James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

. (page 36 of 41)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 36 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


God, do we believe Peter to have been the subject. Among
the thousand ways that are employed to touch the heart, he
had been most affected by the sight of a dying man s asking
benedictions on his enemies! It was assailing his besetting
sin; attacking the very citadel of his savage character, and
throwing open, at once, an approach into the deepest re
cesses of his habits and dispositions. It was like placing a
master-key in the hands of him who would go through the
whole tenement, for the purpose of purifying it.



44O THE OAK OPENINGS.



CHAPTER XXVII.

Thou to whom every faun and satyr flies
For willing service ; whether to surprise
The squatted hare, while in half sleeping fits,
Or upward ragged precipices flit
To save poor lambkins from the eagle s maw ;
Or by mysterious enticement draw
Bewildered shepherds to their path again ;

KBATS.

IT can easily be understood that the party with the canoes
were left by Peter in a state of great anxiety. The distance
between the site of the hut and their place of concealment
was but little more than a quarter of a mile, and the yell of
the savages had often reached their ears, notwithstanding
the cover of the woods. This proximity, of itself, was fear
ful ; but the uncertainty that le Bourdon felt on the subject
of Peter s real intentions added greatly to his causes of con
cern. Of course, he knew but little of the sudden change
that had come over this mysterious chief s feelings; nor is
it very likely that he would have been able to appreciate it,
even had the fact been more fully stated. Our hero had
very little acquaintance with the dogmas of Christianity, and
would have, most probably, deemed it impossible that so
great a revolution of purpose could have been so suddenly
wrought in the mind of man, had the true state of the case
been communicated to him. He would have been ready
enough to allow that, with God, nothing is impossible; but
might have been disposed to deny the influence of His Holy
Spirit, as exhibited in this particular form, for a reason no
better than the circumstance that he himself had never been
the subject of such a power. All that Peter had said, there
fore, served rather to mystify him, than to explain, in its
true colors, what had actually occurred. With Margery it
was different. Her schooling had been far better than that
of any other of the party, and, while she admired the manly
appearance, and loved the free, generous character of her
husband, she had more than once felt pained at the passing



THE OAK OPENINGS. 441

thoughts of his great indifference to sacred things. This
feeling in le Bourdon, however, was passive rather than
active, and gave her a kind interest in his future welfare,
rather than any present pain through acts and words.

But, as respects their confidence in Peter, this young
couple were much farther apart than in their religious no
tions. The bee-hunter had never been without distrust,
though his apprehensions had been occasionally so far
quieted as to leave him nearly free of them altogether;
while his wife had felt the utmost confidence in the chief,
from the very commencement of their acquaintance. It
would be useless, perhaps, to attempt to speculate on the
causes, but it is certain that there are secret sources of
sympathy that draw particular individuals toward each
other and antipathies that keep them widely separated.
Men shall meet for the first time, and feel themselves at
tracted toward each other, like two drops of water, or re
pelled, like the corks of an electric machine.

The former had been the case with Peter and Margery.
They liked each other from the first, and kind offices had
soon come to increase this feeling. The girl had now seen
so much of the Indians, as to regard them much as she did
others, or with the discriminations, and tastes, or distastes,
with which we all regard our fellow-creatures; feeling no
particular cause of estrangement. It is true that Margery
would not have been very likely to fall in love with a young
Indian, had one come in her way of a suitable age and
character; for her American notions on the subject of color
might have interposed difficulties; but, apart from the ten
der sentiments, she could see good and bad qualities in one
of the aborigines, as well as in a white man. As a conse
quence of this sympathy between Peter and Margery, the
last had ever felt the utmost confidence in the protection
and friendship of the first. This she did, even while the
struggle was going on in his breast on the subject of in
cluding her in his fell designs, or of making an exception



442 THE OAK OPENINGS.

in her favor. It shows the waywardness of our feelings
that Margery had never reposed confidence in Pigeonswing,
who was devotedly the friend of le Bourdon, and who re
mained with them for no other reason than a general wish
to be of use. Something brusque in his manner, which was
much less courteous and polished than that of Peter, had
early rendered her dissatisfied with him, and once es
tranged, she had never felt disposed to be on terms of inti
macy sufficient to ascertain his good or bad qualities.

The great change of feeling in Peter was not very clearly
understood by Margery, any more than it was by her hus
band; though, had her attention been drawn more strictly
to it, she would have best known how to appreciate it. But
this knowledge was not wanting to put her perfectly at
peace, so far as apprehension of his doing her harm was
concerned. This sense of security she now manifested in a
conversation with le Bourdon, that took place soon after
Peter had left them.

" I wish we weren t in the hands of this red-skin, Mar
gery, 7 said her husband, a little more off his guard than
was his wont.

"Of Peter! You surprise me, Benjamin. I think we
could not be in better hands, since we have got this risk to
run with the savages. If it was Pigeonswing that you
feared, I could understand it."

"I will answer for Pigeonswing with my life."

" I am glad to hear you say so, for /do not half like him.
Perhaps I am prejudiced against him. The scalp he took
do.wn at the mouth of the river set me against him from the
first."

" Do you not know, Margery, that your great friend goes
by the name of Scalping Peter ? "

" Yes, I know it very well ; but I do not believe he ever
took a scalp in his life."

" Did he ever tell you as much as that? "

" I can t say that he did ; but he has never paraded any



THE OAK OPENINGS. 443

thing of the sort before my eyes, like Pigeonswing. I do
not half like that Chippewa, dear Bourdon."

" No fear of him, Margery; nor, when I come to think it
all over, do I see why Peter should have brought us here,
if he means anything wrong. The man is so mysterious,
that I cannot line him down to his hole."

" My word for it, Bourdon, that when you do, it will take
you to a friendly hive. I have put almost as much faith in
Peter as in you or Gershom. You heard what he said about
Parson Amen and the corporal."

"And how coolly he took it all," answered her husband,
shaking his head. " It has been a sudden departure for
them, and one would think even an Injin might have felt it
more."

Margery s cheek grew pale, and her limbs trembled a lit
tle. It was a minute ere she could pursue the discourse.

"This is terrible, but I will not, cannot believe it," she
said. " I m sure, Bourdon, we ought to be very thankful
to Peter for having brought us here. Remember how ear
nestly he listened to the words of the Saviour."

" If he has brought us here with a good intention, I thank
him for it. But I scarce know what to think. Pigeonswing
has given me many a hint, which I have understood to mean
that we ought not to trust this unknown Injin too much."

" So has he given me some of his hints, though I would
sooner trust Peter than trust him, any time."

" Our lives are in the care of Providence, I see. If we
can really rely on these two Injins, all may be well; for
Peter has brought us to an admirable cover, and he says
that the Chippewa prepared it."

The young husband and his wife now landed, and began
to examine more particularly into the state of the swamp,
near their place of concealment. Just at that spot, the bank
of the river was higher than in most of the low land, and
was dry, with a soil that approached sand. This was the
place where the few young pines had grown. The dry



444 THE OAK OPENINGS.

ground might have covered four or five acres, and so many
trees having been felled, light and air were admitted, in a
way to render the place comparatively cheerful. The
branches of the felled trees made a sufficient cover in all
directions, though the swamp itself was more than that, al
most a defence, toward the Openings. The bee-hunter found
it was possible, though it was exceedingly difficult, to make
his way through it. He ascertained the fact, however, since
it might be important to their future movements to know
it.

In a word, le Bourdon made a complete reconnaissance of
his position. He cleared a spot for the females, and made
a sort of hut, that would serve as a protection against rain,
and in which they all might sleep at night. There was lit
tle doubt that this place must be occupied for some days, if
Peter was acting in good faith, since an early movement
would infallibly lead to detection. Time must be given to
the Indians to precede them, or the great numbers of the
savages would scarce leave a hope of escape. A greater
sense of security succeeded this examination, and these ar
rangements. The danger was almost entirely to be appre
hended on the side of the river. A canoe passing up-stream
might, indeed, discover their place of concealment, but it
was scarcely to be apprehended that one would wade through
the mud and water of the swamp to approach them in any
other direction.

Under these circumstances, le Bourdon began to feel more
security in their position. Could he now be certain of
Peter, his mind would be comparatively at ease, and he
might turn his attention altogether to making the party
comfortable. Margery, who seldom quitted his side, rea
soned with him on the subject of the mysterious chief s
good faith, and by means of her own deep reliance on him,
she came at last to the point of instilling some of her own
confidence into the mind of her husband. From that time
he worked at the shelter for the females, and the other little



THE OAK OPENINGS. 445

arrangements their situation rendered necessary, with greater
zest, and with far more attention to the details. So long as
we are in doubt of accomplishing good, we hesitate about
employing our energies; but once let hope revive within
us, in the shape of favorable results, and we become new
men, bracing every nerve to the task, and working with re
doubled spirit; even should it be at the pump of the sinking
ship, which, we believe, ranks the highest among the toils
that are inflicted on the unfortunate.

For three days and nights did le Bourdon and his friends
remain on that dry land of the swamp, without hearing or
seeing anything of either Peter or Pigeonswing. The time
was growing long, and the party anxious; though the sense
of security was much increased by this apparent exemption
from danger. Still, uncertainty, and the wish to ascertain
the precise state of things in the Openings, were gradually
getting to be painful, and it was with great satisfaction that
the bee-hunter met his young wife as she came running
toward him, on the morning of the fourth day, to announce
that an Indian was approaching, by wading in the margin
of the river, keeping always in the water so as to leave no
trail. Hurrying to a point whence their visitor might be
seen, le Bourdon soon perceived it was no other than
Pigeonswing. In a few minutes this Indian arrived, and
was gladly received by all four of the fugitives, who gath
ered around him, eager to hear the news.

"You are welcome, Chippewa," cried le Bourdon, shaking
his friend cordially by the hand. " We were half afraid we
might never see you again. Do you bring us good or evil
tidings? "

" Mustn t be squaw, and ask too much question, Bour
don," returned the red-skin, carefully examining the priming
of his rifle, in order to make sure it was not wet. "Got
plenty venison, eh? "

" Not much venison is left, but we have caught a good
many fish, which have helped us along. I have killed a



44^ THE OAK OPENINGS.

dozen large squirrels, too, with your bow and arrows, which
I find you left in your canoe. But "

"Yes, he good bow, dat might kill hummin -bird wid
dat bow. Fish good here, eh ? "

" They are eatable, when a body can get no better. But
now, I should think, Pigeonswing, you might give us some
of the news."

" Mustn t be squaw, Bourdon bad for warrior be squaw.
Alway bess be man, and be patient, like man. What you
t ink, Bourdon? Got him at last! "

"Got what, my good fellow? I see nothing about you,
but your arms and ammunition."

"Got scalp of dat Weasel! Wasn t dat well done?
Nebber no young warrior take more scalp home dan Pigeons-
wing carry dis time! Got t ree; all hid, where Bear s Meat
nebber know. Take em away, when he get ready to
march."

" Well, well, Chippewa I suppose it will not be easy to
reason you out of this feelin but what has become of the
red-skins who burned my cabin, and who killed the mis
sionary and the corporal ? "

" All about dough must go down river. Look here,
Bourdon, some of dem chief fool enough to t ink bee carry
you off on his wing! "

Here the Chippewa looked his contempt for the credulity
and ignorance of the others, though he did not express it
after the boisterous manner in which a white man of his
class might have indulged. To him le Bourdon was a good
fellow, but no conjuror, and he understood the taking of the
bee too well to have any doubts as to the character of that
process. His friend had let him amuse himself by the hour
in looking through his spy-glass, so that the mind of this
one savage was particularly well fortified against the in
roads of the weaknesses that had invaded those of most of
the members of the great council. Consequently, he was
amused with the notion taken up by some of the others, that



THE OAK OPENINGS. 447

le Bourdon had been carried off by bees, though he mani
fested his amusement in a very Indian-like fashion.

" So much the better," answered le Bourdon; "and I hope
they have followed to line me down to my hive in the settle
ments."

"Most on em go yes, dat true. But some don t go.
Plenty of Injins still about dis part of Opening."

"What are we then to do? We shall soon be in want of
food. The fish do not bite as they did, and I have killed
all the squirrels I can find. You know I dare not use a
rifle."

"Don t be squaw, Bourdon. When Injin get marry he
grows good deal like squaw at fuss; but dat soon go away.
I spose it s just so wid pale-face. Mustn t be squaw, Bour
don. Dat bad for warrior. What you do for eat? Why,
see dere," pointing to an object that was floating slowly
down the river, the current of which was very sluggish just
in that reach. " Dere as fat buck as ever did see, eh? "

Sure enough the Indian had killed a deer, of which the
Openings were full, and having brought it to the river, he
had constructed a raft of logs, and placing the carcase on
it, he had set his game adrift, taking care to so far precede
it as to be in readiness to tow it into port. When this last
operation was performed, it was found that the Chippewa
did not heedlessly vaunt the quality of his prize. What
was more, so accurately had he calculated the time, and the
means of subsistence in the possession of the fugitives, that
his supply came in just as it was most needed. In all this
he manifested no more than the care of an experienced and
faithful hunter. Next to the war-path, the hunting-ground
is the great field for an Indian s glory ; deeds and facts so
far eclipsing purely intellectual qualifications with savages,
as to throw oratory, though much esteemed by them, and
wisdom at the Council Fires, quite into the shade. In all
this, we find the same propensity among ourselves. The
common mind, ever subject to these impulses, looks rather



448 THE OAK OPENINGS.

to such exploits as address themselves to the senses and the
imagination, than to those qualities which the reason alone
can best appreciate; and in this, ignorance asserts its nega
tive power over all conditions of life.

Pigeonswing now condescended to enter on such explana
tions as the state of the case rendered necessary. His ac
count was sufficiently clear, and it manifested throughout
the sagacity and shrewdness of a practised hunter and scout.
We shall not attempt to give his words, which would re
quire too much space, but the substance of his story was
briefly this:

As has been alluded to already, the principal chiefs, on
a suggestion of Bear s Meat, had followed the young men
down the Kalamazoo, dividing themselves by a part of their
body s crossing the stream at the first favorable spot. In
this way the Indians proceeded, sweeping the river before
them, and examining every place that seemed capable of
concealing a canoe. Runners were kept in constant motion
between the several parties, in order to let the state of the
search be known to all; and, feigning to be one of these
very men, Pigeonswing had held communication with sev
eral whom he purposely met, and to whom he imparted such
invented information as contributed essentially to send the
young men forward on a false scent. In this way, the main
body of the savages descended the river some sixty miles,
following its windings, in the first day and a half. Here
Pigeonswing left them, turning his own face up stream, in
order to rejoin his friends. Of Peter he had no knowledge;
neither knowing, nor otherwise learning, what had become
of the great chief. On his way up stream, Pigeonswing met
several more Indians; runners like himself, or as he seemed
to be ; or scouts kept on the lookout for the fugitives. He
had no difficulty in deceiving these men. None of them
had been of Crowsfeather s party, and he was a stranger to
them all. Ignorant of his real character, they received his
information without distrust, and the orders he pretended



THE OAK OPENINGS. 449

to convey were obeyed by them without the smallest hesita
tion. In this way, then, Pigeonswing contrived to send all
the scouts he met away from the river, by telling them that
there was reason to think the pale-faces had abandoned the
stream, and that it was the wish of Bear s Meat that their
trail should be looked for in the interior. This was the
false direction that he gave to all, thereby succeeding better
even than he had hoped in clearing the banks of the Kala-
mazoo of observers and foes. Nevertheless, many of those
whom he knew to be out, some quite in the rear of the party,
and others in its front, and at no great distance from them,
he did not meet; of course he could not get his false direc
tions to their ears. There were, in fact, so many of the
Indians and so few of the whites, that it was an easy matter
to cover the path with young warriors, any one party of
whom would be strong enough to capture two men and as
many women.

Having told the tale of his own doings, Pigeonswing
next came to his proposition for the mode of future proceed
ing. He proposed that the family should get into the canoes
that very night, and commence its flight by going down the
stream directly toward its foes! This sounded strangely,
but there did not seem to be any alternative. A march
across the peninsula would be too much for the females, and
there was the certainty that their trail would be found. It
may seem strange to those who are unacquainted with the
American Indian, and his habits, to imagine that, in so
large an expanse, the signs of the passage of so small a
party might not escape detection; but such was the case.
To one unaccustomed to the vigilance and intelligence of
these savages, it must appear just as probable that the ves
sel could be followed through the wastes of the ocean, by
means of its wake, as that the footprints should be so indel
ible as to furnish signs that can be traced for days. Such,
however, is the fact, and no one understood it better than
the Chippewa. He was also aware that the country toward
29



THE OAK OPENINGS.

Ohio, whither the fugitives would naturally direct their
course, now that the English were in possession of Detroit,
must soon be a sort of battle-ground, to which most of the
warriors of that region would eagerly repair. Under all
the circumstances, therefore, he advised the flight by means
of the river. Le Bourdon reasoned on all he heard, and,
still entertaining some of his latent distrust of Peter, and
willing to get beyond his reach, he soon acquiesced in the
proposition, and came fully into the plan.

It was now necessary to reload the canoes. This was
done in the course of the day, and every arrangement was
made, so as to be ready for a start as soon as the darkness
set in. Everybody was glad to move, though all were aware
of the extent of the hazard they ran. The females, in par
ticular, felt their hearts beat, as each, in her husband s
canoe, issued out of the cover into the open river. Pigeons-
wing took the lead, paddling with a slow, but steady sweep
of his arm, and keeping as close as was convenient to one
bank. By adopting this precaution, he effectually concealed
the canoes from the eyes of all on that side of the river,
unless they stood directly on its margin, and had the aid of
the shadows to help conceal them from any who might hap
pen to be on the other. In this way, then, the party pro
ceeded, passing the site of the hut, and the grove of the
Openings around it, undetected. As the river necessarily
flowed through the lowest land, its banks were wooded much
of the way, which afforded great protection to the fugitives;
and this so much the more because these woods often grew
in swamps where the scouts would not be likely to resort.

About midnight the canoes reached the first rift. An
hour was lost in unloading and in reloading the canoes, and
in passing the difficulties at that point. As soon as this
was done, the party re-embarked, and resorted once more to
the use of the paddle, in order to gain a particular sheltered
reach of the river previously to the return of light. This
was effected successfully, and the party landed.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 45!

It now appeared that Pigeons wing had chosen another
swamp as a place of concealment for the fugitives to use
during the day. These swamps, through which the river
wound its way in short reaches, were admirably adapted to
such purposes. Dark, sombre, and hardly penetrable on the
side of the land, they were little likely to be entered after
a first examination. Nor was it at all probable that
females, in particular, would seek a refuge in such a place.
But the Chippewa had found the means to obviate the natu
ral obstacles of the low land. There were several spots
where the water from the river set back into the swamp,
forming so many little creeks; and into the largest of one
of these he pushed his canoe, the others following where
he led. By resorting to such means, the shelter now ob
tained was more complete, perhaps, than that previously left.

Pigeonswing forced his light boat up the shallow inlet,
until he reached a bit of dry land, where he brought up,
announcing that as the abiding-place during the day. Glad
enough was every one to get on shore, in a spot that promised
security, after eight hours of unremitting paddling and of
painful excitement. Notwithstanding the rifts and carrying-
places they had met, and been obliged to overcome, le Bour
don calculated that they had made as many as thirty miles
in the course of that one night. This was a great move
ment, and to all appearances it had been made without de
tection. As for the Chippewa, he was quite content, and no
sooner was his canoe secured, than he lighted his pipe and
sat down to his enjoyment with an air of composure and
satisfaction.

" And here, you think, Pigeonswing, that we shall be safe
during the day?" demanded le Bourdon, approaching the
fallen tree on which the Indian had taken his seat.

" Sartain no Pottawattamie come here. Too wet. Don t
like wet. An t duck, or goose like dry land, juss like
squaw. Dis good baccy, Bourdon hope you got more for
friend."



452 THE OAK OPENINGS.

"I have enough for us all, Pigeonswing, and you shall
have a full share. Now, tell me; what will be your next
move, and where do you intend to pass the morrow? "



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 36 of 41)