Oak Openings

by James Fenimore Cooper

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Chapter XV.

      None knows his lineage, age, or name;
      His looks are like the snows of Caucasus; his eyes
      Beam with the wisdom of collected ages
      In green, unbroken years he sees, 'tis said,
      The generations pass like autumn fruits,
      Garner'd, consumed, and springing fresh to life,
      Again to perish--

No further disturbance took place that night, and the men set about filling up the trenches in the morning steadily, as if nothing had happened. They talked a little of the extraordinary occurrence, but more was thought than said. Le Bourdon observed, however, that Pigeonswing went earlier than usual to the hunt, and that he made his preparations as if he expected to be absent more than the customary time.

As there were just one hundred feet of ditch to fill with dirt, the task was completed, and that quite thoroughly, long ere the close of the day. The pounding down of the earth consumed more time, and was much more laborious than the mere tumbling of the earth back into its former bed; but even this portion of the work was sufficiently attended to. When all was done, the corporal himself, a very critical sort of person in what he called "garrisons," was fain to allow that it was as "pretty a piece of palisading" as he had ever laid eyes on. The "garrison" wanted only one thing, now, to render it a formidable post--and that was water--no spring or well existing within its narrow limit; however, he procured two or three empty barrels, portions of le Bourdon's effects, placed them within the works, and had them filled with sweet water. By emptying this water two or three times a week, and refilling the barrels, it was thought that a sufficient provision of that great necessary would be made and kept up. Luckily the corporal's "garrison" did not drink, and the want was so much the more easily supplied for the moment.

In truth, the chiente was now converted into a place of some strength, when it is considered that artillery had never yet penetrated to those wilds. More than half the savages of the west fought with arrows and spears in that day, as most still do when the great prairies are reached. A rifleman so posted as to have his body in a great measure covered by the trunk of a burr-oak tree, would be reasonably secure against the missives of an Indian, and, using his own fatal instrument of death, under a sense of personal security, he would become a formidable opponent to dislodge. Nor was the smallness of the work any objection to its security. A single well- armed man might suffice to defend twenty-five feet of palisades, when he would have been insufficient to make good his position with twice the extent. Then le Bourdon had cut loops on three sides of the hut itself, in order to fire at the bears, and sometimes at the deer, which had often approached the building in its days of solitude and quiet, using the window on the fourth side for the same purpose. In a word, a sense of increased security was felt by the whole party when this work was completed, though one arrangement was still wanting to render it perfect. By separating the real garrison from the nominal garrison during the night, there always existed the danger of surprise; and the corporal, now that his fortifications were finished, soon devised a plan to obviate this last-named difficulty. His expedient was very simple, and had somewhat of barrack-life about it.

Corporal Flint raised a low platform along one side of the chiente, by placing there logs of pine that were squared on one of their sides. Above, at the height of a man's head, a roof of bark was reared on poles, and prairie grass, aided by skins, formed very comfortable barrack-beds beneath. As the men were expected to lie with their heads to the wall of the hut, and their feet outward, there was ample space for twice their number. Thither, then, were all the homely provisions for the night transported; and when Margery closed the door of the chiente, after returning the bee- hunter's cordial good night, it was with no further apprehension for the winding of the mysterious horn.

The first night that succeeded the new arrangement passed without any disturbance. Pigeonswing did not return, as usual, at sunset, and a little uneasiness was felt on his account; but, as he made his appearance quite early in the morning, this source of concern ceased. Nor did the Chippewa come in empty-handed; he had killed not only a buck, but he had knocked over a bear in his rambles, besides taking a mess of famously fine trout from a brawling stream at no great distance. The fish were eaten for breakfast, and immediately after that meal was ended, a party.

"I know no more than he has himself told me. By his account there is to be a great council of red men on the prairie, a few miles from this spot; he is waiting for the appointed day to come, in order to go and make one of the chiefs that will be there. Is not this true, Chippewa?"

"Yes, dat true--what dat council smoke round fire for, eh? You know?"

"No, I do not, and would be right glad to have you tell me, Pigeonswing. Perhaps the tribe mean to have a meetin' to determine in their own minds which side they ought to take in this war."

"Not dat nudder. Know well 'nough which side take. Got message and wampum from Canada fadder, and most all Injin up this-a way look for Yankee scalp. Not dat nudder."

"Then I have no notion what is at the bottom of this council. Peter seems to expect great things from it; that I can see by his way of talking and looking whenever he speaks of it."

"Peter want to see him very much. Smoke at great many sich council fire."

"Do you intend to be present at this council on Prairie Round?" asked the bee-hunter, innocently enough. Pigeonswing turned to look at his companion, in a way that seemed to inquire how far he was really the dupe of the mysterious Indian's wiles. Then, suddenly aware of the importance of not betraying all he himself knew, until the proper moment had arrived, he bent his eyes forward again, continuing onward and answering somewhat evasively.

"Don't know," he replied. "Hunter nebber tell. Chief want venison, and he must hunt. Just like squaw in pale-face wigwam--work, work-- sweep, sweep--cook, cook--never know when work done. So hunter hunt- -hunt--hunt."

"And for that matter, Chippewa, just like squaw in the red man's village, too. Hoe, hoe--dig, dig--carry, carry--so that she never knows when she may sit down to rest."

"Yes," returned Pigeonswing, coolly nodding his assent as he moved steadily forward. "Dat do right way wid squaw--juss what he good for--juss what he made for--work for warrior and cook his dinner. Pale-face make too much of squaw."

"Not accordin' to your account of their manner of getting along, Injin. If the work of our squaws is never done, we can hardly make too much of them. Where does Peter keep his squaw?"

"Don't know," answered the Chippewa. "Nobody know. Don't know where his tribe even."

"This is very extraor'nary, considering the influence the man seems to enjoy. How is it that he has so completely got the ears of all the red men, far and near?"

To this question Pigeonswing gave no answer. His own mind was so far under Peter's control that he did not choose to tell more than might be prudent. He was fully aware of the mysterious chief's principal design, that of destroying the white race altogether, and of restoring the red men to their ancient rights, but several reasons prevented his entering into the plot heart and hand. In the first place, he was friendly to the "Yankees," from whom he, personally, had received many favors and no wrongs; then, the tribe, or half- tribe, to which he belonged had been employed, more or less, by the agents of the American government as runners, and in other capacities, ever since the peace of '83; and, lastly, he himself had been left much in different garrisons, where he had not only acquired his English, but a habit of thinking of the Americans as his friends. It might also be added that Pigeonswing, though far less gifted by nature than the mysterious Peter, had formed a truer estimate of the power of the "Yankees," and did not believe they were to be annihilated so easily. How it happened that this Indian had come to a conclusion so much safer than that of Peter's, a man of twice his capacity, is more than we can explain; though it was probably owing to the accidental circumstances of his more intimate associations with the whites.

The bee-hunter was by nature a man of observation, a faculty that his habits had both increased and stimulated. Had it not been for the manner in which he was submitting to the influence of Margery, he would long before have seen that in the deportment of the Chippewa which would have awakened his distrust; not that Margery in any way endeavored to blind him to what was passing before his face, but that he was fast getting to have eyes only for her. By this time she filled not only his waking, but many of his sleeping thoughts; and when she was not actually before him, charming him with her beauty, enlivening him with her artless gayety, and inspiring him with her innocent humor, he fancied she was there, imagination, perhaps, heightening all those advantages which we have enumerated. When a man is thoroughly in love, he is quite apt to be fit for very little else but to urge his suit. Such, in a certain way, proved to be the case with le Bourdon, who allowed things to pass unheeded directly before his eyes that previously to his acquaintance with Margery would not only have been observed, but which would have most probably led to some practical results. The conduct of Pigeonswing was among the circumstances that were thus over-looked by our hero. In point of fact, Peter was slowly but surely working on the mind of the Chippewa, changing all his opinions radically, and teaching him to regard every pale-face as an enemy. The task, in this instance, was not easy; for Pigeonswing, in addition to his general propensities in favor of the "Yankees," the result of mere accident, had conceived a real personal regard for le Bourdon, and was very slow to admit any views that tended to his injury. The struggle in the mind of the young warrior was severe; and twenty times was he on the point of warning his friend of the danger which impended over the whole party, when a sense of good faith toward Peter, who held his word to the contrary, prevented his so doing. This conflict of feeling was now constantly active in the breast of the young savage.

Pigeonswing had another source of uneasiness, to which his companions were entirely strangers. While hunting, his keen eyes had detected the presence of warriors in the openings. It is true he had not seen even one, but he knew that the signs he had discovered could not deceive him. Not only were warriors at hand, but warriors in considerable numbers. He had found one deserted lair, from which its late occupants could not have departed many hours when it came under his own notice. By means of that attentive sagacity which forms no small portion of the education of an American Indian, Pigeonswing was enabled to ascertain that this party, of itself, numbered seventeen, all of whom were men and warriors. The first fact was easily enough to be seen, perhaps, there being just seventeen different impressions left in the grass; but that all these persons were armed men, was learned by Pigeonswing through evidence that would have been overlooked by most persons. By the length of the lairs he was satisfied none but men of full stature had been there; and he even examined sufficiently close to make out the proofs that all but four of these men carried firearms. Strange as it may seem to those who do not know how keen the senses become when whetted by the apprehensions and wants of savage life, Pigeonswing was enabled to discover signs which showed that the excepted were provided with bows and arrows, and spears.

When the bee-hunter and his companion came in sight of the carcase of the bear, which they did shortly after the last remark which we have given in the dialogue recorded, the former exclaimed with a little surprise:

"How's this, Chippewa! You have killed this beast with your bow! Did you not hunt with the rifle yesterday?"

"Bad fire rifle off now-a-day," answered Pigeonswing, sententiously. "Make noise--noise no good."

"Noise!" repeated the perfectly unsuspecting bee-hunter. "Little good or little harm can noise do in these openings, where there is neither mountain to give back an echo, or ear to be startled. The crack of my rifle has rung through these groves a hundred times and no harm come of it."

"Forget war-time now. Bess nebber fire, less can't help him. Pottawattamie hear great way off."

"Oh! That's it, is it! You're afraid our old friends the Pottawattamies may find us out, and come to thank us for all that happened down at the river's mouth. Well," continued le Bourdon, laughing, "if they wish another whiskey-spring, I have a small jug left, safely hid against a wet day; a very few drops will answer to make a tolerable spring. You redskins don't know everything, Pigeonswing, though you are so keen and quick-witted on a trail."

"Bess not tell Pottawattamie any more 'bout springs," answered the Chippewa, gravely; for by this time he regarded the state of things in the openings to be so serious as to feel little disposition to mirth. "Why you don't go home, eh? Why don't med'cine-man go home, too? Bess for pale-face to be wid pale-face when red man go on war- path. Color bess keep wid color."

"I see you want to be rid of us, Pigeonswing; but the parson has no thought of quitting this part of the world until he has convinced all the red-skins that they are Jews."

"What he mean, eh?" demanded the Chippewa, with more curiosity than it was usual for an Indian warrior to betray. "What sort of a man Jew, eh? Why call red man Jew?"

"I know very little more about it than you do yourself, Pigeonswing; but such as my poor knowledge is, you're welcome to it. You've heard of the Bible, I dare say?"

"Sartain--med'cine-man read him Sunday. Good book to read, some t'ink."

"Yes, it's all that, and a great companion have I found my Bible, when I've been alone with the bees out here in the openings. It tells us of our God, Chippewa; and teaches us how we are to please him, and how we may offend. It's a great loss to you red-skins not to have such a book among you."

"Med'cine-man bring him--don't do much good, yet; some day, p'r'aps, do better. How dat make red man Jew?"

"Why, this is a new idea to me, though Parson Amen seems fully possessed with it. I suppose you know what a Jew is?"

"Don't know anything 'bout him. Sort o' nigger, eh?"

"No, no, Pigeonswing, you're wide of the mark this time. But, that we may understand each other, we'll begin at the beginning like, which will let you into the whole history of the pale-face religion. As we've had a smart walk, however, and here is the bear's meat safe and sound, just as you left it, let us sit down a bit on this trunk of a tree, while I give you our tradition from beginning to end, as it might be. In the first place, Chippewa, the earth was made without creatures of any sort to live on it--not so much as a squirrel or a woodchuck."

"Poor country to hunt in, dat," observed the Chippewa quietly, while le Bourdon was wiping his forehead after removing his cap. "Ojebways stay in it very little time."

"This, according to our belief, was before any Ojebway lived. At length, God made a man, out of clay, and fashioned him, as we see men fashioned and living all around us."

"Yes," answered the Chippewa, nodding his head in assent. "Den Manitou put plenty blood in him--dat make red warrior. Bible good book, if tell dat tradition."

"The Bible says nothing about any colors; but we suppose the man first made to have been a pale-face. At any rate, the pale-faces have got possession of the best parts of the earth, as it might be, and I think they mean to keep them. First come, first served, you know. The pale-faces are many, and are strong."

"Stop!" exclaimed Pigeonswing, in a way that was very unusual for an Indian to interrupt another when speaking; "want to ask question-- how many pale-face you t'ink is dere? Ebber count him?"

"Count him!--Why, Chippewa, you might as well count the bees, as they buzz around a fallen tree. You saw me cut down the tree I last discovered, and saw the movement of the little animals, and may judge what success tongue or eye would have in counting them; now, just as true would it be to suppose that any man could count the pale-faces on this earth."

"Don't want count all," answered Pigeonswing. "Want to know how many dis side of great salt lake."

"That's another matter, and more easily come at. I understand you now, Chippewa; you wish to know how many of us there are in the country we call America?"

"Juss so," returned Pigeonswing, nodding in assent. "Dat juss it-- juss what Injin want to know."

"Well, we do have a count of our own people, from time to time, and I suppose come about as near to the truth as men can come in such a matter. There must be about eight millions of us altogether; that is, old and young, big and little, male and female."

"How many warrior you got?--don't want hear about squaw and pappoose."

"No, I see you're warlike this morning, and want to see how we are likely to come out of this struggle with your great Canada father. Counting all round, I think we might muster hard on upon a million of fighting men--good, bad, and indifferent; that is to say, there must be a million of us of proper age to go into the wars."

Pigeonswing made no answer for near a minute. Both he and the bee- hunter had come to a halt alongside of the bear's meat, and the latter was beginning to prepare his own portion of the load for transportation, while his companion stood thus motionless, lost in thought. Suddenly, Pigeonswing recovered his recollection, and resumed the conversation, by saying:

"What million mean, Bourdon? How many time so'ger at Detroit, and so'ger on lakes?"

"A million is more than the leaves on all the trees in these openings"--le Bourdon's notions were a little exaggerated, perhaps, but this was what he said--"yes, more than the leaves on all these oaks, far and near. A million is a countless number, and I suppose would make a row of men as long as from this spot to the shores of the great salt lake, if not farther."

It is probable that the bee-hunter himself had no very clear notion of the distance of which he spoke, or of the number of men it would actually require to fill the space he mentioned; but his answer sufficed deeply to impress the imagination of the Indian, who now helped le Bourdon to secure his load to his back, in silence, receiving the same service in return. When the meat of the bear was securely bestowed, each resumed his rifle, and the friends commenced their march in, toward the chiente; conversing, as they went, on the matter which still occupied their minds. When the bee-hunter again took up the history of the creation, it was to speak of our common mother.

"You will remember, Chippewa," he said, "that I told you nothing on the subject of any woman. What I have told you, as yet, consarned only the first man, who was made out of clay, into whom God breathed the breath of life."

"Dat good--make warrior fuss. Juss right. When breat' in him, fit to take scalp, eh?"

"Why, as to that, it is not easy to see whom he was to scalp, seeing that he was quite alone in the world, until it pleased his Creator to give him a woman for a companion."

"Tell 'bout dat," returned Pigeonswing, with interest--"tell how he got squaw."

"Accordin' to the Bible, God caused this man to fall into a deep sleep, when he took one of his ribs, and out of that he made a squaw for him. Then he put them both to live together, in a most beautiful garden, in which all things excellent and pleasant was to be found-- some such place as these openings, I reckon."

"Any bee dere?" asked the Indian, quite innocently. "Plenty honey, eh?"

"That will I answer for! It could hardly be otherwise, when it was the intention to make the first man and first woman perfectly happy. I dare say, Chippewa, if the truth was known, it would be found that bees was a sipping at every flower in that most delightful garden!"

"Why pale-face quit dat garden, eh? Why come here to drive poor Injin 'way from game? Tell me dat, Bourdon, if he can? Why pale-face ever leave dat garden, when he so han'some, eh?"

"God turned him out of it, Chippewa--yes, he was turned out of it, with shame on his face, for having disobeyed the commandments of his Creator. Having left the garden, his children have scattered over the face of the earth."

"So come here to drive off Injin! Well, dat 'e way wid pale-face I Did ever hear of red man comin' to drive off pale-face?"

"I have heard of your red warriors often coming to take our scalps, Chippewa. More or less of this has been done every year, since our people have landed in America. More than that they have not done, for we are too many to be driven very far in, by a few scattering tribes of Injins."

"T'ink, den, more pale-face dan Injin, eh?" asked the Chippewa, with an interest so manifest that he actually stopped in his semi-trot, in order to put the question. "More pale-face warrior dan red men?"

"More! Aye, a thousand times more, Chippewa. Where you could show one warrior, we could show a thousand!"

Now, this was not strictly true, perhaps, but it answered the purpose of deeply impressing the Chippewa with the uselessness of Peter's plans, and sustained as it was by his early predilections, it served to keep him on the right side, in the crisis which was approaching. The discourse continued, much in the same strain, until the men got in with their bear's meat, having been preceded some time by the others, with the venison.

It is a little singular that neither the questions, nor the manner of Pigeonswing, awakened any distrust in the bee-hunter. So far from this, the latter regarded all that had passed as perfectly natural, and as likely to arise in conversation, in the way of pure speculation, as in any other manner. Pigeonswing intended to be guarded in what he said and did, for, as yet, he had not made up his mind which side he would really espouse, in the event of the great project coming to a head. He had the desire, natural to a red man, to avenge the wrongs committed against his race; but this desire existed in a form a good deal mitigated by his intercourse with the "Yankees," and his regard for individuals. It had, nevertheless, strangely occurred to the savage reasoning of this young warrior that possibly some arrangement might be effected, by means of which he should take scalps from the Canadians, while Peter and his other followers were working their will on the Americans. In this confused condition was the mind of the Chippewa, when he and his companion threw down their loads, near the place where the provision of game was usually kept. This was beneath the tree, near the spring and the cook-house, in order that no inconvenience should arise from its proximity to the place where the party dwelt and slept. For a siege, should there be occasion to shut themselves up within the "garrison," the men depended on the pickled pork, and a quantity of dried meat; of the latter of which the missionary had brought a considerable supply in his own canoe. Among these stores were a few dozen of buffaloes' or bisons' tongues, a delicacy that would honor the best table in the civilized world, though then so common among the western hunters, as scarce to be deemed food as good as the common salted pork and beef of the settlements.

The evening that followed proved to be one of singular softness and sweetness. The sun went down in a cloudless sky, and gentle airs from the southwest fanned the warm cheeks of Margery, as she sat, resting from the labors of the day, with le Bourdon at her side, speaking of the pleasures of a residence in such a spot. The youth was eloquent, for he felt all that he said, and the maiden was pleased. The young man could expatiate on bees in a way to arrest any one's attention; and Margery delighted to hear him relate his adventures with these little creatures; his successes, losses, and journeys.

"But are you not often lonely, Bourdon, living here in the openings, whole summers at a time, without a living soul to speak to?" demanded Margery, coloring to the eyes, the instant the question was asked, lest it should subject her to an imputation against which her modesty revolted, that of wishing to draw the discourse to a discussion on the means of preventing this solitude in future.

"I have not been, hitherto," answered le Bourdon, so frankly as at once to quiet his companion's sensitiveness, "though I will not answer for the future. Now that I have so many with me, we may make some of them necessary. Mind--I say some, not all of my present guests. If I could have my pick, pretty Margery, the present company would give me all I can desire, and more too. I should not think of going to Detroit for that companion, since she is to be found so much nearer."

Margery blushed, and looked down--then she raised her eyes, smiled, and seemed grateful as well as pleased. By this time she had become accustomed to such remarks, and she had no difficulty in discovering her lover's wishes, though he had never been more explicit. The reflections natural to her situation threw a shade of gentle seriousness over her countenance, rendering her more charming than ever, and causing the youth to plunge deeper and deeper into the meshes that female influence had cast around him, In all this, however, one of the parties was governed by a manly sincerity, and the other by girlish artlessness. Diffidence, one of the most certain attendants of a pure passion, alone kept le Bourdon from asking Margery to become his wife; while Margery herself sometimes doubted whether it were possible that any reputable man could wish to connect himself and his fortunes with a family that had sunk as low as persons could well sink, in this country, and not lose their characters altogether. With these doubts and distrusts, so naturally affecting the mind of each, these young people were rapidly becoming more and more enamored; the bee-hunter betraying his passion in the close, absorbed attentions that more properly belong to his sex, while that of Margery was to be seen in sudden blushes, the thoughtful brow, the timid glance, and a cast of tenderness that came over her whole manner, and, as it might be, her whole being.

While our young folk were thus employed, now conversing cheerfully, now appearing abstracted and lost in thought, though seated side by side, le Bourdon happened to look behind him, and saw that Peter was regarding them with one of those intense, but mysterious expressions of the countenance, that had, now, more than once attracted his attention; giving reason, each time, for a feeling in which doubt, curiosity, and apprehension were singularly mingled, even in himself.

At the customary hour, which was always early, in that party of simple habits, the whole family sought its rest; the females withdrew within the chiente, while the males arranged their skins without. Ever since the erection of the palisades, le Bourdon had been in the habit of calling Hive within the defences, leaving him at liberty to roam about inside, at pleasure. Previously to this new arrangement, the dog had been shut up in his kennel, in order to prevent his getting on the track of a deer, or in close combat with some bear, when his master was not present to profit by his efforts. As the palisades were too high for his leap, this putting him at liberty within them answered the double purpose of giving the mastiff room for healthful exercise, and of possessing a most vigilant sentinel against dangers of all sorts. On the present occasion, however, the dog was missing, and after calling and whistling for him some time, the bee-hunter was fain to bar the gate, and leave him on the outside. This done, he sought his skin, and was soon asleep.

It was midnight, when the bee-hunter felt a hand laid on his own arm. It was the corporal, making this movement, in order to awake him. In an instant the young man was on his feet, with his rifle in his hand.

"Did you not hear it, Bourdon?" demanded the corporal, in a tone so low as scarce to exceed a whisper.

"Hear what! I've been sleeping, sound as a bee in winter."

"The horn!--The horn has been blown twice, and, I think, we shall soon hear it again."

"The horn was hanging at the door of the chiente, and the conch, too. It will be easy to see if they are in their places."

It was only necessary to walk around the walls of the hut, to its opposite side, in order to ascertain this fact. Le Bourdon did so, accompanied by the corporal, and just as each laid a hand on the instruments, which were suspended in their proper places, a heavy rush was made against the gate, as if to try its fastenings. These pushes were repeated several times, with a violence that menaced the bars. Of course, the two men stepped to the spot, a distance of only a few paces, the gateway of the palisades and the door of the chiente being contiguous to each other, and immediately ascertained that it was the mastiff, endeavoring to force his way in. The bee- hunter admitted the dog, which had been trained to suppress his bark, though this animal was too brave and large to throw away his breath when he had better rely on his force. Powerful animals, of this race, are seldom noisy, it being the province of the cur, both among dogs and men, to be blustering and spitting out their venom, at all hours and seasons. Hive, however, in addition to his natural disposition, had been taught, from the time he was a pup, not to betray his presence unnecessarily by a bark; and it was seldom that his deep throat opened beneath the arches of the oaks. When it did, it told like the roaring of the lion in the desert.

Hive was no sooner admitted to the "garrison," than he manifested just as strong a desire to get out, as a moment before he had manifested to get in. This, le Bourdon well knew, indicated the presence of some thing, or creature, that did not properly belong to the vicinity. After consulting with the corporal, Pigeonswing was called; and leaving him as a sentinel at the gate, the two others made a sortie. The corporal was as brave as a lion, and loved all such movements, though he fully anticipated encountering savages, while his companion expected an interview with bears.

As this movement was made at the invitation of the dog, it was judiciously determined to let him act as pioneer, on the advance. Previously to quitting the defences, however, the two adventurers looked closely to their arms. Each examined the priming, saw that his horn and pouch were accessible, and loosened his knife in its sheath. The corporal, moreover, fixed his "baggonet," as he called the formidable, glittering instrument that usually embellished the end of his musket--a musket being the weapon he chose to carry, while the bee-hunter himself was armed with a long western rifle.

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