Friday, April 17, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 6, part 1 - The Major, the Factor, and the Father

And in this chapter, we meet what are presumably the book's villains.  I mean, it obviously isn't Captain Lewis, he's long gone.

When that majestic tyrant Alexander McGlincy gets off his boat, "history was instantly made at Fort Chesterfield."  The people in the canoes form a little parade that marches up to the fort, and their arrival is announced by the firing of the cannon over the gate.

The voyageurs cheered.  The Union Jack flapped on the flagstaff.  An Indian dog howled.  Brock Luberly stood on the steps before the trading door, opened said door, bowed, and Alexander McGlincy, creaking, clinking and belching, entered.

Luberly's the fort's factor, by the way.

We don't get a lot about the fort's layout just yet, and the most I can tell you is that it has a stockade with a cannon over its gate, and some sort of trading room or office.  Presumably the gate doesn't lead directly into the trading office, but we're not told how the procession crossed the courtyard or anything, so we can only imagine.

Sitting happens, and more importantly, not-sitting.  When McGlincy enters "the room" he is gracious enough not to take offense at a French-Canadian voyageur quickly jumping to his feet instead of showing proper deferment to a Nor'West partner by standing the instant he knew McGlincy was outside.  McGlincy sets down his bottle of booze "with the air of an explorer taking over an ocean or two with the dub of a sword," backs into a chair, takes another swig, and announces "Well, damme, I'm here!"

And when McGlincy is here, he's here.

Luberly nods in "anxious agreement," helping to establish his character as one of those sniveling bootlicks seen in the shadow of classic villains, and all the voyageurs nod along as well.  But one person doesn't, and when McGlincy "stabbed a back glance," the man is not only not nodding, but he's sitting down, a situation so outrageous it must be exclaimed!

But the guy turns out to be Father Marc Lettau, so it's okay to let him sit.  This isn't so much about Lettau being the fort's priest as it is about Lettau being an inch over six feet tall, two hundred and forty pounds of pure muscle.  Father Linebacker has "a big face, a big mouth which grinned and merry, small eyes which lighted their best in a wrestling match."  A priest who sits wherever and whenever the hell he wants, in other words.

Father Marc asks how things were at Fort William, and McGlincy explains that it was terrible, the place is completely dry - because "Didn't I just come from there?"  The Father grins, Luberly has such a laughing fit that he turns purple, and McGlincy keeps repeating the joke until Luberly "has not a bit of wind or energy left."  These are not terribly sophisticated people, as you can see.

McGlincy eventually moves on to talk about the great party they had before leaving the fort, after which a guy named Duncan was out for three days.  And like every great party, people died.  "Fights!  Lor' what fights!  Seven Indians killed the first night after we issued out the rum!"  And yeah, this sounds kind of bad, but as McGlincy explains when Father Marc asks about other things, that party's the only time there's any sort of respite from the hard life of a fur trader.  "Even great men, said McGlincy, needed to let loose once in a while."  And there's nothing more relaxing than some drug-fueled murder, eh wot?

Then Father Marc makes the mistake of asking about the rival Hudson's Bay Company fur traders, "and the effect was similar to that produced by a fuse and match in a powder keg" - McGlincy detonates in a fiery explosion, blowing a hole in the fort's wall and sending shrapnel fly- well, he pounds a table and sputters.  But like a powder keg would pound a table and sputter.

The problem is - well it's not really a problem, more like an insult - the courts in Montreal have declared that the Nor'Westers aren't allowed to raid their rivals in the HBC anymore, even when those blaggards "snap the trade and the Indians right out from under us."  And this is an interesting statement.  Presumably McGlincy is talking about acquiring furs from the natives, which would suggest that it may be important to foster good ties with them in order to maximize profit for minimal effort.  Yet earlier the guy practically gushed about how many Indians he got drunk enough to kill in a celebratory brawl.

Could this be the original self-destructively stupid, evil Hubbard Villain?

Father Marc brings up some sort of charter, McGlincy yells "Damn the charter!" and says that there's no way those quill-pushers in Montreal have a right to govern the whole country.

Brisk heads quickly denied that anyone there said it.

"Fools!  What's a charter got to do with it?  Furs is [sic] the thing and we're here to get furs and God blind me we'll get 'em.  Beaver's up.  Forty pounds a pack.  Forty pounds, my bullies!  And the courts say we can't keep fighting the H.B.C.  Well, I says we can keep fighting and I guess that settles it!"

Luberly croaked, "That settles it!"

Father Marc grinned.

Good to see the padre isn't one of those limp-wristed, "thou shalt not kill" kind of priests.

And so McGlincy rants, for over a page straight.  He leans forward and "looked cunning" as he explains how the HBC lads will be sailing up the river at the end of the month with a load of furs, furs that rightfully belong to the Nor'Westers.  "We've done it before and we'll do it again," after all.  Someone named Campbell is up at Isle a la Crosse keeping the Indians from trading with the HBC there, another partner named Halbane "smashed" an HBC post on Bad Lake that didn't think to post guards, and over near Lake Winnipeg, a McDonnell moved in to claim a debt in furs using rifle butts, with a dagger in the heart for a man who resisted.  And then there was that fool Labau who tried to defect from the Nor'Westers to the HBC, but was tracked down and knifed to death by someone named Schultz, who had to be dismissed from the company but couldn't be touched by the courts.

Or in other words, Fur is Murder and these are all terrible people killing each other in the name of animal pelts.  Evilness good and established, check.

McGlincy chortles at all the furs and provisions their fellow Nor'Westers stole from the competition, but promises that those other guys were sly, but crude.  When that HBC flotilla comes up later, he'll show everyone how it's done.  But McGlincy doesn't actually tell us his plan yet.  There's no point, since he'll come up with a new one next chapter, a plan involving our hero.

The "major"'s bottle runs empty, and Luberly immediately leaps up to get a replacement for McGlincy.  "Not often did a Nor'West partner talk like this to his men.  It warmed Luberly's heart---if he had one."  Evil, remember.  Plus,

Luberly was starved for news.  He had been cooped up in Fort Chesterfield through a long and chilly winter with only a handful of bullies and voyageurs to abuse---a pastime which eventually drags.

Evil and petty.

Thickly built, with a shaggy beard hiding most of his face, Luberly could put up a terrifying fight.  He was habitually dressed in a hunting shirt which shone blackly with overlayers of grease.

Why did you wait five pages after the character was introduced to actually describe him, Hubbard?

Anyway, Luberly hands over the bottle, wipes his nose on his sleeve, musters the courage to ask McGlincy a question... but is interrupted when someone sticks his head in the door to announce that a "young hunter" here to see the Major.  But let's save Yellow Hair's entrance for next time, when we'll see how long he's mistaken for a normal white guy and just how diplomatic he can be.

Back to Chapter 5


  1. Wait... what? Yellow Hair wasn't in the room the whole time? I thought this was written in limited perspective and then we get all this and then it says "oh, hey, yellow hair's about to enter the room now." I guess hubbard's obsession with finding ways to not-cheat first-person constraints in Mission Earth has infected my brain.

  2. The Hubbard villains have arrived to gloat over their evil and petty deeds, for the reader's benefit and the author's convenience.