JAMES FENNIMORE COOPER
It ought to be matter of surprise how men live in the midst of marvels, without taking heed of their existence. The slightest derangement of their accustomed walks in political or social life shall excite all their wonder, and furnish themes for their discussions, for months; while the prodigies that come from above are presented daily to their eyes, and are received without surprise, as things of course. In a certain sense, this may be well enough, inasmuch as all which comes directly from the hands of the Creator may be said so far to exceed the power of human comprehension, as to be beyond comment; but the truth would show us that the cause of this neglect is rather a propensity to dwell on such interests as those over which we have a fancied control, than on those which confessedly transcend our understanding. Thus is it ever with men. The wonders of creation meet them at every turn, without awakening reflection, while their minds labor on subjects that are not only ephemeral and illusory, but which never attain an elevation higher than that the most sordid interests can bestow.
For ourselves, we firmly believe that the finger of Providence is pointing the way to all races, and colors, and nations, along the path that is to lead the east and the west alike to the great goal of human wants. Demons infest that path, and numerous and unhappy are the wanderings of millions who stray from its course; sometimes in reluctance to proceed; sometimes in an indiscreet haste to move faster than their fellows, and always in a forgetfulness of the great rules of conduct that have been handed down from above. Nevertheless, the main course is onward; and the day, in the sense of time, is not distant, when the whole earth is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, "as the waters cover the sea."
One of the great stumbling-blocks with a large class of well- meaning, but narrow-judging moralists, are the seeming wrongs that are permitted by Providence, in its control of human events. Such persons take a one-sided view of things, and reduce all principles to the level of their own understandings. If we could comprehend the relations which the Deity bears to us, as well as we can comprehend the relations we bear to him, there might be a little seeming reason in these doubts; but when one of the parties in this mighty scheme of action is a profound mystery to the other, it is worse than idle, it is profane, to attempt to explain those things which our minds are not yet sufficiently cleared from the dross of earth to understand. Look at Italy, at this very moment. The darkness and depression from which that glorious peninsula is about to emerge are the fruits of long-continued dissensions and an iron despotism, which is at length broken by the impulses left behind him by a ruthless conqueror, who, under the appearance and the phrases of Liberty, contended only for himself. A more concentrated egotism than that of Napoleon probably never existed; yet has it left behind it seeds of personal rights that have sprung up by the wayside, and which are likely to take root with a force that will bid defiance to eradication. Thus is it ever, with the progress of society. Good appears to arise out of evil, and the inscrutable ways of Providence are vindicated by general results, rather than by instances of particular care. We leave the application of these remarks to the intelligence of such of our readers as may have patience to peruse the work that will be found in the succeeding pages.
We have a few words of explanation to say, in connection with the machinery of our tale. In the first place, we would remark, that the spelling of "burr-oak," as given in this book, is less our own than an office spelling. We think it should be "bur-oak," and this for the simple reason, that the name is derived from the fact that the acorn borne by this tree is partially covered with a bur. Old Sam Johnson, however, says that "burr" means the lobe, or lap of the ear; and those who can fancy such a resemblance between this and the covering of our acorn, are at liberty to use the two final consonants. Having commenced stereotyping with this supernumerary, for the sake of uniformity that mode of spelling, wrong as we think it, has been continued through-out the book.
There is nothing imaginary in the fertility of the West. Personal observation has satisfied us that it much surpasses anything that exists in the Atlantic States, unless in exceptions, through the agency of great care and high manuring, or in instances of peculiar natural soil. In these times, men almost fly. We have passed over a thousand miles of territory within the last few days, and have brought the pictures at the two extremes of this journey in close proximity in our mind's eye. Time may lessen that wonderful fertility, and bring the whole country more on a level; but there it now is, a glorious gift from God, which it is devoutly to be wished may be accepted with due gratitude and with a constant recollection of his unwavering rules of right and wrong, by those who have been selected to enjoy it.
THE OAK OPENINGS.
How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day, From every opening flower. WATTS' HYMNS FOR CHILDREN.
We have heard of those who fancied that they beheld a signal instance of the hand of the Creator in the celebrated cataract of Niagara. Such instances of the power of sensible and near objects to influence certain minds, only prove how much easier it is to impress the imaginations of the dull with images that are novel, than with those that are less apparent, though of infinitely greater magnitude. Thus it would seem to be strange indeed, that any human being should find more to wonder at in any one of the phenomena of the earth, than in the earth itself; or should especially stand astonished at the might of Him who created the world, when each night brings into view a firmament studded with other worlds, each equally the work of His hands!
Nevertheless, there is (at bottom) a motive for adoration, in the study of the lowest fruits of the wisdom and power of God. The leaf is as much beyond our comprehension of remote causes, as much a subject of intelligent admiration, as the tree which bears it: the single tree confounds our knowledge and researches the same as the entire forest; and, though a variety that appears to be endless pervades the world, the same admirable adaptation of means to ends, the same bountiful forethought, and the same benevolent wisdom, are to be found in the acorn, as in the gnarled branch on which it grew.
The American forest has so often been described, as to cause one to hesitate about reviving scenes that might possibly pall, and in retouching pictures that have been so frequently painted as to be familiar to every mind. But God created the woods, and the themes bestowed by his bounty are inexhaustible. Even the ocean, with its boundless waste of water, has been found to be rich in its various beauties and marvels; and he who shall bury himself with us, once more, in the virgin forests of this widespread land, may possibly discover new subjects of admiration, new causes to adore the Being that has brought all into existence, from the universe to its most minute particle.
The precise period of our legend was in the year 1812, and the season of the year the pleasant month of July, which had now drawn near to its close. The sun was already approaching the western limits of a wooded view, when the actors in its opening scene must appear on a stage that is worthy of a more particular description.
The region was, in one sense, wild, though it offered a picture that was not without some of the strongest and most pleasing features of civilization. The country was what is termed "rolling," from some fancied resemblance to the surface of the ocean, when it is just undulating with a long "ground-swell."
Although wooded, it was not, as the American forest is wont to grow, with tail straight trees towering toward the light, but with intervals between the low oaks that were scattered profusely over the view, and with much of that air of negligence that one is apt to see in grounds where art is made to assume the character of nature. The trees, with very few exceptions, were what is called the "burr- oak," a small variety of a very extensive genus; and the spaces between them, always irregular, and often of singular beauty, have obtained the name of "openings"; the two terms combined giving their appellation to this particular species of native forest, under the name of "Oak Openings."
These woods, so peculiar to certain districts of country, are not altogether without some variety, though possessing a general character of sameness. The trees were of very uniform size, being little taller than pear-trees, which they resemble a good deal in form; and having trunks that rarely attain two feet in diameter. The variety is produced by their distribution. In places they stand with a regularity resembling that of an orchard; then, again, they are more scattered and less formal, while wide breadths of the land are occasionally seen in which they stand in copses, with vacant spaces, that bear no small affinity to artificial lawns, being covered with verdure. The grasses are supposed to be owing to the fires lighted periodically by the Indians in order to clear their hunting-grounds.
Toward one of these grassy glades, which was spread on an almost imperceptible acclivity, and which might have contained some fifty or sixty acres of land, the reader is now requested to turn his eyes. Far in the wilderness as was the spot, four men were there, and two of them had even some of the appliances of civilization about them. The woods around were the then unpeopled forest of Michigan; and the small winding reach of placid water that was just visible in the distance, was an elbow of the Kalamazoo, a beautiful little river that flows westward, emptying its tribute into the vast expanse of Lake Michigan. Now, this river has already become known, by its villages and farms, and railroads and mills; but then, not a dwelling of more pretension than the wigwam of the Indian, or an occasional shanty of some white adventurer, had ever been seen on its banks. In that day, the whole of that fine peninsula, with the exception of a narrow belt of country along the Detroit River, which was settled by the French as far back as near the close of the seventeenth century, was literally a wilderness. If a white man found his way into it, it was as an Indian trader, a hunter, or an adventurer in some other of the pursuits connected with border life and the habits of the savages.
Of this last character were two of the men on the open glade just mentioned, while their companions were of the race of the aborigines. What is much more remarkable, the four were absolutely strangers to each other's faces, having met for the first time in their lives, only an hour previously to the commencement of our tale. By saying that they were strangers to each other, we do not mean that the white men were acquaintances, and the Indians strangers, but that neither of the four had ever seen either of the party until they met on that grassy glade, though fame had made them somewhat acquainted through their reputations. At the moment when we desire to present this group to the imagination of the reader, three of its number were grave and silent observers of the movements of the fourth. The fourth individual was of middle size, young, active, exceedingly well formed, and with a certain open and frank expression of countenance, that rendered him at least well-looking, though slightly marked with the small-pox. His real name was Benjamin Boden, though he was extensively known throughout the northwestern territories by the sobriquet of Ben Buzz—extensively as to distances, if not as to people. By the voyageurs, and other French of that region, he was almost universally styled le Bourdon^ or the "Drone"; not, however, from his idleness or inactivity, but from the circumstances that he was notorious for laying his hands on the products of labor that proceeded from others. In a word, Ben Boden was a "bee-hunter," and as he was one of the first to exercise his craft in that portion of the country, so was he infinitely the most skilful and prosperous. The honey of le Bourdon was not only thought to be purer and of higher flavor than that of any other trader in the article, but it was much the most abundant. There were a score of respectable families on the two banks of the Detroit, who never purchased of any one else, but who patiently waited for the arrival of the capacious bark canoe of Buzz, in the autumn, to lay in their supplies of this savory nutriment for the approaching winter. The whole family of griddle cakes, including those of buckwheat, Indian rice, and wheaten flour, were more or less dependent on the safe arrival of le Bourdon, for their popularity and welcome. Honey was eaten with all; and wild honey had a reputation, rightfully or not obtained, that even rendered it more welcome than that which was formed by the labor and art of the domesticated bee.
The dress of le Bourdon was well adapted to his pursuits and life. He wore a hunting-shirt and trousers, made of thin stuff, which was dyed green, and trimmed with yellow fringe. This was the ordinary forest attire of the American rifleman; being of a character, as it was thought, to conceal the person in the woods, by blending its hues with those of the forest. On his head Ben wore a skin cap, somewhat smartly made, but without the fur; the weather being warm. His moccasins were a good deal wrought, but seemed to be fading under the exposure of many marches. His arms were excellent; but all his martial accoutrements, even to a keen long-bladed knife, were suspended from the rammer of his rifle; the weapon itself being allowed to lean, in careless confidence, against the trunk of the nearest oak, as if their master felt there was no immediate use for them.
Not so with the other three. Not only was each man well armed, but each man kept his trusty rifle hugged to his person, in a sort of jealous watchfulness; while the other white man, from time to time, secretly, but with great minuteness, examined the flint and priming of his own piece.
This second pale-face was a very different person from him just described. He was still young, tall, sinewy, gaunt, yet springy and strong, stooping and round-shouldered, with a face that carried a very decided top-light in it, like that of the notorious Bardolph. In short, whiskey had dyed the countenance of Gershom Waring with a tell-tale hue, that did not less infallibly betray his destination than his speech denoted his origin, which was clearly from one of the States of New England. But Gershom had been so long at the Northwest as to have lost many of his peculiar habits and opinions, and to have obtained substitutes.
Of the Indians, one, an elderly, wary, experienced warrior, was a Pottawattamie, named Elksfoot, who was well known at all the trading-houses and "garrisons" of the northwestern territory, including Michigan as low down as Detroit itself. The other red man was a young Chippewa, or O-jeb-way, as the civilized natives of that nation now tell us the word should be spelled. His ordinary appellation among his own people was that of Pigeonswing; a name obtained from the rapidity and length of his flights. This young man, who was scarcely turned of five-and-twenty, had already obtained a high reputation among the numerous tribes of his nation, as a messenger, or "runner."
Accident had brought these four persons, each and all strangers to one another, in communication in the glade of the Oak Openings, which has already been mentioned, within half an hour of the scene we are about to present to the reader. Although the rencontre had been accompanied by the usual precautions of those who meet in a wilderness, it had been friendly so far; a circumstance that was in some measure owing to the interest they all took in the occupation of the bee-hunter. The three others, indeed, had come in on different trails, and surprised le Bourdon in the midst of one of the most exciting exhibitions of his art—an exhibition that awoke so much and so common an interest in the spectators, as at once to place its continuance for the moment above all other considerations. After brief salutations, and wary examinations of the spot and its tenants, each individual had, in succession, given his grave attention to what was going on, and all had united in begging Ben Buzz to pursue his occupation, without regard to his visitors. The conversation that took place was partly in English, and partly in one of the Indian dialects, which luckily all the parties appeared to understand. As a matter of course, with a sole view to oblige the reader, we shall render what was said, freely, into the vernacular.
"Let's see, let's see, STRANger," cried Gershom, emphasizing the syllable we have put in italics, as if especially to betray his origin, "what you can do with your tools. I've heer'n tell of such doin's, but never see'd a bee lined in all my life, and have a desp'rate fancy for larnin' of all sorts, from 'rithmetic to preachin'."
"That comes from your Puritan blood," answered le Bourdon, with a quiet smile, using surprisingly pure English for one in his class of life. "They tell me you Puritans preach by instinct."
"I don't know how that is," answered Gershom, "though I can turn my hand to anything. I heer'n tell, across at Bob Ruly (Bois Brulk [Footnote: This unfortunate name, which it may be necessary to tell a portion of our readers means "burnt wood," seems condemned to all sorts of abuses among the linguists of the West. Among other pronunciations is that of "Bob Ruly"; while an island near Detroit, the proper name of which is "Bois Blanc," is familiarly known to the lake mariners by the name of "Bobolo."]) of sich doin's, and would give a week's keep at Whiskey Centre, to know how 'twas done."
"Whiskey Centre" was a sobriquet bestowed by the fresh-water sailors of that region, and the few other white adventurers of Saxon origin who found their way into that trackless region, firstly on Gershom himself, and secondly on his residence. These names were obtained from the intensity of their respective characters, in favor of the beverage named. L'eau de mort was the place termed by the voyagers, in a sort of pleasant travesty on the eau de vie of their distant, but still well-remembered manufactures on the banks of the Garonne. Ben Boden, however, paid but little attention to the drawling remarks of Gershom Waring. This was not the first time he had heard of "Whiskey Centre," though the first time he had ever seen the man himself. His attention was on his own trade, or present occupation; and when it wandered at all, it was principally bestowed on the Indians; more especially on the runner. Of Elk's foot, or Elksfoot, as we prefer to spell it, he had some knowledge by means of rumor; and the little he knew rendered him somewhat more indifferent to his proceedings than he felt toward those of the Pigeonswing. Of this young redskin he had never heard; and, while he managed to suppress all exhibition of the feeling, a lively curiosity to learn the Chippewa's business was uppermost in his mind. As for Gershom, he had taken HIS measure at a glance, and had instantly set him down to be, what in truth he was, a wandering, drinking, reckless adventurer, who had a multitude of vices and bad qualities, mixed up with a few that, if not absolutely redeeming, served to diminish the disgust in which he might otherwise have been held by all decent people. In the meanwhile, the bee-hunting, in which all the spectators took so much interest, went on. As this is a process with which most of our readers are probably unacquainted, it may be necessary to explain the modus operandi, as well as the appliances used.
The tools of Ben Buzz, as Gershom had termed these implements of his trade, were neither very numerous nor very complex. They were all contained in a small covered wooden pail like those that artisans and laborers are accustomed to carry for the purpose of conveying their food from place to place. Uncovering this, le Bourdon had brought his implements to view, previously to the moment when he was first seen by the reader. There was a small covered cup of tin; a wooden box; a sort of plate, or platter, made also of wood; and a common tumbler, of a very inferior, greenish glass. In the year 1812, there was not a pane, nor a vessel, of clear, transparent glass, made in all America! Now, some of the most beautiful manufactures of that sort, known to civilization, are abundantly produced among us, in common with a thousand other articles that are used in domestic economy. The tumbler of Ben Buzz, however, was his countryman in more senses than one. It was not only American, but it came from the part of Pennsylvania of which he was himself a native. Blurred, and of a greenish hue, the glass was the best that Pittsburg could then fabricate, and Ben had bought it only the year before, on the very spot where it had been made.
An oak, of more size than usual, had stood a little remote from its fellows, or more within the open ground of the glade than the rest of the "orchard." Lightning had struck this tree that very summer, twisting off its trunk at a height of about four feet from the ground. Several fragments of the body and branches lay near, and on these the spectators now took their seats, watching attentively the movements of the bee-hunter. Of the stump Ben had made a sort of table, first levelling its splinters with an axe, and on it he placed the several implements of his craft, as he had need of each in succession.
The wooden platter was first placed on this rude table. Then le Bourdon opened his small box, and took out of it a piece of honeycomb, that was circular in shape, and about an inch and a half in diameter. The little covered tin vessel was next brought into use. Some pure and beautifully clear honey was poured from its spout into the cells of the piece of comb, until each of them was about half filled. The tumbler was next taken in hand, carefully wiped, and examined, by holding it up before the eyes of the bee-hunter. Certainly, there was little to admire in it, but it was sufficiently transparent to answer his purposes. All he asked was to be able to look through the glass in order to see what was going on in its interior.
Having made these preliminary arrangements, Buzzing Ben—for the sobriquet was applied to him in this form quite as often as in the other—next turned his attention to the velvet-like covering of the grassy glade. Fire had run over the whole region late that spring, and the grass was now as fresh, and sweet and short, as if the place were pastured. The white clover, in particular, abounded, and was then just bursting forth into the blossom. Various other flowers had also appeared, and around them were buzzing thousands of bees. These industrious little animals were hard at work, loading themselves with sweets; little foreseeing the robbery contemplated by the craft of man. As le Bourdon moved stealthily among the flowers and their humming visitors, the eyes of the two red men followed his smallest movement, as the cat watches the mouse; but Gershom was less attentive, thinking the whole curious enough, but preferring whiskey to all the honey on earth.
At length le Bourdon found a bee to his mind, and watching the moment when the animal was sipping sweets from a head of white clover, he cautiously placed his blurred and green-looking tumbler over it, and made it his prisoner. The moment the bee found itself encircled with the glass, it took wing and attempted to rise. This carried it to the upper part of its prison, when Ben carefully introduced the unoccupied hand beneath the glass, and returned to the stump. Here he set the tumbler down on the platter in a way to bring the piece of honeycomb within its circle.
So much done successfully, and with very little trouble, Buzzing Ben examined his captive for a moment, to make sure that all was right. Then he took off his cap and placed it over tumbler, platter, honeycomb, and bee. He now waited half a minute, when cautiously raising the cap again, it was seen that the bee, the moment a darkness like that of its hive came over it, had lighted on the comb, and commenced filling itself with the honey. When Ben took away the cap altogether, the head and half of the body of the bee was in one of the cells, its whole attention being bestowed on this unlooked-for hoard of treasure. As this was just what its captor wished, he considered that part of his work accomplished. It now became apparent why a glass was used to take the bee, instead of a vessel of wood or of bark. Transparency was necessary in order to watch the movements of the captive, as darkness was necessary in order to induce it to cease its efforts to escape, and to settle on the comb.
As the bee was now intently occupied in filling itself, Buzzing Ben, or le Bourdon, did not hesitate about removing the glass. He even ventured to look around him, and to make another captive, which he placed over the comb, and managed as he had done with the first. In a minute, the second bee was also buried in a cell, and the glass was again removed. Le Bourdon now signed for his companions to draw near.
"There they are, hard at work with the honey," he said, speaking in English, and pointing at the bees. "Little do they think, as they undermine that comb, how near they are to the undermining of their own hive! But so it is with us all! When we think we are in the highest prosperity we may be nearest to a fall, and when we are poorest and hum-blest, we may be about to be exalted. I often think of these things, out here in the wilderness, when I'm alone, and my thoughts are acTYVE."
Ben used a very pure English, when his condition in life is remembered; but now and then, he encountered a word which pretty plainly proved he was not exactly a scholar. A false emphasis has sometimes an influence on a man's fortune, when one lives in the world; but it mattered little to one like Buzzing Ben, who seldom saw more than half a dozen human faces in the course of a whole summer's hunting. We remember an Englishman, however, who would never concede talents to Burr, because the latter said, a L'AmEricaine, EurOpean, instead of EuropEan.
"How hive in danger?" demanded Elksfoot, who was very much of a matter-of-fact person. "No see him, no hear him—else get some honey."
"Honey you can have for asking, for I've plenty of it already in my cabin, though it's somewhat 'arly in the season to begin to break in upon the store. In general, the bee-hunters keep back till August, for they think it better to commence work when the creatures"—this word Ben pronounced as accurately as if brought up at St. James's, making it neither "creatur'" nor "creatOOre"—"to commence work when the creatures have had time to fill up, after winter's feed. But I like the old stock, and, what is more, I feel satisfied this is not to be a common summer, and so I thought I would make an early start."
As Ben said this, he glanced his eyes at Pigeonswing, who returned the look in a way to prove there was already a secret intelligence between them, though neither had ever seen the other an hour before.
"Waal!" exclaimed Gershom, "this is cur'ous, I'll allow THAT; yes, it's cur'ous—but we've got an article at Whiskey Centre that'll put the sweetest honey bee ever suck'd, altogether out o' countenance!"
"An article of which you suck your share, I'll answer for it, judging by the sign you carry between the windows of your face," returned Ben, laughing; "but hush, men, hush. That first bee is filled, and begins to think of home. He'll soon be off for HONEY Centre, and I must keep my eye on him. Now, stand a little aside, friends, and give me room for my craft."
The men complied, and le Bourdon was now all intense attention to his business. The bee first taken had, indeed, filled itself to satiety, and at first seemed to be too heavy to rise on the wing. After a few moments of preparation, however, up it went, circling around the spot, as if uncertain what course to take. The eye of Ben never left it, and when the insect darted off, as it soon did, in an air-line, he saw it for fifty yards after the others had lost sight of it. Ben took the range, and was silent fully a minute while he did so.
"That bee may have lighted in the corner of yonder swamp," he said, pointing, as he spoke, to a bit of low land that sustained a growth of much larger trees than those which grew in the "opening," "or it has crossed the point of the wood, and struck across the prairie beyond, and made for a bit of thick forest that is to be found about three miles further. In the last case, I shall have my trouble for nothing."
"What t'other do?" demanded Elksfoot, with very obvious curiosity.
"Sure enough; the other gentleman must be nearly ready for a start, and we'll see what road HE travels. 'Tis always an assistance to a bee-hunter to get one creature fairly off, as it helps him to line the next with greater sartainty."
Ben WOULD say acTYVE, and SARtain, though he was above saying creatoore, or creatur'. This is the difference between a Pennsylvanian and a Yankee. We shall not stop, however, to note all these little peculiarities in these individuals, but use the proper or the peculiar dialect, as may happen to be most convenient to ourselves.
But there was no time for disquisition, the second bee being now ready for a start. Like his companion, this insect rose and encircled the stump several times, ere it darted away toward its hive, in an air-line. So small was the object, and so rapid its movement, that no one but the bee-hunter saw the animal after it had begun its journey in earnest. To HIS disappointment, instead of flying in the same direction as the bee first taken, this little fellow went buzzing off fairly at a right angle! It was consequently clear that there were two hives, and that they lay in very different directions.
Without wasting his time in useless talk, le Bourdon now caught another bee, which was subjected to the same process as those first taken. When this creature had filled it-self, it rose, circled the stump as usual, as if to note the spot for a second visit, and darted away, directly in a line with the bee first taken. Ben noted its flight most accurately, and had his eye on it, until it was quite a hundred yards from the stump. This he was enabled to do, by means of a quick sight and long practice.
"We'll move our quarters, friends," said Buzzing Ben, good- humoredly, as soon as satisfied with this last observation, and gathering together his traps for a start. "I must angle for that hive, and I fear it will turn out to be across the prairie, and quite beyond my reach for to-day."
The prairie alluded to was one of those small natural meadows, or pastures, that are to be found in Michigan, and may have contained four or five thousand acres of open land. The heavy timber of the swamp mentioned, jutted into it, and the point to be determined was, to ascertain whether the bees had flown OVER these trees, toward which they had certainly gone in an air-line, or whether they had found their hive among them. In order to settle this material question, a new process was necessary.
"I must 'angle' for them chaps," repeated le Bourdon; "and if you will go with me, strangers, you shall soon see the nicest part of the business of bee-hunting. Many a man who can 'line' a bee, can do nothing at an 'angle'."
As this was only gibberish to the listeners, no answer was made, but all prepared to follow Ben, who was soon ready to change his ground. The bee-hunter took his way across the open ground to a point fully a hundred rods distant from his first position, where he found another stump of a fallen tree, which he converted into a stand. The same process was gone through with as before, and le Bourdon was soon watching two bees that had plunged their heads down into the cells of the comb. Nothing could exceed the gravity and attention of the Indians, all this time. They had fully comprehended the business of "lining" the insects toward their hives, but they could not understand the virtue of the "angle." The first bore so strong an affinity to their own pursuit of game, as to be very obvious to their senses; but the last included a species of information to which they were total strangers. Nor were they much the wiser after le Bourdon had taken his "angle"; it requiring a sort of induction to which they were not accustomed, in order to put the several parts of his proceedings together, and to draw the inference. As for Gershom, he affected to be familiar with all that was going on, though he was just as ignorant as the Indians themselves. This little bit of hypocrisy was the homage he paid to his white blood: it being very unseemly, according to his view of the matter, for a pale-face not to know more than a redskin.
The bees were some little time in filling themselves. At length one of them came out of his cell, and was evidently getting ready for his flight. Ben beckoned to the spectators to stand farther back, in order to give him a fair chance, and, just as he had done so, the bee rose. After humming around the stump for an instant, away the insect flew, taking a course almost at right angles to that in which le Bourdon had expected to see it fly. It required half a minute for him to recollect that this little creature had gone off in a line nearly parallel to that which had been taken by the second of the bees, which he had seen quit his original position. The line led across the neighboring prairie, and any attempt to follow these bees was hopeless.
But the second creature was also soon ready, and when it darted away, le Bourdon, to his manifest delight, saw that it held its flight toward the point of the swamp INTO, or OVER which two of his first captives had gone. This settled the doubtful matter. Had the hive of these bees been BEYOND that wood, the angle of intersection would not have been there, but at the hive across the prairie. The reader will understand that creatures which obey an instinct, or such a reason as bees possess, would never make a curvature in their flights without some strong motive for it. Thus, two bees taken from flowers that stood half a mile apart would be certain not to cross each other's tracks, in returning home, until they met at the common hive: and wherever the intersecting angle in their respective flights may be, there would that hive be also. As this repository of sweets was the game le Bourdon had in view, it is easy to see how much he was pleased when the direction taken by the last of his bees gave him the necessary assurance that its home would certainly be found in that very point of dense wood.
How skilfully it builds its cell, How neat it spreads the wax, And labors hard to store it well, With the sweet food it makes. WATTS' HYMNS FOR CHILDREN.
The next thing was to ascertain which was the particular tree in which the bees had found a shelter. Collecting his implements, le Bourdon was soon ready, and, with a light elastic tread, he moved off toward the point of the wood, followed by the whole party. The distance was about half a mile, and men so much accustomed to use their limbs made light of it. In a few minutes all were there, and the bee-hunter was busy in looking for his tree. This was the consummation of the whole process, and Ben was not only provided for the necessities of the case, but he was well skilled in all the signs that betokened the abodes of bees.
An uninstructed person might have passed that point of wood a thousand times, without the least consciousness of the presence of a single insect of the sort now searched for. In general, the bees flew too high to be easily perceptible from the ground, though a practised eye can discern them at distances that would almost seem to be marvellous. But Ben had other assistants than his eyes. He knew that the tree he sought must be hollow, and such trees usually give outward signs of the defect that exists within. Then, some species of wood are more frequented by the bees than others, while the instinct of the industrious little creatures generally enables them to select such homes as will not be very likely to destroy all the fruits of their industry by an untimely fall. In all these particulars, both bees and bee-hunter were well versed, and Ben made his search accordingly.
Among the other implements of his calling, le Bourdon had a small spy-glass; one scarcely larger than those that are used in theatres, but which was powerful and every way suited to its purposes. Ben was not long in selecting a tree, a half-decayed elm, as the one likely to contain the hive; and by the aid of his glass he soon saw bees flying among its dying branches, at a height of not less than seventy feet from the ground. A little further search directed his attention to a knot-hole, in and out of which the glass enabled him to see bees passing in streams. This decided the point; and putting aside all his implements but the axe, Buzzing Ben now set about the task of felling the tree.
"STRANger," said Gershom, when le Bourdon had taken out the first chip, "perhaps you'd better let ME do that part of the job. I shall expect to come in for a share of the honey, and I'm willing to 'arn all I take. I was brought up on axes, and jack-knives, and sich sort of food, and can cut OR whittle with the best chopper, or the neatest whittler, in or out of New England."
"You can try your hand, if you wish it," said Ben, relinquishing the axe. "I can fell a tree as well as yourself, but have no such love for the business as to wish to keep it all to myself."
"Waal, I can say, I LIKE it," answered Gershom, first passing his thumb along the edge of the axe, in order to ascertain its state; then swinging the tool, with a view to try its "hang."
"I can't say much for your axe, STRANGER, for this helve has no tarve to't, to my mind; but, sich as it is, down must come this elm, though ten millions of bees should set upon me for my pains."
This was no idle boast of Waring's. Worthless as he was in so many respects, he was remarkably skilful with the axe, as he now proved by the rapid manner in which he severed the trunk of the large elm on which he was at work. He inquired of Ben where he should "lay the tree," and when it came clattering down, it fell on the precise spot indicated. Great was the confusion among the bees at this sudden downfall of their long-cherished home. The fact was not known to their enemy, but they had inhabited that tree for a long time; and the prize now obtained was the richest he had ever made in his calling. As for the insects, they filled the air in clouds, and all the invaders deemed it prudent to withdraw to some little distance for a time, lest the irritated and wronged bees should set upon them and take an ample revenge. Had they known their power, this might easily have been done, no ingenuity of man being able to protect him against the assaults of this insignificant-looking animal, when unable to cover himself, and the angry little heroes are in earnest. On the present occasion, however, no harm befell the marauders. So suddenly had the hive tumbled that its late occupants appeared to be astounded, and they submitted to their fate as men yield to the power of tempests and earthquakes. In half an hour most of them were collected on an adjacent tree, where doubtless a consultation on the mode of future proceedings was held, after their fashion.
The Indians were more delighted with le Bourdon's ingenious mode of discovering the hive than with the richness of the prize; while Ben himself, and Gershom, manifested most satisfaction at the amount of the earnings. When the tree was cut in pieces, and split, it was ascertained that years of sweets were contained within its capacious cavities, and Ben estimated the portion that fell to his share at more than three hundred pounds of good honey—comb included—after deducting the portions that were given to the Indians, and which were abstracted by Gershom. The three last, however, could carry but little, as they had no other means of bearing it away than their own backs.
The honey was not collected that night. The day was too far advanced for that; and le Bourdon—certainly never was name less merited than this sobriquet as applied to the active young bee-hunter—but le Bourdon, to give him his quaint appellation, offered the hospitalities of his own cabin to the strangers, promising to put them on their several paths the succeeding day, with a good store of honey in each knapsack.
"They do say there ar' likely to be troublesome times." he continued, with simple earnestness, after having given the invitation to partake of his homely fare; "and I should like to hear what is going on in the world. From Whiskey Centre I do not expect to learn much, I will own; but I am mistaken if the Pigeonswing, here, has not a message that will make us all open our ears."
The Indians ejaculated their assent; but Gershom was a man who could not express anything sententiously. As the bee-hunter led the way toward his cabin, or shanty, he made his comments with his customary freedom. Before recording what he communicated, however, we shall digress for one moment in order to say a word ourselves concerning this term "shanty." It is now in general use throughout the whole of the United States, meaning a cabin that has been constructed in haste, and for temporary purposes. By a license of speech, it is occasionally applied to more permanent residences, as men are known to apply familiar epithets to familiar objects. The derivation of the word has caused some speculation. The term certainly came from the West-perhaps from the Northwest-and the best explanation we have ever heard of its derivation is to sup-pose "shanty," as we now spell it, a corruption of "chiente," which it is thought may have been a word in Canadian French phrase to express a "dog-kennel." "Chenil," we believe, is the true French term for such a thing, and our own word is said to be derived from it—"meute" meaning "a kennel of dogs," or "a pack of hounds," rather than their dwelling. At any rate, "chiente" is so plausible a solution of the difficulty, that one may hope it is the true one, even though he has no better authority for it than a very vague rumor. Curious discoveries are sometimes made by these rude analogies, however, though they are generally thought not to be very near akin to learning. For ourselves, now, we do not entertain a doubt that the sobriquet of "Yankees" which is in every man's mouth, and of which the derivation appears to puzzle all our philologists, is nothing but a slight corruption of the word "Yengeese," the term applied to the "English," by the tribes to whom they first became known. We have no other authority for this derivation than conjecture, and conjectures that are purely our own; but it is so very plausible as almost to carry conviction of itself. [Footnote: Since writing the above, the author has met with an allusion that has induced him to think he may not have been the first to suggest this derivation of the word "Yankee." With himself, the suggestion is perfectly original, and has long since been published by him; but nothing is more probable than the fact that a solution so very natural, of this long-disputed question in language, may have suggested itself to various minds.]
The "chiente'" or shanty of le Bourdon stood quite near to the banks of the Kalamazoo, and in a most beautiful grove of the burr-oak. Ben had selected the site with much taste, though the proximity of a spring of delicious water had probably its full share in influencing his decision. It was necessary, moreover, that he should be near the river, as his great movements were all made by water, for the convenience of transporting his tools, furniture, etc., as well as his honey. A famous bark canoe lay in a little bay, out of the current of the stream, securely moored, head and stern, in order to prevent her beating against any object harder than herself.
The dwelling had been constructed with some attention to security. This was rendered necessary, in some measure, as Ben had found by experience, on account of two classes of enemies—men and bears. From the first, it is true, the bee-hunter had hitherto apprehended but little. There were few human beings in that region. The northern portions of the noble peninsula of Michigan are some-what low and swampy, or are too broken and savage to tempt the native hunters from the openings and prairies that then lay, in such rich profusion, further south and west. With the exception of the shores, or coasts, it was seldom that the northern half of the peninsula felt the footstep of man. With the southern half, however, it was very different; the "openings," and glades, and watercourses, offering almost as many temptations to the savage as they have since done to the civilized man. Nevertheless, the bison, or the buffalo, as the animal is erroneously, but very generally, termed throughout the country, was not often found in the vast herds of which we read, until one reached the great prairies west of the Mississippi. There it was that the red men most loved to congregate; though always bearing, in numbers, but a trifling proportion to the surface they occupied. In that day, however, near as to the date, but distant as to the events, the Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawattamies, kindred tribes, we believe, had still a footing in Michigan proper, and were to be found in considerable numbers in what was called the St. Joseph's country, or along the banks of the stream of that name; a region that almost merits the lofty appellation of the garden of America. Le Bourdon knew many of their warriors, and was much esteemed among them; though he had never met with either of those whom chance now had thrown in his way. In general, he suffered little wrong from the red men, who wondered at his occupation, while they liked his character; but he had sustained losses, and even ill- treatment, from certain outcasts of the tribes, as well as from vagrant whites, who occasionally found their way to his temporary dwellings. On the present occasion, le Bourdon felt far more uneasiness from the circumstance of having his abode known to Gershom Waring, a countryman and fellow-Christian, in one sense at least, than from its being known to the Chippewa and the Pottawattamie.
The bears were constant and dangerous sources of annoyance to the bee-hunter. It was not often that an armed man—and le Bourdon seldom moved without his rifle—has much to apprehend from the common brown bear of America. Though a formidable-looking animal, especially when full grown, it is seldom bold enough to attack a human being, nothing but hunger, or care for its young, ever inducing it to go so much out of the ordinary track of its habits. But the love of the bear for honey amounts to a passion. Not only will it devise all sorts of bearish expedients to get at the sweet morsels, but it will scent them from afar. On one occasion, a family of Bruins had looked into a shanty of Ben's, that was not constructed with sufficient care, and consummated their burglary by demolishing the last comb. That disaster almost ruined the adventurer, then quite young in his calling; and ever since its occurrence he had taken the precaution to build such a citadel as should at least set teeth and paws at defiance. To one who had an axe, with access to young pines, this was not a difficult task, as was proved by the present habitation of our hero.
This was the second season that le Bourdon had occupied "Castle Meal," as he himself called the shanty. This appellation was a corruption of "chateau au Mtel" a name given to it by a wag of a voyageur^ who had aided Ben in ascending the Kalamazoo the previous summer, and had remained long enough with him to help him put up his habitation. The building was just twelve feet square, in the interior, and somewhat less than fourteen on its exterior. It was made of pine logs, in the usual mode, with the additional security of possessing a roof of squared timbers of which the several parts were so nicely fitted together as to shed rain. This unusual precaution was rendered necessary to protect the honey, since the bears would have unroofed the common bark coverings of the shanties, with the readiness of human beings, in order to get at stores as ample as those which the bee-hunter had soon collected beneath his roof. There was one window of glass, which le Bourdon had brought in his canoe; though it was a single sash of six small lights, that opened on hinges; the exterior being protected by stout bars of riven oak, securely let into the logs. The door was made of three thicknesses of oaken plank, pinned well together, and swinging on stout iron hinges, so secured as not to be easily removed. Its outside fastening was made by means of two stout staples, a short piece of ox-chain, and an unusually heavy padlock. Nothing short of an iron bar, and that cleverly applied, could force this fastening. On the inside, three bars of oak rendered all secure, when the master was at home.
"You set consid'rable store by your honey, I guess, STRANger," said Gershom, as le Bourdon unlocked the fastenings and removed the chain, "if a body may judge by the kear (care) you take on't! Now, down our way we ain't half so partic'lar; Dolly and Blossom never so much as putting up a bar to the door, even when I sleep out, which is about half the time, now the summer is fairly set in."
"And whereabouts is 'down our way,' if one may be so bold as to ask the question?" returned le Bourdon, holding the door half-opened, while he turned his face toward the other, in expectation of the answer.
"Why, down at Whiskey Centre, to be sure, as the v'y'gerers and other boatmen call the place."
"And where is Whiskey Centre?" demanded Ben, a little pertinaciously.
"Why, I thought everybody would 'a' known that," answered Greshom; "sin' whiskey is as drawin' as a blister. Whiskey Centre is just where I happen to live; bein' what a body may call a travellin' name. As I'm now down at the mouth of the Kalamazoo, why Whiskey Centre's there, too."
"I understand the matter, now," answered le Bourdon, composing his well-formed mouth in a sort of contemptuous smile. "You and whiskey, being sworn friends, are always to be found in company. When I came into the river, which was the last week in April, I saw nothing like whiskey, nor anything like a Centre at the mouth."
"If you'd 'a' be'n a fortnight later, STRANger, you'd 'a' found both. Travellin' Centres, and stationary, differs somewhat, I guess; one is always to be found, while t'other must be s'arched a'ter."
"And pray who are Dolly and Blossom; I hope the last is not a WHISKEY blossom?"
"Not she—she never touches a spoonful, though I tell her it never hurt mortal! She tries hard to reason me into it that it hurts ME— but that's all a mistake, as anybody can see that jest looks at me."
Ben DID look at him; and, to say truth, came to a somewhat different conclusion.
"Is she so blooming that you call her 'Blossom'?" demanded the bee- hunter, "or is she so young?"
"The gal's a little of both. Dolly is my wife, and Blossom is my sister. The real name of Blossom is Margery Waring, but everybody calls her Blossom; and so I gi'n into it, with the rest on 'em."
It is probable that le Bourdon lost a good deal of his interest in this flower of the wilderness, as soon as he learned she was so nearly related to the Whiskey Centre. Gershom was so very uninviting an object, and had so many palpable marks, that he had fairly earned the nickname which, as it afterward appeared, the western adventurers had given HIM, as well as his ABODE, wherever the last might be, that no one of decently sober habits could readily fancy anything belonging to him. At any rate, the bee-hunter now led the way into his cabin, whither he was followed without unnecessary ceremony, by all three of his guests.
The interior of the "chiente," to use the most poetical, if not the most accurate word, was singularly clean for an establishment set up by a bachelor, in so remote a part of the world. The honey, in neat, well-constructed kegs, was carefully piled along one side of the apartment, in a way to occupy the minimum of room, and to be rather ornamental than unsightly. These kegs were made by le Bourdon himself, who had acquired as much of the art as was necessary to that object. The woods always furnished the materials; and a pile of staves that was placed beneath a neighboring tree sufficiently denoted that he did not yet deem that portion of his task completed.
In one corner of the hut was a pile of well-dressed bearskins, three in number, each and all of which had been taken from the carcasses of fallen foes, within the last two months. Three more were stretched on saplings, near by, in the process of curing. It was a material part of the bee-hunter's craft to kill this animal, in particular; and the trophies of his conflicts with them were proportionably numerous. On the pile already prepared, he usually slept.
There was a very rude table, a single board set up on sticks; and a bench or two, together with a wooden chest of some size, completed the furniture. Tools were suspended from the walls, it is true; and no less than three rifles, in addition to a very neat double- barrelled "shot-gun," or fowling-piece, were standing in a corner. These were arms collected by our hero in his different trips, and retained quite as much from affection as from necessity, or caution. Of ammunition, there was no very great amount visible; only three or four horns and a couple of pouches being suspended from pegs: but Ben had a secret store, as well as another rifle, carefully secured, in a natural magazine and arsenal, at a distance sufficiently great from the chiente to remove it from all danger of sharing in the fortunes of his citadel, should disaster befall the last.
The cooking was done altogether out of doors. For this essential comfort, le Bourdon had made very liberal provision. He had a small oven, a sufficiently convenient fire-place, and a storehouse, at hand; all placed near the spring, and beneath the shade of a magnificent elm. In the storehouse he kept his barrel of flour, his barrel of salt, a stock of smoked or dried meat, and that which the woodsman, if accustomed in early life to the settlements, prizes most highly, a half-barrel of pickled pork. The bark canoe had sufficed to transport all these stores, merely ballasting handsomely that ticklish craft; and its owner relied on the honey to perform the same office on the return voyage, when trade or consumption should have disposed of the various articles just named.
The reader may smile at the word "trade," and ask where were those to be found who could be parties to the traffic. The vast lakes and innumerable rivers of that region, however, remote as it then was from the ordinary abodes of civilized man, offered facilities for communication that the active spirit of trade would be certain not to neglect. In the first place, there were always the Indians to barter skins and furs against powder, lead, rifles, blankets, and unhappily "fire-water." Then, the white men who penetrated to those semi-wilds were always ready to "dicker" and to "swap," and to "trade" rifles, and watches, and whatever else they might happen to possess, almost to their wives and Children.
But we should be doing injustice to le Bourdon, were we in any manner to confound him with the "dickering" race. He was a bee- hunter quite as much through love of the wilderness and love of adventure, as through love of gain. Profitable he had certainly found the employment, or he probably would not have pursued it; but there was many a man who—nay, most men, even in his own humble class in life-would have deemed his liberal earnings too hardly obtained, when gained at the expense of all intercourse with their own kind. But Buzzing Ben loved the solitude of his situation, its hazards, its quietude, relieved by passing moments of high excitement; and, most of all, the self-reliance that was indispensable equally to his success and his happiness. Woman, as yet, had never exercised her witchery over him, and every day was his passion for dwelling alone, and for enjoying the strange, but certainly most alluring, pleasures of the woods, increasing and gaining strength in his bosom. It was seldom, now, that he held intercourse even with the Indian tribes that dwelt near his occasional places of hunting; and frequently had he shifted his ground in order to avoid collision, however friendly, with whites who, like himself, were pushing their humble fortunes along the shores of those inland seas, which, as yet, were rarely indeed whitened by a sail. In this respect, Boden and Waring were the very antipodes of each other; Gershom being an inveterate gossip, in despite of his attachment to a vagrant and border life.
The duties of hospitality are rarely forgotten among border men. The inhabitant of a town may lose his natural disposition to receive all who offer at his board, under the pressure of society; but it is only in most extraordinary exceptions that the frontier man is ever known to be inhospitable. He has little to offer, but that little is seldom withheld, either through prudence or niggardliness. Under this feeling—we might call it habit also—le Bourdon now set himself at work to place on the table such food as he had at command and ready cooked. The meal which he soon pressed his guests to share with him was composed of a good piece of cold boiled pork, which Ben had luckily cooked the day previously, some bear's meat roasted, a fragment of venison steak, both lean and cold, and the remains of a duck that had been shot the day before, in the Kalamazoo, with bread, salt, and, what was somewhat unusual in the wilderness, two or three onions, raw. The last dish was highly relished by Gershom, and was slightly honored by Ben; but the Indians passed it over with cold indifference. The dessert consisted of bread and honey, which were liberally partaken of by all at table.
Little was said by either host or guests, until the supper was finished, when the whole party left the chiente, to enjoy their pipes in the cool evening air, beneath the oaks of the grove in which the dwelling stood. Their conversation began to let the parties know something of each other's movements and characters.
"YOU are a Pottawattamie, and YOU a Chippewa," said le Bourdon, as he courteously handed to his two red guests pipes of theirs, that he had just stuffed with some of his own tobacco—"I believe you are a sort of cousins, though your tribes are called by different names."
"Nation, Ojebway," returned the elder Indian, holding up a finger, by way of enforcing attention.
"Tribe, Pottawattamie," added the runner, in the same sententious manner.
"Baccy, good"—put in the senior, by way of showing he was well contented with his comforts.
"Have you nothin' to drink?" demanded Whiskey Centre, who saw no great merit in anything but "firewater."
"There is the spring," returned le Bourdon, gravely; "a gourd hangs against the tree."
Gershom made a wry face, but he did not move.
"Is there any news stirring among the tribes?" asked the bee-hunter, waiting, however, a decent interval, lest he might be supposed to betray a womanly curiosity.
Elksfoot puffed away some time before he saw fit to answer, reserving a salvo in behalf of his own dignity. Then he removed the pipe, shook off the ashes, pressed down the fire a little, gave a reviving draught or two, and quietly replied:
"Ask my young brother—he runner—he know."
But Pigeonswing seemed to be little more communicative than the Pottawattamie. He smoked on in quiet dignity, while the bee-hunter patiently waited for the moment when it might suit his younger guest to speak. That moment did not arrive for some time, though it came at last. Almost five minutes after Elksfoot had made the allusion mentioned, the Ojebway, or Chippewa, removed his pipe also, and looking courteously round at his host, he said with emphasis:
"Bad summer come soon. Pale-faces call young men togedder, and dig up hatchet."
"I had heard something of this," answered le Bourdon, with a saddened countenance, "and was afraid it might happen."
"My brother dig up hatchet too, eh?" demanded Pigeonswing.
"Why should I? I am alone here, on the Openings, and it would seem foolish in me to wish to fight."
"Got no tribe—no Ojebway—no Pottawattamie, eh?"
"I have my tribe, as well as another, Chippewa, but can see no use I can be to it, here. If the English and Americans fight, it must be a long way from this wilderness, and on or near the great salt lake."
"Don't know—nebber know, 'till see. English warrior plenty in Canada."
"That may be; but American warriors are not plenty here. This country is a wilderness, and there are no soldiers hereabouts, to cut each other's throats."
"What you t'ink him?" asked Pigeonswing, glancing at Gershom; who, unable to forbear any longer, had gone to the spring to mix a cup from a small supply that still remained of the liquor with which he had left home. "Got pretty good scalp?"
"I suppose it is as good as another's—but he and I are countrymen, and we cannot raise the tomahawk on one another."
"Don't t'ink so. Plenty Yankee, him!"
Le Bourdon smiled at this proof of Pigeonswings sagacity, though he felt a good deal of uneasiness at the purport of his discourse.
"You are right enough in THAT" he answered, "but I'm plenty of Yankee, too."
"No, don't say so," returned the Chippewa—"no, mustn't say DAT. English; no Yankee. HIM not a bit like you."
"Why, we are unlike each other, in some respects, it is true, though we are countrymen, notwithstanding. My great father lives at Washington, as well as his."
The Chippewa appeared to be disappointed; perhaps he appeared sorry, too; for le Bourdon's frank and manly hospitality had disposed him to friendship instead of hostilities, while his admissions would rather put him in an antagonist position. It was probably with a kind motive that he pursued the discourse in a way to give his host some insight into the true condition of matters in that part of the world.
"Plenty Breetish in woods," he said, with marked deliberation and point. "Yankee no come yet."
"Let me know the truth, at once, Chippewa," exclaimed le Bourdon. "I am but a peaceable bee-hunter, as you see, and wish no man's scalp, or any man's honey but my own. Is there to be a war between America and Canada, or not?"
"Some say, yes; some say, no," returned Pigeonswing, evasively, "My part, don't know. Go, now, to see. But plenty Montreal belt among redskins; plenty rifle; plenty powder, too."
"I heard something of this as I came up the lakes," rejoined Ben; "and fell in with a trader, an old acquaintance, from Canada, and a good friend, too, though he is to be my enemy, according to law, who gave me to understand that the summer would not go over without blows. Still, they all seemed to be asleep at Mackinaw (Michilimackinac) as I passed there."
"Wake up pretty soon. Canada warrior take fort."
"If I thought that, Chippewa, I would be off this blessed night to give the alarm."
"No—t'ink better of dat."
"Go I would, if I died for it the next hour!"
"T'ink better—be no such fool, I tell you."
"And I tell you, Pigeonswing, that go I would, if the whole Ojebway nation was on my trail. I am an American, and mean to stand by my own people, come what will."
"T'ought you only peaceable bee-hunter, just now," retorted the Chippewa, a little sarcastically.
By this time le Bourdon had somewhat cooled, and he became conscious of his indiscretion. He knew enough of the history of the past, to be fully aware that, in all periods of American history, the English, and, for that matter, the French too, so long as they had possessions on this continent, never scrupled about employing the savages in their conflicts. It is true, that these highly polished, and, we may justly add, humane nations—(for each is, out of all question, entitled to that character in the scale of comparative humanity as between communities, and each if you will take its own account of the matter, stands at the head of civilization in this respect)—would, notwithstanding these high claims, carry on their AMERICAN wars by the agency of the tomahawk, the scalping-knife, and the brand. Eulogies, though pronounced by ourselves on ourselves, cannot erase the stains of blood. Even down to the present hour, a cloud does not obscure the political atmosphere between England and America, that its existence may not be discovered on the prairies, by a movement among the In-dians. The pulse that is to be felt there is a sure indication of the state of the relations between the parties. Every one knows that the savage, in his warfare, slays both sexes and all ages; that the door-post of the frontier cabin is defiled by the blood of the infant, whose brains have been dashed against it; and that the smouldering ruins of log-houses oftener than not cover the remains of their tenants. But what of all that? Brutus is still "an honorable man," and the American, who has not this sin to answer for among his numberless transgressions, is reviled as a semi-barbarian! The time is at hand, when the Lion of the West will draw his own picture, too; and fortunate will it be for the characters of some who will gather around the easel, if they do not discover traces of their own lineaments among his labors.
The feeling engendered by the character of such a warfare is the secret of the deeply seated hostility which pervades the breast of the WESTERN American against the land of his ancestors. He never sees the Times, and cares not a rush for the mystifications of the Quarterly Review; but he remembers where his mother was brained, and his father or brother tortured; aye, and by whose instrumentality the foul deeds were mainly done. The man of the world can understand that such atrocities may be committed, and the people of the offending nation remain ignorant of their existence, and, in a measure, innocent of the guilt; but the sufferer, in his provincial practice, makes no such distinction, confounding all alike in his resentments, and including all that bear the hated name in his maledictions. It is a fearful thing to awaken the anger of a nation; to excite in it a desire for revenge; and thrice is that danger magnified, when the people thus aroused possess the activity, the resources, the spirit, and the enterprise of the Americans. We have been openly derided, and that recently, because, in the fulness of our sense of power and sense of right, language that exceeds any direct exhibition of the national strength has escaped the lips of legislators, and, perhaps justly, has exposed them to the imputation of boastfulness. That derision, however, will not soon be repeated. The scenes enacting in Mexico, faint as they are in comparison with what would have been seen, had hostilities taken an other direction, place a perpetual gag in the mouths of all scoffers. The child is passing from the gristle into the bone, and the next generation will not even laugh, as does the present, at any idle and ill-considered menaces to coerce this republic; strong in the consciousness of its own power, it will eat all such fanfaronades, if any future statesman should be so ill-advised as to renew them, with silent indifference.
Now, le Bourdon was fully aware that one of the surest pulses of approaching hostilities between England and America was to be felt in the far West. If the Indians were in movement, some power was probably behind the scenes to set them in motion. Pigeonswing was well known to him by reputation; and there was that about the man which awakened the most unpleasant apprehensions, and he felt an itching desire to learn all he could from him, without betraying any more of his own feelings, if that were possible.
"I do not think the British will attempt Mackinaw," Ben remarked, after a long pause and a good deal of smoking had enabled him to assume an air of safe indifference.
"Got him, I tell you," answered Pigeonswing, pointedly.
"Got what, Chippewa?"
"Him—Mac-naw—got fort—got so'gers—got whole island. Know dat, for been dere."
This was astounding news, indeed! The commanding officer of that ill-starred garrison could not himself have been more astonished, when he was unexpectedly summoned to surrender by an enemy who appeared to start out of the earth, than was le Bourdon, at hearing this intelligence. To western notions, Michilimackinac was another Gibraltar, although really a place of very little strength, and garrisoned by only one small company of regulars. Still, habit had given the fortress a sort of sanctity among the adventurers of that region; and its fall, even in the settled parts of the country, sounded like the loss of a province. It is now known that, anticipating the movements of the Americans, some three hundred whites, sustained by more than twice that number of Indians, including warriors from nearly every adjacent tribe, had surprised the post on the 17th of July, and compelled the subaltern in command, with some fifty odd men, to surrender. This rapid and highly military measure, on the part of the British, completely cut off the post of Chicago, at the head of Lake Michigan, leaving it isolated, on what was then a very remote wilderness. Chicago, Mackinac, and Detroit, were the three grand stations of the Americans on the upper lakes, and here were two of them virtually gone at a blow!
—Ho! who's here? If anything that's civil, speak; if savage, Take, or lend—
Not another syllable did le Bourdon utter to the Chippewa, or the Chippewa to him, in that sitting, touching the important event just communicated. Each carefully avoided manifesting any further interest in the subject, but the smoking continued for some time after the sun had set. As the shades of evening began to gather, the Pottawattamie arose, shook the ashes from his pipe, gave a grunt, and uttered a word or two, by way of announcing his disposition to retire. On this hint, Ben went into the cabin, spread his skins, and intimated to his guests that their beds were ready for them. Few compliments pass among border men on such occasions, and one after another dropped off, until all were stretched on the skins but the master of the place. He remained up two hours later, ruminating on the state of things; when, perceiving that the night was wearing on, he also found a nest, and sought his repose.
Nothing occurred to disturb the occupants of "Castle Meal," as le Bourdon laughingly called his cabin, until the return of day. If there were any bears scenting around the place, as often occurred at night, their instinct must have apprised them that a large reinforcement was present, and caused them to defer their attack to a more favorable opportunity. The first afoot next morning was the bee-hunter himself, who arose and left his cabin just as the earliest streaks of day were appearing in the east. Although dwelling in a wilderness, the "openings" had not the character of ordinary forests. The air circulates freely beneath their oaks, the sun penetrates in a thousand places, and grass grows, wild but verdant. There was little of the dampness of the virgin woods; and the morning air, though cool, as is ever the case, even in midsummer, in regions still covered with trees, was balmy; and, at that particular spot, it came to the senses of le Bourdon loaded with the sweets of many a wide glade of his favorite white clover. Of course, he had placed his cabin near those spots where the insect he sought most abounded; and a fragrant site it proved to be, in favorable conditions of the atmosphere. Ben had a taste for all the natural advantages of his abode, and was standing in enjoyment of its placid beauties when some one touched his elbow. Turning, quick as thought, he perceived the Chippewa at his side. That young Indian had approached with the noiseless tread of his people, and was now anxious to hold a private communication with him.
"Pottawattamie got long ear—come fudder—" said Pigeonswing; "go cook-house—t'ink we want breakfast."
Ben did as desired; and the two were soon side by side at the spring, in the outlet of which they made their ablutions—the redskin being totally without paint. When this agreeable office was performed, each felt in better condition for a conference.
"Elkfoot got belt from Canada fadder," commenced the Chippewa, with a sententious allusion to the British propensity to keep the savages in pay. "KNOW he got him KNOW he keep him."
"And you, Pigeonswing—by your manner of talking I had set you down for a king's Injin, too."
"TALK so—no FEEL bit so. MY heart Yankee."
"And have you not had a belt of wampum sent you, as well as the rest of them?"
"Dat true—got him—don't keep him."
"What! did you dare to send it back?"
"Ain't fool, dough young. Keep him; no keep him. Keep him for Canada fadder; no keep him for Chippewa brave."
"What have you then done with your belt?"
"Bury him where nobody find him dis war. No—Waubkenewh no hole in heart to let king in."
Pigeonswing, as this young Indian was commonly called in his tribe, in consequence of the rapidity of his movement when employed as a runner, had a much more respectable name, and one that he had fairly earned in some of the forays of his people, but which the commonalty had just the same indisposition to use as the French have to call Marshal Soult the Duc de Dalmatie. The last may be the most honorable title, but it is not that by which he is the best known to his countrymen. Waubkenewh was an appellation, notwithstanding, of which the young Chippewa was justly proud; and he often asserted his right to use it, as sternly as the old hero of Toulouse asserted his right to his duchy, when the Austrians wished to style him "le Marechal DUC Soult,"
"And you are friendly to the Yankees, and an enemy to the red- coats?"
Waubkenewh grasped the hand of le Bourdon, and squeezed it firmly. Then he said, warily:
"Take care—Elkfoot friend of Blackbird; like to look at Canada belt. Got medal of king, too. Have Yankee scalp, bye'm by. Take care—must speak low, when Elkfoot near."
"I begin to understand you, Chippewa; you wish me to believe that YOU are a friend to America, and that the Pottawatamie is not. If this be so, why have you held the speech that you did last night, and seemed to be on a war-path AGAINST my countrymen?"
"Dat good way, eh? Elkfoot den t'ink me HIS friend dat very good in war-time."
"But is it true, or false, that Mackinaw is taken by the British?"
"Dat true too—gone, and warrior all prisoner. Plenty Winnebago, plenty Pottawatamie, plenty Ottowa, plenty redskin, dere."
"And the Chippewas?"
"Some Ojebway, too"—answered Pigeonswing, after a reluctant pause. "Can't all go on same path this war. Hatchets, somehow, got two handle—one strike Yankee; one strike King George."
"But what is your business here, and where are you now going if you are friendly to the Americans? I make no secret of my feelings—I am for my own people, and I wish proof that you are a friend, and not an enemy."
"Too many question, one time," returned the Chippewa, a little distastefully. "No good have so long tongue. Ask one question, answer him—ask anoder, answer HIM, too."
"Well, then, what is your business, here?"
"Go to Chicago, for gen'ral."
"Do you mean that you bear a message from some American general to the commandant at Chicago?"
"Just so—dat my business. Guess him, right off; he, he, he!"
It is so seldom that an Indian laughs that the bee-hunter was startled.
"Where is the general who has sent you on this errand?" he demanded.
"He at Detroit—got whole army dere—warrior plenty as oak in opening."
All this was news to the bee-hunter, and it caused him to muse a moment, ere he proceeded.
"What is the name of the American general who has sent you on this path?" he then demanded.
"Hell," answered the Ojebway, quietly.
"Hell! You mean to give his Indian title, I suppose, to show that he will prove dangerous to the wicked. But how is he called in our own tongue?"
"Hell—dat he name—good name for so'ger, eh?"
"I believe I understand you, Chippewa—Hull is the name of the governor of the territory, and you must have mistaken the sound—'is it not so?"
"Hull—Hell—don't know—just same—one good as t'other."
"Yes, one will do as well as the other, if a body only understands you. So Governor Hull sent you here?"
"No gubbernor—general, tell you. Got big army—plenty warrior—eat Breesh up!"
"Now, Chippewa, answer me one thing to my likin', or I shall set you down as a man with a forked tongue, though you do call yourself a friend of the Yankees. If you have been sent from Detroit to Chicago, why are you so far north as this? Why are you here, on the banks of the Kalamazoo, when your path ought to lead you more toward the St. Joseph's?"
"Been to Mackinaw. Gen'ral says, first go to Mackinaw and see wid own eye how garrison do—den go to Chicago, and tell warrior dere what happen, and how he best manage. Understan' dat, Bourdon?"
"Aye, it all sounds well enough, I will acknowledge. You have been to Mackinaw to look about you, there, and having seen things with your own eyes, have started for Chicago to give your knowledge to the commandant at that place. Now, redskin, have you any proof of what you say?"
For some reason that the bee-hunter could not yet fathom, the Chippewa was particularly anxious either to obtain his confidence, or to deceive him. Which he was attempting, was not yet quite apparent; but that one or other was uppermost in his mind, Ben thought was beyond dispute. As soon as the question last named was put, however, the Indian looked cautiously around him, as if to be certain there were no spectators. Then he carefully opened his tobacco-pouch, and extricated from the centre of the cut weed a letter that was rolled into the smallest compass to admit of this mode of concealment, and which was encircled by a thread. The last removed, the letter was unrolled, and its superscription exposed. The address was to "Captain—Heald, U. S. Army, commanding at Chicago." In one corner were the words "On public service, by Pigeonswing." All this was submitted to the bee-hunter, who read it with his own eyes.
"Dat good"-asked the Chippewa, pointedly-"dat tell trut'-b'lieve HIM?"
Le Bourdon grasped the hand of the Indian, and gave it a hearty squeeze. Then he said frankly, and like a man who no longer entertained any doubts:
"I put faith in all you say, Chippewa. That is an officer's letter, and I now see that you are on the right side. You play'd so deep a game, at first, hows'ever, that I didn't know exactly what to make of you. Now, as for the Pottawattamie—do you set him down as friend or foe, in reality?"
"Enemy—take your scalp—take my scalp, in minute only can't catch him. He got belt from Montreal, and it look handsome in his eye."
"Which way d'ye think he's travelling? As I understood you, he and you fell into the same path within a mile of this very spot. Was the meeting altogether friendly?"
"Yes; friendly—but ask too many question—too much squaw—ask one question, den stop for answer."
"Very true—I will remember that an Indian likes to do one thing at a time. Which way, then, do you think he's travelling?"
"Don't know—on'y guess—guess he on path to Blackbird."
"And where is Blackbird, and what is he about?"
"Two question, dat!" returned the Chippewa, smiling, and holding up two of his fingers, at the same time, by way of rebuke. "Blackbird on war-path;—when warrior on dat path, he take scalp if can get him."
"But where is his enemy? There are no whites in this part of the country, but here and there a trader, or a trapper, or a bee-hunter, or a VOYAGEUR."
"Take HIS scalp—all scalp good, in war time. An't partic'lar, down at Montreal. What you call garrison at Chicago?"
"Blackbird, you then think, may be moving upon Chicago. In that case, Chippewa, you should outrun this Pottawatamie, and reach the post in time to let its men know the danger."
"Start, as soon as eat breakfast. Can't go straight, nudder, or Pottawatamie see print of moccasin. Must t'row him off trail."
"Very true; but I'll engage you're cunning enough to do that twice over, should it be necessary."
Just then Gershom Waring came out of the cabin, gaping like a hound, and stretching his arms, as if fairly wearied with sleep. At the sight of this man the Indian made a gesture of caution, saying, however, in an undertone:
"How is heart—Yankee or Breesh—love Montreal, eh? Pretty good scalp! Love King George, eh?"
"I rather think not, but am not certain. He is a poor pale-face, however, and it's of no great account how he stands. His scalp would hardly be worth the taking, whether by English or American."
"Sell, down at Montreal—better look out for Pottawatamie. Don't like that Injin."
"We'll be on our guard against him; and there he comes, looking as if his breakfast would be welcome, and as if he was already thinking of a start."
Le Bourdon had been busy with his pots, during the whole time this discourse was going on, and had warmed up a sufficiency of food to supply the wants of all his guests. In a few minutes each was busy quietly eating his morning's meal, Gershom having taken his bitters aside, and, as he fancied, unobserved. This was not so much owing to niggardliness, as to a distrust of his having a sufficient supply of the liquor, that long indulgence had made, in a measure, necessary to him, to last until he could get back to the barrels that were still to be found in his cabin, down on the shore of the lake.
During the breakfast little was said, conversation forming no material part of the entertainment, at the meals of any but the cultivated. When each had risen, however, and by certain preliminary arrangements it was obvious that the two Indians intended to depart, the Pottawatamie advanced to le Bourdon, and thrust out a hand.
"Thankee"—he said, in the brief way in which he clipped his English—"good supper—good sleep—good breakfast. Now go. Thankee— when any friend come to Pottawatamie village, good wigwam dere, and no door."
"I thank you, Elksfoot—and should you pass this way, ag'in, soon, I hope you'll just step into this chiente and help yourself it I should happen to be off on a hunt. Good luck to you, and a happy sight of home."
The Pottawatamie then turned and thrust out a hand to each of the others, who met his offered leave-taking with apparent friendship. The bee-hunter observed that neither of the Indians said anything to the other touching the path he was about to travel, but that each seemed ready to pursue his own way as if entirely independent, and without the expectation of having a companion.
Elksfoot left the spot the first. After completing his adieus, the Pottawattamie threw his rifle into the hollow of his arm, felt at his belt, as if to settle it into its place, made some little disposition of his light summer covering, and moved off in a southwesterly direction, passing through the open glades, and almost equally unobstructed groves, as steady in his movements as if led by an instinct.
"There he goes, on a bee-line," said le Bourdon, as the straight form of the old savage disappeared at length, behind a thicket of trees. "On a bee-line for the St. Joseph's river, where he will shortly be, among friends and neighbors, I do not doubt. What, Chippewa! are you in motion too?"
"Must go, now," returned Pigeonswing, in a friendly way. "Bye'm by come back and eat more honey-bring sweet news, hope-no Canada here," placing a finger on his heart-"all Yankee."
"God be with you, Chippewa-God be with you. We shall have a stirring summer of it, and I expect to hear of your name in the wars, as of a chief who knows no fear."
Pigeonswing waved his hand, cast a glance, half friendly half contemptuously, at Whiskey Centre, and glided away. The two who remained standing near the smouldering fire remarked that the direction taken by the Chippewa was toward the lake, and nearly at right angles to that taken by the Pottawattamie. They also fancied that the movement of the former was about half as fast again as that of the latter. In less than three minutes the young Indian was concealed in the "openings," though he had to cross a glade of considerable width in order to reach them.
The bee-hunter was now alone with the only one of his guests who was of the color and race to which he himself belonged. Of the three, he was the visitor he least respected; but the dues of hospitality are usually sacred in a wilderness, and among savages, so that he could do nothing to get rid of him. As Gershom manifested no intention to quit the place, le Bourdon set about the business of the hour, with as much method and coolness as if the other had not been present. The first thing was to bring home the honey discovered on the previous day; a task of no light labor, the distance it was to be transported being so considerable, and the quantity so large. But our bee-hunter was not without the means of accomplishing such an object, and he now busied himself in getting ready. As Gershom volunteered his assistance, together they toiled in apparent amity and confidence.
The Kalamazoo is a crooked stream; and it wound from the spot where le Bourdon had built his cabin, to a point within a hundred yards of the fallen tree in which the bees had constructed their hive. As a matter of course, Ben profited by this circumstance to carry his canoe to the latter place, with a view to render it serviceable in transporting the honey. First securing everything in and around the chiente, he and Gershom embarked, taking with them no less than four pieces of fire-arms; one of which was, to use the language of the west, a double-barrelled "shot-gun." Before quitting the place, however, the bee-hunter went to a large kennel made of logs, and let out a mastiff of great power and size. Between this dog and himself there existed the best possible intelligence; the master having paid many visits to the prisoner since his return, feeding and caressing him. Glad, indeed, was this fine animal to be released, bounding back and forth, and leaping about le Bourdon in a way to manifest his delight. He had been cared for in his kennel, and well cared for, too; but there is no substitute for liberty, whether in man or beast, individuals or communities.
When all Was ready, le Bourdon and Gershom got into the canoe, whither the former now called his dog, using the name of "Hive," an appellation that was doubtless derived from his own pursuit. As soon as the mastiff leaped into the canoe, Ben shoved off, and the light craft was pushed up the stream by himself and Gershom without much difficulty, and with considerable rapidity. But little driftwood choked the channel; and, after fifteen minutes of moderate labor, the two men came near to the point of low wooded land in which the bee-tree had stood. As they drew nigh, certain signs of uneasiness in the dog attracted his master's attention, and he pointed them out to Gershom.
"There's game in the wind," answered Whiskey Centre, who had a good knowledge of most of the craft of border life, notwithstanding his ungovernable propensity to drink, and who, by nature, was both shrewd and resolute. "I shouldn't wonder"-a common expression of his class—"if we found bears prowling about that honey!"
"Such things have happened in my time," answered the bee-hunter, "and twice in my experience I've been driven from the field, and forced to let the devils get my 'arnin's."
"That was when you had no comrade, stranger" returned Gershom, raising a rifle, and carefully examining its flint and its priming. "It will be a large family on 'em that drives us from that tree; for my mind is made up to give Doll and Blossom a taste of the sweets."
If this was said imprudently, as respects ownership in the prize, it was said heartily, so far as spirit and determination were concerned. It proved that Whiskey Centre had points about him which, if not absolutely redeeming, served in some measure to lessen the disgust which one might other-wise have felt for his character. The bee-hunter knew that there was a species of hardihood that belonged to border men as the fruits of their habits, and, apparently, he had all necessary confidence in Gershom's disposition to sustain him, should there be occasion for a conflict with his old enemies.
The first measure of the bee-hunter, after landing and securing his boat, was to quiet Hive. The animal being under excellent command, this was soon done; the mastiff maintaining the position assigned him in the rear, though evidently impatient to be let loose. Had not le Bourdon known the precise position of the fallen tree, and through that the probable position of his enemies, he would have placed the mastiff in advance, as a pioneer or scout; but he deemed it necessary, under the actual circumstances, to hold him as a reserve, or a force to be directed whither occasion might require. With this arrangement, then, le Bourdon and Whiskey Centre advanced, side by side, each carrying two pieces, from the margin of the river toward the open land that commanded a view of the tree. On reaching the desired point, a halt was called, in order to reconnoitre.
The reader will remember that the bee-elm had stood on the edge of a dense thicket, or swamp, in which the trees grew to a size several times exceeding those of the oaks in the openings; and le Bourdon had caused it to fall upon the open ground, in order to work at the honey with greater ease to himself. Consequently, the fragments lay in full view of the spot where the halt was made. A little to Gershom's surprise, Ben now produced his spy-glass, which he levelled with much earnestness toward the tree. The bee-hunter, however, well knew his business, and was examining into the state of the insects whom he had so violently invaded the night before. The air was filled with them, flying above and around the tree; a perfect cloud of the little creatures hovering directly over the hole, as if to guard its treasure.