Friday, May 1, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 11 - A Waste of Good Bison Meat

Meanwhile, Yellow Hair has a tummy ache.

Well, that's how the chapter starts - "Shortly after the river ice broke, Yellow Hair was taken ill" - only to immediately say that a week before that he was locked up in a room for reasons that were unclear to him.  And then we have a summary of what Yellow Hair saw over the winter before that, and then we see how Yellow Hair got his tummy ache.

But all of this confusion is surely worth it if it means we can start the chapter with a dramatic line like "Yellow Hair was taken ill."

So let's go back to when Yellow Hair in his cell, irate about it instead of sick.  He doesn't understand why he's being locked up inside these intolerable wooden walls after so many months of good behavior, and even when the door is unbolted he senses trouble afoot.

His hate for the Nor'Westers had been with him so long that it had become almost passive.  He had adopted an attitude which did not too much disturb his peace of mind, regarding the factor and McGlincy with the same tolerance he would have used toward a pair of unclean animals.

So why is he still at the fort?  Seriously, we know from the chapter before last that Yellow Hair has mastered English, so what's he still doing there?

The voyageurs were quite evidently slaves and as such they deserved neither thought nor attention.  True, he had been very puzzled by this queer circumstance.  It seemed the height of idiocy that thirty or more men, apparently sane and able-bodied, should submit so servilely to a drunken beast.

Oh, so now you wanna have the character start critiquing white society.  And you want to do it with a flashback in a chapter that ought to focus on the critical event that's about to happen, and not the chapter where you summarize Yellow Hair's nine months at the trading post.

Hubbard, if you want to become a successful novelist, you may want to learn how to revise and edit your... wait.

He realized there was probably more to this than he could see on the surface.  There must be another angle which lay in the country of the whites.

See, Yellow Hair witnessed two floggings over the winter, one done by McGlincy himself which left a voyageur badly injured and in that "butter tub" for a month, but despite Yellow Hair's expectations this wasn't followed by a revolt.  Father Marc had to explain that these voyageurs had offended the Great White Father back east, and rather than face a jail or noose there, they'd come to the frontier for freedom and pay, and the latter is enough to make them loyal.  Yellow Hair still hasn't figured out money yet, and can't make any sense of this.

So is he or isn't he still trying to study the white man?  Two chapters ago the author told us that Yellow Hair was just focusing on learning English, but now it turns out that he did at least ask a question about something he saw, except he can't wrap his head around the answer and doesn't seem all that interested in it.  Once again, I have to ask why Yellow Hair is still at the fort.  Beyond "the story requires it," I mean.

So one day "the Pays d'en Haut who brought his food looked more sly than ever."  The glossary defines this phrase as "From the French, meaning, literally, 'country of the above.'  In the Canadian fur trade, this was the country wast of Lake Superior."  So evidently the country west of Lake Superior is the geographic region that brings the prisoner his meals.

Now, Yellow Hair has a brilliant mind capable of scanning an unfamiliar room and putting everything in its place.  But he doesn't see any connection between McGlincy offering him some whiskey the night before (Yellow Hair poured it out the window in disgust), this sly-looking country west of Lake Superior, and a plate of buffalo steak.  He knows whites put something called salt on their food to give it a "sweetish taste"... huh... but the concept of poisoning food is quite foreign to him, since the narration tells us "that was limited to the South Americans."  Frickin' Inca, man.

So our hero eats the steak, which hits his stomach like a meal from your least favorite restaurant, sets his vision spinning, and knocks him out before he can stagger to the door and gasp for the Mighty Monk.  Unfortunately, Father Marc never mentioned the British habit of dispensing opium or laudanum across their imperial holdings, and even the narration mentions what an odd oversight this is for someone who otherwise carefully notes all the hilariously sinister things his people do.  I'm wondering why the author chose to single out this little contrivance over all the huge contrivances required for his story to function, but whatevs.

After two days in feverish agony and without food or water, that sly-looking country west of Lake Superior comes by with a bit of sustenance to get Yellow Hair through another two days of sickness.  Then Father Marc shows up, asks about his health, but also asks an odd question: "When did you get back?"

Yellow Hair explains he hasn't been anywhere, and the padre shares the disturbing things he's heard - an Orkneyman found dead with a Blackfoot arrow in his back (how can they tell? these traders don't even speak Pikuni, but they differentiate the tribes' arrows?) and his scalp missing, and a man in buckskin sighted with a quiver on his back.  Luberly claims that Yellow Hair just got back from some outing, but the white Indian's calm refusal to argue with such an obvious lie reassures Father Marc - guilty men are more energetic in their denials.  You know, if they're dumb about it.

This calm lasts until Father Marc explains that Luberly said Yellow Hair had broken his parole, and this false accusation from the fort's factor is what gets Yellow Hair up and ranting.  Because if he'd ranted before, then Father Marc might have doubted his innocence, see?  But thanks to Yellow Hair's weakened state, the Mighty Monk is able to hold him down and stop him from attempting a "one man raid."  Because Pikuni justice means that if someone accuses you of being some kind of murderer, the only recourse is to murder them.

Father Marc explains that Luberly and McClincy want Yellow Hair to go wild, which suggests that he knows the fort's leadership is trying to set him up to take a fall, but then he also says that he'll make sure that the voyageurs know where Yellow Hair is and what's wrong with him, which suggests that Father Marc thinks the rest of the men won't be going along with McGlincy's plot out of the goodness of their hearts or something.  At any rate, we're set for a confrontation between the good shepherd and the greedy traders over an innocent, if violent, Indian.

A confrontation that, if it happened at all, does so off-screen.  Because then we fast-forward ten days until someone shouts "The English!  A barge coming upstream!"  Well, I'm sure Father Marc tried his best.

Your homework tonight is to figure out how laudanum, a tincture of opium with side effects similar to morphine, was able to give Yellow Hair a fever and stomach cramps.

Back to Chapter 10

No comments:

Post a Comment