James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

. (page 3 of 41)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 3 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

then quite young in his calling; and ever since its occur
rence he had taken the precaution to build such a citadel
as should at least set teeth and paws at defiance. To one
who had an axe, with access to young pines, this was not a
difficult task, as was proved by the present habitation of our

This was the second season that le Bourdon had occupied
" Castle Meal," as he himself called the shanty. This ap
pellation was a corruption of " chateau au Miel" a name
given to it by a wag of a voyageur, who had aided Ben in
ascending the Kalamazoo the previous summer, and had
remained long enough with him to help him put up his
habitation. The building was just twelve feet square, in
the interior, and somewhat less than fourteen on its exte
rior. It was made of pine logs, in the usual mode, with the
additional security of possessing a roof of squared timbers,


of which the several parts were so nicely fitted together as
to shed rain. This unusual precaution was rendered neces
sary to protect the honey, since the bears would have un
roofed the common bark coverings of the shanties, with the
readiness of human beings, in order to get at stores as ample
as those which the bee-hunter had soon collected beneath
his roof. There was one window of glass, which le Bour
don had brought in his canoe; though it was a single sash
of six small lights, that opened on hinges; the exterior
being protected by stout bars of riven oak, securely let into
the logs. The door was made of three thicknesses of oaken
plank, pinned well together, and swinging on stout iron
hinges, so secured as not to be easily removed. Its outside
fastening was made by means of two stout staples, a short
piece of ox-chain, and an unusually heavy padlock. Noth
ing short of an iron bar, and that cleverly applied, could
force this fastening. On the inside, three bars of oak ren
dered all secure, when the master was at home.

" You set consid rable store by your honey, I guess,
stranger" said Gershom, as le Bourdon unlocked the fast
enings and removed the chain, "if a body may judge
by the kear (care) you take on t! Now, down our way
we ain t half so partic lar; Dolly and Blossom never so
much as putting up a bar to the door, even when I sleep
out, which is about half the time, now the summer is fairly
set in."

" And whereabouts is * down our way, if one may be so
bold as to ask the question ? " returned le Bourdon, holding
the door half-opened, while he turned his face toward the
other, in expectation of the answer.

" Why, down at Whiskey Centre, to be sure, as the v y ger-
ers and other boatmen call the place."

"And where is Whiskey Centre? " demanded Ben, a lit
tle pertinaciously.

"Why, I thought everybody would a known that," an
swered Greshom; "sin whiskey is as drawin as a blister.


Whiskey Centre is just where / happen to live; bein*
what a body may call a travellin name. As I m now down
at the mouth of the Kalamazoo, why Whiskey Centre s
there, too."

"I understand the matter, now," answered le Bourdon,
composing his well-formed mouth in a sort of contemptuous
smile. " You and whiskey, being sworn friends, are always
to be found in company. When I came into the river, which
was the last week in April, I saw nothing like whiskey, nor
anything like a Centre at the mouth."

" If you d a be n a fortnight later, stranger, you d a* found
both. Travel 1 in Centres, and stationary, differs somewhat,
I guess; one is always to be found, while t other must be
s arched a ter."

" And pray who are Dolly and Blossom ; I hope the last
is not a whiskey blossom ? "

" Not she she never touches a spoonful, though I tell
her it never hurt mortal ! She tries hard to reason me into
it that it hurts me but that s all a mistake, as anybody can
see that jest looks at me."

Ben did look at him ; and, to say truth, came to a some
what different conclusion.

" Is she so blooming that you call her * Blossom ? " de
manded the bee-hunter, "or is she so young? "

"The gal s a little of both. Dolly is my wife, and Blos
som is my sister. The real name of Blossom is Margery
Waring, but everybody calls her Blossom; and so I gi n
into it, with the rest on em."

It is probable that le Bourdon lost a good deal of his
interest in this flower of the wilderness, as soon as he
learned she was so nearly related to the Whiskey Centre.
Gershom was so very uninviting an object, and had so many
palpable marks, that he had fairly earned the nickname
which, as it afterward appeared, the western adventurers had
given him, as well as his abode, wherever the last might be,
that no one of decently sober habits could readily fancy


anything belonging to him. At any rate, the bee-hunter
now led the way into his cabin, whither he was followed
without unnecessary ceremony, by all three of his guests.

The interior of the " chiente ," to use the most poetical, if
not the most accurate word, was singularly clean for an es
tablishment set up by a bachelor, in so remote a part of the
world. The honey, in neat, well-constructed kegs, was care
fully piled along one side of the apartment, in a way to
occupy the minimum of room, and to be rather ornamental
than unsightly. These kegs were made by le Bourdon him
self, who had acquired as much of the art as was necessary
to that object. The woods always furnished the materials;
and a pile of staves that was placed beneath a neighboring
tree sufficiently denoted that he did not yet deem that por
tion of his task completed.

In one corner of the hut was a pile of well-dressed bear
skins, three in number, each and all of which had been
taken from the carcasses of fallen foes, within the last two
months. Three more were stretched on saplings, near by,
in the process of curing. It was a material part of the bee-
hunter s craft to kill this animal, in particular; and the
trophies of his conflicts with them were proportionably nu
merous. On the pile already prepared, he usually slept.

There was a very rude table, a single board set up on
sticks ; and a bench or two, together with a wooden chest of
some size, completed the furniture. Tools were suspended
from the walls, it is true; and no less than three rifles, in
addition to a very neat double-barrelled "shot-gun," or
fowling-piece, were standing in a corner. These were arms
collected by our hero in his different trips, and retained
quite as much from affection as from necessity, or caution.
Of ammunition, there was no very great amount visible;
only three or four horns and a couple of pouches being sus
pended from pegs : but Ben had a secret store, as well as
another rifle, carefully secured, in a natural magazine and
arsenal, at a distance sufficiently great from the chiente to


remove it from all danger of sharing in the fortunes of his
citadel, should disaster befall the last.

The cooking was done altogether out of doors. For this
essential comfort, le Bourdon had made very liberal provi
sion. He had a small oven, a sufficiently convenient fire
place, and a storehouse, at hand; all placed near the spring,
and beneath the shade of a magnificent elm. In the store
house he kept his barrel of flour, his barrel of salt, a stock
of smoked or dried meat, and that which the woodsman, if
accustomed in early life to the settlements, prizes most
highly, a half-barrel of pickled pork. The bark canoe had
sufficed to transport all these stores, merely ballasting hand
somely that ticklish craft; and its owner relied on the honey
to perform the same office on the return voyage, when trade
or consumption should have disposed of the various articles
just named.

The reader may smile at the word " trade," and ask where
were those to be found who could be parties to the traffic.
The vast lakes and innumerable rivers of that region, how
ever, remote as it then was from the ordinary abodes of civ
ilized man, offered facilities for communication that the
active spirit of trade would be certain not to neglect. In
the first place, there v;ere always the Indians to barter skins
and furs against powder, lead, rifles, blankets, and unhap
pily " fire-water." Then, the white men who penetrated to
those semi-wilds were always ready to "dicker" and to
" swap," and to " trade " rifles, and watches, and whatever
else they might happen to possess, almost to their wives and

But we should be doing injustice to le Bourdon, were we
in any manner to confound him with the " dickering " race.
He was a bee-hunter quite as much through love of the
wilderness and love of adventure, as through love of gain.
Profitable he had certainly found the employment, or he
probably would not have pursued it; but there was many a
man who nay, most men, even in his own humble class in


life would have deemed his liberal earnings too hardly
obtained, when gained at the expense of all intercourse with
their own kind. But Buzzing Ben loved the solitude of his
situation, its hazards, its quietude, relieved by passing mo
ments of high excitement; and, most of all, the self-reliance
that was indispensable equally to his success and his hap
piness. Woman, as yet, had never exercised her witchery
over him, and every day was his passion for dwelling alone,
and for enjoying the strange, but certainly most alluring,
pleasures of the woods, increasing and gaining strength in
his bosom. It was seldom, now, that he held intercourse
even with the Indian tribes that dwelt near his occasional
places of hunting; and frequently had he shifted his ground
in order to avoid collision, however friendly, with whites
who, like himself, were pushing their humble fortunes along
the shores of those inland seas, which, as yet, were rarely
indeed whitened by a sail. In this respect, Boden and
Waring were the very antipodes of each other; Gershom
being an inveterate gossip, in despite of his attachment to
a vagrant and border life.

The duties of hospitality are rarely forgotten among bor
der men. The inhabitant of a town may lose his natural
disposition to receive all who offer at his board, under the
pressure of society; but it is only in most extraordinary
exceptions that the frontier man is ever known to be inhos
pitable. He has little to offer, but that little is seldom
withheld, either through prudence or niggardliness. Under
this feeling we might call it habit also le Bourdon now
set himself at work to place on the table such food as he
had at command and ready cooked. The meal which he
soon pressed his guests to share with him was composed of
a good piece of cold boiled pork, which Ben had luckily
cooked the day previously, some bear s meat roasted, a frag
ment of venison steak, both lean and cold, and the remains
of a duck that had been shot the day before, in the Kala-
mazoo, with bread, salt, and, what was somewhat unusual in


the wilderness, two or three onions, raw. The last dish was
highly relished by Gershom, and was slightly honored by
Ben ; but the Indians passed it over with cold indifference.
The dessert consisted of bread and honey, which were lib
erally partaken of by all at table.

Little was said by either host or guests, until the supper
was finished, when the whole party left the chiente , to enjoy
their pipes in the cool evening air, beneath the oaks of the
grove in which the dwelling stood. Their conversation
began to let the parties know something of each other s
movements and characters.

" You are a Pottawattamie, and you a Chippewa," said
le Bourdon, as he courteously handed to his two red guests
pipes of theirs, that he had just stuffed with some of his
own tobacco " I believe you are a sort of cousins, though
your tribes are called by different names."

" Nation, Ojebway," returned the elder Indian, holding
up a finger, by way of enforcing attention.

" Tribe, Pottawattamie," added the runner, in the same
sententious manner.

" Baccy, good " put in the senior, by way of showing he
was well contented with his comforts.

"Have you nothin to drink?" demanded Whiskey
Centre, who saw no great merit in anything but "fire

"There is the spring," returned le Bourdon, gravely; "a
gourd hangs against the tree."

Gershom made a wry face, but he did not move.

"Is there any news stirring among the tribes?" asked
the bee-hunter, waiting, however, a decent interval, lest he
might be supposed to betray a womanly curiosity.

Elksfoot puffed away some time before he saw fit to an
swer, reserving a salvo in behalf of his own dignity. Then
he removed the pipe, shook off the ashes, pressed down the
fire a little, gave a reviving draught or two, arid quietly


" Ask my young brother he runner he know."

But Pigeonswing seemed to be little more communicative
than the Pottawattamie. He smoked on in quiet dignity,
while the bee-hunter patiently waited for the moment when
it might suit his younger guest to speak. That moment did
not arrive for some time, though it came at last. Almost
five minutes after Elksfoot had made the allusion mentioned,
the Ojebway, or Chippewa, removed his pipe also, and look
ing courteously round at his host, he said with emphasis :

"Bad summer come soon. Pale-faces call young men
togedder, and dig up hatchet."

" I had heard something of this," answered le Bourdon,
with a saddened countenance, "and was afraid it might

"My brother dig up hatchet too, eh?" demanded Pig

" Why should I ? I am alone here, on the Openings, and
it would seem foolish in me to wish to fight."

"Got no tribe no Ojebway no Pottawattamie, eh? "

"I have my tribe, as well as another, Chippewa, but can
see no use I can be to it, here. If the English and Ameri
cans fight, it must be a long way from this wilderness, and
on or near the great salt lake."

" Don t know nebber know, till see. English warrior
plenty in Canada."

"That may be; but American warriors are not plenty
here. This country is a wilderness, and there are no sol
diers hereabouts, to cut each other s throats."

"What you t ink him?" asked Pigeonswing, glancing
at Gershom ; who, unable to forbear any longer, had gone to
the spring to mix a cup from a small supply that still re
mained of the liquor with which he had left home. "Got
pretty good scalp ? "

" I suppose it is as good as another s but he and I are
countrymen, and we cannot raise the tomahawk on one


" Don t t ink so. Plenty Yankee, him ! "

Le Bourdon smiled at this proof of Pigeonswing s sagac
ity, though he felt a good deal of uneasiness at the purport
of his discourse.

"You are right enough in that" he answered, "but I m
plenty of Yankee, too."

" No, don t say so," returned the Chippewa " no, mustn t
say dak English; no Yankee. Him not a bit like you."

" Why, we are unlike each other, in some respects, it is
true, though we are countrymen, notwithstanding. My
great father lives at Washington, as well as his."

The Chippewa appeared to be disappointed; perhaps he
appeared sorry, too; for le Bourdon s frank and manly hos
pitality had disposed him to friendship instead of hostili
ties, while his admissions would rather put him in an an
tagonist position. It was probably with a kind motive that
he pursued the discourse in a way to give his host some in
sight into the true condition of matters in that part of the

" Plenty Breetish in woods," he said, with marked delib
eration and point. " Yankee no come yet."

" Let me know the truth, at once, Chippewa," exclaimed
le Bourdon. " I am but a peaceable bee-hunter, as you see,
and wish no man s scalp, or any man s honey but my own.
Is there to be a war between America and Canada, or not? "

"Some say, yes; some say, no," returned Pigeonswing,
evasively. " My part, don t know. Go, now, to see. But
plenty Montreal belt among redskins; plenty rifle; plenty
powder, too."

" I heard something of this as I came up the lakes," re
joined Ben; "and fell in with a trader, an old acquaintance,
from Canada, and a good friend, too, though he is to be my
enemy, according to law, who gave me to understand that
the summer would not go over without blows. Still, they
all seemed to be asleep at Mackinaw (Michilimackinac) as
I passed there."


" Wake up pretty soon. Canada warrior take fort."
" If I thought that, Chippewa, I would be off this blessed
night to give the alarm."
No t ink better of dat."
"Go I would, if I died for it the next hour! "
" T ink better be no such fool, I tell you."
"And I tell you, Pigeonswing, that go I would, if the
whole Ojebway nation was on my trail. I am an American,
and mean to stand by my own people, come what will."

"T ought you only peaceable bee-hunter, just now," re
torted the Chippewa, a little sarcastically.

By this time le Bourdon had somewhat cooled, and he
became conscious of his indiscretion. He knew enough of
the history of the past, to be fully aware that, in all periods
of American history, the English, and, for that matter, the
French too, so long as they had possessions on this conti
nent, never scrupled about employing the savages in their
conflicts. It is true, that these highly polished, and, we
may justly add, humane nations (for each is, out of all
question, entitled to that character in the scale of compar
ative humanity as between communities, and each if you
will take its own account of the matter, stands at the head
of civilization in this respect) would, notwithstanding
these high claims, carry on their American wars by the
agency of the tomahawk, the scalping-knife, and the brand.
Eulogies, though pronounced by ourselves on ourselves,
cannot erase the stains of blood. Even down to the present
hour, a cloud does not obscure the political atmosphere be
tween England and America, that its existence may not be
discovered on the prairies, by a movement among the In
dians. The pulse that is to be felt there is a sure indica
tion of the state of the relations between the parties. Every
one knows that the savage, in his warfare, slays both sexes
and all ages; that the door-post of the frontier cabin is de
filed by the blood of the infant, whose brainy have been
dashed against it; and that the smouldering ruins of log-


houses oftener than not cover the remains of their tenants.
But what of all that? Brutus is still "an honorable man,"
and the American, who has not this sin to answer for among
his numberless transgressions, is reviled as a semi-barba
rian! The time is at hand, when the Lion of the West will
draw his own picture, too; and fortunate will it be for the
characters of some who will gather around the easel, if they
do not discover traces of their own lineaments among his

The feeling engendered by the character of such a war
fare is the secret of the deeply seated hostility which per
vades the breast of the Western American against the land
of his ancestors. He never sees the Times, and cares not
a rush for the mystifications of the Quarterly Review ; but
he remembers where his mother was brained, and his father
or brother tortured; aye, and by whose instrumentality the
foul deeds were mainly done. The man of the world can
understand that such atrocities may be committed, and the
people of the offending nation remain ignorant of their
existence, and, in a measure, innocent of the guilt; but the
sufferer, in his provincial practice, makes no such distinc
tion, confounding all alike in his resentments, and includ
ing all that bear the hated name in his maledictions. It is
a fearful thing to awaken the anger of a nation; to excite in
it a desire for revenge; and thrice is that danger magnified,
when the people thus aroused possess the activity, the re
sources, the spirit, and the enterprise of the Americans.
We have been openly derided, and that recently, because,
in the fulness of our sense of power and sense of right, lan
guage that exceeds any direct exhibition of the national
strength has escaped the lips of legislators, and, perhaps
justly, has exposed them to the imputation of boastfulness.
That derision, however, will not soon be repeated. The
scenes enacting in Mexico, faint as they are in comparison
with what would have been seen, had hostilities taken an
other direction, place a perpetual gag in the mouths of all


scoffers. The child is passing from the gristle into the
bone, and the next generation will not even laugh, as does
the present, at any idle and ill-considered menaces to co
erce this republic; strong in the consciousness of its own
power, it will eat all such fanfaronades, if any future
statesman should be so ill-advised as to renew them, with
silent indifference.

Now, le Bourdon was fully aware that one of the surest
pulses of approaching hostilities between England and
America was to be felt in the far West. If the Indians
were in movement, some power was probably behind the
scenes to set them in motion. Pigeonswing was well known
to him by reputation; and there was that about the man
which awakened the most unpleasant apprehensions, and he
felt an itching desire to learn all he could from him, with
out betraying any more of his own feelings, if that were pos

" I do not think the British will attempt Mackinaw/ Ben
remarked, after a long pause and a good deal of smoking
had enabled him to assume an air of safe indifference.

"Got him, I tell you," answered Pigeonswing, pointedly.

" Got what, Chippewa ? "

" Him Mac-naw got fort got so gers got whole isl
and. Know dat, for been dere."

This was astounding news, indeed! The commanding
officer of that ill-starred garrison could not himself have
been more astonished, when he was unexpectedly summoned
to surrender by an enemy who appeared to start out of the
earth, than was le Bourdon, at hearing this intelligence.
To western notions, Michilimackinac was another Gibraltar,
although really a place of very little strength, and garri
soned by only one small company of regulars. Still, habit
had given the fortress a sort of sanctity among the adven
turers of that region ; and its fall, even in the settled parts
of the country, sounded like the loss of a province. It is
now known that, anticipating the movements of the Ameri-


cans, some three hundred whites, sustained by more than
twice that number of Indians, including warriors from nearly
every adjacent tribe, had surprised the post on the i;th of
July, and compelled the subaltern in command, with some
fifty odd men, to surrender. This rapid and highly military
measure, on the part of the British, completely cut off the
post of Chicago, at the head of Lake Michigan, leaving it
isolated, on what was then a very remote wilderness. Chi
cago, Mackinac, and Detroit, were the three grand stations
of the Americans on the upper lakes, and here were two of
them virtually gone at a blow !


Ho Ijjwho s here ?

If anything that s civil, speak; if savage,

Take, or lend Cymbeline.

NOT another syllable did le Bourdon utter to the Chippewa,
or the Chippewa to him, in that sitting, touching the impor
tant event just communicated. Each carefully avoided
manifesting any further interest in the subject, but the
smoking continued for some time after the sun had set. As
the shades of evening began to gather, the Pottawattamie
arose, shook the ashes from his pipe, gave a grunt, and ut
tered a word or two, by way of announcing his disposition
to retire. On this hint, Ben went into the cabin, spread his
skins, and intimated to his guests that their beds were ready
for them. Few compliments pass among border men on
such occasions, and one after another dropped off, until all
were stretched on the skins but the master of the place. He
remained up two hours later, ruminating on the state of
things; when, perceiving that the night was wearing on, he
also found a nest, and sought his repose.

Nothing occurred to disturb the occupants of "Castle
Meal," as le Bourdon laughingly called his cabin, until the


return of day. If there were any bears scenting around the
place, as often occurred at night, their instinct must have
apprised them that a large reinforcement was present, and
caused them to defer their attack to a more favorable op
portunity. The first afoot next morning was the bee-hunter
himself, who arose and left his cabin just as the earliest
streaks of day were appearing in the east. Although dwell
ing in a wilderness, the "openings" had not the character

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 3 of 41)