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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 12
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The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 12 Post by :Joe_Coon Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3132

Click below to download : The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 12 (Format : PDF)

The Valley Of Silent Men: A Story Of The Three River Country - Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

That morning Kent had heard wild songs floating up from the river, and now he felt like shouting forth his own joy and exultation in song. He wondered if he could hide the truth from the eyes of others, and especially from Kedsty if he came to see him. It seemed that some glimmer of the hope blazing within him must surely reveal itself, no matter how he tried to hold it back. He felt the vital forces of that hope more powerful within him now than in the hour when he had crept from the hospital window with freedom in his face. For then he was not sure of himself. He had not tested his physical strength. And in the present moment, fanned by his unbounded optimism, the thought came to him that perhaps it was good luck and not bad that had thrown Mercer in his way. For with Fingers behind him now, his chances for a clean get- away were better. He would not be taking a hazardous leap chanced on the immediate smiles of fortune. He would be going deliberately, prepared.

He blessed the man who had been known as Dirty Fingers, but whom he could not think of now in the terms of that name. He blessed the day he had heard that chance story of Fingers, far north. He no longer regarded him as the fat pig of a man he had been for so many years. For he looked upon the miracle of a great awakening. He had seen the soul of Fingers lift itself up out of its tabernacle of flesh and grow young again; he had seen stagnant blood race with new fire. He had seen emotions roused that had slept for long years. And he felt toward Fingers, in the face of that awakening, differently than he had felt toward any other living man. His emotion was one of deep and embracing comradeship.

Father Layonne did not come again until afternoon, and then he brought information that thrilled Kent. The missioner had walked down to see Fingers, and Fingers was not on his porch. Neither was the dog. He had knocked loudly on the door, but there was no answer. Where was Fingers? Kent shook his head, feigning an anxious questioning, but inside him his heart was leaping. He knew! He told Father Layonne he was afraid all Fingers' knowledge of the law could do him but little good, that Fingers had told him as much, and the little missioner went away considerably depressed. He would talk with Fingers again, he said, and offer certain suggestions he had in mind. Kent chuckled when he was gone. How shocked le Pere would be if he, too, could know!

The next morning Father Layonne came again, and his information was even more thrilling to Kent. The missioner was displeased with Fingers. Last night, noticing a light in his shack, he had walked down to see him. And he had found three men closely drawn up about a table with Dirty Fingers. One of them was Ponte, the half-breed; another was Kinoo the outcast Dog Rib from over on Sand Creek; the third was Mooie, the old Indian trailer. Kent wanted to jump up and shout, for those three were the three greatest trailers in all that part of the Northland. Fingers had lost no time, and he wanted to voice his approbation like a small boy on the Fourth of July.

But his face, seen by Father Layonne, betrayed none of the excitement that was in his blood. Fingers had told him he was going into a timber deal with these men, a long-distance deal where there would be much traveling, and that he could not interrupt himself just then to talk about Kent. Would Father Layonne come again in the morning? And he had gone again that morning, and Fingers' place was locked up!

All the rest of the day Kent waited eagerly for Fingers. For the first time Kedsty came to see him, and as a matter of courtesy said he hoped Fingers might be of assistance to him. He did not mention Mercer and remained no longer than a couple of minutes, standing outside the cell. In the afternoon Doctor Cardigan came and shook hands warmly with Kent. He had found a tough job waiting for him, he said. Mercer was all cut up, in a literal as well as a mental way. He had five teeth missing, and he had to have seventeen stitches taken in his face. It was Cardigan's opinion that some one had given him a considerable beating--and he grinned at Kent. Then he added in a whisper,

"My God, Kent, how I wish you had made it!"

It was four o'clock when Fingers came. Even less than yesterday did he look like the old Fingers. He was not wheezing. He seemed to have lost flesh. His face was alive. That was what struck Kent --the new life in it. There was color in his eyes. And Togs, the dog, was not with him. He smiled when he shook hands with Kent, and nodded, and chuckled. And Kent, after that, gripped him by the shoulders and shook him in his silent joy.

"I was up all last night," said Fingers in a low voice. "I don't dare move much in the day, or people will wonder. But, God bless my soul!--I did move last night, Kent. I must have walked ten miles, more or less. And things are coming--coming!"

"And Ponte, Kinoo, Mooie--?"

"Are working like devils," whispered Fingers. "It's the only way, Kent. I've gone through all my law, and there's nothing in man- made law that can save you. I've read your confession, and I don't think you could even get off with the penitentiary. A noose is already tied around your neck. I think you'd hang. We've simply got to get you out some other way. I've had a talk with Kedsty. He has made arrangements to have you sent to Edmonton two weeks from tomorrow. We'll need all that time, but it's enough."

For three days thereafter Fingers came to Kent's cell each afternoon, and each time was looking better. Something was swiftly putting hardness into his flesh and form into his body. The second day he told Kent that he had found the way at last, and that when the hour came, escape would be easy, but he thought it best not to let Kent in on the little secret just yet. He must be patient and have faith. That was the chief thing, to have faith at all times, no matter what happened. Several times he emphasized that "no matter what happens." The third day he puzzled Kent. He was restless, a bit nervous. He still thought it best not to tell Kent what his scheme was, until to-morrow. He was in the cell not more than five or ten minutes, and there was an unusual pressure in the grip of his hand when he bade Kent good-by. Somehow Kent did not feel so well when he had gone. He waited impatiently for the next day. It came, and hour after hour he listened for Fingers' heavy tread in the hall. The morning passed. The afternoon lengthened. Night came, and Fingers had not come. Kent did not sleep much between the hour when he went to bed and morning. It was eleven o'clock when the missioner made his call. Before he left, Kent gave him a brief note for Fingers. He had just finished his dinner, and Carter had taken the dishes away, when Father Layonne returned. A look at his face, and Kent knew that he bore unpleasant tidings.

"Fingers is an--an apostate," he said, his lips twitching as if to keep back a denunciation still more emphatic. "He was sitting on his porch again this morning, half asleep, and says that after a great deal of thought he has come to the definite opinion that he can do nothing for you. He read your note and burned it with a match. He asked me to tell you that the scheme he had in mind was too risky--for him. He says he won't come up again. And--"

The missioner was rubbing his brown, knotted hands together raspingly.

"Go on," said Kent a little thickly.

"He has also sent Inspector Kedsty the same word," finished Father Layonne. "His word to Kedsty is that he can see no fighting chance for you, and that it is useless effort on his part to put up a defense for you. Jimmy!" His hand touched Kent's arm gently.

Kent's face was white. He faced the window, and for a space he did not see. Then with pencil and paper he wrote again to Fingers.

It was late in the afternoon before Father Layonne returned with an answer. Again it was verbal. Fingers had read his note and had burned it with a match. He was particular that the last scrap of it was turned into ash, the missioner said. And he had nothing to say to Kent that he had not previously said. He simply could not go on with their plans. And he requested Kent not to write to him again. He was sorry, but that was his definite stand in the matter.

Even then Kent could not bring himself to believe. All the rest of the day he tried to put himself in Fingers' brain, but his old trick of losing his personality in that of another failed him this time. He could find no reason for the sudden change in Fingers, unless it was what Fingers had frankly confessed to Father Layonne--fear. The influence of mind, in this instance, had failed in its assault upon a mass of matter. Fingers' nerve had gone back on him.

The fifth day Kent rose from his cot with hope still not quite dead in his heart. But that day passed and the sixth, and the missioner brought word that Fingers was the old Dirty Fingers again, sitting from morning till night on his porch.

On the seventh day came the final crash to Kent's hopes. Kedsty's program had changed. He, Kent, was to start for Edmonton the following morning under charge of Pelly and a special constable!

After this Kent felt a strange change come over him. Years seemed to multiply themselves in his body. His mind, beaten back, no longer continued in its old channels of thought. The thing pressed upon him now as fatalistic. Fingers had failed him. Fortune had failed him. Everything had failed, and for the first time in the weeks of his struggle against death and a thing worse than death, he cursed himself. There was a limit to optimism and a limit to hope. His limit was reached.

In the afternoon of this seventh day came a depressing gloom. It was filled with a drizzling rain. Hour after hour this drizzle kept up, thickening as the night came. He ate his supper by the light of a cell lamp. By eight o'clock it was black outside. In that blackness there was an occasional flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. On the roof of the barracks the rain beat steadily and monotonously.

His watch was in his hand--it was a quarter after nine o'clock, when he heard the door at the far exit of the hall open and close. He had heard it a dozen times since supper and paid no attention to it, but this time it was followed by a voice at the detachment office that hit him like an electrical shock. Then, a moment later, came low laughter. It was a woman who laughed.

He stood up. He heard the detachment office door close, and silence followed. The watch in his hand seemed ticking off the seconds with frantic noise. He shoved it into his pocket and stood staring out into the prison alcove. A few minutes later the office door opened again. This time it was not closed. He heard distinctly a few light, hesitating footsteps, and his heart seemed to stop its beating. They came to the head of the lighted alcove, and for perhaps the space of a dozen seconds there was silence again. Then they advanced.

Another moment, and Kent was staring through the bars into the glorious eyes of Marette Radisson!

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CHAPTER XIWhere a bit of the big river curved inward like the tongue of a friendly dog, lapping the shore at Athabasca Landing, there still remained Fingers' Row--nine dilapidated, weather-worn, and crazily-built shacks put there by the eccentric genius who had foreseen a boom ten years ahead of its time. And the fifth of these nine, counting from either one end or the other, was named by its owner, Dirty Fingers himself, the Good Old Queen Bess. It was a shack covered with black tar paper, with two windows, like square eyes, fronting the river as if always on the watch
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