James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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necessary to decide concerning the condition in which Cas
tle Meal was to be left. Peter advised closing every aper
ture, shutting the gate, and leaving the dog within. There
is no doubt that these expedients prevented the parties fall
ing early into the hands of their enemies; for the time lost
by the savages in making their approaches to the hut was
very precious to the fugitives.

Just as the canoes were loaded, Pigeonswing came in.
He announced that the whole band was in motion, and
might be expected to reach the grove in ten minutes. Plac
ing an arm around the slender waist of Margery, le Bourdon
almost carried her to his own canoe. Gershom soon had
Dorothy in his little bark, while Peter entered that to the
ownership of which he may be said to have justly succeeded
by the deaths of the corporal and the missionary. Pigeons-
wing remained behind, in order to act as a scout, having
first communicated to Peter the course the last ought to
steer. Before the Chippewa plunged into the cover in
which it was his intention to conceal himself, he made a
sign that the band was already in sight.

The heart of le Bourdon sunk within him, when he learned
how near were the enemy. To him, escape seemed impos
sible; and he now regretted having abandoned the defences



428 THE OAK OPENINGS.

of his late residence. The river was sluggish for more than
a mile at that spot, and then occurred a rift, which could
not be passed without partly unloading the canoes, and
where there must necessarily be a detention of more than
an hour. Thus, it was scarcely possible for canoes de
scending that stream to escape from so large a band of
pursuers. The sinuosities, themselves, would enable the
last to gain fifty points ahead of them, where ambushes, or
even open resistance, must place them altogether at the
mercy of the savages.

Peter knew all this, as well as the bee-hunter, and he had
no intention of trusting his new friends in a flight down the
river. Pigeonswing, with the sententious brevity of an In
dian, had made an important communication to him, while
they were moving, for the last time, toward the canoes, and
he now determined to profit by it. Taking the lead, there
fore, with his own canoe, Peter paddled up, instead of down
the stream, going in a direction opposite to that which it
would naturally be supposed the fugitives had taken. In
doing this, also, he kept close under the bank which
would most conceal the canoes from those who approached
it on its southern side.

It will be remembered that the trees for the palisades
had been cut from a swamp, a short distance above the bee-
hunter s residence. They had grown on the margin of the
river, which had been found serviceable in floating the logs
to their point of destination, The tops of many of these
trees, resinuous, and suited by their nature to preserve
their leaves for a considerable time, lay partly in the stream
and partly on its banks; and Pigeonswing, foreseeing the
necessity of having a place of refuge, had made so artful
a disposition of several of them, that, while they preserved
all the appearance of still lying where they had fallen, it
was possible to haul canoes up beneath them, between the
branches and the bank, in a way to form a place of perfect
concealment. No Indian would have trusted to such a hid-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 429

ing-place, had it not been matter of notoriety that the trees
had been felled for a particular purpose, or had their acci
dental disposition along the bank been discernibly deranged.
But such was not the case, the hand of Pigeonswing having
been so skilfully employed that what he had done could not
be detected. He might be said to have assisted nature, in
stead of disturbing her.

The canoes were actually paddling close under the bank,
in the Castle Meal reach of the river, when the band arrived
at the grove, and commenced what might be called the in
vestment of the place. Had not all the attention of the
savages been drawn toward the hut, it is probable that some
wandering eye might have caught a glimpse of some one of
them, as inequalities in the bank momentarily exposed
each, in succession, to view. This danger, however, passed
away, and by turning a point, the fugitives were effectually
concealed from all who did not actually approach the river
at that particular point. Here it was, however, that the
swamp commenced, and the ground being wet and difficult,
no one would be likely to do this. The stream flowed
through this swamp, having a dense wood on each side,
though one of no great extent. The reach, moreover, was
short, making a completely sheltered haven of the Kala-
mazoo, within its limits.

Once in this wooded reach, Peter tossed an arm, and as
sumed an air of greater security. He felt infinitely re
lieved, and knew that they were safe, for a time, unless
some wanderer should have taken to the swamp a most
improbable thing of itself. When high enough, he led the
way across the stream, and entering below, he soon had all
the canoes in their place of concealment.

" Dis good place," observed the great chief, as soon as all
were fast; "bess take care, dough ^ Bess not make track
too much on land; Injin got sharp eye, and see ebbery
t ing. Now, I go and talk wid chief. Come back by- em-
by. You stay here. Good-bye."



43O THE OAK OPENINGS.

" Stop, Peter one word before we part. If you see
Parson Amen, or the corporal, it might be well to tell
them where we are to be found. They would be glad to
know."

Peter looked grave; even sad. He did not answer for
fully a minute. When he did, it was in a low, suppressed
voice, such as one is apt to use when there is a weight felt
on his mind.

"Nebber know any t ing ag in," returned the chief.
" Both dem pale-face dead."

"Dead! " echoed all within hearing.

"Juss so; Injin kill him. Mean to kill you, too dat
why I run away. Saw medicine-priest die. What you
t ink, Blossom? What you t ink, Bourdon? Dat man die
asking Great Spirit to do good to Injin! "

" I can believe it, Peter, for he was a good man, and such
are our Christian laws, though few of us obey them. I can
easily believe that Parson Amen was an exception, how
ever."

" Yes, Peter, such are our Christian laws," put in Mar
gery, earnestly. " When Christ, the Son of God, came on
earth to redeem lost men, he commanded his followers to
do good to them that did evil to us, and to pray for them
that tried to harm us. We have his very words, written in
our bibles."

" You got him ? " said Peter, with interest. " See you
read him, of en. Got dat book here? "

"To be sure I have it is the last thing I should have
forgotten. Dolly has one, and I have another; we read in
them every day, and we hope that, before long, brother and
Bourdon will read in them, too."

"Why, I m no great scholar, Margery," returned her hus
band, scratching his full, curling head of hair, out of pure
awkwardness; "to please you, however, I d undertake
even a harder job. It was so with the bees, when I began;
I thought I should never succeed in lining the first bee to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 431

his hive; but, since that time, I think I ve lined a thou
sand!"

"It s easy, it s easy, dear Benjamin, if you will only make
a beginning," returned the much interested young wife.
" When we get to a place of safety, if it be God s will that
we ever shall, I hope to have you join me in reading the
good book, daily. See, Peter, I keep it in this little bag,
where it is safe, and always at hand."

" You read dem word for me, Blossom : I want to hear
him, out of dis book, himself."

Margery did as he desired. She was very familiar with
the New Testament, and, turning to the well-known and
God-like passage, she read several verses, in a steady, ear
nest voice. Perhaps the danger they were in, and the recent
communication of the death of their late companions, in
creased her earnestness and solemnity of manner, for the
effect produced on Peter was scarcely less than that he had
felt when he witnessed a practical obedience to these sub
lime principles, in the death of the missionary. Tears
actually started to this stern savage s eyes, and he looked
back on his late projects and endeavors to immolate a
whole race with a shudder. Taking Margery s hand, he
courteously thanked her, and prepared to quit the place.
Previously to leaving his friends, however, Peter gave a
brief account of the manner of the missionary s death, and
of the state in which he had left the corporal. Pigeonswing
had told him of the fate of the last, as well as of the eager
ness with which the band had set out in quest of more white
scalps.

" Peter, we can count on you for a friend, I hope ? " said
the bee-hunter, as the two were about to part, on the bank of
the river. " I fear you were, once, our enemy ! "

"Bourdon," said Peter, with dignity, and speaking in the
language of his own people, " listen. There are Good
Spirits, and there are Bad Spirits. Our traditions tell us
this. Our own minds tell us this, too. For twenty winters



432 THE OAK OPENINGS.

a Bad Spirit has been whispering in my ear. I listened to
him; and did what he told me to do. I believed what he
said. His words were l Kill your enemies scalp all the
pale-faces do not leave a squaw, or a pappoose. Make all
their hearts heavy. This is what an Injin should do. So
has the Bad Spirit been whispering to me, for twenty win
ters. I listened to him. What he said, I did. It was
pleasant to me to take the scalps of the pale-faces. It was
pleasant to think that no more scalps would be left among
them, to take. I was Scalping Peter.

" Bourdon, the Good Spirit has, at last, made himself
heard. His whisper is so low, that at first my ears did not
hear him. They hear him now. When he spoke loudest,
it was with the tongue of the medicine-priest of your peo
ple. He was about to die. When we are about to die, our
voices become strong and clear. So do our eyes. We see
what is before, and we see what is behind. We feel joy for
what is before we feel sorrow for what is behind. Your
medicine-priest spoke well. It sounded in my ears as if
the Great Spirit, himself, was talking. They say it was his
Son. I believe them. Blossom has read to me out of the
good book of your people, and I find it is so. I feel like a
child, and could sit down, in my wigwam, and weep.

" Bourdon, you are a pale-face, and I am an Injin.
You are strong, and I am weak. This is because the Son
of the Great Spirit has talked with your people, and has not
talked with mine. I now see why the pale-faces overrun
the earth and take the hunting-grounds. They know most,
and have been told to come here, and to tell what they
know to the poor ignorant In j ins. I hope my people will
listen. What the Son of the Great Spirit says must be true.
He does not know how to do wrong.

" Bourdon, once it seemed sweet to me to take the scalps
of my enemies. When an Injin did me harm, I took his
scalp. This was my way. I could not help it, then. The
Wicked Spirit told me to do this. The Son of the Manitou



THE OAK OPENINGS. 433

has now told me better. I have lived under a cloud. The
breath of the dying medicine-priest of your people has
blown away that cloud. I see clearer. I hear him telling
the Manitou to do me good, though I wanted his scalp. He
was answered in my heart. Then my ears opened wider,
and I heard what the Good Spirit whispered. The ear in
which the Bad Spirit had been talking for twenty winters
shut, and was deaf. I hear him no more. I do not want
to hear him again. The whisper of the Son of the Manitou
is very pleasant to me. It sounds like the wren singing his
sweetest song. I hope he will always whisper so. My ear
shall never again be shut to his words.

" Bourdon, it is pleasant to me to look forward. It is
not pleasant to me to look back. I see how many things I
have done in one way, that ought to have been done in an
other way. I feel sorry, and wish it had not been so.
Then I hear the Son of the Manitou asking His Father,
who liveth above the clouds, to do good to the Jews who
took his life. I do not think Injins are Jews. In this, my
brother was wrong. It was his own notion, and it is easy
for a man to think wrong. It is not so with the Son of
the Manitou. He thinketh always as His Father thinketh,
which is right.

" Bourdon, I am no longer Peter I must be another In-
jin. I do not feel the same. A scalp is a terrible thing in
my eyes I wish never to take another never to see another
a scalp is a bad thing. I now love the Yankees. I wish
to do them good, and not to do them harm. I love most
the Great Spirit, that let his own Son die for all men. The
medicine-priest said he died for Injins, as well as for pale
faces. This we did not know, or we should have talked of
him more in our traditions. We love to talk of good acts.
But we are such ignorant Injins! The Son of the Manitou
will have pity on us, and tell us oftener what we ought to
do. In time, we shall learn. Now, I feel like a child I
hope I shall one day be a man."
28



434 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Having made this " confession of faith," one that would
have done credit to a Christian church, Peter shook the
bee-hunter kindly by the hand, and took his departure. He
did not walk into the swamp, though it was practicable with
sufficient care, but he stepped into the river, and followed
its margin, knowing that " water leaves no trail." Nor did
Peter follow the direct route toward the now blazing hut,
the smoke from which was rising high above the trees, but
he ascended the stream, until reaching a favorable spot, he
threw aside all of his light dress, made it into a bundle,
and swam across the Kalamazoo, holding his clothes above
the element with one hand. On reaching the opposite
shore, he moved on to the upper margin of the swamp,
where he resumed his clothes. Then he issued into the
Openings, carrying neither rifle, bow, tomahawk, nor knife.
All his weapons he had left in his canoe, fearful that they
might tempt him to do evil, instead of good, to his enemies.
Neither Bear s Meat, nor Bough of the Oak, was yet re
garded by Peter with the eye of love. He tried not to hate
them, and this he found sufficiently difficult; conscious of
this difficulty, he had laid aside his arms, accordingly.
This mighty change had been gradually in progress, ever
since the chief s close communication with Margery, but it
had received its consummation in the last acts, and last
words, of the missionary!

Having got out into the Openings, it was not difficult for
Peter to join his late companions without attracting obser
vation from whence he came. He kept as much under
cover as was convenient, and reached the kitchen, just as
the band broke into the defences, and burst open the door
of the blazing and already roofless hut. Here Peter paused,
unwilling to seem inactive in such a scene, yet averse to
doing anything that a sensitively tender conscience might
tell him was wrong. He knew there was no human being
there to save, and cared little for the few effects that might
be destroyed. He did not join the crowd, therefore, until



THE OAK OPENINGS. 435

it was ascertained that the bee-hunter and his companions
had escaped.

" The pale-faces have fled," said Bear s Meat to the great
chief, when the last did approach him. " We have looked
for their bones among the ashes, but there are none. That
medicine-bee-hunter has told them that their scalps were
wanted, and they have gone off! "

" Have any of the young men been down to the river, to
look for their canoes? " quietly demanded Peter. "If the
canoes are gone, too, they have taken the route toward the
Great Lake."

This was so obvious and probable, that a search was im
mediately set on foot. The report was soon made, and great
was the eagerness to pursue. The Kalamazoo was so
crooked, that no one there doubted of overtaking the fugi
tives, and parties were immediately organized for the chase.
This was done with the customary intelligence and shrewd
ness of Indians. The canoes that belonged to Crowsfeather
and his band had been brought up the river, and they lay
concealed in rushes, not a mile from the hut. A party of
warriors brought them to the landing, and they carried one
division of the party to the opposite shore, it being the plan
to follow each bank of the river, keeping close to the stream,
even to its mouth, should it prove necessary. Two other
parties were sent in direct lines, one on each side of the
river, also, to lay in ambush at such distant points, ahead,
as would be almost certain to anticipate the arrival of the
fugitives. The canoes were sent down the stream, to close
the net against return, while Bear s Meat, Bough of the Oak,
Crowsfeather, and several others of the leading chiefs, re
mained near the still burning hut, with a strong party, to
examine the surrounding Openings for foot-prints and trails.
It was possible that the canoes had been sent adrift, in or
der to mislead them, while the pale-faces had fled by land.

It has been stated that the Openings had a beautiful
sward, near Castle Meal. This was true of that particular



436 THE OAK OPENINGS.

spot, and was the reason why le Bourdon had selected it for
his principal place of residence. The abundance of flowers
drew the bees there, a reason of itself why he should like
the vicinity. Lest the reader should be misled, however,
it may be well to explain that an absence of sward is char
acteristic of these Openings, rather than the reverse, it
being, to a certain degree, a cause of complaint, now that
the country is settled, that the lands of the Oak Openings
are apt to be so light that the grasses do not readily form
as firm a turf as is desirable for meadows and pastures.
We apprehend this is true, however, less as a rule than as
exceptions; there being variety in the soils of these Open
ings, as well as in other quarters.

Nevertheless, the savages were aware that the country
around the burned hut, for a considerable extent, differed,
in this particular, from most of that which lay farther east,
or more inland. On the last a trail would be much more
easily detected than on the first, and a party, under the di
rection of a particularly experienced leader, was dispatched
several miles to the eastward, to look for the usual signs of
the passage of any toward Detroit, taking that route. This
last expedient troubled Peter exceedingly, since it placed
a body of enemies in the rear of the fugitives; thereby ren
dering their position doubly perilous. There was no help
for the difficulty, however; and the great chief saw the
party depart without venturing on remonstrance, advice, or
any other expedient to arrest the movement. Bear s Meat
now called the head chiefs, who remained, into a circle, and
asked for opinions concerning the course that ought next to
be taken.

"What does my brother, the tribeless chief, say?" he
asked, looking at Peter, in a way to denote the expectation
which all felt, that he ought to be able to give useful coun
sel in such a strait. " We have got but two scalps from six
heads; and one of them is buried with the medicine-priest."

" Scalps cannot be taken from them that get off," returned



THE OAK OPENINGS. 437

Peter, evasively. " We must first catch these pale-faces.
When they are found it will be easy to scalp them. If the
canoes are gone, I think the medicine-bee-hunter and his
squaws have gone in them. We may find the whole down
the river."

To this opinion most of the chiefs assented, though the
course of examining for a trail farther east was still ap
proved. The band was so strong, while the pale-faces were
so few, that a distribution of their own force was of no conse
quence, and it was clearly the most prudent to send out
young men in all directions. Every one, however, expected
that the fugitives would be overtaken on, or near, the river,
and Bear s Meat suggested the propriety of their moving
down stream, themselves, very shortly.

"When did my brother last seethe pale-faces?" asked
Crowsfeather. " This bee-hunter knows the river well, and
may have started yesterday ; or even after he came from the
Great Council of the Prairie."

This was a new idea, but one that seemed probable
enough. All eyes turned toward Peter, who saw, at once,
that such a notion must greatly favor the security of the
fugitives, and felt a strong desire to encourage it. He
found evasion difficult, however, and well knew the danger
of committing himself. Instead of giving a straightfor
ward answer, therefore, he had recourse to circumlocution
and subterfuge.

" My brother is right," he answered. " The pale-faces
have had time to get far down the stream. As my brothers
know, I slept among them at the Round Prairie. To-day,
they know I was with them at the council of the spring of
gushing waters."

All this was true, as far as it went, although the omis
sions were very material. No one seemed to suspect the
great chief, whose fidelity to his own principles was be
lieved to be of a character amounting to enthusiasm. Little
did any there know of the power of the unseen Spirit of



THE OAK OPENINGS.

God to alter the heart, producing what religionists term the
new birth. We do not wish, however, to be understood that
Peter had, as yet, fully experienced this vast change. It is
not often the work of a moment, though well-authenticated
modern instances do exist, in which we have every reason
to believe that men have been made to see and feel the
truth almost as miraculously as was St. Paul himself. As
for this extraordinary savage, he had entered into the strait
and narrow way, though he was not far advanced on its
difficult path.

When men tell us of the great progress that the race is
making toward perfection, and point to the acts which de
note its wisdom, its power to control its own affairs, its ten
dencies toward good when most left to its own self-control,
our minds are filled with scepticism. The every-day
experience of a life now fast verging toward threescore,
contradicts the theory and the facts. We believe not in
the possibility of man s becoming even a strictly rational
being, unaided by a power from on high; and all that we
have seen and read goes to convince us that he is most of a
philosopher, the most accurate judge of his real state, the
most truly learned, who most vividly sees the necessity of
falling back on the precepts of revelation for all his higher
principles and practice. We conceive that this mighty
truth furnishes unanswerable proof of the unceasing agency
of a Providence, and when we once admit this, we concede
that our own powers are insufficient for our own wants.

That the world, as a whole, is advancing toward a better
state of things, we as firmly believe as we do that it is by
ways that have not been foreseen by man ; and that, when
ever the last has been made the agent of producing portions
of this improvement, it has oftener been without design, or
calculation, than with it. Who, for instance, supposes that
the institutions of this country, of which we boast so much,
could have stood as long as they have, without the conserva
tive principles that are to be found in the Union : and who



THE OAK OPENINGS. 439

is there so vain as to ascribe the overshadowing influence
of this last great power to any wisdom in man? We all
know that perfectly fortuitous circumstances, or what appear
to us to be such, produced the Federal Government, and that
its strongest and least exceptionable features are precisely
those which could not be withstood, much less invented, as
parts of the theory of a polity.

A great and spasmodic political movement is, at this
moment, convulsing Christendom. That good will come of
it, we think is beyond a question ; but we greatly doubt
whether it will come in the particular form, or by the speci
fied agencies, that human calculations would lead us to ex
pect. It must be admitted that the previous preparations,
which have induced the present effort, are rather in opposition
to, than the consequences of, calculated agencies ; overturning
in their progress the very safeguards which the sagacity of
men had interposed to the advance of those very opinions
that have been silently, and by means that would perhaps
baffle inquiry, preparing the way for the results that have
been so suddenly and unexpectedly obtained. If the course
is onward, it is more as the will of God, than from any cal
culations of man ; and it is when the last are the most active,
that there is the greatest reason to apprehend the conse
quences.

Of such a dispensation of the Providence of Almighty



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 35 of 41)