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

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