And tonight Anton Fournet came into the cell again and sat with Kent on the cot where he had slept many nights, and the ghosts of his laughter and his song filled Kent’s ears, and his great courage poured itself out in the moonlit prison room so that at last, when Kent stretched himself on the cot to sleep, it was with the knowledge that the soul of the splendid dead had given him a strength which it was impossible to have gained from the living. For Anton Fournet had died smiling, laughing, singing—and it was of Anton Fournet that he dreamed when he fell asleep. And in that dream came also the vision of a man called Dirty Fingers—and with it inspiration.
Where 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 for something. Across the front of this shack Dirty Fingers had built a porch to protect himself from the rain in springtime, from the sun in Summer time, and from the snow in the months of Winter. For it was here that Dirty Fingers sat out all of that part of his life which was not spent in bed.
Up and down two thousand miles of the Three Rivers was Dirty Fingers known, and there were superstitious ones who believed that little gods and devils came to sit and commune with him in the front of the tar-papered shack. No one was so wise along those rivers, no one was so satisfied with himself, that he would not have given much to possess the many things that were hidden away in Dirty Fingers’ brain. One would not have suspected the workings of that brain by a look at Dirty Fingers on the porch of his Good Old Queen Bess. He was a great soft lump of a man, a giant of flabbiness. Sitting in his smooth-worn, wooden armchair, he was almost formless. His head was huge, his hair uncut and scraggy, his face smooth as a baby’s, fat as a cherub’s, and as expressionless as an apple. His folded arms always rested on a huge stomach, whose conspicuousness was increased by an enormous watch-chain made from beaten nuggets of Klondike gold, and Dirty Fingers’ thumb and forefinger were always twiddling at this chain. How he had come by the name of Dirty Fingers, when his right name was Alexander Toppet Fingers, no one could definitely say, unless it was that he always bore an unkempt and unwashed appearance.
Whatever the quality of the two hundred and forty-odd pounds of flesh in Dirty Fingers’ body, it was the quality of his brain that made people hold him in a sort of awe. For Dirty Fingers was a lawyer, a wilderness lawyer, a forest bencher, a legal strategist of the trail, of the river, of the great timber-lands.