James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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got all the best of the hunting-grounds. Not an Injin of
you all, now, ever get down on the shores of the great salt
lake, unless to sell brooms and baskets, and then he goes
sneaking like a wolf after a sheep. Vou have forgotten
how clams and oysters taste. Your fathers had as many of
them as they could eat ; but not one of you ever tasted them.
The pale-faces eat them all. If an Injin asked for one,
they would throw the shell at his head, and call him a dog.

" Do you think that my chiefs would hang one of you
between two such miserable saplings as these? " No! They
would scorn to practice such pitiful torture. They would
bring the tops of two tall pines together, trees a hundred
and fifty feet high, and put their prisoner on the topmost
boughs, for the crows and ravens to pick his eyes out.
But you are miserable Injins! You know nothing. If you
know d any better, would you act such poor torment ag in a
great brave? I spit upon ye, and call you squaws. The
pale-faces have made women of ye. They have taken out
your hearts, and put pieces of dog s flesh in their places."

Here the corporal, who delivered himself with an anima
tion suited to his language, was obliged to pause, literally
for want of breath. Singular as it may seem, this tirade
excited great admiration among the savages. It is true,
that very few understood what was said; perhaps no one
understood all, but the manner was thought to be admir
able. When some of the language was interpreted, a deep
but smothered resentment was felt; more especially at the
taunts touching the manner in which the whites had over
come the red men. Truth is hard to be borne, and the in
dividual, or people, who will treat a thousand injurious lies
with contempt, feel all their ire aroused at one reproach
that has its foundation in fact. Nevertheless, the anger



4l6 THE OAK OPENINGS.

that the corporal s words did, in truth, awaken, was success
fully repressed, and he had the disappointment of seeing
that his life was spared for the torture.

" Brother," said Bough of the Oak, again placing himself
before the captive, " you have a stout heart. It is made of
stone, and not of flesh. If our hearts be of dog s meat,
yours is of stone. What you say is true. The pale-faces
did come at first in two or three canoes, and there were but
few of them. We are ashamed, for it is true. A few pale
faces drove toward the setting sun many Injins. But we
cannot be driven any further. We mean to stop here, and
begin to take all the scalps we can. A great chief, who
belongs to no one tribe, but belongs to all tribes, who
speaks all tongues, has been sent by the Great Spirit to
arouse us. He has done it. You know him. He came
from the head of the lake with you, and kept his eye on
your scalp. He has meant to take it from the first. He
waited only for an opportunity. That opportunity has
come, and we now mean to do as he has told us we ought
to do. This is right. Squaws are in a hurry; warriors
know how to wait. We would kill you at once, and hang
your scalp on our pole, but it would not be right. We wish
to do what is right. If we are poor Injins, and know but
little, we know what is right. It is right to torment so
great a brave, and we mean to do it. It is only just to you
to do so. An old warrior who has seen so many enemies,
and who has so big a heart, ought not to be knocked in the
head like a pappoose or a squaw. It is his right to be tor
mented. We are getting ready, and shall soon begin. If
my brother can tell us a new way of tormenting, we are
willing to try it. Should we not make out as well as pale
faces, my brother will remember who we are. We mean to
do our best, and we hope to make his heart soft. If we do
this, great will be our honor. Should we not do it, we can
not help it. We shall try."

It was now the corporal s turn to put in a rebutter.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 4! 7

This he did without any failure in will or performance. By
this time he was so well warmed as to think or care very
little about the saplings, and to overlook the pain they
might occasion.

"Dogs can do little but bark; specially Injin dogs," he
said. "Injins themselves are little better than their own
dogs. They can bark, but they don t know how to bite.
You have many great chiefs here. Some are panthers, and
some bears, and some buffaloes; but where are your weasels?
I have fit you now these twenty years, and never have I
known ye to stand up to the baggonet. It s not Injin
natur to do that"

Here the corporal, without knowing it, made some such
reproach to the aboriginal warriors of America as the Eng
lish used to throw into the teeth of ourselves that of not
standing up to a weapon which neither party possessed. It
was matter of great triumph that the Americans would not
stand the charge of the bayonet at the renowned fight on
Breed s, for instance, when it is well known that not one
man in five among the colonists had any such weapon at all
to "stand up" with. A different story was told at Guild-
ford, and Stony Point, and Eutaw, and Bennington, and
Bemis Heights, and fifty other places that might be named,
after the troops were furnished with bayonets. Then it was
found that the Americans could use them as well as others,
and so might it have proved with the red men, though their
discipline, or mode of fighting, scarce admitted of such sys
tematic charges. All this, however, the corporal over
looked, much as if he were a regular historian who was
writing to make out a case.

" Harkee, brother, since you will call me brother; though,
Heaven be praised, not a drop of nigger or Injin blood runs
in my veins," resumed the corporal. " Harkee, friend red
skin, answer me one thing. Did you ever hear of such a
man as Mad Anthony? He was the tickler for your in
fernal tribes! You pulled no saplings together for him.
27



418 THE OAK OPENINGS.

He put you up with * the long-knives and leather-stockings, 1
and you outrun his fleetest horses. I was with him, and
saw more naked backs than naked faces among your people,
that day. Your Great Bear got a rap on his nose that sent
him to his village yelping like a cur."

Again was the corporal compelled to stop to take breath.
The allusion to Wayne, and his defeat of the Indians, ex
cited so much ire, that several hands grasped knives and
tomahawks, and one arrow was actually drawn nearly to
the head; but the frown of Bear s Meat prevented any out
break, or actual violence. It was deemed prudent, how
ever, to put an end to this scene, lest the straightforward
corporal, who laid it on heavily, and who had so much to
say about Indian defeats, might actually succeed in touch
ing some festering wound that would bring him to his death
at once. It was, accordingly, determined to proceed with
the torture of the saplings without further delay.

The corporal was removed accordingly, and placed be
tween the two bended trees, which were kept together by
withes around their tops. An arm of the captive was bound
tightly at the wrist to the top of each tree, so that his limbs
were to act as the only tie between the saplings, as soon as
the withes should be cut. The Indians now worked in si
lence, and the matter was getting to be much too serious for
the corporal to indulge in any more words. The cold sweat
returned, and many an anxious glance was cast by the vet
eran on the fell preparations. Still he maintained appear
ances, and when all was ready, not a man there was aware
of the agony of dread which prevailed in the breast of the
victim. It was not death that he feared as much as suffer
ing. A few minutes, the corporal well knew, would make
the pain intolerable, while he saw no hope of putting a
speedy end to his existence. A man might live hours in
such a situation. Then it was that the teachings of child
hood were revived in the bosom of this hardened man, and
he remembered the Being that died for him, in common with



THE OAK OPENINGS. 419

the rest of the human race, on the tree. The seeming simi
larity of his own execution struck his imagination, and
brought a tardy but faint recollection of those lessons that
had lost most of their efficacy in the wickedness and impiety
of camps. His soul struggled for relief in that direction,
but the present scene was too absorbing to admit of its
lifting itself so far above his humanity.

" Warrior of the pale-faces," said Bough of the Oak, " we
are going to cut the withe. You will then be where a brave
man will want all his courage. If you are firm, we will do
you honor; if you faint and screech, our young men will
laugh at you. This is the way with In j ins. They honor
braves; they point the finger at cowards."

Here a sign was made by Bear s Meat, and a warrior
raised the tomahawk that was to separate the fastenings.
His hand was in the very act of descending, when the crack
of a rifle was heard, and a little smoke rose out of the
thicket, near the spot where the bee- hunter and the corporal,
himself, had remained so long hid, on the occasion of the
council first held in that place. The tomahawk fell, how
ever, the withes were parted, and up flew the saplings, with
a violence that threatened to tear the arms of the victim out
of their sockets.

The Indians listened, expecting the screeches and groans;
they gazed, hoping to witness the writhings of their cap
tive. But they were disappointed. There hung the body,
its arms distended, still holding the tops of the saplings
bowed, but not a sign of life was seen. A small line of
blood trickled down the forehead, and above it was the
nearly imperceptible hole made by the passage of a bullet.
The head itself had fallen forward, and a little on one
shoulder. The corporal had escaped the torments reserved
for him, by this friendly blow.

It was so much a matter of course for an Indian to re
venge his own wounds to alleviate his smarts, by retaliat
ing on those who inflicted them that the chiefs expressed



42O THE OAK OPENINGS.

neither surprise nor resentment at the manner of the cor
poral s death. There was some disappointment, it is true;
but no anger was manifested, since it was supposed that
some one of those whom the prisoner had wounded had
seen fit, in this mode, to revenge his own hurts. In this,
however, the Indians deceived themselves. The well-inten
tioned and deadly shot that saved the corporal from hours
of agony came from the friendly hand of Pigeonswing,
who had no sooner discharged his rifle than he stole away
through the thicket, and was never discovered. This he
did, too, at the expense of Ungque s scalp, on which he had
set his heart.

As for the Indians, perceiving that their hopes of forcing
a captive to confess his weakness were frustrated, they con
ferred together on the course of future proceedings. There
was an inquiry for Peter, but Peter was not to be found.
Bough of the Oak suggested that the mysterious chief must
have gone to the palisaded hut, in order to get the remain
ing scalps, his passion for this symbol of triumphs over
pale-faces being well known. It was, therefore, incumbent
on the whole band to follow, with the double view of shar
ing in the honor of the assault, and of rendering assistance.

Abandoning the body of the corporal where it hung, away
went these savages, by this time keenly alive to the scent of
blood. Something like order was observed, however, each
chief leading his own particular part of the band, in his own
way, but on a designated route. Bear s Meat acted as com-
mander-in-chief, the subordinate leaders following his in
structions with reasonable obedience. Some went in one
direction, others in another; until the verdant bottom near
the sweet spring was deserted.

In less than half an hour the whole band was collected
around Castle Meal, distant, however, beyond the range of
a rifle. The different parties, as they arrived, announced
their presence by whoops, which were intended to answer
the double purpose of signals, and of striking terror to the



THE OAK OPENINGS. 421

hearts of the besieged ; the North American Indians mak
ing ample use of this great auxiliary in war.

All this time no one was seen in or about the fortified
hut. The gate was closed, as were the doors and windows,
manifesting preparations for defence; but the garrison kept
close. Nor was Peter to be seen. He might be a prisoner,
or he might not have come in this direction. It was just
possible that he might be stealing up to the building, to
get a nearer view, and a closer scout.

Indian warfare is always stealthy. It is seldom, indeed,
that the aboriginal Americans venture on an open assault of
any fortified place, however small and feeble it may be.
Ignorant of the use of artillery, and totally without that all-
important arm, their approaches to any cover, whence a
bullet may be sent against them, are ever wary, slow, and
well concerted. They have no idea of trenches do not
possess the means of making them, indeed but they have
such substitutes of their own as usually meet all their wants,
more particularly in portions of the country that are wooded.
In cases like this before our present band, they had to
exercise their wits to invent new modes of effecting their
purposes.

Bear s Meat collected his principal chiefs, and, after a
considerable amount of consultation, it was determined, in
the present instance, to try the virtue of fire. The only sign
of life they could detect about the hut was an occasional
bark from Hive, who had been taken within the building,
most probably to protect him from the bullets and arrows of
the enemy. Even this animal did not howl like a dog in
distress; but he barked, as if aware of the vicinity of
strangers. The keenest scrutiny could not detect an outlet
of any sort about the hut. Everything was tightly closed,
and it was impossible to say when, or whence, a bullet
might not be sent against the unwary.

The plan was soon formed, and was quite as rapidly exe
cuted. Bough of the Oak, himself, supported by two or



422 THE OAK OPENINGS.

three other braves, undertook to set the buildings on fire.
This was done by approaching the kitchen, dodging from
tree to tree, making each movement with a rapidity that
defeated aim, and an irregularity that defied calculation.
In this way the kitchen was safely reached, where there was
a log cover to conceal the party. Here also was fire, the food
for dinner being left, just as it had been put over to boil,
not long before. The Indians had prepared themselves
with arrows and light wood, and soon they commenced
sending their flaming missiles toward the roof of the hut.
Arrow after arrow struck, and it was not long before the
roof was on fire.

A yell now arose throughout the Openings. Far and near
the Indians exulted at their success. The wood was dry,
and it was of a very inflammable nature. The wind blew,
and in half an hour Castle Meal was in a bright
blaze. Hive now began to howl, a sign that he knew his
peril. Still, no human being appeared. Presently the
flaming roof fell in and the savages listened intently to
hear the screeches of their victims. The howls of the dog
increased, and he was soon seen, with his hair burned from
his skin, leaping on the unroofed wall, and thence into the
area within the palisades. A bullet terminated his suffer
ings as he alighted.

Bear s Meat now gave the signal, and a general rush was
made. No rifle opposed them, and a hundred Indians were
soon at the palisades. To the surprise of all, the gate was
found unfastened. Rushing within, the door of the hut was
forced, and a view obtained of the blazing furnace within.
The party had arrived in sufficient season to perceive frag
ments of le Bourdon s rude furniture and stores yet blazing,
but nowhere was a human corpse visible. Poles were
got, and the brands were removed, in the expectation of
finding bones beneath them ; but without success. It was
now certain that no pale-face had perished in that hut.
Then the truth flashed on the minds of all the savages: le



THE OAK OPENINGS. 423

Bourdon and his friends had taken the alarm in time, and
had escaped!



CHAPTER XXVI.

Behold, O Lord ! the heathen tread

The branches of thy fruitful vine,
That its luxurious tendrils spread

O er all the hills of Palestine.
And now the wild boar comes to waste
Even us, the greenest boughs and last,
That, drinking of its choicest dew,
On Zion s hill in beauty grew.

MlLMAN.

THE change in Peter had been gradually making itself ap
parent, ever since he joined the party of the bee-hunter.
When he entered the Kalamazoo, in the company of the two
men who had now fallen the victims of his own designs, his
heart was full of the fell intention of cutting off the whole
white race. Margery had first induced him to think of ex
ceptions. He had early half-decided that she should be
spared, to be carried to his own lodge, as an adopted
daughter. When he became aware of the state of things
between his favorite and her lover, there was a severe strug
gle in his breast on the subject of sparing the last. He
saw how strongly the girl was attached to him, and some
thing like human sentiments forced their way among his
savage plans. The mysterious communication of le Bour
don with the bees, however, had far more influence in de
termining him to spare so great a medicine-man, than
Margery s claims; and he had endeavored to avail himself
of a marriage as a means of saving the bride, instead of
saving the bridegroom. All the Indians entertained a
species of awe for le Bourdon, and all hesitated about lay
ing hands on one who appeared so gifted. It was, there
fore, the expectation of this extraordinary being that the
wife might be permitted to escape with the husband. The
effect of The Weasel s cunning has been described. Such



424 1HE OAK OPENINGS.

was the state of Peter s mind when he met the band in the
scenes last described. There he had been all attention to
the demeanor of the missionary. A hundred times had he
seen warriors die uttering maledictions on their enemies;
but this was the first occasion on which he had ever known
a man to use his latest breath in asking for blessings on
those " who persecuted him." At first, Peter was astounded.
Then the sublime principles had their effect, and his heart
was deeply touched with what he heard. How far the Holy
Spirit aided these better feelings, it might be presumptuous,
on the one hand, to say; while, on the other, it will be
equally presuming to think of denying the possibility
nay, the probability that the great change which so sud
denly came over the heart of Peter was produced by more
than mere human agencies. We know that this blessed
Spirit is often poured out, in especial cases, with affluent
benevolence, and there can be no sufficient reason for sup
posing this savage might not have been thus signally fa
vored, as soon as the avenues of his heart opened to the im
pulses of a generous humanity. The very qualities that
would induce such a being to attempt the wild and vision
ary scheme of vengeance and retribution, that had now
occupied his sleeping and waking thoughts for years, might,
under a better direction, render him eminently fit to be the
subject of divine grace. A latent sense of right lay behind
all his seeming barbarity, and that which to us appears as a
fell ferocity, was, in his own eyes, no less than a severe jus
tice.

The words, the principles, the prayers, and, more than all,
the example of the missionary, wrought this great change, so
far as human agencies were employed ; but the power of God
was necessary to carry out and complete this renewal of the
inner man. We do not mean that a miracle was used in
the sudden conversion of this Indian to better feelings, for
that which is of hourly occurrence, and which may happen
to all, comes within the ordinary workings of a Divine



THE OAK OPENINGS. 425

Providence, and cannot thus be designated with propriety ;
but we do wish to be understood as saying, that no purely
human power could have cleared the moral vision, changed
all the views, and softened the heart of such a man, as was
so promptly done in the case of Peter. The way had been
gradually preparing, perhaps, by the means already de
scribed, but the great transformation came so suddenly and
so powerfully as to render him a different being, as it
might almost be, in the twinkling of an eye! Such changes
often occur, and though it may suit the self-sufficiency of the
worldling to deride them, he is the wisest who submits in
the meekest spirit to powers that exceed his comprehension.

In this state of mind, then, Peter left the band as soon
as the fate of the missionary was decided. His immediate
object was to save the whites who remained, Gershom and
Dorothy now having a place in his good intentions, as well
as le Bourdon and Margery. Although he moved swiftly,
and nearly by an air-line, his thoughts scarce kept company
with his feet. During that rapid walk, he was haunted with
the image of a man, dying while he pronounced benedic
tions on his enemies!

There was little in common between the natural objects
of that placid and rural scene and the fell passions that
were so actively at work among the savages. The whole of
the landscape was bathed in the light of a clear, warm
summer s day. These are the times when the earth truly
seems a sanctuary, in spots remote from the haunts of men,
and least exposed to his abuses. The bees hum around the
flowers, the birds carol on the boughs and from amid their
leafy arbors, while even the leaping and shining waters ap
pear to be instinct with the life that extols the glory of
God.

As for the family near the palisaded hut, happiness had
not, for many a month, been so seated among them, as on
this very occasion. Dorothy sympathized truly in the feel
ings of the youthful and charming bride, while Gershom



426 THE OAK OPENINGS.

had many of the kind and affectionate wishes of a brother
in her behalf. The last was in his best attire, as indeed
were the females, who were neatly though modestly clad,
and Gershom had that air of decent repose and of quiet en
joyment, which is so common of a Sabbath with the men of
his class, among the people from whom he sprung. The
fears lately excited were momentarily forgotten. Every
thing around them wore an air so placid; the vault above
them was so profoundly tranquil; the light of day was so
soft and yet so bright; the Openings seemed so rural and
so much like pictures of civilization, that apprehension had
been entirely forgotten in present enjoyment. Such was the
moment when Peter suddenly stood before le Bourdon and
Margery, as the young couple sat beneath the shade of the
oaks, near the spring. One instant the Indian regarded
this picture of young wedded life with a gleam of pleasure on
his dark face ; then he announced his presence by speaking.

" Can t sit here lookin at young squaw," said this literal
being. " Get up, and put thing in canoe. Time come to
go on path dat lead to pale-face country."

" What has happened, Peter? " demanded the bee-hunter,
springing to his feet. " You come like a runner rushing in
with his bad tidings. Has anything happened to give an
alarm?"

" Up, and off, tell you. No use talkin now. Put all he
can in canoe, and paddle away fast as can." There was
no mistaking Peter s manner. The bee-hunter saw the use-
lessness of questioning such a man, at a time like that, and
he called to Gershom to join him.

" Here is the chief, to warn us to move," said the bee-
hunter, endeavoring to appear calm, in order that he might
not needlessly alarm the females, "and what he advises,
we had better do. I know there is danger, by what has
fallen from Pigeonswing as well as from himself; so let us
lose no time, but stow the canoes, and do as he tells us."

As Gershom assented, it was not two minutes ere all were



THE OAK OPENINGS. 427

at work. For several days, each canoe had been furnished
with provisions for a hasty flight. It remained only to add
such of the effects as were too valuable and necessary to be
abandoned, and which had not been previously exposed
without the palisades. For half an hour le Bourdon and
Gershom worked as for life. No questions were asked, nor
was a single moment lost, in a desire to learn more. The
manner in which Peter bore himself satisfied Boden that
the emergency was pressing, and it is seldom that more was
done by so few hands in so short a period. Fortunately,
the previous preparation greatly aided the present object,
and nearly everything of any value was placed in the
canoes within the brief space mentioned. It then became



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 34 of 41)