James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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hibit his powers offered. He was accordingly the next to

" My brothers," said Bough of the Oak, " I am named
after a tree. You all know that tree. It is not good for
bows or arrows; it is not good for canoes; it does not make
the best fire, though it will burn, and is hot when well
lighted. There are many things for which the tree after
which I am named is not good. It is not good to eat. It
has no sap that Injins can drink, like the maple. It does
not make good brooms. But it has branches like other
trees, and they are tough. Tough branches are good. The
boughs of the oak will not bend, like the boughs of the
willow, or the boughs of the ash, or the boughs of the

" Brothers, I am a bough of the oak. I do not like to
bend. When my mind is made up, I wish to keep it where
it was first put. My mind has been made up to take the
scalps of all the pale-faces who are now in the Openings. I
do not want to change it. My mind can break, but it can
not bend. It is tough."

Having uttered this brief but sententious account of his
view of the matter at issue, the chief resumed his seat, rea
sonably well satisfied with this, his second attempt to be
eloquent that day. His success this time was not as un
equivocal as on the former occasion, but it was respectable.
Several of the chiefs saw a reasonable, if not a very logical
analogy, between a man s name and his mind; and to them
it appeared a tolerably fair inference that a man should act
up to his name. If his name was tough, he ought to be
tough, too. In this it does not strike us that they argued
very differently from civilized beings, who are only too apt
to do that which their better judgments really condemn,


because they think they are acting " in character," as it is

Ungque was both surprised and delighted with this unex
pected support from Bough of the Oak. He knew enough
of human nature to understand that a new-born ambition,
that of talking against the great, mysterious chief, Peter,
was at the bottom of this unexpected opposition ; but with
this he was pleased, rather than otherwise. An opposition
that is founded in reason, may always be reasoned down,
if reasons exist therefor; but an opposition that has its rise
in any of the passions, is usually somewhat stubborn. All
this the mean-looking chief, or the Weasel, understood
perfectly, and appreciated highly. He thought the moment
favorable, and was disposed to " strike while the iron was
hot." Rising after a decent interval had elapsed, this wily
Indian looked about him, as if awed by the presence in
which he stood, and doubtful whether he could venture to
utter his thoughts before so many wise chiefs. Having
made an impression by this air of diffidence, he commenced
his harangue.

"I am called the Weasel," he said, modestly. "My
name is not taken from the mightiest tree of the forest, like
that of my brother; it is taken from a sort of rat an ani
mal that lives by its wits. I am well named. When my
tribe gave me that name, it was just. All Injins have not
names. My great brother, who told us once that we ought
to take the scalp of every white man, but who now tells us
that we ought not to take the scalp of every white man, has
no name. He is called Peter, by the pale-faces. It is a
good name. But it is a pale-face name. I wish we knew
the real name of my brother. We do not know his nation
or his tribe. Some say he is an Ottawa, some an Iowa,
some even think him a Sioux. I have heard he was a Dela
ware, from toward the rising sun. Some, but they must be
Injins with forked tongues, think and say he is a Cherokee!
I do not believe this. It is a lie. It is said to do my


brother harm. Wicked Injins will say such things. But
we do not mind what they say. It is not necessary.

"My brothers, I wish we knew the tribe of this great
chief, who tells us to take scalps, and then tells us not to
take scalps. Then we might understand why he has told us
two stories. I believe all he says, but I should like to
know why I believe it. It is good to know why we believe
things. I have heard what my brother has said about let
ting this bee-hunter goto his own people, but I do not know
why he believes this is best. It is because I am a poor In-
jin, perhaps; and because I am called the Weasel. I am
an animal that creeps through small holes. That is my
nature. The bison jumps through open prairies, and a
horse is wanted to catch him. It is not so with the weasel;
he creeps through small holes. But he always looks where
he goes.

" The unknown chief, who belongs to no tribe, talks of
this bee-hunter s squaw. He is afraid of so great a medi
cine-man, and wishes him to go, and take all in his wig
wam with him. He has no squaw. There is a young
squaw in his lodge, but she is not his squaw. There is no
need of letting her go, on his account. If we take her
scalp, he cannot hurt us. In that, my brother is wrong.
The bees have buzzed too near his ears. Weasels can hear,
as well as other animals; and I have heard that this young
squaw is not this bee-hunter s squaw.

"If Injins are to take the scalps of all the pale-faces, why
should we not begin with these who are in our hands?
When the knife is ready, and the head is ready, nothing
but the hand is wanting. Plenty of hands are ready, too;
and it does not seem good to the eyes of a poor, miserable
weasel, who has to creep through very small holes to catch
his game, to let that game go when it is taken. If my
great brother, who has told us not to scalp this bee-hunter
and her he calls his squaw, will tell us the name of his
tribe, I shall be glad. I am an ignorant Injin, and like to


learn all I can ; I wish to learn that. Perhaps it will help
us to understand why he gave one counsel yesterday, and
another to-day. There is a reason for it. I wish to know
what it is."

Ungque now slowly seated himself. He had spoken
with great moderation, as to manner; and with such an air
of humility as one of our own demagogues is apt to assume,
when he tells the people of their virtues, and seems to
lament the whole time that he, himself, was one of the
meanest of the great human family. Peter saw, at once,
that he had a cunning competitor, and had a little difficulty
in suppressing all exhibition of the fiery indignation he
actually felt, at meeting opposition in such a quarter.
Peter was artful, and practised in all the wiles of managing
men, but he submitted to use his means to attain a great
end. The virtual extinction of the white race was his ob
ject, and in order to effect it, there was little he would have
hesitated to do. Now, however, when for the first time in
many years a glimmering of human feeling was shining on
the darkness of his mind, he found himself unexpectedly
opposed by one of those whom he had formerly found so
difficult to persuade into his own dire plans! Had that
one been a chief of any renown, the circumstances would
have been more tolerable ; but here was a man presuming
to raise his voice against him, who, so far as he knew any
thing of his past career, had not a single claim to open his
mouth in such a council. With a volcano raging within,
that such a state of things would be likely to kindle in the
breast of a savage who had been for years a successful and
nearly unopposed leader, the mysterious chief rose to

" My brother says he is a weasel," observed Peter, look
ing round at the circle of interested and grave countenances
by which he was surrounded. " That is a very small ani
mal. It creeps through very small holes, but not to do good.
It is good for nothing. When it goes through a small


hole, it is not to do the Injins a service, but for its own
purposes. I do not like weasels.

" My brother is not afraid of a bee-hunter. Can he tell
us what a bee whispers? If he can, I wish he would tell
us. Let him show our young men where there is more
honey where they can find bear s meat for another feast
where they can find warriors hid in the woods.

" My brother says the bee-hunter has no squaw. How
does he know this? Has he lived in the lodge with them
paddled in the same canoe eat of the same venison? A
weasel is very small. It might steal into the bee-hunter s
lodge, and see what is there, what is doing, what is eaten,
who is his squaw, and who is not has this weasel ever
done so? I never saw him there.

" Brothers, the Great Spirit has his own way of doing
things. He does not stop to listen to weasels. He knows
there are such animals there are snakes, and toads, and
skunks. The Great Spirit knows them all, but he does not
mind them. He is wise, and hearkens only to his own
mind. So should it be with a council of great chiefs. It
should listen to its own mind. That is wisdom. To listen
to the mind of a weasel is folly.

" Brothers, you have been told that this weasel does not
know the tribe of which I am born. Why should you know
it? Injins once were foolish. While the pale-faces were
getting one hunting-ground after another from them, they
dug up the hatchet against their own friends. They took
each other s scalps. Injin hated Injin tribe hated tribe.
I am of no tribe, and no one can hate me for my people.
You see my skin. It is red. That is enough. I scalp,
and smoke, and talk, and go on weary paths for all Injins,
and not for any tribe. I am without a tribe. Some call
me the Tribeless. It is better to bear that name, than to
be called a weasel. I have done."

Peter had so much success by this argumentum ad homi-
nem, that most present fancied that the weasel would creep


through some hole, and disappear. Not so, however, with
Ungque. He was a demagogue, after an Indian fashion;
and this is a class of men that ever " make capital " of
abuses, as we Americans say, in our money-getting habits.
Instead of being frightened off the ground, he arose to an
swer as promptly as if a practised debater, though with an
air of humility so profound, that no one could take offence
at his presumption.

" The unknown chief has answered," he said, " I am glad.
I love to hear his words. My ears are always open when
he speaks, and my mind is stronger. I now see that it is
good he should not have a tribe. He may be a Cherokee,
and then our warriors would wish him ill." This was a
home-thrust, most artfully concealed ; a Cherokee being the
Indian of all others the most hated by the chiefs present;
the Carthaginians of those western Romans. " It is bet
ter he should not have a tribe, than be a Cherokee. He
might better be a weasel.

" Brothers, we have been told to kill all the pale-faces. I
like that advice. The land cannot have two owners. If a
pale-face owns it, an Injin cannot. If an Injin owns it, a
pale-face cannot. But the chief without a tribe tells us not
to kill all. He tells us to kill all but the bee-hunter and
his squaw. He thinks this bee-hunter is a medicine bee-
hunter, and may do us Injins great harm. He wishes to
let him go.

" Brothers, this is not my way of thinking. It is better
to kill the bee-hunter and his squaw while we can, that there
may be no more such medicine bee-hunters to frighten us
Injins. If one bee-hunter can do so much harm, what would
a tribe of bee-hunters do ? I do not want to see any more.
It is a dangerous thing to know how to talk with bees. It
is best that no one should have that power. I would rather
never taste honey again, than live among pale-faces that can
talk with bees.

" Brothers, it is not enough that the pale-faces know so


much more than the red men, but they must get the bees to
tell them where to find honey, to find bears, to find warriors.
No; let us take the scalp of the bee-talker, and of his
squaw, that there may never be such a medicine again. I
have spoken."

Peter did not rise again. He felt that his dignity was
involved in maintaining silence. Various chiefs now
uttered their opinions, in brief, sententious language. For
the first time since he began to preach his crusade, the cur
rent was setting against the mysterious chief. The Weasel
said no more, but the hints he had thrown out were im
proved on by others. It is with savages as with civilized
men ; a torrent must find vent. Peter had the sagacity to
see that by attempting further to save le Bourdon and Mar
gery, he should only endanger his own ascendancy, without
effecting his purpose. Here he completely overlaid the art
of Ungque, turning his own defeat into an advantage.
After the matter had been discussed for fully an hour, and
this mysterious chief perceived that it was useless to adhere
to his new resolution, he gave it up with as much tact as
the sagacious Wellington himself could manifest in yield
ing Catholic emancipation, or parliamentary reform; or,
just in season to preserve an appearance of floating in the
current, and with a grace that disarmed his opponents.

" Brothers," said Peter, by way of closing the debate, " I
have not seen straight. Fog sometimes gets before the
eyes, and we cannot see. I have been in a fog. The
breath of my brother has blown it away. I now see clearly.
I see that bee-hunters ought not to live. Let this one die
let his squaw die, too ! "

This terminated the discussion, as a matter of course. It
was solemnly decided that all the pale-faces then in the
Openings should be cut off. In acquiescing in this decis
ion, Peter had no mental reservations. He was quite sin
cere. When, after sitting two hours longer, in order to ar
range still more important points, the council arose, it was


with his entire assent to the decision. The only power he
retained over the subject was that of directing the details
of the contemplated massacre.


Why is that graceful female here
With yon red hunter of the deer ?
Of gentle mien and shape, she seems

For civil halls design d ;
Yet with the stately savage walks,

As she were of his kind.


THE family at Castle Meal saw nothing of any Indian until
the day that succeeded the council. Gershom and Dorothy
received the tidings of their sister s marriage with very lit
tle emotion. It was an event they expected; and as for
bride-cake and ceremonies, of one there was none at all,
and of the other no more than has been mentioned. The
relatives of Margery did not break their hearts on account
of the neglect with which they had been treated, but re
ceived the young couple as if one had given her away, and
the other " had pulled off her glove," as young ladies now
express it, in deference to the act that generally gives the
coup de grace to youthful female friendships. On the Open
ings, neither time nor breath is wasted in useless compli
ments; and all was held to be well done on this occasion,
because it was done legally. A question might have been
raised, indeed, whether that marriage had taken place under
the American, or under the English flag; for General Hull,
in surrendering Detroit, had included the entire territory of
Michigan, as well as troops present, troops absent, and troops
on the march to join him. Had he been in possession of
Peter s ruthless secret, which we happen to know he was
not, he could not have been more anxious to throw the
mantle of British authority around all of his race on that
remote frontier, than he proved himself to be. Still, it is to


be presumed that the marriage would have been regarded
as legal; conquered territories usually preserving their laws
and usages for a time, at least. A little joking passed, as
a matter of course; for this is de rigueur in all marriages,
except in the cases of the most cultivated; and certainly
neither the corporal nor Gershom belonged to the elite of
human society.

About the hour of breakfast Pigeonswing came in, as if
returning from one of his ordinary hunts. He brought with
him venison, as well as several wild ducks that he had
killed in the Kalamazoo, and three or four prairie hens.
The Chippewa never betrayed exultation at the success of
his exertions, but on this occasion he actually appeared sad.
Dorothy received his game, and as she took the ducks and
other fowls, she spoke to him.

" Thank you, Pigeonswing," said the young matron. " No
pale-face could be a better provider, and many are not one-
half as good."

" What provider mean, eh ? " demanded the literal-minded
savage. " Mean good ; mean bad, eh ? "

" Oh ! it means good, of course. I could say nothing
against a hunter who takes so good care of us all."

"What he mean, den?"

" It means a man who keeps his wife and children well
supplied with food."

" You get nough, eh ? "

" I get enough, Pigeonswing, thanks to your industry,
such as it is. Injin diet, however, is not always the best
for Christian folk, though a body may live on it. I miss
many things, out here in the Openings, to which I have
been used all the early part of my life."

"What squaw miss, eh? P raps Injin find him some

" I thank you, Pigeonswing, with all my heart, and am
just as grateful for your good intentions, as I should be was
you to do all you wish. It is the mind that makes the


marcy, and not always the deed. But you can never find
the food of a pale-face kitchen out here in the Openings of
Michigan. When a body comes to reckon up all the good
things of Ameriky, she don t know where to begin, or where
to stop. I miss tea as much as anything. And milk comes
next. Then there s buckwheat and coffee though things
may be found in the woods to make coffee of, but tea has no
substitute. Then, I like wheaten bread, and butter, and
potatoes, and many other such articles, that I was used to
all my life, until I came out here, close to sunset. As for
pies and custards, I can t bear to think of em now! "

Pigeonswing looked intently at the woman, as she care
fully enumerated her favorites among the dishes of her
home-kitchen. When she had ended, he raised a finger,
looked still more significantly at her, and said:

"Why don t go back, get all dem good t ings? Better for
pale-face to eat pale-face food, and leave Injin Injin food."

" For my part, Pigeonswing, I wish such had ever been
the law. Venison, and prairie-fowls, and wild ducks, and
trout, arid bear s meat, and wild pigeons, and the fish that
are to be found in these western rivers, are all good for them
that was brought up on em, but they tire an eastern palate
dreadfully. Give me roast beef any day before buffalo s
hump, and a good barn-yard fowl before all the game-birds
that ever flew."

"Yes; dat de way pale-face squaw feel. Bess go back,
and get what she like. Bess go quick as she can go to

" I m in no such hurry, Pigeonswing, and I like these
Openings well enough to stay a while longer, and see what
all these Injins, that they tell me are about em, mean to do.
Now we are fairly among your people, and on good terms
with them, it is wisest to stay where we are. These are war
times, and travelling is dangerous, they tell me. When
Gershom and Bourdon are ready to start, I shall be ready


"Bess get ready, now," rejoined Pigeonswing; who, hav
ing given this advice with point, as to manner, proceeded to
the spring, where he knelt and slaked his thirst. The man
ner of the Chippewa was such as to attract the attention of
the missionary, who, full of his theory, imagined that this
desire to get rid of the whites was, in some way or other,
connected with a reluctance in the Indians to confess them
selves Jews. He had been quite as much surprised as he
was disappointed, with the backwardness of the chiefs in
accepting this tradition, and was now in a state of mind
that predisposed him to impute everything to this one

" I hope, Pigeonswing," he said to the Chippewa, whom
he had followed to the spring " I hope, Pigeonswing, that
no offence has been taken by the chiefs on account of what
I told them yesterday, concerning their being Jews. It is
what I think, and it is an honor to belong to God s chosen
people, and in no sense a disgrace. I hope no offence has
been taken on account of my telling the chief they are

" Don t care any t ing bout it," answered the literal In
dian, rising from his kneeling position, and wiping his
mouth with the back of his hand. " Don t care wedder Jew,
or wedder Indian."

" For my own part, gladly would I have it to say that I
am descended from Israel."

"Why don t say him, if he make you grad? Good to be
grad. All Injin love to be grad."

"Because I cannot say it with truth. No; I come of the
Gentiles, and not of the Hebrews, else would I glory in
saying I am a Jew, in the sense of extraction, though not
now in the sense of faith. I trust the chiefs will not take
offence at my telling them just what I think."

"Tell you he don t care," returned Pigeonswing, a little
crustily. " Don t care if Jew don t care if Injin. Know
dat make no difference. Hunting-ground just same game


just same scalps just same. Make no difference, and don t

" I am glad of this but why did you advise Dorothy to
quit the Openings in the hasty manner you did, if all is
right with the chiefs? It is not good to start on a journey
without preparation and prayer. Why, then, did you give
this advice to Dorothy to quit the Openings so soon ? "

" Bess for squaw to go home, when Injin dig up hatchet.
Openin full of warrior prairie full of warrior wood full
of warrior. When dat so, bess for squaw to go home."

"This would be true, were the Indians our enemies.
Heaven be praised, they are our friends, and will not harm
us. Peter is a great chief, and can make his young men do
what he tells them ; and Peter is our friend. With Peter to
stand by us, and a merciful Providence to direct us where,
when, and how to go, we can have nothing to fear. I trust
in Divine Providence."

"Who he be?" asked Pigeonswing, innocently, for his
knowledge of English did not extend far enough to compre
hend a phrase so complicated, though so familiar to our
selves. " He know all paths, eh? "

"Yes; and directs us on all paths more especially such
as are for our good."

" Bess get him to tell you path into Detroit. Dat good
path, now, for all pale-faces."

On uttering this advice, which he did also somewhat
pointedly, the Chippewa left the spring, and walked toward
the kennel of Hive, where the bee-hunter was busy feeding
his old companion.

"You re welcome back, Pigeonswing," the last cordially
remarked, without pausing in his occupation, however. " I
saw that you came in loaded, as usual. Have you left any
dead game in the Openings, for me to go and back in with

"You open ear, Bourdon you know what Injin say," re
turned the Chippewa, earnestly. " When dog get nougb


come wid me. Got something to tell. Bess hear it, when
he can hear it."

"You ll find me ready enough in a minute. There, Hive,
my good fellow, that ought to satisfy any reasonable dog,
and I ve never found you unreasonable yet. Well, Chip-
pewa, here I am, with my ears wide open stop, I ve a bit
of news, first, for your ears. Do you know, Pigeonswing,
my good fellow, that I am married? "

"Marry, eh? Got squaw, eh? Where you get him? "

"Here, to be sure where else should I get her? There
is but one girl in these Openings that I would ask to be my
wife, and she has been asked, and answered, yes. Parson
Amen married us, yesterday, on our way in from Prairie
Round; so that puts me on a footing with yourself. When
you boast of your squaw that you ve left in your wigwam, I
can boast of mine that I have here. Margery is a girl to
boast of, too ! "

" Yes ; good squaw, dat. Like dat squaw pretty well. Neb-
ber see better. Bess keep squaw alway in his own wigwam."

"Well, mine is in my own wigwam. Castle Meal is my
property, and she does it honor."

" Dat an t what Injin mean. Mean dis. Bess have wig
wam at home, dere, where pale-face lives, and bess ktcn
squaw in ^/wigwam. Where my squaw, eh? She home,
in my wigwam take care of pappoose, hoe corn, and keep
ground good. So bess wid white squaw bess home, at

" I believe I understand what you mean, Pigeon. Well,
home we mean to go, before the winter sets in, and when
matters have a little settled down between the English and
Yankees. It isn t safe travelling, just now, in Michigan
you must own that, yourself, my good fellow."

The Indian appeared at a loss, now, how to express him
self further. On one side was his faith to his color, and

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 30 of 41)