Monday, June 29, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 35 - The Noise Before the Storm

Fourteen days after McGlincy's brigade arrives at Fort Chesterfield, the author spoils that it's now the night before the battle.  It's a very atmospheric night, too, cold and overcast and black, with a moaning Arctic wind.  McGlincy sits with a bottle of booze in hand, waiting impatiently for those unruly chiefs to walk into his trap, as if they would be eager to make a trip at the beginning of winter to visit people who alternatively try to trade with them and then get them killed in drunken bouts.  Luberly and the Mustache are tense and listening to the sounds rising around the fort, because on top of the wind there are wolves.

Over and over again the voices started from a broken guttural whimper, rose upward, quavered there, rose again to mock the storm, hung dolefully at the top, broke and stumbled slowly down below the note which had begun the awful howl.

Over and over rolled the echo of the gloomy hunting song, seconded and swallowed by the hoarse moan of the storm.

About that storm: we're told that the Arctic wind was "bearing the chill breath of ice and storms," but not that anything was actually happening.  There's no mention of the black skies rumbling like war drums, flickers of lightning illuminating the fort like muzzle flashes, or sleet hammering the walls and windows like a fusillade.  Yellow Hair doesn't get soaked to the bone when he steps out to walk the palisade in a page or two.  So I guess this is a "storm" in that it's cloudy and windy, much like this story is "filled with violence, treachery, privation and death" because it contains three fight scenes and some summaries of long journeys in the 268 pages we've covered so far.

The Mustache freaks out and bangs on the window, yelling at the wolves to shut up, but for some ineffable reason they refuse to acknowledge his authority.  Father Marc returns to existence with a pop of displaced air in order to chuckle that "the wind makes them sad" and to remember the time Yellow Hair got wolves to shut up back in Chapter 23.  McGlincy mutters about our hero being "half wolf" and the Mustache incredulously asks Yellow Hair if he can really talk to animals.  Yellow Hair-

Wait, he was hanging out with everyone the whole time?  Weird.  He hates these people, and they don't like them, so I have to ask why Yellow Hair would put up with being in the same room with a guy who had him falsely imprisoned and is plotting against his tribe, a guy who tried to straight-out murder him, and I guess Father Marc is there too.

On the other hand, it makes sense for McGlincy to be trying to butter up Yellow Hair since his whole plan to lure the Blackfoot chiefs in to be taken hostage depends on the half-breed saying "it's totally not a trap, guys!"  Except he isn't really doing that right now, and we haven't seen him doing it previously.  He just happens to be in the same room as Yellow Hair in this chapter.

Anyway.  The Mustache asks if Yellow Hair can talk to wolves, our hero says yes, opens the window, and howls into the night.  The villains are quite impressed.

McGlincy clutched the edges of the table and turned greenish-white as the wick flared.

"God damn me!  'Od's blood!  He . . . he did it!"

Yellow Hair grinned.  "They'll answer me when they have an answer ready.  Listen!"

Presently came a long-drawn howl and abruptly it too ended in a savage yip.

"J . . . j . . . j . . . just like him, whispered Strathleigh.  "It . . . it yipped!  I heard it!"

"I told you so," said Father Marc, grinning.

From this we can conclude that no white frontiersman ever got bored enough to try and imitate wolf calls, and none of those inferior half-breeds who hang out with the brigades belonged to tribes who figured out how to make similar noises either.

After this conversation, Yellow Hair excuses himself and goes out to walk the palisade wall, "speaking cheerfully" to the other sentries manning it, with nary a flicker of guilt or self-doubt about chumming it up with people who will, if all goes to plan, be killed when his tribe attacks the fort.  But then he hears something scratch at the wall, goes to the edge, and sees who turns out to be Long Bow, standing on his pony to peek over the wall.  Yes, it's pitch-black tonight and windy so nobody hears the sounds of the mount, just accept that he could ride right up to the wall like that no matter how many sentries were patrolling it.

The two Pikuni have a brief, whispered conversation.  Yellow Hair warns that the fort is very strong, but also that these whites are here to wage war on the Blackfoot, so they have to attack first.  That's the extent of the intelligence he's been able to gather.  Long Bow thinks he should come with him.

"You had better slide out and come with me,

Told ya.

as I have staked a horse for you a little way up the river."

And evidently he didn't notice that Yellow Hair's horse is still at the fort.

"No.  It is best that I stay here."

"Yes, it is best."

Long Bow is easily convinced of things.  Even though Long Bow worries that our hero might meet his death, Yellow Hair insists that he has to stay here, cause it wouldn't be very heroic or exciting to stay in a place that meant near-certain survival.  But before they part, Yellow Hair asks about Bright Star.  Long Bow reports that she vanished from the camp around the Grass Moon (or April).  And oh goodie, now I have to sort through all the timeskips to figure out this story's chronology.

So let's see, now it's October, 1808... we left Fort William after July... so when did we last see Bright Star?  Looks like Chapter 19, when McGlincy left Fort Chesterfield late in 1807... she was being pressured to marry Long Bow but invoked a year-long morning period...  Well, I'm sure Long Bow is right about "raiders" perhaps being to blame for her disappearance, and our headstrong female love interest hasn't run off to save herself for Yellow Hair or anything.

Anyway, Long Bow leaves, the wolves howl, the wind moans, and Yellow Hair goes back indoors and "looked steadily a long time at McGlincy."  And it's a good thing our main villain is a stupid drunk, or else he might get the idea that this half-breed may not want to cooperate with his plan of tricking the Blackfoot.

Back to Chapter 34

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 34 - The Boredom Before the Storm

While in the distance those North American Mongols are riding to war, McGlincy's ranting about taking back the region from the HBC and those savage Indians, and making sure everyone's prepared for the big battle in just a few chapters.  Although he's arrogant enough to assume that his plan is foolproof, he nevertheless makes sure that the fort is capable of withstanding an attack, in the rare chance that taking a bunch of chiefs hostage is received poorly by the rest of the natives.

Fort Chesterfield has four cannons now, and... well, McGlincy and/or the author has them positioned in an interesting way.  They're on protruding platforms along the fort's palisades, two on one wall, two on the opposite, and each is aimed inward, parallel to the fortifications.  Instead of using the artillery pieces for long-ranged fire, they're intended to blast grapeshot as attackers try to climb over the walls.  Because what better time to shoot giant shotguns than when the enemy is trying to attack your men in close combat?

An old character returns to the story, or at least is mentioned, when McGlincy learns that the leader of the HBC fort across the river is none other than Motley, who was kinda badass when he was first introduced and then got made a fool of when McGlincy stuck him with the bill after a farcical siege.  I'm more interested in the new guy.

See, there's a half-breed who traveled up the river with the Nor'Westers, and I don't mean Yellow Hair.  This guy's of mixed French and Native American blood, he knows how to survive in the wilds, and he knows enough Algonquin to try and communicate with the Blackfoot, or at the very least he can sign-talk with them.  You might even consider him a foil of sorts to our hero, since as far as we know he's always worked with the whites, and is now being sent among the people that make up the other half of his heritage.

Hubbard doesn't even give him a name.

He's just "the runner," or "the messenger," though I'd have to call him "a wasted opportunity."  Here we have a character that Yellow Hair should be keenly interested in talking to, someone else who's had to decide whether to live among people of his shared skin tone or the culture he was raised in.  He'd be a sympathetic listener, and could have some valuable insights to help Yellow Hair figure out his own identity issues.  At the very least he might have some good stories to tell.

But Yellow Hair never interacts with him, and I guess there's really no reason for him to, because our hero has decided that he's just a particularly pale Pikuni and he hates all white people.  Except maybe Father Marc, who is... he must be priesting somewhere, the chapter doesn't mention him.

Anyway, eight days after being dispatched with a message for the Blackfoot, the runner returns.

"What's up?" bawled McGlincy.

I'm having trouble believing people said that two hundred years ago.  

The runner explains, in between McGlincy's loud demands for information, that he ran into a Blackfoot raiding party of less than six men, who told him that they were after Crow.  The messenger explained that a nearby Great White Chief wanted to invite their leaders for a talk, the raiding party thanked him for his offer and assured him that they'd pass it along once they got back, no need for him to go any further.  The messenger turned around and came back.

McGlincy doesn't chew out the guy for not delivering the critical message in person or worry that these raiders might get killed before they're able to pass the invitation to their chiefs, but instead "scrubbed his hands together" and chortles about how everything's going according to plan.  The Mustache makes sure his three new rifles are ready for firing, and all the Nor'Westers at the fort start bragging about how many Indians they're gonna kill.

Yellow Hair, meanwhile, knows that everything's really going according to his plan.  He knows that the Blackfoot "raiding party" encountered by the nameless messenger was actually an advance guard moving a day's march ahead of the main force, they only encountered him because they meant to be seen, and they turned him away so he wouldn't discover the rest of them.

He's a little concerned that his people are outgunned, with about one rifle per thirty warriors, but he knows that they can't afford not to fight this battle.  Yes, it's not about him anymore - even though the first thing the scout said last chapter was "I have seen Yellow Hair," and it was his disappearance that mustered the Pikuni to spook McGlincy in the first place - the author insists that it's about bringing peace to the plains!  The heroic Blackfoot must destroy this fort that supplies weapon to their enemies!

...In order to protect their monopoly on imported firearms, which the Blackfoot have used to dominate the northern Great Plains and raid and conquer their rivals.  Which is like peace, right?

Back to Chapter 33

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 33 - Getting Everyone Together for the Grand Finale

The Blackfoot receive Yellow Hair's message and ride north to do battle.  There, four pages in one sentence.

That Pikuni "wolf" Yellow Hair saw two chapters ago makes it back to Blackfoot territory on his last horse, "riding so hard that the mustang's feet could not be seen and both horse and rider appeared to be canted over and detached from the undulating ocean of the limitless prairie."  As you can see from this, this chapter is at least in part an effort by Hubbard to try and create a cinematic image of the Indians mobilizing

Four outriders see the scout coming and join him on the last sprint to the Still-Nameless Pikuni Village, and we're told that they're signalling "enemy in sight" a few sentences before the author explains how they do that, by riding in pairs to pass each other before turning around and passing again.  It's a little thing, but still annoying.

White Fox and Low Horns happen to be walking around when the riders come in, they shout, and the whole village is in an uproar as warriors grab their weapons and the horse herders bring in the war ponies.

Shouting and yipping warriors crowded out into the streets. Dogs howled. Children screamed. Orders went rocketing the length and breadth of the big camp.

The wolf swept by the lookout post and raised his hand in a negative.

"I am not followed! I have important news!"

Yeah, he waited until he was right on top of everybody to make the visual signal that they don't have to panic.  Jackass.

The wolf... interesting how scouts tend to end up with cool names for themselves, isn't it?  Never heard of a group who calls their recon units "chipmunks" or anything, even though their job is to be beneath notice but still raise an alarm.  Anyway, he walks into the main lodge all dignified, his face "without excitement."  Guess he knows that he's in an L. Ron Hubbard novel and the villains aren't worth getting worked up over. 

Now it just so happens that there's already a collection of various chiefs and clan leaders assembled at this Still-Nameless Pikuni Village.  We're never told why - my best guess is that they're discussing the whites' arms sales to their rival tribes, even though that happened months and months ago.  And if they were meeting for something like that, why wasn't White Fox inside with them?

At any rate, the Pikuni wolf makes his report.  He's no doubt aware that the Blackfoot's traditional enemies are now better-armed than ever, and now he's seen a huge host of white invaders paddling towards a mustering point worryingly close to Blackfoot territory.  So of course the first thing he says is "Chiefs, I have seen Yellow Hair."

Now I know this scout knows he's in an L. Ron Hubbard novel, because he's figured out that everything revolves around the main character.

Nobody's like "who?", instead "a shiver ran around the circle, almost imperceptible," but the scout is allowed to continue without interruption.  Then the scout mentions the swarm of canoes bearing white men and weapons, because I guess good news comes first.  And he lists all things we saw two chapters ago, the drawing in the dirt at the old camp, Yellow Hair's warpaint and jacket design.  "Yellow Hair is telling us that they come for war against the Pikuni nation."

There's no confusion, this scout saw that Yellow Hair "was not working with the others."  Even though he's traveling with them, and helping row their canoes, and has been living with white guys for two years now.  Not a single person at the meeting has any doubts or suspicions about the pale-skinned Indian and where his loyalties might lie after so long in "civilization."  Even though just a few years ago, these people were on the verge of disowning Yellow Hair after an unrelated white guy shot one of their tribesmen.

Nope, Low Horns just stands up and declares that this is obviously why the whites traded guns for pelts with all their enemies, but not the Blackfoot - it's all a vast plot and preparation for invasion.  You know, just like the Lewis and Clark Expedition's message of peace and trade.  So, "Let there be war."  And there's no further discussion, instead the chiefs immediately break up, go back to their tents, grab their gear, and head out.

And then, having prepared themselves with swiftness which would have been envied by any cavalry leader, they spread themselves out in the order of march and, with bonnets flowing, fringes dancing, weapons flashing, the host swept over the brown ocean of the plains, heading north.

Do the Nor'Westers even know where the Blackfoot live?  The tribes come to the fort to trade occasionally, but how capable are the white guys of launching a search-and-destroy mission at this point?  The fur traders don't even have horses.  And it's October, they don't have much of a window to go campaigning.

They knew exactly what each man was to do, exactly how they should proceed.  They had rear guard and advance guard and scouts on their flanks.  They had left a detachment behind to guard their town.  They had at least two relays of horses to a man.

All to deal with a bunch of drunken louts whose leader is such a fearsome shot that he couldn't hit a target from behind in an ambush.

The Pikunis were on their way to war.

And it's a good thing to, or else the Nor'Westers would have all these guns and no one to fight.

Back to Chapter 32

Monday, June 22, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 32 - How Luberly Spent the Past Hundred Pages

And now it's October, and we're back at Fort Chesterfield.  Our hero has spent about two years living with white people, and has traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles across the vastness of Canada to arrive where he started his journey.  And all he has to show for it is an abiding hatred of white guys.  And all we have to show for it is about three action scenes and a lot of wry narration about backstabbing, greedy drunks assuming that these lands rightfully belong to them.

At any rate, the end is in sight.  McGlincy's canoe hits the shore, and he waits until the Mustache offers an arm to disembark.  Luberly - remember him?  Greasy guy, one of nature's lackeys?  He comes out to greet them, sees his boss "actually conversing and condescending like an ordinary man," and therefore assumes the Mustache must be someone tremendously important, "at least the King of England."  And then any further character interaction is put on hold for two pages so the author can sum up what happened after McGlincy fled from Fort Chesterfield to Fort William.

Despite the "Mongol horde of Indians" incident that drove McGlincy out, Luberly has been doing pretty well for himself, and raked in over two hundred beaver packs just that spring.  Some "Minnetarees" came in with pelts, so they got trade rifles, ammo and whiskey, then some Snakes came to visit, and traded beaver pelts for rifles and ammo, and then a big group of Crow appeared, and man they had a ton of beaver pelts they wanted to exchange for firearms!

And no mention of deliberately getting the Indians drunk so some would get killed in a brawl.  It's just bizarre: how are you supposed to be a racist, exploitative white guy if you don't cause the deaths of your trading partners for no reason?

The only clouds during this time of sunshine was when these White Fox, Low Horns and Lost-in-Mountains fellas showed up to complain that Luberly was screwing over the Blackfoot with his dangerously indiscriminate arms dealing.  Which at least meshes with the historical record - the Blackfoot rose to dominate the plains by the late 1700's thanks to weapons and horses gained from trade with the HBC, and did their best to keep their rivals from making similar deals.  Unfortunately a smallpox outbreak in the late 1830s made those efforts irrelevant.

Anyway, Luberly yelled at them until they ran off, only for them to return with a bunch of their tribesmen in July with pelts they wanted to swap for rifles, but alas, Luberly's stock was nearly depleted and he couldn't get them to exchange the pelts for booze.  As for where those pelts came from, Luberly didn't ask, but the narrator mentions that an American fur brigade entered Blackfoot territory, attacked a war party, and got driven off sans furs.

Never the other way around, remember that.  Hubbard has decided that the Blackfoot are fierce warriors but also perennial victims.  When fur traders enter their territory in search of pelts, nervous because of the Blackfoot's fearsome reputation, of course they'd attack an Indian war party on sight.  When outnumbered members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition camp with the Blackfoot to talk peace and trade, of course it was part of a plot to get the Indians to lower their defenses, making it entirely reasonable for the Pikuni to try to steal their guests' guns, and entirely unreasonable for those guests to respond with deadly force. 

Also, the narrator points out that Luberly likes to call Indians "filthy heathens," even though he himself is an unwashed, impious excuse for a man, "so the remark must be put down as a sloppy bit of profanity."  I don't disagree with the author's point that the white guys had no right to be so dismissive of the Native Americans, I am just utterly sick of him repeating it.

But that was what happened during the latest timeskip, and now that McGlincy is here with a bunch of guns, Luberly thinks he can get the rest of those pelts - by trading for them, of course, surely you weren't like our hero and assumed that every white person is interested only in killing Indians?  Except then McGlincy makes a big show about arriving to save them, Luberly is forced to shout "Thank God you've come!"  And when the Mustache declares that now they can withstand any attack, Luberly has to cry "Ay [sic], let them attack!" even though he has no idea who 'they' are and why they'd be aggressive.  Sometimes it's tough being a spineless toady.

So the bigwigs are welcomed, booze is distributed, and McGlincy by this point believes his own bloody tale of being driven from the fort by malicious Indians, so the toast is "To the extermination of those vermin, the Blackfeet."  It's only an hour later, after McGlincy and the Mustache are sufficiently liquored up, that Luberly brings up a matter of real concern.

See, while the HBC was bullied into paying for the repairs to Fort Chesterfield, and the place is now more fortified than ever, that's not all the HBC built.  Luberly takes the main antagonists outside and points across the river, to a new Hudson's Bay Company fort up on a bluff.  So when McGlincy had ranted about the HBC driving the Nor'Westers out with Indian allies and stealing the fur trade in Saskatchewan, he'd actually been partially prophetic instead of a drunken loon.  Whoops.  But he figures whatever, they were already planning on fighting, so now they just have more people to shoot at.  McGlincy and the Mustache start planning their campaign.

But what of our hero?  We're told that Yellow Hair, even as he walks around the rebuilt trading house, still shuts his eyes when he remembers the "burning horror" he experienced there, a humanizing bit of PTSD we certainly didn't see in the likes of Jettero Heller.  In fact, Yellow Hair is sorely tempted to run - his horses are amazingly enough still here, and it's only a four day ride home.  He's learned all he cares to learn about 'his' people, and has evidently given up on clearing his name, so we couldn't blame him for taking his leave of the place.

If he did leave, though, Yellow Hair would only be able to tell his people that the whites are up to no good, and nothing concrete.  So he resists the temptation to see Bright Star again and resolves to stay.

His place was here, inside the fort.

Here he was needed and here he could help.

And here he would stay.

Or you could cut McGlincy and the Mustache's throats while they sleep and then leave.  Just sayin'.

Oh, and Yellow Hair is still hanging out with Father Marc, who doesn't get to say anything this chapter.  Useless bloody priest.

Back to Chapter 31 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 31 - Finishing Our Circuit of Canada

Yet another chapter summarizing a journey across Canada, and in this case the most the author has to say about the trip is that it took seventy days and the Sioux harassed the Nor'Westers with arrows and bullets.  Then the author rambles on for three pages about the fur traders, how they were dependent upon the North American waterways, their reckless and arrogant brand of courage, how they crossed the country with a strident disregard for who claimed to own it, etc.  Familiar stuff by this point.

 Though there is something both new and useful - we've been told that beaver pelts could go for sixty pounds, and also that a keg of whiskey only costs two pounds.  So hey, we finally have some real goods to base these things' worth upon, one fifty-pound critter can keep you sloshed for over a month.

The other six pages of "Brigades Westward" summarize what out principal cast members did during this trip and explore their motivations for making it.  Yellow Hair "hated" paddling along the rivers, but goes along with it anyway.  Sure, you may remember that the water is basically the source of the sacred beaver rolls' power, but... well, they can't be that sacred if the Blackfoot are selling the beavers' pelts to the whites, can they?

Anyway, when he's not rowing the boat, he's sign-chatting with some Cree to try and get news about the Blackfoot, but can't learn anything.  Yellow Hair also watches McGlincy and the Mustache closely, noticing how the former is being strict about weapon maintenance and powder supplies and the state of the canoes, which can only mean the unusually large number of men in the fleet are "there for war and war alone."  As opposed to reinforcing what he could've learned at Fort William if he'd been paying attention.

Father Marc's doing priest stuff and gets all of two sentences.  He's kind of fading out of the story, isn't he?  Hasn't accomplished much since giving Yellow Hair his stuff back after York Factory.  Couldn't save Yellow Hair at Fort Chesterfield, couldn't clear up the Fort Chesterfield incident at York Factory.  He's just a white guy Yellow Hair can talk to.

The Mustache normally doesn't go on this sort of expedition, and isn't enjoying himself very much, but the author explains that he's obligated to go for three reasons: that stupid Evelyn girl is still insisting that the disinterested Yellow Hair is the Mustache's romantic rival, he's still smarting that his reputation as a great duelist was deflated by Yellow Hair's improbable rifle shot, and Lee complained about the Nor'Westers' pricing until the Mustache promised to look into the matter.  Well, four reasons, the Mustache also wants to shoot something more interesting than a bison, and thinks Indians - specifically Yellow Hair - might make for good sport.  Given that Yellow Hair was able to dodge a bullet fired at him from an ambush, we'll have to pretend to be worried that the Mustache poses a threat to our hero.

McGlincy's trying to "retake" his fort largely to make up for "losing" it in the first place, but he's also worried about the earlier incident at Fort Chesterfield.  "Someday Yellow Hair might talk," and McGlincy intends to silence him the minute Yellow Hair outlives his usefulness.

Which implies that in the weeks, the months since Yellow Hair and Father Marc arrived at Fort William, Yellow Hair never told anyone what happened at Fort Chesterfield.  He never mentioned his unprovoked captivity, how McGlincy pinned some scalps on him, how he fought to defend himself.  He was entirely passive, counting on Father Marc to arrange some sort of hearing for him, and gave up when that never happened.

So, in his very first book, like in his very last book, Hubbard's plot depends on his characters failing to communicate critical information.

Anyway, the bad guys are scheming, but Yellow Hair isn't waiting for Marc to do something about that, at least.  He's told the Cree rowing with the expedition that the whites are coming for war, in hope that word of mouth will spread among the other Indians.  He's also put on what he tells the whites are homecoming markings for his face, but which are actually red stripes for "WAR."  And he's carrying his knife and musket in a certain undefined way, one which means "WAR."  And he's added a design to his wonderful hunting jacket that looks something like "> <<," or one goose flying towards two geese, which is "the universal Indian sign for WAR."  And he draws in the ash of their campfires a hand carrying a tomahawk, crudely enough to not make it too obvious, but still another sign of "WAR."  And one evening he confused everyone by trying to dry his jacket off over the fire, then pulling it off, then waving it back over, so that the smoke signals spelled out "WAR."

So, in his very first book, like in his very last book, Hubbard's plot depends on his characters not noticing or reacting when someone is acting really, really suspicious.  I mean, these fur rustlers have been living among the Indians for decades, but none of them have picked up on what any of this means?  They don't know what smoke signals are, can't recognize their sometime enemies' war paint?

And, shivering with excitement and apprehension, he gave no sign when he saw a Pikuni scout slide backward from a bluff.  That Wolf had read these signs and those signs spelled "WAR BETWEEN THIS BRIGADE AND THE PIKUNI---ASSEMBLE ALL WARRIORS!"

So, in his very first book, like in his very last book, Hubbard liked to spam capital letters.  Also, they got a coherent thought out of Yellow Hair saying nothing but "WAAAGH!!!" over and over again, even though he didn't really specify who the brigade was going after.

Oh yeah, a little afterthought about the numbers here: we're told that five hundred canoes set out from Fort William, but during McGlincy's paragraphs, it's explained that he'll have a hundred and fifty voyageurs and a hundred and fifty bullies for Fort Chesterfield.  They stop at other trading posts on their way west, dropping off brigades as they go.  So when Yellow Hair was concluding that there were too many canoes for this to be a normal expedition, he wasn't quite right - just because all those guys left one fort doesn't mean every one of them was doing to the same destination.

Though in his case the conclusion he drew was the correct one even though the evidence didn't necessary lead to it.  Main character and all that.

Back to Chapter 31

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 30 - Get Your Brag Shots Today

This chapter is a dinky four pages intended to assure you that the book's hero isn't completely clueless, that "Yellow Hair Sees" what's going on.

Hubbard wastes a page waxing philosophical about how thieves, marksmen and traitors are rewarded or reviled depending on who they act against, proving that before he was admiral of the Sea Org he had a commission as Captain Obvious.  The Nor'Westers are hailing McGlincy's treacherous plan as the epitome of strategy, and this is weirdly being reflected on Yellow Hair, so that people keep coming up to give him gifts of a gunpowder horn or pistol or a Toledo steel knife.

I guess they're preemptive bribes or something?  But this raises the question of why they didn't give him this stuff during their initial welcome of the hero who slaughtered the hated HBC.  And then there's the matter of who is giving these gifts - it's not explained, but we can only conclude that it's the senior partners who were at the meeting when the Mustache and McGlincy made their proposal.  Because otherwise it's random voyageurs coming up to give Yellow Hair their pistol or whatever, and those guys are unruly drunks, so odds are good that they'd blab about the specifics of McGlincy's plan.  "We're really gonna pull one over on those filthy savages, eh?"

But again, Yellow Hair is smart, and more importantly hates white people, so he doesn't contract "the disease known as 'brag'" but instead is convinced that something is about to happen.  After all, the Nor'Westers are putting out a lot more canoes than usual for a trip to Fort Chesterfield, and are handing out a ton of rifles and powder.

Father Marc laughs that this means the HBC are in for it.

Yellow Hair also points out that the Mustache is talking about killing Indians, and Old Simon is "anxious to try a special ball of a peculiar pointed shape" (I don't know either) that he's sure will stop those "'damned redskins.'"  Yellow Hair complains that the Mustache talks about killing Indians as easily as he would talk about killing skunks, and that someone should convince him that "Indians are quite as good as he is---indeed, much better."

Father Marc laughs that the Mustache is "a windstorm without rain."

Yellow Hair is worried from all this talk about the Indians and his sudden popularity.  He can't imagine why anyone would want to attack the Pikuni, who of course are the whites' major trading partners and would never do anything unprovoked like try to rob some explorers while they slept.  So-

Now wait just a minute.  Couple of chapters ago, Yellow Hair heard a sentry call that McGlincy had arrived, and then a huge crowd gathered as the fat drunkard ranted about how the Indians had driven him from Fort Chesterfield.  So how on Earth did Yellow Hair a) miss that first speech, and b) not hear the story from the dozens of people who were so excited by it?  Where did he go between Chapters 26 and 27?

I guess the Plot is muffling his ears or something, cutting him off from this crucial information.  As it is, even though Father Marc again assures him that it's the HBC that is about to get massacred, Yellow Hair deduces that his sudden pampered treatment is similar to how a man feeds and grooms and pets a buffalo horse "to be in fine shape so that he can ride it to death."  Which would seem to suggest that when you're riding a horse normally you put barely any effort into keeping it healthy.

It may not be the best simile, and Yellow Hair tries another comparison to how he's seen these men fatten a chicken before eating it, "though why anybody would want to eat a chicken I don't know."  This led me to spend a few entertaining minutes on Wikipedia, which confirmed that other than some controversial theories about the Araucana, chickens aren't native to the New World.

All this to say, Yellow Hair has concluded that not only are the Nor'Westers about to attack his people, but they also intend for him to betray them.  So the real reason Yellow Hair is incapable of hearing about this is so that the author can show how clever he is for deducing this.

Father Marc urges Yellow Hair to flee if he thinks this is true, but our hero, being a hero, decides he'll do more good undermining the whites from the inside than by, say, racing ahead to give a warning and mobilizing his people against the army about to attack them.  Yep, gonna march with them and, if it turns out his suspicions are right, he'll try to send them and their treachery "to tell it in their Sand Hills---if they have any."

"But maybe it will mean your life," said Father Marc, at last alarmed.

"Maybe," said Yellow Hair with a bitter grin.

Unlikely, said the commentator with an annoyed roll of his eyes.

Okay, I guess Hubbard might find it narratively satisfying to have Yellow Hair make a heroic sacrifice and go down in a blaze of glory - they'll take him down, but know the truth.  But at this point, after holding off a whole fort by himself, after being able to escape from a dismal prison after six months captivity and only being mildly inconvenienced by the resulting gunshot wound, and after surviving a chase through the Canadian winter, it seems unlikely that more of these drunken, murder-happy fur traders could kill him.

Back to Chapter 29 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 29 - The Thunder Moon Rises, or Yet Another Timeskip

Good grief.  So this sad tale started in late 1806, when Lewis and Clark were returning home.  Yellow Hair wintered with the folks at Fort Chesterfield, then the following spring was framed for massacring a boatload of fur traders.  So he got taken to York Factory and spent most of 1807 there, but escaped and with Father Marc trekked across Canada in the midst of winter to arrive at Fort William the next spring.

And now the author is having another timeskip, so this chapter starts in July, or the Thunder Moon.  Close to two years have passed in this story, and most of that time has been spent with Yellow Hair hanging out with fur traders or languishing in a cell, which got brief summaries.  Even "The Dangerous Trek" across Canada in the dead of winter only warranted five pages.  Why is Hubbard killing so much time?  Is there some historical battle in late 1808 that Wikipedia doesn't know about, that he wants to tie his white Indian hero to?

Anyway.  Said white Indian hero has been met with "subterfuge and delay at every turn," and is starting to suspect that McGlincy is doing his best to make sure there will be no hearing about Fort Chesterfield.  Father Marc can't help him with this because he's "too busy to be consulted," or in other words the padre just can't find the time to do the thing that he pleaded for Yellow Hair to come with him and do.  From spring to early summer, yep, just can't get anyone to sit down and talk for an hour or so.

So Yellow Hair feels "isolated and alone in all this noise and confusion," chaos caused by the arrival of thousand-strong brigades from all corners of the frontier, all raring to fight the accursed HBC.  And since the trade war hasn't started yet, the brigadiers pass the time by getting drunk and killing each other, so Father Marc gets to do a lot of last rites and deathbed confessions.  At least they're being equal-opportunity brawlers and not just picking on the Indians.  And proving that they're not just stupid enough to kill their trade partners, they can also be stupid and kill their coworkers.

Evelyn Lee is still pursuing Yellow Hair, playing "at a highly dangerous game" because she enjoys it when men physically fight for her affections, though for his part Yellow Hair continues to think only of Bright Star.  The Mustache is keeping his arm in a sling even though it's healed, and has started to buddy up with McGlincy over their mutual hatred of the "renegade."  And Old Simon is trying to figure out how to deal with those savages threatening their control of Saskatchewan and its furs.

Since this chapter title is "A Use for the Renegade," the answer will involve Yellow Hair.

So one fine evening, Old Simon gathers all the other senior partners at Fort William around a table and assortment of booze, and asks for ideas.  The Mustache stands up and proposes that they utilize this dangerous renegade who's been hanging out for months now, and McGlincy takes his cue and spells out the plan they've come up with.  I have to say, it's probably a step down from the "kill our business rivals and blame the Indians" scheme he came up with earlier.

Their proposal is as follows: this renegade fella seems to have some influence with the Blackfoot, but he clearly has no honor (as seen in his "treacherous attack" on the Mustache), so he can probably be bought.  They'll take him to Fort Chesterfield and have him invite all the tribal chiefs into the fort, reassuring them that all those armed white men mean them no harm, and then the Nor'Westers can hold them as hostages and kill them if the natives try anything.  If for whatever reason the renegade doesn't want to follow the script and can't be bribed, they'll hold a gun to him.  Foolproof, no?

The only way things could go wrong would be if Yellow Hair absolutely hated these white traders, and was a Hubbard Action Hero capable of holding off an entire fort's worth of enemies until they bombarded him with a cannon.

But the partners all roar their approval, and sing the praises of the brilliant and majestic McGlincy, and boast that this'll finish the Hudson's Bay Company for good, and so on.  And I guess we've now set up the last sixty pages of the book.

So, here's my question: why now, why July?  Old Simon has been interested in keeping Yellow Hair around since the guy's arrival, and had some sort of plan for him - we were told that in Chapter 25, even if the plan itself was never elaborated on.  Then for three weeks nothing happened, and then McGlincy turned up ranting about being driven out of Fort Chesterfield.

Now, I can get that Old Simon is spending some months building up his brigades before launching the "counter-offensive."  But why did he wait until summer to try to figure out what to do with Yellow Hair?  He couldn't think of any way to utilize this renegade beyond giving his men an excuse to party?

See, Hubbard, just because you flip the calendar forward a few months doesn't mean that the characters were magically transported through time.  So we end up wondering just what the hell they were doing in the interim, and why they can't seem to get anything accomplished over it.

Back to Chapter 28 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 28 - A Talk About Clothes Nearly Kills a Man

This is a long, eleven-page chapter that exists to set up a brief action scene and prod two characters towards each other to set up the third act.

It's teatime at old man Lee's quarters, and we get to see just what Hubbard meant when he described him as a geezer constantly whining about his indigestion.  Lee's chowing down on snacks and tea mixed with rum, complaining "in a high-pitched whine" about the state of his various internal organs, and if you're with him during this you have to pretend to pay attention or else he'll start sobbing that people are only interested in his money, "a fact that was uncomfortably close to the truth."  For variety, Lee will also complain about business, and how what with operating costs and fluctuating markets, he's only making fifty percent per pack of furs.

And while the author presumably means for us to find Lee's talk tedious, Hubbard immediately spends a few paragraphs giving us a similar lecture on the fur trade, John Jacob Astor, David Thompson, forts changing hands, and so on.

Plot and counterplot.  American companies in death throes with Canadian and British companies which, in turn, fought each other.  Good men were dying alone in the unmapped wilderness, but the general staff, as usual, forgot that privates were, after all, people.

Or nothing we haven't already seen with McGlincy and Motley and all the other evil white guys in this book, in other words.

Plot starts happening when Lee nods off from having too little tea in his rum, leaving Evelyn and the Mustache - oh, we also learn that his full name is Lord Sir Roger Mortimer Strathleigh-Strathleigh, "which his enemies wrote Strathleigh2."  Anyway, the future married couple is left with no choice but to engage in inane conversation about what kind of jacket the Mustache dons when he goes hunting buffalo and Indians.  There's nearly a full page of nothing but lines of dialogue, but eventually Evelyn suggests that maybe the Mustache should ask one of the local Indian women to make him a native outfit.  After all, "buckskin is so handsome, so manly."

The Mustache is quite surprised, since just last month Evelyn was laughing at all those ignorant savages running around in animal hides.

"You should have one," she said with decision.  "In the morning I'll order one for you.  And a pair of those long leggings which reach all the way from the moccasin to the belt.  And you should hunt with one of those long American rifles, too, and . . . and lean on it."

Not terribly subtle.  This reminds the Mustache of what he saw a mere five hours ago, and pointedly asks if she wants him to look like that "renegade."  And I think we can discount any possibility of our hero ending up with Miss Evelyn here, because her reaction is to torpedo any sympathy or goodwill the reader might have for her.

See, Evelyn's excited in the interest and jealousy she's been able to evoke in her future husband, one of the most celebrated duelists in Europe, and she decides it's high time for two men to have a duel over her affections.  So she lies and says she's been walking and talking with that "fine gentleman" on the wall at night, and that's enough, the Mustache announces that there's only one thing to do.  See, he's feeling bored too.

And I guess this is why Yellow Hair needed to be a "gentleman" son of a disgraced American senator.  The Mustache considers his opponent someone who deserves to be formally called out, and not just shot like a savage Indian, so this chapter can happen and lead into next chapter.

While the Mustache is preparing his silvered, gilded, long-barreled French dueling pistols, Yellow Hair is chilling with the other Indians who live at the fort.  We finally get his reaction to McGlincy's arrival last chapter - "He had understood, finally, that from one motive or another the Nor'Westers intended neither to kill him nor imprison him and he supposed that McGlincy cared little about his presence at Fort William."  Yes, despite gripping his rifle with purpose upon hearing his old foe's name, apparently Yellow Hair is content to let bygones be bygones.

So he's just having a good time, singing with his cultural kin.

Presently they were all singing.  Gone were the looming and scabby palisades.  Gone were the buildings of the whites.  With "civilization" shut out by the black curtain which stood at the limit of the fire's light, they gave way to the wildness of the music.

I think describing the music as "wildness" kinda undermines the sentiment that it's just as valid as the "civilization" a short distance away.

Suddenly the other singers stop, and the Mustache prods Yellow Hair's back with his foot, demanding that he put a stop to that awful racket that even some of the local voyageurs were taking part in.  And I don't quite get it - the Mustache is supposedly dueling his fellow gentleman over Evelyn's affections, right?  But he doesn't out and say that and make his challenge, instead he does his best to provoke Yellow Hair first.

Yellow Hair did not like to have his back prodded.  He turned halfway around and looked up, the smile replaced with a chill in his blue eyes.

"Have you voice enough to drown us out?"

"Add 'sir' to that when you address me!"

Yellow Hair turned back to the fire, crossed his legs and picked up his stick.  "Where were we, warriors?"

His lordship laid a hand none to gently on Yellow Hair's shoulder.  "You dare to affront me?"

Wearily, Yellow Hair said, "Please go away.  Can't you see we're busy?"

His lordship puffed on that one.  He grew very tall and spat out an oath.  "God's blood!  You insolent savage, I'll have your life for this!"

But our hero doesn't rise to the bait, and says he doesn't like to pick on weaklings, advising this interloper to go off and twirl his mustache somewhere before he gets hurt.  And that's the last straw for the Mustache, and before Father Marc can rush in to defuse the situation, the Mustache produces a gauntlet(!) to slap against Yellow Hair.

Unfortunately for him, he's up against a Hubbard Action Hero, which means that the instant the gauntlet(!) hits Yellow Hair's face he responds three times over, slapping both sides of the Mustache's skull and then punching him to the ground.  Everyone, Indians and whites, howls with laughter at the sight of the muddy Mustache.

"I challenge you!" roared Lord Strathleigh.

"Looks like you're already whipped," grinned Yellow Hair.

This feels off.  I don't know much about the history of English/American slang, but maybe "licked" would be the better word here?  "Whipped" just seems kind of jarring.  Maybe somewhere there's a dictionary listing early 19th century synonyms for "defeated" that I could check.

So the Mustache clarifies that he means a duel to the death, and another partner rushes up to be his second, and Old Simon shows up and Father Marc releases Yellow Hair and they all try to explain this custom of ritualized murder.  Yellow Hair, as a straightforward "noble savage" character, doesn't see the point in this fuss and wonders why, if the Mustache wants to kill him so badly, they can't just do things right now.  And of course nobody has a good answer for that.

But the Mustache tries to stomp back to his room to await the dawn, and Yellow Hair calls him a coward for trying to leave, and the guy loses his temper.  And so we get a brief bit of action to make this chapter exciting.

Exasperated at such ignorance, Strathleigh lost all control of himself.  He whirled and his hand gripped his pistol butt.  He crouched forward and aimed at the clear silhouette.

Interesting firing stance.  I thought duelists liked to stand straight, turn slightly to the side, extend their arms, and take careful aim, not hunch and shoot.  Well, I'm not a 19th-century gentleman, I've just seen some movies, so what do I know?

Yellow Hair had seen neither pistol nor movement.  But he saw the flash of sparks from the flint, the glare of the pan, the flash of the muzzle and while all this was happening Yellow Hair was going sideways and down.

Yeah.  After seeing the spark of the powder igniting and the muzzle flash, our hero is able to dodge out of the way before the bullet hits him.  Wait, since "all this was happening" while Yellow Hair was diving, did he begin moving before the muzzle flash, but without seeing the Mustache draw his gun and prepare to shoot?

Point is, Indian ninja reflexes.  Invincible main character.  Pretend to be excited whenever the author insists that Yellow Hair's life is in danger.

The bullet hits a log, and Yellow Hair returns fire in a quite implausible manner.

His long rifle was in his hand before the shot had echoed.  He flopped over, jabbed the stock into his shoulder, sighted and squeezed.

He yipped, "The pistol!"

The Woods rifle ribboned the night with sparks.

I almost read that as "woods rifle" and thought I was back in Mission Earth for a moment.

The glint of bright metal in his lordship's right hand jumped skyward and sailed to the left.  His lordship screamed as the bullet tore through the muscles of his wrist.

"Any more?" shouted Yellow Hair.  "Come back and have it out, you coward!  Come back when I can see what you're doing!

Not that you need to.

Maybe you're afraid when the light is not in your favor, eh?  Come back!"

But the Mustache instead flees, and all the voyageurs are all cheering our hero, and the chapter ends.

So let's examine what just happened, to fully appreciate just how awesome Yellow Hair is.  He was somehow dodging an attack he didn't see before it even started, flung himself to the ground, and before his opponent could react drew his unreasonably tall weapon, aimed it, and fired it from the ground, managing to make a called shot on his opponent's weapon hand, again before his opponent could react.  And since the Mustache was shooting at Yellow Hair's silhouette against the bonfire, our hero must've been shooting into the darkness beyond it while still managing to hit his target.

Now, we might wonder why Yellow Hair aimed for the Mustache's hand instead of being a no-nonsense frontiersman and shooting him dead, and I can think of a couple of reasons for this.  First, actually killing the Mustache would probably end in repercussions, while merely wounding his main hand allows everyone to laugh - and we all know how much Hubbard likes to humiliate and mock his villains.  Second, as said the trick shot is probably meant to impress us, because Hubbard also likes to exalt his heroes.  And third, leaving the Mustache alive allows him to buddy up with McGlincy next chapter.

Back to Chapter 27 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 27 - McGlincy Belches a Warning

I kinda like this chapter.  Well, I'll add some qualifiers in a bit, let's hit the high points.

McGlincy's canoe hits the river landing like an arrow thudding into the ground, and the majestic tyrant leaps out.  He's haggard and weary from his journey, though he hasn't so much lost weight as had it shift around so that his chest has dropped a bit.  He strikes a heroic pose with his arms outstretched, bottle of grog in hand. 

Plainly he was a courier with tidings of disaster.  You could almost visualize the thundering horse, the flying pennon, the backward glance at close pursuit as the valiant bearer of news and the only hope of a besieged garrison's salvation came to the destination for succor without which hundreds would die.

McGlincy hiccuped.

We have here some rich description of a character's arrival, painting a vivid description of how he thinks he's presenting himself, which is then expertly and comically undermined by his drunkenness.  Though these passages were written by Hubbard, they are in my opinion effective examples of storytelling and humor.

McGlincy looked steadily at them as though unwilling to part with such momentous news after undergoing so much suffering to bring it home.

It was a dramatic moment, comparable only with the arrival of the runner from Marathon, although McGlincy looked more like Bacchus than a Greek athlete.

Dionysus, Hubbard, Bacchus was the Roman name.

"God's blood!" cried McGlincy, following it with a loud belch that rocked him as though he had been hit by canister.

The crowd hung on that in hushed suspense.

Yes, despite the belches and the fact that McGlincy is quietly milking his dramatic entrance for all it's worth, the crowd is spellbound, gasping and reacting appropriately whenever he belches out "Murder!  Fire and damnation!" or "We're lost!" or "The God damned English!"  Then he chooses to rock on his feet and be led into the tavern, where a tabletop covered in bottles soon appears in front of him "like Hindu magic."  Hubbard, as a renowned explorer and philosophical guru, would of course know the difference between different kinds of heathen devilry.

After keeping everyone waiting for as long as possible, and after having a little taste of everything on the table, McGlincy drops the bombshell: "The English are in possession of Saskatchewan!"  He tells the story, "using hiccups for commas and belches for periods," of how Motley visited Fort Chesterfield and the resulting destruction, and how thousands of savage Indians attacked them, no doubt turned against the Nor'Westers by the conniving English.  It's a harrowing tale of blood, death and screaming, followed by McGlincy's desperate flight across the continent to bring news and rally his company to fight back against the aggressors.

And it's all just a slight exaggeration, because as the narrator informs us, nothing new happened between this chapter and Chapter 19: McGlincy Departs.  This is simply how the man is choosing to interpret a buttload of Blackfoot showing up to ask about Yellow Hair, and how he plans to gather a large enough guard for him to feel safe returning to Fort Chesterfield.  McGlincy wasn't even in all that much of a hurry to get to Fort William, and wintered in Fort Gibralter getting drunk off his ass.

But, as the author tells us, while these Nor'Westers might have been able to figure some of this out if they'd examined McGlincy's story, it is what they want to hear.  So Old Simon starts swearing how they'll show the Hudson's Bay Company that they can't get away with this sort of thing, and since the chapter title is "Tidings of War," things are probably about to escalate.

So, a pretty good chapter: nicely-written in parts, and it moves the plot along.  McGlincy's drunkenness may be noted and reiterated a bit too much, but it doesn't come across as tiresome as the "Indians are the real owners of the land" message Hubbard's been hitting us with the entire book.  But here's my problem with this chapter - it ends with this paragraph:

At the moment it completely slipped everyone's mind to tell McGlincy that Yellow Hair was in and about the place and the kind fates which look over the lives of great men let McGlincy find it out that night, very quietly, without the least stir, when an incident of great bearing upon Yellow Hair's life occurred near the gate.

Which is obviously a lead-in to the next chapter.  Except it raises an important question: where the hell was Yellow Hair during all this?  He was on the riverbank just last chapter, close enough to hear a lookout shouting about an arrival.  In fact, he heard the lookout announce McGlincy by name, and even tightened his grip on his rifle in response.  Why didn't he push through the crowd, calling McGlincy a liar for suggesting that the Blackfoot would go on the offensive like this?  Or choke back his rage to ask his former enemy for news about his people?  And I know these are a bunch of drunk, stupid people, but after spending a month now with Yellow Hair hanging around, surely one of them could remember that the guy who supposedly terrorized McGlincy's fort is currently visiting theirs?

Maybe we'll get an explanation about why it was impossible for Yellow Hair to reach his nemesis next chapter.  Maybe his pants were too tight for him to run in, and by the time he waddled to the riverbank everyone had already left.

Back to Chapter 26

Monday, June 8, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 26 - Money and a Smile

This 'un's called "His Lordship Sees," which I think is the worst chapter title we've seen so far, even including "The Chipmunk."  At least it provides a four-page mystery as the annoyed reader asks "sees what?"

Three weeks pass at Fort William, and our hero grows restless.  He wants to have a hearing to discuss what really happened at Fort Chesterfield, but he just can't seem to get Old Simon to listen, so... yeah, nothing happens to resolve that plot point.  This gives Yellow Hair, who finds nothing of value at the fort, plenty of free time to worry about his shallow female love interest.  He spends hours on end just sitting and dreaming up the conversations they'll have in their big fancy lodge filled with meat.

And then a chill of reality would make him shiver.  He did not know if she was waiting on him or not.

She had told him she would.

He could see her face when she had said that.  Dark eyes downcast, masked by her long lashes, cheeks colored ever so little by shyness.

When had she said that?  We went from Yellow Hair stepping out of the Grand Council meeting at the end of Chapter Four right to him and White Fox's arrival at Fort Chesterfield in Chapter Five.  Or maybe we're talking about Yellow Hair's hallucinated conversation with Bright Star in Chapter Eighteen, where she didn't so much promise to wait as she did discuss how she waited before the dream scenario played out.

She had said that she would wait and watch for him, but the time had been so long.

And even though Yellow Hair has no way of knowing about Long Bow and Bright Star's arranged marriage once her mourning period is over, his Main Character powers allow him to sense that something is amiss.

Now, this chapter keeps zig-zagging through time and space, because we're told that Yellow Hair has taken to walking the riverbank while worrying about Bright Star, and then we rewind to stuff that happened before a particular day along that riverbank.  We're told that Yellow Hair visited Fort William's grand saloon only once, a drinking hall that features a gallery of portraits of the company's senior partners depicted in finery and with manly faces, works that drove their painters to drink.  On the subject of drink, Yellow Hair had to endure more offers of booze, and the sight of grown, drunken men riding barrels down sloped tables while pretending they're canoeing through some rapids.

Oh, and someone of course gave some alcohol to other Indians, resulting in the deaths of two men, three women and a child, and the grief-stricken deaths of the perpetrators.  Because...

Yellow Hair had, of course, asked why it was necessary to issue the rum in the first place, but there didn't seem to be any answer.  While it is sometimes possible to puzzle out the problems of wisdom, it is impossible to answer folly except in its own terms.

I guess Hubbard's exhaustive research into fur traders and relations between natives and white explorers revealed that on every occasion possible, white men got Indians drunk and laughed when they killed each other.  No real reason for it, you might as well ask why psychologists lobotomize folks.

Yellow Hair also has been observing some of the characters introduced two chapters ago, and had problems working out why everyone shows such deference to the bent old man Lee, who constantly complains about indigestion.  Guess the Pikuni never had a gnarled old man around who had stomach problems but could dispense valuable wisdom at times.  Our hero can only conclude that Lee's possession of something called "money" is what allows him to, for example, "bribe" his daughter to stick around and dispense the medicines that keep him alive.  Apparently the Pikuni never put up with annoying relatives because of family ties, either.

"Money" just plain mystifies our simple, honest frontiersman.  He notes that having a lot of it makes Lee more respected than the fort chaplain, and also that The Mustache seems to look forward to inheriting Lee's fortune more than he does marrying Lee's daughter.  So Yellow Hair gives up on figuring out what the big deal is, "but while his attention to the problem had brought no result to his reason it had brought a very definite result to his security, by taking it away."  Which is an unwieldy way of saying, Yellow Hair's curiosity got him into trouble.

He had watched the girl Evelyn.

She had seen him doing that.

Evelyn, being both bored and a woman, had misconstrued the meaning of the glance.

See, Yellow Hair is a handsome fellow, rugged and gloriously Aryan compared to all the be-wigged ponces that pass for the upper crust out east, and "tricked out" in... excuse me, I just need to boggle for a moment that an author writing in the 1930's used the phrase "tricked out" to describe an outfit from the 1800's.  Anyway, Yellow Hair is of course in his fancy beaded and fringed white antelope jacket and leggings.  And they're tight leggings, showing off his fine legs, mmm-hmm.  Getting hot in here.

So while Yellow Hair's standing around in his tight pants, holding up a rifle nearly as tall as he is, "very picturesque" as he poses in front of the scenery, Miss Evelyn has taken to dressing up and parading along the walls twice a day.  Now, Yellow Hair x Bright Star shippers, be relieved - our hero has no interest in this hussy, he knows what she's doing but is "greatly amused" that she's trying to be as pretty as his beloved Bright Star.

But his amused grin is seen by The Mustache, and interpreted for something else.  And that, ladies and gentleman, is what "His Lordship Sees" this chapter.  He hides his reaction to it, but it "caused a clink in his money-bag mind."

Oh, and then someone shouts "It's Alex McGlincy!" as a canoe makes a landing.

Back to Chapter 25

Friday, June 5, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 25 - Yellow Hair the Gentleman

A week passes at Fort William, a week of the locals offering Yellow Hair drinks and not minding in the least that he's a teetotaler, since that just means they get to have the booze instead.  Now, they're well aware of their guest's deadly reputation (wonder if Yellow Hair's white love interest is?), but the way these Nor'Westers see it, anyone who massacred a Hudson's Bay Company boat and held off against a swarm of HBC soldiers is a friend of theirs.  No mention of what they think of the stories about Yellow Hair's cannibalism or child-murderin' or other atrocities, so I can only assume that if they do think he's a cannibal, he's their cannibal or something.

Yellow Hair's still not quite sure what to make of this hero's reception, but he decides to just roll with it.  "He did not realize that men who possess bad qualities and reputations are apt to make those honorable and good by causing them to be rewarded in others.  If he had known this he would have quitted the fort instantly, English or no English."

And wait, I thought the objective of this trip was for Yellow Hair to explain that he didn't massacre a boatload of HBC guys, thus clearing his name so he can return home without bringing the promise of retribution with him?

Maybe he plans on getting to that eventually.  Our hero (and presumably Father Marc) eat and rest and recover from their journey, and Yellow Hair even instructs an Algonquian woman to make him some new antelope-skin clothes in the Pikuni style.  So if you were feeling anxious about the state of the main character's buckskin shirt and moccasins, put yourself at ease.

While they're hanging out at this new fort, Yellow Hair asks Father Marc some stuff about white culture.  He wonders about those shiny metal discs some veterans are wearing and has medals explained to him, so Yellow Hair can say that the eagle feathers that Blackfoot warriors are allowed to wear in their hair after scoring a coup are prettier.  He asks why people show such respect for that tall fellow ("Is it because of that mustache?"), Marc explains about Lords, and Yellow Hair voices his disdain for hereditary titles, since he knows a mighty chief's son who was so cowardly that they dressed him in women's clothing.  And when Marc mentions that The Mustache is a renowned duelist, Yellow Hair gets to declare that what the priest is talking about is nothing less than legalized murder, a position Marc can't really argue with.

In other words, we're finally getting scenes with the Indian-raised Yellow Hair experiencing and commenting on white culture rather than, as he did two forts previous, declaring everything about it abhorrent and consciously deciding not to learn any more about it.  Two problems, though: his Native American viewpoint only matters in regards to the medals vs. feathers argument, his criticisms of dueling and titles could have come from many of his contemporary Americans, liberal Europeans, and so forth.  Second is that this is happening now rather than in the book's first act, when Yellow Hair spent nine months with Father Marc during his mission to learn about white culture.

So while these three pages or so of Yellow Hair and Father Marc talking actually accomplish part of what the book was supposed to do (beyond kill white guys), the timing is off and it would work almost as well in any other setting.

And if the author had decided to include those pages earlier in the story, this chapter could be more focused on its title: "Who is Yellow Hair?"  Because while Yellow Hair and Father Marc are talking, Old Simon is searching his belongings, just in case this guy who reportedly killed like a million HBC guys is actually an HBC spy... look, the discovery is more important than why it was made.

Now, Yellow Hair's father left him some important papers when he died, and though Yellow Hair only recently encountered the English language, he held on to the documents in his sacred Beaver Medicine Roll, which Old Simon is currently pawing through.  And from these documents we get Many Guns' backstory and Yellow Hair's family history.  There's a written appointment for Lawrence Randolph Kirk to meet with a G. Washington, and a commission giving him the rank of colonel.  There's a marriage certificate for L. R. Kirk... hmm... and a Beatrice Talbot, as well as a letter from John Adams congratulating them on the birth of their son Michael.  And there's newspaper clippings concerning the early death of Beatrice Talbot Kirk, and editorials accusing Senator Kirk of Virgina of killing the famous General Grossman in a duel over accusations of "high treason."

Now in case you, the reader, can't put all this together, it just so happens that Old Simon has actually heard of this whole affair and can spell it out for you.  Grossman was said to be a crack shot, and Kirk had said he wasn't shooting to kill, but somehow the general died in their duel.  His friends managed to chase Kirk out of Virginia so that his wife died in poverty, leaving him and his son to wander west into the wilderness.

Finally, there's a letter from Kirk to his son explaining that his only inheritance would be an estate and four hundred slaves that have already been lost to lawsuits, and that he was certain that Grossman was really a British agent who accused him of treason to deflect suspicion.  If you really care which of two posthumous characters was the real traitor.

Old Simon is quietly amused by all these revelations, and then The Mustache walks in.  He's bored because only three Indians have died in drunken fights since he came to Fort William, and although he's killed over a hundred buffalo with his new rifle, the stupid things aren't any challenge to hunt.  He asks if Simon has any Indian villages he wants wiped out or anything.  Instead the other guy hands over the papers, which The Mustache reads with disinterest.  He'd heard about Grossman and Kirk too, and is only mildly surprised when Simon explains that the white savage is Kirk's son.

"Devil take me, so he is according to this.  A gentleman in the savage costume, what?  Masquerade, no doubt, what?  Trying to put something over, eh?"

And it's probably worth noting that The Mustache flipped through the papers, recognized that Kirk fellow they were about, and failed to connect them to Yellow Hair until Old Simon pointed it out.

Old Simon says it doesn't matter who he is, Yellow Hair's reputation is drawing in interested partners, and "There's work to be done."  It's just a bit of a cosmic joke that Kirk's son is involved.

"Right, right, right," smiled his lordship.  "But the blighter has been missing out of the col---I mean the United States these twenty years.  No matter about that.  What if he is a gentleman?"

"Ay, what if he is?  Have a drink?"

So, a question.

If you have a white mentor explain to a young man raised by natives what a hereditary title is, and the young man scoffs at the idea of worth being passed down automatically by accident of birth, why do you then reveal that said young man is the son of a war hero and former Senator, which makes him a "gentleman?"  Especially if senator is an elected position awarded, presumably, on merit?  America doesn't really buy into an hereditary class of ruling oligarch.

I say this as we look forward to another election that will probably involve a Clinton going up against a Bush for control of a Congress whose average net worth was seven million dollars in 2011.

Back to Chapter 24

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 24 - The Mustache and Other Important Introductions

"The Reception" starts with a lot of oomph.

God built Lake Superior.

The Nor'Westers built Fort William.

Simple, direct, dramatic.  You can just hear the words narrated at the start of some documentary as the camera zooms in low over the waters of the lake to the settlement on its shore.

The recipe for the place called for stone, lead, logs, rum, logs, mud, rum, knives, rifles, rum, nails, cannon, shot, rum, pelts, traps, canoes, rum, mud, water, axes, logs, paint, augers, rum, pegs, rum, mud, and, of course, plans.

Aaand there goes the gravitas.  Borderline Monty Python sketch, that was.

The author spends a full two pages establishing this new setting.  He discusses the great variety of people who live in Fort William: Swedes, French, folks from all of the British Isles, Indians, ranging from scum recruited from jails and woman and children come to settle the New World, some fifteen hundred or two thousand in all  We're told about the eighteen-foot-high "scowling slab palisade" and the fact that it doesn't protect the log homes of the Indians who actually make the fur trade possible.  The place's history is briefly touched upon, how it passed from US to British territory with the Boundary Settlement of Hubbard Doesn't Say, and how Fort William sits on the boundary between civilization and the wild, lands disputed by both the HBC and Nor'Westers, and which of course actually belonged to the Indians.

I have to say, Hubbard bringing up the fact that the Indians are the proper owners of these lands every other chapter is somehow making me less sympathetic towards the victims of centuries of abuse and exploitation by white settlers.  Don't pick L. Ron Hubbard as your advocate, folks.

After one more note that the settlement of the region is advancing because the local Indians are dying out from disease, which the religious believe is divine punishment for their heathen beliefs, and the government believes is due to their "stubborn insistence that they owned the country"... sigh.  Let's just start the chapter already.

A fort sentry announces that a dog travois is approaching, which excites everyone because to arrive right at the spring thaw means that these new arrivals must've traveled through the dead of winter, and maybe they have news about the raids and the British.  So when the gates open there's a rush for "grandstand seats," which feels like an anachronistic metaphor that ruins my immersion in the story.  And among the crowd of onlookers is someone who must be important to the story, otherwise the author is wasting a lot of words on a bit character.

One of these was a girl, not more than twenty-one years of age but for all that possessing the arts and graces of the most accomplished courtier.  She was very blonde, very slender and very poised.  The silk of her flowing gown shimmered below the limits of her encompassing cloak.  She walked with the proud tread of an empress---which indeed was her position if not her title in the huge fort.  When she paused to wait the coming of the strangers she stood so well that it appeared instantly that these men were arriving solely for her pleasure.

Uh oh.

Now, I know our hero Yellow Hair is committed to the lovely Bright Star, and even thought about her once during a half-year captivity.  But does she now have some competition?  Could this be the start of a love triangle and some romantic tension?  This newcomer does have a lot of traits we've seen/will see in previous/future Hubbard Love Interests.

This is actually a suspenseful development because the cliche could go either way.  Will the white man raised as a noble savage fall for a white woman who leads him back into civilization, or stay true to his adopted people and marry the chief's daughter?  Not that I know who the Pikuni's chief is.  Hell, we still don't now that their village is called.

Anyway, with this potential love interest are two men.  One is her father, worthy of only a sentence describing him as bent and "warped."  The other is a fella who gets a full page introduction, and deserves it "because of his ultimate influence on Yellow Hair's destiny."  He's tall and slender, stands up so straight he's almost bending backwards, haughty in the way that McGlincy is "majestic," a man of ruffles and a cape and gold-buckled shoes who is standing on a blanket so not to get those shoes muddy.  But most of all,

The gentleman also had a mustache.  But this is no incidental mention of that cherished article.  It is reserved until last because the last thing said always makes the best impression---or the worst.

It's a mustache whose owner is first described as playing with it, until the narrator backtracks and says he's more accurately stroking the thing like a beloved pet.  It's a mustache so carefully waxed and spiked that some at the fort are concerned that it might puncture its owner's skull if he ever fell on his face.  In fact, maybe we should be referring to it as The Mustache.

And I have to say, I rather like this.  It's silly but does a great job of establishing a character, even if they're more a caricature then a deep, complex human being.

We get our conflict and tension for the chapter when Yellow Hair, getting kinda hysteric from exhaustion, sees a mustache unconnected to a beard for the first time in his life, and laughs out loud at it.  He nudges Father Marc, the padre nervously pokes him back, and Yellow Hair shuts up.  But the damage is done.

Yellow Hair might have murdered every man in the place with more impunity.  He might have laughed at his lordship's shoes and even gotten away with it.  But he made the fatal error of stabbing ridicule at the most cherished thing his lordship possessed.

So the bearer of The Mustache draws his sword, then notices that Yellow Hair is packing a pistol, rifle and knife, tries to just as quickly sheathe his sword, tosses his head and snorts like a horse, and in the process of all this forces the girl at his side to dodge his movements.  For all her grace she nearly falls down, but Yellow Hair, exhaustion or no, is able to dart in and lend a hand to steady her.  Uh oh.

He stopped laughing.  His mouth went slightly open and his hand swooped up to cover it in that time-honored Pikuni exclamation of surprise.

A white woman?

Now who would ever have believed there was such a thing as a white woman in this world?

Impossible.  Some medicine pipe dream.

So where did Yellow Hair think all those white guys came from?  Did he assume that whenever those voyageurs talked about girls they were referring to Indian women?

And why did he notice The Mustache before this incredible, pale-faced woman?

But there she was with her pretty gray eyes looking sideways at his handsome, if startled, face.  She appeared to be rapt in contemplation of so pleasing an object, but in reality she took in everything about him.  The face of a well-bred gentleman, the eyes of a gallant who would dare anything, even death, with a laugh, the well-sculpt body of an athlete, the strong hands of an artist.

She was pleased.

She narrowed her look and made it very sweet.

Uh oh.  My YellowStar ship is under threat.

Luckily Father Marc butts in "to avoid a possible massacre," and explains to Yellow Hair who these people are, which is nice because the narrator didn't.  The Mustache belongs to Lord Strathleigh, the greatest duelist in either England or France, who spends a hundred pounds a year maintaining it and will suffer no mockery of its glory.  The girl is his future wife, miss Evelyn Lee, and the twisted old guy was just "Lee, the great fur buyer."  And in hindsight, maybe Father Marc should've talked about the important figures at Fort William before he and Yellow Hair arrived, and stressed the importance of respecting The Mustache.  But it's been a very long winter, so we can cut him some slack.  Besides, this way we have some potential conflict.

At this point Old Simon MacIntosh bursts onto the scene to welcome "priest" and "the savage" who have got the English's crumpets in a twist.  He's no mustache, so all we're told about him is that he's "gnarled and canny," "wrinkled and cunning."  Old Simon promises that he's got plenty of work for a "good killer" and leads them off to get drunk, "the highest honor Old Simon could present to any man."  Priests in this story are kinda weird.

So, big chapter - we get several important introductions and the promise of future conflict, most likely involving Miss Evelyn's notice of Yellow Hair earning the ire of her future husband, The Mustache.  And will Yellow Hair will end up with Bright Star or this new girl?  I dunno, I'm not actually interested enough to read ahead.

Wait, the Blackfoot occasionally practice polygamy.  That kinda defuses the potential love triangle a bit, doesn't it?

Back to Chapter 23 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 23 - Chillaxes with Wolves

So, another timeskip.  Yellow Hair and Father Marc left York Factory when the rivers were starting to ice over, next chapter they'll arrive at Fort William right after the ice has broken up, a journey of about 608 miles that will be covered in five pages.  Fortunately, the author at least spends the whole chapter discussing this trip and what it was like, rather than glossing it over to get to the next action scene.

The downside of this is that we get to hear Hubbard talk at length about how incredible this journey would be even in the best of conditions, much less in the depths of winter and while hunted by the English.  And the point of this is of course for us to feel the appropriate awe that our hero was able to survive it, especially since he spent the previous six months all malnourished in a prison cell, and he got shot on the night he escaped.

It was long and tedious and grueling.  The English were bad enough but added to that was howling winter in the north, impenetrable forests, the glazed ice of paralyzed rivers, the scream of blasting storms, chill camps with scarce protection---and the wolves.

Yes, the British's casual ecological destruction hasn't put a dent in the wolf population yet, and so every night our heroes made camp, they were surrounded by a "starved ring of green eyes against the outer darkness, jaws slavering, insane at the prospect of easy meat."  Can't say I've ever seen a green-eyed canine before, but the internet tells me it's possible, so whatever.  But don't worry that these starving wolves ever caused trouble for our heroes or anything - the paragraph after mentioning these potential threats, the author immediately describes all the different campsites Yellow Hair and Father Marc experienced.

The camps were too various for mention.

But Hubbard does so anyway, good for him.

Men traveling on foot across a thousand miles of wilderness make many camps of many kinds.

Um... well, I guess Google could be wrong, and the line it drew between York Factory and the northwest shore of Lake Superior is a little more direct than the route drawn out in this book's map, but while it bows in the opposite direction as Yellow Hair's route, it doesn't bow out that much less.  My guess is that either Hubbard is exaggerating things a bit or else got kilometers and miles confused, because Google's route comes out to 980 km.

Though I suppose it's kind of impressive for someone to make these sort of errors in a time before the internet made them easy.

In abaondoned hunters' cabins, in windfalls, under rocks, against frozen banks, beside towering trees, deep in brittle thickets of brush, they made their small fires and hoped the smoke would not call down the wrath and fire of the still-searching H.B.C.s.

Given the dangers of winter, you gotta wonder why the Brits are willing to lose so many men chasing someone who hopefully will die of exposure.  But again, I'm not a colonial governor who's had to deal with an alleged scalpaholic

Like how Hubbard went from the circle of wolves around the fire to the variety of camps our heroes rested at, we get a few lines about the variety of meats and game they survived on, then a rather more interesting paragraph about all their close calls with their English pursuers.  One night they got to lie awake listening to a team of British searching for them, on another they got to spend hours backtracking to foil a party of hunters, then on one occasion they bumped into a fort factor and had to haul him back home all tied up, because Yellow Hair is a softy at heart and Father Marc is a nonviolent priest.

And you might think this would make the journey a very tense and exciting time, except Hubbard then spends a page explaining how one-sided the hunt was.  After all, Yellow Hair is a Pikuni scout and therefore totally at home in frozen woods very different from his homeland, as mentioned in Chapter 20.  And the British, even though they're in their "own" territory, have nothing but a proper education on how to eat tea and biscuits. 

Week in and week out (or rather storm in and storm out), Yellow Hair persisted in making the worthy English appear in a very foolish light and did it with so much savage glee that a more sober man that Father Marc would have grown hysterical.

So again, nothing to be worried about, no real danger for our heroes, at most an inconvenience.

For instance, one night Yellow Hair crept up to the very edge of an enemy campfire, listening to the Orkneymen talk about how they'd spend their reward money for catching him, and then he howled along with the nearby wolves so that the British didn't sleep a wink that night, even while Yellow Hair stole their dogs for his sled.  And that's the story of how Yellow Hair got some other animal to pull his toboggan.

There was some consequence from this, however - Father Marc started to think about tales of werewolves until Yellow Hair explained that the Pikuni word for "scout" is sometimes the same for "wolf," and learn to signal with a howl so authentic that even wolves are fooled by it.  Which seems like it could go both ways to me, and run the risk of a natural wolf howl being mistaken for a scout report, but I'm sure these people know what they're doing.  But yeah, Yellow Hair the Indian scout has a near-mystical affinity for the starving wild animals that surrounded him and Father Marc each night, which explains why they were never eaten, I guess.

And so, while Father Marc grinned away his uneasiness at these carnivora, Yellow Hair grinned at them with friendliness, appreciating their intelligence, their swiftness, and if not their courage, at least their cunning.  Several times Yellow Hair scared Father Marc half out of his cassock by suddenly emitting a yipping bark in the direction of a new set of eyes which had joined the waiting ring around the fire, throwing the wolf song in that direction as though telling the animal to keep its distance, that here was a kindred spirit.

At least he's not taming the wolves to pull their sled, or listening to their howls and understanding that there are five British men ten miles away heading northeast.

And that's about it for the chapter.  After outwitting their pursuers at every turn over a hundreds-mile journey that took them through the depths of winter, spring arrives and Father Marc and Yellow Hair exchange their toboggan for a travois and follow a stream to Fort William, where they will "face adventures much more intricate and dangerous than those of their journey."  Which, as this chapter makes clear, isn't saying much.

But again, at least Hubbard actually went into some detail about the trip, even found a chance to show us a bit about Yellow Hair's character when he playfully terrified his traveling companion.  So I'll call this a good chapter, more or less.  Not a tense or exciting chapter, though.

Back to Chapter 22