James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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"Juss like diss. Plenty of swamp, Bourdon, on Kekala-
mazoo.* Run canoe in swamp; den safe nough. Injins
won t look ere, cause he don t know whereabout look.
Don t like swamp. Great danger down at mouth of river."

"So it has seemed to me, Chippewa. The Injins must
be there in a strong force, and we shall find it no easy mat
ter to get through them. How do you propose to do it? "

"Go by in night. No udder way. When can t see, can t
see. Dere plenty of rush dere ; dat good t ing, and, p raps,
dat help us. Rush good cover for canoe. Expec , when we
get down ere, to get some scalp, too. Plenty of Pottawat-
tamie about dat lodge, sartain ; and it very hard if don t get
some on him scalp. You mean stop, and dig up cache; eh,
Bourdon ? "

The cool, quiet manner in which Pigeonswing revealed
his own plans, and inquired into those of his friend, had, at
least, the effect to revive the confidence of le Bourdon. He
could not think the danger very great so long as one so ex
perienced as the Chippewa felt so much confidence in his
own future proceedings; and, after talking a short time
longer with this man, the bee-hunter went to seek Margery,
in order to impart to her a due portion of his own hopes.

The sisters were preparing the breakfast. This was done
without the use of fire, it being too hazardous to permit
smoke to rise above the tops of the trees. Many is the camp
that has been discovered by the smoke, which can be seen
at a great distance; and it is a certain sign of the presence
of man, when it ascends in threads, or such small columns
as denote a domestic fire beneath. This is very different
from the clouds that float above the burning prairies, and
which all, at once, impute to their true origin. The danger

* This is the true Indian word, though the whites have seen fit to
omit the first syllable.


of using fire had been so much guarded against by our fugi
tives, that the cooking of the party had been done at night;
the utmost caution having been used to prevent the fire itself
from being seen, and care taken to extinguish it long before
the return of day. A supply of cold meat was always on
hand, and had it not been, the fugitives would have known
how to live on berries, or, at need, to fast; anything, was
preferable, being exposed to certain capture.

As soon as the party had broken their fast, arrangements
were made for recruiting nature by sleep. As for Pigeons-
wing, Indian-like, he had eaten enormously, no reasonable
quantity of venison sufficing to appease his appetite; and
when he had eaten, he lay down in the bottom of his canoe
and slept. Similar dispositions were made of their persons
by the rest, and half an hour after the meal was ended, all
there were in a profound sleep. No watch was considered
necessary, and none was kept.

The rest of the weary is sweet. Long hours passed, ere
any one there awoke; but no sooner did the Chippewa
move than all the rest were afoot. It was now late in the
day, and it was time to think of taking the meal that was to
sustain them through the toil and fatigues of another ardu
ous night. This was done ; the necessary preparations being
made for a start ere the sun had set. The canoes were then
shoved as near the mouth of the inlet as it was safe to go,
while the light remained. Here they stopped, and a consul
tation took place, as to the manner of proceeding.

No sooner did the shades of evening close around the
place than the fugitives again put forth. The night was
clouded and dark, and so much of the way now lay through
forests that there was little reason to apprehend detection.
The chief causes of delay were the rifts, and the portages,
as had been the case the night before. Luckily, le Bourdon
had been up and down the stream so often as to be a very
tolerable pilot in its windings. He assumed the control,
and by midnight the greatest obstacle to that evening s prog-


ress was overcome. At the approach of day, Pigeonswing
pointed out another creek, in another swamp, where the
party found a refuge for the succeeding day. In this man
ner four nights were passed on the river, and as many days
in swamps, without discovery. The Chippewa had nicely
calculated his time and his distances, and not the smallest
mistake was made. Each morning a place of shelter was
reached in sufficient season; and each night the fugitives
were ready for the start as the day shut in. In this manner,
most of the river was descended, until a distance that could
be easily overcome in a couple of hours of paddling alone
remained between the party and the mouth of the stream.
Extreme caution was now necessary, for signs of Indians in
the neighborhood had been detected at several points in
the course of the last night s work. On one occasion,
indeed, the escape was so narrow as to be worth record

It was at a spot where the stream flowed through a forest
denser than common, that Pigeonswing heard voices on the
river, ahead of him. One Indian was calling to another,
asking to be set across the stream in a canoe. It was too
late to retreat, and so much uncertainty existed as to the
nearness, or distance, of the danger, that the Chippewa
deemed it safest to bring all three of his canoes together,
and to let them float past the point suspected, or rather
known, to be occupied by enemies. This was done, with the
utmost care. The plan succeeded, though not without run
ning a very great risk. The canoes did float past unseen,
though there was a minute of time when le Bourdon fancied
by the sounds that savages were talking to each other,
within a hundred feet of his ears. Additional security,
however, was felt in consequence of the circumstance, since
the pursuers must imagine the river below them to be free
from the pursued.

The halt that morning was made earlier than had been
the practice previously. This was done because the remain-


ing distance was so small that, in continuing to advance,
the party would have incurred the risk of reaching the
mouth of the river by daylight. This was to be avoided on
every account, but principally because it was of great im
portance to conceal from the savages the direction taken.
Were the chiefs certain that their intended victims were on
Lake Michigan, it would be possible for them to send par
ties across the isthmus, that should reach points on Lake
Huron, days in advance of the arrival of the bee-hunter and
his friends in the vicinity of Saginaw, or Pointe aux Barques,
for instance, and where the canoes would be almost certain
to pass near the shore, laying their ambushes to accomplish
these ends. It was thought very material, therefore, to con
ceal the movements, even after the lake might be reached,
though le Bourdon had not a doubt of his canoes much out
sailing those of the savages. The Indians are not very skil
ful in the use of sails, while the bee-hunter knew how to
manage a bark canoe in rough water, with unusual skill.
In the common acceptation, he was no sailor; but, in his
own peculiar craft, there was not a man living who could
excel him in dexterity or judgment.

The halting-place that morning was not in a swamp, for
none offered at a suitable distance from the mouth of the
river. On the contrary, it was in a piece of Opening, that
was tolerably well garnished with trees, however, and through
which ran a small brook that poured its tribute into the Kal-
amazoo. The Chippewa had taken notice of this brook,
which was large enough to receive the canoes, where they
might be concealed in the rushes. A favorable copse, sur
rounded with elders, afforded a covered space on shore, and
these advantages were improved for an encampment.

Instead of seeking his rest as usual, on reaching this cover,
Pigeonswing left the party on a scout. He walked up the
brook some distance, in order to conceal his trail, and then
struck across the Opening, taking the direction westward, or
toward the river s mouth. As for le Bourdon and his friends,


they ate and slept as usual, undisturbed; but arose some
hours before the close of day.

Thus far, a great work had been accomplished. The
canoes had descended the stream with a success that was
only equalled by the hardihood of the measure, conducted
by an intelligence that really seemed to amount to an in
stinct. Pigeonswing carried a map of the Kalamazoo in
his head, and seemed never at a loss to know where to find
the particular place he sought. It is true, he had roamed
through those Openings ever since he was a child ; and an
Indian seldom passes a place susceptible of being made of
use to his habits, that he does not take such heed of its
peculiarities, as to render him the master of all its facilities.

Margery was now full of hope, while the bee-hunter was
filled with apprehensions. She saw all things couleur de rose,
for she was young, happy, and innocent ; but he better under
stood that they were just approaching the most serious mo
ment of their flight. He knew the vigilance of the American
savage, and could not deceive himself on the subject of the
danger they must run. The mouth of the river was just the
place that, of all others, would be the closest watched, and
to pass it would require not only all their skill and courage,
but somewhat of the fostering care of Providence. It might
be done with success, though the chances were much against



Yes ! we have need to bid our hopes repose
On some protecting influence ; here confined,
Life hath no healing balm for mental woes ;
Earth is too narrow for the immortal mind.
Our spirits burn to mingle with the day,
As exiles panting for their native coast ;
Yet lured by every wild-flower from their way,
And shrinking from the gulf that must be crossed.
Death hovers round us in the zephyr s sigh
As in the storm he comes and lo ! Eternity !


IT was probably that inherent disposition to pry into un
known things, which is said to mark her sex, and which was
the weakness assailed by the serpent when he deluded Eve
into disobedience, that now tempted Margery to go beyond
the limits which Pigeonswing had set for her, with a view
to explore and ascertain what might be found without. In
doing this, however, she did not neglect a certain degree of
caution, and avoided exposing her person as much as pos

Margery had got to the very verge of prudence, so far as
the cover was concerned, when her steps were suddenly ar
rested by a most unexpected and disagreeable sight. An
Indian was seated on a rock within twenty feet of the place
where she stood. His back was toward her, but she was
certain it could not be Pigeonswing, who had gone in a
contrary direction, while the frame of this savage was much
larger and heavier than that of the Chippewa. His rifle
leaned against the rock, near his arm, and the tomahawk
and knife were in his belt; still Margery thought, so far as
she could ascertain, that he was not in his war-paint, as she
knew was the fact with those whom she had seen at Prairie
Round. The attitude and whole deportment of this stran
ger, too, struck her as remarkable. Although our heroine
stood watching him for several minutes, almost breathless
with terror and anxiety to learn his object, he never stirred
even a limb in all that time. There he sat, motionless as


the rock on which he had placed himself; a picture of soli
tude and reflection.

It was evident, moreover, that this stranger also sought
a species of concealment, as well as the fugitives. It is
true he had not buried himself in a cover of bushes; but
his seat was in a hollow of the ground where no one could
have seen him, from the rear or on either side, at a distance
a very little greater than that at which Margery stood, whil j
his front was guarded from view by a line of bushes that
fringed the margin of the stream. Marius, pondering on
the mutations of fortune, amid the ruins of Carthage, could
scarcely have presented a more striking object than the im
movable form of this stranger. At length the Indian
slightly turned his head, when his observer, to her great
surprise, saw the hard, red, but noble and expressive profile
of the well-known features of Peter.

In an instant all Margery s apprehensions vanished, and
her hand was soon lightly laid on the shoulder of her friend.
Notwithstanding the suddenness of this touch, the great
chief manifested no alarm. He turned his head slowty,
and when he saw the bright countenance of the charming
bride, his smile met hers in pleased recognition. There
was no start, no exclamation, no appearance of surprise;
on the contrary, Peter seemed to meet his pretty young friend
much as a matter of course, and obviously with great satis

"How lucky this is, Peter!" exclaimed the breathless
Margery. " Bourdon s mind will now be at rest, for he was
afraid you had gone to join our enemies, Bear s Meat and
his party."

"Yes; go and stay wid em. So bess. Now dey t ink
Peter all on deir side. But never forget you, young Blossom."

" I believe you, Peter ; for I feel as if you are a true friend.
How lucky that we should meet here ! "

" No luck at all. Come a purpose. Pigeonswing tell me
where you be, so come here. Juss so."


"Then you expected to find us in this cover! and what
have you to tell us of our enemies? "

" Plenty of dem. All about mout of river. All about
woods and Openin s here. More dan you count. T ink of
nuttin but get your scalp."

"Ah! Peter; why is it that you red men wish so much
to take our lives? and why have you destroyed the mis
sionary, a pious Christian, who wished for nothing but your

Peter bent his eyes to the earth, and for more than a min
ute he made no reply. He was much moved, however, as
was visible in his countenance, which plainly denoted that
strong emotions were at work within.

" Blossom, listen to my words," he, at length, answered.
"They are such as a fader would speak to his da ghter.
You my da ghter. Tell you so, once; and what Injin say
once, he say alway. Poor, and don t know much, but know
how to do as he say he do. Yes, you my da ghter! Bear s
Meat can t touch you, widout he touch me. Bourdon your
husband; you his squaw. Husband and squaw go togedder,
on same path. Dat right. But, Blossom, listen. Dere is
Great Spirit. Injin believe dat as well as pale-face. See
dat is so. Dere is Great Wicked Spirit, too. Feel dat, too ;
can t help it. For twenty winter dat Great Wicked Spirit
stay close to my side. He put his hand before one of my
ear, and he put his mout to tudder. Keep whisper, whis
per, day and night, nebber stop whisper. Tell me to kill
pale-face, wherever I find him. Bess to kill him. If didn t
kill pale-face, pale-face kill Injin. No help for it. Kill
ole man, kill young man; kill squaws, pappoose and all.
Smash eggs and break up e nest. Dat what he whisper, day
and night, for twenty winters. Whisper so much, was force
to b lieve him. Bad to have too much whisper of same t ing
in ear. Den I want scalp. Couldn t have too much scalp.
Took much scalp. All pale-face scalp. Heart grow hard.
Great pleasure was to kill pale-face. Dat feeling last, Bios-


som, till I see you. Feel like fader to you, and don t want
your scalp. Won er great deal why I feel so, but do feel so.
Dat my natur . Still want all udder pale-face scalp. Want
Bourdon scalp, much as any."

A slight exclamation from his companion, which could
scarcely be called a scream, caused the Indian to cease
speaking, when the two looked toward each other, and their
eyes met. Margery, however, saw none of those passing
gleams of ferocity which had so often troubled her in the
first few weeks of their acquaintance; in their stead, an ex
pression of subdued anxiety, and an earnestness of inquiry
that seemed to say how much the chief s heart yearned to
know more on that mighty subject toward which his thoughts
had lately been turned. The mutual glance sufficed to re
new the confidence our heroine was very reluctant to relin
quish, while it awakened afresh all of Peter s parental con
cern in the welfare of the interesting young woman at his

" But this feeling has left you, Peter, and you no longer
wish Bourdon s scalp," said Margery, hastily. " Now he is
my husband, he is your son."

" Dat good, p raps," answered the Injin, " but dat not a
reason, nudder, Blossom. You right, too. Don t want
Bourdon scalp any longer. Dat true. But don t want any
scalp, any more. Heart grow soft an t hard, now."

" I wish I could let you understand, Peter, how much I
rejoice to hear this! I have never felt afraid of you, on my
own account, though I will own that I have sometimes
feared that the dreadful cruel stories which are told of your
enmity to my color are not altogether without truth. Now,
you tell me you are the white man s friend, and that you no
longer wish to injure him. These are blessed words, Peter;
and humbly do I thank God, through his blessed Son, that
I have lived to hear them ! "

" Dat Son make me feel so," returned the Indian, ear
nestly. " Yes, juss so. My heart was hard, till medicine-


priest tell dat tradition of Son of Great Spirit how he die
for all tribes and nations, and ask his fader to do good to
dem dat take his life dat won erful tradition, Blossom!
Sound like song of wren in my ear sweeter dan mocking
bird when he do his bess. Yes, dat won erful. He true,
too; for medicine-priest ask his Manitou to bless Injin,
juss as Injins lift tomahawk to take his life. I see d and
heard dat, myself. All, won erful, won erful ! "

" It was the Spirit of God that enabled poor Amen to do
that, Peter; and it is the Spirit of God that teaches you to
see and feel the beauty of such an act. Without the aid of
that Spirit, we are helpless as children ; with it, strong as
giants. I do not wonder, at all, that the good missionary
was able to pray for his enemies with his dying breath.
God gave him strength to do so."

Margery spoke as she felt, earnestly, and with emphasis.
Her cheeks flushed with the strength of her feelings, and
Peter gazed on her with a species of reverence and wonder.
The beauty of this charming young woman was pleasing
rather than brilliant, depending much on expression for its
power. A heightened color greatly increased it, and when,
as in this instance, the eyes reflected the tints of the cheeks,
one might have journeyed days in older regions, without
finding her equal in personal attractions. Much as he ad
mired her, however, Peter had now that on his mind which
rendered her beauty but a secondary object with him. His
soul had been touched by the unseen, but omnipresent, power
of the Holy Spirit, and his companion s language and fervor
contributed largely in keeping alive his interest in what he

"Nebber know Injin do dat," said Peter, in a slow, de
liberative sort of way; "no, nebber know Injin do so.
Always curse and hate his enemy, and most when about to
lose his scalp. Den, feelin s hottest. Den, most want to
use tomahawk on his enemy. Den, most feel dat he hate
him. But not so wid medicine-priest. Pray for Injin; ask


Great Spirit to do him all e good he can; juss as Injin was
goin 7 to strike. Won erful most won erful dat, in my eyes.
Blossom, you know Peter. He your fader. He take you,
and make you his da ghter. His heart is soft to you, Blos
som. But, he nuttin but poor Injin, dough a great chief.
What he know? Pale-face pappoose know more dan Injin
chief. Dat come from Great Spirit too. He wanted it so,
and it is so. Our chiefs say dat Great Spirit love Injin.
May be so. T ink he love ebbery body; but he can t love
Injin as much as he love pale-face, or he wouldn t let red
man know so little. Don t count wigwams, and canoes, and
powder, and lead, as proof of Great Spirit s love. Pale-face
got more of dese dan Injin. Dat I see and know, and dat I
feel. But it no matter. Injin used to be poor, and don t
care. When used to be poor, den used to it. When used to
be rich, den it hard not to be rich. All use. Injin don t
care. But it bad not to know. I m warrior I m hunter
I m great chief. You squaw you young you know so
much as squaw of chief. But you know most. I feel
ashamed to know so little. Want to know more. Want to
know most how e Son of Great Spirit die for all tribe, and
pray to his fader to bless em dat kill him. Dat what Peter
now want most to know ! "

" I wish I was better able to teach you, Peter, from the
bottom of my heart; but the little I do know you shall hear.
I would not deny you for a thousand worlds, for I believe
the Holy Spirit has touched your heart, and that you will
become a new man. Christians believe that all must be
come new men, who are to live in the other world, in the
presence of God."

" How can dat be ? Peter soon be ole how can ole man
grow young ag in? "

" The meaning of this is that we must so change in feel
ings, as no longer to be the same persons. The things that
we loved we must hate, and the things that we hated, or at
least neglected, we must love. When we feel this change


in our hearts, then may we hope that we love and reverence
the Great Spirit, and are living under his holy care."

Peter listened with the attention of an obedient and re
spectful child. If meekness, humility, a wish to learn the
truth, and a devout sentiment toward the Creator, are so
many indications of the " new birth," then might this savage
be said to have been truly " born again." Certainly he was
no longer the same man, in a moral point of view, and of
this he was himself entirely conscious. To him the wonder
was what had produced so great and so sudden a change!
But the reply he made to Margery will, of itself, sufficiently
express his views of his own case.

" An Injin like a child," he said, meekly; " nebber know.
Even pale-face squaw know more dan great chief. Nebber
feel as do now. Heart soft as young squaw s. Don t hate
any body, no more. Wish well to all tribe, and color, and
nation. Don t hate Bri sh, don t hate Yankee; don t hate
Cherokee, even. Wish em all well. Don t know dat heart is
strong enough to ask Great Spirit to do em all good, if dey
want my scalp p rap dat too much for poor Injin ; but don t
want nobody s scalp, myself. Dat somet in , I hope, for me."

"It is, indeed, Peter; and if you will get down on your
knees, and humble your thoughts, and pray to God to
strengthen you in these good feelings, he will be sure to do
it, and make you, altogether, a new man."

Peter looked wistfully at Margery, and then turned his
eyes toward the earth. After sitting in a thoughtful mood
for some time, he again regarded his companion, saying,
with the simplicity of a child :

" Don t know how to do dat, Blossom. Hear medicine-
priest of pale-faces pray, sometime, but poor Injin don t know
enough to speak to Great Spirit. You speak to Great
Spirit for him. He know your voice, Blossom, and listen
to what you say ; but he won t hear Peter, who has so long
hated his enemy. P raps he angry if he hear Peter speak."

" In that you are mistaken, Peter. The ears of the Lord


are ever open to our prayers, when put up in sincerity, as I
feel certain that yours will now be. But, after I have told
you the meaning of what I am about to say, I will pray with
you and for you. It is best that you should begin to do
this, as soon as you can."

Margery then slowly repeated to Peter the words of the
Lord s prayer. She gave him its history, and explained the
meaning of several of its words that might otherwise have
been unintelligible to him, notwithstanding his tolerable
proficiency in English a proficiency that had greatly in
creased in the last few weeks, in consequence of his con
stant communications with those who spoke it habitually.
The word "trespasses," in particular, was somewhat diffi
cult for the Indian to comprehend, but Margery persevered
until she succeeded in giving her scholar tolerably accurate
ideas of the meaning of each term. Then she told the In
dian to kneel with her, and, for the first time in his life,
that man of the Openings and prairies lifted his voice in
prayer to the one God. It is true that Peter had often be
fore mentally asked favors of his Manitou; but the requests
were altogether of a worldly character, and the being ad
dressed was invested with attributes very different from those
which he now understood to belong to the Lord of heaven

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 37 of 41)