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

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