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

1 comment:

  1. Hubbard has everything I disliked about the writing style of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series in this book. His entire body of work contains everything I dislike about Orson Scott Card (as an author and a polemicist for right-wing fundamentalist beliefs), without any of Card's strengths as a writer.