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 

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