The Path Of Fire: An Old West Story


A College Student

WHEN Lee Jones got off the train and stepped down on the depot platform of the little northern New Mexico town of Walden, he did not look like the son of old Nard Jones, whom the surrounding range country knew as a stem-winding old hell-bender from the upper reaches of Bitter Creek.

He looked like a college student.

He was a college student.

This pale-faced youth of twenty, this peg-top-pants clad boy, this college student, was the son and heir of old Nard Jones, who could barely read and write and who had laid the foundations of a cattle empire by the free use of a running iron.

Nard Jones was one of the toughest old hombres who ever rode the river.

His son looked like a ninny.

The black band around Lee Jones’ upper arm showed why he had come home.

Old Nard Jones was dead.

While the train pulled out behind him, Lee Jones stood on the wooden depot platform looking at the town of Walden, feeling it, smelling it. He had memories of this town and of this country. Dim memories, to be sure.
He hadn’t set foot in this country in eight years, not since his mother had died when he was twelve years old and his father had packed him off east to get an education and learn how to be a gentleman.

Because old Nard Jones could barely read and write, he had thought an education was a wonderful asset. Because his own manners were the manners of the trail herd, of the cowcamp, of the range and the river, he had been determined that his son should know how to use a fork without fumbling. Old Nard Jones had hungered after what he thought were the better things of life.

Old Nard was not a prophet. He could foresee the wind and the weather, he could smell a norther days away, he could forecast the price of beef come next roundup time, but he could not foresee the terrible predicament his hunger would eventually pose for his son.

Lee Jones stood on the station platform, savoring the feel of the land. This was his town, this was his country, this was his world. He belonged here. He had come home. He remembered this little town. He remembered most of all the high sky of this land and the blue mountains off in the far distance.

■ ■ ■

THE Bar Y was over there toward those mountains, over there sixty miles away. The Bar Y, with its thousands of cattle, its tremendously huge ranch house made of logs, its bunk house where twenty waddies lived and played practical jokes on each other, the kitchen where the two Chinese cooks labored nightly, the rambling rose that grew all along the trellis of the vast front porch. This was the Bar Y ranch as he remembered it.

His ranch now.

He was the heir.

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