Chapter XXX. Polly has a Plan




Pauline moved across the room and sat down beside Jim. An eager light shone in her soft, brown eyes.

"Listen!" she ordered in a low voice. "I've got a plan. There's a chance that it will work, I think. But tell me first about your sleeping arrangements. Does Jack or the other guard sit up and watch you all the time?"

"No. The champion roper of New Mexico, Arizona, an' Texas throws the diamond hitch on yours truly. He does an expert job, tucks me up, an' says good-night. He knows I'm perfectly safe till mornin', especially since both he an' Brad sleep in the same room with me."

"Well, I'm going to give you dad's room." She leaned forward and whispered to him steadily for five minutes.

The sardonic mockery had vanished from the face of the prisoner. He listened, every nerve and fiber of him at alert attention. Occasionally he asked a question. Carefully she explained the plan, going over each detail of it again and again.

Jim Clanton was efficient. In those days it was a necessary quality for a bad man if he wished to continue to function. He offered a suggestion or two which Pauline incorporated in her proposed campaign of action. At best her scheme was hazardous. It depended upon all things dovetailing properly. But he was in no place to pick and choose. All he asked was a chance and an even break of luck.

"You dandy girl!" he cried softly, and took her two hands between the palms of his fettered ones. "I'm a scalawag, Polly. But if you pull this off for me, I'll right-about-face. That's a promise. Somehow I've never acted like I wanted to. I've done a heap of wild an' foolish things, an' I've killed whenever it was put up to me. I don't reckon any woman that married me would be real happy. But if you'll take a chance 111 go away from here an' well Make a fresh start. You're the only girl there is for me."

A faint smile lay in her eyes. "You used to think Lee was the only girl, didn't you?"

"Well, I don't now. I like Polly Roubideau better."

Abruptly she flung at him a statement that was a question. "You didn't kill Mr. Webb."

"No. I never killed but one man without givin' him an even break. That was Peg-Leg Warren, an' he was a cold-blooded murderer."

A troubled little frown creased her forehead. "I've thought for more than a year now that you--liked me that way. And I've had it in my mind a great deal as to what I ought to do if you spoke to me about it. I wish you had a good wife, Jim. Maybe she could save you from yourself."

"Mebbe she could, Polly."

The lashes of her eyelids fell. She looked down at the bands of iron around his small wrists. "I--I've prayed over it, Jim. But I'm not clear that I've found an answer." Her low voice broke a little. "I don't know what to say."

"Is it that you are afraid of what I'm goin' to be? Can't you trust yore life with me? I shouldn't think you could."

Her eyes lifted and met his bravely. "I think that wouldn't stop me if--if I cared for you that way."

"It's Billie Prince, then, is it?"

"No, it isn't Billie Prince. Never mind who it is. What I must decide is whether I can make you the kind of wife you need without being exactly--"

"In love with me," he finished for her.

"Yes. I've always liked you very much. You've been good to me. I love you like a brother, I think. Oh, I don't know how to say it."

"Let's get this straight, Polly. Is there some one else you love?"

A tide of color flooded her face to the roots of the hair. She met his steady look reluctantly.

"We needn't discuss that, Jim."

"Needn't we?" He laughed a little, but his voice was rough with feeling. "You're the blamedest little pilgrim ever I did see. What kind of a fellow do you think I am? I ain't good enough for you--not by a thousand miles. Even if you felt about me the way I do about you, it would be a big risk for you to marry me. But now--Sho, little missionary, I ain't so selfish as to let you sacrifice yore life for me."

"If I marry you it will be because I want to, Jim."

"You'll want to because you're such a good little Christian you think it's up to you to save a brand from the burning. But I won't let you do any such foolishness. You go marry that other man. If he's a good, square, decent fellow, you'll be a whole lot better off than if you tied up with a ne'er-do-well like me."

They heard a step on the porch.

"Don't forget. Three taps if you're alone in the room," she said in a whisper.

Goodheart came into the parlor with Pierre Roubideau. "Expect we'd better turn in, Clanton. We've got to make an early start to-morrow."

The prisoner rose at once. Pauline had drawn her father aside and was giving him some instructions. The old Frenchman nodded, smiling. He understood her little feminine devices and was a cheerful victim of them.

The young woman found a chance for a word alone with the deputy.

"I want to see you to-night, Jack, about--something." Her eyes were very bright and the color in the soft cheeks high. She spoke almost in a whisper.

The lank young sheriff had the soul of an inarticulate poet. Beneath the tan of his leathery face the blood burned. This was the first really kind word he had had from her since their arrival. All her solicitation had been for the condemned youth in his care. Perhaps all she wanted now was to ask some favor for Clanton, but hope leaped in his heart.

He made arrangements for the night in his usual careful way. It was not pleasant to have to watch the prisoner as a cat does a mouse, but Goodheart was thorough in whatever he undertook. Skillfully he tied Clanton in such a way as to allow him enough freedom of motion to change position without giving him enough to make it possible for him to untie himself.

"Back after a while" he told Jim.

The young man on the bed grunted sleepily and the deputy returned to the parlor.

Pauline, still in her kitchen apron, smiled in at the door upon him and her father.

"You two go out on the porch and smoke your pipes," she said. "I have to finish my work in the kitchen, then I have to go down to the cellar and take care of the milk. Ill not be long."

Pierre, an obedient parent, rose and moved toward the porch. Before he left the room Goodheart took the precaution to lock the bedroom door and pocket the key. He was a little ashamed of this, but he knew that Go-Get-'Em Jim was a very competent and energetic person. Convicted and sentenced though he was, Clanton still boasted with cool aplomb that there would be no hanging on the sixth. The deputy strolled round to the back of the house to make sure his assistant was still on the job. After a few words with the man he returned to the porch. He was satisfied there was no possible chance of an escape. The prisoner lay handcuffed and tied to a bed by the champion roper of the Southwest. The door of the room was locked Both exits from the house were guarded. Jack felt that he could safely enjoy a smoke.



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