Friday, May 29, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 22 - Didn't We Just Do This?

So... you know how last chapter, Yellow Hair was reunited with Father Marc, who persuaded him to come to Fort William rather than attempt a dangerous trek west?  This chapter is titled "Yellow Hair Persuaded," and it's about Yellow Hair's decision to go to Fort William rather than attempting a dangerous trek west.

I don't know either.  Maybe Hubbard thought last chapter (7 pages) was long enough without these four pages added to it, even though he's had big chapters before.  Maybe he wanted to spend just a sentence or two describing how Yellow Hair sat and thought at the fire in the previous chapter so we would get that he's a decisive man of action, and then elaborate on his thought process in this chapter.  Or maybe Hubbard wanted to use his "wry historian" voice again.

To attribute the underlying causes of Yellow Hair's decision to go down to Fort William to petty and mean revenge is the most vicious kind of slander.

It has been said by men whose reputations are beyond cavil that this was the one and only motive for such a move.

However, judging the man by the actions which have already been related, and by the light of his early training and environment, the foolhardiness becomes minute and even the most biased observer could not help but see something of heroism in his decision.

And so on, as though this were a serious historical document and not a borderline Real Person Fic with a Gary Stu protagonist.

The author assures us that Yellow Hair isn't doing the old "agree to parley so you can scope out the enemy camp" trick.  No, in that paragraph last chapter where he sat "for a long time" at the fire, "many thoughts had sped through his mind" - the fact that the Blackfoot's lands were filled with beavers, the fact that whites were willing to kill to get those animals' pelts, and the fact that there turned out to be a lot of whites, like, at least two forts' worth, man.  He's also mindful of the death sentence hanging over him, and realizes that if he went home, he'd give those nasty whites an excuse to attack his people.

Or maybe I should say he "realizes" this, with sarcastic quotes, because last chapter Father Marc rather explicitly warned Yellow Hair that he would be endangering his people if he returned to them without clearing his name.  But for whatever reason the author isn't giving Marc the credit for that thought.

We're told that "An Indian has a fierce nationalism which would make any European's patriotism look like treason" by comparison, and that it's this nationalism that makes Yellow Hair resolve to settle things at Fort William before returning home.  Not common sense or a desire to protect his loved ones, but nationalism.  Whatever, the Cree get it, though Father Marc is under the impression that Yellow Hair isn't xenophobic and wants to meet more whites.

So they prepare to leave, and there's immediately a problem because Yellow Hair's wound will make it impossible for him to properly carry a pack.  But lo and behold, that nameless Cree chief has really bonded with Yellow Hair over the course of their sign language conversation last chapter.  I say nameless because Hubbard never gave him one, and apparently "It is unlucky for a warrior of any rank to pronounce his own name aloud," which must make two strangers meeting incredibly awkward until they find someone to introduce them to each other.

Anyway, that Cree fella surprises Father Marc by pulling a toboggan out of absolutely nowhere, a sled "he seemed to have produced straight out of the earth."  I'm sure the author had a good reason for including this little miracle rather than a passage explaining that the three Cree got a hatchet, found a suitable tree, and really impressed everyone by whipping up a sled in no time flat.  And I guess he just had a harness on him?

Whatever, it's snowing enough that Yellow Hair and Marc can now haul their gear on the sled.  It'd be better if they had dogs, of course, but the Cree remarks that there's less of those now that the British have moved in, which allows the author to comment on and dismiss the slander that these Indians like to eat them.  The chief jokes that maybe they could find some dogs at an HBC outpost, and the author tells us that that's exactly what will happen, thus smothering the tension of the "will they find sled dogs?" mini-arc in its infancy.

Aaaand they're off.  The last half-page of the chapter is all about hyping this phase of the novel, with Father Marc and Yellow Hair trying to elude the men hunting them.  Which someone like Yellow Hair only sees as "high adventure" due to his "gallant daring."  And given how long he held out against his attackers at Fort Chesterfield, and how easily he escaped from York Factory after finally being inspired to make an attempt, it's hard to feel like he's overconfident.

Thus they started on their long and dangerous journey, their game of fox and hounds with the English where the stakes were the gallows vs. Fort William.

So to recap, things that happened this chapter: Yellow Hair and Father Marc got a sled and officially left on their journey.  New things we learned this chapter: Indians don't introduce themselves.  We probably could've skipped this stuff, or at most added a paragraph about the sled to the previous chapter.  But at least we can see that Hubbard was experimenting with pointless padding even in his first novel, skills he would develop until at the end of his career he could stretch out an awful story into a ten-book epic.

Back to Chapter 21

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