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AS THE TRAIN stopped, Isabel's heart beat with a childlike exultation, as I believe every one's heart must who is worthy to arrive at Niagara. She had been trying to fancy, from time to time, that she heard the roar of the cataract, and now, when she alighted from the car, she was sure she should have heard it but for the vulgar little noises that attend the arrival of trains at Niagara as well as everywhere else. "Never mind, dearest; you shall be stunned with it before you leave," promised her husband; and, not wholly disconsolate, she rode through the quaint streets of the village, where it remains a question whether the lowliness of the shops and private houses makes the hotels look so vast, or the bigness of the hotels dwarfs all the other buildings. The immense caravansaries swelling up from among the little bazaars (where they sell feather fans, and miniature bark canoes, and jars and vases and bracelets and brooches carved out of the local rocks), made our friends with their trunks very conscious of their disproportion to the accommodations of the smallest. They were the sole occupants of the omnibus, and they were embarrassed to be received at their hotel with a burst of minstrelsy from a whole band of music. Isabel felt that a single stringed instrument of some timid note would have been enough; and Basil was going to express his own modest preference for a jew's-harp, when the music ceased with a sudden clash of the cymbals. But the next moment it burst out with fresh sweetness, and in alighting they perceived that another omnibus had turned the corner and was drawing up to the pillared portico of the hotel. A small family dismounted, and the feet of the last had hardly touched the pavement when the music again ended as abruptly as those flourishes of trumpets that usher player-kings upon the stage.Isabel could not help laughing at this melodious parsimony. "I hope they don't let on the cataract and shut it off in this frugal style; do they, Basil?" she asked, and passed jesting through a pomp of unoccupied porters and call-boys. Apparently there were not many people stopping at this hotel, or else they were all out looking at the Falls or confined to their rooms. However, our travellers took in the almost weird emptiness of the place with their usual gratitude to fortune for all queerness in life, and followed to the pleasant quarters assigned them. There was time before supper for a glance at the cataract, and after a brief toilet they sallied out again upon the holiday street, with its parade of gay little shops, and thence passed into the grove beside the Falls, enjoying at every instant their feeling of arrival at a sublime destination.
In this sense Niagara deserves almost to rank with Rome, the metropolis of history and religion; with Venice, the chief city of sentiment and fantasy. In either you are at once made at home by a perception of its greatness, in which there is no quality of aggression, as there always seems to be in minor places as well as in minor men, and you gratefully accept its sublimity as a fact in no way contrasting with your own insignificance.
Our friends were beset of course by many carriage-drivers, whom they repelled with the kindly firmness of experienced travel. Isabel even felt a compassion for these poor fellows who had seen Niagara so much as to have forgotten that the first time one must see it alone or only with the next of friendship. She was voluble in her pity of Basil that it was not as new to him as to her, till between the trees they saw a white cloud of spray, shot through and through with sunset, rising, rising, and she felt her voice softly and steadily beaten down by the diapason of the cataract.
I am not sure but the first emotion on viewing Niagara is that of familiarity. Ever after, its strangeness increases; but in that earliest moment, when you stand by the side of the American fall, and take in so much of the whole as your glance can compass, an impression of having seen it often before is certainly very vivid. This may be an effect of that grandeur which puts you at your ease in its presence; but it also undoubtedly results in part from lifelong acquaintance with every variety of futile picture of the scene. You have its outward form clearly in your memory; the shores, the rapids, the islands, the curve of the Falls, and the stout rainbow with one end resting on their top and the other lost in the mists that rise from the gulf beneath. On the whole I do not account this sort of familiarity a misfortune. The surprise is none the less a surprise because it is kept till the last, and the marvel, making itself finally felt in every nerve, and not at once through a single sense, all the more fully possesses you. It is as if Niagara reserved her magnificence, and preferred to win your heart with her beauty; and so Isabel, who was instinctively prepared for the reverse, suffered a vague disappointment, for a little instant, as she looked along the verge from the water that caressed the shore at her feet before it flung itself down, to the wooded point that divides the American from the Canadian fall, beyond which showed dimly through its veil of golden and silver mists the emerald wall of the great Horse-Shoe. "How still it is!" she said, amidst the roar that shook the ground under their feet and made the leaves tremble overhead, and "How lonesome!" amidst the people lounging and sauntering about in every direction among the trees. In fact that prodigious presence does make a solitude and silence round every spirit worthy to perceive it, and it gives a kind of dignity to all its belongings, so that the rocks and pebbles in the water's edge, and the weeds and grasses that nod above it, have a value far beyond that of such common things elsewhere. In all the aspects of Niagara there seems a grave simplicity, which is perhaps a reflection of the spectator's soul for once utterly dismantled of affectation and convention. In the vulgar reaction from this, you are of course as trivial, if you like, at Niagara, as anywhere.
Slowly Isabel became aware that the sacred grove beside the fall was profaned by some very common presences indeed, that tossed bits of stone and sticks into the consecrated waters, and struggled for handkerchiefs and fans, and here and there put their arms about each other's waists, and made a show of laughing and joking. They were a picnic party of rude, silly folks of the neighborhood, and she stood pondering them in sad wonder if anything could be worse, when she heard a voice saying to Basil, "Take you next, sir? Plenty of light yet, and the wind's down the river, so the spray won't interfere. Make a capital picture of you; falls in the background." It was the local photographer urging them to succeed the young couple he had just posed at the brink: the gentleman was sitting down, with his legs crossed and his hands elegantly disposed; the lady was standing at his side, with one arm thrown lightly across his shoulder, while with the other hand she thrust his cane into the ground; you could see it was going to be a splendid photograph.
Basil thanked the artist, and Isabel said, trusting as usual to his sympathy for perception of her train of thought, "Well, I'll never try to be high-strung again. But shouldn't you have thought, dearest, that I might expect to be high-strung with success at Niagara if anywhere?" She passively followed him into the long, queer, downward-sloping edifice on the border of the grove, unflinchingly mounted the car that stood ready, and descended the incline. Emerging into the light again, she found herself at the foot of the fall by whose top she had just stood.
At first she was glad there were other people down there, as if she and Basil were not enough to bear it alone, and she could almost have spoken to the two hopelessly pretty brides, with parasols and impertinent little boots, whom their attendant husbands were helping over the sharp and slippery rocks, so bare beyond the spray, so green and mossy within the fall of mist. But in another breath she forgot them, as she looked on that dizzied sea, hurling itself from the high summit in huge white knots, and breaks and masses, and plunging into the gulf beside her, while it sent continually up a strong voice oflamentation, and crawled away in vast eddies, with somehow a look of human terror, bewilderment, and pain. It was bathed in snowy vapor to its crest, but now and then heavy currents of air drew this aside, and they saw the outline of the Falls almost as far as the Canada side. They remembered afterwards how they were able to make use of but one sense at a time, and how when they strove to take in the forms of the descending flood, they ceased to hear it; but as soon as they released their eyes from this service, every fibre in them vibrated to the sound, and the spectacle dissolved away in it. They were aware, too, of a strange capriciousness in their senses, and of a tendency of each to palter with the things perceived. The eye could no longer take truthful note of quality, and now beheld the tumbling deluge as a Gothic wall of carven marble, white, motionless; and now as a fall of lightest snow, with movement in all its atoms, and scarce so much cohesion as would hold them together; and again they could not discern if this course were from above or from beneath, whether the water rose from the abyss or dropped from the height. The ear could give the brain no assurance of the sound that filled it, and whether it were great or little: the prevailing softness of the cataract's tone seemed so much opposed to ideas of prodigious force or of prodigious volume. It was only when the sight, so idle in its own behalt, came to the aid of the other sense, and showed them the mute movement of each other's lips, that they dimly appreciated the depth of sound that involved them.
"I think you might have been high-strung there, for a second or two," said Basil, when, ascending the incline, he could make himself heard. "We will try the bridge next."
Over the river, so still with its oily eddies and delicate wreaths of foam, just below the Falls they have in late years woven a web of wire high in air, and hung a bridge from precipice to precipice. Of all the bridges made with hands it seems the lightest, most ethereal; it is ideally graceful, and droops from its slight towers like a garland. It is worthy to command, as it does, the whole grandeur of Niagara, and to show the traveller the vast spectacle, from the beginning of the American fall to the furthest limit ofthe Horse-Shoe, with all the awful pomp of the rapids, the solemn darkness of the wooded islands, the mystery of the vaporous gulf, the indomitable wildness of the shores, as far as the eye can reach up or down the fatal stream.
To this bridge our friends now repaired, by a path that led through another of those groves which keep the village back from the shores of the river on the American side, and greatly help the sight-seer's pleasure in the place. The exquisite structure, which sways so tremulously from its towers, and seems to lay so slight a hold on earth where its cables sink into the ground, is to other bridges what the blood horse is to the common breed of roadsters; and now they felt its sensitive nerves quiver under them and sympathetically through them as they advanced further and further towards the centre. Perhaps their sympathy with the bridge's trepidation was too great for unalloyed delight, and yet the thrill was a glorious one, to be known only there; and afterwards, at least, they would not have had their airy path seem more secure.
The last hues of sunset lingered in the mists that sprung from the base of the Falls with a mournful, tremulous grace, and a movement weird as the play of the northern lights. They were touched with the most delicate purples and crimsons, that darkened to deep red, and then faded from them at a second look, and they flew upward, swiftly upward, like troops of pale, transparent ghosts; while a perfectly clear radiance, better than any other for local color, dwelt upon the scene. Far under the bridge the river smoothly swam, the undercurrents forever unfolding themselves upon the surface with a vast rose-like evolution, edged all round with faint lines of white, where the air that filled the water freed itself in foam. What had been clear green on the face of the cataract was here more like rich verd-antique, and had a look of firmness almost like that of the stone itself. So it showed beneath the bridge, and down the river till the curving shores hid it. These, springing abruptly from the water's brink, and shagged with pine and cedar, displayed the tender verdure of grass and bushes intermingled with the dark evergreens that climb from ledge to ledge, till they point their speary tops above the crest of bluffs. In front, where tumbled rocks and expanses of naked clay varied the gloomier and gayer green, sprung those spectral mists; and through them loomed out, in its manifold majesty, Niagara, with the seemingly immovable white Gothic screen of the American fall, and the green massive curve of the Horse-Shoe, solid and simple and calm as an Egyptian wall; while behind this, with their white and black expanses broken by dark foliaged little isles, the steep Canadian rapids billowed down between their heavily wooded shores.
The wedding-journeyers hung, they knew not how long, in rapture on the sight; and then, looking back from the shore to the spot where they had stood, they felt relieved that unreality should possess itself of all, and that the bridge should swing there in midair like a filmy web, scarce more passable than the rainbow that flings its arch above the mists.
On the portico of the hotel they found half a score of gentlemen smoking, and creating together that collective silence which passes for sociality on our continent. Some carriages stood before the door, and within, around the base of a pillar, sat a circle of idle call-boys. There were a few trunks heaped together in one place, with a porter standing guard over them; a solitary guest was buying a cigar at the newspaper stand in one corner; another friendless creature was writing a letter in the reading-room; the clerk, in a seersucker coat and a lavish shirt-bosom, tried to give the whole an effect of watering-place gayety and bustle, as he provided a newly arrived guest with a room.
Our pair took in these traits of solitude and repose with indifference. If the hotel had been thronged with brilliant company, they would have been no more and no less pleased; and when, after supper, they came into the grand parlor, and found nothing there but a marble-topped centre-table, with a silver-plated ice-pitcher and a small company of goblets, they sat down perfectly content in a secluded window-seat. They were not seen by the three people who entered soon after, and halted in the centre of the room.
"Why, Kitty!" said one of the two ladies, who must be in any travelling-party of three, "this is more inappropriate to your gorgeous array than the supper-room, even."
She who was called Kitty was armed, as for social conquest, in some kind of airy evening-dress, and was looking round with bewilderment upon that forlorn waste of carpeting and upholstery. She owned, with a smile, that she had not seen so much of the world yet as she had been promised; but she liked Niagara very much, and perhaps they should find the world at breakfast.
"No," said the other lady, who was as unquiet as Kitty was calm, and who seemed resolved to make the most of the worst, "it isn't probable that the hotel will fill up overnight; and I feel personally responsible for this state of things. Who would ever have supposed that Niagara would be so empty? I thought the place was thronged the whole summer long. How do you account for it, Richard?"
The gentleman looked fatigued, as from a long-continued discussion elsewhere of the matter in hand, and he said that he had not been trying to account for it.
"Then you don't care for Kitty's pleasure at all, and you don't want her to enjoy herself. Why don't you take some interest in the matter?"
"Why, if I accounted for the emptiness of Niagara in the most satisfactory way, it wouldn't add a soul to the floating population. Under the circumstances I prefer to leave it unexplained."
"Do you think it's because it's such a hot summer? Do you suppose it's not exactly the season? Didn't you expect there'd be more people? Perhaps Niagara isn't as fashionable as it used to be."
"It looks something like that."
"Well, what under the sun do you think is the reason?"
"I don't know."
"Perhaps," interposed Kitty, placidly, "most of the visitors go to the other hotel, now."
"It's altogether likely," said the other lady, eagerly. "There are just such caprices."
"Well," said Richard, "I wanted you to go there."
"But you said that you always heard this was the most fashionable."
"I know it. I didn't want to come here for that reason. But fortune favors the brave."
"Well, it's too bad! Here we've asked Kitty to come to Niagara with us, just to give her a little peep into the world, and you've brought us to a hotel where we're--"
"Monarchs of all we survey," suggested Kitty.
"Yes, and start at the sound of our own," added the other lady, helplessly.
"Come now, Fanny," said the gentleman, who was but too clearly the husband of the last speaker. "You know you insisted, against all I could say or do, upon coming to this house; I implored you to go to the other, and now you blame me for bringing you here."
"So I do. If you'd let me have my own way without opposition about coming here, I dare say I should have gone to the other place. But never mind. Kitty knows whom to blame, I hope. She's your cousin.
Kitty was sitting with her hands quiescently folded in her lap. She now rose and said that she did not know anything about the other hotel, and perhaps it was just as empty as this.
"It can't be. There can't be two hotels so empty," said Fanny. "It don't stand to reason."
"If you wish Kitty to see the world so much," said the gentleman, "why don't you take her on to Quebec, with us?"
Kitty had left her seat beside Fanny, and was moving with a listless content about the parlor.
"I wonder you ask, Richard, when you know she's only come for the night, and has nothing with her but a few cuffs and collars! I certainly never heard of anything so absurd before!"
The absurdity of the idea then seemed to cast its charm upon her, for, after a silence, "I could lend her some things," she said musingly. "But don't speak of it to-night, please. It's too ridiculous. Kitty!" she called out, and, as the young lady drew near, she continued, "How would you like to go to Quebec, with us?"
"Oh, Fanny!" cried Kitty, with rapture; and then, with dismay, "How can I?"
"Why, very well, I think. You've got this dress, and your travelling-suit; and I can lend you whatever you want. Come!" she added joyously, "let's go up to your room, and talk it over!"
The two ladies vanished upon this impulse, and the gentleman followed. To their own relief the guiltless eavesdroppers, who found no moment favorable for revealing themselves after the comedy began, issued from their retiracy.
"What a remarkable little lady!" said Basil, eagerly turning to Isabel for sympathy in his enjoyment of her inconsequence.
"Yes, poor thing!'' returned his wife; ''it's no light matter to invite a young lady to take a journey with you, and promise her all sorts of gayety, and perhaps beaux and flirtations, and then find her on your hands in a desolation like this. It's dreadful, I think."
Basil stared. "Oh, certainly," he said. "But what an amusingly illogical little body!"
"I don't understand what you mean, Basil. It was the only thing that she could do, to invite the young lady to go on with them. I wonder her husband had the sense to think of it first. Of course she'll have to lend her things."
"And you didn't observe anything peculiar in her way of reaching her conclusions?"
"Peculiar? What do you mean?"
"Why, her blaming her husband for letting her have her own way about the hotel; and her telling him not to mention his proposal to Kitty, and then doing it herself; just after she'd pronounced it absurd and impossible." He spoke with heat at being forced to make what he thought a needless explanation.
"Oh!" said Isabel, after a moment's reflection. "That! Did you think it so very odd?"
Her husband looked at her with the gravity a man must feel when he begins to perceive that he has married the whole mystifying world ofwomankind in the woman of his choice, and made no answer. But to his own soul he said: "I supposed I had the pleasure of my wife's acquaintance. It seems I have been flattering myself."
The next morning they went out, as they had planned, for an exploration of Goat Island, after an early breakfast. As they sauntered through the village's contrasts of pygmy and colossal in architecture, they praisefully took in the unalloyed holiday character of the place, enjoying equally the lounging tourists at the hotel doors, the drivers and their carriages to let, and the little shops, with nothing but mementos of Niagara, and Indian bead-work, and other trumpery, to sell. Shops so useless, they agreed, could not be found outside the Palais Royale, or the Square of St. Mark, or anywhere else in the world but here. They felt themselves once more a part of the tide of mere sight-seeing pleasure-travel, on which they had drifted in other days, and in an eddy of which their love itself had opened its white blossom, and lily-like dreamed upon the wave.
They were now also part of the great circle of newly wedded bliss, which, involving the whole land during the season of bridal tours, may be said to show richest and fairest at Niagara, like the costly jewel of a precious ring. The place is, in fact, almost abandoned to bridal couples, and any one out of his honeymoon is in some degree an alien there, and must discern a certain immodesty in his intrusion. Is it for his profane eyes to look upon all that blushing and trembling joy? A man of any sensibility must desire to veil his face, and, bowing his excuses to the collective rapture, take the first train for the wicked outside world to which he belongs. Everywhere, he sees brides and brides. Three or four, with the benediction still on them, come down in the same car with him; he hands her travelling-shawl after one as she springs from the omnibus into her husband's arms; there are two or three walking back and forth with their new lords upon the porch of the hotel; at supper they are on every side of him, and he feels himself suffused, as it were, by a roseate atmosphere of youth and love and hope. At breakfast it is the same, and then, in his wanderings about the place, he constantly meets them. They are of all manners of beauty, fair and dark, slender and plump, tall and short; but they are all beautiful with the radiance of loving and being loved. Now, if ever in their lives, they are charmingly dressed, and ravishing toilets take the willing eye from the objects of interest. How high the heels of the pretty boots, how small the tender-tinted gloves, how electrical the flutter of the snowy skirts! What is Niagara to these things?
Isabel was not willing to own her bridal sisterhood to these blessed souls; but she secretly rejoiced in it, even while she joined Basil in noting their number and smiling at their innocent abandon. She dropped his arm at encounter of the first couple, and walked carelessly at his side; she made a solemn vow never to take hold of his watch-chain in speaking to him; she trusted that she might be preserved from putting her face very close to his at dinner in studying the bill of fare; getting out of carriages, she forbade him ever to take her by the waist. All ascetic resolutions are modified by experiment; but if Isabel did not rigorously keep these, she is not the less to be praised for having formed them.
Just before they reached the bridge to Goat Island, they passed a little group of the Indians still lingering about Niagara, who make the barbaric wares in which the shops abound, and, like the woods and the wild faces of the cliffs and precipices, help to keep the cataract remote, and to invest it with the charm of primeval loneliness. This group were women, and they sat motionless on the ground, smiling sphinx-like over their laps full of bead-work, and turning their dark liquid eyes of invitation upon the passers. They wore bright kirtles, and red shawls fell from their heads over their plump brown cheeks and down their comfortable persons. A little girl with them was attired in like gayety of color. "What is her name?" asked Isabel, paying for a bead pin-cushion. "Daisy Smith," said her mother, in distressingly good English. "But her Indian name?" "She has none, answered the woman, who told Basil that her village numbered five hundred people, and that they were Protestants. While they talked they were joined by an Indian, whom the women saluted musically in their native tongue. This was somewhat consoling; but he wore trousers and a waistcoat, and it could have been wished that he had not a silk hat on.
"Still," said Isabel, as they turned away, "I'm glad he hasn't Lisle-thread gloves, like that chieftain we saw putting his forest queen on board the train at Oneida. But, how shocking that they should be Christians, and Protestants! It would have been bad enough to have them Catholics. And that woman said that they were increasing. They ought to be fading away."
On the bridge, they paused and looked up and down the rapids rushing down the slope in all their wild variety with the white crests of breaking surf; the dark massiveness of heavy-climbing waves, the fleet, smooth sweep of currents over broad shelves of sunken rock, the dizzy swirl and suck of whirlpools.
Spellbound, the journeyers pored upon the deathful course beneath their feet, gave a shudder to the horror of being cast upon it, and then hurried over the bridge to the island, in the shadow of whose wildness they sought refuge from the sight and sound.
There had been rain in the night; the air was full of forest fragrance, and the low, sweet voice of twittering birds. Presently they came to a bench set in a corner of the path, and commanding a pleasant vista of sunlit foliage, with a mere gleam of the foaming river beyond. As they sat down here loverwise, Basil, as in the early days of their courtship, began to recite a poem. It was one which had been haunting him since his first sight of the rapids, one of many that he used to learn by heart in his youth; the rhyme of some poor newspaper poet, whom the third or fourth editor copying his verses consigned to oblivion by carelessly clipping his name from the bottom. It had always lingered in Basil's memory, rather from the interest of the awful fact it recorded, than from any merit of its own; and now he recalled it with a distinctness that surprised him.
All night long they heard in the houses beside the shore,
Heard, or seemed to hear, through the multitudinous roar,
Out of the hell of the rapids as 'twere a lost soul's cries:
Heard and could not believe; and the morning mocked their eyes,
Showing where wildest and fiercest the waters leaped up and ran,
Raving round him and past, the visage of a man
Clinging, or seeming to cling, to the trunk of a tree that, caught
Fast in the rocks below, scarce out of the surges raught.
Was it a life, could it be, to yon slender hope that clung?
Shrill, above all the tumult the answering terror rung.
Under the weltering rapids a boat from the bridge is drowned,
Over the rocks the lines of another are tangled and wound,
And the long, fateful hours of the morning have wasted soon,
As it had been in some blessed trance, and now it is noon.
Hurry, now with the raft! But oh, build it strong and stanch,
And to the lines and the treacherous rocks look well as you launch!
Over the foamy tops of the waves, and their foam-sprent sides,
Over the hidden reefs, and through the embattled tides,
Onward rushes the raft, with many a lurch and leap,--
Lord! if it strike him loose from the hold he scarce can keep!
No! through all peril unharmed, it reaches him harmless at last,
And to its proven strength he lashes his weakness fast.
Now, for the shore! But steady, steady, my men, and slow;
Taut, now, the quivering lines; now slack; and so, let her go!
Thronging the shores around stands the pitying multitude;
Wan as his own are their looks, and a nightmare seems to brood
Heavy upon them, and heavy the silence hangs on all,
Save for the rapids' plunge, and the thunder of the fall.
But on a sudden thrills from the people still and pale,
Chorussing his unheard despair, a desperate wail:
Caught on a lurking point of rock it sways and swings,
Sport of the pitiless waters, the raft to which he clings.
All the long afternoon it idly swings and sways;
And on the shore the crowd lifts up its hands and prays:
Lifts to heaven and wrings the hands so helpless to save,
Prays for the mercy of God on him whom the rock and the wave
Battle for, fettered betwIxt them, and who amidst their strife
Struggles to help his helpers, and fights so hard for his life,--
Tugging at rope and at reef while men weep and women swoon.
Priceless second by second, so wastes the afternoon.
And it is sunset now; and another boat and the last
Down to him from the bridge through the rapids has safely passed.
Wild through the crowd comes flying a man that nothing can stay,
Maddening against the gate that is locked athwart his way.
"No! we keep the bridge for them that can help him. You,
Tell us, who are you?" "His brother!" "God help you both! Pass through."
Wild, with wide arms of imploring he calls aloud to him,
Unto the face of his brother, scarce seen in the distance dim:
But in the roar of the rapids his fluttering words are lost
As in a wind of autumn the leaves of autumn are tossed.
And from the bridge he sees his brother sever the rope
Holding him to the raft, and rise secure in his hope;
Sees all as in a dream the terrible pageantry,--
Populous shores, the woods, the sky, the birds flying free;
Sees, then, the form--that, spent with effort and fasting and fear,
Flings itself feebly and fails of the boat that is lying so near,--
Caught in the long-baffled clutch of the rapids, and rolled and hurled
Headlong on to the cataract's brink, and out of the world.
"O Basil!" said Isabel, with a long sigh breaking the hush that best praised the unknown poet's skill, "it isn't true, is it?"
"Every word, almost, even to the brother's coming at the last moment. It's a very well-known incident," he added, and I am sure the reader whose memory runs back twenty years cannot have forgotten it.
Niagara, indeed, is an awful homicide; nearly every point of interest about the place has killed its man, and there might well be a deeper stain of crimson than it ever wears in that pretty bow overarching the falls. Its beauty is relieved against an historical background as gloomy as the lightest-hearted tourist could desire. The abominable savages, revering the cataract as a kind of august devil, and leading a life of demoniacal misery and wickedness, whom the first Jesuits found here two hundred years ago; the ferocious Iroquois bloodily driving out these squalid devil-worshippers; the French planting the fort that yet guards the mouth of the river, and therewith the seeds of war that fruited afterwards in murderous strifes throughout the whole Niagara country; the struggle for the military posts on the river, during the wars of France and England; the awful scene in the conspiracy of Pontiac, where a detachment of English troops was driven by the Indians over the precipice near the great Whirlpool; the sorrow and havoc visited upon the American settlements in the Revolution by the savages who prepared their attacks in the shadow of Fort Niagara; the battles of Chippewa and of Lundy's Lane, that mixed the roar of their cannon with that of the fall; the savage forays with tomahawk and scalping-knife, and the blazing villages on either shore in the War of 1812: these are the memories of the place, the links in a chain of tragical interest scarcely broken before our time since the white man first beheld the mist-veiled face of Niagara. The facts lost nothing of their due effect as Basil, in the ramble across Goat Island, touched them with the reflected light of Mr. Parkman's histories--those precious books that make our meagre past wear something of the rich romance of old European days, and illumine its savage solitudes with the splendor of medieval chivalry, and the glory of medieval martyrdom--and then, lacking this light, turned upon them the feeble glimmer of the guide-books. He and Isabel enjoyed the lurid picture with all the zest of sentimentalists dwelling upon the troubles of other times from the shelter of the safe and peaceful present. They were both poets in their quality of bridal couple, and so long as their own nerves were unshaken they could transmute all facts to entertaining fables. They pleasantly exercised their sympathies upon those who every year perish at Niagara in the tradition of its awful power; only they refused their cheap and selfish compassion to the Hermit of Goat Island, who dwelt so many years in its conspicuous seclusion, and was finally carried over the cataract. This public character they suspected of design in his death as in his life, and they would not be moved by his memory; though they gave a sigh to that dream, half pathetic, half ludicrous, yet not ignoble, of Mordecai Noah, who thought to assemble all the Jews of the world, and all the Indians, as remnants of the lost tribes, upon Grand Island, there to rebuild Jerusalem, and who actually laid the cornerstone of the new temple there.
Goat Island is marvellously wild for a place visited by so many thousands every year. The shrubbery and undergrowth remain unravaged, and form a deceitful privacy, in which, even at that early hour of the day, they met many other pairs. It seemed incredible that the village and the hotels should be so full, and that the wilderness should also abound in them; yet on every embowered seat, and going to and from all points of interest and danger, were these new-wedded lovers with their interlacing arms and their fond attitudes, in which each seemed to support and lean upon the other. Such a pair stood prominent before them when Basil and Isabel emerged at last from the cover of the woods at the head of the island, and glancedup the broad swift stream to the point where it ran smooth before breaking into the rapids; and as a soft pastoral feature in the foreground of that magnificent landscape, they found them far from unpleasing. Some such pair is in the foreground of every famous American landscape; and when I think of the amount of public love-making in the season of pleasure-travel, from Mount Desert to the Yosemite, and from the parks of Colorado to the Keys of Florida, I feel that our continent is but a larger Arcady, that the middle of the nineteenth century is the golden age, and that we want very little of being a nation of shepherds and shepherdesses.
Our friends returned by the shore of the Canadian rapids, having traversed the island by a path through the heart of the woods, and now drew slowly near the falls again. All parts of the prodigious pageant have an eternal novelty, and they beheld the ever-varying effect of that constant sublimity with the sense of discoverers, or rather of people whose great fortune it is to see the marvel in its beginning, and new from the creating hand. The morning hour lent its sunny charm to this illusion, while in the cavernous precipices of the shores, dark with evergreens, a mystery as of primeval night seemed to linger. There was a wild fluttering of their nerves, a rapture with an under-consciousness of pain, the exaltation of peril and escape, when they came to the three little isles that extend from Goat Island, one beyond another, far out into the furious channel. Three pretty suspension-bridges connect them now with the larger island, and under each of these flounders a huge rapid, and hurls itself away to mingle with the ruin of the fall. The Three Sisters are mere fragments of wilderness, clumps of vine-tangled woods, planted upon masses of rock; but they are part of the fascination of Niagara which no one resists; nor could Isabel have been persuaded from exploring them. It wants no courage to do this, but merely submission to the local sorcery, and the adventurer has no other reward than the consciousness of having been where but a few years before no human being had perhaps set foot. She crossed from bridge to bridge with a quaking heart, and at last stood upon the outermost isle, whence, through the screen of vines and boughs, she gave fearful glances at the heaving and tossing flood beyond, from every wave of which at every instant she rescued herself with a desperate struggle. The exertion told heavily upon her strength unawares, and she suddenly made Basil another revelation of character. Without the slightest warning she sank down at the root of a tree, and said, with serious composure, that she could never go back on those bridges; they were not safe. He stared at her cowering form in blank amaze, and put his hands in his pockets. Then it occurred to his dull masculine sense that it must be a joke; and he said, "Well, I'll have you taken off in a boat."
"Oh, do, Basil, do have me taken off in a boat!" implored Isabel. "You see yourself the bridges are not safe. Do get a boat."
"Or a balloon," he suggested, humoring the pleasantry.
Isabel burst into tears; and now he went on his knees at her side, and took her hands in his. "Isabel! Isabel! Are you crazy?" he cried, as if he meant to go mad himself. She moaned and shuddered in reply; he said, to mend matters, that it was a jest, about the boat; and he was driven to despair when Isabel repeated. "I never can go back by the bridges, never."
"But what do you propose to do?"
"I don't know. I don't know!"
He would try sarcasm. "Do you intend to set up a hermitage here, and have your meals sent out from the hotel? It's a charming spot, and visited pretty constantly; but it's small, even for a hermitage."
Isabel moaned again with her hands still on her eyes, and wondered that he was not ashamed to make fun of her.
He would try kindness. "Perhaps, darling, you'll let me carry you ashore."
"No, that will bring double the weight on the bridge at once."
"Couldn't you shut your eyes, and let me lead you?"
"Why, it isn't the sight of the rapids," she said, looking up fiercely. "The bridges are not safe. I'm not a child, Basil. Oh, what shall we do?"
"I don't know," said Basil, gloomily. "It's an exigency for which I wasn't prepared." Then he silently gave himself to the Evil One, for having probably overwrought Isabel's nerves by repeating that poem about Avery, and by the ensuing talk about Niagara, which she had seemed to enjoy so much. He asked her if that was it; and she answered, "Oh no, it's nothing but the bridges." He proved to her that the bridges, upon all known principles, were perfectly safe, and that they could not give way. She shook her head, but made no answer, and he lost his patience.
"Isabel," he cried, "I'm ashamed of you!"
"Don't say anything you'll be sorry for afterwards, Basil," she replied, with the forbearance of those who have reason and justice on their side.
The rapids beat and shouted round their little prison-isle, each billow leaping as if possessed by a separate demon. The absurd horror of the situation overwhelmed him. He dared not attempt to carry her ashore, for she might spring from his grasp into the flood. He could not leave her to call for help; and what if nobody came till she lost her mind from terror? Or, what if somebody should come and find them in that ridiculous affliction?
Somebody was coming!
"Isabel!" he shouted in her ear, "here come those people we saw in the parlor last night."
Isabel dashed her veil over her face, clutched Basil's with her icy hand, rose, drew her arm convulsively through his, and walked ashore without a word.
In a sheltered nook they sat down, and she quickly "repaired her drooping head and tricked her beams" again. He could see her tearfully smiling through her veil. "My dear," he said, "I don't ask an explanation of your fright, for I don't suppose you could give it. But should you mind telling me why those people were so sovereign against it ?"
"Why, dearest! Don't you understand? That Mrs. Richard--whoever she is--is so much like me."
She looked at him as if she had made the most satisfying statement, and he thought he had better not ask further then, but wait in hope that the meaning would come to him. They walked on in silence till they came to the Biddle Stairs, at the head of which is a notice that persons have been killed by pieces of rock from the precipice overhanging the shore below, and warning people that they descend at their peril. Isabel declined to visit the Cave of the Winds, to which these stairs lead, but was willing to risk the ascent of Terrapin Tower. "Thanks; no," said her husband. "You might find it unsafe to come back the way you went up. We can't count certainly upon the appearance of the lady who is so much like you; and I've no fancy for spending my life on Terrapin Tower." So he found her a seat, and went alone to the top of the audacious little structure standing on the verge of the cataract, between the smooth curve of the Horse-Shoe and the sculptured front of the Central Fall, with the stormy sea of the Rapids behind, and the river, dim seen through the mists, crawling away between its lofty bluffs before. He knew again the awful delight with which so long ago he had watched the changes in the beauty of the Canadian Fall as it hung a mass of translucent green from the brink, and a pearly white seemed to crawl up from the abyss, and penetrate all its substance to the very crest, and then suddenly vanished from it, and perpetually renewed the same effect. The mystery of the rising vapors veiled the gulf into which the cataract swooped; the sun shone, and a rainbow dreamed upon them.
Near the foot of the tower, some loose rocks extend quite to the verge, and here Basil saw an elderly gentleman skipping from one slippery stone to another, and looking down from time to time into the abyss, who, when he had amused himself long enough in this way, clambered up on the plank bridge. Basil, who had descended by this time, made bold to say that he thought the diversion an odd one and rather dangerous. The gentleman took this in good part, and owned it might seem so, but added that a distinguished phrenologist had examined his head, and told him he had equilibrium so large that he could go anywhere.
"On your bridal tour, I presume," he continued, as they approached the bench where Basil had left Isabel. She had now the company of a plain, middle-aged woman, whose attire hesitatingly expressed some inward festivity, and had a certain reluctant fashionableness. "Well, this is my third bridal tour to Niagara, and wife's been here once before on the same business. We see a good many changes. I used to stand on Table Rock with the others. Now that's all gone. Well, old lady, shall we move on?" he asked; and this bridal pair passed up the path, attended, haply, by the guardian spirits of those who gave the place so many sad yet pleasing associations.
At dinner, Mr. Richard's party sat at the table next Basil's, and they were all now talking cheerfully over the emptiness of the spacious dining-hall.
"Well, Kitty," the married lady was saying, "you can tell the girls what you please about the gayeties of Niagara, when you get home. They'll believe anything sooner than the truth."
"Oh, yes, indeed," said Kitty, "I've got a good deal of it made up already. I'll describe a grand hop at the hotel, with fashionable people from all parts of the country, and the gentlemen I danced with the most. I'm going to have had quite a flirtation with the gentleman of the long blond moustache, whom we met on the bridge this morning, and he's got to do duty in accounting for my missing glove. It'll never do to tell the girls I dropped it from the top of Terrapin Tower. Then, you know, Fanny, I really can say something about dining with aristocratic Southerners, waited upon by their black servants."
This referred to the sad-faced patrician whom Basil and Isabel had noted in the cars from Buffalo as a Southerner probably coming North for the first time since the war. He had an air at once fierce and sad, and a half-barbaric, homicidal gentility of manner fascinating enough in its way. He sat with his wife at a table further down the room, and their child was served in part by a little tan-colored nurse-maid. The fact did not quite answer to the young lady's description of it, and yet it certainly afforded her a ground-work. Basil fancied a sort of bewilderment in the Southerner, and explained it upon the theory that he used to come every year to Niagara before the war, and was now puzzled to find it so changed.
"Yes," he said, "I can't account for him except as the ghost of Southern travel, and I can't help feeling a little sorry for him. I suppose that almost any evil commends itself by its ruin; the wrecks of slavery are fast growing a fungus crop of sentiment, and they may yet outflourish the remains of the feudal system in the kind of poetry they produce. The impoverished slaveholder is a pathetic figure, in spite of all justice and reason; the beaten rebel does move us to compassion, and it is of no use to think of Andersonville in his presence. This gentleman, and others like him, used to be the lords of our summer resorts. They spent the money they did not earn like princes; they held their heads high; they trampled upon the Abolitionist in his lair; they received the homage of the doughface in his home. They came up here from their rice-swamps and cotton-fields, and bullied the whole busy civilization of the North. Everybody who had merchandise or principles to sell truckled to them, and travel amongst us was a triumphal progress. Now they're moneyless and subjugated (as they call it), there's none so poor to do them reverence, and it's left for me, an Abolitionist from the cradle, to sigh over their fate. After all, they had noble traits, and it was no great wonder they got to despise us, seeing what most of us were. It seems to me I should like to know our friend. I can't help feeling towards him as towards a fallen prince, heaven help my craven spirit! I wonder how our colored waiter feels towards him. I dare say he admires him immensely."
There were not above a dozen other people in the room, and Basil contrasted the scene with that which the same place formerly presented. "In the old time," he said, "every table was full, and we dined to the music of a brass band. I can't say I liked the band, but I miss it. I wonder if our Southern friend misses it? They gave us a very small allowance of brass band when we arrived, Isabel. Upon my word, I wonder what's come over the place," he said, as the Southern party, rising from the table, walked out of the dining-room, attended by many treacherous echoes in spite of an ostentatious clatter of dishes that the waiters made.
After dinner they drove on the Canada shore up past the Clifton House, towards the Burning Spring, which is not the least wonder of Niagara. As each bubble breaks upon the troubled surface, and yields its flash of infernal flame and its whiff of sulphurous stench, it seems hardly strange that the Neutral Nation should have revered the cataract as a demon; and another subtle spell (not to be broken even by the business-like composure of the man who shows off the hell-broth) is added to those successive sorceries by which Niagara gradually changes from a thing of beauty to a thing of terror. By all odds, too, the most tremendous view of the Falls is afforded by the point on this drive whence you look down upon the Horse-Shoe, and behold its three massive walls of sea rounding and sweeping into the gulf together, the color gone, and the smooth brink showing black and ridgy.
Would they not go to the battle-field of Lundy's Lane? asked the driver at a certain point on their return; but Isabel did not care for battle-fields, and Basil preferred to keep intact the reminiscence of his former visit. "They have a sort of tower of observation built on the battle-ground," he said, as they drove on down by the river, "and it was in charge of an old Canadian militia-man, who had helped his countrymen to be beaten in the fight. This hero gave me a simple and unintelligible account of the battle, asking me first if I had ever heard of General Scott, and adding without flinching that here he got his earliest laurels. He seemed to go just so long to every listener, and nothing could stop him short, so I fell into a revery until he came to an end. It was hard to remember, that sweet summer morning, when the sun shone, and the birds sang, and the music of a piano and a girl's voice rose from a bowery cottage near, that all the pure air had once been tainted with battle-smoke, that the peaceful fields had been planted with cannon, instead of potatoes and corn, and that where the cows came down the farmer's lane, with tinkling bells, the shock of armed men had befallen. The blue and tranquil Ontario gleamed far away, and far away rolled the beautiful land, with farm-houses, fields, and woods, and at the foot of the tower lay the pretty village. The battle of the past seemed only a vagary of mine; yet how could I doubt the warrior at my elbow?--grieved though I was to find that a habit of strong drink had the better of his utterance that morning. My driver explained afterwards, that persons visiting the field were commonly so much pleased with the captain's eloquence, that they kept the noble old soldier in a brandy-and-water rapture throughout the season, thereby greatly refreshing his memory, and making the battle bloodier and bloodier as the season advanced and the number of visitors increased. There, my dear," he suddenly broke off; as they came in sight of a slender stream of water that escaped from the brow of a cliff on the American side below the Falls, and spun itself into a gauze of silvery mist, "that's the Bridal Veil; and I suppose you think the stream, which is making such a fine display, yonder, is some idle brooklet, ending a long course of error and worthlessness by that spectacular plunge. It's nothing of the kind; it's an honest hydraulic canal, of the most straightforward character, a poor but respectable mill-race which has devoted itself strictly to business, and has turned mill-wheels instead of fooling round water-lilies. It can afford that ultimate finery. What you behold in the Bridal Veil, my love, is the apotheosis of industry."
"What I can't help thinking of;" said Isabel, who had not paid the smallest attention to the Bridal Veil, or anything about it, "is the awfulness of stepping off these places in the night-time." She referred to the road which, next the precipice, is unguarded by any sort of parapet. In Europe a strong wall would secure it, but we manage things differently on our continent, and carriages go ruining over the brink from time to time.
"If thoughts have that direction" answered her husband, "we had better go back to the hotel, and leave the Whirlpool for to-morrow morning. It's late for it to-day, at any rate." He had treated Isabel since the adventure on the Three Sisters with a superiority which he felt himself to be very odious, but which he could not disuse.
"I'm not afraid," she sighed, "but in the words of the retreating soldier, 'I'm awfully demoralized';" and added, "You know we must reserve some of the vital forces for shopping this evening."
Part of their business also was to buy the tickets for their return to Boston by way of Montreal and Quebec, and it was part of their pleasure to get these of the heartiest imaginable ticket-agent. He was a colonel or at least a major, and he made a polite feint of calling Basil by some military title. He commended the trip they were about to make as the most magnificent and beautiful on the whole continent, and he commended them for intending to make it. He said that was Mrs. General Bowder of Philadelphia who just went out; did they know her? Somehow, the titles affected Basil as of older date than the late war, and as belonging to the militia period; and he imagined for the agent the romance of a life spent at a watering-place, in contact with rich money-spending, pleasure-taking people, who formed his whole jovial world. The Colonel, who included them in this world and thereby brevetted them rich and fashionable, could not secure a state-room for them on the boat,-a perfectly splendid Lake steamer, which would take them down the rapids of the St. Lawrence, and on to Montreal without change,--but he would give them a letter to the captain, who was a very particular friend of his, and would be happy to show them as his friends every attention; and so he wrote a note ascribing peculiar merits to Basil, and in spite of all reason making him feel for the moment that he was privileged by a document which was no doubt part of every such transaction. He spoke in a loud cheerful voice; he laughed jollily at no apparent joke; he bowed very low and said, "Good-evening!" at parting, and they went away as if he had blessed them.
The rest of the evening they spent in wandering through the village, charmed with its bizarre mixture of quaintness and commonplaceness; in hanging about the shop-windows with their monotonous variety of feather fans--each with a violently red or yellow bird painfully sacrificed in its centre-moccasons, bead-wrought work-bags, tobacco-pouches, bows and arrows, and whatever else the savage art of the neighboring squaws can invent; in sauntering through these gay booths, pricing many things and in hanging long and undecidedly over cases full of feldspar crosses, quartz bracelets and necklaces, and every manner of vase, inoperative pitcher, and other vessel that can be fashioned out of the geological formations at Niagara, tormented meantime by the heat of the gas-lights and the persistence of the mosquitoes. There were very few people besides themselves in the shops, and Isabel's purchases were not lavish. Her husband had made up his mind to get her some little keepsake; and when he had taken her to the hotel he ran back to one of the shops, and hastily bought her a feather fan,--a magnificent thing of deep magenta dye shading into blue, with a whole yellow-bird transfixed in the centre. When he triumphantly displayed it in their room, "Who's that for, Basil?" demanded his wife; "the cook?" But seeing his ghastly look at this, she fell upon his neck, crying, "O you poor old tasteless darling! You've got it for me!" and seemed about to die of laughter.
"Didn't you start and throw up your hands," he stammered, "when you came to that case of fans?"
"Yes,-- in horror! Did you think I liked the cruel things, with their dead birds and their hideous colors? O Basil, dearest! You are incorrigible. Can't you learn that magenta is the vilest of all the hues that the perverseness of man has invented in defiance of nature? Now, my love, just promise me one thing," she said pathetically. "We're going to do a little shopping in Montreal, you know; and perhaps you'll be wanting to surprise me with something there. Don't do it. Or if you must, do tell me all about it beforehand, and what the color of it's to be; and I can say whether to get it or not, and then there'll be some taste about it, and I shall be truly surprised and pleased."
She turned to put the fan into her trunk, and he murmured something about exchanging it. "No," she said, "we'll keep it as a--a--monument." And she deposed him, with another peal of laughter, from the proud height to which he had climbed in pity of her nervous fears of the day. So completely were their places changed, that he doubted if it were not he who had made that scene on the Third Sister; and when Isabel said, "Oh, why won't men use their reasoning faculties?" he could not for himself have claimed any, and he could not urge the truth: that he had bought the fan more for its barbaric brightness than for its beauty. She would not let him get angry, and he could say nothing against the half-ironical petting with which she soothed his mortification.
But all troubles passed with the night, and the next morning they spent a charming hour about Prospect Point, and in sauntering over Goat Island, somewhat daintily tasting the flavors of the place on whose wonders they had so hungrily and indiscriminately feasted at first. They had already the feeling of veteran visitors, and they loftily marvelled at the greed with which newer comers plunged at the sensations. They could not conceive why people should want to descend the inclined railway to the foot of the American Fall; they smiled at the idea of going up Terrapin Tower; they derided the vulgar daring of those who went out upon the Three Weird Sisters; for some whom they saw about to go down the Biddle Stairs to the Cave of the Winds, they had no words to express their contempt.
Then they made their excursion to the Whirlpool, mistakenly going down on the American side, for it is much better seen from the other, though seen from any point it is the most impressive feature of the whole prodigious spectacle of Niagara.
Here within the compass of a mile, those inland seas of the North, Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and the multitude of smaller lakes, all pour their floods, where they swirl in dreadful vortices, with resistless under-currents boiling beneath the surface of that mighty eddy. Abruptly from this scene of secret power, so different from the thunderous splendors of the cataract itself; rise lofty cliffs on every side, to a height of two hundred feet, clothed from the water's edge almost to their crests with dark cedars. Noiselessly, so far as your senses perceive, the lakes steal out of the whirlpool, then, drunk and wild, with brawling rapids roar away to Ontario through the narrow channel of the river. Awful as the scene is, you stand so far above it that you do not know the half of its terribleness; for those waters that look so smooth are great ridges and rings, forced, by the impulse of the currents, twelve feet higher in the centre than at the margin. Nothing can live there, and with what is caught in its hold, the maelstrom plays for days, and whirls and tosses round and round in its toils, with a sad, maniacal patience. The guides tell ghastly stories, which even their telling does not wholly rob of ghastliness, about the bodies of drowned men carried into the whirlpool and made to enact upon its dizzy surges a travesty of life, apparently floating there at their pleasure, diving and frolicking amid the waves, or frantically struggling to escape from the death that has long since befallen them.
On the American side, not far below the railway suspension bridge, is an elevator more than a hundred and eighty feet high, which is meant to let people down to the shore below, and to give a view of the rapids on their own level. From the cliff opposite, it looks a terribly frail structure of pine sticks, but is doubtless stronger than it looks; and at any rate, as it has never yet fallen to pieces, it may be pronounced perfectly safe.
In the waiting-room at the top, Basil and Isabel found Mr. Richard and his ladies again, who got into the movable chamber with them, and they all silently descended together. It was not a time for talk of any kind, either when they were slowly and not quite smoothly dropping through the lugubrious upper part of the structure, where it was darkened by a rough weather-boarding, or lower down where the unobstructed light showed the grim teafful face of the cliff; bedrabbled with oozy springs, and the audacious slightness of the elevator. An abiding distrust of the machinery overhead mingled in Isabel's heart with a doubt of the value of the scene below, and she could not look forward to escape from her present perils by the conveyance which had brought her into them, with any satisfaction. She wanly smiled, and shrank closer to Basil; while the other matron made nothing of seizing her husband violently by the arm and imploring him to stop it whenever they experienced a rougher jolt than usual.
At the bottom of the cliff they were helped out of their prison by a humid young Englishman, with much clay on him, whose face was red and bathed in perspiration, for it was very hot down there in his little enclosure of baking pine boards, and it was not much cooler out on the rocks upon which the party issued, descending and descending by repeated and desultory flights of steps, till at last they stood upon a huge fragment of stone right abreast of the rapids. Yet it was a magnificent sight, and for a moment none of them were sorry to have come. The surges did not look like the gigantic ripples on a river's course as they were, but like a procession of ocean billows;they arose far aloft in vast bulks of clear green, and broke heavily into foam at the crest. Great blocks and shapeless fragments of rock strewed the margin of the awful torrent; gloomy walls of dark stone rose naked from these, bearded here and there with cedar, and everywhere frowning with shaggy brows of evergreen. The place is inexpressibly lonely and dreadful, and one feels like an alien presence there, or as if he had intruded upon some mood or haunt ofNature in which she had a right to be forever alone. The slight, impudent structure of the elevator rises through the solitude, like a thing that merits ruin, yet it is better than something more elaborate, for it looks temporary, and since there must be an elevator, it is well to have it of the most transitory aspect. Some such quality of rude impermanence consoles you for the presence of most improvements by which you enjoy Niagara; the suspension bridges for their part being saved from offensiveness by their beauty and unreality.
Ascending, none of the party spoke; Isabel and the other matron blanched in each other's faces; their husbands maintained a stolid resignation. When they stepped out of their trap into the waiting-room at the top, "What I like about these little adventures," said Mr. Richard to Basil, abruptly, "is getting safely out of them. Good morning, sir." He bowed slightly to Isabel, who returned his politeness, and exchanged faint nods, or glances, with the ladies. They got into their separate carriages, and at that safe distance made each other more decided obeisances.
"Well," observed Basil, "I suppose we're introduced now. We shall be meeting them from time to time throughout our journey. You know how the same faces and the same trunks used to keep turning up in our travels on the other side. Once meet people in travelling, and you can't get rid of them."
"Yes," said Isabel, as if continuing his train of thought, "I'm glad we're going to-day."
"Truly. When we first arrived I felt only the loveliness of the place. It seemed more familiar, too, then; but ever since, it's been growing stranger and dreadfuller. Somehow it's begun to pervade me and possess me in a very uncomfortable way: I'm tossed upon rapids, and flung from cataract brinks, and dizzied in whirlpools; I'm no longer yours, Basil; I'm most unhappily married to Niagara. Fly with me, save me from my awful lord!"
She lightly burlesqued the woes of a prima donna, with clasped hands and uplifted eyes.
"That'll do very well," Basil commented, "and it implies a reality that can't be quite definitely spoken. We come to Niagara in the patronizing spirit in which we approach everything nowadays, and for a few hours we have it our own way, and pay our little tributes of admiration with as much complacency as we feel in acknowledging the existence of the Supreme Being. But after a while we are aware of some potent influence undermining our self-satisfaction; we begin to conjecture that the great cataract does not exist by virtue of our approval, and to feel that it will not cease when we go away. The second day makes us its abject slaves, and on the third we want to fly from it in terror. I believe some people stay for weeks, however, and hordes of them have written odes to Niagara."
"I can't understand it, at all," said Isabel. "I don't wonder now that the town should be so empty this season, but that it should ever be full. I wish we'd gone after our first look at the Falls from the suspension bridge. How beautiful that was! I rejoice in everything that I haven't done. I'm so glad I haven't been in the Cave of the Winds; I'm so happy that Table Rock fell twenty years ago! Basil, I couldn't stand another rainbow today. I'm sorry we went out on the Three Weird Sisters. Oh, I shall dream about it! and the rush, and the whirl, and the dampness in one's face, and the everlasting chir-r-r-r-r of everything!"
She dipped suddenly upon his shoulder for a moment's oblivion, and then rose radiant with a question: "Why in the world, if Niagara is really what it seems to us, now, do so many bridal parties come here?"
"Perhaps they're the only people who've the strength to bear up against it, and are not easily dispersed and subjected by it."
"But we're dispersed and subjected."
"Ah, my dear, we married a little late. Who knows how it would be if you were nineteen instead of twenty-seven, and I twenty-five and not turned of thirty?"
"Basil, you're very cruel."
"No, no. But don't you see how it is? We've known too much of life to desire any gloomy background for our happiness. We're quite contented to have things gay and bright about us. Once we couldn't have made the circle dark enough. Well, my dear, that's the effect of age. We're superannuated."
"I used to think I was before we were married," answered Isabel simply; "but now," she added triumphantly, "I'm rescued from all that. I shall never be old again, dearest; never, as long as you--love me!"
They were about to enter the village, and he could not make any open acknowledgment of her tenderness; but her silken mantle (or whatever) slipped from her shoulder, and he embracingly replaced it, flattering himself that he had delicately seized this chance of an unavowed caress and not knowing (oh, such is the blindness of our sex!) that the opportunity had been yet more subtly afforded him, with the art which women never disuse in this world, and which I hope they will not forget in the next.
They had an early dinner, and looked their last upon the nuptial gayety of the otherwise forlorn hotel. Three brides sat down with them in travelling-dress; two occupied the parlor as they passed out; half a dozen happy pairs arrived (to the music of the band) in the omnibus that was to carry our friends back to the station; they caught sight of several about the shop-windows, as they drove through the streets. Thus the place perpetually renews itself in the glow of love as long as the summer lasts. The moon which is elsewhere so often of wormwood, or of the ordinary green cheese at the best, is of lucent honey there from the first of June to the last of October; and this is a great charm in Niagara. I think with tenderness of all the lives that have opened so fairly there; the hopes that have reigned in the glad young hearts; the measureless tide of joy that ebbs and flows with the arriving and departing trains. Elsewhere there are carking cares of business and of fashion, there are age, and sorrow, and heartbreak: but here only youth, faith, rapture. I kiss my hand to Niagara for that reason, and would I were a poet for a quarter of an hour.
Isabel departed in almost a forgiving mood towards the weak sisterhood of evident brides, and both our friends felt a lurking fondness for Niagara at the last moment. I do not know how much of their content was due to the fact that they had suffered no sort of wrong there, from those who are apt to prey upon travellers. In the hotel a placard warned them to have nothing to do with the miscreant hackmen on the streets, but always to order their carriage at the office; on the street the hackmen whispered to them not to trust the exorbitant drivers in league with the landlords; yet their actual experience was great reasonableness and facile contentment with the sum agreed upon. This may have been because the hackmen so far outnumbered the visitors, that the latter could dictate terms; but they chose to believe it a triumph of civilization; and I will never be the cynic to sneer at their faith. Only at the station was the virtue of the Niagarans put in doubt, by the hotel porter who professed to find Basil's trunk enfeebled by travel, and advised a strap for it, which a friend of his would sell for a dollar and a half. Yet even he may have been a benevolent nature unjustly suspected.