James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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of the wife beaming with a satisfaction she made no effort
to conceal. Dolly was not as beautiful as her sister-in-law;
still, she was a comely woman, though one who had been
stricken by sorrow. She was still young, and might have
been in the pride of her good looks, had it not been for the
manner in which she had grieved over the fall of Gershom.
The joy that gladdens a woman s heart, however, was now
illuminating her countenance, and she welcomed le Bourdon
most cordially, as if aware that he had been of service to



THE OAK OPENINGS. 8 1

her husband. For months she had not seen Gershom quite
himself, until that evening.

" I have told Dolly all our adventur s, Bourdon," cried
Gershom, as soon as the brief greetings were over, " and she
tells me all s right, hereabouts. Three canoe-loads of In-
jins passed along shore, goin up the lake, she tells me, this
very a ternoon ; but they didn t see the smoke, the fire bein
out, and must have thought the hut empty; if indeed, they
knew anythin of it, at all."

"The last is the most likely," remarked Margery; "for I
watched them narrowly from the beeches on the shore, and
there was no pointing, or looking up, as would have hap
pened had there been any one among them who could show
the others a cabin. Houses an t so plenty, in this part of
the country, that travellers pass without turning round to
look at them. An Injin has curiosity as well as a white
man, though he manages so often to conceal it."

"Didn t you say, Blossom, that one of the canoes was
much behind the others, and that a warrior in that canoe
did look up toward this grove, as if searching for the
cabin ? " asked Dorothy.

" Either it was so, or my fears made it seem so. The two
canoes that passed first were well filled with Injins, each
having eight in it; while the one that came last held but
four warriors. They were a mile apart, and the last canoe
seemed to be trying to overtake the others. I did think
that nothing but their haste prevented the men in the last
canoe from landing; but my fears may have made that seem
so that was not so."

As the cheek of the charming girl flushed with excite
ment, and her face became animated, Margery appeared
marvellously handsome; more so, the bee-hunter fancied,
than any other female he had ever before seen. But her
words impressed him quite as much as her looks; for he at
once saw the importance of such an event, to persons in
their situation. The wind was rising on the lake, and it
6



82 THE OAK OPENINGS.

was ahead for the canoes ; should the savages feel the ne
cessity of making a harbor, they might return to the mouth
of the Kalamazoo; a step that would endanger all their
lives, in the event of these Indians proving to belong to
those, whom there was now reason to believe were in British
pay. In times of peace, the intercourse between the whites
and the red men was usually amicable, and seldom led to
violence, unless through the effects of liquor; but, a price
being placed on scalps, a very different state of things
might be anticipated, as a consequence of the hostilities.
This was then a matter to be looked to; and, as evening was
approaching, no time was to be lost.

The shores of Michigan are generally low, nor are har
bors either numerous, or very easy of access. It would be
difficult, indeed, to find in any other part of the world, so
great an extent of coast that possesses so little protection
for the navigator, as that of this very lake. There are a
good many rivers, it is true, but usually they have bars, and
are not easy of entrance. This is the reason why that very
convenient glove, the Constitution, which can be made to fit
any hand, has been discovered to have an extra ringer in it,
which points out a mode by which the federal government
can create ports wherever nature has forgotten to perform
this beneficent office. It is a little extraordinary that the
fingers of so many of the great " expounders " turn out to be
" thumbs," however, exhibiting clumsiness, rather than that
adroit lightness which usually characterizes the dexterity of
men who are in the habit of rummaging other people s
pockets, for their own especial purposes. It must be some
what up-hill work to persuade any disinterested and clear
headed man, that a political power to " regulate commerce "
goes the length of making harbors ; the one being in a great
measure a moral, while the other is exclusively a physical
agency; any more than it goes the length of making ware
houses, and cranes, and carts, and all the other physical
implements for carrying on trade. Now, what renders all



THE OAK OPENINGS. 83

this " thumbing " of the Constitution so much the more ab
surd, is the fact, that the very generous compact interested
does furnish a means, by which the poverty of ports on the
great lakes may be remedied, without making any more un
necessary rents in the great national glove. Congress
clearly possesses the power to create and maintain a navy,
which includes the power to create all sorts of necessary
physical appliances; and, among others, places of refuge
for that navy, should they be actually needed. As a vessel
of war requires a harbor, and usually a better harbor than
a merchant-vessel, it strikes us the "expounders" would do
well to give this thought a moment s attention. Behind it
will be found the most unanswerable argument in favor of
the light-houses, too.

But, to return to the narrative : the Kalamazoo could be
entered by canoes, though it offered no very available shel
ter for a vessel of any size. There was no other shelter for
the savages for several miles to the southward; and, should
the wind increase, of which there were strong indications,
it was not only possible, but highly probable, that the ca
noes would return. According to the account of the fe
males, they had passed only two hours before, and the
breeze had been gradually gathering strength ever since.
It was not unlikely, indeed, that the attention paid to the
river by the warrior in the last canoe may have had refer
ence to this very state of the weather; and his haste to over
take his companions been connected with a desire to induce
them to seek a shelter. All this presented itself to the bee-
hunter s mind, at once; and it was discussed between the
members of the party, freely, and not without some grave
apprehensions.

There was one elevated point elevated comparatively, if
not in a very positive sense whence the eye could com
mand a considerable distance along the lake shore. Thither
Margery now hastened to look after the canoes. Boden ac
companied her; and together they proceeded, side by side,



84 THE OAK OPENINGS.

with a new-born but lively and increasing confidence, that
was all the greater, in consequence of their possessing a
common secret.

" Brother must be much better than he was," the girl ob
served, as they hurried on, " for he has not once been into
the shed to look at the barrels! Before he went into the
openings, he never entered the house without drinking; and
sometimes he would raise the cup to his mouth as often as
three times in the first half-hour. Now, he does not seem
even to think of it! "

" It may be well that he can find nothing to put into his
cup, should he fall into his old ways. One is never sure of
a man of such habits, until he is placed entirely out of
harm s way."

" Gershom is such a different being when he has not been
drinking! " rejoined the sister, in a touching manner. " We
love him, and strive to do all we can to keep him up, but it
is hard."

" I am surprised that you should have come into this wil
derness with any one of bad habits."

"Why not? He is my brother, and I have no parents
he is all to me: and what would become of Dorothy if I
were to quit her, too! She has lost most of her friends,
since Gershom fell into these ways, and it would quite
break her heart, did I desert her."

"All this speaks well for you, pretty Margery, but it is
not the less surprising ah, there is my canoe, in plain sight
of all who enter the river; that must be concealed, Injins or
no Injins."

" It is only a step further to the place where we can get
a lookout. Just there, beneath the burr-oak. Hours and
hours have I sat on that spot, with my sewing, while Ger
shom was gone into the openings."

"And Dolly where was she while you were here? "

"Poor Dolly! I do think she passed quite half her time
up at the beech-tree, where you first saw her, looking if



THE OAK OPENINGS. 85

brother was not coming home. It is a cruel thing to a wife
to have a truant husband! "

" Which I hope may never be your case, pretty Margery,
and which I think never can."

Margery did not answer: but the speech must have been
heard, uttered as it was in a much lower tone of voice than
the young man had hitherto used; for the charming maiden
looked down and blushed. Fortunately, the two now soon
arrived at the tree, and their conversation naturally reverted
to the subject which had brought them there. Three ca
noes were in sight, close in with the land, but so distant
as to render it for some time doubtful which way they were
moving. At first, the bee-hunter said that they were still
going slowly to the southward ; but he habitually carried
his little glass, and, on levelling that, it was quite apparent
that the savages were paddling before the wind, and making
for the mouth of the river. This was a very grave fact;
and, as Blossom flew to communicate it to her brother and
his wife, le Bourdon moved toward his own canoe, and
looked about for a place of concealment.

Several considerations had to be borne in mind, in dis
posing of the canoes; for that of Gershom was to be se
creted, as well as that of the bee-hunter. A tall aquatic
plant, that is termed wild rice, and which we suppose to be
the ordinary rice-plant, unimproved by tillage, grows spon
taneously about the mouths and on the flats of most of the
rivers of the part of Michigan of which we are writing; as,
indeed, it is to be found in nearly all the shallow waters of
those regions. There was a good deal of this rice at hand;
and the bee-hunter, paddling his own canoe and towing the
other, entered this vegetable thicket, choosing a channel
that had been formed by some accident of nature, and which
wound through the herbage in a way soon to conceal all
that came within its limits. These channels were not only
numerous, but exceedingly winding; and the bee-hunter had
no sooner brought his canoes to the firm ground and fast



86 THE OAK OPENINGS.

ened them there, than he ascended a tree, and studied the
windings of these narrow passages, until he had got a gen
eral idea of their direction and characters. This precau
tion taken, he hurried back to the hut.

"Well, Gershom, have you settled on the course to be
taken ? " were the first words uttered by the bee-hunter when
he rejoined the family of Whiskey Centre.

"We haven t," answered the husband. "Sister begs us
to quit the chiente , for the Indians must soon be here; but
wife seems to think that she must be safe, now I m at home
ag in."

" Then wife is wrong, and sister is right. If you will
take my advice, you will hide all your effects in the woods,
and quit the cabin as soon as possible. The Injins cannot
fail to see this habitation, and will be certain to destroy all
they find in it, and that they do not carry off. Besides, the
discovery of the least article belonging to a white man will
set them on our trail; for scalps will soon bear a price at
Montreal. In half an hour, all that is here can be removed
into the thicket that is luckily so near; and by putting out
the fire with care, and using proper caution, we may give
the place such a deserted look, that the savages will suspect
nothing."

" If they enter the river, Bourdon, they will not camp out
with a wigwam so near by, and should they come here, what
is to prevent their seein the footprints we shall leave be
hind us?"

"The night, and that only. Before morning their own
footsteps will be so plenty as to deceive them. Luckily we
all wear moccasins, which is a great advantage just now.
But every moment is precious, and we should be stirring.
Let the women take the beds and bedding, while you and I
shoulder this chest. Up it goes, and away with it! "

Gershom had got to be so much under his companion s
influence, that he complied, though his mind suggested va
rious objections to the course taken, to which his tongue



THE OAK OPENINGS. 87

gave utterance as they busied themselves in this task. The
effects of Whiskey Centre had been gradually diminishing
in quantity, as well as in value, for the last three years, and
were now of no great amount, in any sense. Still there
were two chests, one large, and one small. The last con
tained all that a generous regard for the growing wants of
the family had left to Margery; while the first held the joint
wardrobes of the husband and wife, with a few other articles
that were considered as valuable. Among other things were
half a dozen of very thin silver tea-spoons, which had fallen
to Gershom on a division of family plate. The other six
were carefully wrapped up in paper and put in the till of
Margery s chest, being her portion of this species of prop
erty. The Americans, generally, have very little plate;
though here and there marked exceptions do exist; nor do
the humbler classes lay out much of their earnings in jew
elry, while they commonly dress far beyond their means in
all other ways. In this respect, the European female of the
same class in life frequently possesses as much in massive
golden personal ornaments as would make an humble little
fortune, while her attire is as homely as cumbrous petti
coats, coarse cloth, and a vile taste can render it. On the
other hand, the American matron that has not a set one
half-dozen of silver tea-spoons must be poor indeed, and
can hardly be said to belong to the order of housekeepers
at all. By means of a careful mother, both Gershom and
his sister had the half-dozen mentioned; and they were kept
more as sacred memorials of past and better days than as
articles of any use. The household goods of Waring would
have been limited by his means of transportation, if not by
his poverty. Two common low-post maple bedsteads were
soon uncorded and carried off, as were the beds and bed
ding. There was scarcely any crockery, pewter and tin
being its substitutes; and as for chairs there was only one,
and that had rockers: a practice of New England that has
gradually diffused itself over the whole country, looking



68 THE OAK OPENINGS.

down ridicule, the drilling of boarding-school^ the com
ments of elderly ladies of the -old school, the sneers of
nurses, and, in a word, all that venerable ideas of decorum
could suggest, until this appliance of domestic ease has not
only fairly planted itself in nearly every American dwell
ing, but in a good many of Europe also!

It required about twenty minutes for the party to clear
the cabin of every article that might induce an Indian to
suspect the presence of white men. The furniture was car
ried to a sufficient distance to be safe from everything but
a search; and care was had to avoid as much as possible
making a trail, to lead the savages to the place selected for
the temporary storeroom. This was merely a close thicket,
into which there was a narrow but practicable entrance- on
the side the least likely to be visited. When all was ac
complished the four went to the lookout to ascertain how
far the canoes had come. It was soon ascertained that they
were within a mile, driving down before a strong breeze and
following sea, and impelled by as many paddles as there
were living beings in them. Ten minutes would certainly
bring them up with the bar, and five more fairly within the
river. The question now arose, where the party was to be
concealed during the stay of the savages. Dolly, as was
perhaps natural for the housewife, wished to remain by her
worldly goods, and pretty Margery had a strong feminine
leaning to do the same. But neither of the men approved of
the plan. It was risking too much in one spot ; and a sugges
tion that the bee-hunter was not long in making prevailed.

It will be remembered that le Bourdon had carried the
canoes within the field of wild rice, and bestowed them
there with a good deal of attention to security. Now these
canoes offered, in many respects, better places of temporary
refuge, under all the circumstances, than any other that
could readily be found on shore. They were dry; and by
spreading skins, of which Boden had so many, comfortable
beds might be made for the females, which would be easily



THE OAK OPENINGS. 89

protected from the night air and dews by throwing a rug
over the gunwales. Then, each canoe contained many ar
ticles that would probably be wanted; that of the bee-hunt
er in particular furnishing food in abundance, as well as
divers other things that would be exceedingly useful to per
sons in their situation. The great advantage of the canoes,
however, in the mind of le Bourdon, was the facilities they
offered for flight. He hardly hoped that Indian sagacity
would be so far blinded as to prevent the discovery of the
many footsteps they must have left in their hurried move
ments, and he anticipated that with the return of day some
thing would occur to render it necessary for them to seek
safety by a stealthy removal from the spot. This might be
done, he both hoped and believed, under cover of the rice,
should sufficient care be taken to avoid exposure. In plac
ing the canoes, he had used the precaution to leave them
where they could not be seen from the cabin or its vicinity,
or, indeed, from any spot in the vicinity of the ground that
the savages would be likely to visit during their stay. All
these reasons le Bourdon now rapidly laid before his com
panions, and to the canoes the whole party retired as fast
as they could walk.

There was great judgment displayed on the part of the
bee-hunter in selecting the wild rice as a place of shelter.
At that season it was sufficiently grown to afford a com
plete screen to everything within it that did not exceed the
height of a man, or which was not seen from some adjacent
elevation. Most of the land near the mouth of the river
was low, and the few spots which formed exceptions had
been borne in mind when the canoes were taken into the
field. But just as Gershom was on the point of putting a
foot into his own canoe, with a view to arrange it for the
reception of his wife, he drew back, and exclaimed after the
manner of one to whom a most important idea suddenly
occurs :

"Land s sake! I ve forgotten all about them barrels!



QO THE OAK OPENINGS.

They ll fall into the hands of the savages, and an awful
time they ll make with them! Let me pass, Dolly; I must
look after the barrels this instant."

While the wife gently detained her eager husband, the
bee-hunter quietly asked to what barrels he alluded.

" The whiskey casks," was the answer. " There s two on
em in the shed behind the hut, and whiskey enough to set
a whole tribe in commotion. I wonder I should have over
looked the whiskey ! "

" It is a sign of great improvement, friend Waring, and
will lead to no bad consequences," returned le Bourdon,
coolly. " I foresaw the danger, and rolled the casks down
the hill, where they were dashed to pieces in the brook, and
the liquor has long since been canied into the lake in the
shape of grog."

Waring seemed astounded; but was so completely mysti
fied as not to suspect the truth. That his liquor should be
hopelessly lost was bad enough ; but even that was better
than to have it drunk by savages without receiving any re
turns. After groaning and lamenting over the loss for a
few minutes, he joined the rest of the party in making some
further dispositions, which le Bourdon deemed prudent, if
not necessary.

It had occurred to the bee-hunter to divide his own cargo
between the two canoes, which was the task that the whole
party was now engaged in. The object was to lighten his
own canoe in the event of flight, and, by placing his effects
in two parcels, give a chance to those in the boat which
might escape, of having wherewithal to comfort and console
themselves. As soon as this new arrangement was com
pleted, le Bourdon ran up to a tree that offered the desired
ifacilities, and springing into its branches, was soon high
enough to get a view of the bar and the mouth of the river.
By the parting light of day, he distinctly saw four canoes
coming up the stream; which was one more than those re
ported to him by Margery as having passed.



THE OAK OPENINGS. 9 1



CHAPTER VI.

And long shall timorous fancy see
The painted chief and pointed spear;

And reason s self shall bow the knee
To shadows and delusions here.

FRENEAU.

A BRIGHT moon reflected on the earth for about an hour the
light of the sun, as the latter luminary disappeared. By its
aid the bee-hunter, who still continued in the tree, was en
abled to watch the movements of the canoes of the Indians,
though the persons they contained soon got to be so indis
tinct as to render it impossible to do more than count their
numbers. The last he made out to be five each in three of
the canoes, and six in the other, making twenty-one indi
viduals in all. This was too great an odds to think of re
sisting, in the event of the strangers turning out to be
hostile; and the knowledge of this disparity in force
admonished all the fugitives of the necessity of being wary
and prudent.

The strangers landed just beneath the hut, or at the pre
cise spot where Whiskey Centre was in the habit of keeping
his canoe, and whence Boden had removed it only an hour
or two before. The savages had probably selected the
place on account of its shores being clear of the wild rice,
and because the high ground near it promised both a look
out and comfortable lodgings. Several of the party strolled
upward, as if searching for an eligible spot to light their
fire, and one of them soon discovered the cabin. The war
rior announced his success by a whoop, and a dozen of the
Indians were shortly collected in and about the chiente.
All this proved the prudence of the course taken by the
fugitives.

Blossom stood beneath the tree, and the bee-hunter told
her, as each incident occurred, all that passed among the
strangers, when the girl communicated the same to her



Q2 THR OAK OPENINGS.

brother and his wife, who were quite near at hand in one
of the canoes. As there was no danger of being overheard,
conversation in an ordinary tone passed between the parties,
two of whom at least were now fond of holding this sort of
communion.

" Do they seem to suspect the neighborhood of the occu
pants of the cabin ? " asked Margery, when the bee-hunter
had let her know the manner in which the savages had taken
possession of her late dwelling.

"One cannot tell. Savages are always distrustful and
cautious when on a war-path; and these seem to be scent
ing about like so many hounds which are nosing for a trail.
They are now gathering sticks to light a fire, which is bet
ter than burnjng the chiente ."

" That they will not be likely to do until they have no
further need of it. Tell me, Bourdon, do any go near the
thicket of alders where we have hidden our goods? "

"Not as yet; though there is a sudden movement and
many loud yells among them! "

" Heaven send that it may not be at having discovered
anything we have forgotten. The sight of even a lost dip
per or cup would set them blood-hounds on our path, as
sure as we are white and they are savages ! "

" As I live, they scent the whiskey ! There is a rush tow
ard, and a pow-wow in and about the shed yes, of a cer
tainty they smell the liquor! Some of it has escaped in
rolling down the hill, and their noses are too keen to pass
over a fragrance that to them equals that of roses. Well,
let them scent as they may even an Injin does not get drunk
through his nose."

" You are quite right, Bourdon : but is not this a most un
happy scent for us, since the smell of whiskey can hardly be
there without their seeing it did not grow in the woods of
itself, like an oak or a beech? "

" I understand you, Margery, and there is good sense in
what you say. They will never think the liquor grew there,



THE OAK OPENINGS. 93

like a blackberry or a chestnut, though the place is called
Whiskey Centre!"

"It is hard enough to know that a family has deserved
such a name, without being reminded of it by those that
call themselves friends," answered the girl pointedly, after



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 7 of 41)