James Fenimore Cooper
Part 1 out of 9
This text was produced by Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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 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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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-
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
"Waal," said Gershom, in his drawling way, when le Bourdon had taken
a long look with the glass, "I don't see much use in spy-glassin' in
that fashion. Spy-glassin' may do out on the lake, if a body has
only the tools to do it with; but here, in the openin's, nature's
eyes is about as good as them a body buys in the stores."
"Take a look at them bees, and see what a fret they're in," returned
Ben, handing the glass to his companion. "As long as I've been in
the business, I've never seen a colony in such a fever. Commonly, a
few hours after the bees find that their tree is down, and their
plans broken into, they give it up, and swarm; looking for a new
hive, and setting about the making more food for the next winter;
but here are all the bees yet, buzzing above the hole, as if they
meant to hold out for a siege."
"There's an onaccountable grist on 'em"--Gershom was never very
particular in his figures of speech, usually terming anything in
quantities a'grist"; and meaning in the present instance by
"onaccountable," a number not to be counted--"an onaccountable grist
on 'em, I can tell you, and if you mean to charge upon sich enemies,
you must look out for somebody besides Whiskey Centre for your
vanguard. What in natur' has got into the critters! They can't
expect to set that tree on its legs ag'in!"
"Do you see a flight of them just in the edge of the for-est--here,
more to the southward?" demanded le Bourdon.
"Sure enough! There is a lot on 'em there, too, and they seem to be
comin' and goin' to the tree, like folks"--Gershom WOULD put his
noun of multitude into the plural, Nova-Anglice--"comin' and goin'
like folks carryin' water to a fire. A body would think, by the stir
among 'em, them critters' barrel was empty!"
"The bears are there," coolly returned the bee-hunter; "I've seen
such movements before, and know how to account for them. The bears
are in the thicket, but don't like to come out in the face of such a
colony. I have heard of bears being chased miles by bees, when their
anger was up!"
"Mortality! They have a good deal of dander (dandruff) for sich
little vipers! But what are WE to do, Bourdon? for Doll and Blossom
MUST taste that honey! Half's mine, you know, and I don't like to
give it up."
The bee-hunter smiled at the coolness with which Gershom assigned to
himself so large a portion of his property; though he did not think
it worth his while, just then, to "demur to his declaration," as the
lawyers might have it. There was a sort of border rule, which gave
all present equal shares in any forest captures; just as vessels in
sight come in for prize-money, taken in time of war by public
cruisers. At any rate, the honey of a single tree was not of
sufficient value to induce a serious quarrel about it. If there
should be any extra trouble or danger in securing the present prize,
every craft in view might, fairly enough, come in for its share.
"Doll shall not be forgotten, if we can only house our honey,"
answered the bee-hunter; "nor Blossom, neither. I've a fancy,
already, for that blossom of the wilderness, and shall do all I can
to make myself agreeable to her. A man cannot approach a maiden with
anything sweeter than honey."
"Some gals like sugar'd words better; but, let me tell you one
"You have eaten bread and salt with me, Whiskey, and both are scarce
articles in a wilderness; and you've slept under my roof: is it not
almost time to call me something else than stranger?"
"Well, Bourdon, if you prefer that name; though STRANger is a name I
like, it has sich an up and off sound to it. When a man calls all he
sees STRANgers, it's a sign he don't let the grass grow in the road
for want of movin'; and a movin' man for me, any day, before your
stationaries. I was born on the sea-shore, in the Bay State; and
here I am, up among the fresh-water lakes, as much nat'ralized as
any muskelunge that was ever cotch'd in Huron, or about Mackinaw. If
I can believe my eyes, Bourdon, there is the muzzle of a bear to be
seen, jist under that heavy hemlock--here, where the bees seem
"No doubt in the world," answered le Bourdon, coolly; though he had
taken the precaution to look to the priming of each of his pieces,
as if he expected there would soon be occasion to use them. "But
what was that you were about to say concernin' Blossom? It would not
be civil to the young woman to overlook her, on account of a bear or
"You take it easy, STRANger--Bourdon, I should say--you take it
easy! What I was about to say was this: that the whull lake country,
and that's a wide stretch to foot it over, I know; but, big as it
is, the whull lake country don't contain Blossom's equal. I'm her
brother, and perhaps ought to be a little modest in sich matters;
but I an't a bit, and let out jist what I think. Blossom's a
di'mond, if there be di'monds on 'arth."
"And yonder is a bear, if there be bears on earth!" exclaimed le
Bourdon, who was not a little amused with Gershom's account of his
family, but who saw that the moment was now arrived when it would be
necessary to substitute deeds for words. "There they come, in a
drove, and they seem in earnest."
This was true enough. No less than eight bears, half of which,
however, were quite young, came tumbling over the logs, and bounding
up toward the fallen tree, as if charging the citadel of the bees by
preconcert. Their appearance was the signal for a general rally of
the insects, and by the time the foremost of the clumsy animals had
reached the tree, the air above and around him was absolutely
darkened by the cloud of bees that was collected to defend their
treasures. Bruin trusted too much to the thickness of his hide and
to the defences with which he was provided by nature, besides being
too much incited by the love of honey, to regard the little heroes,
but thrust his nose in at the hole, doubtless hoping to plunge it at
once into the midst of a mass of the sweets. A growl, a start
backward, and a flourishing of the fore-paws, with sundry bites in
the air, at once announced that he had met with greater resistance
than he had anticipated. In a minute, all the bears were on their
hind-legs, beating the air with their fore-paws, and nipping right
and left with their jaws, in vigorous combat with their almost
invisible foes. Instinct supplied the place of science, and spite of
the hides and the long hair that covered them, the bees found the
means of darting their stings into unprotected places, until the
quadrupeds were fairly driven to rolling about on the grass in order
to crush their assailants. This last process had some effect, a
great many bees being destroyed by the energetic rollings and
tumblings of the bears; but, as in the tide of battle, the places of
those who fell were immediately supplied by fresh assailants, until
numbers seemed likely to prevail over power, if not over discipline.
At this critical instant, when the bears seemed fatigued with their
nearly frantic saltations, and violent blows upon nothing, le
Bourdon deemed it wise to bring his forces into the combat. Gershom
having been apprised of the plan, both fired at the same instant.
Each ball took effect; one killing the largest of all the bears,
dead on the spot, while the other inflicted a grievous wound on a
second. This success was immediately followed by a second discharge,
wounding two more of the enemy, while Ben held the second barrel of
his "shot-gun" in reserve. While the hurt animals were hobbling off,
the men reloaded their pieces; and by the time the last were ready
to advance on the enemy, the ground was cleared of bears and bees
alike, only two of the former remaining, of which one was already
dead and the other dying. As for the bees, they followed their
retreating enemies in a body, making a mistake that sometimes
happens to still more intelligent beings; that of attributing to
themselves, and their own prowess, a success that had been gained by
The bee-hunter and his friend now set themselves at work to provide
a reception for the insects, the return of which might shortly be
expected. The former lighted a fire, being always provided with the
means, while Gershom brought dry wood. In less than five minutes a
bright blaze was gleaming upward, and when the bees returned, as
most of them soon did, they found this new enemy intrenched, as it
might be, behind walls of flame. Thousands of the little creatures
perished by means of this new invention of man, and the rest soon
after were led away by their chiefs to seek some new deposit for the
fruits of their industry.
The sad butterfly,
Waving his lackered wings, darts quickly on,
And, by his free flight, counsels us to speed
For better lodgings, and a scene more sweet,
Than these dear borders offer us to-night.
It was noon before Ben and Gershom dared to commence the process of
cutting and splitting the tree, in order to obtain the honey. Until
then, the bees lingered around their fallen hive, and it would have
been dangerous to venture beyond the smoke and heat, in order to
accomplish the task. It is true, le Bourdon possessed several
secrets, of more or less virtue, to drive off the bees when disposed
to assault him, but no one that was as certain as a good fire,
backed by a dense column of vapor. Various plants are thought to be
so offensive to the insects, that they avoid even their odor; and
the bee-hunter had faith in one or two of them; but none of the
right sort happened now to be near, and he was obliged to trust,
first to a powerful heat, and next to the vapor of damp wood.
As there were axes, and wedges, and a beetle in the canoe, and
Gershom was as expert with these implements as a master of fencing
is with his foil, to say nothing of the skill of le Bourdon, the
tree was soon laid open, and its ample stores of sweets exposed. In
the course of the afternoon the honey was deposited in kegs, the
kegs were transferred to the canoe, and the whole deposited in the
chiente. The day had been one of toil, and when our two bordermen
sat down near the spring, to take their evening meal, each felt glad
that his work was done.
"I believe this must be the last hive I line, this summer," said le
Bourdon, while eating his supper. "My luck has been good so far, but
in troublesome times one had better not be too far from home. I am
surprised, Waring, that you have ventured so far from your family,
while the tidings are so gloomy."
"That's partly because you don't know ME, and partly because you
don't know DOLLY. As for leaving hum, with anybody to kear for it, I
should like to know who is more to the purpose than Dolly Waring? I
haven't no idee that even bees would dare get upon HER! If they did,
they'd soon get the worst on't Her tongue is all-powerful, to say
nawthin' of her arms; and if the so'gers can only handle their
muskets as she can handle a broom, there is no need of new regiments
to carry on this war."
Now, nothing could be more false than this character; but a drunkard
has little regard to what he says.
"I am glad your garrison is so strong," answered the beehunter,
thoughtfully; "but mine is too weak to stay any longer, out here in
the openings. Whiskey Centre, I intend to break up, and return to
the settlement, before the red-skins break loose in earnest. If you
will stay and lend me a hand to embark the honey and stores, and
help to carry the canoe down the river, you shall be well paid for
"Waal, I'd about as lief do that, as do anything else. Good jobs is
scarce, out here in the wilderness, and when a body lights of one,
he ought to profit by it. I come up here thinkin' to meet you, for I
heer'n tell from a voyager that you was a-beeing it, out in the
openin's, and there's nawthin' in natur' that Dolly takes to with a
greater relish than good wild honey. 'Try whiskey,' I've told her a
thousand times, 'and you'll soon get to like THAT better than all
the rest of creation'; but not a drop could I ever get her, or
Blossom, to swallow. It's true, that leaves so much the more for me;
but I'm a companionable crittur, and don't think I've drunk as much
as I want, unless I take it society-like. That's one reason I've
taken so mightily to you, Bourdon; you're not much at a pull, but
you an't downright afeared of a jug, neither."
The bee-hunter was glad to hear that all the family had not this
man's vice, for he now plainly foresaw that the accidents of his
position must bring him and these strangers much in contact, for
some weeks, at least. Le Bourdon, though not absolutely "afraid of a
jug," as Whiskey Centre had expressed it, was decidedly a temperate
man; drinking but seldom, and never to excess. He too well knew the
hazards by which he was surrounded, to indulge in this way, even had
he the taste for it; but he had no taste that way, one small jug of
brandy forming his supply for a whole season. In these days of
exaggeration in all things, exaggeration in politics, in religion,
in temperance, in virtue, and even in education, by putting "new
wine into old bottles," that one little jug might have sufficed to
give him a bad name; but five-and-thirty years ago men had more real
independence than they now possess, and were not as much afraid of
that croquemitaine, public opinion, as they are to-day. To be sure,
it was little to le Bourdon's taste to make a companion of such a
person as Whiskey Centre; but there was no choice. The man was an
utter stranger to him; and the only means he possessed of making
sure that he did not carry off the property that lay so much at his
mercy, was by keeping near him. With many men, the bee-hunter would
have been uneasy at being compelled to remain alone with them in the
woods; for cases in which one had murdered another, in order to get
possession of the goods, in these remote regions, were talked of,
among the other rumors of the borders; but Gershom had that in his
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