James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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of ordinary forests. The air circulates freely beneath their
oaks, the sun penetrates in a thousand places, and grass
grows, wild but verdant. There was little of the dampness
of the virgin woods; and the morning air, though cool, as
is ever the case, even in midsummer, in regions still cov
ered with trees, was balmy; and, at that particular spot, it
came to the senses of le Bourdon loaded with the sweets of
many a wide glade of his favorite white clover. Of course,
he had placed his cabin near those spots where the insect
he sought most abounded ; and a fragrant site it proved to
be, in favorable conditions of the atmosphere. Ben had a
taste for all the natural advantages of his abode, and was
standing in enjoyment of its placid beauties when some one
touched his elbow. Turning, quick as thought, he per
ceived the Chippewa at his side. That young Indian had
approached with the noiseless tread of his people, and was
now anxious to hold a private communication with him.

" Pottawattamie got long ear come fudder "said Pig-
eonswing; "go cook-house t ink we want breakfast."

Ben did as desired; and the two were soon side by side at
the spring, in the outlet of which they made their ablutions
the redskin being totally without paint. When this
agreeable office was performed, each felt in better condition
for a conference.

" Elkfoot got belt from Canada fadder," commenced the
Chippewa, with a sententious allusion to the British pro
pensity to keep the savages in pay. " Know he got him
know he keep him."



44 TH E OAK OPENINGS.

"And you, Pigeonswing by your manner of talking I
had set you down for a king s Injin, too."

" Talk sonojeet bit so. My heart Yankee."

" And have you not had a belt of wampum sent you, as
well as the rest of them ? "

" Dat true got him don t keep him."

" What! did you dare to send it back? "

"Ain t fool, dough young. Keep him; no keep him.
Keep him for Canada f adder; no keep him for Chippewa
brave."

" What have you then done with your belt ? "

" Bury him where nobody find him dis war. No Waub-
kenewh no hole in heart to let king in."

Pigeonswing, as this young Indian was commonly called
in his tribe, in consequence of the rapidity of his movement
when employed as a runner, had a much more respectable
name, and one that he had fairly earned in some of the
forays of his people, but which the commonalty had just the
same indisposition to use as the French have to call Mar
shal Soult the Due de Dalmatie. The last may be the most
honorable title, but it is not that by which he is the best
known to his countrymen. Waubkenewh was an appella
tion, notwithstanding, of which the young Chippewa was
justly proud; and he often asserted his right to use it, as
sternly as the old hero of Toulouse asserted his right to his
duchy, when the Austrians wished to style him " le Mare -
chal Due Soult."

" And you are friendly to the Yankees, and an enemy to
the red-coats ? "

Waubkenewh grasped the hand of le Bourdon, and
squeezed it firmly. Then he said, warily:

"Take care Elkfoot friend of Blackbird; like to look
at Canada belt. Got medal of king, too. Have Yankee
scalp, bye m by. Take care must speak low, when Elk-
foot near."

" I begin to understand you, Chippewa ; you wish me to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 45

believe that you are a friend to America, and that the Pot-
tawatamie is not. If this be so, why have you held the
speech that you did last night, and seemed to be on a war
path against my countrymen ? "

" Dat good way, eh ? Elkfoot den t ink me his friend
dat very good in war-time."

" But is it true, or false, that Mackinaw is taken by the
British?"

" Dat true too gone, and warrior all prisoner. Plenty
Winnebago, plenty Pottawatamie, plenty Ottowa, plenty red
skin, dere."

"And the Chippewas?"

" Some Ojebway, too " answered Pigeonswing, after a
reluctant pause. "Can t all go on same path this war.
Hatchets, somehow, got two handle one strike Yankee;
one strike King George."

" But what is your business here, and where are you now
going if you are friendly to the Americans? I make no se
cret of my feelings I am for my own people, and I wish
proof that you are a friend, and not an enemy."

"Too many question, one time," returned the Chip-
pewa, a little distastefully. " No good have so long tongue.
Ask one question, answer him ask anoder, answer him^
too."

" Well, then, what is your business, here? "

" Go to Chicago, for gen ral."

" Do you mean that you bear a message from some Amer
ican general to the commandant at Chicago ? "

"Just so dat my business. Guess him, right off; he,
he, he!"

It is so seldom that an Indian laughs that the bee-hunter
was startled.

" Where is the general who has sent you on this errand? "
he demanded.

" He at Detroit got whole army dere warrior plenty as
oak in opening."



46 THE OAK OPENINGS.

All this was news to the bee-hunter, and it caused him to
muse a moment, ere he proceeded.

" What is the name of the American general who has sent
you on this path? " he then demanded.

" Hell," answered the Ojebway, quietly.

" Hell! You mean to give his Indian title, I suppose, to
show that he will prove dangerous to the wicked. But how
is he called in our own tongue? "

" Hell dat he name good name for so ger, eh? "

"I believe I understand you, Chippewa Hull is the
name of the governor of the territory, and you must have
mistaken the sound is it not so? "

"Hull Hell don t know just same one good as
t other."

"Yes, one will do as well as the other, if a body only
understands you. So Governor Hull sent you here? "

" No gubbernor general, tell you. Got big army plenty
warrior eat Breesh up ! "

"Now, Chippewa, answer me one thing to my likin , or I
shall set you down as a man with a forked tongue, though
you do call yourself a friend of the Yankees. If you have
been sent from Detroit to Chicago, why are you so far north
as this? Why are you here, on the banks of the Kalama-
zoo, when your path ought to lead you more toward the St.
Joseph s?"

" Been to Mackinaw. Gen ral says, first go to Mackinaw
and see wid own eye how garrison do den go to Chicago,
and tell warrior dere what happen, and how he best man
age. Understan dat, Bourdon?"

"Aye, it all sounds well enough, I will acknowledge.
You have been to Mackinaw to look about you, there, and
having seen things with your own eyes, have started for Chi
cago to give your knowledge to the commandant at that
place. Now, redskin, have you any proof of what you say? "

For some reason that the bee-hunter could not yet fathom,
the Chippewa was particularly anxious either to obtain his



THE OAK OPENINGS. 47

confidence, or to deceive him. Which he was attempting,
was not yet quite apparent ; but that one or other was upper
most in his mind, Ben thought was beyond dispute. As
soon as the question last named was put, however, the In
dian looked cautiously around him, as if to be certain there
were no spectators. Then he carefully opened his tobacco-
pouch, and extricated from the centre of the cut weed a let
ter that was rolled into the smallest compass to admit of
this mode of concealment, and which was encircled by a
thread. The last removed, the letter was unrolled, and its

superscription exposed. The address was to " Captain

Heald, U. S. Army, commanding at Chicago." In one cor
ner were the words " On public service, by Pigeonswing."
All this was submitted to the bee-hunter, who read it with
his own eyes.

"Dat good" asked the Chippewa, pointedly " dat tell
trut b lieve him ? "

Le Bourdon grasped the hand of the Indian, and gave it
a hearty squeeze. Then he said frankly, and like a man
who no longer entertained any doubts:

"I put faith in all you say, Chippewa. That is an
officer s letter, and I now see that you are on the right side.
You play d so deep a game, at first, hows ever, that I didn t
know exactly what to make of you. Now, as for the Potta-
wattamie do you set him down as friend or foe, in reality? "

" Enemy take your scalp take my scalp, in minute
only can t catch him. He got belt from Montreal, and it
look handsome in his eye."

" Which way d ye think he s travelling? As I understood
you, he and you fell into the same path within a mile of this
ver) T spot. Was the meeting altogether friendly ? "

"Yes; friendly but ask too many question too much
squaw ask one question, den stop for answer."

"Very true I will remember that an Indian likes to do
one thing at a time. Which way, then, do you think he s
travelling?"



48 THE OAK OPENINGS.

" Don t know on y guess guess he on path to Black
bird."

"And where is Blackbird, and what is he about? "

"Two question, dat! " returned the Chippewa, smiling,
and holding up two of his fingers, at the same time, by way
of rebuke. " Blackbird on war-path ; when warrior on dat
path, he take scalp if can get him."

" But where is his enemy ? There are no whites in this
part of the country, but here and there a trader, or a trap
per, or a bee-hunter, or a voyageur"

"Take his scalp all scalp good, in war time. An t par-
tic lar, down at Montreal. What you call garrison at Chi
cago?"

" Blackbird, you then think, may be moving upon Chi
cago. In that case, Chippewa, you should outrun this Pot-
tawatamie, and reach the post in time to let its men know
the danger."

" Start, as soon as eat breakfast. Can t go straight, nud-
der, or Pottawatamie see print of moccasin. Must t row
him off trail."

(( Very true ; but I ll engage you re cunning enough to do
that twice over, should it be necessary."

Just then Gershom Waring came out of the cabin, gap
ing like a hound, and stretching his arms, as if fairly
wearied with sleep. At the sight of this man the Indian
made a gesture of caution, saying, however, in an under
tone:

"How is heart Yankee or Breesh love Montreal, eh?
Pretty good scalp! Love King George, eh? "

" I rather think not, but am not certain. He is a poor
pale-face, however, and it s of no great account how he
stands. His scalp would hardly be worth the taking,
whether by English or American."

"Sell, down at Montreal better look out for Pottawata
mie. Don t like that Injin."

" We ll be on our guard against him ; and there he comes,



THE OAK OPENINGS. 49

looking as if his breakfast would be welcome, and as if he
was already thinking of a start."

Le Bourdon had been busy with his pots, during the whole
time this discourse was going on, and had warmed up a
sufficiency of food to supply the wants of all his guests. In
a few minutes each was busy quietly eating his morning s
meal, Gershom having taken his bitters aside, and, as he
fancied, unobserved. This was not so much owing to nig
gardliness, as to a distrust of his having a sufficient supply
of the liquor, that long indulgence had made, in a measure,
necessary to him, to last until he could get back to the bar
rels that were still to be found in his cabin, down on the
shore of the lake.

During the breakfast little was said, conversation form
ing no material part of the entertainment, at the meals of
any but the cultivated. When each had risen, however, and
by certain preliminary arrangements it was obvious that the
two Indians intended to depart, the Pottawatamie advanced
to le Bourdon, and thrust out a hand.

" Thankee " he said, in the brief way in which he
clipped his English "good supper good sleep good
breakfast. Now go. Thankee when any friend come to
Pottawatamie village, good wigwam dere, and no door."

"I thank you, Elksfoot and should you pass this way,
ag in, soon, I hope you ll just step into this chiente and
help yourself it I should happen to be off on a hunt. Good
luck to you, and a happy sight of home."

The Pottawatamie then turned and thrust out a hand to
each of the others, who met his offered leave-taking with
apparent friendship. The bee-hunter observed that neither
of the Indians said anything to the other touching the path
he was about to travel, but that each seemed ready to pursue
his own way as if entirely independent, and without the ex
pectation of having a companion.

Elksfoot left the spot the first. After completing his
adieus, the Pottawattamie threw his rifle into the hollow of
4



5O THE OAK OPENINGS.

his arm, felt at his belt, as if to settle it into its place, made
some little disposition of his light summer covering, and
moved off in a southwesterly direction, passing through the
open glades, and almost equally unobstructed groves, as
steady in his movements as if led by an instinct.

"There he goes, on a bee-line," said le Bourdon, as the
straight form of the old savage disappeared at length, be
hind a thicket of trees. " On a bee-line for the St. Joseph s
river, where he will shortly be, among friends and neigh
bors, I do not doubt. What, Chippewa! are you in motion
too?"

" Must go, now," returned Pigeonswing, in a friendly
way. " Bye m by come back and eat more honey bring
sweet news, hope no Canada here," placing a finger on his
heart" all Yankee."

"God be with you, Chippewa God be with you. We
shall have a stirring summer of it, and I expect to hear of
your name in the wars, as of a chief who knows no fear."

Pigeonswing waved his hand, cast a glance, half friendly
half contemptuously, at Whiskey Centre, and glided away.
The two who remained standing near the smouldering fire
remarked that the direction taken by the Chippewa was
toward the lake, and nearly at right angles to that taken by
the Pottawattamie. They also fancied that the movement
of the former was about half as fast again as that of the
latter. In less than three minutes the young Indian was
concealed in the " openings," though he had to cross a glade
of considerable width in order to reach them.

The bee-hunter was now alone with the only one of his
guests who was of the color and race to which he himself
belonged. Of the three, he was the visitor he least re
spected; but the dues of hospitality are usually sacred in a
wilderness, and among savages, so that he could do nothing
to get rid of him. As Gershom manifested no intention to
quit the place, le Bourdon set about the business of the
hour, with as much method and coolness as if the other had



THE OAK OPENINGS. 5 1

not been present. The first thing was to bring home the
honey discovered on the previous day; a task of no light
labor, the distance it was to be transported being so con
siderable, and the quantity so large. But our bee-hunter
was not without the means of accomplishing such an object,
and he now busied himself in getting ready. As Gershom
volunteered his assistance, together they toiled in apparent
amity and confidence.

The Kalamazoo is a crooked stream ; and it wound from
the spot where le Bourdon had built his cabin, to a point
within a hundred yards of the fallen tree in which the bees
had constructed their hive. As a matter of course, Ben
profited by this circumstance to carry his canoe to the latter
place, with a view to render it serviceable in transporting
the honey. First securing everything in and around the
chiente, he and Gershom embarked, taking with them no less
than four pieces of fire-arms; one of which was, to use the
language of the west, a double-barrelled " shot-gun." Be
fore quitting the place, however, the bee-hunter went to a
large kennel made of logs, and let out a mastiff of great
power and size. Between this dog and himself there ex
isted the best possible intelligence; the master having paid
many visits to the prisoner since his return, feeding and
caressing him. Glad, indeed, was this fine animal to be re
leased, bounding back and forth, and leaping about le Bour
don in a way to manifest his delight. He had been cared
for in his kennel, and well cared for, too; but there is no
substitute for liberty, whether in man or beast, individuals
or communities.

When all was ready, le Bourdon and Gershom got into
the canoe, whither the former now called his dog, using the
name of " Hive," an appellation that was doubtless derived
from his own pursuit. As soon as the mastiff leaped into
the canoe, Ben shoved off, and the light craft was pushed
up the stream by himself and Gershom without much diffi
culty, and with considerable rapidity. But little driftwood



$2 THE OAK OPENINGS.

choked the channel ; and, after fifteen minutes of moderate
labor, the two men came near to the point of low wooded
land in which the bee-tree had stood. As they drew nigh,
certain signs of uneasiness in the dog attracted his master s
attention, and he pointed them out to Gershom.

"There s game in the wind," answered Whiskey Centre,
who had a good knowledge of most of the craft of border
life, notwithstanding his ungovernable propensity to drink,
and who, by nature, was both shrewd and resolute. " I
shouldn t wonder " a common expression of his class " if
we found bears prowling about that honey ! "

" Such things have happened in my time," answered the
bee-hunter; "and twice in my experience I ve been driven
from the field, and forced to let the devils get my arnin s."

" That was when you had no comrade, stranger" returned
Gershom, raising a rifle, and carefully examining its flint
and its priming. " It will be a large family on em that
drives us from that tree; for my mind is made up to give
Doll and Blossom a taste of the sweets."

If this was said imprudently, as respects ownership in the
prize, it was said heartily, so far as spirit and determination
were concerned. It proved that Whiskey Centre had points
about him which, if not absolutely redeeming, served in
some measure to lessen the disgust which one might other
wise have felt for his character. The bee-hunter knew that
there was a species of hardihood that belonged to border
men as the fruits of their habits, and, apparently, he had all
necessary confidence in Gershom s disposition to sustain
him, should there be occasion for a conflict with his old
enemies.

The first measure of the bee-hunter, after landing and
securing his boat, was to quiet Hive. The animal being
under excellent command, this was soon done; the mastiff
maintaining the position assigned him in the rear, though
evidently impatient to be let loose. Had not le Bourdon
known the precise position of the fallen tree, and through



THE OAK OPENINGS. 53

that the probable position of his enemies, he would have
placed the mastiff in advance, as a pioneer or scout; but he
deemed it necessary, under the actual circumstances, to hold
him as a reserve, or a force to be directed whither occasion
might require. With this arrangement, then, le Bourdon
and Whiskey Centre advanced, side by side, each carrying
two pieces, from the margin of the river toward the open
land that commanded a view of the tree. On reaching the
desired point, a halt was called, in order to reconnoitre.

The reader will remember that the bee-elm had stood on
the edge of a dense thicket, or swamp, in which the trees
grew to a size several times exceeding those of the oaks in
the openings; and le Bourdon had caused it to fall upon
the open ground, in order to work at the honey with greater
ease to himself. Consequently, the fragments lay in full
view of the spot where the halt was made. A little to Ger-
shom s surprise, Ben now produced his spy-glass, which he
levelled with much earnestness toward the tree. The bee-
hunter, however, well knew his business, and was examining
into the state of the insects whom he had so violently in
vaded the night before. The air was filled with them, fly
ing above and around the tree; a perfect cloud of the little
creatures hovering directly over the hole, as if to guard its
treasure.

"Waal," said Gershom, in his drawling way, when le
Bourdon had taken a long look with the glass, " I don t see
much use in spy-glassin in that fashion. Spy-glassin may
do out on the lake, if a body has only the tools to do it with;
but here, in the openin s, nature s eyes is about as good as
them a body buys in the stores."

"Take a look at them bees, and see what a fret they re
in," returned Ben, handing the glass to his companion.
"As long as I ve been in the business, I ve never seen a
colony in such a fever. Commonly, a few hours after the
bees find that their tree is down, and their plans broken
into, they give it up, and swarm ; looking for a new hive,



54 THE OAK OPENINGS.

and setting about the making more food for the next win
ter; but here are all the bees yet, buzzing above the hole,
as if they meant to hold out for a siege."

"There s an onaccountable grist on em " Gershom was
never very particular in his figures of speech, usually term
ing anything in quantities a "grist"; and meaning in the
present instance by " onaccountable," a number not to be
counted "an onaccountable grist on em, I can tell you,
and if you mean to charge upon sich enemies, you must look
out for somebody besides Whiskey Centre for your van
guard. What in natur has got into the critters! They
can t expect to set that tree on its legs ag in! "

" Do you see a flight of them just in the edge of the for
est here, more to the southward? " demanded le Bourdon.

" Sure enough ! There is a lot on em there, too, and they
seem to be comin and goin to the tree, like folks" Ger
shom would put his noun of multitude into the plural, Nova-
Anglice "comin and goin like folks carryin water to a
fire. A body would think, by the stir among em, them
critters barrel was empty! "

"The bears are there," coolly returned the bee-hunter;
" I ve seen such movements before, and know how to account
for them. The bears are in the thicket, but don t like to
come out in the face of such a colony. I have heard of
bears being chased miles by bees, when their anger was
up!"

" Mortality ! They have a good deal of dander (dandruff)
for sich little vipers! But what are we to do, Bourdon ? for
Doll and Blossom must taste that honey! Half s mine, you
know, and I don t like to give it up."

The bee-hunter smiled at the coolness with which Ger
shom assigned to himself so large a portion of his property;
though he did not think it worth his while, just then, to " de
mur to his declaration," as the lawyers might have it.
There was a sort of border rule, which gave all present
equal shares in any forest captures; just as vessels in sight



THE OAK OPENINGS. 55

come in for prize-money, taken in time of war by public
cruisers. At any rate, the honey of a single tree was not of
sufficient value to induce a serious quarrel about it. If
there should be any extra trouble or danger in securing the
present prize, every craft in view might, fairly enough, come
in for its share.

" Doll shall not be forgotten, if we can only house our
honey," answered the bee-hunter; "nor Blossom, neither.
I ve a fancy, already, for that blossom of the wilderness,
and shall do all I can to make myself agreeable to her. A
man cannot approach a maiden with anything sweeter than
honey."

" Some gals like sugar d words better; but, let me tell you
one thing, stranger

" You have eaten bread and salt with me, Whiskey, and
both are scarce articles in a wilderness; and you ve slept
under my roof: is it not almost time to call me something
else than stranger? "

" Well, Bourdon, if you prefer that name ; though stranger
is a name I like, it has sich an up and off sound to it.
When a man calls all he sees strangers, it s a sign he don t
let the grass grow in the road for want of movin ; and a
movin man for me, any day, before your stationaries. I
was born on the sea-shore, in the Bay State ; and here I am,
up among the fresh-water lakes, as much nat ralized as any
muskelunge that was ever cotch d in Huron, or about Mack
inaw. If I can believe my eyes, Bourdon, there is the muz
zle of a bear to be seen, jist under that heavy hemlock
here, where the bees seem thickest! "

" No doubt in the world," answered le Bourdon, coolly ;
though he had taken the precaution to look to the priming
of each of his pieces, as if he expected there would soon be
occasion to use them. " But what was that you were about
to say concernin Blossom? It would not be civil to the
young woman to overlook her, on account of a bear or two."

" You take it easy, stranger Bourdon, I should say you



56 THE OAK OPENINGS,

take it easy! What I was about to say was this: that the
whull lake country, and that s a wide stretch to foot it over,
I know; but, big as it is, the whull lake country don t con
tain Blossom s equal. I m her brother, and perhaps ought
to be a little modest in sich matters; but I an t a bit, and
let out jist what I think. Blossom s a di mond, if there be
di monds on arth."



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 4 of 41)