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Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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proved. In the course of a couple of minutes all the ca
noes were far enough from the shore to be out of sight of
the two Indians, who, by that time, had got down to the
beach to look after their own craft. The yell these savages
raised on finding themselves too late, not only announced
their disappointment, but communicated the extent of the
disaster to their friends, who were still floundering through
the marsh.

The great advantage that the party of the bee-hunter had
now obtained must be very apparent to all. In possession
of all the canoes, their enemies were, or would be for some
time at least, confined to the northern side of the river,
which was so wide near its mouth as to present an effectual
barrier between them and those who occupied the opposite
bank. The canoes, also, enabled the weaker party to change
their position at will, carrying with them as many effects as
were on board, and which included the whole of the prop
erty of le Bourdon; while their loss deprived their enemies
of all extra means of motion, and would be very likely to
induce them to proceed on their expedition by land. The
objects of that expedition could only be conjectured by the
bee-hunter, until he had questioned the Chippewa; a thing
he did not fail to do, so soon as he believed the party quite
safe under the south shore. Here the fugitives landed, pro
ceeding up a natural channel in the wild rice in order to do
so, and selecting a bit of dry beach for their purpose.
Margery set about lighting a fire, in order to keep the mos-
quitos at a distance, selecting a spot to kindle it, behind a
swell on the land, that concealed the light from all on the
other shore. In the morning, it would be necessary to ex
tinguish that fire, lest its smoke should betray their posi
tion. It was while these things were in progress, and after
le Bourdon had himself procured the fuel necessary to feed
pretty Margery s fire, that he questioned the Chippewa
touching his captivity.

" Yes, tell all bout him," answered the Indian, as soon



THE OAK OPENINGS. IIQ

as interrogated " no good to hide trail from friend. Mem
ber when say good-by up in openin to Bourdon? "

" Certainly I remember the very instant when you left
me. The Pottawattamie went on one path, and you went
on another. I was glad of that, as you seemed to think he
was not your friend."

" Yes; good not to travel on same path as inimy, cause
he quarrel sometime," coolly returned the Indian. "Dis
time, path come together, somehow; and Pottawattamie lose
he scalp."

" I am aware of all that, Pigeonswing, and wish it had
not been so. I found the body of Elksfoot sitting up against
a tree soon after you left me, and knew by whose hands he
had fallen."

" Didn t find scalp, eh?"

" No, the scalp had been taken ; though I accounted that
but for little, since the man s life was gone. There is little
gained by carrying on war in this manner, making the
woods, and the openings, and the prairies, alike unsafe.
You see, to what distress this family is reduced by your
Injin manner of making war."

" How you make him, den want to hear. Go kiss, and
give venison to inimy, or go get his scalp, eh? Which bess
fashion to make him afeard, and own you master? "

" All that may be done without killing single travellers,
or murdering women and children. The peace will be
made none the sooner between England and America, be
cause you have got the scalp of Elksfoot."

"No haben t got him any longer; wish had Pottawat
tamie take him away, and say he bury him. Well, let him
hide him in a hole deep as white man s well, can t hide
Pigeonswing honor dere, too. Dat is safe as notch cut on
stick can make him ! "

This notch on a stick was the Indian mode of gazetting
a warrior; and a certain number of these notches was pretty
certain to procure for him a sort of savage brevet, which an-



I2O THE OAK OPENINGS.

swered his purpose quite as well as the modern mode of
brevetting at Washington answers our purpose. Neither
brings any pay, we believe, nor any command, except in
such cases as rarely occur, and then only to the advantage
of government. There are varieties in honor, as in any
other human interest : so are there many moral degrees in
warfare. Thus, the very individual who admires the occu
pation of Algiers, or that of Tahiti, or the attack on Canton,
together with the long train of Indian events which have
dyed the peninsulas of the East in the blood of their peo
ple, sees an alarming enormity in the knocking down of the
walls of Vera Cruz, though the breach opened a direct road
into San Juan de Ulloa. In the eyes of the same profound
moralists, the garitas of Mexico ought to have been re
spected, as so many doors opening into the boudoirs of the
beautiful dames of that fine capital ; it being a monstrous
thing to fire a shot into the streets of a town, no matter how
many came out of them. We are happy, therefore, to have
it in our power to add these touches of philosophy that came
from Pigeonswing to those of the sages of the old world, by
way of completing a code of international morals on this
interesting subject, in which the student shall be at a loss
to say which he most admires that which comes from the
schools, or that which comes direct from the wilderness.

" So best," answered the bee-hunter. " I wish I could
persuade you to throw away that disgusting thing at your
belt. Remember, Chippewa, you are now among Chris
tians, and ought to do as Christians wish."

"What Christians^?, eh?" returned the Indian, with a
sneer, "get drunk like Whiskey Centre, dere? Cheat poor
red man; den get down on knee and look up at Manitou?
Dat what Christian do, eh? "

" They who do such things are Christian but in name
you must think better of such as are Christians in fact."

"Ebberybody call himself Christian, tell you all pale
face Christian, dey say. Now, listen to Chippewa. Once



THE OAK OPENINGS. 121

talk long talk wit* missionary tell all about Christian
what Christian do what Christian say how he eat, how
he sleep, how he drink! all good wish Pigeonwing Chris
tian den member so ger at garrison no eat, no sleep, no
drink Christian fashion do ebbery t ing so ger fashion
swear, fight, cheat, get drunk wuss dan Injin dat Chris
tian, eh?"

"No, that is not acting like a Christian; and I fear very
few of us who call ourselves by that name, act as if we were
Christians, in truth," said le Bourdon, conscious of the jus
tice of the Chippewa s accusation.

"Just dat now, I get him ask missionary, one day,
where all Christian go to, so dat Injin can t find him none
in woods none on prairie none in garrison none in
Mack naw none at Detroit where all go to, den, so Injin
can t find him, on y in missionary talk? "

" I am curious to know what answer your missionary
made to that question."

"Well, tell you say, on y one in ten t ousant raal Chris
tians mong pale-face, dough all call himself Christian!
Dat what Injin t ink queer, eh? "

"It is not easy to make a red man understand all the
ways of the pale-faces, Pigeonswing; but we will talk of
these things another time, when we are more at our ease.
Just now, I wish to learn all I can of the manner in which
you fell into the hands of the Pottawattamies."

" Dat plain nough wish Christian talk half as plain.
You see, Bourdon, dat Elksfoot on scout, when we meet in
openin , up river. I know d his ar nd, and so took scalp.
Dem Pottawattamie his friend when dey come to meet ole
chief, no find him; but find Pigeonwing; got me when tired
and sleep; got Elkfoot scalp wid me sorry for dat know
scalp by scalp-lock, which had gray hair, and some mark.
So put me in canoe, and meant to take Chippewa to Chicago
to torture him but too much wind. So, when meet friend
in t odder canoe, come back here to wait little while."



122 THE OAK OPENINGS.

This was the simple explanation of the manner in which
Pigeonswing had fallen into the hands of his enemies. It
would seem that Elksfoot had come in a canoe from the
mouth of the St. Joseph s to a point about half-way between
that river and the mouth of the Kalamazoo, and there landed.
What the object of the party was, does not exactly appear,
though it is far from being certain that it was not to seize
the bee-hunter, and confiscate his effects. Although le
Bourdon was personally a stranger to Elksfoot, news flies
through the wilderness in an extraordinary manner; and it
was not at all unlikely that the fact of a white American s
being in the openings should soon spread, along with the
tidings that the hatchet was dug up, and that a party should
go out in quest of his scalp and the plunder. It would seem
that the savage tact of the Chippewa detected that in the
manner of the Pottawattamie chief, which assured him the
intentions of the old warrior were not amicable; and that
he took the very summary process which has been related,
not only to secure his scalp, but effectually to put it out of
his power to do any mischief to one who was an ally, and
by means of recent confidence, now a friend. All this the
Indian explained to his companion, in his usual clipped
English, but with a clearness sufficient to make it perfectly
intelligible to his listener. The bee-hunter listened with
the most profound attention, for he was fully aware of the
importance of comprehending all the hazards of his own
situation.

While this dialogue was going on, Margery had succeeded
in lighting her fire, and was busy in preparing some warm
compound, which she knew would be required by her un
happy brother after his debauch. Dorothy passed often
between the fire and the canoe, feeling a wife s anxiety in
the fate of her husband. As for the Chippewa, intoxication
was a very venial offence in his eyes; though he had a
contempt for a man who would thus indulge while on a war
path. The American Indian does possess this merit of



THE OAK OPENINGS. 123

adapting his deportment to his circumstances. When en
gaged in war he usually prepares himself, in the coolest and
wisest manner, to meet its struggles, indulging only in mo
ments of leisure, and of comparative security. It is true
that the march of what is called civilization is fast chang
ing the red man s character, and he is very apt now to do
that which he sees done by the " Christians " around him.

Le Bourdon, when his dialogue with the Chippewa was
over, and after a few words of explanation with Margery,
took his own canoe, and paddled through the rice-plants
into the open water of the river, to reconnoitre. The
breadth of the stream induced him to float down before the
wind, until he reached a point where he could again com
mand a view of the hut. What he there saw, and what he
next did, must be reserved for a succeeding chapter.



CHAPTER VIII.

The elfin cast a glance around,

As he lighted down from his courser toad,
Then round his breast his wings he wound,

And close to the river s brink he strode:
He sprang on a rock, he breathed a prayer,

Above his head his arm he threw,
Then tossed a tiny curve in air,

And headlong plunged in the water blue.

DRAKE.

AN hour had intervened between the time when le Bourdon
had removed the canoes of the Pottawattamies, and the time
when he returned alone to the northern side of the river.
In the course of that hour the chief of the savages had time
to ascertain all the leading circumstances that have just
been related, and to collect his people in and around the
hut, for a passing council. The moment was one of action,
and not of ceremonies. No pipe was smoked, nor any of
the observances of the great councils of the tribe attended
to; the object was merely to glean facts and to collect opin-



124 THE OAK OPENINGS.

ions. In all the tribes of this part of North America, some
thing very like a principle of democracy is the predominant
feature of their politics. It is not, however, that bastard
democracy which is coming so much in fashion among our
selves, and which looks into the gutters solely for the " peo
ple," forgetting that the landlord has just as much right to
protection as the tenant, the master as the servant, the rich
as the poor, the gentleman as the blackguard. The Indians
know better than all this. They understand, fully, that the
chiefs are entitled to more respect than the loafers in their
villages, and listen to the former, while their ears are shut
to the latter. They appear to have a common sense, which
teaches them to avoid equally the exaggerations of those
who believe in blood, and of those who believe in black
guardism. With them the doctrines of " new men " would
sound as an absurdity, for they never submit to change for
change s sake. On the contrary, while there is no positive
hereditary rank, there is much hereditary consideration ;
and we doubt if a red man could be found in all America,
who is so much of a simpleton as to cite among the qualifi
cations of any man for a situation of trust and responsibil
ity, that he had never been taught how to perform its du
ties. They are not guilty of the contradiction of elevating
men because they are self-taught, while they expend millions
on schools. Doubtless they have, after a fashion of their
own, demagogues and Caesars, but they are usually kept
within moderate limits; and in rare instances, indeed, do
either ever seriously trespass on the rights of the tribe. As
human nature is everywhere the same, it is not to be sup
posed that pure justice prevails even among savages; but
one thing would seem to be certain, that, all over the world,
man in his simplest and wildest state is more apt to respect
his -own ordinances, than when living in what is deemed a
condition of high civilization.

When le Bourdon reached the point whence he could get
a. good view of the door of the hut, which was still illumi-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 12$

nated by the fire within, he ceased using the paddle beyond
the slight effort necessary to keep the canoe nearly station
ary. He was quite within the range of a rifle, but trusted
to the darkness of the night for his protection. That scouts
were out, watching the approaches to the hut, he felt satis
fied; and he did not doubt that some were prowling along
the margin of the Kalamazoo, either looking for the lost
boats, or for those who had taken them away. This made
him cautious, and he took good care not to place his canoe
in a position of danger.

It was very apparent that the savages were in great un
certainty as to the number of their enemies. Had not the
rifle been fired, and their warrior killed and scalped, they
might have supposed that their prisoner had found the
means of releasing his limbs himself, and thus effected his
escape ; but they knew that the Chippewa had neither gun
nor knife, and as all their own arms, even to those of the
dead man, were still in their possession, it was clear that
he had been succored from without. Now, the Pottawat-
tamies had heard of both the bee-hunter and Whiskey Cen
tre, and it was natural enough for them to ascribe some of
these unlooked-for feats to one or the other of these agents.
It is true, the hut was known to have been built three or
four years earlier, by an Indian trader, and no one of the
party had ever actually seen Gershom and his family in
possession ; but the conjectures on this head were as near
the fact, as if the savages had passed and repassed daily.
There was only one point on which these close calculators
of events were at fault. So thoroughly had everything been
removed from the chiente, and so carefully the traces of its
recent occupation concealed, that no one among them sus
pected that the family had left the place only an hour be
fore their own arrival. The bee-hunter, moreover, was well
assured that the savages had not yet blundered on the hid
ing-place of the furniture. Had this been discovered, its
contents would have been dragged to light, and seen around



126 THE OAK OPENINGS.

the fire; for there is usually little self-restraint among the
red men, when they make a prize of this sort.

Nevertheless, there was one point about which even those
keen-scented children of the forest were much puzzled, and
which the bee-hunter perfectly comprehended, notwithstand
ing the distance at which he was compelled to keep himself.
The odor of the whiskey was so strong, in and about the
chiente, that the Pottawattamies did not know what to make
of it. That there should be the remains of this peculiar
smell one so fragrant and tempting to those who are ac
customed to indulge in the liquor in the hut itself, was
natural enough ; but the savages were perplexed at finding
it so strong on the declivity down which the barrels had
been rolled. On this subject were they conversing, when le
Bourdon first got near enough to observe their proceedings.
After discussing the matter for some time, torches were
lighted, and most of the party followed a grim old warrior,
who had an exceedingly true nose for the scent of whiskey,
and who led them to the very spot where the half-barrel had
been first stove by rolling off a rock, and where its contents
had been mainly spilled. Here the earth was yet wet in
places, and the scent was so strong as to leave no doubt of
the recent nature of the accident which had wasted so much
of a liquor that was very precious in Pottawattamie eyes;
for accident they thought it must be, since no sane man
could think of destroying the liquor intentionally.

All the movements, gestures, and genuflections of the
savages were plainly seen by the bee-hunter. We say the
genuflections, for nearly all of the Indians got on their
knees and applied their noses to the earth, in order to scent
the fragrance of the beloved whiskey ; some out of curiosity,
but more because they loved even this tantalizing indul
gence, when no better could be had. But le Bourdon was
right in his conjectures, that the matter was not to end
here. Although most of the Indians scented the remains
of the whiskey out of love for the liquor, a few of their



THE OAK OPENINGS.

number reasoned on the whole transaction with quite as
much acuteness as could have been done by the shrewdest
natural philosopher living. To them it was very apparent
that no great length of time, a few hours at most, could
have elapsed since that whiskey was spilled; and human
hands must have brought it there, in the first place, and
poured it on the ground, in the second. There must have
been a strong reason for such an act, and that reason pre
sented itself to their minds with unerring accuracy. Their
own approach must have been seen, and the liquor was de
stroyed because it could not be removed in time to prevent
its falling into their hands. Even the precise manner in
which the whiskey had been disposed of was pretty nearly
conjectured by a few of the chiefs, acute and practised as
they were; who, accustomed to this species of exercise of
their wits, had some such dexterity in examining facts of
this nature, and in arriving at just results, as the men of the
schools manifest in the inquiries that more especially be
long to their habits and training. But their conclusions
were confined to themselves; and they were also sufficiently
enveloped in doubts, to leave those who made them ready
enough to receive new impressions on the same subject.

All this, moreover, le Bourdon both saw and understood;
or, if not absolutely all, so much of it as to let him compre
hend the main conclusions of the savages, as well as the
process by which they were reached. To obtain light, the
Indians made a fire near the charmed spot, which brought
themselves and their movements into plain view from the
canoe of the bee-hunter. Curiosity now became strongly
awakened in the latter, and he ventured in nearer to the
shore, in order to get the best possible view of what was
going on. In a manner, he was solving an enigma; and he
experienced the sort of pleasure we all feel at exercising
our wits on difficulties of that nature. The interest he felt
rendered the young man careless as respected the position
of his canoe, which drifted down before the strong breeze,



128 THE OAK OPENINGS.

until le Bourdon found himself in the very edge of the wild
rice, which at this point formed but a very narrow belt
along the beach. It was this plant, indeed, that contrib
uted to make the young man so regardless of his drift, for
he looked upon the belt of rice as a species of landmark to
warn him when to turn. But, at no other spot along that
whole shore, where the plant was to be found at all, was its
belt so narrow as at this, immediately opposite to the new
fire of the savages, and almost within the influence of its
rays. To le Bourdon s surprise, and somewhat to his con
sternation, just as his little craft touched the rice, the forms
of two stout warriors passed along the beach, between him
and the light, their feet almost dipping in the water. So
near were these two warriors to him, that, on listening in
tently, he heard not only their voices, as they communicated
their thoughts to each other in low tones, but the tread of
their moccasined feet on the ground. Retreat, under the
circumstances, would not be safe, for it must have been
made under the muzzles of the rifles; and but one resource
presented itself. By grasping in his hand two or three
stalks of the rice-plant, and holding them firmly, the drift
of the canoe was arrested.

After a moment s reflection, le Bourdon was better satis
fied with this new station than he had been on first gaining
it. To have ventured on such a near approach to his ene
mies, he would have regarded as madness; but now he was
there, well concealed among the rice, he enjoyed the advan
tages of observation it gave him, and looked upon the chance
that brought him there as lucky. He found a thong of
Duckskin, and fastened his canoe to the stalks of the plant,
thus anchoring or mooring his little bark, and leaving him
self at liberty to move about in it. The rice was high
enough to conceal him, even when erect, and he had some
difficulty in finding places favorable to making his obser
vations through it. When the bee-hunter made his way into
the bow of his canoe, however, which he did with a moc-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 1 29

casined and noiseless foot, he was startled at perceiving
how small was his cover. In point of fact, he was now
within three feet of the inner edge of the rice-plant, which
grew within ten feet of the shore, where the two warriors
already mentioned were still standing, in close communica
tion with each other. Their faces were turned toward the
fire, the bright light from which, at times, streamed over
the canoe itself, in a way to illumine all it contained. The
first impulse of le Bourdon, on ascertaining how closely he
had drifted to the shore, was to seize a paddle and make
off, but a second thought again told him it would be far
safer to remain where he was. Taking his seat, therefore,
on a bit of board laid athwart, from gunwale to gunwale, if
such a craft can be said to have gunwales at all, he pa
tiently waited the course of events.

By this time, all or nearly all of the Pottawattamies had
collected on this spot, on the side of the hill. The hut was
deserted, its fire got to be low, and darkness reigned around
the place. On the other hand, the Indians kept piling
brush on their new fire, until the wrvole of that hill-side, the
stream at its foot, and the ravine through which the latter
ran, were fairly illuminated. Of course, all within the in
fluence of this light was to be distinctly seen, and the bee-
hunter was soon absorbed in gazing at the movements of
savage enemies, under circumstances so peculiar.

The savages seemed to be entranced by the singular, and
to most of them unaccountable circumstance of the earth s
giving forth the scent of fresh whiskey, in a place so retired
and unknown. While two or three of their number had
certain inklings of the truth, as has been stated, to much
the greater portion of their body it appeared to be a pro
found mystery; and one that, in some inexplicable manner,
was connected with the recent digging up of the hatchet.
Ignorance and superstition ever go hand in hand, and it
was natural that many, perhaps most of these uninstructed
beings should thus consider so unusual a fragrance, on such
9



I3O THE OAK OPENINGS.

a spot. Whiskey has unfortunately obtained a power over
the red man of this continent that it would require many
Fathers Matthew to suppress, and which can only be lik
ened to that which is supposed to belong to the influence
of witchcraft. The Indian is quite as sensible as the white



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 10 of 41)