Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Bewitched Ball-Sticks
by [?]

At no time in the history of mankind, except during that brief Paradisiac courtship in the Garden of Eden, has the heart of a lover been altogether unvexed by the presence, or even the sheer suspicion, of that baleful being commonly denominated “another.” Here, however, it would seem that the field must needs be almost as clear. The aspect of the world was as if yet young; the swan, long ago driven from the rivers, still snowily drifted down the silver Tennessee; the deer, the bear, the buffalo, the wolf in countless hordes roamed at will throughout the dense primeval wildernesses; the line of Cherokee towns along the banks represented almost the only human habitations for many hundred miles, but to Tus-ka-sah the country seemed to groan under a surplus of population, for there yet dwelt right merrily at Ioco Town the youthful Amoyah, the gayest of all gay birds, and a painful sense of the superfluous pressed upon the brain at the very sight of him.

This trait of frivolity was to Tus-ka-sah the more revolting, since he himself was of a serious cast of mind and possessed of faculties, rare in an Indian, which are called “fine business capacity.” He was esteemed at an English trading-house down on the Eupharsee River as the best “second man” in any of the towns; this phrase “second man” expressing the united functions of alderman, chief of police, chairman of boards of public improvements, and the various executive committees of civilization. His were municipal duties,–the apportionment of community labor, the supervision of the building of houses and the planting of crops, the distribution of public bounty, the transaction of any business of Ioco Town with visitors whom individual interest might bring thither. So well did he acquit himself when these errands involved questions of commercial policy that the English traders were wont to declare that Tus-ka-sah, the Terrapin, had “horse sense”–which certainly was remarkable in a terrapin!

His clear-headed qualities, however, valued commercially, seemed hardly calculated to adorn the fireside. In sensible cumbrous silence and disastrous eclipse he could only contemplate with dismayed aversion the palpable effect of Amoyah’s gay sallies of wit, his fantastic lies, his vainglorious boastings, and his wonderful stories, which seemed always to enchant his audience, the household of the damsel to whom in civilized parlance they were both paying their addresses. These audiences were usually large, and far too lenient in the estimation of Tus-ka-sah. First there was present, of course, Amoyah himself, seeming a whole flock instead of one Pigeon. Then must be counted Altsasti, who although a widow was very young, and as slight, as lissome, as graceful as the “wreath” which her name signified. She was clad now in her winter dress of otter skins, all deftly sewn together so that the fur might lie one way, the better to enable the fabric to shed the rain; the petticoat was longer than the summer attire of doeskin, for although the tinkle of the metal “bell buttons” of her many garters might be heard as she moved, only the anklets were visible above her richly beaded moccasins. She seldom moved, however; sitting beside the fire on a buffalo rug, she monotonously strung rainbow-hued beads for hours at a time. Her glossy, straight black hair was threaded with a strand of opaque white beads passing through the coils, dressed high, and copiously anointed with bear’s oil, and on her forehead she wore a single pendant wrought of the conch-shell, ivory-white and highly polished. She maintained a busy silence, but the others of the group–her father, sometimes her mother and grandmother and the younger sisters and brothers–preserved no such semblance of gravity, and indulged in appreciative chuckles responsive to Amoyah’s jests, idly watching him with twinkling eyes as long as he would talk.

It would be difficult to say how long this might be, for there were no windows to the winter houses of the Cherokees; in point of architecture these structures resembled the great dome-shaped council-house, plastered within and without with red clay; the floor was some three feet lower than the surface of the ground outside, and the exit fashioned with a narrow winding passage before reaching the outlet of the door. The sun might rise or set; the night might come or go; no token how the hour waxed or waned could penetrate this seclusion. The replenishing of the fire on the chimneyless hearth in the centre of the floor afforded the only comment on the passage of time. Its glow gave to view the red walls; the curious designs of the painted interior of the buffalo hides stretched upon them, by way of decoration; the cane divans or couches that were contrived to run all around the circular apartment, and on which were spread skins of bear and panther and wolves, covering even the heads of the slumbering members of the household, for the Cherokees slept away much of the tedious winter weather.