James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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that, for a single instant, le Bourdon forgot his caution, and
his mummeries, and had actually advanced a step or two
in the direction toward which he contemplated flight, when,
on glancing an uneasy look behind him, he perceived
Crowsfeather and his two intimate counsellors stealthily
preparing their rifles, as if they distrusted his intentions.
This at once induced a change of plan, and brought the bee-
hunter back to a sense of his critical position, and of the in
dispensable necessity of caution to a man in his situation.

Le Bourdon now seemingly gave all his attention to the
rocks where he stood, and out of which the much-coveted
liquor was expected to flow; though his thoughts were still
busily employed in considering the means of escape, the
whole time. While stooping over the different pools, and
laying his plans for continuing his medicine-charms, the
bee-hunter saw how near he had been to committing a great
mistake. It was almost as indispensable to carry off the
canoe, as it was to carry off himself; since, with the canoe,



THE OAK OPENINGS. 143

not only would all his own property, but pretty Margery,
and Gershom and his wife, be at the mercy of the Pottawat-
tamies; whereas, by securing the boat, the wide Kalamazoo
would serve as a nearly impassable barrier, until time was
given to the whites to escape. His whole plan was changed
by this suggestion, and he no longer thought of the thicket
and of flight inland. At the same time that the bee-himter
was laying up in his mind ideas so important to his future
movements, he did not neglect the necessary examination of
the means that might be required to extend and prolong his
influence over the minds of the superstitious children of the
forest on whom he was required to practise his arts. His
thoughts reverted to the canoe, and he concocted a plan by
which he believed it possible to get possession of his little
craft again. Once on board it, by one vigorous shove he
fancied he might push it within the cover of the rice-plants,
where he would be in reasonable safety against the bullets
of the savages. Could he only get the canoe on the outer
side of the narrow belt of the plant, he should deem himself
safe!

Having arranged his course in his own mind, le Bourdon
now beckoned to Crowsfeather to draw near, at the same
time inviting the whole party to approach within a few feet
of the spot where he himself sood. The bee-hunter had
brought with him from the boat a fragment of the larger
end of a cane fishing-rod, which he used as a sort of wand.
Its size was respectable, and its length about eight feet.
With this wand he pointed out the different objects he
named, and it answered the very important purpose of en
abling him to make certain small changes in the formation
of the ground, that were of the greatest service to him, with
out permitting curious eyes to come so near as to detect his
artifices.

"Now open your ears, Crowsfeather; and you, Cloud;
and all of you, young braves," commenced the bee-hunter,
solemnly, and with a steadiness that was admirable; "yes,



144 THE OAK OPENINGS.

open wide your ears. The Great Spirit has given the red
man a nose that he might smell does the Cloud smell more
than common ? "

" Sartain smell whiskey this Whiskey Centre dey say
nat ral dat such smell be here."

" Do all the chiefs and warriors of the Pottawattamies who
are present, also smell the same? "

" S pose so why he don t, eh? Got nose can smell
whiskey good way, tell you."

"It is right they should smell the liquor here, for out of
this rock a whiskey spring will soon begin to run. It will
begin with a very small stream, but soon will there be
enough to satisfy everybody. The Great Manitou knows
that his red children are dry; he has sent a medicine-man
of the pale-faces to find a spring for them. Now, look at
this piece of rock it is dry not even the dew has yet
moistened it. See it is made like a wooden bowl, that it
may hold the liquor of the spring. Let Crowsfeather smell
it smell it, Cloud let all my young men smell it, too, that
they may be certain that there is nothing there."

On this invitation, accompanied as it was by divers flour
ishes of the wand, and uttered in a deep, solemn tone of
voice, the whole party of the Indians gathered around the
small hollow basin-like cavity pointed out by the bee-hunter,
in order both to see and to smell. Most knelt, and each
and all applied their noses to the rock, as near the bowl as
they could thrust them. Even the dignified and distrustful
Crowsfeather could not refrain from bending in the crowd.
This was the moment for which le Bourdon wished, and he
instantly prepared to carry out his design.

Previously, however, to completing the project originally
conceived, a momentary impulse prevailed which urged him
to adopt a new mode of effecting his escape. Now, that
most of the savages were on their hands and knees, strug
gling to get their noses as near as possible to the bowl, and
all were intent on the same object, it occurred to the bee-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 145

hunter, who was almost as active as the panther of the
American forest, that he might dash on toward the canoe,
and make his escape without further mummery. Had it
been only a question of human speed perhaps such would
have been the wisest thing he could do; but a moment s
reflection told him how much swifter than any foot of man
was the bullet of a rifle. The distance exceeded a hundred
yards, and it was altogether in bright light, by means of the
two fires, Wolfseye continuing to pile brush on that near
which he still maintained his post, as if afraid the precious
liquor would start out of the scent-spot, and be wasted
should he abandon his ward. Happily, therefore, le Bour
don relinquished his dangerous project almost as soon as it
was entertained, turning his attention immediately to the
completion of the plan originally laid.

It has been said that the bee-hunter made sundry flour
ishes with his wand. While the savages were most eager in
endeavoring to smell the rock, he lightly touched the earth
that confined the whiskey in the largest pool, and opened a
passage by which the liquor could trickle down the side of
the rock, selecting a path for itself, until it actually came
into the bowl, by a sinuous but certain channel.

Here was a wonder! Liquor could not only be smelled,
but it could be actually seen ! As for Cloud, not satisfied
with gratifying the two senses connected with the discov
eries named, he began to lap with his tongue, like a dog, to
try the effect of taste.

" The Manitou does not hide his face from the Pottawat
tamie! " exclaimed this savage, rising to his feet in aston
ishment; "this is the fire-water, and such as the pale-faces
bring us for skins! "

Others imitated his example, and the exclamations of
wonder and delight flew from mouth to mouth, in a torrent
of vehement assertions and ejaculations. So great a "med
icine " charm had never before been witnessed in that tribe,
or in that region, and a hundred more might succeed, before
10



146 THE OAK OPENINGS.

another should equal this in its welcome character. There
was whiskey, of a certainty, not much in quantity, to be
sure, but of excellent quality, as several affirmed, and com
ing in a current that was slowly increasing! This last sign
was owing to the circumstance that le Bourdon had deep
ened the outlet of the pool, permitting a larger quantity to
flow down the little channel.

The moment had now come for a decisive step. The bee-
hunter knew that his precious rivulet would soon cease to
run, and that he must carry out his design under the first
impressions of his charm, or that he probably would not be
permitted to carry it out, at all. At this moment even
Crowsfeather appeared to be awed by what he had seen ;
but a chief so sagacious might detect the truth, and disap
pointment would then be certain to increase the penalties
he would incur.

Making many sweeps of his wand, and touching various
points of the rock, both to occupy the attention of the sav
ages, and to divert it from his pool, the bee-hunter next felt
in his pocket and drew out a small piece of resin that he
knew was there; the remains of a store with which he res-
ined the bow of his riddle; for our hero had a violin among
his effects, and often used it in his solitary abodes in the
openings. Breaking this resin on a coal, he made it flash
and blaze; but the quantity was too small to produce the
" medicine-fire " he wanted.

" I have more in my canoe," he said, addressing himself
to the interpreter; "while I go for it, the red men must not
stir, lest they destroy a pale-face s doings. Least of all they
must go near the spring. It would be better for the chiefs
to lead away their young men, and make them stand under
the oak, where nothing can be done to hurt the medicine-
charm. "

The bee-hunter pointed to a tree that stood in the direc
tion of the canoe, in order to prevent distrust, though he had
taken care to select a spot whence the little craft could not



THE OAK OPENINGS. 147

be seen, on account of an intervening swell in the land
Crowsfeather led his warriors to the indicated place, where
they took their stations, in silent and grave attention.

In the mean while, le Bourdon continued his incantations
aloud; walking toward his canoe, waving his hand, and ut
tering a great deal of gibberish as he slowly proceeded. In
passing the tree, our hero, though he did not turn his head,
was sensible that he was followed by the chiefs, a iiiove-
ment against which he did not dare to remonstrate, though
it sadly disappointed him. Neither hastening nor retard
ing his steps, however, in consequence of this unpleasant
circumstance, the young man continued on ; once or twice
sweeping the wand behind him, in order to ascertain if he
could reach his followers. But Crowsfeather and his com
panions stopped when they reached the swell of land which
concealed the canoe, suffering the " medicine-man " to move
on alone. Of this fact le Bourdon became aware, by turn
ing three times in a circle, and pointing upward at the
heavens with his wand, as he did so.

It was a nervous moment when the bee-hunter reached the
canoe. He did not like to look behind him again, lest the
chiefs should suspect his motive, and, in shoving off from
the shore, he might do so within a few yards of the muzzle
of a hostile rifle. There was no time to lose, however, for
any protracted delay on his part would certainly cause the
savages to approach, through curiosity, if not through dis
trust of his motives. He stepped into his light craft, there
fore, without any delay, still flourishing his wand, and mut
tering his incantations. The first thing was to walk to the
stern of the canoe, that his weight might raise the bow from
the shore, and also that he might have an excuse for turning
round, and thus get another look at the Indians. So critical
was his situation, and so nervous did it make our young
hero, that he took no heed of the state of matters in the
canoe, until the last moment. When he had turned, how
ever, he ascertained that the two principal chiefs had drawn



148 THE OAK OPENINGS.

so near as to be within twenty yards of him, though neither
held his rifle at " ready," but each leaned on it in a careless
manner, as if in no anticipation of any necessity to make a
speedy use of the weapon. This state of things could not
last, and le Bourdon braced his nerves for the final trial.
On looking for his paddle, however, he found that of three
which the canoe had contained when he left it, not even one
was to be seen ! These wily savages had, out of all ques
tion, taken their opportunity to remove and secrete these
simple, but almost indispensable, means of motion.

At the instant when first apprised of the loss just men
tioned, the bee-hunter s heart sunk within him, and he fell
into the seat in the stern of the canoe, nearly with the
weight of so much lead. Then a species of desperation
came over him, and putting an end of his cane wand upon
the bottom, with a vigorous shove he forced the canoe
swiftly astern and to windward. Sudden as was this at
tempt, and rapid as was the movement, the jealous eyes and
ready hands of the chiefs seemed to anticipate it. Two
shots were fired within a few seconds after the canoe had
quitted the shore. The reports of the rifles were a declara
tion of hostilities, and a general yell, accompanied by a
common rush toward the river, announced that the whole
band now understood that some deception had been prac
tised at their expense.

Although the two chiefs in advance had been so very
prompt, they were not quick enough for the rapid movement
of the canoe. The distance between the stern of the boat
and the rice-plants was so small, that the single desperate
shove given by the bee-hunter sufficed to bury his person in
the cover, before the leaden messengers reached him. An
ticipating this very attempt, and knowing that the savages
might get their range from the part of the canoe that was
still in sight, le Bourdon bent his body far over the gun
wale, grasping the rice-plants at the same time, and hauling
his little craft through them, in the way that sailors call



THE OAK OPENINGS. 149

" hand over hand." This expedient most probably saved his
life. While bending over the gunwale, he heard the crack
of the rifles, and the whizzing of two bullets that appeared
to pass just behind him. By this time the whole of the
canoe was within the cover.

In a moment like that we are describing, incidents pass
so rapidly as almost to defy description. It was not twenty
seconds from the instant when le Bourdon first put his wand
down to push the canoe from the land, ere he found his per
son emerging from the cover, on its weather side. Here he
was effectually concealed from his enemies, not only on ac
count of the cover made by the rice-plants, but by reason of
the darkness; the light not extending far enough from the
fire to illumine objects on the river. Nevertheless, new
difficulties presented themselves. When clear of the rice,
the wind, which still blew strong, pressed upon his canoe
to such a degree as not only to stop its further movement
from the shore, but so as to turn it broadside to, to its
power. Trying with his wand, the bee-hunter ascertained
that it would no longer reach the bottom. Then he attempted
to use the cane as a paddle, but soon found it had not suffi
cient hold of the water to answer for such an implement.
The most he could effect with it, in that way, was to keep
the canoe for a short distance along the outer edge of the
rice, until it reached a spot where the plant extended a con
siderable distance farther toward the middle of the river.
Once within this little forest of the wild rice, he was en
abled to drag the canoe farther and farther from the north
shore, though his progress was both slow and laborious, on
account of the resistance met.

All this time, the savages were not idle. Until the canoe
got within its new cover, it was at no instant fifty yards
from the beach, and the yells, and orders, and whoopings
sounded as if uttered directly in le Bourdon s ear. A
splashing in the water soon announced that our fugitive was
pursued by swimmers. As the savages knew that the bee-



THE OAK OPENINGS.

hunter was without a paddle, and that the wind blew fresh,
the expectation of overtaking their late captive, in this man-
ner, was by no means chimerical. Half a dozen active
young men would prove very formidable to one in such a
situation, more especially while entangled in the mazes of
the rice-plant. The bee-hunter was so well convinced of
this circumstance, that no sooner did he hear the splashes
of the swimmers, than he redoubled his exertions to pull his
canoe farther from the spot. But his progress was slow, and
he was soon convinced that his impunity was more owing to
the fact that his pursuers did not know where to find him,
than to the rapidity of his flight.

Notwithstanding his exertions, and the start obtained, le
Bourdon soon felt assured that the swimmers were within a
hundred feet of him, their voices coming from the outer
margin of the cover in which he now lay, stationary. He
had ceased dragging the canoe ahead, from an apprehension
of being heard, though the rushing of the wind and the rus
tling of the rice might have assured him that the slight
noises made by his own movements would not be very likely
to rise above those sounds. The splashing of the swimmers,
and their voices, gradually drew nearer, until the bee-hunter
took up his rifle, determined to sacrifice the first savage who
approached; hoping, thereby, to intimidate the others. For
the first time, it now occurred to him that the breech of his
rifle might be used as a paddle, and he was resolved to apply
it to that service, could he once succeed in extricating him
self from the enemies by whom he was nearly environed, and
from the rice.

Just as le Bourdon fancied that the crisis had arrived,
and that he should soon be called on to kill his man, a shout
was given by a savage at some distance in the river, and
presently calls passed from mouth to mouth, among the
swimmers. Our hero now listened to a degree that kept his
faculty of hearing at a point of painful attention. The
voices and plashes on the water receded, and what was



THE OAK OPENINGS.

startling, a sound was heard resembling that which is pro
duced by a paddle when struck incautiously against the side
of a canoe. Was it then possible that the Chippewa was
out, or had the Pottawattamies one boat that had escaped
his attention ? The last was not very probable, as he had
several times counted their little fleet, and was pretty sure
of having taken it all to the other side of the river. The
sound of the paddle was repeated, however; then it occurred
to the bee-hunter, that Pigeonswing might be on the scent
for another scalp.

Although the conjecture just mentioned was exceedingly
unpleasant to le Bourdon, the chase of the strange canoe
gave him an opportunity to drag his own light craft ahead,
penetrating deeper and deeper among the wild rice, which
now spread itself to a consierable distance from the shore,
and grew so thick as to make it impossible to get through
the waving mass. At length, wearied with his exertions, and
a little uncertain as to his actual position, our hero paused,
listening intently, in order to catch any sounds that might
direct his future movements.

By this time the savages ceased to call to each other;
most probably conscious of the advantage it gave the fugi
tive. The bee-hunter perfectly understood that his pursuers
must be aware of its being entirely out of his power to get
to windward, and that they would keep along the shore of
the river, as he did himself, expecting to see his canoe
sooner or later driven by the wind on the beach. This had
made him anxious to drag his boat as much toward the outer
edge of the rice as he could get it, and by the puffs of wind
that he occasionally felt, he hoped he had, in a great meas
ure, effected his purpose. Still he had his apprehensions of
the savages ; as some would be very apt to swim quite out into
the stream, not only to look for him, but to avoid being entan
gled among the plants. It was only in the natural channels of
the rice, of which there were a good many, that a swimmer
could very readily make his way, or be in much safety. By



152 THE OAK OPENINGS.

waiting long enough, moreover, the bee-hunter was sure he
should tire out his pursuers, and thus get rid of them.

Just as le Bourdon began to think this last-mentioned
purpose had been accomplished, he heard low voices directly
to windward, and the plashing of water, as if more than one
man was coming down upon him, forcing the stalks of the
plants aside. He grasped the rifle, and let the canoe drift,
which it did slowly, under the power of the wind, notwith
standing the protection of the cover. The swimmers forced
their way through the stalks; but it was evident, just then,
that they were more occupied by their present pursuit than
in looking for him. Presently a canoe came brushing
through the rice, forced by the wind, and dragged by two
savages, one of whom swam on each bow. The last did not
see the bee-hunter, or his canoe, the one nearest having his
face turned in the opposite direction ; but they were dis
tinctly seen by the former. Surprised that a seizure should
be made with so little fracas, le Bourdon bent forward to
look the better, and, as the stern of the strange canoe came
almost under his eyes, he saw the form of Margery lying in
its bottom. His blood curdled at this sight; for his first
impression was, that the charming young creature had been
killed and scalped ; but there being no time to lose, he
sprang lightly from one canoe to the other, carrying the rifle
in his hand. As he struck in the bottom of the boat of
Gershom, he heard his name uttered in a sweet female
voice, and knew that Margery was living. Without stop
ping, however, to inquire more, he moved to the head of the
canoe, and, with a sharp blow on the fingers, made each of
the savages release his grasp. Then, seizing the rice-plants,
he dragged the litle craft swiftly to windward again. All
this was done, as it might be, in an instant; the savages and
the canoe being separated some twenty feet, in much less
time than is required to relate the occurrence.

" Bourdon, are you injured? asked Margery, her voice
trembling with anxiety.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 153

" Not in the least, dear Margery and you, my excellent
girl?"

"They caught my canoe, and I almost died of fright; but
they have only dragged it toward the shore."

"God be praised! Is there any paddle in the canoe? "

" There are several one is at your feet, Bourdon and
here, I have another."

"Then, let us search for my canoe, and get out of the rice.
If we can but find my canoe, we shall be safe enough, for
the savages have nothing in which to cross the river. Keep
your eyes about you, Margery, and look among the rice for
the other boat."

The search was not long, but it was intently anxious. At
length Margery saw the lost canoe just as it was drifting
past them, and it was secured immediately. In a few min
utes, le Bourdon succeeded in forcing the two craft into
open water, when it was easy for him to paddle both to
windward. The reader can readily imagine that our hero
did not permit many minutes to elapse, ere he questioned
his companion on the subject of her adventures. Nor was
Margery reluctant to tell them. She had become alarmed
at le Bourdon s protracted absence, and taking advantage of
Pigeonswing lying down, she unloaded her brother s canoe,
and went out into the river to look for the absent one. As
a matter of course though so feminine and far removed
from all appearance of coarseness, a true American girl in
this respect Margery knew perfectly well how to manage a
bark canoe. The habits of her life for the last few years,
made her acquainted with this simple art; and strength be
ing much less needed than skill, she had no difficulty in
going whither she wished. The fires served as beacons, and
Margery had been a distant witness of the bee-hunter s nec
romancy as well as of his escape. The instant the latter
was effected, she endeavored to join him; and it was while
incautiously paddling along the outer edge of the rice, with
this intention, that her canoe was seized by two of the swim-



154 THE OAK OPENINGS.

mers. As soon as these last ascertained that they had cap
tured a " squaw," they did not give themselves the trouble
to get into the canoe a very difficult operation with one
made of bark, and which is not loaded but they set about
towing the captured craft to the shore, swimming each with
a single hand and holding on by the other.

" I shall not soon forget this kindness of yours, Margery,"
said le Bourdon, with warmth, when the girl had ended her
simple tale, which had been related in the most artless and
ingenuous manner. " No man could forget so generous a
risk on the part of a young woman in his behalf."

" I hope you do not think it wrong, Bourdon I should be
sorry to have you think ill of me! "

" Wrong, dear Margery! but no matter. Let us get our
selves out of present difficulties, and into a place of safety ;
then I will tell you honestly what I think of it, and of you,
too. Was your brother awake, dear Margery, when you left
the family ? "

" I believe not he sleeps long and heavily after drink
ing. But he can now drink no more, until he reaches the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 12 of 41)