Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 21 - When Yellow Hair Smiles, He's Lying

This would be a very different book if Yellow Hair was the type of Indian who knew how to listen to the language of chipmunks, wouldn't it?  The half-page of tension in this chapter would be negated, for one thing, and all the blood and murder would feel a bit out of place.

Anyway, Yellow Hair dramatically steps out of cover, and there's a paragraph helping explain why last chapter's cliffhanger was so dangerous - escape is useless, he won't be able to flee to Pikuni territory, etc.  Though he's moving quietly, the pair of Cree the chipmunk was yelling at spot him instantly, aiming their trade rifles at him.  They're also wearing HBC blankets and are "quite obviously closely associated with the company," and Yellow Hair similarly knows that they're here to collect the reward on his head.

But our hero doesn't do anything - no sudden evasion, no Hubbard Action Sequence, which seems a bit odd given the sort of stunts he's pulled earlier in the book.  Either he's really tired or Yellow Hair has read ahead a bit and knows that he's not in any danger.  As it happens, the Cree stand motionless for a few moments, then one of them gestures off to the side, and try to act surprised when Father Marc enters the scene.

Yellow Hair's face flared into an expression of joy and then, as suddenly, stiffened up a trifle.

"Hello," said Yellow Hair.

Father Marc's joy was not held in check by the presence of the two strange Crees.  He lunged forward with a great laugh and jerked Yellow Hair toward him and almost suffocated the warrior.

Wow, turns out Yellow Hair and Father Marc were really close.  I mean, we pretty much skipped their entire relationship beyond the first day when Marc took him to the river, and that time he asked about the murders.  And as I said before, nothing about Father Marc made Yellow Hair reconsider his loathing for the white man.   But judging by this reunion, they must've really bonded over those nine months we didn't see.

Let's spend the next four pages talking.  The padre asks how Yellow Hair escaped, our hero says "Never mind that" and immediately asks how Marc found him.  Father Marc explains that while he was at camp last night, these Cree came by and told him the news, then they all backtracked and watched the river for Yellow Hair.  They actually saw him land but apparently didn't yell or anything, then the Cree started tracking him and here we all are.

Speaking of Father Marc's camp, he takes Yellow Hair there for some medical attention. There's a third, older Cree there who signals the other two to step out, and Yellow Hair understands that they're on watch for the English.  I'm almost, but not quite interested in how he knows this - has he picked up the sign language of neighboring tribes?  Do the Maškēkowak, or "Swampy Cree" of the Hudson's Bay area, even use the same hand signs as the Nēhiyawēwin that extend into Montana?  Or does Yellow Hair once again have a copy of the book?

Evidently not, since he's still confuzzled that these guys have HBC blankets but are willing to go against the fur traders' interests.  Rather than pursue the matter, Yellow Hair instead talks with Father Marc about their next move.

Marc wants to go south to Fort William, avoiding the HBC and reaching Old Simon MacIntosh, whoever he is.  Then he and Yellow Hair can set the story straight and expose McGlincy's lies - excuse me, then Old Simon will "see how wrong McGlincy was."  The "major" who laughed about raiding his business rivals, then kept his Indian guest locked down for days before accusing him of killing his business rivals, isn't a liar or a murderer, but incorrect.  Once that's all cleared up, Yellow Hair can be sent home with a brigade of friendly traders and live happily ever after.  So,

"Don't think all whites are bad, my boy."

"Oh, I don't!" said Yellow Hair, but with a smile.

Hmm.  Guess his lying or stubborn racism is meant to be endearing or amusing?

Yellow Hair isn't interested in seeing the inside of Fort William's "butter tub," and doesn't believe Father Marc's insistence that he can explain the situation.  Instead our hero wants to go west and home to his own people, as quickly as possible, and doesn't see any reason to go south with Father Marc.

"I think it very foolish," said Yellow Hair.  "I have no dislike for a good round fight, but when the odds mount up like they have, I begin to see some reason in the things White Fox taught me.  'Never attack an enemy unless you have done everything possible to make your position good and his position bad.'"

"What do you mean by that?"

"What I said."

"You mean Fort Chesterfield . . ."

"I didn't say that."

So what, does Yellow Hair think he's fighting a one-man war against the entire HBC?  Or all white fur traders in general?  Didn't White Fox have any advice about not antagonizing enemy nations when passing through their territory?

"You mean you'll attack---See here, Yellow Hair, this has all been a big mistake.  Don't let it sour you on all your own people."

"My people are the Pikunis."

I think we all knew this was coming, like the "I don't know who I am anymore" line from Avatar.

"Oh, come now.  There's a call you can't deny.  If you see the whites, you won't think they're so bad."

"I've seen the whites and I'm now sitting altogether too close to white country."

Yellow Hair is only dissuaded when Father Marc points out that, if he clears his name at Fort William he won't be a hunted man, while if he doesn't, "you may visit death and war upon your own people."  It takes a "long time" of Yellow Hair sitting next to the fire, thinking, for him to admit that okay, that might be a good point.  So it looks like we're going south.

Now, about those Cree - Yellow Hair has been unconsciously signing alongside his conversation with Father Marc, so the other natives have been able to listen in, so to speak.  The old Cree man at the fire with them deduces that Yellow Hair is of the "Spotted Robes" from the three lines on the toes of his moccasins. The most I can find about Yellow Hair's people's footwear is that their moccasins often had black soles, hence "Blackfoot," you see.  And I can't find anything that suggests that "Spotted Robes" is another name for the Blackfoot in general or the Piegan in particular.  But I'm sure Hubbard knows this stuff better than me since, after all, he was made a blood-brother of the Indians as a kid.

Anyway, the old Cree man thinks Yellow Hair is smart to keep the English "dog-faces" chasing him instead of causing trouble for his nation.  It's then that Yellow Hair asks why the traditional partners of the fur traders are helping him - which is to say he's a dick and asks "Are you people not the servants of the English?"

Speech time.

To the last question the Cree gave an emphatic and angry "No."  To the first he signed, "My people have heard them talk of you and we thought you were one of the western tribes.  For many years your people and my people have been at peace.  We have no interest in dog-face justice as we have suffered from it ourselves.  Our people have been bought by the metal cooking pot, a three-point blanket and a few bad guns.  But we can do nothing.  We think we need these things and so we hunt beaver and skin them.  Your people were once called slaves.  No man has ever dared call my people slaves, but we are and you are not."

A sad tale of a once-proud culture now subjugated by foreign imports.  On the other hand, according to Wikipedia there's over 200,000 Cree left compared to 32,000 Blackfoot, so maybe things worked out for them better in the long run.

Yellow Hair and the old Cree talk their fingers off until Father Marc, feeling left out, produces Yellow Hair's gun and kit.  The author spends several paragraphs discussing the dimensions of the "Robert Woods" rifle (Wikipedia has no idea), the caliber of Yellow Hair's pistol, and the fanciness of his hunting shirt.  All this to say, Yellow Hair is now properly clothed and armed.  Once he rests they'll be on their way to Fort William, though he still does "not feel right" about going there.  Which explains why he... is.

"You'll get a fine reception," said Father Marc.

"Most likely," said Yellow Hair with an ironic grin.

There ought to be a good fight scene either there or on the way, this book is hardly living up to its reputation of ending every other chapter with a dead paleface.

Back to Chapter 20

1 comment:

  1. Fun fact: "Hello" is a completely anachronistic greeting here. The word "hello" dates to the late 19th century and it entered common use when the telephone became popular.