Monday, May 25, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 20 - Unfriendly Woodland Rodent

One of the nice things about a trial, beyond being a sign that the society holding one is at least pretending to be civilized and lawful, is that it helps put things into perspective.  In the courtroom you can assemble the facts, try and get to the bottom of what really went on, and consult legal precedents when rendering judgment, to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

Or in the case of that notorious renegade, Yellow Hair, you can refuse to take him to trial, stick him in a miserable cell for half a year, then flip your wig when he breaks out before "justice" is done.  The soldiers at York Factory have made new oars and are pursuing him along the river "With the glee and questionable mercy of fox-hunters," while Nameless Governor has promised a fifty pound bounty (that's half a year's pay!) on his scalp, before adding "As a sort of apology for this barbaric cry" that there'd be a seventy-five-pound reward if he was taken alive.

And I dunno, I'm not the head of a colonial outpost, but this just seems to be like a bit of an overreaction.  I'm not trying to make light of the five men Yellow Hair killed and the others he was framed for killing, I'm just suggesting that you may want to keep some men around to defend the place instead of chasing this guy across the continent.  If he is so dangerous to justify this manhunt, maybe you should've tried and executed him once you had him in custody.

Well I say "manhunt," but this is Canada in the pioneer days, so it's not like every white trader is now out to get

The word, traveling mouth to mouth, post to post, river to river, did not take long to hit the Rockies and echo back.  It was astonishing to note that the news went farther in a day than a brigade could travel in a month.  But then, in the world's every wilderness there have been swift and wholly unaccountable communication systems so mysterious and complete that nothing short of mental telepathy could account for them.

I... that...

Well, uh, don't get too alarmed, the author's not actually suggesting that psychic messages spread word about Yellow Hair's bounty across Canada.  Instead he explains that trading posts along Canada's lakes and rivers were all close together and linked with hunter's cabins.  So it makes perfect sense that even before Yellow Hair had spent one day fleeing York Factory, "the word that he was on the river had leaped two hundred miles ahead of him and H.B.C brigades all along the banks were on the alert to intercept him."  One of those river traders must've passed him without realizing it, obviously.  Yeah.  As soon as anyone heard the news, they immediately raced off to the nearest outpost regardless of whatever they had been doing beforehand.

Now, Yellow Hair is well aware that the alarm has been raised all around him, because "he had more than once witnessed the speed of spreading news on the plains."  The open plains with herds of horses, as opposed to the Canadian forests in early winter, or its freezing rivers and lakes...

At any rate, he's off the water now, and knocked a hole in his boat and sunk it for good measure.  But he's not in good shape, the adrenaline from his escape has worn off, he's weary and needs to find some shelter to make hunting implements and inspect his wound.  Not that we're told that he's suffering from his gunshot wound, of course.  But it's fairly inconvenient, getting shot like that.

So our hero is searching for a hiding spot in unfamiliar territory, the woods of northern Manitoba, and he does not like the place.  "The forest was silent and gloomy, filled with thickets and windfalls and darkness.  It was not much like the clean timber of the Rockies and it weighed upon him."

This chapter is dinky, only a little over three pages long.  If you're wondering whether anything exciting is going to happen, here it is:

It was in this search that he started up a chipmunk.

The little, rust-colored bit of fur was much disturbed.  It had been preparing for a long snooze with the company of the Mrs. and it did not take very kindly to such intrusion.

Bristling with fear and ferocity it sprang up on a limb and started to swear in a jerky, high-pitched voice which left no question as to its meaning.

Yellow Hair actually doesn't mind the chipmunk, the silence of the cold forest was getting oppressive.  After a moment the critter decides Yellow Hair is properly chastised, and moves on.  But then Yellow Hair can hear it "chi-chi-chi-chi"-ing at another intruder nearby!  And no, there's no moment where he realizes that letting a loud forest animal yap at him might have been dangerous, he's more concerned about the presence of another interloper than the fact that the chipmunk might have tipped them off about him the same way.

In fairness, next chapter will acknowledge that what our hero does next is stupid - well, Hubbard will use "brash," can't insult our hero too much.  Because instead of hiding or fleeing, Yellow Hair, weary and wounded and unarmed, advances boldly towards whatever the chipmunk is yapping at.  Even though he has surmised that the British are after him, even though he's so tired his knees are buckling, even though his good arm is useless, he's going to face this threat head-on.

And that's the cliffhanger ending of "The Chipmunk."  The chapter ends at the very top of page 170, while on the opposite page we can clearly see the chapter title of "Reunion," making it fairly obvious that we're about to encounter Father Marc again.  But try to be tense until then, and surprised when he shows up.

Back to Chapter 19

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