James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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a pause of near a minute, though she spoke in sorrow rather
than in anger.

In an instant the bee-hunter was at pretty Margery s side,
making his peace by zealous apologies and winning pro
testations of respect and concern. The mortified girl was
soon appeased; and, after consulting together for a minute,
they went to the canoe to communicate to the husband and
wife what they had seen.

"The whiskey after all is likely to prove our worst
enemy," said the bee-hunter as he approached. " It would
seem that in moving the barrels some of the liquor has es
caped, and the nose of an Injin is too quick for the odor it
leaves, not to scent it."

" Much good may it do them," growled Gershom
"they ve lost me that whiskey, and let them long for it
without gettin any, as a punishment for the same. My
fortun would have been made could I only have got them
two barrels as far as Fort Dearborn before the troops
moved ! "

" The barrels might have been got there, certainly," an
swered le Bourdon, so much provoked at the man s regrets
for the destroyer which had already come so near to bring
ing want and ruin on himself and family, as momentarily
to forget his recent scene with pretty Margery; "but
whether anything would have been in them is another
question. One of those I rolled to the brow of the hill was
half empty as it was."

" Gershom is so troubled with the ague, if he don t take
stimulant in this new country," put in the wife, in the apolo
getic manner in which woman struggles to conceal the fail
ings of him she loves. " As for the whiskey, I don t grudge



94 THE O AK OPENINGS.

that in the least; for it s a poor way of getting rich to be
selling it to soldiers, who want all the reason liquor has left
em, and more too. Still, Gershom needs bitters ; and ought
not to have every drop he has taken thrown into his face."

By this time le Bourdon was again sensible of his mis
take, and he beat a retreat in the best manner he could,
secretly resolving not to place himself any more between
two fires, in consequence of further blunders on this deli
cate subject. He now found that it was a very different
thing to joke Whiskey Centre himself on the subject of his
great failing, from making even the most distant allusion to
it in the presence of those who felt for a husband s and a
brother s weakness, with a liveliness of feeling that brutal
indulgence had long since destroyed in the object of their
solicitude. He accordingly pointed out the risk there was
that the Indians should make the obvious inference, that
human beings must have recently been in the hut, to leave
the fresh scent of the liquor in question behind them.
This truth was so apparent that all felt its force, though to
no one else did the danger seem so great as to the bee-
hunter. He had greater familiarity with the Indian character
than any of his companions, and dreaded the sagacity of the
savages in a just proportion to his greater knowledge. He
did not fail, therefore, to admonish his new friends of the
necessity for vigilance.

" I will return to the tree and take another look at the
movements of the savages," le Bourdon concluded by saying.
"By this time their fire must be lighted; and by the aid of
my glass a better insight may be had into their plans and
feelings."

The bee-hunter now went back to his tree, whither he was
slowly followed by Margery; the girl yielding to a feverish
desire to accompany him, at the very time she was half re
strained by maiden bashfulness; though anxiety and the
wish to learn the worst as speedily as possible, prevailed.

" They have kindled a blazing fire, and the whole of the



THE OAK OPENINGS. 95

Inside of the house is as bright as if illuminated," said le
Bourdon, who was now carefully bestowed among the branch
es of his small tree. " There are lots of the red devils moving
about the chiente, inside and out; and they seem to have
fish as well as venison to cook. Aye, there goes more dry
brush on the fire to brighten up the picture, and daylight is
almost eclipsed. As I live, they have a prisoner among
em!"

" A prisoner! " exclaimed Margery, in the gentle tones of
female pity. " Not a white person, surely? "

" No he is a red-skin like all of them. but wait a min
ute till I can get the glass a little more steady. Yes it is
so I was right at first! "

"What is so, Bourdon and in what are you right? "

" You may remember, Blossom, that your brother and I
spoke of the two Injins who visited me in the Openings.
One was a Pottawattamie and the other a Chippewa. The
first we found dead and scalped, after he had left us; and
the last is now in yonder hut, bound and a prisoner. He
has taken to the lake on his way to Fort Dearborn, and has,
with all his craft and resolution, fallen into enemies hands.
Well will it be for him if his captors do not learn what be
fell the warrior who was slain near my cabin, and left seated
against a tree ! "

" Do you think these savages mean to revenge the death
of their brother on this unfortunate wretch ? "

" I know that he is in the pay of our general at Detroit,
while the Pottawattamies are in the pay of the English.
This of itself would make them enemies, and has no doubt
been the cause of his being taken; but I do not well see
how Injins on the lake here can know anything of what
happened some fifty miles or so up in the Openings."

" Perhaps the savages in the canoes belong to the same
party as the warrior you call Elksfoot, and that they have
had the means of learning his death, and by whose hand he
fell."



96 THE OAK OPENINGS.

The bee-hunter was surprised at the quickness of the
girl s wit, the suggestion being as discreet as it was in
genious. The manner in which intelligence flies through
the wilderness had often surprised him, and certainly it was
possible that the party now before him might have heard of
the fate of the chief whose body he had found in the Open
ings, short as was the time for the news to have gone so far.
The circumstance that the canoes had come from the north
ward was against the inference, however, and after musing
a minute on the facts, le Bourdon mentioned this objection
to his companion.

" Are we certain these are the same canoes as those which
I saw pass this afternoon ? " asked Margery, who compre
hended the difficulty in an instant. " Of those I saw, two
passed first, and one followed; while here are Jour that have
landed."

" What you say may be true enough. We are not to sup
pose that the canoes you saw pass are all that are on the
lake. But let the savages be whom they may, prudence
tells us to keep clear of them if we can; and this more so
than ever, now I can see that Pigeonswing, who I know to
be an American Injin, is treated by them as an enemy."

" How are the savages employed now, Bourdon ? Do they
prepare to eat, or do they torture their prisoner? "

" No fear of their attempting the last to-night. There is
an uneasiness about them, as if they still smelt the liquor;
but some are busy cooking at the fire. I would give all my
honey, pretty Margery, to be able to save Pigeonswing!
He is a good fellow for a savage, and is heart and hand
with us in this new war, that he tells me has begun between
us and the English! "

"You surely would not risk your own life to save a sav
age, who kills and scalps at random, as this man has
done!"

"In that he has but followed the habits of his color and
race. I dare say we do things that are quite as bad, accord-



THE OAK OPENINGS. 9/

ing to In jin ways of thinking. I do believe, Margery, was
that man to see me in the hands of the Pottawattamies, as
I now see him, he would undertake something for my re
lief."

"But what can you, a single man, do when there are
twenty against you? " asked Margery, a little reproachfully
as to manner, speaking like one who had more interest in
the safety of the young bee-hunter than she chose very openly
to express.

" No one can say what he can do till he tries. I do not
like the way they are treating that Chippewa, for it looks
as if they meant to do him harm. He is neither fed, nor
suffered to be with his masters; but there the poor fellow
is, bound hand and foot near the cabin door, and lashed to
a tree. They do not even give him the relief of suffering
him to sit down."

The gentle heart of Margery was touched by this account
of the manner in which the captive was treated, and she in
quired into other particulars concerning his situation, with
a more marked interest than she had previously manifested
in his state. The bee-hunter answered her questions as
they were put; and the result was to place the girl in pos
session of a minute detail of the true manner in which
Pigeonswing was treated.

Although there was probably no intention on the part of
the captors of the Chippewa to torture him before his time,
tortured he must have been by the manner in which his
limbs and body were confined. Not only were his arms
fastened behind his back at the elbows, but the hands were
also tightly bound together in front. The legs had liga
tures in two places, just above the knees and just below the
ankles. Around the body was another fastening, which
secured the captive to a beech that stood about thirty feet
from the door of the cabin, and so nearly in a line with the
fire within and the lookout of le Bourdon, as to enable the
last distinctly to note these particulars, aided as he was by
7



98 THE OAK OPENINGS.

his glass. Relying on the manner in which they secured
their prisoner, the savages took little heed of him; but each
appeared bent on attending to his own comfort, by means of
a good supper, and by securing a dry lair in which to pass
the night. All this le Bourdon saw and noted too, ere he
dropped lightly on his feet by the side of Margery, at the
root of the tree.

Without losing time that was precious, the bee-hunter
went at once to the canoes and communicated his intention
to Waring. The moon had now set, and the night was
favorable to the purpose of le Bourdon. At the first glance
it might seem wisest to wait until sleep had fallen upon the
savages, ere any attempt were made to approach the hut;
but Boden reasoned differently. A general silence would
succeed as soon as the savages disposed of themselves to
sleep, which would be much more likely to allow his foot
steps to be overheard, than when tongues and bodies and
teeth were all in active movement. A man who eats after
a long march, or a severe paddling, usually concentrates his
attention on his food, as le Bourdon knew by long experi
ence; and it is a much better moment to steal upon the
hungry and weary, to do so when they feed, than to do so
when they sleep, provided anything like a watch be kept.
That the Pottawattamie would neglect this latter caution le
Bourdon did not believe; and his mind was made up, not
only to attempt the rescue of his Chippewa friend, but to
attempt it at once.

After explaining his plan in a few words, and requesting
Waring s assistance, le Bourdon took a solemn leave of the
party, and proceeded at once toward the hut. In order to
understand the movements of the bee-hunter, it may be well
now briefly to explain the position of the chiente, and the
nature of the ground on which the adventurer was required
to act. The hut stood on a low and somewhat abrupt swell,
being surrounded on all sides by land so low as to be in
many places wet and swampy. There were a good many



THE OAK OPENINGS. 99

trees on the knoll, and several thickets of alders and other
bushes on the lower ground; but on the whole, the swamps
were nearly devoid of what is termed " timber." Two sides
of the knoll were abrupt; that on which the casks had been
rolled into the lake, and that opposite, which was next to
the tree where Boden had so long been watching the pro
ceedings of the savages. The distance between the hut and
this tree was somewhat less than a mile. The intervening
ground was low, and most of it was marshy; though it was
possible to cross the marsh by following a particular
course. Fortunately this course, which was visible to the
eye by daylight, and had been taken by the fugitives on quit
ting the hut, might be dimly traced at night, by one who
understood the ground, by means of certain trees and
bushes, that formed so many finger-posts for the traveller.
Unless this particular route were taken, however, a circuit
of three or four miles must be made, in order to pass from
the chiente to the spot where the family had taken refuge.
As le Bourdon had crossed this firm ground by daylight and
had observed it well from his tree, he thought himself
enough of a guide to find his way through it in the dark,
aided by the marks just mentioned.

The bee-hunter had got as far as the edge of the marsh
on his way toward the hut, when, pausing an instant to ex
amine the priming of his rifle, he fancied that he heard a
light footstep behind him. Turning, quick as thought, he
perceived that pretty Margery had followed him thus far.
Although time pressed, he could not part from the girl with
out showing that he appreciated the interest she manifested
in his behalf. Taking her hand, therefore, he spoke with
a simplicity and truth, that imparted to his manner a natu
ral grace that one bred in courts might have envied. What
was more, with a delicacy that few in course would deem
necessary under the circumstances, he did not in his lan
guage so much impute to concern on his own account this
movement of Margery s, as to that she felt for her brother



TOO THE OAK OPENINGS.

and sister; though in his inmost heart a throbbing hope
prevailed that he had his share in it.

"Do not be troubled on account of Gershom and his
wife, pretty Margery," said the bee-hunter^ " which, as I
perceive, is the main reason why you have come here; and
as for myself, be certain that I shall not forget who I have
left behind, and how much her safety depends on my pru
dence."

Margery was pleased, though a good deal confused. It
was new to her to hear allusions of this sort, but nature
supplied the feeling to appreciate them.

"Is it not risking too much, Bourdon? " she said. "Are
you sure of being able to find the crossing in the marsh, in
a night so very dark? I do not know but looking so long
at the bright light in the cabin may blind me, but it does
seem as if I never saw a darker night ! "

"The darkness increases, for the star-light is gone; but
I can see where I go, and so long as I can do that there is
not much fear of losing my way. I do not like to expose
you to danger, but

"Never mind me, Bourdon set me to do anything in
which you think I can be of use!" exclaimed the girl,
eagerly.

"Well then, Margery, you may do this: come with me to
the large tree in the centre of the marsh, and I will set you
on a duty that may possibly save my life. I will tell you
my meaning when there."

Margery followed with a light, impatient step; and, as
neither stopped to speak or to look around, the two soon
stood beneath the tree in question. It was a large elm that
completely overshadowed a considerable extent of firm
ground. Here a full and tolerably near view could be had
of the hut, which was still illuminated by the blazing fire
within. For a minute both stood silently gazing at the
strange scene; then le Bourdon explained to his companion
the manner in which she might assist him



THE OAK OPENINGS. IOI

Once at the elm, it was not so difficult to find the way
across the marsh, as it was to reach that spot, coming from
the chiente. As there were several elms scattered about in
the centre of the marsh, the bee-hunter was fearful that he
might not reach the right tree; in which case he would be
compelled to retrace his steps, and that at the imminent
hazard of being captured. He carried habitually a small
dark lantern, and had thought of so disposing of it in the
lower branches of this very elm, as to form a focus of it,
but hesitated about doing that which might prove a guide
to his enemies as well as to himself. If Margery would
take charge of this lantern, he could hope to reap its advan
tages without incurring the hazard of having a light sus
pended in the tree for any length of time. Margery under
stood the lessons she received, and promised to obey all the
injunctions by which they were accompanied.

" Now, God bless you, Margery/ added the bee-hunter.
" Providence has brought me and your brother s family to
gether in troublesome times; should I get back safe from
this adventure, I shall look upon it as a duty to do all I
can to help Gershom place his wife and sister beyond the
reach of harm."

"God bless you, Bourdon! " half whispered the agitated
girl. " I know it is worth some risk to save a human life,
even though it be that of an Injin, and I will not try to per
suade you from this undertaking; but do not attempt more
than is necessary, and rely on my using the lantern just as
you have told me to use it."

Those young persons had not yet known each other a
single day, yet both felt that confidence which years alone,
in the crowds of the world, can ordinarily create in the hu
man mind. The cause of the sympathy which draws heart
to heart, which generates friendships, and love, and pas
sionate attachments, is not obvious to all who choose to
talk of it. There is yet a profound mystery in our organi
zation, which has hitherto escaped the researches of both



IO2 THE OAK OPENINGS.

classes of philosophers, and which it probably was the de
sign of the Creator should not be made known to us until
we draw nearer to that great end which, sooner or later, is
to be accomplished in behalf of our race, when " knowledge
will abound," and we shall better understand our being and
its objects, than is permitted to us in this our day of igno
rance. But while we cannot trace the causes of a thousand
things, we know and feel their effects. Among the other
mysteries of our nature is this of sudden and strong sympa
thies, which, as between men for men, and women for
women, awaken confidence and friendship; and as between
those of different sexes, excite passionate attachments that
more or less color their future lives. The great delineator
of our common nature, in no one of the many admirable
pictures he has drawn of men, manifests a more profound
knowledge of his subject, than in that in which he portrays
the sudden and nearly ungovernable inclination which Ro
meo and Juliet are made to display for each other; an in
clination that sets reason, habit, prejudice, and family
enmities at defiance. That such an attachment is to be
commended, we do not say; that all can feel it, we do not
believe; that connections formed under its influence can al
ways be desirable, we are far from thinking : but that it may
exist we believe is just as certain as any of the incompre
hensible laws of our wayward and yet admirable nature.
We have no Veronese tale to relate here, however, but sim
ply a homely legend, in which human feeling may occa
sionally be made to bear an humble resemblance to that
world-renowned picture which had its scenes in the beauti
ful capital of Venetian Lombardy.

When le Bourdon left his companion, now so intensely
interested in his success, to pick his way in the darkness
across the remainder of the marsh, Margery retired behind
the tree, where the first thing she did was to examine her
lantern, and to see that its light was ready to perform the
very important office which might so speedily be required



THE OAK OPENINGS. 1 03

of it. Satisfied on this point, she turned her eyes anxiously
in the direction of the hut. By this time every trace of the
bee-hunter was lost, the hillock in his front forming too
dark a background to admit of his being seen. But the
fire still blazed in the chiente, the savages not having yet
finished their cooking, though several had satisfied their
appetites, and had already sought places where they might
stretch themselves for the night. Margery was glad to see
that these last individuals bestowed themselves within the
influence of the fire, warm as was the night. This was done
most probably to escape from the annoyance of the mosqui-
tos, more or less of which are usually found in the low lands
of the new countries, and near the margins of rivers.

Margery could distinctly see the Chippewa, erect and
bound to his tree. On him she principally kept her looks
riveted, for near his person did she expect first again to find
the bee-hunter. Indeed, there was no chance of seeing one
who was placed beneath the light of the fire, since the brow
of the acclivity formed a complete cover, throwing all below
it into deep shade. This circumstance was of the greatest
importance to the adventurer, however, enabling him to steal
quite near to his friend, favored by a darkness that was get
ting to be intense. Quitting Margery, we will now rejoin
le Bourdon, who by this time was approaching his goal.

The bee-hunter had some difficulty in finding his way
across the marsh ; but floundering through the impediments,
and on the whole preserving the main direction, he got out
on the firm ground quite as soon as he had expected to do.
It was necessary for him to use extreme caution. The In
dians according to their custom had dogs, two of which had
been in sight, lying about half-way between the prisoner
and the door of the hut. Boden had seen a savage feeding
these dogs; and it appeared to him at the time as if the In
dian had been telling them to be watchful of the Chippewa.
He well knew the services that the red men expected of
these animals, which are kept rather as sentinels than for



IO4 THE OAK OPENINGS.

any great use they put them to in the hunts. An Indian
dog is quick enough to give the alarm, and he will keep on
a trail for a long run and with considerable accuracy, but
it is seldom that he closes and has his share in the death,
unless in the case of very timid and powerless creatures.

Nevertheless, the presence of these dogs exacted extra
caution in the movements of the bee-hunter. He had as
cended the hill a little out of the stream of light which
still issued from the open door of the hut, and was soon
high enough to get a good look at the state of things on the
bit of level land around the cabin. Fully one-half of the
savages were yet up and in motion ; though the processes of
cooking and eating were by this time nearly ended. These
men had senses almost as acute as those of their dogs, and
it was very necessary to be on his guard against them also.
By moving with the utmost caution, le Bourdon reached the
edge of the line of light, where he was within ten yards of
the captive. Here he placed his rifle against a small tree,
and drew his knife, in readiness to cut the prisoner s thongs.
Three several times, while the bee-hunter was making these
preparations, did the two dogs raise their heads and scent
the air; once, the oldest of the two gave a deep and most
ominous growl. Singular as it may seem, this last indica
tion of giving the alarm was of great service to le Bourdon
and the Chippewa. The latter heard the growl, and saw
two of the movements of the animals heads, from all which
he inferred that there was some creature, or some danger
behind him. This naturally enough induced him to bestow
a keen attention in that direction, and being unable to turn
body, limbs, or head, the sense of hearing was his only
means of watchfulness. It was while in this state of pro
found listening that Pigeonswing fancied he heard his own
name, in such a whisper as one raises when he wishes to call
from a short distance with the least possible expenditure of
voice. Presently the words " Pigeonswing," and " Chip
pewa," were succeeded by those of "bee-hunter," "Bour-



THE OAK OPENINGS. IO5

don." This was enough : the quick-witted warrior made a
low ejaculation, such as might be mistaken for a half-sup
pressed murmur that proceeded from pain, but which one
keenly on the watch, and who was striving to communicate
with him, would be apt to understand as a sign of atten
tion. The whispering then ceased altogether, and the pris
oner waited the result with the stoic patience of an Ameri
can Indian. A minute later the Chippewa felt the thongs
giving way, and his arms were released at the elbows. An
arm was next passed round his body, and the fastenings at
the wrist were cut. At this instant a voice whispered in
his ear <" Be of good heart, Chippewa your friend, Bour
don, is here. Can you stand? "

" No stand," answered the Indian in a low whisper " too
much tie."

At the next moment the feet of the Chippewa were re



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 8 of 41)