James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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man of the mischief that the " fire-water " produces ; but,
like the white man, he finds how hard it is to get rid of a
master passion, when we have once submitted ourselves to
its sway. The portion of the band that could not account
for the fact of the scent of their beloved beverage s being
found in such a place, and it was all but three of their
whole party, were quite animated in their discussions on
the subject, and many and crude were the suggestions that
fell from their lips. The two warriors on the beach were
more deeply impressed than any of their companions, with
the notion that some "medicine charm" was connected
with this extraordinary affair.

The reader will not be surprised to hear that le Bourdon
gazed on the scene before him with the most profound at
tention. So near did he seem to be, and so near was he,
in fact, to the savages who were grouped around the fire,
that he fancied he could comprehend what they were say
ing, by the expressions of their grim and swarthy counte
nances. His conjectures were in part just, and occasion
ally the bee-hunter was absolutely accurate in his notions
of what was said. The frequency with which different in
dividuals knelt on the ground, to scent an odor that is al
ways so pleasant to the red man, would of itself have given
a clew to the general character of the discourse ; but the
significant and expressive gestures, the rapid enunciation,
and the manner in which the eyes of the speakers glanced
from the faces near themselves to the spot consecrated by
whiskey, pretty plainly told the story. It was while thus
intently occupied in endeavoring to read the singular im
pression made on the minds of most of those wild beings,
by an incident so much out of the usual track of their expe-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 13!

rience, that le Bourdon suddenly found the bow of his canoe
thrusting itself beyond the inner margin of the rice, and is
suing into open water, within ten feet of the very spot where
the two nearest of the savages were still conferring together,
apart. The buckskin thong which served as a fastening had
got loosened, and the light craft was again drifting down
before the strong southerly wind, which still continued to
blow a little gale.

Had there been an opportunity for such a thing, the bee-
hunter would have made an effort to escape. But so sudden
and unexpected was this exposure, that he found himself
almost within reach of a rifle, before he was aware of his
approaching the two warriors on the shore, at all. His
paddle was in the stern of the canoe, and had he used the
utmost activity, the boat would have grounded on the beach,
ere he could have obtained it. In this situation, therefore,
he was absolutely without any other means than his hands
of stopping the canoe, had there even been time.

Le Bourdon understood his real situation without stop
ping to reflect; and, though his heart made one violent leap
as soon as he perceived he was out of cover, he immediately
bethought him of the course he ought to pursue. It would
have been fatal to betray alarm, or to attempt flight. As
accident had thus brought him, as it might be on a visit, to
the spot, he at once determined to give his arrival the char
acter of a friendly call, and the better to support the preten
sion, to blend with it, if possible, a little of the oracular, or
"medicine" manner, in order to impose on the imaginations
of the superstitious beings into whose power he had so un
wittingly fallen.

The instant the canoe touched the shore, and it was only
a moment after it broke through the cover, le Bourdon arose,
and extending his hand to the nearest Indian, saluted him
with the mongrel term of " Sago." A slight exclamation
from this warrior communicated to his companion an ar
rival that was quite as much a matter of surprise to the In-



132 THE OAK OPENINGS.

dians as to their guest, and through this second warrior to
the whole party on the hill-side. A little clamor succeeded,
and presently the bee-hunter was surrounded with sav
ages.

The meeting was marked by the self-command and digni
fied quiet that are so apt to distinguish the deportment of
Indian warriors, when they are on the war-path, and alive to
the duties of manhood. The bee-hunter shook hands with
several, who received his salutations with perfect calmness,
if not with absolute confidence and amity. This little cere
mony gave our hero an opportunity to observe the swarthy
countenances by which he was surrounded, most of which
were fierce in their paint, as well as to reflect a little on his
own course. By a fortunate inspiration he now determined
to assume the character of a "medicine man," and to con
nect his prophecies and juggleries with this lucky accident
of the whiskey. Accordingly, he inquired if any one spoke
English, not wishing to trust his explanations to his own
imperfect knowledge of the Ojebway tongue, which is
spoken by all the numerous tribes of that widely-extended
nation. Several could render themselves intelligible in
English, and one was so expert as to render communication
with him easy, if not very agreeable. As the savages,
however, soon insisted on examining the canoe, and taking
a look at its contents, previously to listening to their visitor s
explanations, le Bourdon was fain to submit, and to let the
young men satisfy their curiosity.

The bee-hunter had come on his hazardous expedition in
his own canoe. Previously to quitting the south shore,
however, he had lightened the little craft, by landing every
thing that was not essential to his present purpose. As
nearly half of his effects were in the canoe of Whiskey Cen
tre, the task was soon performed, and lucky it was for our
hero that he had bethought him of the prudence of the
measure. His sole object had been to render the canoe
swifter and lighter, in the event of a chase; but, as things



THE OAK OPENINGS. 133

turned out, he saved no small portion of his property by
using the precaution. The Indians found nothing in the
canoe, but one rifle, with a horn and pouch, a few light ar
ticles belonging to the bee-hunter s domestic economy, and
which he had not thought it necessary to remove, and the
paddles. All the honey, and the skins and stores, and spare
powder, and lead, and, in short, everything else that be
longed to le Bourdon, was still safe on the other side of the
river. The greatest advantage gained by the Pottawattamies
was in the possession of the canoe itself, by means of which
they would now be enabled to cross the Kalamazoo, or
make any other similar expedition, by water.

But, as yet, not a sign of hostility was betrayed by either
party. The bee-hunter seemed to pay no attention to his
rifle and ammunition, or even to his canoe, while the sav
ages, after having warily examined the last, together with
its contents, returned to their visitor, to re-examine him,
with a curiosity as lively as it was full of distrust. At this
stage in the proceeding, something like a connected and in
telligible conversation commenced between the chief who
spoke English, and who was known in most of the north
western garrisons of the Americans by the name of Thun
dercloud, or Cloud, by way of abbreviation, on account of
his sinister looks, though the man actually sustained a tol
erably fair reputation for one of those who, having been
wronged, was so certain to be calumniated. No man was
ever yet injured, that he has not been slandered.

"Who kill and scalp my young man?" asked Cloud, a
little abruptly.

"Has my brother lost a warrior?" was the calm reply.
" Yes, I see that he has. A medicine-man can see that,
though it is dark."

"Who kill him, if can see? who scalp him, too? "

" An enemy did both," answered le Bourdon, oracularly.
"Yes; twas an enemy that killed him; and an enemy that
took his scalp."



134 THE O AK OPENINGS.

" Why do it, eh? Why come here to take Pottawattamle
scalp, when no war-path open, eh? "

"Pottawattamie, the truth must always be said to a medi
cine-man. There is no use in trying to hide truth from
him. There is a war-path open ; and a long and a tangled
path it is. My Great Father at Washington has dug up the
hatchet against my Great Father at Quebec. Enemies al
ways take scalps when they can get them."

" Dat true dat right, too nobody grumble at dat but
who enemy ? pale-face or red-skin ? "

"This time it was a red-skin a Chippewa one of your
own nation, though not of your own tribe. A warrior called
Pigeonswing, whom you had in thongs, intending to torture
him in the morning. He cut his thongs, and shot your
young man after which he took his scalp."

" How know dat? " demanded the Cloud, a little fiercely.
"You long, and help kill Pottawattamie, eh? "

" I know it," answered le Bourdon, coolly, " because med
icine-men know most of what happens. Do not be so hasty,
chief, for this is a medicine spot whiskey grows here."

A common exclamation escaped all of the red men, who
comprehended the clear, distinct, and oracular-like lan
guage and manner of the bee-hunter. He intended to make
an impression on his listeners, and he succeeded admirably;
perhaps as much by means of manner as of matter. As has
been said, all who understood his words some four or five
of the party grunted forth their surprise at this evidence
of their guest s acquaintance with the secrets of the place,
in which they were joined by the rest of their companions,
as soon as the words of the pale-face had been translated.
Even the experienced and wary old chiefs, who had more
than half conjectured the truth, in connection with this
mysterious odor of whiskey, were much unsettled in their
opinions concerning the wonder, and got to be in that con
dition of mind when a man does not know what to think of
any particular event. The bee-hunter, quick-witted, and



THE OAK OPENINGS. 135

managing for his life, was not slow to perceive the advan
tage he had gained, and he proceeded at once to clinch the
nail he had so skilfully driven. Turning from Cloud to the
head-chief of the party, a warrior whom he had no difficulty
in recognizing, after having so long watched his movements
in the earlier part of the night, he pushed the same subject
a little further.

" Yes; this place is called by the whites Whiskey Centre,"
he added " which means that it is the centre of all the
whiskey of the country round about."

" Dat true," said Cloud, quickly" I hear so ger at Fort
Dearborn call him Whiskey Centre! "

This little circumstance greatly complicated the mystery,
and le Bourdon perceived that he had hit on a lucky expla
nation.

" Soldiers far and near soldiers drunk or sober soldiers
with scalps, and soldiers without scalps all know the place
by that name. But you need not believe with your eyes
shut and noses stopped, chief, since you have the means of
learning for yourselves the truth of what I tell you. Come
with me, and I will tell you where to dig in the morning for
a whiskey spring."

This communication excited a tremendous feeling among
the savages, when its purport came to be explained to the
whole party. Apart from the extraordinary, miraculous na
ture of such a spring, which in itself was sufficient to keep
alive expectation and gratify curiosity, it was so comfort
able to have an inexhaustible supply of the liquor running
out of the bowels of the earth, that it is no wonder the news
spread infinite delight among the listeners. Even the two
or three of the chiefs who had so shrewdly divined the man
ner in which the liquor had been spilled, were staggered by
the solemnity and steadiness of the bee-hunter s manner,
and perhaps a little carried away by sympathy with those
around them. This yielding of the human mind to the in
fluence of numbers is so common an occurrence as scarcely



136 THE OAK OPENINGS.

to require explanation, and is the source of half the evils
that popular associations inflict on themselves. It is not
that men capable of seeing the truth are ever wanting ; but
men capable of maintaining it, in the face of clamor and
collected power.

It will be readily conceived that a medicine-man who is
supposed to possess the means of discovering a spring that
should overflow with pure whiskey, would not be left with
out urgent demands for a speedy exercise of this art. This
was now the case with le Bourdon, who was called on from
all sides to point out the precise spot where the young men
were to commence digging in order to open on the treasure.
Our hero knew that his only hope of escape was connected
with his steadily maintaining his assumed character; or of
maintaining this assumed character, with his going on, at
once, to do something that might have the effect, tempo
rarily at least, of satisfying the impatience of his now at
tentive listeners. Accordingly, when the demand was made
on him to give some evidence of his power, he set about the
task, not only with composure, but with a good deal of inge
nuity.

Le Bourdon, it will be remembered, had, with his own
hands, rolled the two barrels of whiskey down the declivity.
Feeling the great importance of effectually destroying
them, he had watched their descent, from the top to the
bottom of the hill, and the final disappearance of the staves,
etc., into the torrent which brawled at its foot. It had so
happened that the half-filled cask broke and let out its
liquor at a point much more remote from the stream, than
the filled. The latter had held together until it went over
the low rocky precipice, already mentioned, and was stove
at its base, within two yards of the torrent, which received
all its fragments and swept them away, including most of
the liquor itself; but not until the last had been spilled.
Now, the odorous spot which had attracted the noses of the
savages, and near which they had built their fire, was that



THE OAK OPENINGS. 137

where the smallest quantity of the whiskey had fallen. Le
Bourdon reasoned on these circumstances in this wise; if
half a barrel of the liquor can produce so strong a scent, a
barrel filled ought to produce one still stronger; and I will
manifest my medicine-character, by disregarding for the
present moment the spot on the hill-side, and proceed at
once to that at the foot of the rocks. To this latter point,
therefore, did he direct all the ceremony, as well as his own
footsteps, when he yielded to the solicitations of the Potta-
wattamies, and undertook to point out the position of the
whiskey spring.

The bee-hunter understood the Indian character too well
to forget to embellish his work with a proper amount of
jugglery and acting. Luckily, he had left in the canoe a
sort of frock of mottled colors that he had made himself, to
wear in the woods in the autumn as a hunting-dress, under
the notion that such a covering would conceal his approach
from his game, by blending its hues with those of the au
tumn leaf. This dress he now assumed, extorting a good
deal of half -suppressed admiration from the younger war
riors, by the gay appearance he made. Then he drew out
his spy-glass to its greatest length, making various mysteri
ous signs and gestures as he did so. This glass proved to
be a great auxiliary, and possibly alone kept the doubters
in awe. Le Bourdon saw at once that it was entirely new,
even to the oldest chief, and he felt how much it might be
made to assist him. Beckoning to Cloud, and adjusting the
focus, he directed the small end of his glass to the fire, and
placed the large end to that Indian s eye. A solitary sav
age, who loved the scent of whiskey too much to tear him
self away from the spot, was lingering within the influence
of the rays, and of course was seen by the chief, with his
person diminished to that of a dwarf, and his form thrown
to a seeming distance.

An eloquent exclamation followed this exhibition of the
medicine-man s power; and each of the chiefs, and most of



138 THE OAK OPENINGS.

the other warriors, were gratified with looks through the
glass.

" What dat mean ? " demanded Cloud, earnestly. " See
Wolf eye well nough why he so little? why he so far off,
he?"

" That is to show you what a medicine-man of the pale
faces can do, when he is so minded. That Indian is named
Wolfseye, and he loves whiskey too well. That I know, as
well as I know his name."

Each of these exhibitions of intelligence extorted excla
mations of wonder. It is true, that one or two of the higher
chiefs understood that the name might possibly have been
obtained from Cloud; but how was the medicine-man to
know that Wolfseye was a drunkard? This last had not
been said in terms; but enough had been said, to let those
who were aware of the propensity feel that more was meant
than had been expressed. Before there was time, however,
to deliberate on, or to dissect this specimen of mysterious
knowledge, le Bourdon reversed the glass, and applied the
small end to the eye of Cloud, after having given it its for
mer direction. The Indian fairly yelled, partly with dread,
and partly with delight, when he saw Wolfseye, large as
life, brought so near him that he fancied he might be touched
with his own hand.

" What dat mean? " exclaimed Cloud, as soon as surprise
and awe enabled him to find his voice. " Fuss he little,
den he big fuss he great way, den he close by what dat
mean, eh? "

" It means that I am a medicine-man, and this is a medi
cine-glass, and that I can see with it into the earth, deeper
than the wells, or higher than the mountains! "

These words were translated, and explained to all three.
They extorted many ejaculations of wonder, and divers
grunts of admiration and contentment. Cloud conferred a
moment with the two principal chiefs; then he turned
eagerly to the bee-hunter, saying



THE OAK OPENINGS. 139

" All good, but want to hear more want to Tarn more
want to see more."

* Name your wants freely, Pottawattamie," answered le
Bourdon, with dignity, "they shall be satisfied."

" Want to see want to taste whiskey spring see won t do
want to taste"

"Good you shall smell first; then you shall see; after
that you shall taste. Give me room, and be silent; a great
medicine is near."

Thus delivering himself, le Bourdon proceeded with his
necromancy.



CHAPTER IX.

He turned him round, and fled amain
With hurry and dash to the beach again;
He twisted over from side to side,
And laid his cheek to the cleaving tide;
The strokes of his plunging arms are fleet,
And with all his might he flings his feet,
But the water-sprites are round him still,
To cross his path and work him ill.

The Culprit Fay,

THE first step in the conjuration of the bee-hunter was, to
produce an impression on the minds of his untutored ob
servers, by resorting to a proper amount of mummery and
mystical action. This he was enabled to do with some
effect, in consequence of having practised as a lad in
similar mimicry, by way of pastime. The Germans, and
the descendants of Germans in America, are not of a very
high class, as respects education, taken as a body, and they
retain many of the most inveterate of the superstitions of
their Teutonic ancestors. Although the bee-hunter himself
was of purely English descent, he came from a State that
was in part peopled by these Germans and their descend
ants; and, by intercourse with them, he had acquired a cer
tain knowledge of their notions on the subject of necro
mancy, that he now found was of use. So far as gravity of



I4O THE OAK OPENINGS.

mien, solemn grimaces, and unintelligible mutterings were
concerned, le Bourdon played his part to admiration ; and
by the time he had led the party half the distance he in
tended to go, our necromancer, or " medicine-man, " had
complete possession of the imaginations of all the savages,
the two or three chiefs already mentioned alone excepted.
At this stage of the proceedings occurred a little incident,
which goes to prove the disposition of the common mind to
contribute in deceiving itself, and which was of considerable
assistance to le Bourdon, in maintaining his assumed char
acter.

It will be remembered that the place where the Indians
had found their strongest scent was on the hill-side, or the
spot where the half-filled barrel had let out most of its con
tents. Near this spot their new fire was still brightly blaz
ing, and there Wolfseye remained, regaling one of his senses,
at least, with an odor that he found so agreeable. But the
bee-hunter knew that he should greatly increase the wonder
of the savages by leading them to a new scent-spot, one to
which there was no visible clew, and where the odor was
probably much stronger than on the hill-side. Accordingly
he did not approach the fire, but kept around the base of the
hill, just enough within the influence of the light to pick his
way readily, and yet so distant from it as to render his coun
tenance indistinct and mysterious. No sooner, however, had
he got abreast of the scent-spot known to the savages, than
the crowd endeavored to lead him toward it, by gestures and
hints, and, finally, by direct intimations that he was going
astray. All this our " medicine-man " disregarded ; he held
his way steadily and solemnly toward that place at the foot
of the hill where he knew that the filled barrel had let out
its contents, and where he, reasonably enough, expected to
find sufficient traces of the whiskey to answer his purposes.
At first, this pertinacity provoked the crowd, which believed
he was going wrong; but a few words from Crowsfeather,
the principal chief, caused the commotion to cease. In a



THE OAK OPENINGS. 14!

few more minutes le Bourdon stopped, near the place of his
destination. .As a fresh scent of whiskey was very percep
tible here, a murmur of admiration, not unmixed with de
light, passed among the attendants.

" Now, let the young men build a fire for me," said the
bee-hunter, solemnly " not such a fire as that which is burn
ing on the hill, but a medicine-fire. I smell the whiskey
spring, and want a medicine-light to see it."

A dozen young men began to collect the brush ; in a min
ute a pile of some size had been accumulated on a flat rock,
within twenty feet of the spot where le Bourdon knew that
the cask had been dashed to pieces. When he thought the
pile sufficiently large, he told Crowsfeather that it might be
lighted by bringing a brand from the other fire.

" This will not be a medicine-light, for that can come only
from * medicine-matches, " he added; " but I want a fire to
see the shape of the ground. Put in the brand, brothers;
let us have a flame."

The desire of the bee-hunter was gratified, and the whole
of the base of the hill around the spot where the filled cask
had broken, was illuminated.

"Now, let all the Pottawattamies stand back," added le
Bourdon, earnestly. " It might cost a warrior his life to
come forward too soon or, if not his life, it might give a
rheumatism that can never be cured, which is worse. When
it is time for my red brothers to advance, they will be called."

As the bee-hunter accompanied this announcement by
suitable gestures, he succeeded in ranging all of the silent,
but excited savages on three sides of his fire, leaving that
next his mysterious spring to himself, alone. When all
was arranged, le Bourdon moved slowly, but unaccompanied,
to the precise spot where the cask had broken. Here he
found the odor of the whiskey so strong, as to convince him
that some of the liquor must yet remain. On examining
more closely, he ascertained that several shallow cavities of
the flat rock, on which the cask had been dashed, still con-



142 THE OAK OPENINGS.

tained a good deal of the liquor; enough to prove of great
assistance to his medicine character.

All this while the bee-hunter kept one portion of his fac
ulties on the alert, in order to effect his escape. That he
might deceive for a time, aided as he was by so many fa
vorable circumstances, he did not doubt; but he dreaded
the morning and the results of a night of reflection and rest.
Crowsfeather, in particular, troubled him; and he foresaw
that his fate would be terrible, did the savages once get an
inkling of the deception he was practising. As he stood
there, bending over the little pools of whiskey, he glanced
his eyes toward the gloom which pervaded the northern side
of the hill, and calculated the chances of escape by trusting
to his speed. All of the Pottawattamies were on the oppo
site side, and there was a thicket favorably placed for a
cover, so near that the rifle would scarce have time to per
form its fatal office, ere he might hope to bury himself
within its leaves. So tempting did the occasion appear,



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 11 of 41)