James Fenimore Cooper.

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great service ; and how useful it would be to the warrior on
his path, to be accompanied by one who could thus com
mand the vigilance of the bees!

"You find enemy all same as friend? " demanded Peter,
letting out the thought that was uppermost, in the question.

"To be sure. It makes no difference with a bee; he can
find an enemy as easily as he can find a friend."

" No whiskey-spring dis time?" put in Crowsfeather, a
little inopportunely, and with a distrust painted in his
swarthy face that le Bourdon did not like.

" Pottawattamie, you do not understand medicine-men.
Ought I to have shown your young men where whiskey was
to be had for nothing? Ask yourself that question. Did
you wish to see your young men wallowing like hogs in
such a spring? What would the great medicine-priest of
the pale-faces, who is out yonder, have said to that?"

This was a coup de maltre on the part of the bee-hunter.
Until that moment, the affair of the whiskey-spring had
weighed heavily in the balance against him; but now, it
was suddenly changed over in the scales, and told as strongly
in his favor. Even a savage can understand the morality
which teaches men to preserve their reason, and not to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 329

lower themselves to the level of brutes, by swallowing "fire
water " ; and Crowsfeather suddenly saw a motive for re
garding our hero with the eyes of favor, instead of those of
distrust and dislike.

" What the pale-face says is true," observed Peter to his
companion. " Had he opened his spring, your warriors
would have been weaker than women. He is a wonderful
medicine-man, and we must not provoke him to anger.
How could he know, but through his bees, that our young
men were here ? "

This question could not be answered; and when the
chiefs, followed by the whole band of warriors, some three
or four hundred in number, came out upon the open prairie,
all that had passed was communicated to those who awaited
their return, in a few brief, but clear explanations. Le
Bourdon found a moment to let Margery comprehend his
position and views, while Parson Amen and the corporal
were put sufficiently on their guard not to make any unfor
tunate blunder. The last was much more easily managed
than the first. So exceedingly sensitive was the conscience
of the priest, that had he clearly understood the game le
Bourdon was playing, he might have revolted at the idea of
necromancy, as touching on the province of evil spirits; but
he was so well mystified as to suppose all that passed was
regularly connected with the art of taking bees. In this
respect, he and the Indians equally resembled one of those
familiar pictures, in which we daily see men, in masses,
contributing to their own deception and subjection, while
they fondly but blindly imagine that they are not only in
ventors, but masters. This trade of mastery, after all, is
the property of a very few minds ; and no precaution of the
prudent, no forethought of the wary, nor any expedient of
charters, constitutions, or restrictions, will prevent the few
from placing their feet on the neck of the many. We may
revive the fable of King Log and King Stork, as often, and
in as many forms as we will; it will ever be the fable of



33O THE OAK OPENINGS.

King Log and King Stork. We are no admirers of politi
cal aristocracies, as a thousand paragraphs from our pen
will prove; and, as for monarchs, we have long thought
they best enact their parts, when most responsible to opin
ion ; but we cannot deceive ourselves on the subject of the
atrocities that are daily committed by those who are ever
ready to assume the places of both, making their fellow-
creatures in masses their dupes, and using those that they
affect to serve.

Ben Boden was now a sort of " gouvernement provisoire"
among the wondering savages who surrounded him. He
had got them to believe in necromancy a very consider
able step toward the exercise of despotic power. It is true,
he hardly knew, himself, what was to be done next; but he
saw quite distinctly that he was in a dilemma, and must
manage to get out of it by some means or other. If he
could only succeed in this instance, as well as he had suc
ceeded in his former essay in the black art, all might be
well, and Margery be carried in triumph into the settle
ments. Margery, pro hac vice, was his goddess of liberty,
and he asked for no higher reward, than to be permitted to
live the remainder of his days in the sunshine of her smiles.
Liberty! a word that is, just now, in all men s mouths, but
in how few hearts in its purity and truth ! What a melan
choly mistake, moreover, to suppose that, could it be en
joyed in that perfection with which the imaginations of men
love to cheat their judgments, it is the great good of life !
One hour spent in humble veneration for the Being that gave
it, in common with all of earth, its vacillating and uncertain
existence, is of more account than ages passed in its service;
and he who fancies that in worshipping liberty, he answers
the great end of his existence, hugs a delusion quite as weak,
and infinitely more dangerous, than that which now came
over the minds of Peter and his countrymen, in reference to
the intelligence of the bee. It is a good thing to possess
the defective and qualified freedom, which we term " lib-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 331

erty " ; but it is a grave error to set it up as an idol to be
worshipped.

"What my brother do next?" demanded Bear s Meat,
who, being a somewhat vulgar-minded savage, was all for
striking and wonder-working exhibitions of necromancy.
" P raps he find some honey now? "

"If you wish it, chief. What says Peter? shall I ask
my bees to tell where there is a hive ? "

As Peter very readily assented, le Bourdon next set about
achieving this new feat in his art. The reader will recol
lect that the positions of two hives were already known to
the bee-hunter, by means of that very simple and every-day
process by which he earned his bread. One of these hives
was in the point of wood already mentioned, that lay along
the margin of the prairie; while the other was in this very
copse, where the savages had secreted themselves. Boden
had now no thought of giving any further disturbance to
this last-named colony of insects; for an insight into their
existence might disturb the influence obtained by the jug
glery of the late discovery, and he at once turned his atten
tion toward the other hive indicated by his bees.

Nor did le Bourdon now deem it necessary to resort to his
usual means of carrying on his trade. These were not nec
essary to one who knew already where the hive was to be
found, while it opened the way to certain mummeries that
might be made to tell well in support of his assumed char
acter. Catching a bee, then, and keeping it confined within
his tumbler, Ben held the last to his ear, as if listening to
what the fluttering insect had to say. Having seemingly
satisfied himself on this point, he desired the chiefs once
more to follow him, having first let the bee go, with a good
deal of ceremony. This set all in motion again ; the party
being now increased by the whole band of savages who had
been " put up " from their cover.

By this time, Margery began to tremble for the conse
quences. She had held several short conferences with le



332 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Bourdon, as they walked together, and had penetrated far
enough into his purposes to see that he was playing a tick
lish game. It might succeed for a time, but she feared it
must fail in the end ; and there was always the risk of in
curring the summary vengeance of savages. Perhaps she
did not fully appreciate the power of superstition, and the
sluggishness of the mind that once submits to its influence ;
while her woman s heart made her keenly alive to all those
frightful consequences that must attend an exposure. Nev
ertheless, nothing could now be done to avert the conse
quences. It was too late to recede, and things must take
their course, even at all the hazards of the case. That she
might not be wholly useless, when her lover was risking so
much for herself Margery well understanding that her es
cape was the only serious difficulty the bee-hunter appre
hended the girl turned all her attention to Peter, in whose
favor she felt that she had been daily growing, and on
whose pleasure so much must depend. Changing her posi
tion a little, she now came closer to the chief than she had
hitherto done.

"Squaw like medicine-man?" asked Peter, with a sig
nificance of expression that raised a blush in Margery s
cheek.

" You mean to ask me if I like to see medicine-men per
form," answered Margery, with the readiness of her sex.
" White women are always curious, they say how is it
with the women of the red men ? "

" Juss so full of cur osity. Squaw is squaw no matter
what color."

" I am sorry, Peter, you do not think better of squaws.
Perhaps you never had a squaw no wife, or daughter? "

A gleam of powerful feeling shot athwart the dark coun
tenance of the Indian, resembling the glare of the electric
fluid flashing on a cloud at midnight; but it passed away as
quickly as it appeared, leaving in its stead the hard, con
densed expression, which the intensity of a purpose so long



THE OAK OPENINGS. 333

entertained and cultivated, had imprinted there, as indel
ibly as if cut in stone.

" All chief have squaw all chief have pappoose " was
the answer that came at last. " What he good for, eh ? "

"It is always good to have children, Peter; especially
when the children themselves are good."

"Good for pale-face, maybe no good for Injin. Pale
face glad when pappoose born red-skin sorry."

" I hope this is not so. Why should an Injin be sorry to
see the laugh of his little son? "

"Laugh when he little p raps so; he little, and don t
know what happen. But Injin don t laugh any more when
he grow up. Game gone; land gone; corn-field gone. No
more room for Injin pale-face want all. Pale-face young
man laugh red-skin young man cry. Dat how it is."

"Oh! I hope not, Peter! I should be sorry to think it
was so. The red man has as good a right nay, he has a
better right to this country than we whites ; and God forbid
that he should not always have his full share of the land! "

Margery probably owed her life to that honest, natural
burst of feeling, which was uttered with a warmth and sin
cerity that could leave no doubt that the sentiment expressed
came from the heart. Thus singularly are we constructed!
A minute before, and no exemption was made in the mind
of Peter, in behalf of this girl, in the plan he had formed
for cutting off the whites; on the contrary, he had often be
thought him of the number of young pale-faces that might
be, as it were, strangled in their cradles, by including the
bee-hunter and his intended squaw in the contemplated sac
rifice. All this was changed, as in the twinkling of an eye,
by Margery s honest and fervent expression of her sense of
right, on the great subject that occupied all of Peter s
thoughts. These sudden impulses in the direction of love
for our species, the second of the high lessons left by the
Redeemer to his disciples, are so many proofs of the crea
tion of man in the image of his maker. They exert their



334 THE OAK OPENINGS.

power often when least expected, and are ever stamped by
the same indelible impression of their divine origin. With
out these occasional glimpses at those qualities which are
so apt to lie dormant, we might indeed despair of the des
tinies of our race. We are, however, in safe and merciful
hands; and all the wonderful events that are at this mo
ment developing themselves around us, are no other than
the steps taken by Providence in the progress it is steadily
making toward the great and glorious end! Some of the
agencies will be corrupt; others deluded; and no one of
them all, perhaps, will pursue with unerring wisdom the
precise path that ought to be taken ; but even the crimes,
errors, and delusions, will be made instrumental in achiev
ing that which was designed before the foundations of this
world were laid !

"Does my daughter wish this?" returned Peter, when
Margery had thus frankly and sincerely given vent to her
feelings. " Can a pale-face squaw wish to leave an Injin
any of his hunting-grounds? "

"Thousands of us wish it, Peter, and I for one. Often
and often have we talked of this around our family fire,
and even Gershom, when his head has not been affected by
fire-water, has thought as we all have thought. I know that
Bourdon thinks so, too ; and I have heard him say that he
thought Congress ought to pass a law to prevent white men
from getting any more of the Injin s lands."

The face of Peter would have been a remarkable study,
during the few moments that his fierce will was in the proc
ess of being brought in subjugation to the influence of his
better feelings. At first he appeared bewildered; then
compunction had its shade; and human sympathy came last,
asserting its long dormant, but inextinguishable power.
Margery saw some of this, though it far exceeded her pene
tration to read all the workings of that stern and savage
mind; yet she felt encouraged by what she did see and
understand.



THE OAK OPENINGS, 335

While an almighty and divine Providence was thus car
rying out its own gracious designs in its own way, the bee-
hunter continued bent on reaching a similar end by means
of his own. Little did he imagine how much had been done
for him within the last few moments, and how greatly all he
had in view was jeoparded and put at risk by his own con
trivances contrivances which seemed to him so clever, but
which were wanting in the unerring simplicity and truth
that render those that come from above infallible. Still,
the expedients of le Bourdon may have had their agency in
bringing about events, and may have been intended to be a
part of that moral machinery, which was now at work in the
breast of Peter, for good.

It will be remembered that the bee-hunter habitually car
ried a small spy-glass, as a part of the implements of his
calling. It enabled him to watch the bees, as they went in
and came out of the hives, on the highest trees, and often
saved him hours of fruitless search. This glass was now
in his hand; for an object on a dead tree, that rose a little
apart from those around it, and which stood quite near the
extreme point in the forest, toward which they were all pro
ceeding, had caught his attention. The distance was still
too great to ascertain by the naked eye what that object
was; but a single look with the glass showed that it was a
bear. This was an old enemy of the bee-hunter, who often
encountered the animal, endeavoring to get at the honey,
and he had on divers occasions been obliged to deal with
these plunderers, before he could succeed in his own plans
of pilfering. The bear now seen continued in sight but an
instant; the height to which he had clambered being so
great, most probably, as to weary him with the effort, and
to compel him to fall back again. All this was favorable
to le Bourdon s wishes, who immediately called a halt.
The first thing that Bourdon did, when all the dark eyes
were gleaming on him in fierce curiosity, was to catch a
bee and hold it to his ear, as it buzzed about in the tumbler.



336 THE OAK OPENINGS.

"You t ink dat bee talk? " Peter asked of Margery, in a
tone of confidence, as if a newly-awakened principle now
existed between them.

" Bourdon must think so, Peter," the girl evasively an
swered, " or he would hardly listen to hear what it says."

"It s strange, bee should talk! Almos as strange as
pale-face wish to leave Injin any land! Sartain, bee talk,
eh?"

" I never heard one talk, Peter, unless it might be in its
buzzing. That may be the tongue of a bee, for anything I
know to the contrary."

By this time le Bourdon seemed to be satisfied, and let
the bee go; the savages murmuring their wonder and admi
ration.

" Do my brothers wish to hunt ? " asked the bee-hunter in
a voice so loud that all near might hear what he had to say.

This question produced a movement at once. Skill in
hunting, next to success on the war-path, constitutes the
great merit of an Indian; and it is ever his delight to show
that he possesses it. No sooner did le Bourdon throw out
his feeler, therefore, than a general exclamation proclaimed
the readiness of all the young men, in particular, to join in
the chase.

" Let my brothers come closer," said Ben, in an authori
tative manner; "I have something to put into their ears.
They see that point of wood, where the dead basswood has
fallen on the prairie. Near that basswood is honey, and
near that honey are bears. This my bees have told me.
Now, let my brothers divide, and some go into the woods,
and some stay on the prairie; then they will have plenty of
sweet food."

As all this was very simple, and easily to be compre
hended, not a moment was lost in the execution. With sur
prising order and aptitude, the chiefs led off their parties;
one line of dark warriors penetrating the forest on the east
ern side of the basswood, and another on its western ; while



THE OAK OPENINGS. 337

a goodly number scattered themselves on the prairie itself,
in its front. In less than a quarter of an hour, signals came
from the forest that the battue was ready, and Peter gave the
answering sign to proceed.

Down to this moment, doubts existed among the savages
concerning the accuracy of le Bourdon s statement. How
was it possible that his bees should tell him where he could
find bears ? . To be sure, bears were the great enemies of
bees this every Indian knew but could the bees have a
faculty of thus arming one enemy against another? These
doubts, however, were soon allayed by the sudden appear
ance of a drove of bears, eight or ten in number, that came
waddling out of the woods, driven before the circle of shout
ing hunters that had been formed within.

Now commenced a scene of wild tumult and of fierce
delight. The warriors on the prairie retired before their
enemies until all of their associates were clear of the for
est, when the circle swiftly closed again, until it had brought
the bears to something like close quarters. Bear s Meat, as
became his appellation, led off the dance, letting fly an ar
row at the nearest animal. Astounded by the great number
of their enemies, and not a little appalled by their yells, the
poor quadrupeds did not know which way to turn. Occa
sionally, attempts were made to break through the circle,
but the flight of arrows, aimed directly at their faces, in
variably drove the creatures back. Fire-arms were not re
sorted to at all in this hunt, spears and arrows being the
weapons depended on. Several ludicrous incidents oc
curred, but none that were tragical. One or two of the
more reckless of the hunters, ambitious of shining before
the representatives of so many tribes, ran rather greater
risks than were required, but they escaped with a few smart
scratches. In one instance, however, a young Indian had
a still narrower squeeze for his life. Literally a squeeze it
was, for, suffering himself to get within the grasp of a bear,
he came near being pressed to death, ere his companions

22



338 THE OAK OPENINGS.

could dispatch the creature". As for the prisoner, the only
means he had to prevent his being bitten, was to thrust the
head of his spear into the bear s mouth, where he succeeded
in holding it, spite of the animal s efforts to squeeze him
into submission. By the time this combat was terminated,
the field was strewn with the slain ; every one of the bears
having been killed by hunters so much practised in the art
of destroying game.



CHAPTER XXI.

She was an only child her name Ginevra,
The joy, the pride of an indulgent father ;
And in her fifteenth year became a bride,
Marrying an only son, Francesco Doria,
Her playmate from her birth, and her first love.

ROGERS.

DURING the hunt there was little leisure for reflection on
the seemingly extraordinary manner in which the bee-
hunter had pointed out the spot where the bears were to be
found. No one of the Indians had seen him apply the
glass to his eye, for, leading the party, he had been able to
do this unobserved; but, had they witnessed such a pro
cedure, it would have been as inexplicable as all the rest.
It is true, Crowsfeather and one or two of his companions
had taken a look through that medicine-glass, but it rather
contributed to increase the conjuror s renown, than served
to explain any of the marvels he performed.

Peter was most struck with all that had just occurred.
He had often heard of the skill of those who hunted bees,
and had several times met with individuals who practised
the art, but this was the first occasion on which he had ever
been a witness, in his own person, of the exercise of a craft
so wonderful ! Had the process been simply that of catch-
ing a bee, filling it with honey, letting it go, and then fol
lowing it to its hive, it would have been so simple as to
require no explanation. But Peter was too intelligent, as



THE OAK OPENINGS. 339

well as too observant, not to have seen that a great deal
more than this was necessary. On the supposition that the
bee flew toward the forest, as had been the fact with two of
the bees taken that morning, in what part of that forest was
the hunter to look for the bee-tree? It was the angle that
perplexed Peter, as it did all the Indians; for that angle, to
be understood, required a degree of knowledge and calcula
tion that entirely exceeded all he had ever acquired. Thus
is it with us ever. The powers, and faculties, and princi
ples that are necessary fully to comprehend all that we see
and all that surrounds us, exist and have been bestowed on
man by his beneficent Creator. Still, it is only by slow de
grees that he is to become their master, acquiring knowledge,
step by step, as he has need of its services, and learns how
to use it. Such seems to be the design of Providence,
which is gradually opening to our inquiries the arcana of
nature, in order that we may convert their possession into
such uses as will advance its own wise intentions. Happy
are they who feel this truth in their character of individ
uals! Thrice happy the nations which can be made to un
derstand, that the surest progress is that which is made on
the clearest principles, and with the greatest caution! The
notion of setting up anything new in morals, is as falla
cious in theory as it will be found to be dangerous in prac
tice.

It has been said that a sudden change had come over the
fierce purposes of Peter. For some time, the nature, art-
lessness, truth, feminine playfulness and kindness, not to
say personal beauty of Margery, had been gradually soften
ing the heart of this stern savage, as it respected the girl
herself. Nothing of a weak nature was blended with this
feeling, which was purely the growth of that divine prin
ciple that is implanted in us all. The quiet, earnest man
ner in which the girl had, that day, protested her desire to
see the rights of the red man respected, completed her con
quest; and, so far as the great chief was concerned, secured



34O THE OAK OPENINGS.

her safety. It may seem singular, however, that Peter, with
all his influence, was unable to say that even one that he
was so much disposed to favor, should be spared. By means
of his own eloquence, and perseverance, and deep desire for
vengeance, however, he had aroused a spirit among his fol
lowers that was not so easily quelled. On several occa
sions, he had found it difficult to prevent the younger and
more impetuous of the chiefs from proceeding at once to
secure the scalps of those who were in their power ; and this
he had done, only by promising to increase the number of
the victims. How was he then to lessen that number? and
that, too, when circumstances did not seem likely to throw
any more immediately into his power, as he had once hoped.
This council must soon be over, and it would not be in his
power to send the chiefs away without enumerating the
scalps of the pale-faces present among those which were to
make up the sum of their race.

Taking the perplexity produced by the bee-hunter s necro
mancy, and adding it to his concern for Margery, Peter found
ample subject for all his reflections. While the young men
were dressing their bears, and making the preparations for
a feast, he walked apart, like a man whose thoughts had
little in common with the surrounding scene. Even the
further proceedings of le Bourdon, who had discovered his
bee-tree, had felled it, and was then distributing the honey



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 27 of 41)