James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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among the Indians, could not draw him from his medita
tions. The great council of all was to be held that very
day there, on Prairie Round and it was imperative on
Peter to settle the policy he intended to pursue, previously
to the hour when the fire was to be lighted, and the chiefs
met in final consultation.

In the mean time, le Bourdon, by his distribution of the
honey, no less than by the manner in which he had found
it, was winning golden opinions of those who shared in his
bounty. One would think that the idea of property is im
planted in us by nature, since men in all conditions appear


to entertain strong and distinct notions of this right. Nat
ural it may not be, in the true signification of the term; but
it is a right so interwoven with those that are derived from
nature, and more particularly with our wants, as almost to
identify it with the individual being. It is certain that all
we have of civilization is dependent on a just protection of
this right; for, without the assurance of enjoying his earn
ings, who would produce beyond the supply necessary for
his own immediate wants? Among the American savages
the rights of property are distinctly recognized, so far as
their habits and resources extend. The hunting-ground be
longs to the tribe, and occasionally the field; but the wig
wam, and the arms, and the skins, both for use and for mar
ket, and often the horses, and all other movables, belong to
the individual. So sacred is this right held to be, that not
one of those who stood by, and saw le Bourdon fell his tree,
and who witnessed the operation of bringing to light its
stores of honey, appeared to dream of meddling with the
delicious store, until invited so to do by its lawful owner.
It was this reserve, and this respect for a recognized prin
ciple, that enabled the bee-hunter to purchase a great deal
of popularity, by giving away liberally an article so much
prized. None, indeed, was reserved; Boden seeing the im
possibility of carrying it away. Happy would he have been,
most happy, could he have felt the assurance of being able
to get Margery off, without giving a second thought to any
of his effects, whether present or absent.

As has been intimated, the bee-hunter was fast rising in
the favor of the warriors; particularly of those who had a
weakness on the score of the stomach. This is the first great
avenue to the favor of man the belly ruling all the other
members, the brains included. All this Peter noted, and
was now glad to perceive; for, in addition to the favor that
Margery had found in his eyes, that wary chief had certain
very serious misgivings on the subject of the prudence of
attempting to deal harshly with a medicine man of Boden s


calibre. Touching the whiskey-spring he had been doubt
ful, from the first; even Crowsfeather s account of the won
derful glass through which that chief had looked, and seen
men reduced to children and then converted into giants,
had failed to conquer his scepticism; but he was not alto
gether proof against what he had that day beheld with his
own eyes. These marvels shook his previous opinion touch
ing the other matters; and, altogether, the effect was to ele
vate the bee-hunter to a height, that it really appeared dan
gerous to assail.

While Peter was thus shaken with doubts and that, too,
on a point on which he had hitherto stood as firm as a rock
there was another in the crowd, who noted the growing
favor of le Bourdon with deep disgust. This man could
hardly be termed a chief, though he possessed a malignant
power that was often wielded to the discomfiture of those
who were. He went by. the significant appellation of " The
Weasel," a sobriquet that had been bestowed on him for
some supposed resemblance to the little pilfering, prowling
quadruped after which he was thus named. In person, and
in physical qualities generally, this individual was mean
and ill-favored; and squalid habits contributed to render
him even less attractive than he might otherwise have been.
He was, moreover, particularly addicted to intemperance;
lying, wallowing like a hog, for days at a time, whenever
his tribe received any of the ample contribution of fire-water,
which it was then more the custom than it is to-day, to send
among the aborigines. A warrior of no renown, a hunter
so indifferent as to compel his squaw and pappooses often
to beg for food in strange lodges, of mean presence, and a
drunkard, it may seem extraordinary that the Weasel should
possess any influence amid so many chiefs renowned for
courage, wisdom, deeds in arms, on the hunt, and for ser
vices around the council-fire. It was all due to his tongue.
Ungque, or the Weasel, was eloquent in a high degree
possessing that variety of his art which most addresses itself


to the passions; and, strange as it may seem, men are
oftener and more easily led by those who do little else than
promise, than by those who actually perform. A lying and
fluent tongue becomes a power of itself, with the masses;
subverting reason, looking down justice, brow-beating truth,
and otherwise placing the wrong before the right. This
quality the Weasel possessed in a high degree, and was ever
willing to use, on occasions that seemed most likely to de
feat the wishes of those he hated. Among the last was
Peter, whose known ascendancy in his own particular tribe
had been a source of great envy and uneasiness to this
Indian. He had struggled hard to resist it, and had even
dared to speak in favor of the pale-faces, and in opposition
to the plan of cutting them all off, purely with a disposition
to oppose this mysterious stranger. It had been in vain,
however; the current running the other way, and the fiery
eloquence of Peter proving too strong even for him. Now,
to his surprise, from a few words dropped casually, this man
ascertained that their greatest leader was disposed so far to
relent, as not to destroy all the pale-faces in his power.
Whom, and how many he meant to spare, Ungque could not
tell; but his quick, practised discernment detected the gen
eral disposition, and his ruthless tendency to oppose, caused
him to cast about for the means of resisting this sudden in
clination to show mercy. With the Weasel, the moving
principle was ever that of the demagogue; it was to flatter
the mass that he might lead it; and he had an innate hos
tility to whatever was frank, manly, and noble.

The time had now come when the Indians wished to be
alone. At this council it was their intention to come to an
important decision; and even the "young men," unless
chiefs, were to be merely distant spectators. Peter sent for
le Bourdon, accordingly, and communicated his wish that
all the whites would return to the castle, whither he prom
ised to join them about the setting of the sun, or early the
succeeding day.


"One of you, you know dat my wigwam," said the grim
chief, smiling on Margery with a friendly eye, and shaking
hands with the bee-hunter, who thought his manner less
constrained than on former similar occasions. "Get good
supper for ole Injin, young squaw; dat juss what squaw
good for."

Margery laughingly promised to remember his injunction,
and went her way, closely attended by her lover. The cor
poral followed, armed to the teeth, and keeping at just such
a distance from the young people, as might enable them to
converse without being overheard. As for the missionary,
he was detained a moment by Peter, the others moving
slowly, in order to permit him to come up, ere they had
gone their first mile. Of course, the mysterious chief had
not detained Parson Amen without a motive.

"My brother has told me many curious things," said
Peter, when alone with the missionary, and speaking now
in the language of the Ojebways "many very curious
things. I like to listen to them. Once he told me how the
pale-face young men take their squaws."

" I remember to have told you this. We ask the Great
Spirit to bless our marriages, and the ceremony is com
monly performed by a priest. This is our practice, Peter;
though not necessary, I think it good."

" Yes ; good alway for pale-face to do pale-face fashion,
and for Injin to do Injin fashion. Don t want medicine
man to get red-skin squaw. Open wigwam door, and she
come in. Dat nough. If she don t wish to come in, can t
make her. Squaw go to warrior she likes; warrior ask
squaw he likes. But it is best for pale-face to take his wife
in pale-face fashion. Does not my brother see a young man
of his people, and a young maiden, that he had better bring
together and bless? "

" You must mean Bourdon and Margery," answered the
missionary, in English, after a moment s reflection. " The
idea is a new one to me ; for my mind has been much occu-


pied of late, with other and more important matters; though
I now plainly see what you mean! "

"That flower of the Openings would soon fade, if the
young bee-hunter should leave it alone on the prairies.
This is the will of the Great Spirit. He puts it into the
minds of the young squaws to see all things well that the
hunters of their fancy do. Why he has made the young
with this kindness for each other, perhaps my brother
knows. He is wise, and has books. The poor Injins have
none. They can see only with the eyes they got from
Injins, like themselves. But one thing they know. What
the Great Spirit has commanded, is good. Injins can t
make it any better. They can do it harm, but they can do
it no good. Let my brother bless the couple that the Mani-
tou has brought together."

"I believe I understand you, Peter, and will think of this.
And now that I must leave you for a little while, let me beg
you to think of this matter of the origin of your tribes, can
didly, and with care. Everything depends on your people s
not mistaking the truth, in this great matter. It is as nec
essary for a nation to know its duties, as for a single man.
Promise me to think of this, Peter."

" My brother s words have come into my ears they are
good," returned the Indian, courteously. " We will think
of them at the council, if my brother will bless his young
man and young maiden, according to the law of his people."

" I will promise to do this, Peter; or to urge Bourdon
and Margery to do it, if you will promise to speak to-day,
in council, of the history of your forefathers, and to take
into consideration, once more, the great question of your
being Hebrews."

"I will speak as my brother wishes let him do as I wish.
Let him tell me that I can say to the chiefs before the sun
has fallen the length of my arm, that the young pale-face
bee-hunter has taken the young pale-face squaw into his


"I do not understand your motive, Peter; but that which
you ask is wise, and according to God s laws, and it shall
be done. Fare you well, then, for a season. When we
again meet, Bourdon and Margery shall be one, if my per
suasions can prevail, and you will have pressed this matter
of the lost tribes, again, home to your people. Fare you
well, Peter; fare you well."

They separated; the Indian with a cold smile of cour
tesy, but with his ruthless intentions as respected the mis
sionary in no degree changed. Boden and Margery alone
were exempt from vengeance, according to his present de
signs. An unaccountable gentleness of feeling governed
him, as connected with the girl; while superstition, and the
dread of an unknown power, had its full influence on his
determination to spare her lover. There might be some
faint ray of human feeling glimmering among the fierce fires
that so steadily burned in the breast of this savage; but
they were so much eclipsed by the brighter light that
gleamed around them, as to be barely perceptible, even to
himself. The result of all these passions was, a determina
tion in Peter to spare those whom he had advised the mis
sionary to unite making that union a mysterious argument
in favor of Margery and to sacrifice all the rest. The red
American is so much accustomed to this species of ruthless
proceeding, that the anguish he might occasion the very
beings to whom he now wished to be merciful, gave the
stern chief very little concern. Leaving the Indians in the
exclusive possession of Prairie Round, we will return to the
rest of the party.

The missionary hastened after his friends as fast as he
could go. Boden and Margery had much to say to each
other in that walk, which had a great deal about it to bring
their thoughts within the circle of their own existence. As
has been said, the fire had run through that region late, and
the grasses were still young, offering but little impediment
to their movements. As the day was now near its heat, le


Bourdon led his spirited, but gentle companion, through the
groves, where they h;id the benefit of a most delicious shade,
a relief that was now getting to be very grateful. Twice
had they stopped to drink at cool, clear springs, in which
the water seemed to vie with the air in transparency. As
this is not the general character of the water of that region,
though marked exceptions exist, Margery insisted that the
water was eastern and not western water.

"Why do we always think the things we had in childhood
better than those we enjoy afterward?" asked Margery,
after making one of these comparisons, somewhat to the
disadvantage of the part of the country in which she then
was. "I can scarce ever think of home what I call home,
and which was so long a home to me without shedding
tears. Nothing here seems as good of its kind as what I
have left behind me. Do you have the same longings for
Pennsylvania that I feel for the sea-coast and for the rocks
about Quincy? "

" Sometimes. When I have been quite alone for two or
three months, I have fancied that an apple, or a potato, or
even a glass of cider that came from the spot where I was
born, would be sweeter than all the honey bees ever gath
ered in Michigan. "

"To me it has always seemed strange, Bourdon, that
one of your kind feelings should ever wish to live alone, at
all; yet I have heard you say that a love of solitude first
drew you to your trade."

" It is these strong cases which get a man under, as it
might be, and almost alter his nature. One man will pass
his days in hunting deer; another in catching fish; my taste
has been for the bees, and for such chances with other crea
tures as may offer. What between hunting, and hiving, and
getting the honey to market, I have very little time to long for
company. But my taste is altering, Margery; has altered."

The girl blushed, but she also smiled, and, moreover, she
looked pleased.


" I am afraid that you are not as much altered as you
think," she answered, laughingly, however. " It may seem
so now ; but when you come to live in the settlements again,
you will get tired of crowds."

"Then I will come with you, Margery, into these Open
ings, and we can live together here, surely, as well, or far
better than I can live here alone. You and Gershom s wife
have spoiled my housekeeping. I really did not know, until
you came up here, how much a woman can do in a chienteV

" Why, Bourdon, you have lived long enough in the set
tlements to know that ! "

" That is true ; but I look upon the settlements as one
thing, and on the Openings as another. What will do there
isn t needed here; and what will do here won t answer
there. But these last few days have so changed Castle
Meal, that I hardly know it myself."

" Perhaps the change is for the worse, and you wish it
undone, Bourdon," observed the girl, in the longing she had
to hear an assurance to the contrary, at the very moment she
felt certain that assurance would be given.

" No, no, Margery. Woman has taken possession of my
cabin, and woman shall now always command there, unless
you alter your mind, and refuse to have me. I shall speak
to the missionary to marry us, as soon as I can get him
alone. His mind is running so much on the Jews, that he
has hardly a moment left for us Christians."

The color on Margery s cheek was not lessened by this
declaration ; though, to admit the truth, she looked none the
less pleased. She was a warm-hearted and generous girl,
and sometimes hesitated about separating herself and her
fortunes from those of Gershom and Dorothy ; but the bee-
hunter had persuaded her this would be unnecessary, though
she did accept him for a husband. The point had been set
tled between them on previous occasions, and much con
versation had already passed, in that very walk, which was
confined to that interesting subject. But Margery was not


now disposed to say more, and she adroitly improved the
hint thrown out by Boden, to change the discourse.

" It is the strangest notion I ever heard of," she cried,
laughing, "to believe Injins to be Jews! "

" He tells me he is by no means the first who has fancied
it. Many writers have said as much before him, and all he
claims is, to have been among them, and to have seen these
Hebrews with his own eyes. But here he comes, and can
answer for himself."

Just as this was said, Parson Amen joined the party,
Corporal Flint closing to the front, as delicacy no longer
required him to act as a rear-guard. The good missionary
came up a little heated ; and, in order that he might have time
to cool himself, the rate of movement was slightly reduced.
In the mean time the conversation did not the less proceed.

" We were talking of the lost tribes," said Margery, half
smiling as she spoke, " and of your idea, Mr. Amen, that
these Injins are Jews. It seems strange to me that they
should have lost so much of their ancient ways, and notions,
and appearances, if they are really the people you think."

"Lost! It is rather wonderful that, after the lapse of
two thousand years and more, so much should remain.
Whichever way I look, signs of these people s origin beset
me. You have read your Bible, Margery which I am sorry
to say all on this frontier have not but you have read your
Bible, and one can make an allusion to you with some sat
isfaction. Now, let me ask you if you remember such a
thing as the scape-goat of the ancient Jews. It is to be
found in Leviticus, and is one of those mysterious customs
with which that extraordinary book is full."

" Leviticus is a book I never read but once, for we do
not read it in our New England schools. But I do remem
ber that the Jews were commanded to let one of two goats
go, from which practice it has, I believe, been called a

"Well," said le Bourdon, simply, "what a thing is


Tarnin ! Now, this is all news to me, though I have heard
of * scape-goats, and talked si scape-goats a thousand times !
There s a meanin to everything, I find; and I do not look
upon this idea of the lost tribes as half as strange as I did
before I 1 arntthis!"

Margery had not fallen in love with the bee-hunter for
his biblical knowledge, else might her greater information
have received a rude shock by this mark of simplicity; but
instead of dwelling on this proof of le Bourdon s want of
"schooling," her active mind was more disposed to push
the allusion to scape-goats to some useful conclusion.

"And what of the goat, Mr. Amen?" she asked; "and
how can it belong to anything here? "

" Why were all those goats turned into the woods and
deserts, in the olden time, Margery? Doubtless to provide
food for the ten tribes, when these should be driven forth
by conquerors and hard task-masters. Time, and climate,
and a difference of food, has altered them, as they have
changed the Jews themselves, though they still retain the
cleft hoof, the horns, the habits, and the general character
istics of the goats of Arabia. Yes; naturalists will find in
the end, that the varieties of the deer of this continent,
particularly the antelope, are nothing but the scape-goats of
the ancient world, altered and perhaps improved by circum

As this was much the highest flight the good missionary
had ever yet taken, not trifling was the astonishment of his
young friends thereat. Touching the Jews, le Bourdon did
not pretend to, or in fact did not possess much knowledge;
but when the question was reduced down to one of venison,
or bears meat, or bisons humps, with the exception of the
professed hunters and trappers, few knew more about them
all than he did himself. That the deer, or even the ante
lopes of America ever had been goats, he did not believe;
nor was he at all backward in letting his dissent to such a
theory be known.


" I m sorry, Parson Amen, you ve brought in the deer,"
he cried. " Had you stuck to the Jews, I might have be
lieved all that you fancy, in this business; but the deer
have spoiled all. As for scape-goats, since Margery seems
to agree with you, I suppose you are right about them,
though my notion of such creatures has been to keep clear
of them, instead of following them up, as you seem to think
these Hebrews have done. But if you are no nearer right
in your doctrine about the Injins than you are about their
game, you ll have to change your religion."

" Do not think that my religion depends on any thread so
slight, Bourdon. A man may be mistaken in interpreting
prophecy, and still be a devout Christian. There are more
reasons than you may at first suppose, for believing in this
theory of the gradual change of the goat into the deer, and
especially into the antelope. We do not any of us believe
that Noah had with him, in the ark, all the animals that are
now to be found, but merely the parent-stems, in each par
ticular case, which would be reducing the number many
fold. If all men came from Adam, Bourdon, why could not
all deer come from goats? "

"Why this matter about men has a good deal puzzled me,
Parson, and I hardly know what answer to give. Still, men
are men, wherever you find them. They may be lighter or
darker, taller or shorter, with hair or wool, and yet you can
see they are men. Perhaps food, and climate, and manner
of living, may have made all the changes we see in them;
but Lord, Parson, a goat has a beard ! "

" What has become of the thousands of scape-goats that
the ancient Hebrews must have turned loose in the wilder
ness? Answer me that, Bourdon? "

" You might as well ask me, sir, what has become of the
thousands of Hebrews who turned them loose. I suppose
all must be dead a thousand years ago. Scape-goats are
creatures that even Injins would not like."

" All this is a great mystery, Bourdon a much greater


mystery than our friend Peter, whom you have so often said
was a man so unaccountable. By the way, he has given me
a charge to perform an office between you and Margery, that
I had almost forgotten. From what he said to me, I rather
think it may have some connection with our safety. We
have enemies among these savages, I feel very certain;
though I believe we have also warm friends."

" But what have you in charge that has anything to do
with Bourdon and me ? " asked the wondering Margery,
who was quick to observe the connection, though utterly at
a loss to comprehend it.

The missionary now called a halt, and rinding convenient
seats, he gradually opened the subject with which he had
been charged by Peter to his companions. The reader is
probably prepared to learn that there was no longer any
reserve between le Bourdon and Margery on the subject of
their future marriage. The young man had already pressed
an immediate union, as the wisest and safest course to be
pursued. Although the savage American is little addicted
to abusing his power over female captives, and seldom takes
into his lodge an unwilling squaw, the bee-hunter had ex
perienced a good deal of uneasiness on the score of what
might befall his betrothed. Margery was sufficiently beau
tiful to attract attention, even in a town; and more than one
fierce-looking warrior had betrayed his admiration that very
day, though it was in a very Indian-like fashion. Rhap
sody, and gallant speeches, and sonnets, form no part of
Indian courtship; but the language of admiration is so very
universal, through the eyes, that it is sufficiently easy of
comprehension. It was possible that some chief, whose
band was too formidable to be opposed., might take it into
his head to wish to see a pale-face squaw in his wigwam;
and, while it was not usual to do much violence to a female s
inclinations on such occasions, it was not common to offer

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 28 of 41)