James Fenimore Cooper.

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will, in obedience to his revealed mandates. Certainly,
there is that which is both grateful and useful in the refined
deportment of one whose mind and manners have been pol
ished even in the schools of the world; but it is degrading
to the profoundly beautiful submission of the truly Christian



228 THE OAK OPENINGS.

temper, to imagine that anything like a moral parallel can
justly be run between them.

Of course, Peter had none of the qualities of him who
sees and feels his own defects, and relies only on the mer
its of the atonement for his place among the children of
light, while he had so many of those qualities which depend
on the estimate which man is so apt to place on his own
merits. In this last sense, this Indian had a great many of
the essentials of a gentleman; a lofty courtesy presiding
over all his intercourse with others, when passion or policy
did not thrust in new and sudden principles of action.
Even the missionary was so much struck with the gentleness
of this mysterious savage s deportment in connection with
Margery, as at first to impute it to a growing desire to make
a wife of that flower of the wilderness. But closer observa
tion induced greater justice to the Indian in this respect.
Nothing like the uneasiness, impatience, or distrust of pas
sion could be discerned in his demeanor; and when Parson
Amen perceived that the bee-hunter s marked devotion to
the beautiful Blossom rather excited a benevolent and kind
interest in the feelings of Peter, so far at least as one could
judge of the heart by external appearances, than anything
that bore the fierce and uneasy impulses of jealousy, he was
satisfied that his original impression was a mistake.

As le Bourdon flourished his axe, and Margery plied her
needles, making a wholesome provision for the coming win
ter, the mysterious Indian would stand, a quarter of an hour
at a time, immovable as a statue, his eyes riveted first on
one, and then on the other. What passed at such moments
in that stern breast, it exceeds the penetration of man to
say; but that the emotions thus pent within barriers that
none could pass or destroy, were not always ferocious and
revengeful, a carefully observant spectator might possibly
have suspected, had such a person been there to note all the
signs of what was uppermost in the chief s thoughts. Still,
gleamings of sudden, but intense ferocity did occasionally



THE OAK OPENINGS. 22Q

occur; and, at such instants, the countenance of this extraor
dinary being was truly terrific. Fortunately, such bursts of
uncontrollable feeling were transient, being of rare occur
rence, and of very short duration.

By the time the corporal had his trenches dug, le Bour
don was prepared with his palisades, which were just one
hundred in number, being intended to enclose a space of
forty feet square. The men all united in the transportation
of the timber, which was floated down the river on a raft of
white pine, the burr-oak being of a specific gravity that fresh
water would not sustain. A couple of days, however, sufficed
for the transportation by water, and as many more for that
by land, between the place of landing and Castle Meal.
This much accomplished, the whole party rested from their
labors, the day which succeeded being the Sabbath.

Those who dwell habitually amid the haunts of men,
alone thoroughly realize the vast importance that ought to
be attached to the great day of rest. Men on the ocean, and
men in the forest, are only too apt to overlook the returns
of the Sabbath; thus slowly, but inevitably alienating them
selves more and more from the dread Being who established
the festival, as much in his own honor as for the good of
man. When we are told that the Almighty is jealous of his
rights, and desires to be worshipped, we are not to estimate
this wish by any known human standard, but are ever to
bear in mind that it is exactly in proportion as we do rever
ence the Creator and Ruler of heaven and earth that we are
nearest, or farthest, from the condition of the blessed. It
is probably for his own good, that the adoration of man is
pleasing in the eyes of God.

The missionary, though a visionary and an enthusiast, as
respected the children of Israel, was a zealous observer of
his duties. On Sundays, he never neglected to set up his
tabernacle, even though it were in a howling wilderness, and
went regularly through the worship of God, according to the
form of the sect to which he belonged. His influence, on



23O THE OAK OPENINGS.

the present occasion, was sufficient to cause a suspension of
all labor, though not without some remonstrances on the
part of the corporal. The latter contended that, in military
affairs, there was no Sunday known, unless it might be in
peaceable times, and that he had never heard of intrench-
ments " resting from their labors," on the part of either the
besieger or the besieged. Work of that sort, he thought,
ought to go on, day and night, by means of reliefs; and, in
stead of pausing to hold church, he had actually contem
plated detailing fatigue parties to labor through, not only
that day, but the whole of the succeeding night.

As for Peter, he never offered the slightest objection to
any of Parson Amen s sermons or prayers. He listened to
both with unmoved gravity, though no apparent impression
was ever made on his feelings. The Chippewa hunted on
the Sabbaths as much as on any other day; and it was in
reference to this fact that the following little conversation
took place between Margery and the missionary, as the
party sat beneath the oaks, passing a tranquil eventide at
midsummer.

"How happens it, Mr. Amen," said Margery, who had
insensibly adopted the missionary s sobriquet, " that no red
man keeps the Sabbath-day, if they are all descended from
the Jews? This is one of the most respected of all the
commandments, and it does not seem natural " Margery s
use of terms was necessarily influenced by association and
education " that any of that people should wholly forget
the day of rest."

"Perhaps you are not aware, Margery, that the Jews,
even in civilized countries, do not keep the same Sabbath
as the Christians," returned the missionary. " They have
public worship on a Saturday, as we do on a Sunday. Now,
I did think I saw some signs of Peter s privately worship
ping yesterday, while we were all so busy at our garrison.
You may have observed how thoughtful and silent the chief
was in the middle of the afternoon."



THE OAK OPENINGS. 23!

"I did observe it," said the bee-hunter, "but must own I
did not suspect him of holding meeting for any purposes
within himself. That was one of the times when I like the
manners and behavior of this Injin the least."

"We do not know we do not know perhaps his spirit
struggled with the temptations of the Evil One. To me he
appeared to be worshipping, and I set the fact down as a
proof that the red men keep the Jewish Sabbath."

" I did not know that the Jews keep a Sabbath different
from our own, else I might have thought the same. But I
never saw a Jew, to my knowledge. Did you, Margery? "

" Not to know him for one," answered the girl , and true
enough was the remark of each. Five-and-thirty years ago,
America was singularly not only a Christian but a Prot
estant nation. Jews certainly did exist in the towns, but
they were so blended with the rest of the population, and
were so few in number, as scarcely to attract attention to
them as a sect. As for the Romanists, they too had their
churches and their dioceses; but what untravelled American
had then ever seen a nun ? From monks, Heaven be praised,
we are yet spared; and this is said without any prejudice
against the denomination to which they usually belong. He
who has lived much in a country where that sect prevails, if
a man of a particle of liberality, soon learns that piety and
reverence for God, and a deep sense of all the Christian
obligations, can just as well, nay better, exist in a state of
society where a profound submission to well-established
dogmas is to be found, than in a state of society where
there is so much political freedom as to induce the veriest
pretenders to learning to imagine that each man is a church
and a hierarchy in his own person ! All this is rapidly
changing. Pvomanists abound, and spots that half a century
since, appeared to be the most improbable place in the
world to admit of the rites of the priests of Rome, now hear
the chants and prayers of the mass-books. All this shows
a tendency toward that great commingling of believers,



232 THE OAK OPENINGS.

which is doubtless to precede the final fusion of sects, and
the predicted end.

On the Monday that succeeded the Sabbath mentioned,
the corporal had all his men at work, early, pinning together
his palisades, making them up into manageable bents, and
then setting them up on their legs. As the materials were
all there, and quite ready to be put together, the work ad
vanced rapidly; and by the time the sun drew near the
western horizon once more, Castle Meal was surrounded by
its bristling defences. The whole was erect and stay-lathed,
waiting only for the earth to be shovelled back into the
trench, and to be pounded well down. As it was, the pali
sades offered a great increase of security to those in the
chiente, and both the females expressed their obligations to
their friends for having taken this important step toward
protecting them from the enemy. When they retired for
the night, everything was arranged, so that the different
members of the party might know where to assemble within
the works. Among the effects of Gershom, were a conch
and a horn; the latter being one of those common instru
ments of tin, which are so much used in and about Ameri
can farm-houses, to call the laborers from the field. The
conch was given to the men, that, in case of need, they
might sound the alarm from without, while the horn, or
trumpet of tin, was suspended by the door of the chiente, in
order that the females might have recourse to it, at need.

About midnight, long after the whole party had retired to
rest, and when the stillness of the hours of deepest repose
reigned over the openings, the bee-hunter was awoke from
his sleep by an unwonted call. At first, he could scarce
believe his senses, so plaintive, and yet so wild, was the
blast. But there could be no mistake : it was the horn from
the chiente, and, in a moment, he was on his feet. By this
time, the corporal was afoot, and presently all the men were
in motion. On this occasion, Gershom manifested a readi
ness and spirit that spoke equally well for his heart and his



THE OAK OPENINGS. 233

courage. He was foremost in rushing to the assistance of
his wife and sister, though le Bourdon was very close on his
heels.

On reaching the gate of the palisade, it was found closed,
and barred within; nor did any one appear, until Dorothy
was summoned, by repeated calls, in the well-known voice
of her husband. When the two females came out of the
chiente, great was their wonder and alarm ! No horn had
been blown by either of them, and there the instrument it
self hung, on its peg, as quiet and mute as if a blast had
never been blown into it. The bee-hunter, on learning this
extraordinary fact, looked around him anxiously, in order
to ascertain who might be absent. Every man was present,
and each person stood by his arms, no one betraying the
slightest consciousness of knowing whence the unaccount
able summons had proceeded !

" This has been done by you, corporal, in order to bring
us together, under arms, by way of practice," le Bourdon at
length exclaimed.

"False alarms is useful, if not overdone; especially
among raw troops," answered Flint, coolly; "but I have
given none to-night. I will own I did intend to have you
all out in a day or two by way of practice, but I have
thought it useless to attempt too much at once. When the
garrison is finished, it will be time enough to drill the men
to the alarm-posts."

"What is your opinion, Peter?" continued le Bourdon.
"You understand the wilderness, and its ways. To what
is this extr or nary call owing? Why have we been brought
here, at this hour? "

" Somebody blow horn, most likely," answered Peter, in
his unmoved, philosophical manner. " Spose don t know;
den can t tell. Warrior often hear larm on war-path."

"This is an onaccountable thing! If I ever heard a
horn, I heard one to-night; yet this is the only horn we
have, and no one has touched it ! It was not the conch I



234 THE OAK OPENINGS.

heard; there is no mistaking the difference in sound be
tween a shell and a horn ; and there is the conch, hanging
at Gershom s neck, just where it has been the whole night."

" No one has touched the conch I will answer for that"
returned Gershom, laying a hand on the shell, as if to make
certain all was right.

" This is most extr or nary ! I heard the horn, if ears of
mine ever heard such an instrument! "

Each of the white men added as much, for every one of
them had distinctly heard the blast. Still neither could
suggest any probable clue to the mystery. The Indians
said nothing; but it was so much in conformity with their
habits for red men to maintain silence, whenever any un
usual events awakened feelings in others, that no one
thought their deportment out of rule. As for Peter, a statue
of stone could scarcely have been colder in aspect than was
this chief, who seemed to be altogether raised above every
exhibition of human feeling. Even the corporal gaped,
though much excited, for he had been suddenly aroused
from a deep sleep; but Peter was as much superior to phys
ical, as to moral impressions, on this occasion. He made
no suggestion, manifested no concern, exhibited no curi
osity; and when the men withdrew, again, to their proper
habitation, he walked back with them, in the same silence
and calm, as those with which he had advanced. Gershom,
however, entered within the palisade, and passed the re
mainder of the night with his family.

The bee-hunter and the Chippewa accidentally came to
gether, as the men moved slowly toward their own hut, when
the following short dialogue occurred between them.

"Is that you, Pigeonswing? " exclaimed le Bourdon,
when he found his friend touching an elbow, as if by
chance.

"Yes, dis me want better friend, eh? "

"No; I m well satisfied to have you near me, in an
alarm, Chippewa. We ve stood by each other once, in



THE OAK OPENINGS. 23$

troublesome times; and I think we can do as much, ag in."

"Yes; stand by friend dat honor. Nebber turn back
on friend; dat my way."

"Chippewa, who blew the blast on the horn? can you
tell me that?"

"Why don t you ask Peter? He wise chief know eb-
beryt ing. Young Injin ask ole Injin when don t know
why not young pale-face ask ole man, too, eh? "

" Pigeonswing, if truth was said, I believe it would be
found that you suspect Peter of having a hand in this busi
ness?"

This speech was rather too idiomatic for the comprehen
sion of the Indian, who answered according to his own par
ticular view of the matter.

"Don t blow horn wid hand," he said "Injin blow wid
mout , just like pale-face."

The bee-hunter did not reply; but his companion s re
mark had a tendency to revive in his breast certain un
pleasant and distrustful feelings toward the mysterious sav
age, which the incidents and communications of the last two
weeks had had a strong tendency to put to sleep.



CHAPTER XV.

None knows his lineage, age, or name ;

His looks are like the snows of Caucasus ; his eyes

Beam with the wisdom of collected ages.

In green, unbroken years he sees, tis said,

The generations pass like autumn fruits,

Garner d, consumed, and springing fresh to life,

Again to perish

HILLHOUSK.

No further disturbance took place that night, and the men
set about filling up the trenches in the morning steadily, as
if nothing had happened. They talked a little of the ex
traordinary occurrence, but more was thought than said. Le
Bourdon observed, however, that Pigeonswing went earlier



236 THE OAK OPENINGS.

than usual to the hunt, and that he made his preparations
as if he expected to be absent more than the customary
time.

As there were just one hundred feet of ditch to fill with
dirt, the task was completed, and that quite thoroughly, long
ere the close of the day. The pounding down of the earth
consumed more time, and was much more laborious than the
mere tumbling of the earth back into its former bed; but
even this portion of the work was sufficiently attended to.
When all was done, the corporal himself, a very critical
sort of person in what he called "garrisons," was fain to
allow that it was as " pretty a piece of palisading " as he
had ever laid eyes on. The " garrison " wanted only one
thing, now, to render it a formidable post and that was
water no spring or well existing within its narrow limit;
however, he procured two or three empty barrels, portions
of le Bourdon s effects, placed them within the works, and
had them filled with sweet water. By emptying this water
two or three times a week, and refilling the barrels, it was
thought that a sufficient provision of that great necessary
would be made and kept up. Luckily the corporal s " gar
rison " did not drink, and the want was so much the more
easily supplied for the moment.

In truth, the chiente was now converted into a place of
some strength, when it is considered that artillery had never
yet penetrated to those wilds. More than half the savages
of the west fought with arrows and spears in that day, as
most still do when the great prairies are reached. A rifle
man so posted as to have his body in a great measure cov
ered by the trunk of a burr-oak tree, would be reasonably
secure against the missives of an Indian, and, using his own
fatal instrument of death, under a sense of personal secur
ity, he would become a formidable opponent to dislodge.
Nor was the smallness of the work any objection to its se
curity. A single well-armed man might suffice to defend
twenty-five feet of palisades, when he would have been in-



THE OAK OPENINGS.

sufficient to make good his position with twice the extent.
Then le Bourdon had cut loops on three sides of the hut
itself, in order to fire at the bears, and sometimes at the
deer, which had often approached the building in its days
of solitude and quiet, using the window on the fourth side
for the same purpose. In a word, a sense of increased se
curity was felt by the whole party when this work was com
pleted, though one arrangement was still wanting to render
it perfect. By separating the real garrison from the nomi
nal garrison during the night, there always existed the dan
ger of surprise; and the corporal, now that his fortifications
were finished, soon devised a plan to obviate this last-named
difficulty. His expedient was very simple, and had some
what of barrack-life about it.

Corporal Flint raised a low platform along one side of
the chiente, by placing there logs of pine that were squared
on one of their sides. Above, at the height of a man s
head, a roof of bark was reared on poles, and prairie grass,
aided by skins, formed very comfortable barrack-beds be
neath. As the men were expected to lie with their heads to
the wall of the hut, and their feet outward, there was ample
space for twice their number. Thither, then, were all the
homely provisions for the night transported ; and when Mar
gery closed the door of the chiente, after returning the bee-
hunter s cordial good night, it was with no further appre
hension for the winding of the mysterious horn.

The first night that succeeded the new arrangement
passed without any disturbance. Pigeonswing did not re
turn, as usual, at sunset, and a little uneasiness was felt on
his account; but, as he made his appearance quite early in
the morning, this source of concern ceased. Nor did the
Chippewa come in empty-handed; he had killed not only a
buck, but he had knocked over a bear in his rambles, be
sides taking a mess of famously fine trout from a brawling
stream at no great distance. The fish were eaten for break
fast, and immediately after that meal was ended, a party



238 THE OAK OPENINGS.

started to bring in the venison and bear s meat, under the
lead of the Chippewa. This party consisted of the cor
poral, Gershom, the bee-hunter, and Pigeonswing himself.
When it left the garrison, the females were spinning be
neath the shade of the oaks, and the missionary was dis
coursing with Peter on the subject of the customs of the
latter s people, in the hope of deriving facts to illustrate his
theory of the ten lost tribes.

The buck was found, suspended from a tree as usual,
at the distance of only a mile from the "garrison," as
the corporal now uniformly called " Castle Meal." Here
the party divided; Flint and Gershom shouldering the ven
ison, and Pigeonswing leading the bee-hunter still further
from home in quest of Bruin. As the two last moved
through the park-like trees and glades of the openings, a
dialogue occurred that it may help along the incidents of
our legend to record.

" You made a long hunt of it yesterday, Pigeonswing,"
observed le Bourdon, as soon as he found himself alone
with his old ally. "Why didn t you come in at night ac-
cordin to custom ? "

"Too much see too much do. Dat good reason, eh? "
was the answer.

" Your do was to kill one buck and one bear, no such
great matter after all; and your see could not much alter
the case, since seeing a whole regiment of the creatures
couldn t frighten a man like you."

"No said frighten," returned the Chippewa sharply.
" Squaw frighten, not warrior."

" I ask your pardon, Pigeonswing, for supposing such
a thing possible ; though you will remember I did not think
it very likely to be the fact with you. I will give you one
piece of advice, however, Chippewa, which is this do not
be ready to jump down every man s throat who may happen
to think it possible that you might be a little skeary when
enemies are plenty. It is the man who feels himself strong-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 239

est in such matters, that is the least likely to take offence at
any loose remark of this nature. Your fiery devils go off
sometimes at half-cock, because they have a secret whis
perer within that tells em the charge is true. That s all
I ve to say just now, Chippewa."

" Don t know don t hear (understand) what you say.
No frighten, tell you dat nuff."

"No need of being like a steel-trap, Injin I under
stands, if you don t. Now, I own I am skeary when there
is reason for it, and all I can say in my own favor is, that
I don t begin to run before the danger is in sight." Here
the bee-hunter paused, and walked some distance in silence.
When he did resume the discourse, it was to add " Though
I must confess a man may hear danger as well as see it.
That horn has troubled me more than I should like to own
to Dorothy and pretty Blossom."

" Bess alway let squaw know most den, sometime she help
as well as warrior. Bourdon, you right ought to feel afeard
of dat horn."

" Ha ! Do you then know anything about it, Pigeonswing,
that you give this opinion? "

" Hear him juss like rest. Got ear, why not hear, eh? "

4< Aye, but your manner of speaking just now said more
than this. Perhaps you blew the horn yourself, Chip
pewa? "

" Didn t touch him," returned the Indian coldly. " Want
to sleep don t want to blow trumpet."

" Whom do you then suspect? Is it Peter? "

"No don t touch him nudder. Lay down by me dere
when horn blow."

" I m glad to hear this from you, Pigeonswing, for, to
own the truth, I ve had my misgivings about that onac-
countable Injin, and I did think he might have been up,
and have got hold of the horn."

"No touch him at all. Fast sleep when horn blow.
What make Peter come in openin , eh? You know? "



240 THE OAK OPENINGS.

" I know no more than he has himself told me. By his
account there is to be a great council of red men on the
prairie, a few miles from this spot; he is waiting for
the appointed day to come, in order to go and make
one of the chiefs that will be there. Is not this true,
Chippewa? "

"Yes, dat true what dat council smoke round fire for,
eh? You know?"

" No, I do not, and would be right glad to have you tell
me, Pigeonswing. Perhaps the tribe mean to have a meet-
in to determine in their own minds which side they ought
to take in this war."

" Not dat nudder. Know well nough which side take.
Got message and wampum from Canada fadder, and most
all Injin up this-a way look for Yankee scalp. Not dat



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 19 of 41)