Oak Openings

by James Fenimore Cooper

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XX.

     --Therefore, go with me;
     I'll give the fairies to attend on thee;
     And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
     --Peas-blossom! cobweb! moth! and mustard-seed,
                                    --Midsummer-Night's Dream

As le Bourdon kept moving across the prairie, while the remarks were made that have been recorded in the preceding chapter, he soon reached the new position where he intended to again set up his stand. Here he renewed his operations; Peter keeping nearest his person, in jealous watchfulness of the least movement he made. Bees were caught, and scarce a minute elapsed ere the bee-hunter had two of them on the piece of comb, uncovered and at liberty. The circumstance that the cap was momentarily placed over the insects, struck the savages as a piece of necromancy, in particular. The reader will understand that this is done in order to darken the tumbler, and induce the bee to settle down on the honey so much the sooner. To one who understood the operation and its reason, the whole was simple enough; but it was a very different matter with men as little accustomed to prying into the habits of creatures as insignificant as bees. Had deer, or bisons, or bears, or any of the quadrupeds of those regions, been the subject of the experiment, it is highly probable that individuals could have been found in that attentive and wondering crowd, who could have enlightened the ablest naturalists on the subject of the animals under examination; but when the inquiry descended to the bee, it went below the wants and usages of savage life.

"Where you t'ink dis bee go?" demanded Peter, in English, as soon as le Bourdon raised the tumbler.

"One will go in this direction, the other in that," answered the bee-hunter, pointing first toward the corner of the woods, then toward the island in the prairie--the two points toward which two of the other bees had flown.

The predictions might or might not prove true. If they did, the effect must be great; if they did not, the failure would soon be forgotten in matters of more interest. Our hero, therefore, risked but little, while he had the chance of gaining a very great advantage. By a fortunate coincidence, the result completely justified the prediction. A bee rose, made its circles around the stand, and away it went toward the island-like copse in the prairie; while its companion soon imitated its example, but taking the other prescribed direction. This time Peter watched the insects so closely that he was a witness of their movements, and with his own eyes he beheld the flight, as well as the direction taken by each.

"You tell bee do dis?" demanded Peter, with a surprise that was so sudden, as well as so great, that it overcame in some slight degree his habitual self-command.

"To be sure I did," replied le Bourdon, carelessly. "If you wish to see another, you may."

Here the young man coolly took another bee, and put it on the comb. Indifferent as he appeared, however, he used what was perhaps the highest degree of his art in selecting this insect. It was taken from the bunch of flowers whence one of his former captives had been taken, and there was every chance of its belonging to the same hive as its companion. Which direction it might take, should it prove to be a bee from either of the two hives of which the positions were now known, it altogether exceeded Boden's art to tell, so he dexterously avoided committing himself. It was enough that Peter gazed attentively, and that he saw the insect dart away, disappearing in the direction of the island. By this time more of the savages were on the alert, and now knowing how and where to look for the bee, they also saw its course.

"You tell him ag'in go dere?" asked Peter, whose interest by this time was so manifest, as to defy all attempts at concealment.

"To be sure I did. The bees obey me, as your young men obey you. I am their chief, and they know me. I will give you further proof of this. We will now go to that little bit of wood, when you shall all see what it contains. I have sent three of my bees there; and here, one of them is already back, to let me know what he has seen."

Sure enough, a bee was buzzing around the head of le Bourdon, probably attracted by some fragment of comb, and he cunningly converted it into a messenger from the copse! All this was wonderful to the crowd, and it even greatly troubled Peter. This man was much less liable to the influence of superstition than most of his people; but he was very far from being altogether above it. This is the fact with very few civilized men; perhaps with no man whatever, let his philosophy and knowledge be what they may; and least of all, is it true with the ignorant. There is too much of the uncertain, of the conjectural in our condition as human beings, to raise us altogether above the distrusts, doubts, wonder, and other weaknesses of our present condition. To these simple savages, the manner in which the bees flew, seemingly at le Bourdon's bidding, to this or that thicket, was quite as much a matter of astonishment, as any of our most elaborate deceptions are wonders to our own ignorant and vulgar. Ignorant! And where is the line to be drawn that is to place men beyond the pale of ignorance? Each of us fails in some one, if not in very many of the important branches of the knowledge that is even reduced to rules Among us. Here is seen the man of books, so ignorant of the application of his own beloved theories, as to be a mere child in practice; and there, again, can be seen the expert in practice, who is totally unacquainted with a single principle of the many that lie at the root of his very handicraft. Let us not, then, deride these poor children of the forest, because that which was so entirely new to them, should also appear inexplicable and supernatural.

As for Peter, he was more confounded than convinced. His mind was so much superior to those of the other chiefs, as to render him far more difficult to mislead; though even he was not exempt from the great weaknesses of ignorance, superstition, and its concomitants-- credulity, and a love of the marvellous. His mind was troubled, as was quite apparent to Ben, who watched him quite as narrowly as he was observed himself, in all he did. Willing to deepen the impression, our artist now determined to exhibit some of the higher fruits of his skill. The production of a considerable quantity of honey would of itself be a sort of peace-offering, and he now prepared to turn the certainty of there being a hive in the little wood to account--certainty, because three bees had taken wing for it, and a very distinct angle had been made with two of them.

"Does my brother wish any honey?" asked le Bourdon carelessly; "or shall I send a bee across Lake Michigan, to tell the Injins further west that Detroit is taken?"

"Can Bourdon find honey, now?" demanded Peter.

"Easily. Several hives are within a mile of us. The bees like this prairie, which is so well garnished with flowers, and I am never at a loss for work, in this neighborhood. This is my favorite bee- ground; and I have got all the little creatures so that they know me, and are ready to do everything that I tell them. As I see that the chiefs love honey, and wish to eat some, we will now go to one of my hives."

Thus saying, le Bourdon prepared for another march. He moved with all his appliances, Margery keeping close at his side, carrying the honey-comb and honey. As the girl walked lightly, in advance of the Indians, some fifteen or twenty bees, attracted by the flavor of what she carried, kept circling around her head, and consequently around that of Boden; and Peter did not fail to observe the circumstance. To him it appeared as if these bees were so many accompanying agents, who attended their master in order to do his bidding. In a word, Peter was fast getting into that frame of mind, when all that is seen is pressed into the support of the theory we have adopted. The bee-hunter had some mysterious connection with, and control over the bees, and this was one among the many other signs of the existence of his power. All this, however, Boden himself disregarded. His mind was bent on throwing dust into the eyes of the Indians; and he was cogitating the means of so doing, on a much larger scale than any yet attempted.

"Why dem bee fly 'round young squaw?" demanded Peter--"and fly round you, too?"

"They know us, and go with us to their hive; just as Injins would come out of their villages to meet and honor visitors."

This was a ready reply, but it scarcely satisfied the wily savage to whom it was given. Just then Crowsfeather led Peter a little aside, and began talking earnestly to that chief, both continuing on with the crowd. Le Bourdon felt persuaded that the subject of this private conference was some of his own former backslidings in the character of conjuror, and that the Pottawattamie would not deal very tenderly with his character. Nevertheless, it was too late to retrace his steps, and he saw the necessity of going on.

"I wish you had not come out with us," the bee-hunter found an occasion to say to Margery. "I do not half like the state of things, and this conjuration about the bees may all fall through."

"It is better that I should be here, Bourdon," returned the spirited girl. "My being here may make them less unfriendly to you. When I am by, Peter always seems more human, and less of a savage, they all tell me, than when I am not by."

"No one can be more willing to own your power, Margery, than I; but Injins hold the squaws too cheap, to give you much influence over this old fellow."

"You do not know--he may have had a daughter of about my age, or size, or appearance; or with my laugh, or voice, or something else that reminds him of her, when he sees me. One thing I am sure of-- Peter is no enemy of mine"

"I hope this may prove to be true! I do not see, after all, why an Injin should not have the feelin's you name. He is a man, and must feel for his wife and children, the same as other--"

"Bourdon, what ails the dog? Look at the manner in which Hive is behaving!"

Sure enough, the appearance of Hive was sufficiently obvious to attract his master's attention. By this time the crowd had got within twenty rods of the little island-like copse of wood, the mastiff being nearly half that distance in advance. Instead of preceding the party, however, Hive had raised his form in a menacing manner, and moved cautiously from side to side, like one of his kind that scents a foe. There was no mistaking these movements; and all the principal chiefs soon had their attention also drawn to the behavior of the dog.

"Why he do so?" asked Peter. "He 'fraid of bee, eh?"

"He waits for me to come up," answered le Bourdon. "Let my brother and two other chiefs come with me, and let the rest stay here. Bees do not like crowds. Corporal, I put Margery in your keeping, and Parson Amen will be near you. I now go to show these chiefs what a bee can tell a man."

Thus saying, le Bourdon advanced, followed by Peter, Bear's Meat, and Crowsfeather. Our hero had made up his mind that something more than bees were to be found in the thicket; for, the place being a little marshy, bushes as well as trees were growing on it, and he fully expected a rencontre with bears, the creatures most disposed to prey on the labors of the bee--man excepted. Being well armed, and accompanied by men accustomed to such struggles, he had no apprehensions, and led the way boldly, feeling the necessity of manifesting perfect confidence in all his own acts, in order to command the respect of the observers. As soon as the bee-hunter passed the dog, the latter growled, showed his teeth fiercely, and followed, keeping closely at his side. The confidence and alacrity with which le Bourdon moved into the thicket, compelled his companions to be on the alert; though the first broke through the belt of hazels which enclosed the more open area within, a few instants before the Indians reached the place. Then it was that there arose such a yell, such screechings and cries, as reached far over the prairie, and might have appalled the stoutest heart. The picture that was soon offered to the eye was not less terrific than the sounds which assailed the ear. Hundreds of savages, in their war-paint, armed, and in a crowded maze, arose as it might be by one effort, seemingly out of the earth, and began to leap and play their antics amid the trees. The sudden spectacle of a crowd of such beings, nearly naked, frightfully painted, and tossing their arms here and there, while each yelled like a demon, was enough to overcome the nerves of a very resolute man. But le Bourdon was prepared for a conflict and even felt relieved rather than alarmed, when he saw the savages. His ready mind at once conceived the truth. This band belonged to the chiefs, and composed the whole, or a principal part of the force which he knew they must have outlying somewhere on the prairies, or in the openings. He had sufficiently understood the hints of Pigeonswing to be prepared for such a meeting, and at no time, of late, had he approached a cover, without remembering the possibility of its containing Indians.

Instead of betraying alarm, therefore, when this cloud of phantom- like beings rose before his eyes, le Bourdon stood firm, merely turning toward the chiefs behind him, to ascertain if they were taken by surprise, as well as himself. It was apparent that they were; for, understanding that a medicine-ceremony was to take place on the prairie, these young men had preceded the party from the hut, and had, ununknown to all the chiefs, got possession of this copse, as the best available cover, whence to make their observations on what was going on.

"My brother sees his young men," said le Bourdon, quietly, the instant a dead calm had succeeded to the outcries with which he had been greeted. "I thought he might wish to say something to them, and my bees told me where to find them. Does my brother wish to know anything else?"

Great was the wonder of the three chiefs, at this exhibition of medicine power! So far from suspecting the truth, or of detecting the lucky coincidence by which le Bourdon had been led to the cover of their warriors, it all appeared to them to be pure necromancy. Such an art must be of great service; and how useful it would be to the warrior on his path, to be accompanied by one who could thus command the vigilance of the bees.

"You find enemy all same as friend?" demanded Peter, letting out the thought that was uppermost, in the question.

"To be sure. It makes no difference with a bee; he can find an enemy as easily as he can find a friend.'

"No whiskey-spring dis time?" put in Crowsfeather, a little inopportunely, and with a distrust painted in his swarthy face that le Bourdon did not like.

"Pottawattamie, you do not understand medicine-men. Ought I to have shown your young men where whiskey was to be had for nothing? Ask yourself that question. Did you wish to see your young men wallowing like hogs in such a spring? What would the great medicine-priest of the pale-faces, who is out yonder, have said to that?"

This was a coup de maitre on the part of the bee-hunter. Until that moment, the affair of the whiskey-spring had weighed heavily in the balance against him; but now, it was suddenly changed over in the scales, and told as strongly in his favor. Even a savage can understand the morality which teaches men to preserve their reason, and not to lower themselves to the level of brutes, by swallowing "fire-water"; and Crowsfeather suddenly saw a motive for regarding our hero with the eyes of favor, instead of those of distrust and dislike.

"What the pale-face says is true," observed Peter to his companion. "Had he opened his spring, your warrior would have been weaker than women. He is a wonderful medicine-man, and we must not provoke him to anger. How could he know, but through his bees, that our young men were here?"

This question could not be answered; and when the chiefs, followed by the whole band of warriors, some three or four hundred in number came out upon the open prairie, all that had passed was communicated to those who awaited their return, in a few brief, but clear explanations. Le Bourdon found a moment to let Margery comprehend his position and views, while Parson Amen and the corporal were put sufficiently on their guard not to make any unfortunate blunder. The last was much more easily managed than the first. So exceedingly sensitive was the conscience of the priest, that had he clearly understood the game le Bourdon was playing, he might have revolted at the idea of necromancy, as touching on the province of evil spirits; but he was so well mystified as to suppose all that passed was regularly connected with the art of taking bees. In this respect, he and the Indians equally resembled one of those familiar pictures, in which we daily see men, in masses, contributing to their own deception and subjection, while they fondly but blindly imagine that they are not only inventors, but masters. This trade of mastery, after all, is the property of a very few minds; and no precaution of the prudent, no forethought of the wary, nor any expedient of charters, constitutions, or restrictions, will prevent the few from placing their feet on the neck of the many. We may revive the fable of King Log and King Stork, as often, and in as many forms as we will; it will ever be the fable of King Log and King Stork. We are no admirers of political aristocracies, as a thousand paragraphs from our pen will prove; and, as for monarchs, we have long thought they best enact their parts, when most responsible to opinion; but we cannot deceive ourselves on the subject of the atrocities that are daily committed by those who are ever ready to assume the places of both, making their fellow- creatures in masses their dupes, and using those that they affect to serve.

Ben Boden was now a sort of "gouvernement provisoire" among the wondering savages who surrounded him. He had got them to believe in necromancy--a very considerable step toward the exercise of despotic power. It is true, he hardly knew, himself, what was to be done next; but he saw quite distinctly that he was in a dilemma, and must manage to get out of it by some means or other. If he could only succeed in this instance, as well as he had succeeded in his former essay in the black art, all might be well, and Margery be carried in triumph into the settlements. Margery, pro haec vice, was his goddess of liberty, and he asked for no higher reward, than to be permitted to live the remainder of his days in the sunshine of her smiles. Liberty! a word that is, just now, in all men's mouths, but in how few hearts in its purity and truth! What a melancholy mistake, moreover, to suppose that, could it be enjoyed in that perfection with which the imaginations of men love to cheat their judgments, it is the great good of life! One hour spent in humble veneration for the Being that gave it, in common with all of earth, its vacillating and uncertain existence, is of more account than ages passed in its service; and he who fancies that in worshipping liberty, he answers the great end of his existence, hugs a delusion quite as weak, and infinitely more dangerous, than that which now came over the minds of Peter and his countrymen, in reference to the intelligence of the bee. It is a good thing to possess the defective and qualified freedom, which we term "liberty"; but it is a grave error to set it up as an idol to be worshipped.

"What my brother do next?" demanded Bear's Meat, who, being a somewhat vulgar-minded savage, was all for striking and wonder- working exhibitions of necromancy. "P'raps he find some honey now?"

"If you wish it, chief. What says Peter?--shall I ask my bees to tell where there is a hive?"

As Peter very readily assented, le Bourdon next set about achieving this new feat in his art. The reader will recollect that the positions of two hives were already known to the bee-hunter, by means of that very simple and every-day process by which he earned his bread. One of these hives was in the point of wood already mentioned, that lay along the margin of the prairie; while the other was in this very copse, where the savages had secreted themselves. Boden had now no thought of giving any further disturbance to this last-named colony of insects; for an insight into their existence might disturb the influence obtained by the jugglery of the late discovery, and he at once turned his attention toward the other hive indicated by his bees.

Nor did le Bourdon now deem it necessary to resort to his usual means of carrying on his trade. These were not necessary to one who knew already where the hive was to be found, while it opened the way to certain mummeries that might be made to tell well in support of his assumed character. Catching a bee, then, and keeping it confined within his tumbler, Ben held the last to his ear, as if listening to what the fluttering insect had to say. Having seemingly satisfied himself on this point, he desired the chiefs once more to follow him, having first let the bee go, with a good deal of ceremony. This set all in motion again; the party being now increased by the whole band of savages who had been "put up" from their cover.

By this time, Margery began to tremble for the consequences. She had held several short conferences with le Bourdon, as they walked together, and had penetrated far enough into his purposes to see that he was playing a ticklish game. It might succeed for a time, but she feared it must fail in the end; and there was always the risk of incurring the summary vengeance of savages. Perhaps she did not fully appreciate the power of superstition, and the sluggishness of the mind that once submits to its influence; while her woman's heart made her keenly alive to all those frightful consequences that must attend an exposure. Nevertheless, nothing could now be done to avert the consequences. It was too late to recede, and things must take their course, even at all the hazards of the case. That she might not be wholly useless, when her lover was risking so much for herself--Margery well understanding that her escape was the only serious difficulty the bee-hunter apprehended--the girl turned all her attention to Peter, in whose favor she felt that she had been daily growing, and on whose pleasure so much must depend. Changing her position a little, she now came closer to the chief than she had hitherto done.

"Squaw like medicine-man?" asked Peter, with a significance of expression that raised a blush in Margery's cheek.

"You mean to ask me if I like to see medicine-men perform," answered Margery, with the readiness of her sex. "White women are always curious, they say--how is it with the women of the red men?"

"Juss so--full of cur'osity. Squaw is squaw--no matter what color."

"I am sorry, Peter, you do not think better of squaws. Perhaps you never had a squaw--no wife, or daughter?"

A gleam of powerful feeling shot athwart the dark countenance of the Indian, resembling the glare of the electric fluid flashing on a cloud at midnight; but it passed away as quickly as it appeared, leaving in its stead the hard, condensed expression, which the intensity of a purpose so long entertained and cultivated, had imprinted there, as indelibly as if cut in stone.

"All chief have squaw--all chief have pappoose--" was the answer that came at last. "What he good for, eh?"

"It is always good to have children, Peter; especially when the children themselves are good."

"Good for pale-face, maybe--no good for Injin. Pale-face glad when pappoose born--red-skin sorry."

"I hope this is not so. Why should an Injin be sorry to see the laugh of his little son?"

"Laugh when he little--p'raps so; he little, and don't know what happen. But Injin don't laugh any more when he grow up. Game gone; land gone; corn-field gone. No more room for Injin--pale-face want all. Pale-face young man laugh--red-skin young man cry. Dat how it is."

"Oh! I hope not, Peter! I should be sorry to think it was so. The red man has as good a right--nay, he has a better right to this country than we whites; and God forbid that he should not always have his full share of the land!"

Margery probably owed her life to that honest, natural burst of feeling, which was uttered with a warmth and sincerity that could leave no doubt that the sentiment expressed came from the heart. Thus singularly are we constructed! A minute before, and no exemption was made in the mind of Peter, in behalf of this girl, in the plan he had formed for cutting off the whites; on the contrary, he had often be-thought him of the number of young pale-faces that might be, as it were, strangled in their cradles, by including the bee-hunter and his intended squaw in the contemplated sacrifice. All this was changed, as in the twinkling of an eye, by Margery's honest and fervent expression of her sense of right, on the great subject that occupied all of Peter's thoughts. These sudden impulses in the direction of love for our species, the second of the high lessons left by the Redeemer to his disciples, are so many proofs of the creation of man in the image of his maker. They exert their power often when least expected, and are ever stamped by the same indelible impression of their divine origin. Without these occasional glimpses at those qualities which are so apt to lie dormant, we might indeed despair of the destinies of our race. We are, however, in safe and merciful hands; and all the wonderful events that are at this moment developing themselves around us, are no other than the steps taken by Providence in the progress it is steadily making toward the great and glorious end! Some of the agencies will be corrupt; others deluded; and no one of them all, perhaps, will pursue with unerring wisdom the precise path that ought to be taken; but even the crimes, errors, and delusions, will be made instrumental in achieving that which was designed before the foundations of this world were laid!

"Does my daughter wish this?" returned Peter, when Margery had thus frankly and sincerely given vent to her feelings. "Can a pale-face squaw wish to leave an Injin any of his hunting-grounds?"

"Thousands of us wish it, Peter, and I for one. Often and often have we talked of this around our family fire, and even Gershom, when his head has not been affected by fire-water, has thought as we all have thought. I know that Bourdon thinks so, too; and I have heard him say that he thought Congress ought to pass a law to prevent white men from getting any more of the Injin's lands."

The face of Peter would have been a remarkable study, during the few moments that his fierce will was in the process of being brought in subjugation to the influence of his better feelings. At first he appeared bewildered; then compunction had its shade; and human sympathy came last, asserting its long dormant, but inextinguishable power. Margery saw some of this, though it far exceeded her penetration to read all the workings of that stern and savage mind; yet she felt encouraged by what she did see and understand.

While an almighty and divine Providence was thus carrying out its own gracious designs in its own way, the bee-hunter continued bent on reaching a similar end by means of his own. Little did he imagine how much had been done for him within the last few moments, and how greatly all he had in view was jeoparded and put at risk by his own contrivances--contrivances which seemed to him so clever, but which were wanting in the unerring simplicity and truth that render those that come from above infallible. Still, the expedients of le Bourdon may have had their agency in bringing about events, and may have been intended to be a part of that moral machinery, which was now at work in the breast of Peter, for good.

It will be remembered that the bee-hunter habitually carried a small spy-glass, as a part of the implements of his calling. It enabled him to watch the bees, as they went in and came out of the hives, on the highest trees, and often saved him hours of fruitless search. This glass was now in his hand; for an object on a dead tree, that rose a little apart from those around it, and which stood quite near the extreme point in the forest, toward which they were all proceeding, had caught his attention. The distance was still too great to ascertain by the naked eye what that object was; but a single look with the glass showed that it was a bear. This was an old enemy of the bee-hunter, who often encountered the animal, endeavoring to get at the honey, and he had on divers occasions been obliged to deal with these plunderers, before he could succeed in his own plans of pilfering. The bear now seen continued in sight but an instant; the height to which he had clambered being so great, most probably, as to weary him with the effort, and to compel him to fall back again. All this was favorable to le Bourdon's wishes, who immediately called a halt. The first thing that Bourdon did, when all the dark eyes were gleaming on him in fierce curiosity, was to catch a bee and hold it to his ear, as it buzzed about in the tumbler.

"You t'ink dat bee talk?" Peter asked of Margery, in a tone of confidence, as if a newly-awakened principle now existed between them.

"Bourdon must think so, Peter," the girl evasively answered, "or he would hardly listen to hear what it says."

"It's strange, bee should talk! Almos' as strange as pale-face wish to leave Injin any land! Sartain, bee talk, eh?"

"I never heard one talk, Peter, unless it might be in its buzzing. That may be the tongue of a bee, for anything I know to the contrary."

By this time le Bourdon seemed to be satisfied, and let the bee go; the savages murmuring their wonder and admiration.

"Do my brothers wish to hunt?" asked the bee-hunter in a voice so loud that all near might hear what he had to say.

This question produced a movement at once. Skill in hunting, next to success on the war-path, constitutes the great merit of an Indian; and it is ever his delight to show that he possesses it. No sooner did le Bourdon throw out his feeler, therefore, than a general exclamation proclaimed the readiness of all the young men, in particular, to join in the chase.

"Let my brothers come closer," said Ben, in an authoritative manner; "I have something to put into their ears. They see that point of wood, where the dead basswood has fallen on the prairie. Near that basswood is honey, and near that honey are bears. This my bees have told me. Now, let my brothers divide, and some go into the woods, and some stay on the prairie; then they will have plenty of sweet food."

As all this was very simple, and easily to be comprehended, not a moment was lost in the execution. With surprising order and aptitude, the chiefs led off their parties; one line of dark warriors penetrating the forest on the eastern side of the basswood, and another on its western; while a goodly number scattered themselves on the prairie itself, in its front. In less than a quarter of an hour, signals came from the forest that the battue was ready, and Peter gave the answering sign to proceed.

Down to this moment, doubts existed among the savages concerning the accuracy of le Bourdon's statement. How was it possible that his bees should tell him where he could find bears? To be sure, bears were the great enemies of bees--this every Indian knew--but could the bees have a faculty of thus arming one enemy against another? These doubts, however, were soon allayed by the sudden appearance of a drove of bears, eight or ten in number, that came waddling out of the woods, driven before the circle of shouting hunters that had been formed within.

Now commenced a scene of wild tumult and of fierce delight. The warriors on the prairie retired before their enemies until all of their associates were clear of the forest, when the circle swiftly closed again, until it had brought the bears to something like close quarters. Bear's Meat, as became his appellation, led off the dance, letting fly an arrow at the nearest animal. Astounded by the great number of their enemies, and not a little appalled by their yells, the poor quadrupeds did not know which way to turn. Occasionally, attempts were made to break through the circle, but the flight of arrows, aimed directly at their faces, invariably drove the creatures back. Fire-arms were not resorted to at all in this hunt, spears and arrows being the weapons depended on. Several ludicrous incidents occurred, but none that were tragical. One or two of the more reckless of the hunters, ambitious of shining before the representatives of so many tribes, ran rather greater risks than were required, but they escaped with a few smart scratches. In one instance, however, a young Indian had a still narrower squeeze for his life. Literally a squeeze it was, for, suffering himself to get within the grasp of a bear, he came near being pressed to death, ere his companions could dispatch the creature. As for the prisoner, the only means he had to prevent his being bitten, was to thrust the head of his spear into the bear's mouth, where he succeeded in holding it, spite of the animal's efforts to squeeze him into submission. By the time this combat was terminated, the field was strewn with the slain; every one of the bears having been killed by hunters so much practised in the art of destroying game.

Return to the Oak Openings Summary Return to the James Fenimore Cooper Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.