James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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" Then I have no notion what is at the bottom of this
council. Peter seems to expect great things from it; that I
can see by his way of talking and looking whenever he
speaks of it."

" Peter want to see him very much. Smoke at great many
sich council fire."

" Do you intend to be present at this council on Prairie
Round? "asked the bee-hunter, innocently enough. Pig
eonswing turned to look at his companion, in a way that
seemed to inquire how far he was really the dupe of the
mysterious Indian s wiles. Then, suddenly aware of the
importance of not betraying all he himself knew, until the
proper moment had arrived, he bent his eyes forward again,
continuing onward and answering somewhat evasively.

" Don t know," he replied. " Hunter nebber tell. Chief
want venison, and he must hunt. Just like squaw in pale
face wigwam work, work sweep, sweep cook, cook
never know when work done. So hunter hunt hunt

" And for that matter, Chippewa, just like squaw in the


red man s village, too. Hoe, hoe dig, dig carry, carry-
so that she never knows when she may sit down to rest."

u Yes," returned Pigeonswing, coolly nodding his assent
as he moved steadily forward. " Dat do right way wid
squaw juss what he good for juss what he made for
work for warrior and cook his dinner. Pale-face make too
much of squaw."

" Not accordin to your account of their manner of getting
along, Injin. If the work of our squaws is never done, we
can hardly make too much of them. Where does Peter keep
his squaw ? "

" Don t know," answered the Chippewa. " Nobody
know. Don t know where his tribe even."

" This is very extraor nary, considering the influence the
man seems to enjoy. How is it that he has so completely
got the ears of all the red men, far and near? "

To this question Pigeonswing gave no answer. His own
mind was so far under Peter s control that he did not choose
to tell more than might be prudent. He was fully aware of
the mysterious chief s principal design, that of destroying
the white race altogether, and of restoring the red men to
their ancient rights, but several reasons prevented his en
tering into the plot heart and hand. In the first place, he
was friendly to the " Yankees," from whom he, personally,
had received many favors and no wrongs ; then, the tribe,
or half-tribe, to which he belonged had been employed, more
or less, by the agents of the American government as run
ners, and in other capacities, ever since the peace of 83 ;
and, lastly, he himself had been left much in different gar
risons, where he had not only acquired his English, but a
habit of thinking of the Americans as his friends. It
might also be added that Pigeonswing, though far less
gifted by nature than the mysterious Peter, had formed a
truer estimate of the power of the " Yankees," and did not
believe they were to be annihilated so easily. How it hap
pened that this Indian had come to a conclusion so much


safer than that of Peter s, a man of twice his capacity, is
more than we can explain ; though it was probably owing
to the accidental circumstances of his more intimate asso
ciations with the whites.

The bee-hunter was by nature a man of observation, a
faculty that his habits had both increased and stimulated.
Had it not been for the manner in which he was submitting
to the influence of Margery, he would long before have seen
that in the deportment of the Chippewa which would have
awakened his distrust; not that Margery in any way en
deavored to blind him to what was passing before his face,
but that he was fast getting to have eyes only for her. By
this time she filled not only his waking, but many of his
sleeping thoughts; and when she was not actually before
him, charming him with her beauty, enlivening him with
her artless gayety, and inspiring him with her innocent hu
mor, he fancied she was there, imagination, perhaps, height
ening all those advantages which we have enumerated.
When a man is thoroughly in love, he is quite apt to be
fit for very little else but to urge his suit. Such, in a cer
tain way, proved to be the case with le Bourdon, who al
lowed things to pass unheeded directly before his eyes that
previously to his acquaintance with Margery would not
only have been observed, but which would have most prob
ably led to some practical results. The conduct of Pigeons-
wing was among the circumstances that were thus over
looked by our hero. In point of fact, Peter was slowly but
surely working on the mind of the Chippewa, changing all
his opinions radically, and teaching him to regard every
pale-face as an enemy. The task, in this instance, was not
easy; for Pigeonswing, in addition to his general propensi
ties in favor of the " Yankees," the result of mere accident,
had conceived a real personal regard for le Bourdon, and
was very slow to admit any views that tended to his injury.
The struggle in the mind of the young warrior was severe;
and twenty times was he on the point of warning his friend


of the danger which impended over the whole party, when a
sense of good faith toward Peter, who held his word to the
contrary, prevented his so doing. This conflict of feeling
was now constantly active in the breast of the young savage.

Pigeonswing had another source of uneasiness, to which
his companions were entirely strangers. While hunting,
his keen eyes had detected the presence of warriors in the
openings. It is true he had not seen even one, but he knew
that the signs he had discovered could not deceive him.
Not only were warriors at hand, but warriors in consider
able numbers. He had found one deserted lair, from which
its late occupants could not have departed many hours when
it came under his own notice. By means of that attentive
sagacity which forms no small portion of the education of
an American Indian, Pigeonswing was enabled to ascertain
that this party, of itself, numbered seventeen, all of whom
were men and warriors. The first fact was easily enough
to be seen, perhaps, there being just seventeen different im
pressions left in the grass; but that all these persons were
armed men, was learned by Pigeonswing through evidence
that would have been overlooked by most persons. By the
length of the lairs he was satisfied none but men of full
stature had been there; and he even examined sufficiently
close to make out the proofs that all but four of these men
carried firearms. Strange as it may seem to those who do
not know how keen the senses become when whetted by the
apprehensions and wants of savage life, Pigeonswing was
enabled to discover signs which showed that the excepted
were provided with bows and arrows, and spears.

When the bee-hunter and his companion came in sight of
the carcase of the bear, which they did shortly after the last
remark which we have given in the dialogue recorded, the
former exclaimed with a little surprise :

"How s this, Chippewa! You have killed this beast
with your bow! Did you not hunt with the rifle yester


"Bad fire rifle off now-a-day," answered Pigeonswing,
sententiously. " Make noise noise no good."

"Noise! " repeated the perfectly unsuspecting bee-hunter.
"Little good or little harm can noise do in these openings,
where there is neither mountain to give back an echo, or
ear to be startled. The crack of my rifle has rung through
these groves a hundred times and no harm come of it."

"Forget war-time now. Bess nebber fire, less can t help
him. Pottawattamie hear great way off."

"Oh! That s it, is it! You re afraid our old friends
the Pottawattamies may find us out, and come to thank us
for all that happened down at the river s mouth. Well,"
continued le Bourdon, laughing, " if they wish another
whiskey- spring, I have a small jug left, safely hid against
a wet day; a very few drops will answer to make a tolerable
spring. You redskins don t know everything, Pigeonswing,
though you are so keen and quick-witted on a trail."

" Bess not tell Pottawattamie any more bout springs," an
swered the Chippewa, gravely; for by this time he regarded
the state of things in the openings to be so serious as to
feel little disposition to mirth. "Why you don t go home,
eh? Why don t med cine-man go home, too? Bess for
pale-face to be wid pale-face when red man go on war-path.
Color bess keep wid color."

"I see you want to be rid of us, Pigeonswing; but the
parson has no thought of quitting this part of the world
until he has convinced all the red-skins that they are Jews."

"What he mean, eh?" demanded the Chippewa, with
more curiosity than it was usual for an Indian warrior to
betray. " What sort of a man Jew, eh ? Why call red man

" I know very little more about it than you do yourself,
Pigeonswing; but such as my poor knowledge is, you re
welcome to it. You ve heard of the Bible, I dare say? "

" Sartain med cine-man read him Sunday. Good book
to read, some t ink."


"Yes, it s all that, and a great companion have I found
my Bible, when I ve been alone with the bees out here in
the openings. It tells us of our God, Chippewa; and
teaches us how we are to please him, and how we may
offend. It s a great loss to you red-skins not to have such
a book among you."

" Med cine-man bring him don t do much good, yet;
some day, p r aps, do better. How dat make red man

" Why, this is a new idea to me, though Parson Amen
seems fully possessed with it. I suppose you know what a
Jew is?"

" Don t know anyt ing bout him. Sort o nigger, eh? "

" No, no, Pigeonswing, you re wide of the mark this time.
But, that we may understand each other, we ll begin at the
beginning like, which will let you into the whole history of
the pale-face religion. As we ve had a smart walk, how
ever, and here is the bear s meat safe and sound, just as you
left it, let us sit down a bit on this trunk of a tree, while I
give you our tradition from beginning to end, as it might
be. In the first place, Chippewa, the earth was made with
out creatures of any sort to live on it not so much as a
squirrel or a woodchuck."

" Poor country to hunt in, dat," observed the Chippewa
quietly, while le Bourdon was wiping his forehead after
removing his cap. "Ojebways stay in it very little time."

" This, according to our belief, was before any Ojebway
lived. At length, God made a man, out of clay, and fash
ioned him, as we see men fashioned and living all around

"Yes," answered the Chippewa, nodding his head in
assent. " Den Manitou put plenty blood in him dat make
red warrior. Bible good book, if tell dat tradition."

"The Bible says nothing about any colors; but we sup
pose the man first made to have been a pale-face. At any
rate, the pale-faces have got possession of the best parts of


the earth, as it might be, and I think they mean to keep
them. First come, first served, you know. The pale-faces
are many, and are strong."

"Stop! " exclaimed Pigeonswing, in a way that was very
unusual for an Indian to interrupt another when speaking;
" want to ask question how many pale-face you t ink is
dere? Ebber count him? "

" Count him ! Why, Chippewa, you might as well count
the bees, as they buzz around a fallen tree. You saw me
cut down the tree I last discovered, and saw the movement
of the little animals, and may judge what success tongue or
eye would have in counting them ; now, just as true would
it be to suppose that any man could count the pale-faces on
this earth."

" Don t want count all" answered Pigeonswing. " Want
to know how many dis side of great salt lake."

"That s another matter, and more easily come at. I
understand you now, Chippewa; you wish to know how
many of us there are in the country we call America? "

"Juss so," returned Pigeonswing, nodding in assent.
" Dat juss it juss what Injin want to know."

" Well, we do have a count of our own people, from time
to time, and I suppose come about as near to the truth
as men can come in such a matter. There must be about
eight millions of us altogether; that is, old and young, big
and little, male and female."

"How many warrior you got? don t want hear about
squaw and pappoose."

"No, I see you re warlike this morning, and want to see
how we are likely to come out of this struggle with your
great Canada father. Counting all round, I think we might
muster hard on upon a million of fighting men good, bad,
and indifferent; that is to say, there must be a million of
us of proper age to go into the wars."

Pigeonswing made no answer for near a minute. Both
he and the bee-hunter had come to a halt alongside of the


bear s meat, and the latter was beginning to prepare his
own portion of the load for transportation, while his com
panion stood thus motionless, lost in thought. Suddenly,
Pigeonswing recovered his recollection, and resumed the
conversation, by saying:

" What million mean, Bourdon ? How many time so ger
at Detroit, and so ger on lakes? "

" A million is more than the leaves on all the trees in
these openings" le Bourdon s notions were a little exag
gerated, perhaps, but this was what he said "yes, more
than the leaves on all these oaks, far and near. A million
is a countless number, and I suppose would make a row of
men as long as from this spot to the shores of the great salt
lake, if not farther."

It is probable that the bee-hunter himself had no very
clear notion of the distance of which he spoke, or of the
number of men it would actually require to fill the space
he mentioned; but his answer sufficed deeply to impress the
imagination of the Indian, who now helped le Bourdon to
secure his load to his back, in silence, receiving the same
service in return. When the meat of the bear was securely
bestowed, each resumed his rifle, and the friends commenced
their march in, toward the chiente; conversing, as they
went, on the matter which still occupied their minds.
When the bee-hunter again took up the history of the crea
tion, it was to speak of our common mother.

"You will remember, Chippewa," he said, "that I told
you nothing on the subject of any woman. What I have
told you, as yet, consarned only the first man, who was made
out of clay, into whom God breathed the breath of life."

" Dat good make warrior fuss. Juss right. When
breat in him, fit to take scalp, eh? "

" Why, as to that, it is not easy to see whom he was
to scalp, seeing that he was quite alone in the world,
until it pleased his Creator to give him a woman for a


"Tell bout dat," returned Pigeonswing, with interest
" tell how he got squaw."

" Accordin to the Bible, God caused this mart to fall into
a deep sleep, when he took one of his ribs, and out of that
he made a squaw for him. Then he put them both to live
together, in a most beautiful garden, in which all things
excellent and pleasant was to be found some such place
as these openings, I reckon."

"Any bee dere?" asked the Indian, quite innocently.
" Plenty honey, eh?"

"That will I answer for! It could hardly be otherwise,
when it was the intention to make the first man and first
woman perfectly happy. I dare say, Chippewa, if the truth
was known, it would be found that bees was a sipping at
every flower in that most delightful garden! "

" Why pale-face quit dat garden, eh? Why come here to
drive poor Injin way from game? Tell me dat, Bourdon,
if he can ? Why pale-face ever leave dat garden, when he
so han some, eh? "

"God turned him out of it, Chippewa yes, he was turned
out of it, with shame on his face, for having disobeyed the
commandments of his Creator. Having left the garden, his
children have scattered over the face of the earth. *

" So come here to drive off Injin! Well, dat e way wid
pale-face! Did ever hear of red man comin to drive off
pale-face? "

" I have heard of your red warriors often coming to
take our scalps, Chippewa. More or less of this has
been done every year, since our people have landed in
America. More than that they have not done, for we are
too many to be driven very far in, by a few scattering
tribes of Injins."

"T ink, den, more pale-face dan Injin, eh?" asked the
Chippewa, with an interest so manifest that he actually
stopped in his semi-trot, in order to put the question.
" More pale-face warrior dan red men? "


"More! Aye, a thousand times more, Chippewa. Where
you could show one warrior, we could show a thousand! "

Now, this was not strictly true, perhaps, but it answered
the purpose of deeply impressing the Chippewa with the
uselessness of Peter s plans, and sustained as it was by his
early predilections, it served to keep him on the right side,
in the crisis which was approaching. The discourse con
tinued, much in the same strain, until the men got in with
their bear s meat, having been preceded some time by the
others, with the venison.

It is a little singular that neither the questions, nor the
manner of Pigeonswing, awakened any distrust in the bee-
hunter. So far from this, the latter regarded all that had
passed as perfectly natural, and as likely to arise in conver
sation, in the way of pure speculation, as in any other man
ner. Pigeonswing intended to be guarded in what he said
and did, for, as yet, he had not made up his mind which
side he would really espouse, in the event of the great
project coming to a head. He had the desire, natural to
a red man, to avenge the wrongs committed against his
race; but this desire existed in a form a good deal miti
gated by his intercourse with the "Yankees," and his re
gard for individuals. It had, nevertheless, strangely oc
curred to the savage reasoning of this young warrior that
possibly some arrangement might be effected, by means of
which he should take scalps from the Canadians, while
Peter and his other followers were working their will on the
Americans. In this confused condition was the mind of the
Chippewa, when he and his companion threw down their
loads, near the place where the provision of game was usu
ally kept. This was beneath the tree, near the spring and
the cook-house, in order that no inconvenience should arise
from its proximity to the place where the party dwelt and
slept. For a siege, should there be occasion to shut them
selves up within the " garrison," the men depended on the
pickled pork, and a quantity of dried meat; of the latter of


which the missionary had brought a considerable supply in
his own canoe. Among these stores were a few dozen of
buffaloes or bisons tongues, a delicacy that would honor
the best table in the civilized world, though then so common
among the western hunters, as scarce to be deemed food as
good as the common salted pork and beef of the settlements.

The evening that followed proved to be one of singular
softness and sweetness. The sun went down in a cloudless
sky, and gentle airs from the southwest fanned the warm
cheeks of Margery, as she sat, resting from the labors of the
day, with le Bourdon at her side, speaking of the pleasures
of a residence in such a spot. The youth was eloquent, for
he felt all that he said, and the maiden was pleased. The
young man could expatiate on bees in a way to arrest any
one s attention; and Margery delighted to hear him relate
his adventures with these little creatures; his successes,
losses, and journeys.

" But are you not often lonely, Bourdon, living here in
the openings, whole summers at a time, without a living
soul to speak to?" demanded Margery, coloring to the
eyes, the instant the question was asked, lest it should sub
ject her to an imputation against which her modesty revolted,
that of wishing to draw the discourse to a discussion on the
means of preventing this solitude in future.

" I have not been, hitherto," answered le Bourdon, so
frankly as at once to quiet his companion s sensitiveness,
"though I will not answer for the future. Now that I have
so many with me, we may make some of them necessary.
Mind I say some, not all of my present guests. If I could
have my pick, pretty Margery, the present company would
give me all I can desire, and more too. I should not think
of going to Detroit for that companion, since she is to be
found so much nearer."

Margery blushed, and looked down then she raised her
eyes, smiled, and seemed grateful as well as pleased. By
this time she had become accustomed to such remarks, and


she had no difficulty in discovering her lover s wishes,
though he had never been more explicit. The reflections
natural to her situation threw a shade of gentle seriousness
over her countenance, rendering her more charming than
ever, and causing the youth to plunge deeper and deeper
into the meshes that female influence had cast around him.
In all this, however, one of the parties was governed by a
manly sincerity, and the other by girlish artlessness. Diffi
dence, one of the most certain attendants of a pure passion,
alone kept le Bourdon from asking Margery to become his
wife; while Margery herself sometimes doubted whether it
were possible that any reputable man could wish to connect
himself and his fortunes with a family that had sunk as low
as persons could well sink, in this country, and not lose
their characters altogether. With these doubts and dis
trusts, so naturally affecting the mind of each, these young
people were rapidly becoming more and more enamored;
the bee-hunter betraying his passion in the close, absorbed
attentions that more properly belong to his sex, while that
of Margery was to be seen in sudden blushes, the thoughtful
brow, the timid glance, and a cast of tenderness that came
over her whole manner, and, as it might be, her whole

While our young folk were thus employed, now convers
ing cheerfully, now appearing abstracted and lost in thought,
though seated side by side, le Bourdon happened to look
behind him, and saw that Peter was regarding them with
one of those intense, but mysterious expressions of the coun
tenance, that had, now, more than once attracted his atten
tion ; giving reason, each time, for a feeling in which doubt,
curiosity, and apprehension were singularly*mingled, even
in himself.

At the customary hour, which was always early, in that
party of simple habits, the whole family sought its rest; the
females withdrew within the chiente, while the males ar
ranged their skins without. Ever since the erection of the


palisades, le Bourdon had been in the habit of calling Hive
within the defences, leaving him at liberty to roam about
inside, at pleasure. Previously to this new arrangement,
the dog had been shut up in his kennel, in order to prevent
his getting on the track of a deer, or in close combat with
some bear, when his master was not present to profit by his
efforts. As the palisades were too high for his leap, this
putting him at liberty within them answered the double
purpose of giving the mastiff room for healthful exercise,
and of possessing a most vigilant sentinel against dangers
of all sorts. On the present occasion, however, the dog was
missing, and after calling and whistling for him some time,
the bee-hunter was fain to bar the gnte, and leave him on the
outside. This done, he sought his bkin, and was soon asleep.

It was midnight, when the bee-hunter felt a hand laid on
his own arm. It was the corporal, making this movement,
in order to awake him. In an instant the young man was
on his feet, with his rifle in his hand.

" Did you not hear it, Bourdon ? " demanded the corporal,
in a tone so low as scarce to exceed a whisper.

"Hear what! I ve been sleeping, sound as a bee in

"The horn! The horn has been blown twice, and, I
think, we shall soon hear it again."

" The horn was hanging at the door of the chiente, and
the conch, too. It will be easy to see if they are in their

It was only necessary to walk around the walls of the
hut, to its opposite side, in order to ascertain this fact. Le
Bourdon did so, accompanied by the corporal, and just as
each laid a hand on the instruments, which were suspended
in their proper places, a heavy rush was made against the
gate, as if to try its fastenings. These pushes were re
peated several times, with a violence that menaced the bars.
Of course, the two men stepped to the spot, a distance of
only a few paces, the gateway of the palisades and the door


of the chiente being contiguous to each other, and immedi
ately ascertained that it was the mastiff, endeavoring to

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 20 of 41)