Oak Openings

by James Fenimore Cooper

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Chapter XI.

   So should it be--for no heart beats
      Within his cold and silent breast;
    To him no gentle voice repeats
      The soothing words that make us blest.

The interruption came from Dorothy, who, on ascending the little height, had discovered a canoe coming into the mouth of the river, and who was running, breathless with haste, to announce the circumstance to the bee-hunter. The latter immediately repaired to the eminence, and saw for himself the object that so justly had alarmed the woman. The canoe was coming in from the lake, after running before the wind, which now began to abate a little in its strength, and it evidently had been endeavoring to proceed to the northward. The reason for its entering the river, was probably connected with the cookery or food of the party, since the lake was each minute getting to be safer, and more navigable for so light a craft. To le Bourdon's great apprehension, he saw the savages on the north shore making signal to this strange canoe, by means of smoke, and he foresaw the probability of his enemies obtaining the means of crossing the stream, should the strangers proceed in the desired direction. To counteract this design, he ran down to a spot on the beach where there was no rice-plant, and showing himself to the strangers, invited them to land on the south side, which was much the nearest, and in other visible respects quite as convenient as the opposite bank of the river. One of the strangers soon made a gesture with an arm, implying assent, and the bows of this strange canoe were immediately turned toward the spot where the bee-hunter stood.

As the canoe drew near, the whole party, including Pigeonswing, came to the margin of the water to receive the strangers. Of the last, there were three; one paddling at each end of the light bark, and a third seated in its centre, doing nothing. As the bee-hunter had his glass, with which he examined these visitors, he was soon questioned by his companions concerning their character and apparent purposes.

"Who are they, Bourdon?" demanded the impatient Margery--"and why do they come here?"

"The last is a question they must answer for themselves, but the person paddling in the bows of the canoe seems to be a white man, and a soldier--or a half-soldier, if one may judge from his dress. The man in the middle of the canoe is white, also. This last fellow seems to be a parson--yes, he is a clergyman, though pretty well used up in the wilderness, as to dress. The third man is a red-skin, beyond all doubt."

"A clergyman!" repeated Margery, in surprise. "What should a clergyman be doing here?"

"There are missionaries scattered about among the savages, I suppose you know, and this is probably one of them. A body can tell one of these parsons by his outside, as far as he can see him. The poor man has heard of the war, most likely, and is trying to get back into the settlements, while his scalp is safe on his head."

"Don't hurt him" put in the Chippewa, pointedly. "Know mean well-- talk about Great Spirit--Injin don't scalp sich medicine-men--if don't mind what he say, no good to take his scalp."

"I'm glad to hear this, Pigeonswing, for I had begun to think no man's scalp was safe under your fingers. But what can the so'ger be doing down this-away? A body would think there was business enough for all the so'gers up at the garrison, at the head of the lake. By the way, Pigeonswing, what has become of your letter to the captain at Fort Dearborn, to let him know of the war?"

"Chaw him up, like so much 'baccy," answered the Chippewa--"yes, chaw him up, lest Pottawattamie get hold on him, and ask one of King George's men to read him. No good to hab letter in sich times."

"The general who employed you to carry that letter, will scarce thank you for your care."

"Yes, he do--t'ank all same--pay all same--letter no use now."

"How can you know that? The letter might be the means of preventing the garrison from falling into the enemy's hands."

"Got dere, already. Garrison all kill, scalp, or prisoner. Pottawattamie talk tell me dat"

"Is this possible! Mackinaw and Chicago both gone, already! John Bull must have been at work among the savages a long time, to get them into this state of readiness!"

"Sartain--work long as can 'member. alway somebody talkin' for great Montreal Fadder among red men."

"It must be as you say, Chippewa--but, here are our visitors--let us see what we can make of them"

By this time, the canoe was so near as to render it easy to distinguish countenances and dress, without the aid of the glass--so near, indeed, that a swift-moving boat, like the canoe, might be expected soon to reach the shore. The truth of the observation of the bee-hunter was confirmed, as the strangers approached. The individual in the bows of the canoe was clearly a soldier, in a fatigue-dress, and the musket between his legs was one of those pieces that government furnishes to the troops of the line. The man in the middle of the boat could no more be mistaken than he in its bows. Each might be said to be in uniform--the well-worn, nay, almost threadbare black coat of the "minister," as much denoting him to be a man of peace, as the fatigue-jacket into "batteries"; to all of which innovations, bad as they may be, and useless and uncalled for, and wanton as they are, we are much more willing to submit, than to the new-fangled and lubberly abomination of saying "on a steamboat," or "on a ship."

While le Bourdon was so much astounded at hearing the terrible name of Onoah, which was familiar enough to him, neither of his white companions betrayed any emotion. Had the Indian been termed "Scalping Peter," it is probable that both Dorothy and Margery would have screamed, if not actually fled; but they knew nothing of the appellation that was given to this mysterious chief, in the language of the red men. To this circumstance, therefore, was it owing that the utterance of his name did not produce a general commotion. The bee-hunter observed, nevertheless, a great change in the demeanor of the Chippewa, the instant the missionary had uttered the ominous word, though he did not seem to be alarmed. On the contrary, Boden fancied that his friend Pigeonswing was pleased, rather than terrified, at ascertaining the character of their visitor, though he no longer put himself forward, as had been the case previously; and from that moment the young warrior appeared to carry himself in a more subdued and less confident manner than was his wont. This unexpected demeanor on the part of his friend, somewhat confounded le Bourdon, though it in a degree relieved his apprehensions of any immediate danger. All this time, the conversation between the missionary and the corporal went on in as quiet and composed a manner, as if each saw no ground for any other uneasiness than that connected with the fall of Mackinaw.

"Yes, sir," returned the soldier, "Onoah is a good guide, and a great hand at a council-fire; but these is war-times, and we must stand to our arms, each accordin' to his edication and temper--you, sir, with preachin' and prayin', and I with gun and baggonet."

"Ah! corporal, the preaching and praying would be of quite as much account with you men of war, as your arms and ammunition, if you could only be made to think so. Look at Fort Dearborn! It was defended by human means, having its armed band, and its guns and swords, and captains and corporals; yet you have seen their pride lowered, their means of defence destroyed, and a large part of your comrades massacred. All this has been done to armed men, while the Lord has brought me, an unarmed and humble teacher of his word, safely out of the hands of the Philistines, and placed me here in safety, on the shores of the Kalamazoo."

"For that matter, Mr. Amen, the Lord has done the same by me, with a musket on my shoulder and a baggonet by my side," returned the literal corporal. "Preachin' may be good on some marches; but arms and ammunition answers well enough on others. Hearken to the Hebrew, who knows all the ways of the wilderness, and see if he don't give you the same opinion." "The Hebrew is one of the discarded of the Lord, as he is one chosen of the Lord!" returned the missionary. "I agree with you, however, that he is as safe an adviser, for a human adviser, as can be easily found; therefore will I consult him. Child of the seed of Abraham," he added, turning to Onoah, "thou hast heard the tidings from Mackinaw; we cannot think, any longer, of pursuing our journey in that direction; whither, then, wouldst thou advise that we shall direct our steps? I ask this question of thee first, as an experienced and sagacious dweller in the wilderness: at a more fitting time, I intend to turn to the Lord, and seek divine aid for the direction of our footsteps."

"Aye," observed the corporal, who entertained a good deal of respect for the zealous, but slightly fanatical missionary, though he believed an Indian was always safe to consult in matters of this sort, "try both--if one staff should fail, it may be well to have another to lean on. A good soldier always keeps a part of his troops for a reserve. I motto of his coat of arms; the "gare a qui la touchc," or "noli me tangere," of his device."

The head was shaved, as is usual with a warrior, carrying only the chivalrous scalp-lock, but the chief was not in his paint. The outline of this celebrated savage's features was bold and eagle- like; a comparison that his steady, calm, piercing eye well sustained. The chin was full and expanded, the lips compressed and firm, the teeth were short, but even and sound, his smile courteous, and, at times, winning.

In the way of attire, Onoah was simply dressed, consulting the season and his journey. He had a single eagle's feather attached to the scalp-lock, and wore a belt of wampum of more than usual value, beneath which he had thrust his knife and tomahawk; a light, figured and fringed hunting-shirt of cotton covered his body, while leggings of deerskin, with a plain moccasin of similar material, rose to his knee. The latter, with the lower part of a stout sinewy thigh, was bare. He also carried a horn and pouch, and a rifle of the American rather than of the military fashion that is, one long, true, and sighted to the deviation of a hair.

On landing, Peter (for so he was generally called by the whites, when in courtesy they omitted the prefix of "Scalping") courteously saluted the party assembled around the bow of the canoe. This he did with a grave countenance, like a true American, but in simple sincerity, so far as human eye could penetrate his secret feelings. To each man he offered his hand, glancing merely at the two females; though it may be questioned if he ever before had looked upon so perfect a picture of female loveliness as Margery at that precise instant presented, with her face flushed with excitement, her spirited blue eye wandering with curiosity, and her beautiful mouth slightly parted in admiration.

"Sago, sago!" said Peter, in his deep, guttural enunciation, speaking reasonably good English. "Sago, sago all, ole and young, friend come to see you, and eat in your wigwam--which head--chief, eh?"

"We have neither wigwam nor chief here," answered le Bourdon, though he almost shrunk from taking the hand of one of whom he had heard the tales of which this savage had been the hero; "we are common people, and have no one among us who holds the States' commission. I live by taking honey, of which you are welcome to all you can want, and this man is a helper of the sutlers at the garrisons. He was travelling south to join the troops at the head of the lake, and I was going north to Mackinaw, on my way in, toward the settlements."

"Why is my brother in such haste?" demanded Peter, mildly. "Bees get tired of making honey?"

"The times are troubled, and the red men have dug up the hatchet; a pale-face cannot tell when his wigwam is safe."

"Where my brodder wigwam?" asked Peter, looking warily around him. "See he an't here; where is he?"

"Over in the openings, far up the Kalamazoo. We left it last week, and had got to the hut on the other shore, when a party of Pottawattamies came in from the lake, and drove us over here for safety."

On hearing this, Peter turned slowly to the missionary, raising a finger as one makes a gesture to give emphasis to his words.

"Tole you so," said the Indian. "Know dere was Pottawattamie dere. Can tell 'em great way off."

"We fear them, having women in our party," added the bee-hunter, "and think they might fancy our scalps."

"Dat like enough; all Injin love scalp in war-time. You Yankee, dey Br'ish; can't travel on same path now, and not quarrel. Must not let Pottawattamie catch you."

"How are we to help it, now you have come in? We had all the canoes on this side of the river, and were pretty safe, but should you cross and place your canoe in their hands, there is nothing to prevent them from doing what they please with us. If you will promise not to cross the river till we can get out well on the lake, we may shift our ground, however, and leave no trail."

"Muss cross over--yes, muss cross over, else Pottawattamie t'ink it strange--yes, muss cross over. Shan't touch canoe, dough."

"How can you help it, if they be so minded? You are but a single man, and they are twenty."

On hearing this, Corporal Flint pricked up his ears, and stood if possible more erect than ever, for he considered himself a part of a man at least, and one moreover who had served in all the wars of the west, from the great battle of St. Glair to that of Mad Anthony. He was spared the necessity of a reply, however, for Peter made a significant gesture which as much as told him that he would take that office on himself.

"No need be afeard," said Peter, quietly. "Know Pottawattamie--know all chief. Nobody touch canoe of Onoah when he say don't touch him."

"Yet they are Injins of the British, and I see you here in company with a soldier of Uncle Sam."

"No matter; Onoah go just where he please. Sometime to Pottawattamie; sometime to Iroquois. All Ojebways know Onoah. All Six Nation know him well. All Injin know him. Even Cherokee know him now, and open ears when he speak. Muss cross river, and shake hand with Crowsfeather."

There was nothing boastful, or vaunting, in Peter's manner while he thus announced his immunity or power, but he alluded to it in a quiet, natural way, like one accustomed to being considered a personage of consequence. Mankind, in general, make few allowances for the influence of habit; the sensibilities of the vainglorious themselves being quite as often wounded by the most natural and direct allusions of those who enjoy advantages superior to their own, as by those that are intended to provoke comparisons. In the present instance, however, no such feeling could exist, the Indian asserting no more than his extended reputation would fully maintain.

When Peter had thus expressed himself, the missionary thought it meet to add a few words in explanation. This he did, however, aside, walking a little apart with the bee-hunter, in order so to do. As for Gershom, no one seemed to think him of sufficient importance to throw away any interest or care on him.

"You can trust to Peter, friend bee-hunter," the missionary observed, "for what he promises he will perform. I know him well, and have put myself altogether in his hands. If he says that the Pottawattamies are not to have his canoe, the Pottawattamies will not get it. He is a man to be depended on."

"Is not this, then, Scalping Peter, who bears so terrible a name on all this frontier?" demanded le Bourdon.

"The same; but do not disturb yourself with names: they hurt no one, and will soon be forgotten. A descendant of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, is not placed in the wilderness by the hand of divine power for no purpose; since he is here, rely on it, it is for good."

"A descendant of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob! Is not Peter, then, a red-skin and an Injin?"

"Certainly; though no one knows his tribe but himself. I know it, friend bee-hunter, and shortly shall proclaim it throughout the length and breadth of the land. Yes, it has been given to me to make this important discovery, though I sometimes think that Peter himself is really as ignorant as all around him of the tribe to which he properly belongs."

"Do you wish to keep it a secret from me, too? I own that, in my eyes, the tribe of a red-skin goes a good way in making up my opinions of the man. Is he a Winnebagoe?"

"No, my friend, the Winnebagoes have no claims on him at all."

"Nor a Pottawattamie, Ottawa, or Ojebway of any sort?"

"He is none of these. Peter cometh of a nobler tribe than any that beareth such names."

"Perhaps he is an Injin of the Six Nations? They tell me that many such have found their way hither since the war of the revolution."

"All that may be true, but Peter cometh not of Pottawattamie, Ottawa, nor Ojebway."

"He can hardly be of the Sacs or the Foxes; he has not the appearance of an Injin from a region so far west"

"Neither, neither, neither," answered Parson Amen, now so full of his secret as fairly to let it overflow. "Peter is a son of Israel; one of the lost children of the land of Judea, in common with many of his red brethren-mind, I do not say all, but with many of his red brethren--though he may not know exactly of what tribe himself. This last point has exercised me greatly, and days and nights have I pondered over the facts. Turn to Genesis XLIX and 14th, and there will you find all the authorities recorded. 'Zebulon shall dwell at the haven of the sea.' That refers to some other red brother, nearer to the coast, most clearly. 'Issachar is a strong ass, crouching down between two burdens'; 'and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.' That refers, most manifestly, to the black man of the Southern States, and cannot mean Peter. 'Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path.' There is the red man for you, drawn with the pencil of truth! 'Gad, a troop shall overcome him.' Here, corporal, come this way and tell our new friend how Mad Anthony with his troopers finally routed the red-skins. You were there, and know all about it. No language can be plainer: until the 'long-knives and leather-stockings' came into the woods, the red man had his way. Against them he could not prevail."

"Yes," returned Corporal Flint, who delighted in talking of the wars, "it was very much as Parson Amen says. The savages, by their nimbleness and artifices, would first ambush us, and then break away from our charges, until the gin'ral bethought him of bringing cavalry into the wilderness. Nobody ever thought of such a plan, until old Anthony invented it. As soon as we got the fire of the savages, at the Mawmee, we charged with the baggonet, and put 'em up; and no sooner was they up, than away went the horse into them, flourishing the 'long knife' and pressing the heel of the 'leather- stocking' into the flanks of their beasts. Mr. Amen has found a varse in Scriptur's that does come near to the p'int, and almost foretells our victory, and that, too, as plain as it stood in dispatches, arterward, from headquarters."

"'Gad, a troop shall overcome him,'" put in the missionary, triumphantly.

"That's it--that's it; there was just one troop on 'em, and not a man more! Mad Anthony said a troop would answer, arter we had put the red-skins up out of their ambushes, or any other bushes; and so it did. I must acknowledge that I think more of the Scriptur's than ever, since Parson Amen read to me that varse."

"Hearken unto this, friend bee-hunter," added the missionary, who by this time had fairly mounted his hobby, and fancied he saw a true Israelite in every other Indian of the west, "and tell me if words were ever more prophetic--'Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour his prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.' The art of man could not draw a more faithful picture of these Indians."

Boden was not much skilled in sacred lore, and scarce knew what to make of all this. The idea that the American Indians were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel was entirely new to him; nor did he know anything to boast of, touching those tribes, even in their palmiest days, and while in possession of the promised land; still he had some confused recollection of that which he had read when a child--what American has not?--and was enabled to put a question or two, in return for the information now received. "What, do you take the savages of America for Jews?" he asked, understanding the general drift of the missionary's meaning.

"As sure as you are there, friend bee-hunter, though you are not to suppose that I think Peter Onoah of the tribe of Benjamin. No, I turn to the 21st verse for the tribe of Peter Naphthali--Naphthalis, the root of his stock. 'Naphthali is a hind, let loose: he giveth goodly words.' Now, what can be plainer than this? A hind let loose is a deer running at large, and, by a metaphor, that deer includes the man that hunts him. Now, Peter has been--nay, is still--a renowned hunter, and is intended to be enumerated among the hinds let loose; 'he giveth goodly words,' would set that point at rest, if anything were wanting to put it beyond controversy, for Onoah is the most eloquent speaker ear ever listened to! No one, that has ever heard him speak, can doubt that he is the one who 'giveth goodly words.'"

To what other circumstance the well-intentioned missionary would next have alluded, in the course of this demonstration of a theory that had got to be a favorite with him, is more than can now be related, since the Indian himself drew near, and put an end to the conversation. Peter had made up his mind to cross the river at once; and came to say as much to his companions, both of whom he intended to leave behind him. Le Bourdon could not arrest this movement, short of an appeal to force; and force he did not like to use, doubting equally its justice and its prudence.

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