Oak Openings by James Fenimore Cooper
How skilfully it builds its cell, How neat it spreads the wax, And labors hard to store it well, With the sweet food it makes. WATTS' HYMNS FOR CHILDREN.
The next thing was to ascertain which was the particular tree in which the bees had found a shelter. Collecting his implements, le Bourdon was soon ready, and, with a light elastic tread, he moved off toward the point of the wood, followed by the whole party. The distance was about half a mile, and men so much accustomed to use their limbs made light of it. In a few minutes all were there, and the bee-hunter was busy in looking for his tree. This was the consummation of the whole process, and Ben was not only provided for the necessities of the case, but he was well skilled in all the signs that betokened the abodes of bees.
An uninstructed person might have passed that point of wood a thousand times, without the least consciousness of the presence of a single insect of the sort now searched for. In general, the bees flew too high to be easily perceptible from the ground, though a practised eye can discern them at distances that would almost seem to be marvellous. But Ben had other assistants than his eyes. He knew that the tree he sought must be hollow, and such trees usually give outward signs of the defect that exists within. Then, some species of wood are more frequented by the bees than others, while the instinct of the industrious little creatures generally enables them to select such homes as will not be very likely to destroy all the fruits of their industry by an untimely fall. In all these particulars, both bees and bee-hunter were well versed, and Ben made his search accordingly.
Among the other implements of his calling, le Bourdon had a small spy-glass; one scarcely larger than those that are used in theatres, but which was powerful and every way suited to its purposes. Ben was not long in selecting a tree, a half-decayed elm, as the one likely to contain the hive; and by the aid of his glass he soon saw bees flying among its dying branches, at a height of not less than seventy feet from the ground. A little further search directed his attention to a knot-hole, in and out of which the glass enabled him to see bees passing in streams. This decided the point; and putting aside all his implements but the axe, Buzzing Ben now set about the task of felling the tree.
"Stranger," said Gershom, when le Bourdon had taken out the first chip, "perhaps you'd better let me do that part of the job. I shall expect to come in for a share of the honey, and I'm willing to 'arn all I take. I was brought up on axes, and jack-knives, and sich sort of food, and can cut or whittle with the best chopper, or the neatest whittler, in or out of New England."
"You can try your hand, if you wish it," said Ben, relinquishing the axe. "I can fell a tree as well as yourself, but have no such love for the business as to wish to keep it all to myself."
"Waal, I can say, I like it," answered Gershom, first passing his thumb along the edge of the axe, in order to ascertain its state; then swinging the tool, with a view to try its "hang."
"I can't say much for your axe, stranger, for this helve has no tarve to't, to my mind; but, sich as it is, down must come this elm, though ten millions of bees should set upon me for my pains."
This was no idle boast of Waring's. Worthless as he was in so many respects, he was remarkably skilful with the axe, as he now proved by the rapid manner in which he severed the trunk of the large elm on which he was at work. He inquired of Ben where he should "lay the tree," and when it came clattering down, it fell on the precise spot indicated. Great was the confusion among the bees at this sudden downfall of their long-cherished home. The fact was not known to their enemy, but they had inhabited that tree for a long time; and the prize now obtained was the richest he had ever made in his calling. As for the insects, they filled the air in clouds, and all the invaders deemed it prudent to withdraw to some little distance for a time, lest the irritated and wronged bees should set upon them and take an ample revenge. Had they known their power, this might easily have been done, no ingenuity of man being able to protect him against the assaults of this insignificant-looking animal, when unable to cover himself, and the angry little heroes are in earnest. On the present occasion, however, no harm befell the marauders. So suddenly had the hive tumbled that its late occupants appeared to be astounded, and they submitted to their fate as men yield to the power of tempests and earthquakes. In half an hour most of them were collected on an adjacent tree, where doubtless a consultation on the mode of future proceedings was held, after their fashion.
The Indians were more delighted with le Bourdon's ingenious mode of discovering the hive than with the richness of the prize; while Ben himself, and Gershom, manifested most satisfaction at the amount of the earnings. When the tree was cut in pieces, and split, it was ascertained that years of sweets were contained within its capacious cavities, and Ben estimated the portion that fell to his share at more than three hundred pounds of good honey--comb included--after deducting the portions that were given to the Indians, and which were abstracted by Gershom. The three last, however, could carry but little, as they had no other means of bearing it away than their own backs.
The honey was not collected that night. The day was too far advanced for that; and le Bourdon--certainly never was name less merited than this sobriquet as applied to the active young bee-hunter--but le Bourdon, to give him his quaint appellation, offered the hospitalities of his own cabin to the strangers, promising to put them on their several paths the succeeding day, with a good store of honey in each knapsack.
"They do say there ar' likely to be troublesome times." he continued, with simple earnestness, after having given the invitation to partake of his homely fare; "and I should like to hear what is going on in the world. From Whiskey Centre I do not expect to learn much, I will own; but I am mistaken if the Pigeonswing, here, has not a message that will make us all open our ears."
The Indians ejaculated their assent; but Gershom was a man who could not express anything sententiously. As the bee-hunter led the way toward his cabin, or shanty, he made his comments with his customary freedom. Before recording what he communicated, however, we shall digress for one moment in order to say a word ourselves concerning this term "shanty." It is now in general use throughout the whole of the United States, meaning a cabin that has been constructed in haste, and for temporary purposes. By a license of speech, it is occasionally applied to more permanent residences, as men are known to apply familiar epithets to familiar objects. The derivation of the word has caused some speculation. The term certainly came from the West-perhaps from the Northwest-and the best explanation we have ever heard of its derivation is to sup-pose "shanty," as we now spell it, a corruption of "chiente," which it is thought may have been a word in Canadian French phrase to express a "dog-kennel." "Chenil," we believe, is the true French term for such a thing, and our own word is said to be derived from it--"meute" meaning "a kennel of dogs," or "a pack of hounds," rather than their dwelling. At any rate, "chiente" is so plausible a solution of the difficulty, that one may hope it is the true one, even though he has no better authority for it than a very vague rumor. Curious discoveries are sometimes made by these rude analogies, however, though they are generally thought not to be very near akin to learning. For ourselves, now, we do not entertain a doubt that the sobriquet of "Yankees" which is in every man's mouth, and of which the derivation appears to puzzle all our philologists, is nothing but a slight corruption of the word "Yengeese," the term applied to the "English," by the tribes to whom they first became known. We have no other authority for this derivation than conjecture, and conjectures that are purely our own; but it is so very plausible as almost to carry conviction of itself. [Footnote: Since writing the above, the author has met with an allusion that has induced him to think he may not have been the first to suggest this derivation of the word "Yankee." With himself, the suggestion is perfectly original, and has long since been published by him; but nothing is more probable than the fact that a solution so very natural, of this long-disputed question in language, may have suggested itself to various minds.]
The "chiente'" or shanty of le Bourdon stood quite near to the banks of the Kalamazoo, and in a most beautiful grove of the burr-oak. Ben had selected the site with much taste, though the proximity of a spring of delicious water had probably its full share in influencing his decision. It was necessary, moreover, that he should be near the river, as his great movements were all made by water, for the convenience of transporting his tools, furniture, etc., as well as his honey. A famous bark canoe lay in a little bay, out of the current of the stream, securely moored, head and stern, in order to prevent her beating against any object harder than herself.
The dwelling had been constructed with some attention to security. This was rendered necessary, in some measure, as Ben had found by experience, on account of two classes of enemies--men and bears. From the first, it is true, the bee-hunter had hitherto apprehended but little. There were few human beings in that region. The northern portions of the noble peninsula of Michigan are some-what low and swampy, or are too broken and savage to tempt the native hunters from the openings and prairies that then lay, in such rich profusion, further south and west. With the exception of the shores, or coasts, it was seldom that the northern half of the peninsula felt the footstep of man. With the southern half, however, it was very different; the "openings," and glades, and watercourses, offering almost as many temptations to the savage as they have since done to the civilized man. Nevertheless, the bison, or the buffalo, as the animal is erroneously, but very generally, termed throughout the country, was not often found in the vast herds of which we read, until one reached the great prairies west of the Mississippi. There it was that the red men most loved to congregate; though always bearing, in numbers, but a trifling proportion to the surface they occupied. In that day, however, near as to the date, but distant as to the events, the Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawattamies, kindred tribes, we believe, had still a footing in Michigan proper, and were to be found in considerable numbers in what was called the St. Joseph's country, or along the banks of the stream of that name; a region that almost merits the lofty appellation of the garden of America. Le Bourdon knew many of their warriors, and was much esteemed among them; though he had never met with either of those whom chance now had thrown in his way. In general, he suffered little wrong from the red men, who wondered at his occupation, while they liked his character; but he had sustained losses, and even ill- treatment, from certain outcasts of the tribes, as well as from vagrant whites, who occasionally found their way to his temporary dwellings. On the present occasion, le Bourdon felt far more uneasiness from the circumstance of having his abode known to Gershom Waring, a countryman and fellow-Christian, in one sense at least, than from its being known to the Chippewa and the Pottawattamie.
The bears were constant and dangerous sources of annoyance to the bee-hunter. It was not often that an armed man--and le Bourdon seldom moved without his rifle--has much to apprehend from the common brown bear of America. Though a formidable-looking animal, especially when full grown, it is seldom bold enough to attack a human being, nothing but hunger, or care for its young, ever inducing it to go so much out of the ordinary track of its habits. But the love of the bear for honey amounts to a passion. Not only will it devise all sorts of bearish expedients to get at the sweet morsels, but it will scent them from afar. On one occasion, a family of Bruins had looked into a shanty of Ben's, that was not constructed with sufficient care, and consummated their burglary by demolishing the last comb. That disaster almost ruined the adventurer, then quite young in his calling; and ever since its occurrence he had taken the precaution to build such a citadel as should at least set teeth and paws at defiance. To one who had an axe, with access to young pines, this was not a difficult task, as was proved by the present habitation of our hero.
This was the second season that le Bourdon had occupied "Castle Meal," as he himself called the shanty. This appellation was a corruption of "chateau au Mtel" a name given to it by a wag of a voyageur^ who had aided Ben in ascending the Kalamazoo the previous summer, and had remained long enough with him to help him put up his habitation. The building was just twelve feet square, in the interior, and somewhat less than fourteen on its exterior. It was made of pine logs, in the usual mode, with the additional security of possessing a roof of squared timbers of which the several parts were so nicely fitted together as to shed rain. This unusual precaution was rendered necessary to protect the honey, since the bears would have unroofed the common bark coverings of the shanties, with the readiness of human beings, in order to get at stores as ample as those which the bee-hunter had soon collected beneath his roof. There was one window of glass, which le Bourdon had brought in his canoe; though it was a single sash of six small lights, that opened on hinges; the exterior being protected by stout bars of riven oak, securely let into the logs. The door was made of three thicknesses of oaken plank, pinned well together, and swinging on stout iron hinges, so secured as not to be easily removed. Its outside fastening was made by means of two stout staples, a short piece of ox-chain, and an unusually heavy padlock. Nothing short of an iron bar, and that cleverly applied, could force this fastening. On the inside, three bars of oak rendered all secure, when the master was at home.
"You set consid'rable store by your honey, I guess, stranger," said Gershom, as le Bourdon unlocked the fastenings and removed the chain, "if a body may judge by the kear (care) you take on't! Now, down our way we ain't half so partic'lar; Dolly and Blossom never so much as putting up a bar to the door, even when I sleep out, which is about half the time, now the summer is fairly set in."
"And whereabouts is 'down our way,' if one may be so bold as to ask the question?" returned le Bourdon, holding the door half-opened, while he turned his face toward the other, in expectation of the answer.
"Why, down at Whiskey Centre, to be sure, as the v'y'gerers and other boatmen call the place."
"And where is Whiskey Centre?" demanded Ben, a little pertinaciously.
"Why, I thought everybody would 'a' known that," answered Greshom; "sin' whiskey is as drawin' as a blister. Whiskey Centre is just where I happen to live; bein' what a body may call a travellin' name. As I'm now down at the mouth of the Kalamazoo, why Whiskey Centre's there, too."
"I understand the matter, now," answered le Bourdon, composing his well-formed mouth in a sort of contemptuous smile. "You and whiskey, being sworn friends, are always to be found in company. When I came into the river, which was the last week in April, I saw nothing like whiskey, nor anything like a Centre at the mouth."
"If you'd 'a' be'n a fortnight later, stranger, you'd 'a' found both. Travellin' Centres, and stationary, differs somewhat, I guess; one is always to be found, while t'other must be s'arched a'ter."
"And pray who are Dolly and Blossom; I hope the last is not a whiskey blossom?"
"Not she--she never touches a spoonful, though I tell her it never hurt mortal! She tries hard to reason me into it that it hurts me-- but that's all a mistake, as anybody can see that jest looks at me."
Ben did look at him; and, to say truth, came to a somewhat different conclusion.
"Is she so blooming that you call her 'Blossom'?" demanded the bee- hunter, "or is she so young?"
"The gal's a little of both. Dolly is my wife, and Blossom is my sister. The real name of Blossom is Margery Waring, but everybody calls her Blossom; and so I gi'n into it, with the rest on 'em."
It is probable that le Bourdon lost a good deal of his interest in this flower of the wilderness, as soon as he learned she was so nearly related to the Whiskey Centre. Gershom was so very uninviting an object, and had so many palpable marks, that he had fairly earned the nickname which, as it afterward appeared, the western adventurers had given him, as well as his abode, wherever the last might be, that no one of decently sober habits could readily fancy anything belonging to him. At any rate, the bee-hunter now led the way into his cabin, whither he was followed without unnecessary ceremony, by all three of his guests.
The interior of the "chiente," to use the most poetical, if not the most accurate word, was singularly clean for an establishment set up by a bachelor, in so remote a part of the world. The honey, in neat, well-constructed kegs, was carefully piled along one side of the apartment, in a way to occupy the minimum of room, and to be rather ornamental than unsightly. These kegs were made by le Bourdon himself, who had acquired as much of the art as was necessary to that object. The woods always furnished the materials; and a pile of staves that was placed beneath a neighboring tree sufficiently denoted that he did not yet deem that portion of his task completed.
In one corner of the hut was a pile of well-dressed bearskins, three in number, each and all of which had been taken from the carcasses of fallen foes, within the last two months. Three more were stretched on saplings, near by, in the process of curing. It was a material part of the bee-hunter's craft to kill this animal, in particular; and the trophies of his conflicts with them were proportionably numerous. On the pile already prepared, he usually slept.
There was a very rude table, a single board set up on sticks; and a bench or two, together with a wooden chest of some size, completed the furniture. Tools were suspended from the walls, it is true; and no less than three rifles, in addition to a very neat double- barrelled "shot-gun," or fowling-piece, were standing in a corner. These were arms collected by our hero in his different trips, and retained quite as much from affection as from necessity, or caution. Of ammunition, there was no very great amount visible; only three or four horns and a couple of pouches being suspended from pegs: but Ben had a secret store, as well as another rifle, carefully secured, in a natural magazine and arsenal, at a distance sufficiently great from the chiente to remove it from all danger of sharing in the fortunes of his citadel, should disaster befall the last.
The cooking was done altogether out of doors. For this essential comfort, le Bourdon had made very liberal provision. He had a small oven, a sufficiently convenient fire-place, and a storehouse, at hand; all placed near the spring, and beneath the shade of a magnificent elm. In the storehouse he kept his barrel of flour, his barrel of salt, a stock of smoked or dried meat, and that which the woodsman, if accustomed in early life to the settlements, prizes most highly, a half-barrel of pickled pork. The bark canoe had sufficed to transport all these stores, merely ballasting handsomely that ticklish craft; and its owner relied on the honey to perform the same office on the return voyage, when trade or consumption should have disposed of the various articles just named.
The reader may smile at the word "trade," and ask where were those to be found who could be parties to the traffic. The vast lakes and innumerable rivers of that region, however, remote as it then was from the ordinary abodes of civilized man, offered facilities for communication that the active spirit of trade would be certain not to neglect. In the first place, there were always the Indians to barter skins and furs against powder, lead, rifles, blankets, and unhappily "fire-water." Then, the white men who penetrated to those semi-wilds were always ready to "dicker" and to "swap," and to "trade" rifles, and watches, and whatever else they might happen to possess, almost to their wives and Children.
But we should be doing injustice to le Bourdon, were we in any manner to confound him with the "dickering" race. He was a bee- hunter quite as much through love of the wilderness and love of adventure, as through love of gain. Profitable he had certainly found the employment, or he probably would not have pursued it; but there was many a man who--nay, most men, even in his own humble class in life-would have deemed his liberal earnings too hardly obtained, when gained at the expense of all intercourse with their own kind. But Buzzing Ben loved the solitude of his situation, its hazards, its quietude, relieved by passing moments of high excitement; and, most of all, the self-reliance that was indispensable equally to his success and his happiness. Woman, as yet, had never exercised her witchery over him, and every day was his passion for dwelling alone, and for enjoying the strange, but certainly most alluring, pleasures of the woods, increasing and gaining strength in his bosom. It was seldom, now, that he held intercourse even with the Indian tribes that dwelt near his occasional places of hunting; and frequently had he shifted his ground in order to avoid collision, however friendly, with whites who, like himself, were pushing their humble fortunes along the shores of those inland seas, which, as yet, were rarely indeed whitened by a sail. In this respect, Boden and Waring were the very antipodes of each other; Gershom being an inveterate gossip, in despite of his attachment to a vagrant and border life.
The duties of hospitality are rarely forgotten among border men. The inhabitant of a town may lose his natural disposition to receive all who offer at his board, under the pressure of society; but it is only in most extraordinary exceptions that the frontier man is ever known to be inhospitable. He has little to offer, but that little is seldom withheld, either through prudence or niggardliness. Under this feeling--we might call it habit also--le Bourdon now set himself at work to place on the table such food as he had at command and ready cooked. The meal which he soon pressed his guests to share with him was composed of a good piece of cold boiled pork, which Ben had luckily cooked the day previously, some bear's meat roasted, a fragment of venison steak, both lean and cold, and the remains of a duck that had been shot the day before, in the Kalamazoo, with bread, salt, and, what was somewhat unusual in the wilderness, two or three onions, raw. The last dish was highly relished by Gershom, and was slightly honored by Ben; but the Indians passed it over with cold indifference. The dessert consisted of bread and honey, which were liberally partaken of by all at table.
Little was said by either host or guests, until the supper was finished, when the whole party left the chiente, to enjoy their pipes in the cool evening air, beneath the oaks of the grove in which the dwelling stood. Their conversation began to let the parties know something of each other's movements and characters.
"You are a Pottawattamie, and you a Chippewa," said le Bourdon, as he courteously handed to his two red guests pipes of theirs, that he had just stuffed with some of his own tobacco--"I believe you are a sort of cousins, though your tribes are called by different names."
"Nation, Ojebway," returned the elder Indian, holding up a finger, by way of enforcing attention.
"Tribe, Pottawattamie," added the runner, in the same sententious manner.
"Baccy, good"--put in the senior, by way of showing he was well contented with his comforts.
"Have you nothin' to drink?" demanded Whiskey Centre, who saw no great merit in anything but "firewater."
"There is the spring," returned le Bourdon, gravely; "a gourd hangs against the tree."
Gershom made a wry face, but he did not move.
"Is there any news stirring among the tribes?" asked the bee-hunter, waiting, however, a decent interval, lest he might be supposed to betray a womanly curiosity.
Elksfoot puffed away some time before he saw fit to answer, reserving a salvo in behalf of his own dignity. Then he removed the pipe, shook off the ashes, pressed down the fire a little, gave a reviving draught or two, and quietly replied:
"Ask my young brother--he runner--he know."
But Pigeonswing seemed to be little more communicative than the Pottawattamie. He smoked on in quiet dignity, while the bee-hunter patiently waited for the moment when it might suit his younger guest to speak. That moment did not arrive for some time, though it came at last. Almost five minutes after Elksfoot had made the allusion mentioned, the Ojebway, or Chippewa, removed his pipe also, and looking courteously round at his host, he said with emphasis:
"Bad summer come soon. Pale-faces call young men togedder, and dig up hatchet."
"I had heard something of this," answered le Bourdon, with a saddened countenance, "and was afraid it might happen."
"My brother dig up hatchet too, eh?" demanded Pigeonswing.
"Why should I? I am alone here, on the Openings, and it would seem foolish in me to wish to fight."
"Got no tribe--no Ojebway--no Pottawattamie, eh?"
"I have my tribe, as well as another, Chippewa, but can see no use I can be to it, here. If the English and Americans fight, it must be a long way from this wilderness, and on or near the great salt lake."
"Don't know--nebber know, 'till see. English warrior plenty in Canada."
"That may be; but American warriors are not plenty here. This country is a wilderness, and there are no soldiers hereabouts, to cut each other's throats."
"What you t'ink him?" asked Pigeonswing, glancing at Gershom; who, unable to forbear any longer, had gone to the spring to mix a cup from a small supply that still remained of the liquor with which he had left home. "Got pretty good scalp?"
"I suppose it is as good as another's--but he and I are countrymen, and we cannot raise the tomahawk on one another."
"Don't t'ink so. Plenty Yankee, him!"
Le Bourdon smiled at this proof of Pigeonswings sagacity, though he felt a good deal of uneasiness at the purport of his discourse.
"You are right enough in that" he answered, "but I'm plenty of Yankee, too."
"No, don't say so," returned the Chippewa--"no, mustn't say dat. English; no Yankee. Him not a bit like you."
"Why, we are unlike each other, in some respects, it is true, though we are countrymen, notwithstanding. My great father lives at Washington, as well as his."
The Chippewa appeared to be disappointed; perhaps he appeared sorry, too; for le Bourdon's frank and manly hospitality had disposed him to friendship instead of hostilities, while his admissions would rather put him in an antagonist position. It was probably with a kind motive that he pursued the discourse in a way to give his host some insight into the true condition of matters in that part of the world.
"Plenty Breetish in woods," he said, with marked deliberation and point. "Yankee no come yet."
"Let me know the truth, at once, Chippewa," exclaimed le Bourdon. "I am but a peaceable bee-hunter, as you see, and wish no man's scalp, or any man's honey but my own. Is there to be a war between America and Canada, or not?"
"Some say, yes; some say, no," returned Pigeonswing, evasively, "My part, don't know. Go, now, to see. But plenty Montreal belt among redskins; plenty rifle; plenty powder, too."
"I heard something of this as I came up the lakes," rejoined Ben; "and fell in with a trader, an old acquaintance, from Canada, and a good friend, too, though he is to be my enemy, according to law, who gave me to understand that the summer would not go over without blows. Still, they all seemed to be asleep at Mackinaw (Michilimackinac) as I passed there."
"Wake up pretty soon. Canada warrior take fort."
"If I thought that, Chippewa, I would be off this blessed night to give the alarm."
"No--t'ink better of dat."
"Go I would, if I died for it the next hour!"
"T'ink better--be no such fool, I tell you."
"And I tell you, Pigeonswing, that go I would, if the whole Ojebway nation was on my trail. I am an American, and mean to stand by my own people, come what will."
"T'ought you only peaceable bee-hunter, just now," retorted the Chippewa, a little sarcastically.
By this time le Bourdon had somewhat cooled, and he became conscious of his indiscretion. He knew enough of the history of the past, to be fully aware that, in all periods of American history, the English, and, for that matter, the French too, so long as they had possessions on this continent, never scrupled about employing the savages in their conflicts. It is true, that these highly polished, and, we may justly add, humane nations--(for each is, out of all question, entitled to that character in the scale of comparative humanity as between communities, and each if you will take its own account of the matter, stands at the head of civilization in this respect)--would, notwithstanding these high claims, carry on their American wars by the agency of the tomahawk, the scalping-knife, and the brand. Eulogies, though pronounced by ourselves on ourselves, cannot erase the stains of blood. Even down to the present hour, a cloud does not obscure the political atmosphere between England and America, that its existence may not be discovered on the prairies, by a movement among the In-dians. The pulse that is to be felt there is a sure indication of the state of the relations between the parties. Every one knows that the savage, in his warfare, slays both sexes and all ages; that the door-post of the frontier cabin is defiled by the blood of the infant, whose brains have been dashed against it; and that the smouldering ruins of log-houses oftener than not cover the remains of their tenants. But what of all that? Brutus is still "an honorable man," and the American, who has not this sin to answer for among his numberless transgressions, is reviled as a semi-barbarian! The time is at hand, when the Lion of the West will draw his own picture, too; and fortunate will it be for the characters of some who will gather around the easel, if they do not discover traces of their own lineaments among his labors.
The feeling engendered by the character of such a warfare is the secret of the deeply seated hostility which pervades the breast of the western American against the land of his ancestors. He never sees the Times, and cares not a rush for the mystifications of the Quarterly Review; but he remembers where his mother was brained, and his father or brother tortured; aye, and by whose instrumentality the foul deeds were mainly done. The man of the world can understand that such atrocities may be committed, and the people of the offending nation remain ignorant of their existence, and, in a measure, innocent of the guilt; but the sufferer, in his provincial practice, makes no such distinction, confounding all alike in his resentments, and including all that bear the hated name in his maledictions. It is a fearful thing to awaken the anger of a nation; to excite in it a desire for revenge; and thrice is that danger magnified, when the people thus aroused possess the activity, the resources, the spirit, and the enterprise of the Americans. We have been openly derided, and that recently, because, in the fulness of our sense of power and sense of right, language that exceeds any direct exhibition of the national strength has escaped the lips of legislators, and, perhaps justly, has exposed them to the imputation of boastfulness. That derision, however, will not soon be repeated. The scenes enacting in Mexico, faint as they are in comparison with what would have been seen, had hostilities taken an other direction, place a perpetual gag in the mouths of all scoffers. The child is passing from the gristle into the bone, and the next generation will not even laugh, as does the present, at any idle and ill-considered menaces to coerce this republic; strong in the consciousness of its own power, it will eat all such fanfaronades, if any future statesman should be so ill-advised as to renew them, with silent indifference.
Now, le Bourdon was fully aware that one of the surest pulses of approaching hostilities between England and America was to be felt in the far West. If the Indians were in movement, some power was probably behind the scenes to set them in motion. Pigeonswing was well known to him by reputation; and there was that about the man which awakened the most unpleasant apprehensions, and he felt an itching desire to learn all he could from him, without betraying any more of his own feelings, if that were possible.
"I do not think the British will attempt Mackinaw," Ben remarked, after a long pause and a good deal of smoking had enabled him to assume an air of safe indifference.
"Got him, I tell you," answered Pigeonswing, pointedly.
"Got what, Chippewa?"
"Him--Mac-naw--got fort--got so'gers--got whole island. Know dat, for been dere."
This was astounding news, indeed! The commanding officer of that ill-starred garrison could not himself have been more astonished, when he was unexpectedly summoned to surrender by an enemy who appeared to start out of the earth, than was le Bourdon, at hearing this intelligence. To western notions, Michilimackinac was another Gibraltar, although really a place of very little strength, and garrisoned by only one small company of regulars. Still, habit had given the fortress a sort of sanctity among the adventurers of that region; and its fall, even in the settled parts of the country, sounded like the loss of a province. It is now known that, anticipating the movements of the Americans, some three hundred whites, sustained by more than twice that number of Indians, including warriors from nearly every adjacent tribe, had surprised the post on the 17th of July, and compelled the subaltern in command, with some fifty odd men, to surrender. This rapid and highly military measure, on the part of the British, completely cut off the post of Chicago, at the head of Lake Michigan, leaving it isolated, on what was then a very remote wilderness. Chicago, Mackinac, and Detroit, were the three grand stations of the Americans on the upper lakes, and here were two of them virtually gone at a blow!