James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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of his regular art to account, and render it the means of
rescuing the females, as well as himself, from the hands
of their captors? This sudden impulse from that moment
controlled his conduct; and his mind was constantly cast
ing about for the means of effecting what was now his one


great purpose escape. Instead of uttering in reply to
Bear s Meat s question the simple truth, therefore, he rather
sought for such an answer as might make the process in
which he was engaged appear imposing and mystical.

"How do the In j ins know the path of the deer?" he
asked, by way of reply. " They look at the deer, get to
know him, and understand his ways. This middle bee will
soon fly."

Which way will he go?" asked Peter. "Can my
brother tell us that ? "

" To his hive," returned le Bourdon, carelessly, as if he
did not fully understand the question. "All of them go to
their hives, unless I tell them to go in another direction.
See, the bee is up ! "

The chiefs now looked with all their eyes. They saw,
indeed, that the bee was making its circles above the stand.
Presently they lost sight of the insect, which to them seemed
to vanish; though le Bourdon distinctly traced its flight for
a hundred yards. It took a direction at right angles to that
of the first bee, flying off into the prairie, and shaping its
course toward an island of wood, which might have been of
three or four acres in extent, and distant rather less than a

While le Bourdon was noting this flight, another bee
arose. This creature flew toward the point of forest, al
ready mentioned as the destination of the insect that had
first risen. No sooner was this third little animal out
of sight, than the fourth was up, humming around the
stand. Ben pointed it out to the chiefs; and this time
they succeeded in tracing the flight for, perhaps, a hundred
feet from the spot where they stood. Instead of following
either of its companions, this fourth bee took a course
which led it off the prairie altogether, and toward the hab

The suddenly conceived purpose of le Bourdon, to at
tempt to mystify the savages, and thus get a hold upon


their minds which he might turn to advantage, was much
aided by the different directions taken by these several
bees. Had they all gone the same way, the conclusion that
all went home would be so very natural and obvious, as to
deprive the discovery of a hive of any supernatural merit,
at least; and to establish this was just now the great object
the bee-hunter had in view. As it was, the Indians were no
wiser, now all the bees were gone, than they had been be
fore one of them had flown. On the contrary, they could
not understand how the flights of so many insects, in so
many different directions, should tell the bee-hunter where
honey was to be found. Le Bourdon saw that the prairie
was covered with bees, and well knew that, such being the
fact, the inmates of perhaps a hundred different hives must
be present. All this, however, was too novel and too com
plicated for the calculations of savages; and not one of
those who crowded near, as observers, could account for so
many of the bees going different ways.

Le Bourdon now intimated a wish to change his ground.
He had noted two of the bees, and the only question that
remained to be decided, as // respected them, was whether
they belonged to the precise points toward which they had
flown, or to points beyond them. The reader will easily
understand that this is the nature of the fact determined by
taking an angle, the point of intersection between any two
of the lines of flight being necessarily the spot where the
hive is to be found. So far from explaining this to those
around him, however, Boden kept it a secret in his own
breast. Margery knew the whole process, for to her he had
often gone over it in description, finding a pleasure in in
structing one so apt, and whose tender, liquid blue eyes
seemed to reflect every movement of his own soul and feel
ings. Margery he could have taught forever, or fancied for
the moment he could ; which is as near the truth as men un
der the influence of love often get. But, as for the Indians,
so far from letting them into any of his secrets, his strong


desire was now to throw dust into their eyes, in all possible
ways, and to make their well-established character for su
perstition subservient to his own projects.

Boden was far from being a scholar, even for one in his
class in life. Down to this hour, the neglect of the means
of public instruction is somewhat of a just ground of re
proach against the venerable and respectable commonwealth
of which he was properly a member, though her people have
escaped a knowledge of a great deal of small philosophy
and low intriguing, which it is fair to presume that evil
spirits thrust in among the leaves of a more legitimate in
formation, when the book of knowledge is opened for the
instruction of those who, by circumstances, are prevented
from doing more than bestowing a few hurried glances at
its contents. Still, Ben had read everything about bees on
which he could lay his hands. He had studied their habits
personally, and he had pondered over the various accounts
of their communities a. sort of limited monarchy in which
the prince is deposed occasionally, or when matters go very
wrong some written by really very observant and intelli
gent persons, and others again not a little fanciful. Among
other books that had thus fallen in le Bourdon s way, was
one which somewhat minutely described the uses that were
made of bees by the ancient soothsayers in their divinations.
Our hero had no notion of reviving those rites, or of at
tempting to imitate the particular practices of which he had
read and heard; but the recollection of them occurred most
opportunely to strengthen and encourage the design, so sud
denly entertained, of making his present operation aid in
opening the way to the one great thing of the hour an
escape into Lake Michigan.

"A bee knows a great deal," said le Bourdon, to his
nearest companions, while the whole party was moving some
distance to take up new ground. " A bee often knows more
than a man."

"More than pale-face? " demanded Bear s Meat, a chief


who had attained his authority more by means of physical
than of intellectual qualities.

" Sometimes. Pale-faces have gone to bees to ask what
will happen. Let me ask our medicine-man this question.
Parson Amen, have you any knowledge of the soothsayers of
old using bees when they wished to know what was about to
happen ? "

Now, the missionary was not a learned man, any more
than the bee-hunter; but many an unlearned man has heard
of this, and he happened to be one of the number. Of Vir
gil, for instance, Parson Amen knew but little ; though in
the progress of a very loose, but industrious course of read
ing, he had learned that the soothsayers put great faith in
bees. His answer was given in conformity with this fact,
and in the most perfect good faith, for he had not the small
est suspicion of what Boden wished to establish.

"Certainly most certainly," answered the well-meaning
missionary "the fortune-tellers of old times often went to
their bees when they wished to look into the future. It has
been a subject much talked of among Christians, to account
for the soothsaying, and witchcraft, and other supernatural
dealings of those who lived in the times of the prophets;
and most of them have held the opinion that evil spirits
have been nay, still are permitted to work their will on
certain men in the flesh. But bees were in much favor with
the soothsayers of old."

This answer was given in English, and little of it was
comprehended by Peter, and the others who had more or
less knowledge of that language, beyond the part which as
serted the agency of bees in witchcraft. Luckily, this was
all le Bourdon desired, and he was well satisfied at seeing
that the idea passed from one chief to another; those who
did not know the English at all, being told by those who
had some knowledge of the tongue, that "bees were thought
to be medicine among the pale-faces."

Le Bourdon gained a great deal of ground by this fortu-


nate corroboration of his own still more fortunate thought.
Matters were pretty nearly desperate with him, and with all
his friends, should Peter really meditate evil; and as des
perate diseases notoriously require remedies of the same
character, he was ready to attempt anything that promised
even the smallest chance of success.

" Yes, yes " the bee-hunter pursued the discourse by
saying " bees know a great deal. I have sometimes
thought that bees know more than bears, and my brother
must be able to tell something of them? "

"Yes; my name is Bear s Meat," answered that chief,
complacently. "Injin always give name that mean some-
t ing. Kill so many bear one winter, got dat name."

"A good name it is! To kill a bear is the most honor
able thing a hunter can do, as we all know. If my brother
wishes to hear it, I will ask my bees when he is to kill

The savage to whom this was addressed fairly started
with delight. He was eagerly signifying his cheerful as
sent to the proposal, when Peter quietly interposed, and
changed the discourse to himself, in a way that he had, and
which would not easily admit of denial. It was apparent
to le Bourdon that this mysterious Indian was not content
that one so direct and impetuous in his feelings as Bear s
Meat, and who was at the same time so little qualified to
manage his portion of an intellectual conversation, should
be foremost any longer. For that reason he brought him
self more into the foreground, leaving to his friend the
capacity of listener and observer, rather than that of a
speaker and actor. What took place under this new ar
rangement, will appear as the narrative proceeds.



Therefore, go with me ;

I ll give the fairies to attend on thee ;

And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

Peas-blossom ! cobweb ! moth ! and mustard-seed.

Midsummer- Nighfs Dream.

As le Bourdon kept moving across the prairie, while the re
marks were made that have been recorded in the preceding
chapter, he soon reached the new position where he intended
to again set up his stand. Here he renewed his operations;
Peter keeping nearest his person, in jealous watchfulness of
the least movement he made. Bees were caught, and scarce
a minute elapsed ere the bee-hunter had two of them on the
piece of comb, uncovered and at liberty. The circum
stance that the cap was momentarily placed over the insects,
struck the savages as a piece of necromancy, in particular.
The reader will understand that this is done in order to
darken the tumbler, and induce the bee to settle down on
the honey so much the sooner. To one who understood the
operation and its reason, the whole was simple enough ; but
it was a very different matter with men as little accustomed
to prying into the habits of creatures as insignificant as
bees. Had deer, or bisons, or bears, or any of the quad
rupeds of those regions, been the subject of the experiment,
it is highly probable that individuals could have been found
in that attentive and wondering crowd, who could have en
lightened the ablest naturalists on the subject of the animals
under examination ; but when the inquiry descended to the
bee, it went below the wants and usages of savage life.

"Where you t ink dis bee go? " demanded Peter, in Eng
lish, as soon as le Bourdon raised the tumbler.

" One will go in this direction, the other in that," an*
swered the bee-hunter, pointing first toward the corner of
the woods, then toward the island in the prairie the two
points toward which two of the other bees had flown.



The predictions might or might not prove true. If they
did, the effect must be great ; if they did not, the failure
would soon be forgotten in matters of more interest. Our
hero, therefore, risked but little, while he had the chance of
gaining a very great advantage. By a fortunate coinci
dence, the result completely justified the predicti9n. A bee
rose, made its circles around the stand, and away it went
toward the island-like copse in the prairie; while its com
panion soon imitated its example, but taking the otner pre
scribed direction. This time Peter watched the insects so
closely that he was a witness of their movements, and with
his own eyes he beheld the flight, as well as the direction
taken by each.

"You tell bee do dis? " demanded Peter, with a surprise
that was so sudden, as well as so great, that it overcame in
some slight degree his habitual self-command.

"To be sure I did," replied le Bourdon, carelessly. "If
you wish to see another, you may."

Here the young man coolly took another bee, and put it
on the comb. Indifferent as he appeared, however, he used
what was perhaps the highest degree of his art in selecting
this insect. It was taken from the bunch of flowers whence
one of his former captives had been taken, and there was
every chance of its belonging to the same hive as its com
panion. Which direction it might take, should it prove to
be a bee from either of the two hives of which the positions
were now known, it altogether exceeded Boden s art to tell,
so he dexterously avoided committing himself. It was
enough that Peter gazed attentively, and that he saw the
insect dart away, disappearing in the direction of the isl
and. By this time more of the savages were on the alert,
and now knowing how and where to look for the bee, they
also saw its course.

"You tell him ag in go dere? " asked Peter, whose inter
est by this time was so manifest, as to defy all attempts at


" To be sure I did. The bees obey me, as your young
men ooey you. I am their chief, and they know me. I will
give you further proof of this. We will now go to that little
bit of wood, when you shall all see what it contains. I
have sent three of my bees there ; and here, one of them is
already back, to let me know what he has seen."

Sure enough, a bee was buzzing around the head of le
Bourdon, probably attracted by some fragment of comb, and
he cunningly converted it into a messenger from the copse!
All this was wonderful to the crowd, and it even greatly
troubled Peter. This man was much less liable to the in
fluence of superstition than most of his people ; but he was
very far from being altogether above it. This is the fact
with very few civilized men ; perhaps with no man whatever,
let his philosophy and knowledge be what they may; and
least of all, is it true with the ignorant. There is too much
of the uncertain, of the conjectural in our condition as hu
man beings, to raise us altogether above the distrusts, doubts,
wonder, and other weaknesses of our present condition. To
these simple savages, the manner in which the bees flew,
seemingly at le Bourdon s bidding, to this or that thicket,
was quite as much a matter of astonishment, as any of our
most elaborate deceptions are wonders to our own ignorant
and vulgar. Ignorant! And where is the line to be drawn
that is to place men beyond the pale of ignorance? Each
of us fails in some one, if not in very many of the impor
tant branches of the knowledge that is even reduced to rules
among us. Here is seen the man of books, so ignorant of
the application of his own beloved theories, as to be a mere
child in practice; and there, again, can be seen the expert
in practice, who is totally unacquainted with a single prin
ciple of the many that lie at the root of his very handi
craft. Let us not, then, deride these poor children of the
forest, because that which was so entirely new to them,
should also appear inexplicable and supernatural.

As for Peter, he was more confounded than convinced,


His mind was so much superior to those of the other chiefs,
as to render him far more difficult to mislead; though even
he was not exempt from the great weaknesses of ignorance,
superstition, and its concomitants credulity, and a love of
the marvellous. His mind was troubled, as was quite ap
parent to Ben, who watched him quite as narrowly as he was
observed himself, in all he did. Willing to deepen the im
pression, our artist now determined to exhibit some of the
higher fruits of his skill. The production of a considerable
quantity of honey would of itself be a sort of peace-offer
ing, and he now prepared to turn the certainty of there being
a hive in the little wood to account certainty, because
three bees had taken wing for it, and a very distinct angle
had been made with two of them.

" Does my brother wish any honey?" asked le Bourdon
carelessly; "or shall I send a bee across Lake Michigan,
to tell the In j ins further west that Detroit is taken? "

" Can Bourdon find honey, now ? " demanded Peter.

"Easily. Several hives are within a mile of us. The
bees like this prairie, which is so well garnished with flow
ers, and I am never at a loss for work, in this neighbor
hood. This is my favorite bee-ground; and I have got all
the little creatures so that they know me, and are ready to
do everything that I tell them. As I see that the chiefs love
honey, and wish to eat some, we will now go to one of my

Thus saying, le Bourdon prepared for another march.
He moved with all his appliances, Margery keeping close
at his side, carrying the honey-comb and honey. As the
girl walked lightly, in advance of the Indians, some fifteen
or twenty bees, attracted by the flavor of what she carried,
kept circling around her head, and consequently around
that of Boden ; and Peter did not fail to observe the cir
cumstance. To him it appeared as if these bees were so
many accompanying agents, who attended their master in
order to do his bidding. In a word, Peter was fast getting


into that frame of mind, when all that is seen is pressed
into the support of the theory we have adopted. The bee-
hunter had some mysterious connection with, and control
over the bees, and this was one among the many other signs
of the existence of his power. All this, however, Boden
himself disregarded. His mind was bent on throwing dust
into the eyes of the Indians; and he was cogitating the
means of so doing, on a much larger scale than any yet

"Why dem bee fly round young squaw?" demanded
Peter "and fly round you, too? "

"They know us, and go with us to their hive; just as
Injins would come out of their villages to meet and honor

This was a ready reply, but it scarcely satisfied the wily
savage to whom it was given. Just then Crowsfeather led
Peter a little aside, and began talking earnestly to that
chief, both continuing on with the crowd. Le Bourdon felt
persuaded that the subject of this private conference was
some of his own former backslidings in the character of
conjuror, and that the Pottawattamie would not deal very
tenderly with his character. Nevertheless, it was too late
to retrace his steps, and he saw the necessity of going on.

"I wish you had not come out with us," the bee-hunter
found an occasion to say to Margery. " I do not half like
the state of things, and this conjuration about the bees may
all fall through."

"It is better that I should be here, Bourdon," returned the
spirited girl. " My being here may make them less un
friendly to you. When I am by, Peter always seems more
human, and less of a savage, they all tell me, than when I
am not by."

"No one can be more willing to own your power, Mar
gery, than I; but Injins hold the squaws too cheap, to give
you much influence over this old fellow."

" You do not know he may have had a daughter of about


my age, or size, or appearance ; or with my laugh, or voice,
or something else that reminds him of her, when he sees
me. One thing I am sure of Peter is no enemy of mine"

" I hope this may prove to be true ! I do not see, after
all, why an Injin should not have the feelin s you name.
He is a man, and must feel for his wife and children, the
same as other

"Bourdon, what ails the dog? Look at the manner in
which Hive is behaving! "

Sure enough, the appearance of Hive was sufficiently ob
vious to attract his master s attention. By this time the
crowd had got within twenty rods of the little island-like
copse of wood, the mastiff being nearly half that distance
in advance. Instead of preceding the party, however, Hive
had raised his form in a menacing manner, and moved cau
tiously from side to side, like one of his kind that scents a
foe. There was no mistaking these movements; and all
the principal chiefs soon had their attention also drawn to
the behavior of the dog.

" Why he do so ? " asked Peter. " He 5 f raid of bee, eh ? "

" He waits for me to come up," answered le Bourdon.
" Let my brother and two other chiefs come with me, and let
the rest stay here. Bees do not like crowds. Corporal, I
put Margery in your keeping, and Parson Amen will be near
you. I now go to show these chiefs what a bee can tell a

Thus saying, le Bourdon advanced, followed by Peter,
Bear s Meat, and Crowsfeather. Our hero had made up his
mind that something more than bees were to be found in the
thicket ; for, the place being a little marshy, bushes as well as
trees were growing on it, and he fully expected a rencontre
with bears, the creatures most disposed to prey on the labors
of the bee man excepted. Being well armed, and accom
panied by men accustomed to such struggles, he had no
apprehensions, and led the way boldly, feeling the necessity
of manifesting perfect confidence in all his own acts, in


order to command the respect of the observers. As soon as
the bee-hunter passed the dog, the latter growled, showed
his teeth fiercely, and followed, keeping closely at his side.
The confidence and alacrity with which le Bourdon moved
into the thicket, compelled his companions to be on the
alert; though the first broke through the belt of hazels which
enclosed the more open area within, a few instants before
the Indians reached the place. Then it was that there arose
such a yell, such screechings and cries, as reached far over
the prairie, and might have appalled the stoutest heart.
The picture that was soon offered to the eye was not less
terrific than the sounds which assailed the ear. Hundreds
of savages, in their war-paint, armed, and in a crowded
maze, arose as it might be by one effort, seemingly out of
the earth, and began to leap and play their antics amid the
trees. The sudden spectacle of a crowd of such beings,
nearly naked, frightfully painted, and tossing their arms
here and there, while each yelled like a demon, was enough
to overcome the nerves of a very resolute man. But le
Bourdon was prepared for a conflict, and even felt relieved
rather than alarmed, when he saw the savages. His ready
mind at once conceived the truth. This band belonged to
the chiefs, and composed the whole, or a principal part of
the force which he knew they must have outlying somewhere
on the prairies, or in the openings. He had sufficiently
understood the hints of Pigeonswing to be prepared for such
a meeting, and at no time, of late, had he approached a
cover, without remembering the possibility of its containing

Instead of betraying alarm, therefore, when this cloud of
phantom-like beings rose before his eyes, le Bourdon stood
firm, merely turning toward the chiefs behind him, to ascer
tain if they were taken by surprise, as well as himself. It
was apparent that they were ; for, understanding that a medi
cine-ceremony was to take place on the prairie, these young
men had preceded the party from the hut, and had, un-


known to all the chiefs, got possession of this copse, as the
best available cover, whence to make their observations on
what was going on.

"My brother sees his young men," said le Bourdon,
quietly, the instant a dead calm had succeeded to the out
cries with which he had been greeted. " I thought he might
wish to say something to them, and my bees told me where
to find them. Does my brother wish to know anything

Great was the wonder of the three chiefs, at this exhibi
tion of medicine power! So far from suspecting the truth,
or of detecting the lucky coincidence by which le Bourdon
had been led to the cover of their warriors, it all appeared
to them to be pure necromancy. Such an art must be of

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 26 of 41)