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

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