James Fenimore Cooper.

Oak openings, or, The bee-hunter online

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leased, as were also his knees. Of all the fastenings none
now remained but that which bound the captive to the tree.
In not cutting this, the bee-hunter manifested his coolness
and judgment; for were the stout rope of bark severed, the
Indian would have fallen like a log, from total inability to
stand. His thongs had impeded the circulation of the
blood, and the usual temporary paralysis had been the con
sequence. Pigeonswing understood the reason of his
friend s forbearance, and managed to rub his hands and
wrists together, while the bee-hunter himself applied fric
tion to his feet, by passing his own arms around the bottom
of the tree. The reader may imagine the intense anxiety of
Margery the while; for she witnessed the arrival of le Bour
don at the tree, and could not account for the long delay
which succeeded.

All this time, the dogs were far from being quiet or satis
fied. Their masters, accustomed to being surrounded at
night by wolves and foxes, or other beasts, took little heed,
however, of the discontent of these creatures, which were in
the habit of growling in their lairs. The bee-hunter, as he


kept rubbing at his friend s legs, felt now but little appre
hension of the dogs, though a new source of alarm presented
itself by the time the Chippewa was barely able to sustain
his weight on his feet, and long before he could use them
with anything like his former agility. The manner in which
the savages came together in the hut, and the gestures made
by their chief, announced pretty plainly that a watch was
about to be set for the night. As it was probable that the
sentinel would take his station near the prisoner, the bee-
hunter was at a loss to decide whether it were better to com
mence the flight before or after the rest of the savages were
in their lairs. Placing his mouth as close to the ear of
Pigeonswing as could be done without bringing his head
into the light, the following dialogue passed between le
Bourdon and the captive.

" Do you see, Chippewa," the bee-hunter commenced,
" the chief is telling one of the young men to come and
keep guard near you? "

" See him, well nough. Make too many sign, no to

"What think you shall we wait till the warriors are
asleep, or try to be off before the sentinel comes? "

" Bess wait, if one t ing. You got rifle got tomahawk
got knife, eh?"

" I have them all, though my rifle is a short distance be
hind me, and a little down the hill."

" Dat bad nebber let go rifle on war-path. Well, you
tomahawk him /scalp him dat ll do."

" I shall kill no man, Chippewa, unless there is great
occasion for it. If there is no other mode of getting you
off, I shall choose to cut this last thong, and leave you to
take care of yourself."

"Give him tomahawk, den give him knife, too."

" Not for such a purpose. I do not like to shed blood
without a good reason for it."

"No call war good reason, eh? Bess reason in world.


Pottawattamie dig up hatchet ag in Great Fadder at Wash -
ton dat no good reason why take his scalp, eh? "

In whispering these last words the Chippewa used so
much energy, that the dogs again raised their heads from
between their forepaws and growled. Almost at that in
stant the chief and his few remaining wakeful companions
laid themselves down to sleep, and the young warrior desig
nated as the sentinel left the hut and came slowly toward
the prisoner. The circumstances admitted of no delay; le
Bourdon pressed the keen edge of his knife across the withe
that bound the Indian to the tree; first giving him notice,
in order that he might be prepared to sustain his own
weight. This done, the bee-hunter dropped on the ground,
crawling away out of the light; though the brow of the hill
almost immediately formed a screen to conceal his person
from all near the hut. In another instant he had regained
his rifle, and was descending swiftly toward the crossing at
the marsh.


We call them savage oh, be just !

Their outraged feelings scan;
A voice comes forth, tis from the dust

The savage was a man !


As soon as le Bourdon reached the commencement of that
which might be called his path across the marsh, he stopped
and looked backward. He was now sufficiently removed
from the low acclivity to see objects on its summit, and had
no difficulty in discerning all that the waning fire illumi
nated. There stood the Chippewa erect against the tree as
if still bound with thongs, while the sentinel was slowly
approaching him. The dogs were on their feet, and gave
two or three sharp barks, which had the effect to cause five
or six of the savages to lift their heads in their lairs. One
arose even and threw an armful of dried branches on the


fire, producing a bright blaze, that brought everything
around the hut, and which the light could touch, into full

The bee-hunter was astonished at the immovable calm
ness with which Pigeonswing still stood to his tree, await
ing the approach of the sentinel. In a few moments the
latter was at his side. At first the Pottawattamie did not
perceive that the prisoner was unbound. He threw him
into shadow by his own person, and it required a close look
to note the circumstance. Boden was too far from the spot
to see all the minor movements of the parties, but there was
soon a struggle that could not be mistaken. As the Pot
tawattamie was examining the prisoner, an exclamation that
escaped him betrayed the sudden consciousness that the
Chippewa was unbound. The sound was no sooner uttered
than Pigeonswing made a grasp at the sentinel s knife,
which however he did not obtain, when the two closed and
fell, rolling down the declivity into the darkness. When
the Pottawattamie seized the Chippewa, he uttered a yell,
which instantly brought every man of his party to his feet.
As the savages now united in the whoops, and the dogs
began to bark wildly, an infernal clamor was made.

At first, le Bourdon did not know how to act. He greatly
feared the dogs, and could not but think of Margery, and
the probable consequences, should those sagacious animals
follow him across the marsh. But he did not like the idea
of abandoning Pigeonswing, when a single blow of his arm,
or a kick of his foot, might be the cause of his escape.
While deliberating in painful uncertainty, the sounds of the
struggle ceased, and he saw the sentinel rising again into
the light, limping like one who had suffered by a fall.
Presently he heard a footstep near him, and, calling in a
low voice, he was immediately joined by Pigeonswing. Be
fore the bee-hunter was aware of his intention, the Chippewa
seized his rifle, and levelling at the sentinel, who still stood
on the brow of the hill, drawn in all his savage outlines


distinctly in the light of the flames, he fired. The cry, the
leap into the air, and the fall, announced the unerring char
acter of the aim. In coming to the earth, the wounded man
fell over the brow of the sharp acclivity, and was heard roll
ing toward its base.

Le Bourdon felt the importance of now improving the
precious moments, and was in the act of urging his compan
ion to follow, when the latter passed an arm around his
body, whipped his knife from the girdle and sheath, and
dropping the rifle into his friend s arms, bounded away in
the darkness, taking the direction of his fallen enemy.
There was no mistaking all this; Chippewa, led by his own
peculiar sense of honor, risking everything to obtain the
usual trophy of victory. By this time, a dozen of the sav
ages stood on the brow of the hill, seemingly at a loss to
understand what had become of the combatants. Perceiv
ing this, the bee-hunter profited by the delay and reloaded
his rifle. As everything passed almost as swiftly as the
electric spark is known to travel, it was but a moment after
the Pottawattamie fell ere his conqueror was through with
his bloody task. Just as le Bourdon threw his rifle up into
the hollow of his arm, he was rejoined by his red friend,
who bore the reeking scalp of the sentinel at his belt;
though fortunately the bee-hunter did not see it on account
of the obscurity, else might he not have been so willing to
continue to act with so ruthless an ally.

Further stay was out of the question; for the Indians
were now collected in a body on the brow of the hill, where
the chief was rapidly issuing his orders. In a minute the
band dispersed, every man bounding into the darkness, as if
aware of the danger of remaining within the influence of the
bright light thrown from the fire. Then came such a clamor
from the dogs, as left no doubt in the mind of the bee-hunter
that they had scented and found the remains of the fallen
man. A fierce yell came from the same spot, the proof thai
some of the savages had already discovered the body; and


le Bourdon told his companion to follow, taking his way
across the marsh as fast as he could overcome the difficul
ties of the path.

It has already been intimated that it was not easy, if in
deed it were possible, to cross that piece of low wet land in
a direct line. There was tolerably firm ground on it, but
it lay in an irregular form, its presence being generally to
be noted by the growth of trees. Le Bourdon had been very
careful in taking his landmarks, foreseeing the probability
of a hasty retreat, and he had no difficulty for some time in
keeping in the right direction. But the dogs soon left the
dead body, and came bounding across the marsh, disregard
ing its difficulties; though their plunges and yells soon
made it apparent that even they did not escape altogether
with dry feet. As for the savages, they poured down the
declivity in a stream, taking the dogs as their guides; and
safe ones they might well be accounted, so far as the scent
was concerned, though they did not happen to be particu
larly well acquainted with all the difficulties of the path.

At length le Bourdon paused, causing his companion to
stop also. In the hurry and confusion of the flight, the
former had lost his landmarks, finding himself amidst a
copse of small trees, or large bushes, but not in the par
ticular copse he sought. Every effort to get out of this
thicket, except by the way he had entered it, proved abor
tive, and the dogs were barking at no great distance in his
rear. It is true that these animals no longer approached:
for they were floundering in the mud and water; but their
throats answered every purpose to lead the pursuers on, and
the low calls that passed from mouth to mouth, let the pur
sued understand that the Pottawattamies were at their heels,
if not absolutely on their trail.

The crisis demanded both discretion and decision; quali
ties in which the bee-hunter, with his forest training, was
not likely to be deficient. He looked out for the path by
which he had reached the unfortunate thicket, and having


found it, commenced a retreat by the way he had come.
Nerve was needed to move almost in a line toward the dogs
and their masters ; but the nerve was forthcoming, and the
two advanced like veterans expecting the fire of some con
cealed but well-armed battery. Presently, le Bourdon
stopped, and examined the ground on which he stood.

"Here we must turn, Chippewa," he said, in a guarded
voice. "This is the spot where I must have missed my

" Good place to turn bout," answered the Indian " dog
too near."

"We must shoot the dogs if they press us too hard," re
turned the bee-hunter, leading off rapidly, now secure in
the right direction. " They seem to be in trouble, just at
this time; but animals like them will soon find their way
across this marsh."

" Bess shoot Pottawattamie," coolly returned Pigeons-
wing. " Pottawattamie got capital scalp dog s ears no
good for nuttin , any more."

"Yonder, I believe, is the tree I am in search of! " ex
claimed le Bourdon. " If we can reach that tree, I think
all will go well with us."

The tree was reached, and the bee-hunter proceeded to
make sure of his course from that point. Removing from
his pouch a small piece of moistened powder that he had
prepared ere he liberated the Chippewa, he stuck it on a low
branch of the tree he was under, and on the side next the
spot where he had stationed Margery. When this was done,
he made his companion stand aside, and lighting some
spunk with his flint and steel, he fired his powder. Of
course, this little preparation burned like the fireworks
of a boy, making sufficient light, however, to be seen in a
dark night for a mile or more. No sooner was the wetted
powder hissing and throwing off its sparks, than the bee-
hunter gazed intently into the now seemingly tangible ob
scurity of the marsh. A bright light appeared and van-


ished. It was enough ; the bee-hunter threw down his own
signal and extinguished it with his foot; and, as he wished,
the lantern of Margery appeared no more. Assured now of
the accuracy of his position, as well as of the course he was
to pursue, le Bourdon bade his companion follow, and
pressed anew across the marsh. A tree was soon visible,
and toward that particular object the fugitives steadily
pressed, until it was reached. At the next instant Margery
was joined; and the bee-hunter could not refrain from kiss
ing her, in the excess of his pleasure.

"There is a dreadful howling of dogs," said Margery,
feeling no offence at the liberty taken, in a moment like
that, " and it seems to me that a whole tribe is following at
their heels. For Heaven s sake, Bourdon, let us hasten to
the canoes; brother and sister must think us lost! "

The circumstances pressed, and the bee-hunter took Mar
gery s arm, passing it through one of his own, with a de
cided and protecting manner, that caused the girl s heart
to beat with emotions not in the least connected with fear,
leaving an impression of pleasure even at that perilous mo
ment. As the distance was not great, the three were soon
on the beach and near to the canoes. Here they met Dor
othy, alone, and pacing to and fro like a person distressed.
She had doubtless heard the clamor, and was aware that the
savages were out looking for their party. As Margery met
her sister, she saw that something more than common had
gone wrong, and in the eagerness of her apprehensions she
did not scruple about putting her questions.

"What has become of brother? Where is Gershom?"
demanded the sensitive girl, at once.

The answer was given in a low voice, and in that sort of
manner with which woman struggles to the last to conceal
the delinquencies of him she loves.

"Gershom is not himself, just now," half whispered the
wife "he has fallen into one of his old ways, ag in."

"Old ways?" slowly repeated the sister, dropping her


own voice to tones similar to those in which the unpleasant
news had just been communicated. " How is that possible,
now that all the whiskey is emptied? "

" It seems that Bourdon had a jug of brandy among his
stores, and Gershom found it out. I blame no one; for
Bourdon, who never abuses the gifts of Providence, had a
right to his comforts at least; but it is a pity that there was
anything of the sort in the canoes! "

The bee-hunter was greatly concerned at this unwelcome
intelligence, feeling all its importance far more vividly than
either of his companions. They regretted as women; but
he foresaw the danger, as a man accustomed to exertion in
trying scenes. If Whiskey Centre had really fallen into
his old ways, so as to render himself an incumbrance, in
stead of being an assistant at such a moment, the fact was
to be deplored, but it could only be remedied by time.
Luckily they had the Indian with them, and he could man
age one of the canoes, while he himself took charge of the
other. As no time was to be lost the barking of the dogs
and the cries of the savages too plainly letting it be known
that the enemy was getting through the marsh by some
means or other he hurried the party down to the canoes,
entering that of Whiskey Centre at once.

Le Bourdon found Gershom asleep, but with the heavy
slumbers of the drunkard. Dolly had removed the jug and
concealed it, as soon as the state of her husband enabled
her to do so without incurring his violence. Else might the
unfortunate man have destroyed himself, by indulging in a
liquor so much more palatable than that he was accustomed
to use, after so long and compelled an abstinence. The jug
was now produced, however, and le Bourdon emptied it in
the river, to the great joy of the two females, though not
without a sharp remonstrance from the Chippewa. The
bee-hunter was steady, and the last drop of the liquor of
Gascony was soon mingling with the waters of the Kalama-
7.00. This done, the bee-hunter desired the women to em-


bark, and called to the Chippewa to do the same. By quit
ting the spot in the canoes, it was evident the pursuers
would be balked, temporarily at least, since they must re-
cross the marsh in order to get into their own boats, without
which further pursuit would be fruitless.

It might have been by means of a secret sympathy, or it
was possibly the result of accident, but certain it is, that
the Chippewa was placed in that of le Bourdon. As for
Whiskey Centre, he lay like a log in the bottom of his own
light bark, cared for only by his affectionate wife, who had
made a pillow for his head; but, fortunately, if no assist
ance just then, not any material hindrance to the movements
of his friends. By the time le Bourdon and the Chippewa
had got their stations, and the canoes were free of the bot
tom, it was evident by the sounds, that not only the dogs,
but divers of their masters, had floundered through the
swamp, and were already on the firm ground east of it. As
the dogs ran by scent, little doubt remained of their soon
leading the savages to the place of embarkation. Aware of
this, the bee-hunter directed the Chippewa to follow, and
urged his own canoe away from the shore, following one
of three of the natural channels that united just at that

The clamor now sensibly increased, and the approach of
the pursuers was much faster than it had previously been,
in consequence of there no longer being wet land beneath
their feet. At the distance of fifty yards from the shore,
however, the channel, or open avenue among the rice-plants
that the canoes had taken, made a short turn to the north
ward; for all the events we have just been recording oc
curred on the northern, or leeward side of the river. Once
around this bend in the channel, the canoes would have
been effectually concealed from those on the beach, had it
even been broad daylight, and, of course, were so much more
hidden from view under the 6bscurity of a very dark night.
Perceiving this, and fearful that the dip of the paddles


might be heard, le Bourdon ceased to urge his canoe through
the water, telling the Chippewa to imitate his example, and
let the boats drift. In consequence of this precaution the
fugitives were still quite near the shore when, first, the dogs,
then a party of their masters, came rushing down to the very
spot whence the canoes had departed scarcely two minutes
before. As no precautions were taken to conceal the ad
vance of the pursuers, the pursued, or the individuals among
them who alone understood the common language of the
great Ojebway nation well, had an opportunity of hearing
and understanding all that was said. Le Bourdon had
brought the two canoes together; and the Chippewa, at his
request, now translated such parts of the discourse of their
enemies as he deemed worthy of communicating to the

" Say, now, nobody dere! " commenced the Indian, coolly.
"T ink he no great way off mean to look for him t ink
dog uneasy won er why dog so uneasy."

" Them dogs are very likely to scent us here in the ca
noes, we are so near them," whispered le Bourdon.

" S pose he do, can t catch us," coolly answered the Chip
pewa "beside, shoot him, don t take care bad for dog to
chase warrior too much."

" There is one speaking now, who seems to have author-

" Yes he chief know he voice hear him too often he
mean to put Pigeonswing to torture. Well, let him catch
Pigeonswing fust swift bird do that, eh? "

"But what says he? it may be of importance to learn
what the chief says, just now."

"Who care what he say can t do nuttin if get good
chance, take his scalp, too."

" Aye, that I dare say but he is speaking earnestly and
in a low voice ; listen, and let us know what he says. I do
not well understand at this distance."

The Chippewa complied, and maintained an attentive


silence until the chief ceased to speak. Then he rendered
what had been said into such English as he could command,
accompanying the translation by the explanations that natu
rally suggested themselves to one like himself.

"Chief talk to young men," said the Chippewa "all
chief talk to young men tell him dat Pigeonswing must
get off in canoe don t see canoe, nudder but, muss be
canoe, else he swim. T ink more than one Injin here
don t know, dough maybe, maybe not can t tell, till see
trail, morrow morning "

"Well, well; but what does he tell his young men to
do ? " demanded the bee-hunter, impatiently.

"Don t be squaw, Bourdon tell all by em bye. Tell
young men s pose he get canoe, den he may get our canoe,
and carry em off s pose he swim; dat Chippewa devil
swim down stream and get our canoe dat fashion bess go
back, some of you, and see arter our canoe dat what he
tell young men most."

"That is a lucky thought! " exclaimed le Bourdon " let
us paddle down, at once, and seize all their canoes before
they can get there. The distance by water, owing to this
bend in the river, is not half as great as that by land, and
the marsh will double the distance to them."

"Dat good counsel," said Pigeonswing "you go I

This was no sooner said, than the canoes again got in
motion. The darkness might now have been a sufficient
protection had there been no rice, but the plant would have
concealed the movement, even at noon-day. The fire in the
hut served as a beacon, and enabled le Bourdon to find the
canoes. When he reached the landing, he could still hear
the dogs barking on the marsh, and the voices of those with
them, calling in loud tones to two of the savages who had
remained at the chiente , as a sort of camp-guard.

"What do them chaps say?" asked le Bourdon of the
Chippewa. " They yell as if striving to make the two men


at the door of tne hut hear them. Can you make out v.^rit
they are bawling so loud? "

" Tell two warrior to come down and take care of canoe
dat all let em come find two here to take care of dem
got good scalp, them two rascal Pottawattamie! "

" No no Pigeonswing we must have no more of that
work to-night, but must set about towing these four canoes
off the shore as fast as we can. Have you got hitches on
your two ? "

" Fast nough so fast, he follow," answered the Indian,
who, notwithstanding his preparations to help to remove
the canoes, was manifestly reluctant to depart without strik
ing another blow at his enemies. " Now good time for dem
rascal to lose scalp! "

"Them rascals, as you call them, begin to understand
their friends in the marsh, and are looking to the priming
of their rifles. We must be moving, or they may see us, and
give us a shot. Shove off, Chippewa, and paddle at once
for the middle of the bay."

As le Bourdon was much in earnest, Pigeonswing was
fain to comply. Had the last possessed a rifle of his own,
or even a knife, it is highly probable he would have leaped
ashore, and found the means of stealing on some of his ene
mies unawares, and thus secured another trophy. But the
bee-hunter was determined, and the Chippewa, however re
luctant, was compelled to obey; for not only had le Bour
don kept his rifle at his side, but he had used the precau
tion of securing his knife and tomahawk, both of which he
carried habitually, the same as a red man.

The canoes had now a somewhat difficult task. The
wind still blew fresh, and it was necessary for one of these
light craft, pretty well loaded with its proper freight, and
paddled by only a single person, to tow two other craft of
equal size dead to the windward. The weight in the tow
ing craft, and the lightness of those that were towed, ren
dered this task, however, easier than it might otherwise have


Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 9 of 41)