James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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" Not unless he finds the whiskey spring," returned the
bee-hunter, laughing.

The young man then related to his wondering companion
the history of the mummery and incantations of which she
had been a distant spectator. Le Bourdon s heart was light,
after his hazards and escape, and his spirits rose as his nar
rative proceeded. Nor was pretty Margery in a mood to
balk his humor. As the bee-hunter recounted his contriv
ances to elude the savages, and most especially when he
gave the particulars of the manner in which he managed to
draw whiskey out of the living rock, the girl joined in his
merriment, and filled the boat with that melody of the laugh
of her years and sex, which is so beautifully described by



The things that once she loved are still the same;
Yet now there needs another name
To give the feeling which they claim,

While she the feeling gives ;
She cannot call it gladness or delight ;
And yet there seems to be a richer, lovelier light
On e en the humblest thing that lives.


THE history given by le Bourdon lasted until the canoes
reached the south shore. Glad enough was Dorothy to see
them both safe back, for neither of her companions had yet
awoke. It was then midnight, and all now retired to seek
the rest which might be so needful to prepare them for the
exertions of the next day. The bee-hunter slept in his
canoe, while Margery shared the buffalo-skin of her sister.

As perfect security, for the moment at least, was felt by
the sleepers, their slumbers were sound, and reached into
the morning. Then le Bourdon arose, and withdrawing to
a proper distance, he threw off his clothes and plunged into
the stream, in conformity with a daily practice of his at
that genial season of the year. After bathing, the young
man ascended a hill, whence he might get a good view of
the opposite shore, and possibly obtain some notion of what
the Pottawattamies were about. In all his movements, how
ever, the bee-hunter had an eye to the concealment of his
person, it being of the last importance that the savages
should not learn his position. With the intention of con
cealment, the fire had been suffered to go down, a smoke
being a sign that no Indian would be likely to overlook.
As for the canoe and the bivouac of the party, the wild rice
and an intermediate hill formed a perfect cover, so long as
nothing was shown above them.

From the height to which he ascended, the bee-hunter,
aided by his glass, got a very clear view of Whiskey Centre


and the parts adjacent. The savages were already stirring,
and were busy in the various avocations of the red man on
a war-path. One party was disposing of the body of their
dead companion. Several were cooking, or cleaning the
wild-fowl shot in the bay, while a group was collected near
the spot of the wished-for spring, reluctant to abandon the
hopes to which it had given birth, at the very moment they
were plotting to obtain the scalp of the "medicine-man."
The beloved "fire -water," that seduces so many to their de
struction, who have enjoyed the advantages of moral teach
ing, and which has been a withering curse on the red man
of this continent, still had its influence; and the craving
appetites of several of the drunkards of the party brought
them to the spot, as soon as their eyes opened on the new
day. The bee-hunter could see some of this cluster kneel
ing on the rocks, lapping like hounds at the scattered little
pools of the liquor, while others scented around, in the hope
of yet discovering the bird that laid the golden egg. Le
Bourdon had now little expectation that his assumed char
acter could be maintained among these savages any longer,
did accident again throw him in their way. The chiefs, he
saw, had distrusted him all along, but had given him an op
portunity to prove what he could do, in order to satisfy the
more vulgar curiosity of their young men. He wisely de
termined, therefore, to keep out of the hands of his enemies.
Although le Bourdon could hold a conversation in the
tongue of the Ojebways, he was not fond of so doing. He
comprehended without difficulty nearly all of what was said
by them, and had observed the previous night that the war
riors made many allusions to a chief whom they styled
Onoah, but who he himself knew was usually called Scalp
ing Peter among the whites of that frontier. This savage
had a fearful reputation at all the garrisons, though he never
showed himself in them ; and he was now spoken of by the
Pottawattamies present, as if they expected to meet him
soon, and to be governed by his commands or his advice.


The bee-hunter had paid great attention whenever this
dreaded name was mentioned, for he was fully aware of the
importance of keeping clear of an enemy who bore so bad a
reputation that it was not considered prudent for a white
man to remain long in his company even in a time of peace.
His English sobriquet had been obtained from the circum
stances of its being reputed that this chief, who seemed to
belong to no tribe in particular, while he had great influ
ence with all, had on divers occasions murdered the pale
faces who fell in his way, and then scalped them. It was
added, that he had already forty notches on his pole, to note
that number of scalps taken from the hated whites. In
short, this Indian, a sort of chief by birth, though of what
tribe no one exactly knew, appeared to live only to revenge
the wrongs done his color by the intruders, who had come
from toward the rising sun to drive his people into the great
salt lake on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Of
course there was a good deal that was questionable in these
reports; a rumor in the "openings" and on the prairies,
having this general resemblance to those that circulate in
town, and in drawing-rooms, and at feasts, that no one of
them all can be relied on as rigidly exact. But le Bour
don was still young, and had yet to learn how little of that
which we all hear is true, and how very much is false.
Nevertheless, as an Indian tradition is usually more ac
curate than a white man s written history, so is a rumor
of the forest generally entitled to more respect than the
ceaseless gossipings of the beings who would be affronted
were they not accounted civilized.

The bee-hunter was still on the elevated bit of ground,
making his observations, when he was joined by Margery.
The girl appeared fresh and handsome, after a night of
sleep, and coming from her dressing-room in a thicket, and
over a stream of sweet running water; but she was sad and
thoughtful. No sooner had le Bourdon shaken her hand,
and repeated his thanks for the succor of the past night,


than the full heart of Margery poured out its feelings, as the
swollen stream overflows its banks, and began to weep.

" Brother is awake," she said, as soon as her sobs were
quieted by a powerful effect; "but, as is usual with him
after hard drinking, so stupid, that Dolly cannot make him
understand our danger. He tells her he has seen too many
Injins to be afraid of these, and that they will never harm a
family that has brought so much liquor into their country."

" His senses must be at a low ebb, truly, if he counts on
Injin friendship because he has sold fire-water to the young
men! " answered le Bourdon, with a nice understanding of
not only Indian nature, but of human nature. " We may
like the sin, Margery, while we detest the tempter. I have
never yet met with the man, pale-face or red-skin, who did
not curse, in his sober moments, the hand that fed his ap
petite while intoxicated."

" I dare say that may be very true," returned the girl, in
a low voice ; " but one has need of his reason to understand
it. What will become of us now, it is hard to say."

" Why, now, Margery, more than yesterday, or the day

" Yesterday there were no savages near us, and Gershom
had all along told us he intended to start for the garrison at
the head of the lake, as soon as he got back from his visit
to the openings. He is back; but not in a state to protect
his wife and sister from the red man, who will be looking
for us as soon as they can build a canoe, or anything that
will do to cross the river with."

" Had they even a canoe," returned le Bourdon, coolly,
" they would not know where to look for us. Thank Heaven !
that will be a job that would take some time ; nor is a bark
canoe built in a minute. But, Margery, if your brother be
a little dull and heavy, after his debauch, / am sober, and
as much awake as ever I was in my life."

"Oh! you have no weakness like that of poor brother s,
to make you otherwise; but, Bourdon, you will naturally


wish to take care of yourself and your property, and will
quit us the first good opportunity. I m sure that we have
no right to expect you will stay a minute longer than it is
your interest to do so, and I do not know that I wish it."

" Not wish it, Margery ! " exclaimed the bee-hunter, in
the manner of a disappointed man. " I had supposed you
would have wished my company. But, now I know the con
trary, I shall not much care how soon I go, or into whose
hands I fall."

It is strange how apt are those who ought to understand
one another so readily, to misinterpret each other s thoughts.
Margery had never seen the bee-hunter twenty-four hours
before, though she had often heard of him, and of his suc
cess in his art; for the fame of a man of good reputation
and active qualities spreads far on a frontier. The very
individual whose existence would be nearly overlooked in a
crowded region, shall be spoken of, and known by his qual
ities, a hundred leagues from his place of residence, when
settlements are few and far apart. In this way, Margery
had heard of Boden, or of " Bourdon," as she called him, in
common with hundreds who, confounding his real name with
his sobriquet, made the mistake of using the last under the
impression that it was the true appellation. Margery had
no other knowledge of French than the few words gleaned
in her slow progress among a frontier on which, it is true,
more of that language than of any other was heard, but
heard under circumstances that were not particularly favor
able to the acquisition of a foreign tongue. Had she under
stood the real meaning of " Bourdon," she would have bitten
off her tongue before she would have once called Boden by
such an appellation; though the bee-hunter himself was so
accustomed to his Canadian nickname as to care nothing at
all about it. But Margery did not like to give pain to any
one; and, least of all, would she desire to inflict it on the
bee-hunter, though he were only an acquaintance of a day.
Still, Margery could not muster sufficient courage to tell her


new friend how much he was mistaken, and that of all the
youths she had ever met she would most prefer to keep him
near her brother and sister in their distress; while the
young man, inspired by a pure and infant passion, was just
in the frame of mind to believe the worst of himself, and of
his claims to the attention of her who had begun to occupy
so many of his thoughts.

No explanation occurring, our young people descended
from the hill, misconceiving each other s meaning and
wishes, and unhappy under the influence of an ideal source
of misery, when actual circumstances created so many that
were substantial and real. Gershom was found awake, but,
as his sister had described him, stupid and lethargic. The
bee-hunter at once saw that, in his present condition, Whis
key Centre would still be an incumbrance rather than of any
service, in the event of an occasion for extraordinary exer
tion. Margery had hinted that it usually took twenty-four
hours to bring her brother entirely round, after one of his
serious debauches; and within that time it was more than
probable that the fate of the family would be decided.

Le Bourdon thought intently, during breakfast, of the con
dition of his party, and of the best mode of proceeding,
while the pallid and anxious young creature at his side be
lieved he was deliberating solely on the best means of ex
tricating himself and his store of honey, from the savages
on the other shore. Had the acquaintance between these
young people been of longer date than it actually was, Mar
gery could not have entertained a notion so injurious to the
bee-hunter, for a single moment; but there was nothing
either violent, or depreciating, in supposing that one so near
being a total stranger would think first of himself and his
own interests, in the situation in which this young man was
now placed.

Little was said during the meal. Dorothy was habitually
silent; the result of grief and care. As for her husband, he
was too stupid to talk, though usually somewhat garrulous;


while the Indian seldom did two things at the same time.
This was the hour for acting; when that for talking should
arrive, he would be found equal to its duties. Pigeonswing
could either abstain from food, or could indulge in it with
out measure, just as occasion offered. He had often gone
for days without tasting a mouthful, with the exception of a
few berries, perhaps; and he had lain about the camp-fire,
a week at a time, gorging himself with venison, like an
anaconda. It is perhaps fortunate for the American Indian,
that this particular quality of food is so very easy of diges
tion, since his excesses on it are notorious, and so common
to his habits as almost to belong to his nature. Death
might otherwise often be the consequence.

When the breakfast was ended, it was time to consult
about the future course. As yet, the Pottawattamies had
made no new discovery ; but the sagacity of the red man
was ever to be feared, when it came to be merely a question
of finding his foe in a forest.

" We have obtained one advantage over the enemy," said
le Bourdon, " by crossing the river. Water leaves no trail;
even had Crowsfeather a canoe, he might not know where to
go in it, in order to find us."

" Dat not so," put in the Chippewa, a little dogmatically;
"know we hab canoe know cross river in him."

" Why should they know this, Pigeonswing? We may
have gone out upon the lake, or we may have gone up in the
oak openings again, for anything the Pottawattamies can
know to the contrary."

" Tell you, not so. Know don t go on lake, cause wind
blow. Know don t go up river, cause dat hard work; know
come here, cause dat easy. Injin like to do what easy, and
pale-face do just what Injin do. Crowsfeather make raft,
pretty soon ; den he come look arter scalp."

"Yes," said Margery, gently; "you had better load your
canoe at once, and go on the lake, while the savages cannot
reach you. The wind is fair for them that are to go north;


and I have heard you say that you are bound to Macki

"I shall load my canoe, and I shall load yours, too, Mar
gery; but I shall not go away from this family, so long as
any in it stand in need of my services."

" Brother will be able to help us by afternoon. He man
ages a canoe well, when himself; so go, Bourdon, while you
can. I dare say you have a mother at home ; or a sister
perhaps a wife "

" Neither," interrupted the bee-hunter, with emphasis.
" No one expects me ; no one has a right to expect me."

The color stole into pretty Margery s cheeks as she heard
these words, and a ray of comfort gleamed on an imagina
tion that, for the last hour, had been portraying the worst.
Still, her generous temper did not like the idea of the bee-
hunter s sacrificing himself for those who had so few claims
on him, and she could not but again admonish him of the
necessity of losing no time.

"You will think better of this, Bourdon," the girl re
sumed. " We are going south, and cannot quit the river
with this wind, but you could not have a better time to go
north, unless the wind blows harder than I think it does."

" The lake is a bad water for a canoe, when there is much
wind," put in Gershom, yawning after he had spoken, as if
the effort fatigued him. "I wonder what we re all doing
over on this side of the river! Whiskey Centre is a good
enough country for me; I m going back to look arter my
casks, now I ve breakfasted. Come, Doll; let s load up,
and be off."

" You are not yourself yet, Gershom," returned the sor
rowful wife, " or you would not talk in this way. You had
better listen to the advice of Bourdon, who has done so much
for us already, and who will tell you the way to keep out of
Injin clutches. We owe our lives to Bourdon, Gershom,
and you should thank him for it."

Whiskey Centre muttered a few half intelligible words of


thanks, and relapsed into his state of drowsy indifference.
The bee-hunter saw, however, that the effects of the brandy
were leaving him, and he managed to get him on one side,
where he persuaded the fellow to strip and go into the
water. The bath did wonders for the poor creature, who
soon got to be so far himself again, as to be of use, instead
of being an incumbrance. When sober, and more espe
cially when sober for several consecutive days, Gershom
was a man of sufficient energy, possessing originally great
personal strength and activity, which had been essentially
lessened, however, by his excesses in liquor. It has already
been stated what a different being he became, in a moral
point of view, after having been sober for any length of

On his return from the bathing, le Bourdon again joined
the females. Margery had been weeping; but she smiled
in a friendly way, on meeting his eye, and appeared less
anxious for his departure than she had been an hour before.
As the day advanced, and no signs of the savages were seen,
a sense of greater security began to steal over the females,
and Margery saw less necessity for the departure of their
new friend. It was true, he was losing a wind; but the
lake was rough, and after all it might be better to wait. In
short, now that no immediate danger was apparent, Margery
began to reason in conformity with her wishes, as is so apt
to be the case with the young and inexperienced. The bee-
hunter perceived this change in the deportment of his fair
friend, and was well enough disposed to hope it would ad
mit of a favorable construction.

All this time, the Chippewa had taken little visible inter
est in the state of the party to which he had now attached
himself. The previous evening had been fertile in excite
ment and in gratification, and he had since slept and ate to
his entire content. He was ready to meet events as they
might arise, and began to plot the means of obtaining more
Pottawattamie scalps. Let not the refined reader feel dis-


gust at this exhibition of the propensities of an American
savage. Civilized life has had, and still has, very many
customs, little less excusable than that of scalping. With
out dragging into the account the thousand and one sins
that disgrace and deform society, it will be sufficient to look
into the single interest of civilized warfare, in order to
make out our case. In the first place, the noblest strategy
of the art is, to put the greatest possible force on the least
of the enemy, and to slay the weaker party by the mere
power of numbers. Then, every engine that ingenuity can
invent, is drawn into the conflict; and rockets, revolvers,
shells, and all other infernal devices, are resorted to, in
order to get the better of an enemy who is not provided with
such available means of destruction. And after the battle
is over, each side commonly claims the victory; sometimes,
because a partial success has been obtained in a small por
tion of the field; sometimes, because half a dozen horses
have run away with a gun, carrying it into the hostile ranks;
and, again, because a bit of rag has fallen from the hands
of a dead man, and been picked up by one of the opposing
side. How often has it happened that a belligerent, well
practised in his art, has kept his own colors out of the affair,
and then boasted that they were not lost! Now, an Indian
practises no such shameless expedients. His point of honor
is not a bit of rag, but a bit of his skin. He shaves his
head because the hair encumbers him ; but he chivalrously
leaves a scalp-lock, by the aid of which his conquerors can
the more easily carry away the coveted trophy. The thought
of cheating in such a matter never occurs to his unsophisti
cated mind; and as for leaving his "colors" in barracks,
while he goes in the field himself, he would disdain it nay,
cannot practise it; for the obvious reason that his head
would have to be left with them.

Thus it was with Pigeonswing. He had made his toilet
for the war-path, and was fierce in his paint, but honest and
fair-dealing in other particulars. If he could terrify his


enemies by looking like a skeleton, or a demon, it was well ;
his enemy would terrify him, if possible, by similar means.
But neither would dream, or did dream, of curtailing, by a
single hair, that which might be termed the flag-staff of his
scalp. If the enemy could seize it, he was welcome to the
prize ; but if he could seize that of the enemy, no scruples
on the score of refinement, or delicacy, would be apt to in
terfere with his movements. It was in this spirit, then, that
Pigeonswing came to the canoe, where le Bourdon was hold
ing a little private discourse with Margery, and gave utter
ance to what was passing in his mind.

"Good time, now, get more scalps, Bourdon," said the
Chippewa, in his clipping, sententious English.

" It is a good time, too, to keep our own, Chippewa/ was
the answer. " Your scalp-lock is too long, to be put before
Pottawattamie eyes without good looking after it."

" Nebber mind him if go, go; if stay, stay. Always
good for warrior to bring home scalp."

"Yes; I know your customs in this respect, Pigeonswing,
but ours are different. We are satisfied if we can keep out
of harm s way, when we have our squaws and pappooses
with us."

" No pappooses here," returned the Indian, looking around
him "dat your squaw, eh? "

The reader can readily imagine that this abrupt question
brought blushes into the cheeks of pretty Margery, making
her appear ten times more handsome than before; while
even le Bourdon did not take the interrogatory wholly un
disturbed. Still, the latter answered manfully, as became
his sex.

" I am not so fortunate as to have a squaw, and least of
all to have this" said le Bourdon.

" Why no hab her she good squaw," returned the literal-
minded Indian " han some nough for chief. You ask ; she
hab know squaw well always like warrior to ask him
fuss; den say, yes."


" Aye, that may do with your red-skin squaws," le Bourdon
hastily replied; for he saw that Margery was not only dis
tressed, but a little displeased "but not with the young
women of the pale-faces. I never saw Margery before last
evening; and it takes time for a pale-face girl to know a

"Just so wid red-skin sometime don t know, till too late!
See plenty dat, in wigwam."

" Then it is very much in the wigwams as it is in the
houses. I have heard this before."

"Why not same? skin make no difference pale-face
spile squaw, too make too much of her."

"That can never be!" exclaimed le Bourdon, earnestly.
"When a pretty, modest, warm-hearted young woman ac
cepts a youth for a husband, he can never make enough of

On hearing sentiments so agreeable to a woman s ears,
Margery looked down, but she looked pleased. Pigeons-
wing viewed the matter very differently; and being some
what of a partisan in matters relating to domestic economy,
he had no thought of leaving a point of so much importance
in so bad a way. Accordingly, it is not surprising that, in
pursuing the subject, he expressed opinions in several essen
tials diametrically the reverse of those of the bee-hunter.

" Easy nough spile squaw," rejoined the Chippewa.
"What she good for, don t make her work? Can t go on
the warpath can t take scalp can t shoot deer can t hunt
can t kill warrior so muss work. Dat what squaw good

"That may do among red men, but we pale-faces find
squaws good for something else we love them and take
care of them keep them from the cold in winter, and from
the heat in summer; and try to make them as comfortable
and happy as we can."

"Dat good talk for young squaw s ears," returned the
Chippewa, a little contemptuously as to manner; though

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 13 of 41)