, rebellious shape there. He could hear Jim and Sally talking in the kitchen below and knew they were mentioning the changes they saw in him; as he was thinking of the changes he had seen in them. It had been a mistake to come, as Sunny Crandall had told him it would be.

He thought of her then. Somewhere along the route of the rodeo circle—at Cheyenne or Fort Worth or Calgary—she had dropped into his sight, a society girl who couldn't stay in the box seats of life. She had learned trick riding, and so for two years they had been a part of the rodeo crowd, swinging north in summer and south in winter. She was like most of her generation, looking for something she hadn't found, smiling on a world that had no peace for her, holding behind her gray eyes emotions that only at some chance moment ever showed through. She could be blunt—and had been blunt one day, saying: "We might discuss marriage some afternoon when there's nothing else on your mind." But it was the change in her eyes and the softening of her voice that took the casualness out of it. "After all, I'm likely to be under your feet as long as we swing around the rodeo circuit."

Lying flat in the bed, with a faint streak of moonlight breaking through the window, he heard the lonely howling of a coyote up in Mogul's timber. He remembered Sunny Crandall as she had looked at him at the depot, that strangeness in her eyes; and then the picture faded and Lily Maidment's face was before him and faint excitement raveled through him and a sense of something lost hit him like pain.


By day the land lay tawny yellow under the sun. On Powder's Rim, one thousand feet high, he stopped with Jim Bown to have his look at the desert sweeping on north into the gathering haze. Antelope town lay over against the base of Mogul, six miles off, and little spirals of dust rose along the rutted roads to mark traveling riders. The touch of fall lay in the air. He turned then and went on with Jim Bown. "Nothing changes," he said, and said no more until they reached Shan McGladry's ranch quarters and saw old Shan tinkering with the blades of a mowing machine in the wagon shed. They came up to Shan, the man they had ridden for in those earlier days, and Jim Bown drawled: "He's deaf as a post now," and yelled: "Shan!"

Shan McGladry reared around and saw Miles Fanning, and for a moment he stared, as though something troubled his memory. Then he grinned and spoke in a deaf man's monotone: "Back fer a job, Miles?" Miles Fanning was off his horse, pumping Shan McGladry's hand. He said: "You haven't changed."

"What?" called McGladry, and when Fanning repeated it the old man shook his head. "Oh, hell, I'm all played out and the range is played out and nothin's like it was."

Fanning and Jim Bown were broadly smiling at the ancient and unchanging tune. Shan McGladry said: "Well, I guess you been paintin' the world's fence posts a good bright red. Been everywhere and seen everything, uh? Noticed where you been ridin' the broncs. Always did like 'em tough, I recall. Where'd you pick up that limp?" He was a sharp-eyed man, seeing what most other men missed.

"South America," said Fanning. "In a revolution."

Shan said: "Look at the ranch. She's terrible run down. Look at that mower. Look at the barns. Well, I don't expect to live out another year. Kidneys all shot to hell. That's what'll happen to you, too, if you keep ridin' them buckin' broncs."

They stood there a little while, each man plunged into his own thinking. Then Miles Fanning clapped old Shan McGladry on his frail back and he swung into his saddle and rode away with Jim Bown.

"He's aged," said Miles Fanning.

Jim Bown said quietly: "So have I and so have you. Time crawls up behind a man and one day cracks him on the skull." Afterward he stopped. They had reached the crossing of the trails, one road running down into the valley, the other leading deeper into Powder's Rim open pines. Through the scatter of trees Miles Fanning saw the corner of a white house throwing back the quick morning's sunlight—and the arch of a gate. Coldness flowed through him and he braced himself for punishment to come. Jim Bown was looking at him in a way that was faintly embarrassed.

Miles said: "There?"

"Yeah," murmured Jim Bown. "Still there." Then he added: "I'll meet you in Antelope later," and whirled away.


Long after Jim Bown had vanished, Miles Fanning held his horse still, his face dark and smooth and without expression. This was the question, at last. And so, throwing his shoulders back, he rode toward the white house sitting in the sun.

It had been in his memory a great while, that white house with its long porch, and the pines scattered in the yard, and the gate's wide arch with the antelope horns nailed to either side. At the gate he stopped again. There was a woman riding away from the house at a swinging canter, toward a meadow in the distance. She saw him and looked away and then suddenly she had halted and turned to look at him again. She remained like that a long, long moment and presently put the horse around, advancing toward him.

Excitement whetted his senses fine. He pulled off his hat, stone-still in the saddle, the strain riding him heavier and heavier. He was thinking then that he should never have come. In the worst passages of his life his picture of her had been a thing to ease and to steady him, to give some meaning to his solitude. He was risking all that now, and regretted it.

When she stopped before him there was no smile. Her eyes were shadowed, even in the sunlight, and her lips were straight and almost pale.

He said, so dry, so slow: "Hello, Lily."

The darkness of her eyes was deeper and deeper, hiding whatever she might have felt. She put her horse over and took his hand. "Come in, Miles." Her tone was even and cool. "Time has been good to you. You look so well."


Late in the afternoon he came down off Powder's Rim and crossed the valley to Antelope, a grayness and a weariness riding with him, beyond his understanding. Jim Bown waited on Liederman's store porch. There were four young fellows loitering by, all grave and black-eyed kids watching him with that indirect closeness of youth. Jim Bown was chuckling in his slow, easy way. "So, we got a quorum, Miles," and pointed. Turning, Miles Fanning saw Chris Royal riding up.

He looked at Royal's blocky shape, at the round, sun-blackened face, and the heavy black brows over pale blue eyes; and for one brief moment the old antagonism flared fresh and strong in him. But Royal came on quietly and put his arms across the saddle horn and said: "Heard you were here, Miles." And then both were smiling the smile of men grown up, who were thinking backward in wistful tolerance. Miles Fanning reached over and shook Chris Royal's hand and for a while they were talking casually while the four young fellows on the porch listened with a narrow-eyed attention. The sun had dropped across Mogul Rim. Miles Fanning looked down the quiet street, memorizing the picture of it with a feeling in him that he would never see it again; and said "So long" to Liederman and Chris Royal and rode back to supper with Jim Bown.

It was after supper that they began to drop in—the youngsters he had ridden with in those long-gone years. Sid Wells, George and Ethel Granby, Ned Purrow, Fay LeVane, and all the others. And Lily Maidment. And for a while in Jim Bown's house, it was like being young again to hear them all speak of what had been.

He sat quietly in his chair, a big, heavy-boned man, smiling faintly at the things said; warmed and tied into this group by that headlong talk of old times. Now and then, lifting his glance, he saw Lily Maidment listening and rarely speaking. They had, he recalled, always been the two silent ones in this rowdy group. Color brightened her cheeks and when her eyes touched him he saw the fugitive shining of an old faith that once had held them so powerfully together. She had been serene and gently proud, with a little mockery always for him. The mockery was no longer there.

George Granby said: "How long you stayin', Miles?"

Sid Wells laughed at this: "It won't be long. Nothin' ever kept him in one place. Well, I wish I had cut the furrow you have, kid."

Silence came to the room and the ease went out of it for Miles Fanning. They were looking at him, and they were thinking of something that they knew and he didn't. He looked across to Lily Maidment and saw the withdrawn soberness of her expression and he said something to her silently in his mind. There was still a remnant of that understanding between them; it brought them both to their feet and afterward Miles Fanning shook hands with those who had come in to see him, and said: "I'll ride home with Lily. Don't wait up, Sally."


Presently they were traveling side by side across the flats toward the lowering shadow of the Powder's Rim. The moon laid its luminous silvering on the desert floor and the wind held again its old wild and winelike scent. He found himself speaking in a deeply wistful way. "All of them look fine—and happy."

"Aren't you happy, Miles?"

"It is hard to say. There are one or two things I'll never cease to regret."

Long after, at the base of the stiff grade up Powder's dark face, she spoke. "Once in a while I have found you mentioned in the papers. I've wondered how many hurts you have suffered, for I knew you would always take your falls hard. And you have. It has made you gentler, Miles. And wiser."

"Why should you think of me at all?" he said, puzzled.

They were at the top of the grade, with the pines shadowing them and the night wind running more freely against their faces. The coyotes were howling in the timber. She said: "We used to be rather close. Some of that interest remains." Then she added in a whisper: "Like a bit of music dying out in a dark room."

He remembered this last little lane leading into the gate. They had always pulled their horses to the slowest walk and they had always gone as far as the porch as silently as though another meeting would never come. It was part of a pattern that came back to impel them now, and so they went as they had done before, slowly and silently through the gate and up to the porch; and it was part of the pattern that made them dismount and stand there in the gathered shadows. He could see her face glowing in the faint light; he could see the way she looked so directly at him.

She said: "It is the same as it was. Except that Mother used to leave a light in the house for me. There isn't any light now."

He had no need to remember how that pattern ran. She had the power to stir him and lift him to a recklessness and to a hunger. And so now, because none of that had changed, he stepped forward and took her with his big arms, and kissed her, the wild sweetness of this woman roaring all through him. And stepped back, and waited for that low and breathless laugh. And then he understood that here the pattern ended. She stood there without laughter. She said:

"I remember you said you were going away, but that you'd come back. And so you came back."

"I know," he said. "Late."

Her voice was quiet, without tone. "And now you're going again."

He said: "Good night, Lily," and turned to his horse.


Traveling down the trail, he knew that he had seen this valley for the last time. There were stages in a man's life that he reached and passed without ever knowing when; there were hungers that died and illusions that faded, and fires that burned out. He remembered what Sunny Crandall had said:

"You're making a mistake. You'll go there and every scene will hurt you unbearably and you'll come back bitter. Better to keep your memories as they are. You couldn't live there. You'd settle there—and be miserable in a week. You've been on top of the world too long. Smoke and trouble and motion are the things you live by. I hate to tell you this, but you're not the thinking type. Action is your breath, you big bruiser! Be content with what you have. I know you, oh, so well."


Sally and Jim were waiting for him. They followed him into the living room and he saw them looking anxiously at him, as though to find an answer they had hoped for; and he saw their faces settle. They knew then what he would do.

They knew it without asking and next morning, after he had eaten, Jim Bown brought up his horse, saddled and ready to go. There was a moment on the porch when it was worse than Miles Fanning thought it could be for a man, and then Sally took his arms and reached up and kissed him, crying. She said: "Oh, Miles—why?"

He remembered how that other farewell had gone. They had all been laughing and he had ridden away with a haste to reach the world; he had reached out with his arms, eager to pull the years to him. And now they were older, pushing the relentless, too-fast years away with futile gestures. He said: "So long," and left the yard. Once he looked back to see them lift their arms.

He was thinking, as he crossed the fiats and started up Dead Axle's long grade, that he would wire Sunny Crandall when he reached Winnemucca. She would meet him at Salt Lake, her quick eyes looking out from the little brim of her hat and her lips careful not to show what she felt. And she would say: "I have led a very quiet life, and hope you are the same," and they would walk up Salt Lake's broad street, two people asking very little and watching the world run by with a sadness they would never admit. Like two kids afraid to lose each other for fear of the darkness to come.

So he came to the top of the grade and looked back at the valley lying fresh and yellow under the long slant of the morning sun, with Antelope town crouched at the base of Mogul's sheer face and the little dimples of dust rising from travelers on the road. He saw it all, each detail sharp in his memory. And turned away—and found Lily Maidment waiting there at the edge of the pines.

This was as before. She had been there, waiting for him with a strangeness in her eyes and all the laughter out of her face. He got down and walked to her now and saw that strangeness again; and suddenly he felt as he had that day so long ago, bitter at the need of leaving, yet unable to stay. The bitterness was as sharp, but the compulsion to go no longer jerked his muscles. This was the difference.

She said, careful with her words: "I remember that I said I hoped you'd find what you wanted. I was so young and so were you—and I wonder if you could know what it was to have the world turn black. As it did. Well, Miles, nothing changes. I hope you find what you want."

He said: "Lily," and saw her lips stir. Her shoulders were very straight and still. He put out his arms and caught the fragrance of her hair as she came forward to him. He said: "Lily," and kissed her and held her tightly, knowing that he would never ride the world again. For she was saying, her body against him: "I can't stand another ten years of crying, Miles. There is time enough for us yet." And he knew it was so, for he felt that sudden freshness, that quick boil of something wild and hopeful and eager. This was what he had come to the valley to find. And he had found it.


THE END