James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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the subjects of every species of descriptive talent, from that
of the poet to that of the painter.

As day passed after day, the feeling of distrust in the



21 6 THE OAK OPENINGS.

bosom of the bee-hunter grew weaker and weaker, and Peter
succeeded in gradually worming himself into his confidence
also. This was done, moreover, without any apparent effort.
The Indian made no professions of friendship, laid himself
out for no particular attention, nor ever seemed to care how
his companions regarded his deportment. His secret pur
poses he kept carefully smothered in his own breast, it is
true ; but, beyond that, no other sign of duplicity could have
been discovered even by one who knew his objects and
schemes. So profound was his art, that it had the aspect
of nature. Pigeonswing alone was alive to the danger of
this man s company; and he knew it only by means of cer
tain semi-confidential communications received in his char
acter of a red man. It was no part of Peter s true policy to
become an ally to either of the great belligerents of the day.
On the contrary, his ardent wish was to see them destroy
each other, and it was the sudden occurrence of the present
war that had given a new impulse to his hopes, and a new
stimulus to his efforts, as a time most propitious to his pur
poses. He was perfectly aware of the state of the Chip-
pewa s feelings, and he knew that this man was hostile to
the Pottawattamies, as well as to most of the tribes of Mich
igan ; but this made no difference with him. If Pigeons-
wing took the scalp of a white man, he cared not whether it
grew on an English or an American head; in either case it
was the destruction of his enemy. With such a policy con
stantly in view, it cannot be matter of surprise that Peter
continued on just as good terms with Pigeonswing as with
Crowsfeather. But one precaution was observed in his in
tercourse with the first. To Crowsfeather, then on the war
path in quest of Yankee scalps, he had freely communicated
his designs on his own white companions, while he did not
dare to confide to the Chippewa this particular secret, since
that Indian s relations with the bee-hunter were so amicable
as to be visible to every observer. Peter felt the necessity
of especial caution in his communication with this savage,



THE OAK OPENINGS. 21 /

therefore; and this was the reason why the Chippewa was
in so much painful uncertainty as to the other s intentions.
He had learned enough to be distrustful, but not enough
to act with decision.

Once, and once only, during their slow passage up the
Kalamazoo, did the bee-hunter observe something about
Peter to awaken his original apprehensions. The fourth
day after leaving the mouth of the river, and when the whole
party were resting after the toil of passing a " carrying-
place," our hero had observed the eyes of that tribeless sav
age roaming from one white face to another, with an expres
sion in them so very fiendish, as actually to cause his heart
to beat quicker than common. The look was such a one as
le Bourdon could not remember to have ever before beheld
in a human countenance. In point of fact, he had seen
Peter in one of those moments when the pent fires of the
volcano, that ceaselessly raged within his bosom, were be
coming difficult to suppress; and when memory was busiest
in recalling to his imagination scenes of oppression and
wrong, that the white man is only too apt to forget amid
the ease of his civilization, and the security of his power.
But the look, and the impression produced by it on le Bour
don, soon passed away, and were forgotten by him to whom
it might otherwise have proved to be a most useful warning.

It was a little remarkable that Margery actually grew to
be attached to Peter, often manifesting toward the chief
attentions and feelings such as a daughter is apt to exhibit
toward a father. This arose from the high and courteous
bearing of this extraordinary savage. At all times, an In
dian warrior is apt to maintain the dignified and courteous
bearing that has so often been remarked in the race, but it
is very seldom that he goes out of his way to manifest atten
tion to the squaws. Doubtless these men have the feelings
of humanity, and love their wives and offspring like others;
but it is so essential a part of their training to suppress the
exhibition of such emotions, that it is seldom the mere



2l8 THE OAK OPENINGS.

looker-on has occasion to note them. Peter, however, had
neither wife nor child; or if they existed, no one knew
where either was to be found. The same mystery shrouded
this part of his history as veiled all the rest. In his hunts,
various opportunities occurred for exhibiting to the females
manly attentions, by offering to them the choicest pieces of
his game, and pointing out the most approved Indian modes
of cooking the meats, so as to preserve their savory proper
ties. This he did sparingly at first, and as a part of a sys
tem of profound deception ; but day by day, and hour after
hour, most especially with Margery, did his manner become
sensibly less distant, and more natural. The artlessness,
the gentle qualities, blended with feminine spirit as they
were, and the innocent gayety of the girl, appeared to win
on this nearly remorseless savage, in spite of his efforts to
resist her influence. Perhaps the beauty of Margery con
tributed its share in exciting these novel emotions in the
breast of one so stern. We do not mean that Peter yielded
to feelings akin to love; of this, he was in a manner inca
pable; but a man can submit to a gentle regard for woman
that shall be totally free from passion. This sort of regard
Peter certainly began to entertain for Margery; and like
begetting like, as money produces money, it is not surpris
ing that the confidence of the girl herself, as well as her
sympathies, should continue to increase in the favor of this
terrible Indian.

But the changes of feeling, and the various little incidents
to which we have alluded, did not occur in a single moment
of time. Day passed after day, and still the canoes were
working their way up the winding channels of the Kalama-
zoo, placing at each setting sun longer and longer reaches
of its sinuous stream between the travellers and the broad
sheet of Michigan. As le Bourdon had been up and down
the river often, in his various excursions, he acted as the
pilot of the navigation; though all worked, even to the mis
sionary and the Chippewa. On such an expedition, toil was



THE OAK OPENINGS. 219

not deemed to be discreditable to a warrior, and Pigeons-
wing used the paddh and the pole as willingly, and with as
much dexterity, as any of the party.

It was only on the eleventh day after quitting the mouth
of the river, that the canoes came to in the little bay where
le Bourdon was in the habit of securing his light bark, when
in the openings. Castle Meal was in full view, standing
peacefully in its sweet solitude; and Hive, who, as he came
within the range of his old hunts, had started off, and got
to the spot the previous evening, now stood on the bank of
the river to welcome his master and his friends to the
chiente. It wanted a few minutes of sunset as the travellers
landed, and the parting rays of the great luminary of our
system were glancing through the various glades of the
openings, imparting a mellow softness to the herbage and
flowers. So far as the bee-hunter could perceive, not even
a bear had visited the place in his absence. On ascending
to his abode and examining the fastenings, and on entering
the hut, storehouse, etc., le Bourdon became satisfied that
all the property he had left behind was safe, and that the
foot of man he almost thought of beast too had not vis
ited the spot at all during the last fortnight.



CHAPTER XIV.

Hope in your mountains, and hope in your streams,

Bow down in their worship, and loudly pray ;
Trust in your strength, and believe in your dreams,

But the wind shall carry them all away.

BRAINARD.

THE week which succeeded the arrival of our party at
Chateau au Miel, or Castle Meal, as le Bourdon used to call
his abode, was one of very active labor. It was necessary
to house the adventurers, and the little habitation already
built was quite insufficient for such a purpose. It was
given to the females, who used it as a private apartment for



22O THE OAK OPENINGS.

themselves, while the cooking, eating, and even sleeping, so
far as the males were concerned, were all done beneath the
trees of the openings. But a new chiente was soon con
structed, which, though wanting in the completeness and
strength of Castle Meal, was sufficient for the wants of these
sojourners in the wilderness. It is surprising with how
little of those comforts which civilization induces us to re
gard as necessaries we can get along, when cast into the
midst of the western wilds. The female whose foot has
trodden, from infancy upward, on nothing harder than a
good carpet who has been reared amid all the appliances
of abundance and art, seems at once to change her nature,
along with her habits, and often proves a heroine, and an
active assistant, when there was so much reason to appre
hend she might turn out to be merely an encumbrance. In
the course of a life that is now getting to be well stored
with experience of this sort, as well as of many other varie
ties, we can recall a hundred cases of women, who were born
and nurtured in affluence and abundance, who have cheer
fully quitted the scenes of youth, their silks and satins, their
china and plate, their mahogany and Brussels, to follow hus
bands and fathers into the wilderness, there to compete with
the savage, often for food, and always for the final posses
sion of the soil!

But in the case of Dorothy and Blossom, the change had
never been of this very broad character, and habit had long
been preparing them for scenes even more savage than that
into which they were now cast. Both were accustomed to
work, as, blessed be God! the American woman usually
works; that is to say, within doors, and to render home
neat, comfortable, and welcome. As housewives, they were
expert and willing, considering the meagreness of their
means; and le Bourdon told the half-delighted, half-blush
ing Margery, ere the latter had been twenty-four hours in
his chiente, that nothing but the presence of such a one as
herself was wanting to render it an abode fit for a prince !



THE OAK OPENINGS. 221

Then, the cooking was so much improved! Apart from
cleanliness, the venison was found to be more savory; the
cakes were lighter; and the pork less greasy. On this sub
ject of grease, however, we could wish that a sense of right
would enable us to announce its utter extinction in the
American kitchen ; or, if not absolutely its extinction, such
a subjection of the unctuous properties, as to bring them
within the limits of a reasonably accurate and healthful
taste. To be frank, Dorothy carried a somewhat heavy
hand, in this respect; but pretty Margery was much her su
perior. How this difference in domestic discipline occurred,
is more than we can say ; but of its existence there can be
no doubt. There are two very respectable sections of the
civilized world to which we should imagine no rational
being would ever think of resorting in order to acquire the
art of cookery, and these are Germany and the land of the
Pilgrims. One hears, and reads in those elegant specimens
of the polite literature of the day, the letters from Washing
ton, and from various travellers, who go up and down this
river in steamboats, or along that railway, gratis, much in
honor of the good things left behind the several writers, in
the " region of the kock " ; but, woe betide the wight who is
silly enough to believe in all this poetical imagery, and
who travels in that direction, in the expectation of finding
a good table! It is extraordinary that such a marked dif
ference does exist, on an interest of this magnitude, among
such near neighbors ; but, of the fact, we should think no
intelligent and experienced man can doubt. Believing as
we do, that no small portion of the elements of national
character can be, and are, formed in the kitchen, the cir
cumstance may appear to us of more moment than to some
of our readers. The vacuum left in cookery, between Bos
ton and Baltimore for instance, is something like that which
exists between Le Verrier s new planet and the sun.

But Margery could even fry pork without causing it to
swim in grease, and at a venison steak, a professed cook was



222 THE OAK OPENINGS.

not her superior. She also understood various little mys
teries, in the way of converting their berries and fruits of
the wilderness into pleasant dishes; and Corporal Flint
soon affirmed that it was a thousand pities she did not live
in a garrison, which, agreeably to his view of things, was
something like placing her at the comptoir of the Cafe de
Paris, or of marrying her to some second Vatel.

With the eating and drinking, the building advanced pari
passu. Pigeonswing brought in his venison, his ducks, his
pigeons, and his game of different varieties, daily, keeping
the larder quite as well supplied as comported with the
warmth of the weather; while the others worked on the new
chiente. In order to obtain materials for this building, one
so much larger than his old abode, Ben went up the Kala-
mazoo about half a mile, where he felled a sufficient number
of young pines, with trunks of about a foot in diameter, cut
ting them into lengths of twenty and thirty feet, respectively.
These lengths, or trunks, were rolled into the river, down
which they slowly floated, until they arrived abreast of Castle
Meal, where they were met by Peter, in a canoe, who towed
each stick, as it arrived, to the place of landing. In this
way, at the end of two days work, a sufficient quantity of
materials was collected to commence directly on the build
ing itself.

Log-houses are of so common occurrence, as to require no
particular description of the one now put up, from us. It
was rather less than thirty feet in length, and one-third nar
rower than it was long. The logs were notched, and the
interstices were filled by pieces of the pine, split to a con
venient size. The roof was of bark, and of the simplest
construction, while there was neither door nor window;
though one aperture was left for the first, and two for the
last. Corporal Flint, however, was resolved that not only
a door should be made, as well as shutters for the windows-,
but that the house should, in time, be picketed. When le
Bourdon remonstrated with him on the folly of taking so



THE OAK OPENINGS. 223

much unnecessary pains, it led to a discussion, in which the
missionary even felt constrained to join.

" What s the use what s the use? " exclaimed le Bourdon
a little impatiently, when he found the corporal getting to
be in earnest in his proposal. " Here have I lived, safely,
two seasons in Castle Meal, without any pickets or pali
sades ; and yet you want to turn this new house into a reg -
lar garrison ! "

"Aye, Bourdon, that was in peaceable times; but these is
war times. I ve seen the fall of Fort Dearborn, and I don t
want to see the fall of another post this war. The Potta-
wattamies is hostile, even Peter owns; and the Pottawatta-
mies has been here once, as you say yourself, and may come
ag in."

" The only Pottawattamie who has ever been at this spot,
to my knowledge, is dead, and his bones are bleaching up
yonder in the openings. No fear of him, then."

"His body is gone," answered the corporal; "and what
is more the rifle is gone with it. I heard that his rifle had
been forgotten, and went to collect the arms left on the field
of battle, but found nothing. No doubt his friends have
burned, or buried, the chief, and they will be apt to take
another look in this quarter of the country, having 1 arnt the
road."

Boden was struck with this intelligence, as well as with
the reasoning, and after a moment s pause, he answered in
a way that showed a wavering purpose.

" It will take a week s work, to picket or palisade the
house," he answered, " and I wish to be busy among the
bees, once more."

" Go to your bees, Bourdon, and leave me to fortify and
garrison, as becomes my trade. Parson Amen, here, will
tell you that the children of Israel are often bloody-minded
and are not to be forgotten."

"The corporal is right," put in the missionary ; "the cor
poral is quite right. The whole history of the ancient Jews



224 THE OAK OPENINGS.

gives us this character of them ; and even Saul of Tarsus
was bent on persecution and slaughter, until his hand was
stayed by the direct manifestation of the power of God. I
can see glimmerings of this spirit in Peter, and this at a mo
ment when he is almost ready to admit that he s a descend
ant of Israel."

" Is Peter ready to allow that? " asked the bee-hunter, with
more interest in the answer than he would have been will
ing to allow.

" As good as that yes, quite as good as that. I can see,
plainly, that Peter has some heavy mystery on his mind;
sooner, or later, we shall learn it. When it does come out,
the world may be prepared to learn the whole history of the
Ten Tribes!"

"In my judgment," observed the corporal, "that chief
could give the history of twenty, if he was so minded."

" There were but ten of them, brother Flint but ten; and
of those ten he could give us a full and highly interesting
account. One of these days, we shall hear it all ; in the
mean time, it may be well enough to turn one of these houses
into some sort of a garrison."

"Let it, then, be Castle Meal," said le Bourdon; "surely,
if any one is to be defended and fortified in this way, it
ought to be the women. You may easily palisade that hut,
which is so much stronger than this, and so much smaller."

With this compromise, the work went on. The corporal
dug a trench four feet deep, encircling the "castle," as
happy as a lord the whole time ; for this was not the first
time he had been at such work, which he considered to be
altogether in character, and suitable to his profession. No
youthful engineer, fresh from the Point, that seat of military
learning to which the republic is even more indebted for its
signal successes in Mexico, than to the high military char
acter of this population no young aspirant for glory, fresh
from this useful school, could have greater delight in laying
out his first bastion, or counter-scarp, or glacis, than Cor-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 22$

poral Flint enjoyed in fortifying Castle Meal. It will be
remembered that this was the first occasion he was ever ac
tually at the head of the engineering department. Hitherto,
it had been his fortune to follow ; but now it had become
his duty to lead. As no one else, of that party, had ever
been employed in such a work on any previous occasion, the
corporal did not affect to conceal the superior knowledge
with which he was overflowing. Gershom he found a ready
and active assistant; for, by this time, the whiskey was well
out of him; and he toiled with the greater willingness, as
he felt that the palisades would add to the security of his
wife and sister. Neither did Parson Amen disdain to use
the pick and shovel; for, while the missionary had the full
est reliance in the fact that the red men of that region were
the descendants of the children of Israel, he regarded them
as a portion of the chosen people who were living under the
ban of the divine displeasure, and as more than usually in
fluenced by those evil spirits, whom St. Paul mentions as
the powers of the air. In a word, while the good mission
ary had all faith in the final conversion and restoration of
these children of the forests, he did not overlook the facts
of their present barbarity, and great propensity to scalp.
He was not quite as efficient as Gershom, at this novel em
ployment, but a certain inborn zeal rendered him both active
and useful. As for the Indians, neither of them deigned to
touch a tool. Pigeonswing had little opportunity for so
doing, indeed, being usually, from the rising to the setting
sun, out hunting for the support of the party ; while Peter
passed most of his time in ruminations and solitary walks.
This last paid little attention to the work about the castle,
either knowing it would, at any moment, by an act of treach
ery, be in his power to render all these precautions of no
avail ; or, relying on the amount of savage force that he
knew was about to collect in the openings. Whenever he
cast a glance on the progress of the work, it was with an
eye of great indifference; once he even carried his du-
15



226 THE OAK OPENINGS.

plicity so far, as to make a suggestion to the corporal, by
means of which, as he himself expressed it, in his imperfect
English " Injin no get inside, to use knife and tomahawk."
This seeming indifference, on the part of Peter, did not es
cape the observation of the bee-hunter, who became still less
distrustful of that mysterious savage, as he noted his con
duct in connection with the dispositions making for defence.

Le Bourdon would not allow a tree of any sort to be felled
anywhere near his abode. While the corporal and his asso
ciates were busy in digging the trench, he had gone to a
considerable distance, quite out of sight from Castle Meal,
and near his great highway, the river, where he cut and
trimmed the necessary number of burr-oaks for the pali
sades. Boden labored the more cheerfully at this work, for
two especial reasons. One was the fact that the defences
might be useful to himself, hereafter, as much against bears
as against Indians; and the other, because Margery daily
brought her sewing or knitting, and sat on the fallen trees,
laughing and chatting, as the axe performed its duties. On
three several occasions Peter was present, also, accompany
ing Blossom, with a kindness of manner, and an attention
to her pretty little tastes in culling flowers, that would have
done credit to a man of a higher school of civilization.

The reader is not to suppose, however, because the Indian
pays but little outward attention to the squaws, that he is
without natural feeling, or manliness of character. In some
respects his chivalrous devotion to the sex is, perhaps, in
no degree inferior to that of the class which makes a parade
of such sentiments, and this quite as much from convention
and ostentation, as from any other motive. The red man is
still a savage beyond all question, but he is a savage with
so many nobler and more manly qualities, when uncorrupted
by communion with the worst class of whites, and not de
graded by extreme poverty, as justly to render him a subject
of our admiration, in self-respect, in dignity, and in sim
plicity of deportment. The Indian chief is usually a gen-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 22/

tleman ; and this, though he may have never heard of Rev
elation, and has not the smallest notion of the Atonement,
and of the deep obligations it has laid on the human race.

Amid the numberless exaggerations of the day, one of
particular capacity has arisen connected with the supposed
character of a gentleman. Those who regard all things
through the medium of religious feeling, are apt to insist
that he who is a Christian, is necessarily a gentleman;
while he can be no thorough gentleman, who has not most
of the qualities of the Christian character. This confusion
in thought and language, can lead to no really useful result,
while it embarrasses the minds of many, and renders the
expression of our ideas less exact and comprehensive than
they would otherwise be.

We conceive that a man may be very much of a Chris
tian, and very little of a gentleman; or very much of a gen
tleman, and very little of a Christian. There is, in short,
not much in common between the two characters, though it
is possible for them to become united in the same individ
ual. That the finished courtesies of polished life may wear
some of the aspects of that benevolence which causes the
Christian " to love his neighbor as himself," is certainly
true, though the motives of the parties are so very different
as to destroy all real identity between them. While the
moving principle of a gentleman is self-respect, that of a
Christian is humility. The first is ready to lay down his
life in order to wipe away an imaginary dishonor, or to take
the life of another; the last is taught to turn the other cheek,
when smitten. In a word, the first keeps the world, its
opinions and its estimation, ever uppermost in his thoughts;
the last lives only to reverence God, and to conform to his



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 18 of 41)