Monday, May 11, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 15 - Motley Pays Dearly, And I Guess He Lost Some Men Too

The book assures us that the Hudson's Bay Company is used to writing off losses, since after all it was "founded in the dim but glorious past to discover a Northwest Passage to the Orient."  This clashes with at the very least Wikipedia's article on the HBC, which seems to suggest that the group was more about trading beaver pelts around Hudson's Bay than Arctic naval expeditions - true, an HBC employee named John Rae led an expedition into the northwest in 1849, but this was an attempt to figure out what happened to a previous expedition.  And then he got spat on for daring to suggest that a Royal Navy officer's voyage could end in disaster and cannibalism, poor guy.

Maybe Hubbard's getting confused, and thinks that Henry Hudson, the 17th century explorer who was searching for the Northwest Passage, and whom Hudson's Bay is named for, had something to do with the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company?  Which for the record happened in 1670, 59 years after Hudson's death.  And good grief, I just spent half an hour researching things online because of the first three sentences in this chapter.

Anyway, it's a good thing that the HBC is so used to writing in red ink, because they're about to take another huge hit this chapter.  Just when Motley's about to leave Fort Chesterfield...

It has already been noticed that Major Alexander McGlincy's worthy if somewhat sodden brain ran foggily inside a lining of beaver fur.  It may well be added here that the valuable cogs of this wonderful machine looked very much like shillings.  This is on the authority of a doctor who examined them after they were rather messily spilled and it is only necessary to recall the dealings with Motley to confirm the fact.

Wow, so in the space of one paragraph, we go from smirking slightly at the author's description of a character's thought process, to incredulity that a doctor would testify that there were indeed coins in someone's brain, to irritation that the author just spoiled a villain's fate.  I mean sure, there's little doubt given how the book's gone so far that Yellow Hair is going to kill McGlincy at some point, but now we know that the bad guy's skull is due to be asploded.  At least allow us the dramatic tension of wondering how the villain will die, Hubbard.

The result of Yellow Hair's siege is one shot-up and burned trading room that will have to be torn down and rebuilt before the natives came by to trade, "two thousand dollars" of lost trade goods (according to Luberly, who isn't using pounds or shillings for some reason), and I guess five dead men and three wounded fellows from Motley's expedition.  Because these are all greedy fur traders who barely value human life, etc.

McGlincy blocks Motley's now-ragged group from leaving the fort, thus reminding the HBC guys that they are now badly outnumbered and outgunned in a rival camp.  And to summarize three pages in four words: it's an outrageous shakedown.  For damages to the trading post sustained during Motley's apprehension of Yellow Hair, damage to the goods inside said trading post, a ten-pound-to-a-man bonus to McGlincy's crew for their assistance, cannon rental, beach docking fees, and compensation for catching the criminal who attacked Motley's crew in the first place, McGlincy has the clerk hand over a bill for £2,755 - though he's nice enough not to add a five-hundred-pound charge for his work "directing" the attack on Yellow Hair.  With a fort full of armed Nor'Westers around him, Motley has no choice but to sign.

All this takes up five pages or so, and then we're told that oh yeah, one of the surviving Orkneymen found out that Yellow Hair wasn't dead.  You might think that this would be worth spending some words on compared to the humor(?) of McGlincy being greedy, but the whole event is summarized in a short paragraph with the author telling us that Yellow Hair's unconscious body was "double tied" and dumped in a boat.

Oh, and Father Marc materializes with no word on where he's been or what he was doing during the previous chapter, though the author is nice enough to acknowledge that he disappeared after the battle.  I can only conclude that he was temporarily exiled to the Phantom Zone.  Now wrestling ability aside, Father Marc is not a man of war, but he "belonged to a church in which diplomacy and tactical efficiency were shaped into fine arts."  I would argue that this is less significant than Father Marc being one of the few people around these parts who is neither drunk nor stupid.

However he does it, the padre concludes he's in a bit of a spot now - he's not loyal to the trading company, can't be bribed, and one word from him to the wrong people could make this whole scheme to use Yellow Hair as a scapegoat fall apart.  McGlincy hasn't realized this yet... despite coming up with this scheme nine months ago, and having Yellow Hair in custody for the past three weeks... but when/if he does, Marc's life will be in danger.  Plus, the padre is kind of fond of Yellow Hair.

So Marc quickly packs his stuff and leaves with the HBC men, explaining when McGlincy notices that "I'll remember your orders, major.  I'll see that they hang him, all right."  And McGlincy briefly considers trying to order the priest to say, but that would only arouse Motley's interest.  And then he briefly considers ordering his men to open fire...

Well, that's not a bad idea, I mean if you have to be a bloodthirsty capitalist out to kill your competition.  McGlincy already missed his chance to completely wipe out Motley's party, scalp the corpses, and blame the whole affair on the Indians, but now he has an opportunity to finish the job, then send Yellow Hair to any authorities who ask about it as the perpetrator of the atrocity.  Yep, real shame, Motley brought all those men to the fort to apprehend our prisoner, but then that wild half-breed went and killed them all.  We just barely managed to subdue him again, honest.

But McGlincy demurs - "he had already seen Motley escape unscathed from a melting volley and he could not risk it again as Motley's boat was ready to depart."  Now I could criticize McGlincy for being timid here, but I find it quite refreshing that a Hubbard villain isn't assuming that doing nearly the same thing that failed to kill his enemy last time will certainly work this time.  So he gets a pass.

Instead, McGlincy offers to give Motley all the evidence of Yellow Hair's atrocities, four scalps "found" in Yellow Hair's room and a signed affidavit from Major McGlincy that the renegade had disappeared from his fort several days before the murders and then returned drunk and travel-worn and waving those incriminating hunks of hair around.  Motley declares that this will "swing the fiend" and the five deaths and three injuries were all worth it.

So all in all, a good day.  Motley got his "renegade," while between extorting his rival and stealing that boatload of furs, McGlincy has made out with a cool £10,555," or something like fifty thousand dollars" for us Americans - and all profit, to boot.  For reference, the contemporary Louisiana Purchase cost eleven-and-a-quarter million dollars, so... I dunno, McGlincy could afford a good chunk of the "nose" of the "Indian" in the state of Iowa?

Yellow Hair was the only man who would pay more than he could afford as no man can rightly stand to lose his life no matter the stakes, the honor, the reputation or the more common pay in coin.

Weren't you just going on about how glorious Yellow Hair's mission to risk his life by hanging around a trading post was?  So now you're staying he should have stayed home, because his personal honor or reputation wasn't worth the danger?

Yes, everybody was pleased except Father Marc and the "renegade."

And shouldn't McGlincy be nervous that Father Marc is accompanying Yellow Hair, presumably to his trial?  Might the words of a priest mean something even if they go against a sworn affidavit?  What if he spills the beans to Motley about how McGlincy has pulled one over on him twice now?  Maybe it'd be a good idea for another band of "Indians" to run ahead and ambush them as they sail along the river.

But whatever, that's it for Fort Chesterfield for now.  Try to work up some suspense over whether our hero is really going to be executed, or if this Hubbard Action Hero who can fend off a whole fort of enemies might be able to escape, possibly with the help of an ally.

Back to Chapter 14

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