James Fenimore Cooper.

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"And yonder is a bear, if there be bears on earth! " ex
claimed le Bourdon, who was not a little amused with Ger-
shom s account of his family, but who saw that the moment
was now arrived when it would be necessary to substitute
deeds for words. " There they come, in a drove, and they
seem in earnest."

This was true enough. No less than eight bears, half
of which, however, were quite young, came tumbling over
the logs, and bounding up toward the fallen tree, as if
charging the citadel of the bees by preconcert. Their ap
pearance was the signal for a general rally of the insects,
and by the time the foremost of the clumsy animals had
reached the tree, the air above and around him was abso
lutely darkened by the cloud of bees that was collected to
defend their treasures. Bruin trusted too much to the thick
ness of his hide and to the defences with which he was pro
vided by nature, besides being too much incited by the love
of honey, to regard the little heroes, but thrust his nose in
at the hole, doubtless hoping to plunge it at once into the
midst of a mass of the sweets. A growl, a start backward,
and a flourishing of the fore-paws, with sundry bites in the
air, at once announced that he had met with greater resist
ance than he had anticipated. In a minute, all the bears
were on their hind-legs, beating the air with their fore-paws,
and nipping right and left with their jaws, in vigorous com
bat with their almost invisible foes. Instinct supplied the
place of science, and spite of the hides and the long hair
that covered them, the bees found the means of darting
their stings into unprotected places, until the quadrupeds



THE OAK OPENINGS. 57

were fairly driven to rolling about on the grass in order to
crush their assailants. This last process had some effect,
a great many bees being destroyed by the energetic rollings
and tumblings of the bears; but, as in the tide of battle,
the places of those who fell were immediately supplied by
fresh assailants, until numbers seemed likely to prevail
over power, if not over discipline. At this critical instant,
when the bears seemed fatigued with their nearly frantic
saltations, and violent blows upon nothing, le Bourdon
deemed it wise to bring his forces into the combat. Ger-
shom having been apprised of the plan, both fired at the
same instant. Each ball took effect; one killing the largest
of all the bears, dead on the spot, while the other inflicted
a grievous wound on a second. This success was immedi
ately followed by a second discharge, wounding two more
of the enemy, while Ben held the second barrel of his " shot
gun " in reserve. While the hurt animals were hobbling
off, the men reloaded their pieces; and by the time the last
were ready to advance on the enemy, the ground was cleared
of bears and bees alike, only two of the former remaining,
of which one was already dead and the other dying. As for
the bees, they followed their retreating enemies in a body,
making a mistake that sometimes happens to still more
intelligent beings; that of attributing to themselves, and
their own prowess, a success that had been gained by others.
The bee-hunter and his friend now set themselves at work
to provide a reception for the insects, the return of which
might shortly be expected. The former lighted a fire, be
ing always provided with the means, while Gershom brought
dry wood. In less than five minutes a bright blaze was
gleaming upward, and when the bees returned, as most of
them soon did, they found this new enemy intrenched, as it
might be, behind walls of flame. Thousands of the little
creatures perished by means of this new invention of man,
and the rest soon after were led away by their chiefs to seek
some new deposit for the fruits of their industry.



58 THE OAK OPENINGS.



CHAPTER IV.

The sad butterfly,

Waving his lackered wings, darts quickly on,
And, by his free flight, counsels us to speed
For better lodgings, and a scene more sweet,
Than these dear borders offer us to-night.

SIMMS.

IT was noon before Ben and Gershom dared to commence
the process of cutting and splitting the tree, in order to ob
tain the honey. Until then, the bees lingered around their
fallen hive, and it would have been dangerous to venture
beyond the smoke and heat, in order to accomplish the
task. It is true, le Bourdon possessed several secrets, of
more or less virtue, to drive off the bees when disposed to
assault him, but no one that was as certain as a good fire,
backed by a dense column of vapor. Various plants are
thought to be so offensive to the insects, that they avoid
even their odor; and the bee-hunter had faith in one or two
of them; but none of the right sort happened now to be
near, and he was obliged to trust, first to a powerful heat,
and next to the vapor of damp wood.

As there were axes, and wedges, and a beetle in the canoe,
and Gershom was as expert with these implements as a mas
ter of fencing is with his foil, to say nothing of the skill of
le Bourdon, the tree was soon laid open, and its ample
stores of sweets exposed. In the course of the afternoon
the honey was deposited in kegs, the kegs were transferred
to the canoe, and the whole deposited in the chiente. The
day had been one of toil, and when our two bordermen sat
down near the spring, to take their evening meal, each felt
glad that his work was done.

" I believe this must be the last hive I line, this sum
mer," said le Bourdon, while eating his supper. " My luck
has been good so far, but in -troublesome times one had bet
ter not be too far from home. I am surprised, Waring, that



THE OAK OPENINGS. 59

you have ventured so far from your family, while the tidings
are so gloomy."

" That s partly because you don t know me, and partly be
cause you don t know Dolly. As for leaving hum, with any
body to kear for it, I should like to know who is more to
the purpose than Dolly Waring? I haven t no idee that
even bees would dare get upon her! If they did, they d
soon get the worst on t. Her tongue is all-powerful, to say
nawthin of her arms; and if the so gers can only handle
their muskets as she can handle a broom, there is no need
of new regiments to carry on this war."

Now, nothing could be more false than this character;
but a drunkard has little regard to what he says.

" I am glad your garrison is so strong," answered the bee-
hunter, thoughtfully ; " but mine is too weak to stay any
longer, out here in the openings. Whiskey Centre, I in
tend to break up, and return to the settlement, before the
red-skins break loose in earnest. If you will stay and lend
me a hand to embark the honey and stores, and help to
carry the canoe down the river, you shall be well paid for
your trouble."

" Waal, I d about as lief do that, as do anything else.
Good jobs is scarce, out here in the wilderness, and when a
body lights of one, he ought to profit by it. I come up
here thinkin to meet you, for I heer n tell from a voyager
that you was a-beeing it, out in the openin s, and there s
nawthin in natur that Dolly takes to with a greater relish
than good wild honey. * Try whiskey, I ve told her a thou
sand times, * and you ll soon get to like that better than all
the rest of creation ; but not a drop could I ever get her, or
Blossom, to swallow. It s true, that leaves so much the
more forme; but I m a companionable crittur, and don t
think I ve drunk as much as I want, unless I take it society-
like. That s one reason I ve taken so mightily to you, Bour
don; you re not much at a pull, but you an t downright
afeared of a jug, neither."



6O THE OAK OPENINGS.

The bee-hunter was glad to hear that all the family had
not this man s vice, for he now plainly foresaw that the ac
cidents of his position must bring him and these strangers
much in contact, for some weeks, at least. Le Bourdon,
though not absolutely " afraid of a jug," as Whiskey Centre
had expressed it, was decidedly a temperate man ; drinking
but seldom, and never to excess. He too well knew the
hazards by which he was surrounded, to indulge in this
way, even had he the taste for it ; but he had no taste that
way, one small jug of brandy forming his supply for a whole
season. In these days of exaggeration in all things, exag
geration in politics, in religion, in temperance, in virtue,
and even in education, by putting " new wine into old bot
tles," that one little jug might have sufficed to give him a
bad name; but five-and-thirty years ago men had more real
independence than they now possess, and were not as much
afraid of that croquemitaine, public opinion, as they are to
day. To be sure, it was little to le Bourdon s taste to make
a companion of such a person as Whiskey Centre; but there
was no choice. The man was an utter stranger to him ; and
the only means he possessed of making sure that he did not
carry off the property that lay so much at his mercy, was by
keeping near him. With many men, the bee-hunter would
have been uneasy at being compelled to remain alone with
them in the woods; for cases in which one had murdered
another, in order to get possession of the goods, in these re
mote regions, were talked of, among the other rumors of the
borders; but Gershom had that in his air and manner that
rendered Ben confident his delinquencies, at the most, would
scarcely reach bloodshed. Pilfer he might ; but murder was
a crime which he did not appear at all likely to commit.

After supping in company, our two adventurers secured
everything ; and, retiring to the chiente , they went to sleep.
No material disturbance occurred, but the night passed in
tranquillity ; the bee-hunter merely experiencing some slight
interruption to his slumbers, from the unusual circumstance



THE OAK OPENINGS. 6l

of having a companion. One as long accustomed to be
alone as himself would naturally submit to some such sen
sation, our habits getting so completely the mastery as often
to supplant even nature.

The following morning the bee-hunter commenced his
preparations for a change of residence. Had he not been
discovered, it is probable that the news received from the
Chippewa would not have induced him to abandon his
present position, so early in the season ; but he thought the
risk of remaining was too great under all the circumstances.
The Pottawattamie, in particular, was a subject of great dis
trust to him, and he believed it highly possible some of that
old chief s tribe might be after his scalp ere many suns had
risen. Gershom acquiesced in these opinions, and, as soon
as his brain was less under the influence of liquor than was
common with him, he appeared to be quite happy in having
it in his power to form a "species of alliance, offensive and
defensive, with a man of his own color and origin. Great
harmony now prevailed between the two, Gershom improv
ing vastly in all the better qualities, the instant his intellect
and feelings got to be a little released from the thraldom of
the jug. His own immediate store of whiskey was quite
exhausted, and le Bourdon kept the place in which his own
small stock of brandy was secured a profound secret. These
glimmerings of returning intellect, and of reviving princi
ples, are by no means unusual with the sot, thus proving
that "so long as there is life, there is hope," for the moral,
as well as for the physical being. What was a little remark
able, Gershom grew less vulgar, even in his dialect, as he
grew more sober, showing that in all respects he was becom
ing a greatly improved person.

The men were several hours in loading the canoe, not only
all the stores and ammunition, but all the honey being trans
ferred to it. The bee-hunter had managed to conceal his
jug of brandy, reduced by this time to little more than a
quart, within an empty powder-keg, into which he had



62 THE OAK OPENINGS.

crammed a beaver-skin or two, that he had taken, as it might
be incidentally, in the course of his rambles. At length
everything was removed and stowed in its proper place, on
board the capacious canoe, and Gershom expected an an
nouncement on the part of Ben of his readiness to embark.
But there still remained one duty to perform. The bee-
hunter had killed a buck only the day before the opening
of our narrative, and shouldering a quarter, he had left the
remainder of the animal suspended from the branches of a
tree, near the place where it had been shot and cleaned. As
venison might be needed before they could reach the mouth
of the river, Ben deemed it advisable that he and Gershom
should go and bring in the remainder of the carcass. The
men started on this undertaking accordingly, leaving the
canoe about two in the afternoon.

The distance between the spot where the deer had been
killed, and the chiente, was about three miles; which was
the reason why the bee-hunter had not brought home the en
tire animal the day he killed it; the American woodsman
often carrying his game great distances in preference to
leaving it any length of time in the forest. In the latter
case there is always danger from beasts of prey, which are
drawn from afar by the scent of blood. Le Bourdon thought
it possible they might now encounter wolves; though he had
left the carcass of the deer so suspended as to place it be
yond the reach of most of the animals of the wilderness.
Each of the men, however, carried a rifle: and Hive was
allowed to accompany them, by an act of grace on the part
of his master.

For the first half-hour, nothing occurred out of the usual
course of events. The bee-hunter had been conversing free
ly with his companion, who, he rejoiced to find, manifested
far more common sense, not to say good sense, than he had
previously shown ; and from whom he was deriving informa
tion touching the number of vessels, and the other move
ments on the lakes, that he fancied might be of use to him-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 63

self when he started for Detroit. While thus engaged, and
when distant only a hundred rods from the place where he
had left the venison, le Bourdon was suddenly struck with
the movements of the dog. Instead of doubling on his own
tracks, and scenting right and left, as was the animal s
wont, he was now advancing cautiously, with his head low,
seemingly feeling his way with his nose, as if there was a
strong taint in the wind.

" Sartain as my name is Gershom," exclaimed Waring,
just after he and Ben had come to a halt, in order to look
around them "yonder is an Injin! The crittur is seated
at the foot of the large oak hereaway, more to the right of
the dog, and Hive has struck his scent. The fellow is
asleep, with his rifle across his lap, and can t have much
dread of wolves or bears ! "

" I see him," answered le Bourdon, " and am as much
surprised as grieved to find him there. It is a little remark
able that I should have so many visitors, just at this time,
on my hunting-ground, when I never had any at all before
yesterday. It gives a body an uncomfortable feeling, War
ing, to live so much in a crowd! Well, well I m about to
move, and it will matter little twenty-four hours hence."

"The chap s a Winnebago by his paint," added Gershom
"but let s go up and give him a call."

The bee-hunter assented to this proposal, remarking, as
they moved forward, that he did not think the stranger of
the tribe just named ; though he admitted that the use of
paint was so general and loose among these warriors, as to
render it difficult to decide.

"The crittur sleeps soundly! " exclaimed Gershom, stop
ping within ten yards of the Indian, to take another look at
him.

" He ll never awake," put in the bee-hunter, solemnly
"the man is dead. See; there is blood on the side of his
head, and a rifle-bullet has left its hole there."

Even while speaking, the bee-hunter advanced, and rais-



64 THE OAK OPENINGS.

ing a sort of shawl, that once had been used as an ornament,
and which had last been thrown carelessly over the head of
its late owner, he exposed the well-known features of Elks-
foot, the Pottawattamie, who had left them little more than
twenty-four hours before ! The warrior had been shot by a
rifle-bullet directly through the temple, and had been scalped.
The powder had been taken from his horn, and the bullets
from his pouch; but, beyond this, he had not been plun
dered. The body was carefully placed against a tree, in a
sitting attitude, the rifle was laid across its legs, and there
it had been left, in the centre of the openings, to become
food for beasts of prey, and to have its bones bleached by
the snows and the rains!

The bee-hunter shuddered, as he gazed at this fearful
memorial of the violence against which even a wilderness
could afford no sufficient protection. That Pigeonswing
had slain his late fellow-guest, le Bourdon had no doubt,
and he sickened at the thought. Although he had himself
dreaded a good deal from the hostility of the Pottawattamie,
he could have wished this deed undone. That there was a
jealous distrust of each other between the two Indians had
been sufficiently apparent; but the bee-hunter could not
have imagined that it would so soon lead to results as ter
rible as these !

After examining the body, and noting the state of things
around it, the men proceeded, deeply impressed with the
necessity, not only of their speedy removal, but of their
standing by each other in that remote region, now that vio
lence had so clearly broken out among the tribes. The bee-
hunter had taken a strong liking to the Chippewa, and he
regretted so much the more to think that he had done this
deed. It was true, that such a state of things might exist as
to justify an Indian warrior, agreeably to his own notions,
in taking the life of any one of a hostile tribe; but le Bour
don wished it had been otherwise. A man of gentle and
peaceable disposition himself, though of a profoundly en-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 65

thusiastic temperament in his own peculiar way, he had
ever avoided those scenes of disorder and bloodshed, which
are of so frequent occurrence in the forest and on the prai
ries; and this was actually the first instance in which he
had ever beheld a human body that had fallen by human
hands. Gershom had seen more of the peculiar life of the
frontiers than his companion, in consequence of having
lived so closely in contact with the " fire-water " ; but even
he was greatly shocked with the suddenness and nature of
the Pottawattamie s end.

No attempt was made to bury the remains of Elksfoot, in
asmuch as our adventurers had no tools fit for such a pur
pose, and any merely superficial interment would have been
a sort of invitation to the wolves to dig the body up
again.

" Let him lean ag in the tree," said Waring, as they moved
on toward the spot where the carcass of the deer was left,
"and I ll engage nothin touches him. There s that about
the face of man, Bourdon, that skears the beasts; and if a
body can only muster courage to stare them full in the eye,
one single human can drive before him a whull pack of
wolves."

" I ve heard as much," returned the bee-hunter, " but
should not like to be the * human to try the experiment.
That the face of man may have terrors for a beast, I think
likely; but hunger would prove more than a match for such
fear. Yonder is our venison, Waring; safe where I left it."

The carcass of the deer was divided, and each man shoul
dering his burden, the two returned to the river, taking care
to avoid the path that led by the body of the dead Indian.
As both labored with much earnestness, everything was soon
ready, and the canoe speedily left the shore. The Kalama-
zoo is not in general a swift and turbulent stream, though
it has a sufficient current to carry away its waters without
any appearance of sluggishness. Of course, this character
is not uniform, reaches occurring in which the placid water
5



66 THE OAK OPENINGS.

is barely seen to move; and others, again, are found, in
which something like rapids, and even falls, appear. But
on the whole, and more especially in the part of the stream
where it was, the canoe had little to disturb it, as it glided
easily down, impelled by a light stroke of the paddle.

The bee-hunter did not abandon his station without re
gret. He had chosen a most agreeable site for his chiente ,
consulting air, shade, water, verdure, and groves, as well as
the chances of obtaining honey. In his regular pursuit he
had been unusually fortunate; and the little pile of kegs in
the centre of his canoe was certainly a grateful sight to his
eyes. The honey gathered this season, moreover, had proved
to be of an unusually delicious flavor, affording the promise
of high prices and ready sales. Still, the bee-hunter left
the place with profound regret. He loved his calling; he
loved solitude to a morbid degree, perhaps; and he loved
the gentle excitement that naturally attended his "bee-lin
ing," his discoveries, and his gains. Of all the pursuits
that are more or less dependent on the chances of the hunt
and the field, that of the bee-hunter is of the most quiet and
placid enjoyment. He has the stirring motives of uncer
tainty and doubt, without the disturbing qualities of bustle
and fatigue; and, while his exercise is sufficient for health,
and for the pleasures of the open air, it is seldom of a na
ture to weary or unnerve. Then the study of the little ani
mal that is to be watched, and, if the reader will, plundered,
is not without a charm for those who delight in looking into
the wonderful arcana of nature. So great was the interest
that le Bourdon sometimes felt in his little companions,
that, on three several occasions that very summer, he had
spared hives after having found them, because he had ascer
tained that they were composed of young bees, and had not
yet got sufficiently colonized to render a new swarming
more than a passing accident. With all this kindness of
feeling toward his victims, Boden had nothing of the tran
scendental folly that usually accompanies the sentimental-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 6?

ism of the exaggerated, but his feelings and impulses were
simple and direct, though so often gentle and humane. He
knew that the bee, like all the other inferior animals of cre
ation, was placed at the disposition of man, and did not
scruple to profit by the power thus beneficently bestowed,
though he exercised it gently, and with a proper discrimi
nation between its use and its abuse.

Neither of the men toiled much, as the canoe floated down
the stream. Very slight impulses served to give their buoy
ant craft a reasonably swift motion, and the current itself
was a material assistant. These circumstances gave an op
portunity for conversation, as the canoe glided onward.

"A ter all," suddenly exclaimed Waring, who had been
examining the pile of kegs for some time in silence "a ter
all, Bourdon, your trade is an oncommon one! A most
extr ornary and oncommon callin ! "

" More so, think you, Gershom, than swallowing whiskey,
morning, noon, and night? " answered the bee-hunter, with a
quiet smile.

" Aye, but that s not a reg lar callin ; only a likin ! Now
a man may have a likin to a hundred things in which he
don t deal. I set nothin down as a business, which a man
don t live by."

" Perhaps you re right, Waring. More die by whiskey
than live by whiskey."

Whiskey Centre seemed struck with this remark, which
was introduced so aptly, and was uttered so quietly. He
gazed earnestly at his companion for near a minute, ere he
attempted to resume the discourse.

" Blossom has often said as much as this," he then slowly
rejoined; "and even Dolly has prophesized the same."

The bee-hunter observed that an impression had been
made, and he thought it wisest to let the reproof already
administered produce its effect, without endeavoring to add
to its power. Waring sat with his chin on his breast, in
deep thought, while his companion, for the first time since



68 THE OAK OPENINGS.

they had met, examined the features and aspect of the man.
At first sight, Whiskey Centre certainly offered little that
was inviting; but a closer study of his countenance showed
that he had the remains of a singularly handsome man.
Vulgar as were his forms of speech, coarse and forbidding
as his face had become, through the indulgence which was
his bane, there were still traces of this truth. His com
plexion had once been fair almost to effeminacy, his cheeks
ruddy with health, and his blue eye bright and full of hope.
His hair was light; and all these peculiarities strongly de
noted his Saxon origin. It was not so much Anglo-Saxon
as Americo-Saxon, that was to be seen in the physical out



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 5 of 41)