Oak Openings

by James Fenimore Cooper

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Chapter X.

     The things that once she loved are still the same;
     Yet now there needs another name
     To give the feeling which they claim,
       While she the feeling gives;
     She cannot call it gladness or delight;
     And yet there seems to be a richer, lovelier light
     On e'en the humblest thing that lives.
                                --WASHINGTON ALLSTON.

The history given by le Bourdon lasted until the canoes reached the south shore. Glad enough was Dorothy to see them both safe back, for neither of her companions had yet awoke. It was then midnight, and all now retired to seek the rest which might be so needful to prepare them for the exertions of the next day. The bee-hunter slept in his canoe, while Margery shared the buffalo-skin of her sister.

As perfect security, for the moment at least, was felt by the sleepers, their slumbers were sound, and reached into the morning. Then le Bourdon arose, and withdrawing to a proper distance, he threw off his clothes and plunged into the stream, in conformity with a daily practice of his at that genial season of the year. After bathing, the young man ascended a hill, whence he might get a good view of the opposite shore, and possibly obtain some notion of what the Pottawattamies were about. In all his movements, however, the bee-hunter had an eye to the concealment of his person, it being of the last importance that the savages should not learn his position. With the intention of concealment, the fire had been suffered to go down, a smoke being a sign that no Indian would be likely to overlook. As for the canoe and the bivouac of the party, the wild rice and an intermediate hill formed a perfect cover, so long as nothing was shown above them.

From the height to which he ascended, the bee-hunter, aided by his glass, got a very clear view of Whiskey Centre and the parts adjacent. The savages were already stirring, and were busy in the various avocations of the red man on a war-path. One party was disposing of the body of their dead companion. Several were cooking, or cleaning the wild-fowl shot in the bay, while a group was collected near the spot of the wished-for spring, reluctant to abandon the hopes to which it had given birth, at the very moment they were plotting to obtain the scalp of the "medicine-man." The beloved "fire-water," that seduces so many to their destruction, who have enjoyed the advantages of moral teaching, and which has been a withering curse on the red man of this continent, still had its influence; and the craving appetites of several of the drunkards of the party brought them to the spot, as soon as their eyes opened on the new day. The bee-hunter could see some of this cluster kneeling on the rocks, lapping like hounds at the scattered little pools of the liquor, while others scented around, in the hope of yet discovering the bird that laid the golden egg. Le Bourdon had now little expectation that his assumed character could be maintained among these savages any longer, did accident again throw him in their way. The chiefs, he saw, had distrusted him all along, but had given him an opportunity to prove what he could do, in order to satisfy the more vulgar curiosity of their young men. He wisely determined, therefore, to keep out of the hands of his enemies.

Although le Bourdon could hold a conversation in the tongue of the Ojebways, he was not fond of so doing. He comprehended without difficulty nearly all of what was said by them, and had observed the previous night that the warriors made many allusions to a chief whom they styled Onoah, but who he himself knew was usually called Scalping Peter among the whites of that frontier. This savage had a fearful reputation at all the garrisons, though he never showed himself in them; and he was now spoken of by the Pottawattamies present, as if they expected to meet him soon, and to be governed by his commands or his advice. The bee-hunter had paid great attention whenever this dreaded name was mentioned, for he was fully aware of the importance of keeping clear of an enemy who bore so bad a reputation that it was not considered prudent for a white man to remain long in his company even in a time of peace. His English sobriquet had been obtained from the circumstances of its being reputed that this chief, who seemed to belong to no tribe in particular, while he had great influence with all, had on divers occasions murdered the palefaces who fell in his way, and then scalped them. It was added, that he had already forty notches on his pole, to note that number of scalps taken from the hated whites. In short, this Indian, a sort of chief by birth, though of what tribe no one exactly knew, appeared to live only to revenge the wrongs done his color by the intruders, who had come from toward the rising sun to drive his people into the great salt lake on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Of course there was a good deal that was questionable in these reports; a rumor in the "openings" and on the prairies, having this general resemblance to those that circulate in town, and in drawing-rooms, and at feasts, that no one of them all can be relied on as rigidly exact. But le Bourdon was still young, and had yet to learn how little of that which we all hear is true, and how very much is false. Nevertheless, as an Indian tradition is usually more accurate than a white man's written history, so is a rumor of the forest generally entitled to more respect than the ceaseless gossipings of the beings who would be affronted were they not accounted civilized.

The bee-hunter was still on the elevated bit of ground, making his observations, when he was joined by Margery. The girl appeared fresh and handsome, after a night of sleep, and coming from her dressing- room in a thicket, and over a stream of sweet running water; but she was sad and thoughtful. No sooner had le Bourdon shaken her hand, and repeated his thanks for the succor of the past night, than the full heart of Margery poured out its feelings, as the swollen stream overflows its banks, and began to weep.

"Brother is awake," she said, as soon as her sobs were quieted by a powerful effect; "but, as is usual with him after hard drinking, so stupid, that Dolly cannot make him understand our danger. He tells her he has seen too many Injins to be afraid of these, and that they will never harm a family that has brought so much liquor into their country."

"His senses must be at a low ebb, truly, if he counts on Injin friendship because he has sold fire-water to the young men!" answered le Bourdon, with a nice understanding of not only Indian nature, but of human nature. "We may like the sin, Margery, while we detest the tempter. I have never yet met with the man, pale-face or red-skin, who did not curse, in his sober moments, the hand that fed his appetite while intoxicated."

"I dare say that may be very true," returned the girl, in a low voice; "but one has need of his reason to understand it. What will become of us now, it is hard to say." "Why, now, Margery, more than yesterday, or the day before?" "Yesterday there were no savages near us, and Gershorn had all along told us he intended to start for the garrison at the head of the lake, as soon as he got back from his visit to the openings. He is back; but not in a state to protect his wife and sister from the red man, who will be looking for us as soon as they can build a canoe, or anything that will do to cross the river with."

"Had they even a canoe," returned le Bourdon, coolly, "they would not know where to look for us. Thank Heaven! that will be a job that would take some time; nor is a bark canoe built in a minute. But, Margery, if your brother be a little dull and heavy, after his debauch, I am sober, and as much awake as ever I was in my life."

"Oh! you have no weakness like that of poor brother's, to make you otherwise; but, Bourdon, you will naturally wish to take care of yourself and your property, and will quit us the first good opportunity. I'm sure that we have no right to expect you will stay a minute longer than it is your interest to do so, and I do not know that I wish it."

"Not wish it, Margery!" exclaimed the bee-hunter, in the manner of a disappointed man. "I had supposed you would have wished my company. But, now I know the contrary, I shall not much care how soon I go, or into whose hands I fall."

It is strange how apt are those who ought to understand one another so readily, to misinterpret each other's thoughts. Margery had never seen the bee-hunter twenty-four hours before, though she had often heard of him, and of his success in his art; for the fame of a man of good reputation and active qualities spreads far on a frontier. The very individual whose existence would be nearly overlooked in a crowded region, shall be spoken of, and known by his qualities, a hundred leagues from his place of residence, when settlements are few and far apart. In this way, Margery had heard of Boden, or of "Bourdon," as she called him, in common with hundreds who, confounding his real name with his sobriquet, made the mistake of using the last under the impression that it was the true appellation. Margery had no other knowledge of French than the few words gleaned in her slow progress among a frontier on which, it is true, more of that language than of any other was heard, but heard under circumstances that were not particularly favorable to the acquisition of a foreign tongue. Had she understood the real meaning of "Bourdon," she would have bitten off her tongue before she would have once called Boden by such an appellation; though the bee-hunter himself was so accustomed to his Canadian nickname as to care nothing at all about it. But Margery did not like to give pain to any one; and, least of all, would she desire to inflict it on the bee-hunter, though he were only an acquaintance of a day. Still, Margery could not muster sufficient courage to tell her new friend how much he was mistaken, and that of all the youths she had ever met she would most prefer to keep him near her brother and sister in their distress; while the young man, inspired by a pure and infant passion, was just in the frame of mind to believe the worst of himself, and of his claims to the attention of her who had begun to occupy so many of his thoughts.

No explanation occurring, our young people descended from the hill, misconceiving each other's meaning and wishes, and unhappy under the influence of an ideal source of misery, when actual circumstances created so many that were substantial and real. Gershom was found awake, but, as his sister had described him, stupid and lethargic. The bee-hunter at once saw that, in his present condition, Whiskey Centre would still be an incumbrance rather than of any service, in the event of an occasion for extraordinary exertion. Margery had hinted that it usually took twenty-four hours to bring her brother entirely round, after one of his serious debauches; and within that time it was more than probable that the fate of the family would be decided.

Le Bourdon thought intently, during breakfast, of the condition of his party, and of the best mode of proceeding, while the pallid and anxious young creature at his side believed he was deliberating solely on the best means of extricating himself and his store of honey, from the savages on the other shore. Had the acquaintance between these young people been of longer date than it actually was, Margery could not have entertained a notion so injurious to the bee- hunter, for a single moment; but there was nothing either violent, or depreciating, in supposing that one so near being a total stranger would think first of himself and his own interests, in the situation in which this young man was now placed.

Little was said during the meal. Dorothy was habitually silent; the result of grief and care. As for her husband, he was too stupid to talk, though usually somewhat garrulous; while the Indian seldom did two things at the same time. This was the hour for acting; when that for talking should arrive, he would be found equal to its duties. Pigeonswing could either abstain from food, or could indulge in it without measure, just as occasion offered. He had often gone for days without tasting a mouthful, with the exception of a few berries, perhaps; and he had lain about the camp-fire, a week at a time, gorging himself with venison, like an anaconda. It is perhaps fortunate for the American Indian, that this particular quality of food is so very easy of digestion, since his excesses on it are notorious, and so common to his habits as almost to belong to his nature. Death might otherwise often be the consequence.

When the breakfast was ended, it was time to consult about the future course. As yet, the Pottawattamies had made no new discovery; but the sagacity of the red man was ever to be feared, when it came to be merely a question of finding his foe in a forest.

"We have obtained one advantage over the enemy," said le Bourdon, "by crossing the river. Water leaves no trail; even had Crowsfeather a canoe, he might not know where to go in it, in order to find us."

"Dat not so," put in the Chippewa, a little dogmatically; "know we hab canoe--know cross river in him."

"Why should they know this, Pigeonswing? We may have gone out upon the lake, or we may have gone up in the oak openings again, for anything the Pottawattamies can know to the contrary."

"Tell you, not so. Know don't go on lake, cause wind blow. Know don't go up river, cause dat hard work; know come here, cause dat easy. Injin like to do what easy, and pale-face do just what Injin do. Crowsfeather make raft, pretty soon; den he come look arter scalp."

"Yes," said Margery, gently; "you had better load your canoe at once, and go on the lake, while the savages cannot reach you. The wind is fair for them that are to go north; and I have heard you say that you are bound to Mackinaw."

"I shall load my canoe, and I shall load yours, too, Margery; but I shall not go away from this family, so long as any in it stand in need of my services."

"Brother will be able to help us by afternoon. He manages a canoe well, when himself; so go, Bourdon, while you can. I dare say you have a mother at home; or a sister perhaps a wife--"

"Neither," interrupted the bee-hunter, with emphasis. "No one expects me; no one has a right to expect me."

The color stole into pretty Margery's cheeks as she heard these words, and a ray of comfort gleamed on an imagination that, for the last hour, had been portraying the worst. Still, her generous temper did not like the idea of the bee-hunter's sacrificing himself for those who had so few claims on him, and she could not but again admonish him of the necessity of losing no time.

"You will think better of this, Bourdon," the girl resumed. "We are going south, and cannot quit the river with this wind, but you could not have a better time to go north, unless the wind blows harder than I think it does."

"The lake is a bad water for a canoe, when there is much wind," put in Gershom, yawning after he had spoken, as if the effort fatigued him, "I wonder what we're all doing over on this side of the river! Whiskey Centre is a good enough country for me; I'm going back to look arter my casks, now I've breakfasted. Come, Doll; let's load up, and be off."

"You are not yourself yet, Gershom," returned the sorrowful wife, "or you would not talk in this way. You had better listen to the advice of Bourdon, who has done so much for us already, and who will tell you the way to keep out of Injin clutches. We owe our lives to Bourdon, Gershom, and you should thank him for it."

Whiskey Centre muttered a few half intelligible words of thanks, and relapsed into his state of drowsy indifference. The bee-hunter saw, however, that the effects of the brandy were leaving him, and he managed to get him on one side, where he persuaded the fellow to strip and go into the water. The bath did wonders for the poor creature, who soon got to be so far himself again, as to be of use, instead of being an incumbrance. When sober, and more especially when sober for several consecutive days, Gershom was a man of sufficient energy, possessing originally great personal strength and activity, which had been essentially lessened, however, by his excesses in liquor. It has already been stated what a different being he became, in a moral point of view, after having been sober for any length of time.

On his return from the bathing, le Bourdon again joined the females. Margery had been weeping; but she smiled in a friendly way, on meeting his eye, and appeared less anxious for his departure than she had been an hour before. As the day advanced, and no signs of the savages were seen, a sense of greater security began to steal over the females, and Margery saw less necessity for the departure of their new friend. It was true, he was losing a wind; but the lake was rough, and after all it might be better to wait. In short, now that no immediate danger was apparent, Margery began to reason in conformity with her wishes, as is so apt to be the case with the young and inexperienced. The bee-hunter perceived this change in the deportment of his fair friend, and was well enough disposed to hope it would admit of a favorable construction.

All this time, the Chippewa had taken little visible interest in the state of the party to which he had now attached himself. The previous evening had been fertile in excitement and in gratification, and he had since slept and ate to his entire content. He was ready to meet events as they might arise, and began to plot the means of obtaining more Pottawattamie scalps. Let not the refined reader feel disdisgust at this exhibition of the propensities of an American savage. Civilized life has had, and still has, very many customs, little less excusable than that of scalping. Without dragging into the account the thousand and one sins that disgrace and deform society, it will be sufficient to look into the single interest of civilized warfare, in order to make out our case. In the first place, the noblest strategy of the art is, to put the greatest possible force on the least of the enemy, and to slay the weaker party by the mere power of numbers. Then, every engine that ingenuity can invent, is drawn into the conflict; and rockets, revolvers, shells, and all other infernal devices, are resorted to, in order to get the better of an enemy who is not provided with such available means of destruction. And after the battle is over, each side commonly claims the victory; sometimes, because a partial success has been obtained in a small portion of the field; sometimes, because half a dozen horses have run away with a gun, carrying it into the hostile ranks; and, again, because a bit of rag has fallen from the hands of a dead man, and been picked up by one of the opposing side. How often has it happened that a belligerent, well practised in his art, has kept his own colors out of the affair, and then boasted that they were not lost! Now, an Indian practises no such shameless expedients. His point of honor is not a bit of rag, but a bit of his skin. He shaves his head because the hair encumbers him; but he chivalrously leaves a scalp-lock, by the aid of which his conquerors can the more easily carry away the coveted trophy. The thought of cheating in such a matter never occurs to his unsophisticated mind; and as for leaving his "colors" in barracks, while he goes in the field himself, he would disdain it--nay, cannot practise it; for the obvious reason that his head would have to be left with them.

Thus it was with Pigeonswing. He had made his toilet for the war- path, and was fierce in his paint, but honest and fair-dealing in other particulars. If he could terrify his enemies by looking like a skeleton, or a demon, it was well; his enemy would terrify him, if possible, by similar means. But neither would dream, or did dream, of curtailing, by a single hair, that which might be termed the flag-staff of his scalp. If the enemy could seize it, he was welcome to the prize; but if he could seize that of the enemy, no scruples on the score of refinement, or delicacy, would be apt to interfere with his movements. It was in this spirit, then, that Pigeonswing came to the canoe, where le Bourdon was holding a little private discourse with Margery, and gave utterance to what was passing in his mind.

"Good time, now, get more scalps, Bourdon," said the Chippewa, in his clipping, sententious English.

"It is a good time, too, to keep our own, Chippewa," was the answer. "Your scalp-lock is too long, to be put before Pottawattamie eyes without good looking after it."

"Nebber mind him--if go, go; if stay, stay. Always good for warrior to bring home scalp."

"Yes; I know your customs in this respect, Pigeonswing, but ours are different. We are satisfied if we can keep out of harm's way, when we have our squaws and pappooses with us."

"No pappooses here," returned the Indian, looking around him--"dat your squaw, eh?"

The reader can readily imagine that this abrupt question brought blushes into the cheeks of pretty Margery, making her appear ten times more handsome than before; while even le Bourdon did not take the interrogatory wholly undisturbed. Still, the latter answered manfully, as became his sex.

"I am not so fortunate as to have a squaw, and least of all to have this" said le Bourdon.

"Why no hab her--she good squaw," returned the literalminded Indian- -han'some 'nough for chief. You ask; she hab--now squaw well--always like warrior to ask him fuss; den say, yes."

"Aye, that may do with your red-skin squaws," le Bourdon hastily replied; for he saw that Margery was not only distressed, but a little displeased--"but not with the young women of the pale-faces. I never saw Margery before last evening; and it takes time for a pale-face girl to know a youth."

"Just so wid red-skin--sometime don't know, till too late! See plenty dat, in wigwam."

"Then it is very much in the wigwams as it is in the houses. I have heard this before."

"Why not same?--skin make no difference--pale-face spile squaw, too- -make too much of her."

"That can never be!" exclaimed le Bourdon, earnestly. "When a pretty, modest, warm-hearted young woman accepts a youth for a husband, he can never make enough of her!"

On hearing sentiments so agreeable to a woman's ears, Margery looked down, but she looked pleased. Pigeonswing viewed the matter very differently; and being somewhat of a partisan in matters relating to domestic economy, he had no thought of leaving a point of so much importance in so bad a way. Accordingly, it is not surprising that, in pursuing the subject, he expressed opinions in several essentials diametrically the reverse of those of the bee-hunter.

'"Easy 'nough spile squaw," rejoined the Chippewa. "What she good for, don't make her work? Can't go on the warpath--can't take scalp- -can't shoot deer--can't hunt--can't kill warrior--so muss work. Dat what squaw good for."

"That may do among red men, but we pale-faces find squaws good for something else--we love them and take care of them--keep them from the cold in winter, and from the heat in summer; and try to make them as comfortable and happy as we can."

"Dat good talk for young squaw's ears," returned the Chippewa, a little contemptuously as to manner; though his real respect for the bee-hunter, of whose prowess he had so lately been a witness, kept him a little within bounds "but it bess not take nobody in. What Injin say to squaw, he do--what pale-face say, he no do."

"Is that true, Bourdon?" demanded Margery, laughing at the Indian's earnestness.

"I shall be honest, and own that there may be some truth in it--for the Injin promises nothing, or next to nothing, and it is easy to square accounts, in such cases. That white men undertake more than they always perform, is quite likely to be the fact The Injin gets his advantage in this matter, by not even thinking of treating his wife as a woman should be treated."

"How should treat woman?" put in Pigeonswing with warmth. "When warrior eat venison, gib her rest, eh? Dat no good--what you call good, den? If good hunter husband, she get 'nough--if an't good hunter, she don't get 'nough. Just so wid Injin--sometime hungry, sometime full. Dat way to live!"

"Aye, that may be your red man's ways, but it is not the manner in which we wish to treat our wives. Ask pretty Margery, here, if she would be satisfied to wait until her husband had eaten his dinner, and then come in for the scraps. No-no-Pigeonswing; we feed our women and children first^ and come in last, ourselves."

"Dat good for pappoose--he little; want venison--squaw tough; use to wait. Do her good."

Margery now laughed outright, at these specimens of Indian gallantry, which only too well embody the code of the red man's habits. Doubtless the heart has its influence among even the most savage people, for nature has not put into our breasts feelings and passions to be discarded by one's own expedients, or wants. But no advocate of the American Indian has ever yet been able to maintain that woman fills her proper place in his estimate of claims. As for Margery, though so long subject to the whims, passions. and waywardness of a drunkard, she had reaped many of the advantages of having been born in that woman's paradise, New England. We are no great admirers of the legacy left by the Puritan to his descendants, taken as an inheritance in morals, manners, and customs, and as a whole; though there are parts, in the way of codicils, that there is no portion of the Christian world which might not desire to emulate. In particular, do we allude to the estimate put upon, and the treatment received by their women. Our allusion is not to the refinements and gracefulness of polished intercourse; for of them, the Blarney Rock of Plymouth has transmitted but a meagre account in the inventory, and perhaps the less that is said about this portion of the family property the better; but, dropping a few degrees in the social scale, and coming down to the level where we are accustomed to regard people merely as men and women, we greatly question if any other portion of the world can furnish a parallel to the manly, considerate, rational, and wisely discriminating care, that the New England husband, as the rule, bestows on his wife; the father on his daughter; or the brother on his sister. Gershom was a living, and, all things considered, a remarkable instance of these creditable traits. When sober, he was uniformly kind to Dorothy; and for Margery he would at any time risk his life. The latter, indeed, had more power over him than his own wife possessed, and it was her will and her remonstrances that most frequently led him back from the verge of that precipice over which he was so often disposed to cast himself. By some secret link she bound him closest to the family dwelling, and served most to recall the days of youth and comparative innocence, when they dwelt together beneath the paternal roof, and were equally the objects of the affection and solicitude of the same kind mother. His attachment to Dorothy was sincere, and, for one so often brutalized by drink, steady; but Dorothy could not carry him as far back, in recollections, as the one only sister who had passed the morning of life with him, in the same homely but comfortable abode.

We have no disposition to exaggerate the character of those whom it is the fashion to term the American yeomen, though why such an appellation should be applied to any in a state of society to which legal distinctions are unknown, is what we could never understand. There are no more of esquires and yeomen in this country than there are of knights and nobles, though the quiet manner in which the transition from the old to the new state of things has been made, has not rendered the public mind very sensible to the changes. But, recurring to the class, which is a positive thing and consequently ought to have a name of some sort or other, we do not belong to those that can sound its praises without some large reservations on the score of both principles and manners. Least of all, are we disposed to set up these yeomen as a privileged class, like certain of the titular statesmen of the country, and fall down and worship a calf--not a golden one by the way--of our own setting up. We can see citizens in these yeomen, but not princes, who are to be especially favored by laws made to take from others to bestow on them. But making allowances for human infirmities, the American freeholder belongs to a class that may justly hold up its head among the tillers of the earth. He improves daily, under the influence of beneficent laws, and if he don't get spoiled, of which there is some danger, in the eagerness of factions to secure his favor, and through that favor his vote--if he escape this danger, he will ere long make a reasonably near approach to that being, which the tongue of the flatterer would long since have persuaded him he had already more than got to be.

To one accustomed to be treated kindly, as was the case with Margery, the Chippewa's theory for the management of squaws contained much to excite her mirth, as well as her resentment, as she now made apparent by her remarks.

"You do not deserve to have a wife, Pigeonswing," she cried, half- laughing, yet evidently alive to the feelings of her sex--"can have no gratitude for a wife's tenderness and care. I wonder that a Chippewa girl can be found to have you?"

"Don't want him," coolly returned the Indian, making his preparations to light his pipe--"got Winnebagoe squaw, already; good 'nough for me. Shoot her t'other husband and take his scalp--den she come into my wigwam."

"The wretch!" exclaimed Margery.

But this was a word the savage did not understand, and he continued to puff at the newly lighted tobacco, with all of a smoker's zeal. When the fire was secured, he found time to continue the subject.

"Yes, dat good war-path--got rifle; got wife; got two scalp! Don't do so well, ebbery day."

"And that woman hoes your corn, and cooks your venison?" demanded the bee-hunter.

"Sartain--capital good to hoe--no good to cook--make deer meat too dry. Want to be made to mind business. Bye'm by teach him. No l'arn all at once, like pale-face pappoose in school."

"Pigeonswing, have you never observed the manner in which the white man treats his squaw?"

"Sartain--see him make much of her--put her in warm corner--wrap blanket round her--give her venison 'fore he eat himself--see all dat, often--what den? Dat don't make it right."

"I give you up, Chippewa, and agree with Margery in thinking you ought not to have a squaw, at all."

"T'ink alike, den--why no get marry?" asked the Indian, without circumlocution.

Margery's face became red as fire; then her cheeks settled into the color of roses, and she looked down, embarrassed. The bee-hunter's admiration was very apparent to the Indian, though the girl did not dare to raise her eyes from the ground, and so did not take heed of it. But this gossiping was suddenly brought to an end by a most unexpected cause of interruption; the manner and form of which it shall be our office to relate, in the succeeding chapter.

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