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and earth. Nor was the spirit in asking at all the same.
We do not wish to be understood as saying that this Indian
was already a full convert to Christianity, which contains
many doctrines of which he had not the most distant idea;
but his heart had undergone the first step in the great change
of conversion, and he was now as humble as he had once
been proud ; as meek, as he had formerly been fierce ; and
he felt that certain proof of an incipient love of the Creator,
in a similar feeling toward all the works of his hands.

When Peter arose from his knees, after repeating the
prayer to Margery s slow leading, it was with the dependence
of a child on the teaching of its mother. Physically, he
was the man he ever had been. He was as able to endure



THE OAK OPENINGS. 465

fatigue, as sinewy in his frame, and as capable of fasting
and of sustaining fatigue, as in his most warlike days; but,
morally, the change was great, indeed. Instead of the ob
stinate confidence in himself and his traditions, which had
once so much distinguished this chief, there was substituted
an humble distrust of his own judgment, that rendered him
singularly indisposed to rely on his personal views, in any
matter of conscience, and he was truly become a child in
all that pertained to his religious belief. In good hands,
and under more advantageous circumstances, the moral im
provement of Peter would have been great; but, situated as
he was, it could not be said to amount to much more than a
very excellent commencement.

All this time both Peter and Margery had been too intent
on their feelings and employment, to take much heed to the
precautions necessary to their concealment. The sun was
setting ere they arose, and then it was that Peter made the
important discovery that they were observed by two of the
young men of the Pottawattamies scouts kept out by Bear s
Meat to look for the fugitives.

The time was when Peter would not have hesitated to use
his rifle on these unwelcome intruders; but the better spirit
that had come over him, now led him to adopt a very differ
ent course. Motioning to the young men, he ordered them
to retire, while he led Margery within the cover of the
bushes. Formerly, Peter would not have scrupled to resort
to deception, in order to throw these two young men on a
wrong scent, and get rid of them in that mode ; but now he
had a reluctance to deceive; and, no sooner did they fall
back at his beckoning, than he followed Margery to the
camp. The latter was giving her husband a hurried account
of what had just happened, as Peter joined them.

" Our camp is known ! " exclaimed the bee-hunter the in
stant he beheld the Indian.

" Juss so. Pottawattamie see squaw, and go and tell his
chief. Dat sartain," answered Peter.
30



466 THE OAK OPENINGS.

"What is there to be done? Fight for our lives, or fly? "

"Get in canoe quick as can. It take dem young men
half-hour to reach place where chief be. In dat half-hour
we muss go as far as we can. No good to stay here. Injin
come in about one hour."

Le Bourdon knew his position well enough to understand
this. Nevertheless, there were several serious objections to
an immediate flight. Pigeonswing was absent, and the bee-
hunter did not like the notion of leaving him behind, for
various reasons. Then it was not yet dark ; and to descend
the river by daylight, appeared like advancing into the jaws
of the lion designedly. Nor was le Bourdon at his ease on
the subject of Peter. His sudden appearance, the insuffi
cient and far from clear account of Margery, and the extraor
dinary course advised, served to renew ancient distrusts, and
to render him reluctant to move. But of one thing there
could be no doubt. Their present position must be known,
for Margery had seen the two strange Indians with her own
eyes, and a search might soon be expected. Under all the
circumstances, therefore, our hero reluctantly complied with
Margery s reiterated solicitations, and they all got into the
canoes.

" I do not like this movement, Peter," said le Bourdon,
as he shoved his own light craft down the brook, previously
to entering the river. " I hope it may turn out to be better
than it looks, and that you can keep us out of the hands of
our enemies. Remember, it is broad daylight, and that red
men are plenty two or three miles below us."

"Yes, know dat; but muss go. Injin too plenty here,
soon. Yes, muss go. Bourdon, why you can t ask bee,
now, what bess t ing for you to do, eh? Good time, now,
ask bee to tell what he know."

The bee-hunter made no reply, but his pretty wife raised
her hand, involuntarily, as if to implore the Indian to for
bear. Peter was a little bewildered ; for as yet, he did not
understand that a belief in necromancy was not exactly



THE OAK OPENINGS. 467

compatible with the notions of the Christian Providence.
In his ignorance, how much was he worse off than the wisest
of our race? Will any discreet man who has ever paid close
attention to the power of the somnambule, deny that there
is a mystery about such a person that exceeds all our means
of explanation ? That there are degrees in the extent of
this power that there are false, as well as true somnam-
bules all who have attended to the subject must allow;
but, a deriding disbeliever in our own person once, we have
since seen that which no laws, known to us, can explain, and
which we are certain is not the subject of collusion, as we
must have been a party to the fraud ourselves, were any
such practised. To deny the evidence of our senses is an
act of greater weakness than to believe that there are mys
teries connected with our moral and physical being that
human sagacity has not yet been able to penetrate ; and we
repudiate the want of manliness that shrinks from giving its
testimony when once convinced, through an apprehension of
being derided, as weaker than those who withhold their
belief. We know that our own thoughts have been explained
and rendered, by a somnambule, under circumstances that
will not admit of any information by means known to us by
other principles; and whatever others may think on the sub
ject, we are perfectly conscious that no collusion did or could
exist. Why, then, are we to despise the poor Indian because
he still fancied le Bourdon could hold communication with
his bees? We happen to be better informed, and there may
be beings who are aware of the as yet hidden laws of animal
magnetism hidden as respects ourselves, though known to
them and who fully comprehend various mistakes and mis
apprehensions connected with our impressions on this sub
ject, that escape our means of detection. It is not surpris
ing, therefore, that Peter, in his emergency, turned to those
bees, in the hope that they might prove of assistance, or
that Margery silently rebuked him for the weakness, in the
manner mentioned.



468 THE OAK OPENINGS.

Although it was still light, the sun was near setting when
the canoes glided into the river. Fortunately for the fugi
tives, the banks were densely wooded, and the stream of
great width a little lake, in fact and there was not much
danger of their being seen until they got near the mouth;
nor then, even, should they once get within the cover of the
wild rice, and of the rushes. There was no retreat, how
ever; and after paddling some distance, in order to get be
yond the observation of any scout who might approach the
place where they had last been seen, the canoes were
brought close together, and suffered to float before a smart
breeze, so as not to reach the mouth of the stream before the
night closed around them. Everything appeared so tran
quil, the solitude was so profound, and their progress so
smooth and uninterrupted, that a certain amount of confi
dence revived in the breasts of all, and even the bee-hunter
had hopes of eventual escape.

A conversation now occurred, in which Peter was ques
tioned concerning the manner in which he had been occu
pied during his absence; an absence that had given le Bour
don so much concern. Had the chief been perfectly ex
plicit, he would have confessed that fully one-half of his
waking thoughts had been occupied in thinking of the death
of the Son of God, of the missionary s prayer for his ene
mies, and of the sublime morality connected with such a
religion. It is true Peter did not could not, indeed
enter very profoundly into the consideration of these sub
jects; nor were his notions either very clear or orthodox;
but they were sincere, and the feelings to which they gave
birth were devout. Peter did not touch on these circum
stances, however, confining his explanations to the purely
material part of his proceedings. He had remained with
Bear s Meat, Crowsfeather, and the other leading chiefs, in
order to be at the fountain-head of information, and to inter
pose his influence should the pale-faces unhappily fall into
the hands of those who were so industriously looking for



THE OAK OPENINGS. 469

them. Nothing had occurred to call his authority out, but
a strange uncertainty seemed to reign among the warriors,
concerning the manner in which their intended victims
eluded their endeavors to overtake them. No trail had been
discovered, scout after scout coming in to report a total
want of success in their investigations inland. This turned
the attention of the Indians still more keenly on the river s
mouth, it being certain that the canoes could not have passed
out into the lake previously to the arrival of the two or three
first parties of their young men, who had been sent so early
to watch that particular outlet.

Peter informed le Bourdon that his cache had been discov
ered, opened, and rirled of its stores. This was a severe
loss to our hero, and one that would have been keenly felt
at any other time; but just then he had interests so much
more important to protect, that he thought and said little
about this mishap. The circumstance which gave him the
most concern was this: Peter stated that Bear s Meat had
directed about a dozen of his young men to keep watch, day
and night, in canoes, near the mouth of the river, lying in
wait among the wild rice, like so many snakes in the grass.

The party was so much interested in this conversation
that, almost insensibly to themselves, they had dropped
down to the beginning of the rushes and rice, and had got
rather dangerously near to the critical point of their passage.
As it was still daylight, Peter now proposed pushing the
canoes in among the plants, and there remaining until it
might be safer to move. This was done accordingly, and
in a minute or two all three of the little barks were con
cealed within the cover.

The question now was whether the fugitives had been ob
served, but suffered to advance, as every foot they descended
the stream was taking them nearer to their foes. Peter did
not conceal his apprehension on this point, since he deemed
it improbable that any reach near the mouth of the Kala-
mazoo was without its lookouts, at a moment so interesting.



4/O THE OAK OPENINGS.

Such was, indeed, the fact, as was afterward ascertained ;
but the young men who had seen Peter and Margery had
given the alarm, passing the word where the fugitives were
to be found, and the sentinels along this portion of the
stream had deserted their stations, in order to be in at the
capture. By such delicate and unforeseen means does Prov
idence often protect those who are the subjects of its espe
cial care, baffling the calculations of art by its own quiet
control of events.

The bee-hunter had a feverish desire to be moving. After
remaining in the cover about half an hour, he proposed that
they should get the canoes into one of the open passages,
of which there were many among the plants, and proceed.
Peter had more of the patience of an Indian, and deemed
the hour too early. But le Bourdon was not yet entirely
free from distrust of his companion, and telling Gershom to
follow, he began paddling down one of the passages men
tioned. This decisive step compelled the rest to follow, or
to separate from their companions. They chose to do the
first.

Had le Bourdon possessed more self-command, and re
mained stationary a little longer, he would, in all probabil
ity, have escaped altogether from a very serious danger that
he was now compelled to run. Although there were many
of the open places among the plants, they did not always
communicate with each other, and it became necessary to
force the canoes through little thickets, in order to get out
of one into another, keeping the general direction of de
scending the river. It was while effecting the first of these
changes, that the agitation of the tops of the plants caught
the eye of a lookout on the shore. By signals, understood
among themselves, this man communicated his discovery to
a canoe that was acting as one of the guard-boats, thus giv
ing a general alarm along the whole line of sentinels, as
well as to the chiefs down at the hut or at the mouth of
the river. The fierce delight with which this news was re-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 47 1

ceived, after so long a delay, became ungovernable, and
presently yells and cries filled the air, proceeding from both
sides of the stream, as well as from the river itself.

There was not a white person in those canoes who did
not conceive that their party was lost, when this clamor was
heard. With Peter it was different. Instead of admitting
of alarm, he turned all his faculties to use. While le Bour
don himself was nearly in despair, Peter was listening with
his nice ears, to catch the points on the river whence the
yells arose. For the banks he cared nothing. The danger
was from the canoes. By the keenness of his faculties, the
chief ascertained that there were four canoes out, and that
they would have to run the gauntlet between them, or escape
would be hopeless. By the sounds he also became certain
that these four canoes were in the rice, two on each side of
the river, and there they would probably remain, in expecta
tion that the fugitives would be most likely to come down
in the cover.

The decision of Peter was made in a moment. It was
now quite dark, and those who were in canoes within the
rice could not well see the middle of the stream, even by
daylight. He determined, therefore, to take the very centre
of the river, giving his directions to that effect with pre
cision and clearness. The females he ordered to lie down,
each in her own canoe, while their husbands alone were to
remain visible. Peter hoped that, in the darkness, le Bour
don and Gershom might pass for Indians, on the lookout,
and under his own immediate command.

One very important fact was ascertained by le Bourdon,
as soon as these arrangements were explained and com
pleted. The wind on the lake was blowing from the south,
and of course was favorable to those who desired to proceed
in the opposite direction. This he communicated to Mar
gery in a low tone, endeavoring to encourage her by all the
means in his power. In return, the young wife muttered a
few encouraging words to her husband. Every measure was



4/2 THE OAK OPENINGS.

understood between the parties. In the event of a discov
ery, the canoes were to bury themselves in the rice, taking
different directions, each man acting for himself. A place
of rendezvous was appointed outside, at a headland known
to Gershom and le Bourdon, and signals were agreed on,
by which the latest arrival might know that all was safe
there. These points were settled as the canoes floated
slowly down the stream.

Peter took and kept the lead. The night was star-lit and
clear, but there was no moon. On the water, this made but
little difference, objects not being visible at any material
distance. The chief governed the speed, which was mod
erate, but regular. At the rate he was now going, it would
require about an hour to carry the canoes into the lake. But
nearly all of that hour must pass in the midst of enemies!

Half of the period just mentioned elapsed, positively
without an alarm of any sort. By this time, the party was
abreast of the spot where Gershom and le Bourdon had
secreted the canoes in the former adventure at the mouth of
the river. On the shores, however, a very different scene
now offered. Then, the fire burned brightly in the hut, and
the savages could be seen by its light. Now, all was not
only dark, but still as death. There was no longer any cry,
sound, alarm, or foot-fall, audible. The very air seemed
charged with uncertainty, and its offspring, apprehension.

As they approached nearer and nearer to what was con
ceived to be the most critical point in the passage, the canoes
got closer together; so close, indeed, that le Bourdon and
Gershom might communicate in very guarded tones. The
utmost care was taken to avoid making any noise, since a
light and careless blow from a paddle, on the side of a
canoe, would be almost certain, now, to betray them. Mar
gery and Dorothy could no longer control their feelings,
and each rose in her seat, raising her body so as to bring
her head above the gunwale of the canoe, if a bark canoe
can be said to have a gunwale at all. They even whispered



THE OAK OPENINGS. 473

to each other, endeavoring to glean encouragement by sym
pathy. At this instant occurred the crisis in their attempt
to escape.



CHAPTER XXIX.

For an Indian isle she shapes her way
With constant mind both night and day :
She seems to hold her home in view ;
And sails as if the path she knew,
So calm and stately in her motion
Across the unfathomed, trackless ocean.

WILSON.

IT has been said that Peter was in advance. When his
canoe was nearly abreast of the usual landing at the hut, he
saw two canoes coming out from among the rice, and dis
tant from him not more than a hundred yards. At a greater
distance, indeed, it would not have been easy to distinguish
such an object on the water at all. Instead of attempting
to avoid these two canoes, the chief instantly called to them,
drawing the attention of those in them to himself, speaking
so loud as to be easily overheard by those who followed.

" My young men are too late," he said. " The pale-faces
have been seen in the openings above by our warriors, and
must soon be here. Let us land, and be ready to meet them
at the wigwam."

Peter s voice was immediately recognized. The confi
dent, quiet, natural manner in which he spoke served to
mislead those in the canoes; and when he joined them, and
entered the passage among the rice that led to the landing,
preceding the others, the last followed him as regularly as
the colt follows its dam. Le Bourdon heard the conversa
tion, and understood the movement, though he could not see
the canoes. Peter continued talking aloud, as he went up
the passage, receiving answers to all he said from his new
companions, his voice serving to let the fugitives know pre-



4/4 THE OAK OPENINGS.

cisely where they were. All this was understood and im
proved by the last, who lost no time in turning the adven
ture to account.

The first impulse of le Bourdon had been to turn and fly
up stream. But, ascertaining that these dangerous enemies
were so fully occupied by Peter as not to see the canoes
behind, he merely inclined a little toward the other side of
the channel, and slackened his rate of movement, in order
not to come too near. The instant he was satisfied that all
three of the canoes in advance had entered the passage men
tioned, and were moving toward the landing, he let out, and
glided down stream like an arrow. It required but half a
minute to cross the opening of the passage, but Peter s con
versation kept his followers looking ahead, which greatly
lessened the risk. Le Bourdon s heart was in his mouth
several times, while thus running the gauntlet, as it might
be; but fortune favored them; or, as Margery more piously
understood the circumstances, a Divine Providence led
them in safety past the danger.

At the mouth of the river both le Bourdon and Gershom
thought it highly probable that they should fall in with
more lookouts, and each prepared his arms for a fight.
But no canoe was there, and the fugitives were soon in the
lake. Michigan is a large body of water, and a bark canoe
is but a frail craft to put to sea in, when there is any wind
or commotion. On the present occasion, there was a good
deal of both; so much as greatly to terrify the females. Of
all the craft known, however, one of these egg-shells is
really the safest, if properly managed, among breakers or
amid the combing of seas. We have ourselves ridden in
them safely through a surf that would have swamped the
best man-of-war cutter that ever floated; and done it, too,
without taking on board as much water as would serve to
wash one s hands. The light vessel floats on so little of
the element, indeed, that the foam of a large sea has scarce
a chance of getting above it, or aboard it; the great point



THE OAK OPENINGS. 475

in the handling being to prevent the canoe from falling
broadside to. By keeping it end on to the sea, in our opin
ion, a smart gale might be weathered in one of these craft,
provided the endurance of a man could bear up against the
unceasing watchfulness and incessant labor of sweeping
with the paddle, in order to prevent broaching to.

Le Bourdon, it has been said, was very skilful in the
management of his craft; and Gershom, now perforce a
sober and useful man, was not much behind him in this
particular. The former had foreseen this very difficulty,
and made all his arrangements to counteract it. No sooner,
therefore, did he find the canoes in rough water than he
brought them together, side by side, and lashed them there.
This greatly lessened the danger of capsizing, though it in
creased the labor of managing the craft when disposed to
turn broadside to. It only remained to get sail on the cata
maran, for some such thing was it now, in order to keep
ahead of the sea as much as possible. Light cotton lugs
were soon spread, one in each canoe, and away they went,
as sailors term it, wing and wing.

It was now much easier steering, though untiring vigi
lance was still necessary. A boat may appear to fly, and
yet the " send of the sea " shall glance ahead of it with the
velocity of a bird. Nothing that goes through, or on, the
water and the last is the phrase best suited to the floating
of a bark canoe can ever be made to keep company with
that feathery foam, which, under the several names of
"white-caps" an in-shore and lubber s term "combs,"
" breaking of the seas," " the wash," etc., etc., glances by a
vessel in a blow, or comes on board her even when she is
running before it. We have often watched these clouds of
water, as they have shot ahead of us, when ploughing our
own ten or eleven knot through the brine, and they have
ever appeared to us as so many useful admonishers of
what the power of God is, as compared to the power of man.
The last shall construct his ship, fit her with all the appli-



4/6 THE OAK OPENINGS.

ances of his utmost art, sail her with the seaman s skill,
and force her through her element with something like
railroad speed; yet will the seas "send" their feathery
crests past her, like so many dolphins, or porpoises, sport
ing under her fore-foot. It is this following sea which be
comes so very dangerous in heavy gales, and which compels
the largest ships frequently to heave to, in order that they
may present their bows to its almost resistless power.

But our adventurers had no such gales as those we mean,
or any such seas to withstand. The wind blew fresh from
the south, and Michigan can get up a very respectable
swell at need. Like the seas in all the great lakes, it
was short, and all the worse for that. The larger the ex
panse of water over which the wind passes, the longer is the
sea, and the easier is it for the ship to ride on it. Those
of Lake Michigan, however, were quite long enough for a
bark canoe, and glad enough were both Margery and Dor
othy when they found their two little vessels lashed to
gether, and wearing an air of more stability than was com
mon to them. Le Bourdon s sail was first spread, and it
produced an immediate relief from the washing of the
waves. The drift of a bark canoe, in a smart blow, is con
siderable, it having no hold on the water to resist it; but
our adventurers fairly flew as soon as the cotton cloth was
opened. The wind being exactly south, by steering due
north, or dead before it, it was found possible to carry the
sail in the other canoe, borne out on the opposite side ; and
from the moment that was opened, all the difficulty was re



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 38 of 41)