James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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duced to steering so " small," as seamen term it, as to pre
vent one or the other of the lugs from jibing. Had this
occurred, however, no very serious consequences would have
followed, the precaution taken of lashing the craft together
rendering capsizing next to impossible.

The Kalamazoo and its mouth were soon far behind, and
le Bourdon no longer felt the least apprehension of the
savages left in it. The Indians are not bold navigators,



THE OAK OPENINGS. 477

and he felt certain that the lake was too rough for the sav
ages to venture out, while his own course gradually carried
him off the land, and out of the track of anything that kept
near the shore. A short time produced a sense of security,
and the wind appearing to fall, instead of increasing in
violence, it was soon arranged that one of the men should
sleep, while the other looked to the safety of the canoes.

It was about nine o clock when the fugitives made sail,
off the mouth of the Kalamazoo; and, at the return of light,
seven hours later, they were more than forty miles from the
place of starting. The wind still stood, with symptoms of
growing fresher again as the sun rose, and the land could
just be seen in the eastern board, the coast in that direction
having made a considerable curvature inland. This had
brought the canoes farther from the land than le Bourdon
wished to be, but he could not materially change his course
without taking in one of his sails. As much variation was
made, however, as was prudent, and by nine o clock, or
twelve hours after entering the lake, the canoes again drew
near to the shore, which met them ahead. By the bee-
hunter s calculations, they were now about seventy miles
from the mouth of the Kalamazoo, having passed the outlets
of two or three of the largest streams of those regions.

The fugitives selected a favorable spot, and landed be
hind a headland that gave them a sufficient lee for the
canoes. They had now reached a point where the coast
trends a little to the eastward, which brought the wind in a
slight degree off the land. This change produced no very
great effect on the seas, but it enabled the canoes to keep
close to the shore, making something of a lee for them.
This they did about noon, after having lighted a fire, caught
some fish in a small stream, killed a deer and dressed it,
and cooked enough provisions to last for two or three days.
The canoes were now separated again ; it being easier to
manage them in that state than when lashed together, be
sides enabling them to carry both sails. The farther north



4/8 THE OAK OPENINGS.

they got the more of a lee was found, though it was in no
place sufficient to bring smooth water.

In this manner several more hours were passed, and six
times as many more miles were made in distance. When le
Bourdon again landed, which he did shortly before the sun
set, he calculated his distance from the mouth of the Kala-
mazoo to be rather more than a hundred miles. His prin
cipal object was to ascend a bluff and to take a look at the
coast, in order to examine it for canoes. This his glass en
abled him to do with some accuracy, and when he rejoined
the party, he was rejoiced to have it in his power to report
that the coast was clear. After refreshing themselves, the
canoes were again brought together, in order to divide the
watches, and a new start was made for the night. In this
manner did our adventurers make their way to the north
ward for two nights and days, landing often, to fish, hunt,
rest, and cook, as well as to examine the coast. At the end
of the time mentioned, the celebrated straits of the Michil-
limackinac, or Mackinaw, as they are almost universally
termed, came in sight. The course had been gradually
changing toward the eastward, and, luckily for the progress
of the fugitives, the wind with it, leaving them always a
favorable breeze. But it was felt to be no longer safe to
use a sail, and recourse was had to the paddles, until the
straits and island were passed. This caused some delay,
and added a good deal to the labor; but it was deemed so
dangerous to display their white cotton sails, objects that
might be seen for a considerable distance, that it was
thought preferable to adopt this caution. Nor was it use
less. In consequence of this foresight, a fleet of canoes
was passed in safety, which were crossing from the post at
Mackinaw toward the main land of Michigan. The number
of the canoes in this fleet could not have been less than
fifty, but getting a timely view of them, le Bourdon hid his
own craft in a cove, and remained there until the danger
was over.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 479

The course now changed still more, while the wind got
quite round to the westward. This made a fair wind at
first, and gave the canoes a good lee as they advanced.
Lake Huron, which was the water the fugitives were now
on, lies nearly parallel to Michigan, and the course was
southeasterly. As le Bourdon had often passed both ways
on these waters, he had his favorite harbors, and knew those
signs which teach navigators how to make their prognostics
of the weather. On the whole, the fugitives did very well,
though they lost two days between Mackinaw and Saginaw
Bay ; one on account of the strength of the wind, and one
on account of rain. During the last, they remained in a
hut that le Bourdon had himself constructed in one of his
many voyages, and which he had left standing. These
empty cabins, or chiente s, are of frequent occurrence in new
countries, being used, like the Refuges in the Alps, by
every traveller as he has need of them.

The sight of the fleet of canoes, in the straits of Michil-
limackinac, caused the fugitives the only real trouble they
had felt, between the time when they left the mouth of the
Kalamazoo, and the ten days that succeeded. By the end
of that period the party had crossed Saginaw, and was fast
coming up with Point au Barques, a landmark for all who
navigate the waters of Huron, when a canoe was seen com
ing out from under the land, steering as if to intercept
them. This sight gave both concern and pleasure; con
cern, as it might lead to a hostile encounter, and pleasure,
because the bee-hunter hoped for information that might be
useful in governing his future course. Here his glass came
in play, with good effect. By means of that instrument, it
was soon ascertained that the strange canoe contained but
two men, both Indians, and as that was just their own force
no great danger was apprehended from the meeting. The
craft, therefore, continued to approach each other, le Bour
don keeping his glass levelled on the strangers much of
the time.



480 THE OAK OPENINGS.

" As I live, yonder are Peter and Pigeonswing," suddenly
exclaimed our hero. "They have crossed the Peninsula,
and have come out from the point, in that canoe, to meet
us."

"With important news, then, depend on it, Benjamin,"
answered the wife. " Tell this to brother, that he and Dolly
may not feel more alarm than is necessary."

The bee-hunter called out to his friends in the other
canoe, and communicated the discovery just made, the two
craft keeping always within hailing distance of each other.

"Them In j ins are not here for nothing," answered Dor
othy. "You will find they have something serious to say."

"We shall soon know," called out le Bourdon. "Ten
minutes will bring us alongside of them."

The ten minutes did that much, and before the expiration
of the short space, the three canoes were fastened together,
that of Peter being in the centre. The bee-hunter saw, at a
glance, that the expedition of the Indians had been hurried;
for their canoe, besides being of very indifferent qualities,
was not provided with the implements and conveniences
usual to a voyage of any length. Still, he would not ask a
question, but lighting his pipe, after a few puffs, he passed
it courteously over to Peter. The great chief smoked
a while, and gave it to Pigeonswing, in his turn, who ap
peared to enjoy it quite as much as any of the party.

"My father does not believe he is a Jew? " said le Bour
don, smiling; willing to commence a discourse, though still
determined not to betray a womanish curiosity.

"We are poor Injins, Bourdon; just as the Great Spirit
made us. Dat bess. Can t help what Manitou do. If he
don t make us Jew, can t be Jew. If he make us Injin,
muss be Injin. For my part, b lieve I m Injin, and don t
want to be pale-face. Can love pale-face, now, juss as well
as love Injin."

" Oh, I hope this is true, Peter," exclaimed Margery, her
handsome face flushing with delight, at hearing these words.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 481

" So long as your heart tells you this, be certain that the
Spirit of God is in you."

Peter made no answer, but he looked profoundly impressed
with the novel feeling that had taken possession of his soul.
As for the bee-hunter, he did not meddle with Margery s
convictions or emotions on such subjects, resembling, in
this particular, most men, who, however indifferent to relig
ion in their own persons, are never sorry to find that their
wives profoundly submit to its influence. After a short
pause, a species of homage involuntarily paid to the subject,
he thought he might now inquire into the circumstances
that brought the Indians on their route, without incurring
the imputation of a weak and impatient curiosity. In reply,
Peter s story was soon told. He had rejoined the chiefs
without exciting distrust, and all had waited for the young
men to bring in the captives. As soon as it was ascertained
that the intended victims had escaped, and by water, parties
proceeded to different points, in order to intercept them.
Some followed in canoes, but, being less bold in their navi
gation than the bee-hunter, they did not make the straits
until some time after the fugitives had passed. Peter, him
self, had joined Bear s Meat and some twenty warriors who
had crossed the Peninsula, procured canoes at the head of
Saginaw Bay, and had come out at Point au Barques, the
very spot our party was now approaching, three days before
its arrival.

Tired with waiting, and uncertain whether his enemies
had not got the start of him, Bear s Meat had gone into the
river below, intending to keep his watch there, leaving
Peter at the Point, with three young men and one canoe, to
have a lookout. These young men the great chief had
found an excuse for sending to the head of the Bay, in
quest of another canoe, which left him, of course, quite
alone on the Point. Scarce had the young man got out of
sight, ere Pigeonswing joined his confederate, for it seems
that this faithful friend had kept on the skirts of the enemy
31



482 THE OAK OPENINGS.

the whole time, travelling hundreds of miles, and enduring
hunger and fatigue, besides risking his life at nearly every
step, in order to be of use to those whom he considered
himself pledged to serve.

Of course, Peter and Pigeonswing understood each other.
One hour after they joined company, the canoes of the fugi
tives came in sight, and were immediately recognized by
their sails. They were met, as has been mentioned, and
the explanations that we have given were made before the
party landed at the Point.

It was something to know where the risk was to be appre
hended; but le Bourdon foresaw great danger. He had
brought his canoes, already, quite five hundred miles, along
a hazardous coast though a little craft, like one of those
he navigated, ran less risk, perhaps, than a larger vessel,
since a shelter might, at any time, be found within a rea
sonable distance for it. From Pointe au Barques to the
outlet of the lake was less than a hundred miles more.
This outlet was a river, as it is called a strait, in fact
which communicates with the small shallow lake of St.
Clair, by a passage of some thirty miles in length. Then
the lake St. Clair was to be crossed about an equal dis
tance, when the canoes would come out in what is called
the Detroit River, a strait again, as its name indicates.
Some six or eight miles down this passage, and on its west
ern side, stands the city of Detroit, then a village of no
great extent, with a fort better situated to repel an attack of
the savages, than to withstand a siege of white men. This
place was now in the possession of the British, and, accord
ing to le Bourdon s notion, it was scarcely less dangerous
to him than the hostility of Bear s Meat and his compan
ions.

Delay, however, was quite as dangerous as anything else.
After cooking and eating, therefore, the canoes continued
their course, Peter and Pigeonswing accompanying them,
though they abandoned their own craft. Peter went with



THE OAK OPENINGS. 483

the bee-hunter and Margery, while the Chippewa took a
seat and a paddle in the canoe of Gershom. This change
was made in order to put a double power in each canoe,
since it was possible that downright speed might become
the only means of safety.

The wind still stood at the westward, and the rate of sail
ing was rapid. About the close of the day the party drew
near to the outlet, when Peter directed the sails to be taken
in. This was done to prevent their being seen, a precaution
that was now aided by keeping as near to the shore as pos
sible, where objects so small and low would be very apt to
be confounded with others on the land.

It was quite dark when the canoes entered the St. Clair
river. Favored by the current and the wind, their progress
was rapid, and ere the day returned, changing his direction
from the course ordinarily taken, Peter entered the lake by
a circuitous passage ; one of the many that lead from the
river to the lake, among aquatic plants that form a perfect
shelter. This detour saved the fugitives from falling into
the hands of one party of their enemies, as was afterward
ascertained by the Indians. Bear s Meat had left two ca
noes, each manned by five warriors, to watch the principal
passages into Lake St. Clair, not anticipating that any par
ticular caution would be used by the bee-hunter and his
friends, at this great distance from the place where they
had escaped from their foes. But the arrival of Peter, his
sagacity, and knowledge of Indian habits, prevented the re
sult that was expected. The canoes got into the lake un
seen, and crossed it a little diagonally, so as to reach the
Canada shore in the middle of the afternoon of the succeed
ing day, using their sails only when far from land, and not
exposed to watchful eyes.

The bee-hunter and his friends landed that afternoon at
the cabin of a Canadian Frenchman, on the shore of the
lake, and at a safe distance from the outlet which led still
farther south. Here the females were hospitably received,



484 THE OAK OPENINGS.

and treated with that kindness which marks the character of
the Canadian French. It mattered little to these simple
people, whether the travellers were of the hostile nation or
not. It is true, they did not like the "Yankees," as all
Americans are termed by them, but they were not particu
larly in love with their English masters. It was well
enough to be repossessed of both banks of the Detroit, for
both banks were then peopled principally by their own race,
the descendants of Frenchmen of the time of Louis XIV.,
and who still preserved much of the language, and many of
the usages, of the French of that period. They spoke then,
as now, only the language of their fathers.

The bee-hunter left the cottage of these simple and hos
pitable people, as soon as the night was fairly set in; or,
rather, as soon as a young moon had gone down. Peter
now took the command, steering the canoe of le Bourdon,
while Gershom followed so close as to keep the bow of his
little craft within reach of the Indian s arm. In less than
an hour the fugitives reached the opening of the river, which
is here divided into two channels by a large island. On
that very island, and at that precise moment, was Bear s
Meat lying in wait for their appearance, provided with three
canoes, each having a crew of six men. It would have been
easy for this chief to go to Detroit, and give the alarm to
the savages who were then collected there in a large force,
and to have made such a disposition of the canoes as would
have rendered escape by water impossible ; but this would
have been robbing himself and his friends of all the credit
of taking the scalps, and throwing away what is termed
"honor" among others as well as among savages. He
chose, therefore, to trust to his own ability to succeed ; and
supposing the fugitives would not be particularly on their
guard at this point, had little doubt of intercepting them
here, should they succeed in eluding those he had left
above.

The bee-hunter distrusted that island, and used extra cau-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 485

tion in passing it. In the first place, the two canoes were
brought together, so as to give them, in the dark, the ap
pearance of only one; while the four men added so much to
the crew as to aid the deception. In the end it proved that
one of Bear s Meat s canoes that was paddling about in the
middle of the river had actually seen them, but mistook the
party for a canoe of their own, which ought to have been
near that spot, with precisely six persons in it, just at that
time. These six warriors had landed, and gone up among
the cottages of the French to obtain some fruit, of which
they were very fond, and of which they got but little in
their own villages. Owing to this lucky coincidence, which
the pretty Margery ever regarded as another special inter
position of Providence in their favor, the fugitives passed
the island without molestation, and actually got below the
last lookouts of Bear s Meat, though without their knowl
edge.

It was by no means a difficult thing to go down the river,
now that so many canoes were in motion on it, at all hours.
The bee-hunter knew what points were to be avoided, and
took care not to approach a sentinel. The river, or strait,
is less than a mile wide, and by keeping in the centre of
the passage, the canoes, favored by both wind and current,
drove by the town, then an inconsiderable village, without
detection. As soon as far enough below, the canoes were
again cast loose from each other, and sail was made on
each. The water was smooth, and some time before the
return of light the fugitives were abreast of Maiden, but in
the American channel. Had it been otherwise, the danger
could not have been great. So completely were the Ameri
cans subdued by Hull s capitulation, and so numerous were
the Indian allies of the British, that the passage of a bark
canoe, more or less, would hardly have attracted attention.
At that time, Michigan was a province of but little more
than a name. The territory was wide, to be sure, but the
entire population was not larger than that of a moderately



486 THE OAK OPENINGS.

sized English market town, and Detroit was then regarded
as a distant and isolated point. It is true that Mackinac
and Chicago were both more remote, and both more isolated,
but an English force, in possession of Detroit, could be ap
proached by the Americans on the side of the land only by
overcoming the obstacles of a broad belt of difficult wilder
ness. This was done the succeeding year, it is true, but
time is always necessary to bring out Jonathan s latent mili
tary energies. When aroused, they are not trifling, as all
his enemies have been made to feel; but a good deal of
miscalculation, pretending ignorance, and useless talking
must be expended, before the really efficient are allowed to
set about serving the country in their own way.

In this respect, thanks to West Point, a well-organized
staff, and well-educated officers, matters are a little improv
ing. Congress has not been able to destroy the army, in the
present war, though it did its best to attain that end ; and
all because the nucleus was too powerful to be totally
eclipsed by the gas of the usual legislative tail of the Great
National Comet, of which neither the materials nor the or
bit can any man say he knows. One day, it declares war
with a hurrah; the next, it denies the legislation necessary
to carry it on, as if it distrusted its own acts, and already
repented of its patriotism. And this is the body, soulless,
the very school of faction, as a whole of very questionable
quality in the outset, that, according to certain expounders of
the constitution, is to perform all the functions of a govern
ment ; which is not only to pass laws, but is to interpret them ;
which is to command the army, aye, even to wheeling its pla
toons ; which reads the constitution as an abbe mumbles his
aves and paters, or looking at everything but his texts; and
which is never to have its acts vetoed, unless in cases where
the Supreme Court would spare the Executive that trouble.
We never yet could see either the elements or the fruits of
this great sanctity in the National Council. In our eyes it
is scarcely ever in its proper place on the railway of the



THE OAK OPENINGS. 487

Union, has degenerated into a mere electioneering machine,
performing the little it really does convulsively, by sudden
impulses, equally without deliberation or a sense of respon
sibility. In a word, we deem it the power of all others in
the state that needs the closest watching, and were we what
is termed in this country " politicians," we should go for
the executive who is the most ready to apply the curb to
these vagaries of faction and interested partisans! Vetoes.
Would to Heaven we could see the days of Good Queen
Bess revived for one session of Congress at least, and find
that more laws were sent back for the second thoughts of
their framers than were approved!. Then, indeed, might
the country be brought back to a knowledge of the very
material constitutional facts that the legislature is not com-
mander-in-chief, does not negotiate or make treaties, and
has no right to do that which it has done so often appoint
to office by act of Congress.

As a consequence of the little apprehension entertained by
the English of being soon disturbed in their new conquests,
le Bourdon and his friends got out of the Detroit River, and
into Lake Erie, without discovery or molestation. There
still remained a long journey before them. In that day the
American side of the shores of all the Great Lakes was lit
tle more than a wilderness. There were exceptions at par
ticular points, but these were few and far asunder. The
whole coast of Ohio for Ohio has its coast as well as Bo
hemia* was mostly in a state of nature, as was much of
those of Pennsylvania and New York, on the side of the
fresh water. The port which the bee-hunter had in view
was Presque Isle, now known as Erie, a harbor in Pennsyl
vania, that has since become somewhat celebrated in conse
quence of its being the port out of which the American ves
sels sailed, about a year later than the period of which we
are writing, to fight the battle that gave them the mastery of
the lake. This was a little voyage of itself, of near two

* See Shakespeare Winters Tale.



488 THE OAK OPENINGS.

hundred miles, following the islands and the coast, but it
was safely made in the course of the succeeding week.
Once in Lake Erie and on the American side, our adven
turers felt reasonably safe against all dangers but those of
the elements. It is true that a renowned annalist, whose
information is sustained by the collected wisdom of a State
Historical Society, does tell us that the enemy possessed
both shores of Lake Erie in 1814; but this was so small a
mistake, compared with some others that this Nestor in his
tory had made, that we shall not stop to explain it. Le
Bourdon and his party found all the south shore of Lake
Erie in possession of the Americans, so far as it was in the
possession of any one, and consequently ran no risks from
this blunder of the historian and his highly intelligent as
sociates!

Peter and Pigeonswing left their friends before they
reached Presque Isle. The bee-hunter gave them his own
canoe, and the parting was not only friendly, but touching.
In the course of their journey, and during their many stops,
Margery had frequently prayed with the great chief. His
constant and burning desire, now, was to learn to read, that
he might peruse the word of the Great Spirit, and regulate
his future life by its wisdom and tenets. Margery prom
ised, should they ever meet again, and under circumstances
favorable to such a design, to help him attain his wishes.

Pigeonswing parted from his friend with the same light-
hearted vivacity as he had manifested in all their inter



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 39 of 41)