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The Bewitched Ball-Sticks
by [?]

Whether this inference is merely the mechanical deduction of a lesson, or a subtlety of moralizing, with a definite intention, on the part of the Cherokees, always past-masters in the intricacies of symbolism, it is difficult to determine, but the bears are certainly not alone in this illustration of retrogression, and memory may furnish many an image of a lost ideal to haunt the paths of beings of a higher plane.

The picture was before the eyes of all the fireside group,–the looming domes of the Great Smoky Mountains, where the clouds, white and opaline, hung in the intervals beneath the ultimate heights; the silences of the night were felt in the dense dark lonely forest that encompassed the open spaces of that mysterious city, with the conical thatched roofs of its winter houses and the sandy stretch of the “beloved square; “–and there was the line of bears, clumsy, heavy-footed, lumbering, ungainly, and beside each the feather-crested similitude of what he had been, alert, powerful, gifted with human ingenuity, the craft of weapons, mental endowment, and an immortal soul,–so they went in the wintry moonlight!

There was naught in this detail of the annual procession of the bears, always taking place before the period of their hibernation, that surprised or angered Tus-ka-sah; but that they should break from their ancient law, their established habit of exclusiveness, single out Amoyah (of all the people in the world), summon him to attend their tribal celebration, and participate in their parade, as the shadow of Eeon-a, the Great Bear,–this passed the bounds of the possibilities. This fantasy had not the shreds of verisimilitude!

Yet even while he argued within himself Tus-ka-sah noted the old warrior’s gaze fix spellbound upon Amoyah, the hands of Altsasti petrify, the bead in one, the motionless thread in the other. The eyes of the more remote of the group, who were seated on rugs around the fire, glistened wide and startled, in the shadow, as Amoyah proceeded to relate how it had chanced.

A frosty morning he said it was, and he was out in the mountain a-hunting. He repeated the song which he had been singing, and the wind as it swirled about the house must have caught his voice and carried it far. It was a song chronicling the deeds of the Great Bear, and had a meaningless refrain, “Eeon-a, Ha-hoo-jah! Eeon-a, Ha-hoo-jah!” But when he reached the advent upon the scene of the secondary hero, the Great Bear himself, very polite, speaking excellent Cherokee (“since we are alone,” he said), very recognizant of the merits of Amoyah,–the fame of which indeed was represented to have resounded through the remotest seclusions of the ursine realm,–fiction though it all obviously was, the man of facts could no longer endure this magnification of his rival.

“The great Eeon-a said all that to you?” he sneered. “The fire-water at the trading-house makes your heart very strong and your tongue crooked. This sounds to me like the language of a simple seequa, not the Great Bear–a mere bit of an opossum!”

Amoyah paused with a sudden gasp. He was not without an aggressive temper, albeit, persuaded of his own perfection, he feared no rival, and least of all Tus-ka-sah.

“You, Tus-ka-sah,” he retorted angrily, “have evidently strongly shaken hands with the discourse of the opossum, speaking its language like the animal itself, and also the wolfish English. You have too many tongues, and, more than all, the deceitful, forked tongue of the snake, which is not agreeable to the old beloved speech. For myself, the Great Bear made me welcome in the only language that does not make my heart weigh heavy,–the elegant Cherokee language.”

The spellbound listeners had broken out with irritated protests against the interruption, and Tus-ka-sah said no more.

As the blasts went sonorously over the house and the flames swirled anew into the murky atmosphere of the interior, a weird, half-smothered voice suddenly invaded the restored quiet of the hearthstone: “Eeon-a, Ha-hoo-jah! Eeon-a, Ha-hoo-jah!”