James Fenimore Cooper.

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scheme. Why can t we all get into the canoe, and go down
stream, as soon as another night sets in ? Before morning
we could be twenty miles on our road."

"No do any good," returned Pigeonswing, coldly. "If
can t go alone, can t go at all. Squaw no keep up when so
many be on trail. No good to try canoe. Catch you in two
days p raps one. Well, I go to sleep can t keep eye open
all night."

Hereupon, Pigeonswing coolly repaired to his skins, lay
down, and was soon fast asleep. The bee-hunter was fain
to do the same, the night being now far advanced; but he
lay awake a long time, thinking of the hint he had received,
and pondering on the nature of the danger which menaced
the security of the family. At length, sleep asserted its
power over even him, and the place lay in the deep stillness
of night.



And stretching out, on either hand,
O er all that wide and unshorn land,
Till weary of its gorgeousness,
The aching and the dazzled eye
Rests, gladdened, on the calm, blue sky.


No other disturbance occurred in the course of the night.
With the dawn, le Bourdon was again stirring; and as he
left the palisades to repair to the run, in order to make his
ablutions, he saw Peter returning to Castle Meal. The two
met; but no allusion was made to the manner in which the
night had passed. The chief paid his salutations courteous
ly; and, instead of repairing to his skins, he joined le
Bourdon, seemingly as little inclined to seek for rest, as if
just arisen from his lair. When the bee-hunter left the
spring, this mysterious Indian, for the first time, spoke of

"My brother wanted to-day to show Injin how to find
honey," said Peter, as he and Bourdon walked toward the
palisades, within which the whole family was now moving.
" I nebber see honey find, myself, ole as I be."

" I shall be very willing to teach your chiefs my craft,"
answered the bee-hunter, " and this so much the more read
ily, because I do not expect to practyse it much longer, my
self; not in this part of the country, at least."

"How dat happen? expec go away soon?" demanded
Peter, whose keen, restless eye would, at one instant, seem
to read his companion s soul, and then would glance off to
some distant object, as if conscious of its own startling and
fiery expression. " Now Br ish got Detroit, where my broder
go? Bess stay here, I t ink."

" I shall not be in a hurry, Peter; but my season will soon
be up, and I must get ahead of the bad weather, you know,
or a bark canoe will have but a poor time of it on Lake


Huron. When am I to meet the chiefs, to give them a les
son in finding bees? "

" Tell by- em-by. No hurry for dat. Want to sleep fuss.
See so much better, when I open eye. So you t ink of
makin journey on long path. If can t go to Detroit, where
can go to ? "

" My proper home is in Pennsylvania, on the other side
of Lake Erie. It is a long path, and I m not certain of get
ting safely over it in these troubled times. Perhaps it
would be best for me, however, to shape at once for Ohio;
if in that state I might find my way round the end of Erie,
and so go the whole distance by land."

The bee-hunter said this, by way of throwing dust into
the Indian s eyes, for he had not the least intention of
travelling in the direction named. It is true, it was his
most direct course, and the one that prudence would point
out to him, under all the circumstances, had he been alone.
But le Bourdon was no longer alone in heart and feelings,
at least. Margery now mingled with all his views for the
future; and he could no more think of abandoning her in
her present situation, than he could of offering his own per
son to the savages for a sacrifice. It was idle to think of
attempting such a journey in company with the females,
and most of all to attempt it in defiance of the ingenuity,
perseverance, and hostility of the Indians. The trail could
not be concealed ; and, as for speed, a party of the young
men of the wilderness would certainly travel two miles to
Margery s one.

Le Bourdon, notwithstanding Pigeonswing s remon
strances, still had his eye on the Kalamazoo. He remem
bered the saying, " that water leaves no trail," and was not
without hopes of reaching the lake again, where he felt he
should be in comparative security; his own canoe, as well
as that of Gershom, being large, well fitted, and not alto
gether unsuited to those waters in the summer months. As
it would be of the last importance, however, to get several


hours start of the Indians, in the event of his having re
course to such a mode of flight, it was of the utmost impor
tance also to conceal his intentions, and, if possible, to in
duce Peter to imagine his eyes were turned in another

" Well, s pose go dat way," answered the chief, quietly, as
if suspecting no artifice. " Set bout him by- em-by. To
day muss teach Injin how to find honey. Dat make him
good friend; and maybe he help my pale-face broders back
to deir country. Been better for ebbery body, if none come
here, at all."

Thus ended the discourse for that moment. Peter was not
fond of much talking, when he had not his great object in
view, but rather kept his mind occupied in observation.
For the next hour, every one in and about Castle Meal was
engaged in the usual morning avocations, that of breaking
their fasts included; and then it was understood that all
were to go forth to meet the chiefs, that le Bourdon might
give a specimen of his craft.

One, ignorant of the state of political affairs on the
American continent, and who was not aware of the vicinity
of savages, would have seen nothing that morning, as the
party proceeded on its little excursion, in and around that
remote spot, but a picture of rural tranquillity and peace.
A brighter day never poured its glories on the face of the
earth ; and the Openings, and the glades, and even the dark
and denser forests, were all bathed in the sunlight, as that
orb is known to illuminate objects in the softer season of
the year, and in the forty-third degree of latitude. Even
the birds appeared to rejoice in the beauties of the time,
and sang and fluttered among the oaks, in numbers greater
than common. Nature usually observes a stern fitness in
her adaptation of means to ends. Birds are to be found in
the forests, on the prairies, and in the still untenanted
openings of the west and often in countless numbers;
more especially those birds which fly in flocks, and love the


security of unoccupied regions unoccupied by man is
meant wherein to build their nests, obey the laws of their
instincts, and fulfil their destinies. Thus, myriads of
pigeons, and ducks, and geese, etc., are to be found in the
virgin woods, while the companionable and friendly robin,
the little melodious wren, the thrush, the lark, the swallow,
the marten, and all those pleasant little winged creatures,
that flit about our dwellings and grounds, and seem to be
sent by Providence, expressly to chant their morning and
evening hymns to God in our ears, most frequent the peo
pled districts. It has been said by Europeans that the
American birds are mute, in comparison with those of the
Old World. This is true, to a certain extent, as respects
those which are properly called forest birds, which do, in
general, appear to partake of the sombre character that
marks the solemn stillness of their native haunts. It is not
true, however, with the birds which live in our fields, and
grounds, and orchards, each of which sings its song of
praise, and repeats its calls and its notes, as richly and as
pleasantly to the ear, as the birds of other lands. One
large class, indeed, possesses a faculty that enables it to re
peat every note it has ever heard, even to some of the
sounds of quadrupeds. Nor is this done in the discordant
tones of the parrot; but in octaves, and trills, and in rich
contra-altos, and all the other pleasing intonations known
to the most gifted of the feathered race. Thus it is, that
one American mocking-bird can outsing all the birds of
Europe united.

It seemed that morning as if every bird that was accus
tomed to glean its food from the neighborhood of Castle
Meal was on the wing, and ready to accompany the party
that now sallied forth to catch the bee. This party con
sisted of le Bourdon, himself, as its chief and leader; of
Peter, the missionary, and the corporal. Margery, too,
went along; for, as yet, she had never seen an exhibition of
Boden s peculiar skill. As for Gershom and his wife, they


remained behind, to make ready the noontide meal ; while
the Chippewa took his accoutrements, and again sallied out
on a hunt. The whole time of this Indian appeared to be
thus taken up; though, in truth, venison and bear s meat
both abounded, and there was much less necessity for those
constant efforts than he wished to make it appear. In good
sooth, more than half his time was spent in making those
observations, which had led to the advice he had been urg
ing on his friend, the bee-hunter, in order to induce him to
fly. Had Pigeonswing better understood Peter, and had he
possessed a clearer insight into the extent and magnitude of
his plans of retributive vengeance, it is not probable his
uneasiness, at the moment, would have been so great, or the
urgency for an immediate decision on the part of le Bour
don would have appeared as urgently pressing as it now
seemed to be.

The bee-hunter took his way to a spot that was at some
distance from his habitation, a small prairie of circular
form, that is now generally known in that region of the
country by the name of Prairie Round. Three hours were
necessary to reach it, and this so much the more, because
Margery s shorter steps were to be considered. Margery,
however, was no laggard on a path. Young, active, light of
foot, and trained in exertions of this nature, her presence
did not probably retard the arrival many minutes.

The extraordinary part of the proceedings was the circum
stance, that the bee-hunter did not tell any one whither he
was going, and that Peter did not appear to care about put
ting the question to him. Notwithstanding this reserve on
one side, and seeming indifference on the other, when the
party reached Prairie Round, every one of the chiefs who
had been present at the council of the previous night, was
there before it. The Indians were straggling about, but re
mained sufficiently near the point where the bee-hunter and
his followers reached the prairie, to assemble around the
group in a very few minutes after it made its appearance.


All this struck le Bourdon as fearfully singular, since it
proved how many secret means of communication existed
between the savages. That the inmates of the habitations
were closely observed, and all their proceedings noted, he
could not but suspect, even before receiving this proof of
Peter s power; but he was not aware until now, how com
pletely he and all with him were at the mercy of these for
midable foes. What hope could there be for escape, when
hundreds of eyes were thus watching their movements, and
every thicket had its vigilant and sagacious sentinel? Yet
must flight be attempted, in some way or other, or Margery
and her sister would be hopelessly lost to say nothing of
himself and the three other men.

But the appearance of the remarkable little prairie that he
had just reached, and the collection of chiefs, now occupied
all the present thoughts of le Bourdon. As for the first, it
is held in repute, even at the present hour, as a place that
the traveller should see, though covered with farms, and the
buildings that belong to husbandry. It is still visited as a
picture of ancient civilization, placed in the setting of a
new country. It is true that very little of this part of
Michigan wears much, if any, of that aspect of a rough be
ginning, including stubs, stumps, and circled trees, that it
has so often fallen to our share to describe. There are
dense forests, and those of considerable extent; and wher
ever the axe is put into them, the progress of improvement
is marked by the same steps as elsewhere; but the lovely
openings form so many exceptions, as almost to compose
the rule.

On Prairie Round there was even a higher stamp of seem
ing civilization seeming, since it was nature, after all, that
had mainly drawn the picture. In the first place, the spot
had been burnt so recently, as to leave the entire expanse
covered with young grasses and flowers, the same as if it
were a well-kept park. This feature, at that advanced pe
riod of the summer, was in some degree accidental, the burn-


ing of the prairies depending more or less on contingencies
of that sort. We have now less to do with the cause, than
with its consequences. These were most agreeable to the
eye, as well as comfortable to the foot, the grass nowhere
being of a height to impede movement, or, what was of still
more importance to le Bourdon s present pursuit, to over
shadow the flowers. Aware of this fact, he had led his com
panions all that distance, to reach this scene of remarkable
rural beauty, in order that he might make a grand display
of his art, in presence of the assembled chiefs of that re
gion. The bee-hunter had pride in his craft, the same as
any other skilful workman who had gained a reputation by
his cunning, and he now trod the prairie with a firmer step,
and a more kindling eye, than was his wont in the com
moner haunts of his calling. Men were there whom it
might be an honor to surprise, and pretty Margery was there
also, she who had so long desired to see this very exhibi

But to revert once more to the prairie, ere we commence
the narrative of what occurred on it. This well-known area
is of no great extent, possessing a surface about equal to
that of one of the larger parks of Europe. Its name was
derived from its form, which, without being absolutely
regular, had so near an approach to a circle as to justify
the use of the appellation. The face of this charming field
was neither waving, or what is called "rolling," nor a dead
flat, as often occurs with river bottoms. It had just enough
of undulation to prevent too much moisture, and to impart
an agreeable variety to its plain. As a whole, it was clear
of the forest; quite as much so as if the axe had done its
work there a thousand years before, though wood was not
wanting. On the contrary, enough of the last was to be
seen, in addition to that which formed the frame of this
charming landscape, to relieve the view from all appear
ance of monotony, and to break it up into copses, thickets,
trees in small clusters, and in most of the varieties that em-


hellish native scenery. One who had been unexpectedly
transferred to the spot, might well have imagined that he
was looking on the site of some old and long-established
settlement, from which every appliance of human industry
had been suddenly and simultaneously abstracted. Of
houses, out-buildings, fences, stacks, and husbandry, there
were no signs; unless the even and verdant sward, that was
spread like a vast carpet, sprinkled with flowers, could have
been deemed a sign of the last. There were the glades,
vistas, irregular lawns, and woods, shaped with the pleas
ing outlines of the free hand of nature, as if consummate
art had been endeavoring to imitate our great mistress in
one of her most graceful moods.

The Indians present served largely to embellish this
scene. Of late years, horses have become so common
among the western tribes, the vast natural meadows of those
regions furnishing the means necessary to keep them, that
one can now hardly form a picture of those savages, with
out representing them mounted, and wielding the spear;
but such was not the fact with the time of which we are
writing, nor was it ever the general practice to go mounted,
among the Indians in the immediate vicinity of the great
lakes. Not a hoof of any sort was now visible, with the
exception of those which belonged to a herd of deer, that
were grazing on a favorite spot, less than a league distant
from the place where le Bourdon and his companions
reached the prairie. All the chiefs were on foot, and very
few were equipped with more than the knife and tomahawk,
the side-arms of a chief ; the rifles having been secreted, as
it might be, in deference to the festivities and peaceful
character of the occasion. As le Bourdon s party was duly
provided with rifles, the missionary and Margery excepted,
this was a sign that no violence was contemplated on that
occasion at least. " Contemplated," however, is a word
very expressive, when used in connection with the out-
breakings of human passions, as they are wont to exhibit


themselves among the ignorant and excited. It matters not
whether the scene be the capital of some ancient European
monarchy, or the wilds of America, the workings of such
impulses are much the same. Now, a throne is overturned,
perhaps, before they who do it are yet fully aware of what
they ought to set up in its place ; and now the deadly rifle,
or the murderous tomahawk is used, more in obedience to
the incentives of demons, than in furtherance of justly
recognized rules of conduct. Le Bourdon was aware of all
this, and did not so far confide in appearances, as to over
look the watchfulness that he deemed indispensable.

The bee-hunter was not long in selecting a place to set
up his apparatus. In this particular, he was mainly gov
erned by a lovely expanse of sweet-scented flowers, among
which bees in thousands were humming, sipping of their
precious gifts at will. Le Bourdon had a care, also, not to
go far from the forests which encircled the prairies, for
among its trees he knew he had to seek the habitations of
the insects. Instead of a stump, or a fallen tree, he had
prepared a light framework of lath, which the corporal
bore to the field for him, and on which he placed his differ
ent implements, as soon as he had selected the scene of

It will not be necessary for us to repeat the process,
which has already been described in our opening chapters;
but we shall only touch such parts of it as have a direct
connection with the events of the legend. As le Bourdon
commenced his preparations, however, the circle of chiefs
closed around him, in mute but close attention to every
thing that passed. Although every one of them had heard
of the bee-hunters of the pale-faces, and most of them had
heard of this particular individual of their number, not an
Indian present had ever seen one of these men practise his
craft. This may seem strange, as respects those who so
much roamed the woods; but we have already remarked
that it exceeded the knowledge of the red man to make the



calculations that are necessary to take the bee by the pro
cess described. Usually, when he obtains honey, it is the
result of some chance meeting in the forest, and not the
fruits of that far-sighted and persevering industry, which
enables the white man to lay in a store large enough to
supply a neighborhood, in the course of a few weeks hunt

Never was a juggler watched with closer attention, than
was le Bourdon, while setting up his stand, and spreading
his implements. Every grave, dark countenance was turned
toward him, and each keen, glistening eye was riveted on
his movements. As the vessel with the comb was set down,
the chiefs nearest recognizing the substance murmured
their admiration ; for to them it seemed as if the operator
were about to make honey with honey. Then the glass was
a subject of surprise; for half of those present had never
seen such an utensil before. Though many of the chiefs
present had visited the " garrisons " of the northwest, both
American and English, many had not; and, of those who
had, not one in ten got any clear idea of the commonest ap
pliances of civilized life. Thus it was, then, that almost
every article used by the bee-hunter, though so simple and
homely, was the subject of a secret, but well-suppressed ad

It was not long ere le Bourdon was ready to look for his
bee. The insects were numerous on the flowers, particular
ly on the white clover, which is indigenous in America,
springing up spontaneously wherever grasses are permitted
to gnjw- The great abundance of the bees, however, had its
usual effect, and our hero was a little difficult to please.
At length, a fine and already half-loaded little animal was
covered by the glass and captured. This was done so near
the group of Indians, that each and all noted the process.
It was curious, and it was inexplicable ! Could the pale-faces
compel bees to reveal the secret of their hives, and was that
encroaching race about to drive all the insects from the


woods and seize their honey, as they drove the Indians be
fore them and seized their lands ? Such was the character
of the thoughts that passed through the minds of more than
one chief, that morning, though all looked on in profound

When the imprisoned bee was put over the comb, and le
Bourdon s cap was placed above all, these simple-minded
children of the woods and the prairies gazed, as if expecting
a hive to appear beneath the covering, whenever the latter
should be removed. It was not long before the bee " set
tled," and not only the cap, but the tumbler was taken
away. For the first time since the exhibition commenced,
le Bourdon spoke, addressing himself to Peter.

"If the tribeless chief will look sharply," he said, "he
will soon see the bee take flight. It is filling itself with
honey, and the moment it is loaded look look it is
about to rise there, it is up see it circling around the
stand, as if to take a look that it may know it again there
it goes! "

There it did go, of a truth, and in a regular bee-line, or
as straight as an arrow. Of all that crowd, the bee-hunter
and Margery alone saw the insect in its flight. Most of
those present lost sight of it, while circling around the
stand; but the instant it darted away, to the remainder it
seemed to vanish into air. Not so with le Bourdon and
Margery, however. The former saw it from habit; the lat
ter from a quick eye, intense attention, and the wish not to
miss anything that le Bourdon saw fit to do, for her in
formation or amusement. The animal flew in an air-line
toward a point of wood distant fully half a mile, and on the
margin of the prairie.

Many low exclamations arose among the savages. The
bee was gone, but whither they knew not, or on what errand.
Could it have been sent on a message by the pale-face, or
had it flown off to give the alarm to its companions, in order
to adopt the means of disapoointing the bee-hunter? As for


the last, he went coolly to work to choose another insect;
and he soon had three at work on the comb all in com
pany, and all uncovered. Had the number anything to do
with the charm, or were these three to be sent to bring back
the one that had already gone away? Such was the sort of
reasoning, and such the queries put to themselves, by sev
eral of the stern children of nature who were drawn up
around the stand.

In the mean time le Bourdon proceeded with his opera
tions in the utmost simplicity. He now called Peter and
Bear s Meat and Crowsfeather nearer to his person, where
they might share with Margery the advantage of more close
ly seeing all that passed. As soon as these three chiefs
were near enough, Ben pointed to one bee in particular,
saying in the Indian dialect:

" My brothers see that bee in the centre he is about to
go away. If he go after the one that went before him, I
shall soon know where to look for honey."

" How can my brother tell which bee will first fly away? "
demanded Bear s Meat.

The bee-hunter was able to foresee this, by knowing
which insect had been longest on the comb; but so prac
tised had his eye become, that he knew with tolerable ac
curacy, by the movements of the creatures, those that had
filled themselves with honey from those that had not. As
it did not suit his purpose, however, to let all the minutiae
of his craft be known, his answer was evasive. Just at that
moment a thought occurred to him, which it might be well
to carry out in full. He had once saved his life by necro
mancy, or what seemed to the simple children of the woods
to be necromancy, and why might he not turn the cunning

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 25 of 41)