Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 35 out of 78
dawn there came, more to the sight than any other sense, a vague menace
of heat. But as yet the air was deliciously fresh and sweet, and Basil
bathed his weariness in it, thinking with a certain luxurious compassion
of the scalded man, and how he was to fare that day. This poor wretch
seemed of another order of beings, as the calamitous always seem to the
happy, and Basil's pity was quite an abstraction; which, again, amused
and shocked him, and he asked his heart of bliss to consider of sorrow a
little more earnestly as the lot of all men, and not merely of an alien
creature here and there. He dutifully tried to imagine another issue to
the disaster of the night, and to realize himself suddenly bereft of her
who so filled his life. He bade his soul remember that, in the security
of sleep, Death had passed them both so close that his presence might
well have chilled their dreams, as the iceberg that grazes the ship in
the night freezes all the air about it. But it was quite idle: where
love was, life only was; and sense and spirit alike put aside the burden
that he would have laid upon them; his revery reflected with delicious
caprice the looks, the tones, the movements that he loved, and bore him
far away from the sad images that he had invited to mirror themselves in
IV. A DAY'S RAILROADING
Happiness has commonly a good appetite; and the thought of the
fortunately ended adventures of the night, the fresh morning air, and the
content of their own hearts, gifted our friends, by the time the boat
reached Albany, with a wholesome hunger, so that they debated with spirit
the question of breakfast and the best place of breakfasting in a city
which neither of them knew, save in the most fugitive and sketchy way.
They decided at last, in view of the early departure of the train, and
the probability that they would be more hurried at a hotel, to breakfast
at the station, and thither they went and took places at one of the many
tables within, where they seemed to have been expected only by the
flies. The waitress plainly had not looked for them, and for a time
found their presence so incredible that she would not acknowledge the
rattling that Basil was obliged to make on his glass. Then it appeared
that the cook would not believe in them, and he did not send them, till
they were quite faint, the peppery and muddy draught which impudently
affected to be coffee, the oily slices of fugacious potatoes slipping
about in their shallow dish and skillfully evading pursuit, the pieces of
beef that simulated steak, the hot, greasy biscuit, steaming evilly up
into the face when opened, and then soddening into masses of condensed
The wedding-journeyers looked at each other with eyes of sad amaze. They
bowed themselves for a moment to the viands, and then by an equal impulse
refrained. They were sufficiently young, they were happy, they were
hungry; nature is great and strong, but art is greater, and before these
triumphs of the cook at the Albany depot appetite succumbed. By a
terrible tour de force they swallowed the fierce and turbid liquor in
their cups, and then speculated fantastically upon the character and
history of the materials of that breakfast.
Presently Isabel paused, played a little with her knife, and, after a
moment. looked up at her husband with an arch regard and said: "I was
just thinking of a small station somewhere in the South of France where
our train once stopped for breakfast. I remember the freshness and
brightness of everything on the little tables,--the plates, the napkins,
the gleaming half-bottles of wine. They seemed to have been preparing
that breakfast for us from the beginning of time, and we were hardly
seated before they served us with great cups of 'caffe-au-lait', and the
sweetest rolls and butter; then a delicate cutlet, with an unspeakable
gravy, and potatoes,--such potatoes! Dear me, how little I ate of it!
I wish, for once, I'd had your appetite, Basil; I do indeed."
She ended with a heartless laugh, in which, despite the tragical contrast
her words had suggested, Basil finally joined. So much amazement had
probably never been got before out of the misery inflicted in that place;
but their lightness did not at all commend them. The waitress had not
liked it from the first, and had served them with reluctance; and the
proprietor did not like it, and kept his eye upon them as if he believed
them about to escape without payment. Here, then, they had enforced a
great fact of travelling,--that people who serve the public are kindly
and pleasant in proportion as they serve it well. The unjust and the
inefficient have always that consciousness of evil which will not let a
man forgive his victim, or like him to be cheerful.
Our friends, however, did not heat themselves over the fact. There was
already such heat from without, even at eight o'clock in the morning,
that they chose to be as cool as possible in mind, and they placidly took
their places in the train, which had been made up for departure. They
had deliberately rejected the notion of a drawing-room car as affording a
less varied prospect of humanity, and as being less in the spirit of
ordinary American travel. Now, in reward, they found themselves quite
comfortable in the common passenger-car, and disposed to view the
scenery, into which they struck an hour after leaving the city, with much
complacency. There was sufficient draught through the open window to
make the heat tolerable, and the great brooding warmth gave to the
landscape the charm which it alone can impart. It is a landscape that I
greatly love for its mild beauty and tranquil picturesqueness, and it is
in honor of our friends that I say they enjoyed it. There are nowhere
any considerable hills, but everywhere generous slopes and pleasant
hollows and the wide meadows of a grazing country, with the pretty brown
Mohawk River rippling down through all, and at frequent intervals the
life of the canal, now near, now far away, with the lazy boats that seem
not to stir, and the horses that the train passes with a whirl, and,
leaves slowly stepping forward and swiftly slipping backward. There are
farms that had once, or still have, the romance to them of being Dutch
farms,--if there is any romance in that,--and one conjectures a Dutch
thrift in their waving grass and grain. Spaces of woodland here and
there dapple the slopes, and the cozy red farm-houses repose by the side
of their capacious red barns. Truly, there is no ground on which to
defend the idleness, and yet as the train strives furiously onward amid
these scenes of fertility and abundance, I like in fancy to loiter behind
it, and to saunter at will up and down the landscape. I stop at the
farm-yard gates, and sit upon the porches or thresholds, and am served
with cups of buttermilk by old Dutch ladies who have done their morning's
work and have leisure to be knitting or sewing; or if there are no old
ladies, with decent caps upon their gray hair, then I do not complain if
the drink is brought me by some red-cheeked, comely young girl, out of
Washington Irving's pages, with no cap on her golden braids, who mirrors
my diffidence, and takes an attitude of pretty awkwardness while she
waits till I have done drinking. In the same easily contented spirit as
I lounge through the barn-yard, if I find the old hens gone about their
family affairs, I do not mind a meadow-lark's singing in the top of the
elm-tree beside the pump. In these excursions the watch-dogs know me for
a harmless person, and will not open their eyes as they lie coiled up in
the sun before the gate. At all the places, I have the people keep bees,
and, in the garden full of worthy pot-herbs, such idlers in the vegetable
world as hollyhocks and larkspurs and four-o'clocks, near a great bed in
which the asparagus has gone to sleep for the season with a dream of
delicate spray hanging over it. I walk unmolested through the farmer's
tall grass, and ride with him upon the perilous seat of his voluble
mowing-machine, and learn to my heart's content that his name begins with
Van, and that his family has owned that farm ever since the days of the
Patroon; which I dare say is not true. Then I fall asleep in a corner of
the hayfield, and wake up on the tow-path of the canal beside that
wonderfully lean horse, whose bones you cannot count only, because they
are so many. He never wakes up, but, with a faltering under-lip and
half-shut eyes, hobbles stiffly on, unconscious of his anatomical
interest. The captain hospitably asks me on board, with a twist of the
rudder swinging the stern of the boat up to the path, so that I can step
on. She is laden with flour from the valley of the Genesee, and may have
started on her voyage shortly after the canal was made. She is
succinctly manned by the captain, the driver, and the cook, a fiery-
haired lady of imperfect temper; and the cabin, which I explore, is
plainly furnished with a cook-stove and a flask of whiskey. Nothing but
profane language is allowed on board; and so, in a life of wicked jollity
and ease, we glide imperceptibly down the canal, unvexed by the far-off
future of arrival.
Such, I say, are my own unambitious mental pastimes, but I am aware that
less superficial spirits could not be satisfied with them, and I can not
pretend that my wedding-journeyers were so.
They cast an absurd poetry over the landscape; they invited themselves to
be reminded of passages of European travel by it; and they placed villas
and castles and palaces upon all the eligible building-sites. Ashamed of
these devices, presently, Basil patriotically tried to reconstruct the
Dutch and Indian past of the Mohawk Valley, but here he was foiled by the
immense ignorance of his wife, who, as a true American woman, knew
nothing of the history of her own country, and less than nothing of the
barbarous regions beyond the borders of her native province. She proved
a bewildering labyrinth of error concerning the events which Basil
mentioned; and she had never even heard of the massacres by the French
and Indians at Schenectady, which he in his boyhood had known so vividly
that he was scalped every night in his dreams, and woke up in the morning
expecting to see marks of the tomahawk on the head-board. So, failing at
last to extract any sentiment from the scenes without, they turned their
faces from the window, and looked about them for amusement within the
It was in all respects an ordinary carful of human beings, and it was
perhaps the more worthy to be studied on that account. As in literature
the true artist will shun the use even of real events if they are of an
improbable character, so the sincere observer of man will not desire to
look upon the heroic or occasional phases, but will seek him in his
habitual moods of vacancy and tiresomeness. To me, at any rate, he is at
such times very precious; and I never perceive him to be so much a man
and a brother as when I feel the pressure of his vast, natural,
unaffected dullness. Then I am able to enter confidently into his life
and inhabit there, to think his shallow and feeble thoughts, to be moved
by his dumb, stupid desires, to be dimly illumined by his stinted
inspirations, to share his foolish prejudices, to practice his obtuse
selfishness. Yes, it is a very amusing world, if you do not refuse to be
amused; and our friends were very willing to be entertained. They
delighted in the precise, thick-fingered old ladies who bought sweet
apples of the boys come aboard with baskets, and who were so long in
finding the right change, that our travellers, leaping in thought with
the boys from the moving train, felt that they did so at the peril of
their lives. Then they were interested in people who went out and found
their friends waiting for them, or else did not find them, and wandered
disconsolately up and down before the country stations, carpet-bag in
hand; in women who came aboard, and were awkwardly shaken hands with or
sheepishly kissed by those who hastily got seats for them, and placed
their bags or their babies in their laps, and turned for a nod at the
door; in young ladies who were seen to places by young men the latter
seemed not to care if the train did go off with them, and then threw up
their windows and talked with girl-friends, on the platform without,
till the train began to move, and at last turned with gleaming eyes and
moist red lips, and panted hard in the excitement of thinking about it,
and could not calm themselves to the dull level of the travel around
them; in the conductor, coldly and inaccessibly vigilant, as he went his
rounds, reaching blindly for the tickets with one hand while he bent his
head from time, to time, and listened with a faint, sarcastic smile to
the questions of passengers who supposed they were going to get some
information out of him; in the trainboy, who passed through on his many
errands with prize candies, gum-drops, pop-corn, papers and magazines,
and distributed books and the police journals with a blind impartiality,
or a prodigious ignorance, or a supernatural perception of character in
those who received them.
A through train from East to West presents some peculiar features as well
as the traits common to all railway travel; and our friends decided that
this was not a very well-dressed company, and would contrast with the
people on an express-train between Boston and New York to no better
advantage than these would show beside the average passengers between
London and Paris. And it seems true that on a westering' line, the
blacking fades gradually from the boots, the hat softens and sinks, the
coat loses its rigor of cut, and the whole person lounges into increasing
informality of costume. I speak of the undressful sex alone: woman,
wherever she is, appears in the last attainable effects of fashion, which
are now all but telegraphic and universal. But most of the passengers
here were men, and they mere plainly of the free-and easy West rather
than the dapper East. They wore faces thoughtful with the problem of
buying cheap and selling dear, and they could be known by their silence
from the loquacious, acquaintance-making way-travellers. In these, the
mere coming aboard seemed to beget an aggressively confidential mood.
Perhaps they clutched recklessly at any means of relieving their ennui;
or they felt that they might here indulge safely in the pleasures of
autobiography, so dear to all of us; or else, in view of the many
possible catastrophes, they desired to leave some little memory of
themselves behind. At any rate, whenever the train stopped, the wedding-
journeyers caught fragments of the personal histories of their fellow-
passengers which had been rehearsing to those that sat next the
narrators. It was no more than fair that these should somewhat magnify
themselves, and put the best complexion on their actions and the worst
upon their sufferings; that they should all appear the luckiest or the
unluckiest, the healthiest or the sickest, people that ever were, and
should all have made or lost the most money. There was a prevailing
desire among them to make out that they came from or were going to same
very large place; and our friends fancied an actual mortification in the
face of a modest gentleman who got out at Penelope (or some other
insignificant classical station, in the ancient Greek and Roman part of
New York State), after having listened to the life of a somewhat rustic-
looking person who had described himself as belonging near New York City.
Basil also found diversion in the tender couples, who publicly comported
themselves as if in a sylvan solitude, and, as it had been on the bank of
some umbrageous stream, far from the ken of envious or unsympathetic
eyes, reclined upon each other's shoulders and slept; but Isabel declared
that this behavior was perfectly indecent. She granted, of course, that
they were foolish, innocent people, who meant no offense, and did not
feel guilty of an impropriety, but she said that this sort of thing was a
national reproach. If it were merely rustic lovers, she should not care
so much; but you saw people who ought to know better, well-dressed,
stylish people, flaunting their devotion in the face of the world, and
going to sleep on each other's shoulders on every railroad train. It was
outrageous, it was scandalous, it was really infamous. Before she would
allow herself to do such a thing she would--well, she hardly knew what
she would not do; she would have a divorce, at any rate. She wondered
that Basil could laugh at it; and he would make her hate him if he kept
From the seat behind their own they were now made listeners to the
history of a ten weeks' typhoid fever, from the moment when the narrator
noticed that he had not felt very well for a day or two back, and all at
once a kind of shiver took him, till he lay fourteen days perfectly
insensible, and could eat nothing but a little pounded ice--and his wife-
-a small woman, too--used to lift him back and forth between the bed and
sofa like a feather, and the neighbors did not know half the time whether
he was dead or alive. This history, from which not the smallest
particular or the least significant symptom of the case was omitted,
occupied an hour in recital, and was told, as it seemed, for the
entertainment of one who had been five minutes before it began a stranger
to the historian.
At last the train came to a stand, and Isabel wailed forth in accents of
desperation the words, "O, disgusting!" The monotony of the narrative in
the seat behind, fatally combining with the heat of the day, had lulled
her into slumbers from which she awoke at the stopping of the train, to
find her head resting tenderly upon her husband's shoulder.
She confronted his merriment with eves of mournful rebuke; but as she
could not find him, or the harshest construction, in the least to blame,
she was silent.
"Never mind, dear, never mind," he coaxed, "you were really not
responsible. It was fatigue, destiny, the spite of fortune,--whatever
you like. In the case of the others, whom you despise so justly, I dare
say it is sheer, disgraceful affection. But see that ravishing placard,
swinging from the roof: 'This train stops twenty minutes for dinner at
Utica.' In a few minutes more we shall be at Utica. If they have
anything edible there, it shall never contract my powers. I could dine
at the Albany station, even."
In a little while they found themselves in an airy, comfortable dining-
room, eating a dinner, which it seemed to them France in the flush of her
prosperity need not have blushed to serve; for if it wanted a little in
the last graces of art, it redeemed itself in abundance, variety, and
wholesomeness. At the elbow of every famishing passenger stood a
beneficent coal-black glossy fairy, in a white linen apron and jacket,
serving him with that alacrity and kindliness and grace which make the
negro waiter the master, not the slave of his calling, which disenthrall
it of servility, and constitute him your eager host, not your menial, for
the moment. From table to table passed a calming influence in the person
of the proprietor, who, as he took his richly earned money, checked the
rising fears of the guests by repeated proclamations that there was
plenty of time, and that he would give them due warning before the train
started. Those who had flocked out of the cars, to prey with beak and
claw, as the vulture-like fashion is, upon everything in reach, remained
to eat like Christians; and even a poor, scantily-Englished Frenchman,
who wasted half his time in trying to ask how long the cars stopped and
in looking at his watch, made a good dinner in spite of himself.
"O Basil, Basil!" cried Isabel, when the train was again in motion, "have
we really dined once more? It seems too good to be true. Cleanliness,
plenty, wholesomeness, civility! Yes, as you say, they cannot be civil
where they are not just; honesty and courtesy go together; and wherever
they give you outrageous things to eat, they add indigestible insults.
Basil, dear, don't be jealous; I shall never meet him again; but I'm in
love with that black waiter at our table. I never saw such perfect
manners, such a winning and affectionate politeness. He made me feel
that every mouthful I ate was a personal favor to him. What a complete
gentleman. There ought never to be a white waiter. None but negroes are
able to render their service a pleasure and distinction to you."
So they prattled on, doing, in their eagerness to be satisfied, a homage
perhaps beyond its desert to the good dinner and the decent service of
it. But here they erred in the right direction, and I find nothing more
admirable in their behavior throughout a wedding journey which certainly
had its trials, than their willingness to make the very heat of whatever
would suffer itself to be made anything at all of. They celebrated its
pleasures with magnanimous excess, they passed over its griefs with a
wise forbearance. That which they found the most difficult of management
was the want of incident for the most part of the time; and I who write
their history might also sink under it, but that I am supported by the
fact that it is so typical, in this respect. I even imagine that ideal
reader for whom one writes as yawning over these barren details with the
life-like weariness of an actual travelling companion of theirs. Their
own silence often sufficed my wedded lovers, or then, when there was
absolutely nothing to engage them, they fell back upon the story of their
love, which they were never tired of hearing as they severally knew it.
Let it not be a reproach to human nature or to me if I say that there was
something in the comfort of having well dined which now touched the
springs of sentiment with magical effect, and that they had never so
rejoiced in these tender reminiscences.
They had planned to stop over at Rochester till the morrow, that they
might arrive at Niagara by daylight, and at Utica they had suddenly
resolved to make the rest of the day's journey in a drawing-room car.
The change gave them an added reason for content; and they realized how
much they had previously sacrificed to the idea of travelling in the most
American manner, without achieving it after all, for this seemed a touch
of Americanism beyond the old-fashioned car. They reclined in luxury
upon the easy-cushioned, revolving chairs; they surveyed with infinite
satisfaction the elegance of the flying-parlor in which they sat, or
turned their contented regard through the broad plate-glass windows upon
the landscape without. They said that none but Americans or enchanted
princes in the "Arabian Nights" ever travelled in such state; and when
the stewards of the car came round successively with tropical fruits,
ice-creams, and claret-punches, they felt a heightened assurance that
they were either enchanted princes--or Americans. There were more ladies
and more fashion than in the other cars; and prettily dressed children
played about on the carpet; but the general appearance of the passengers
hardly suggested greater wealth than elsewhere; and they were plainly in
that car because they were of the American race, which finds nothing too
good for it that its money can buy.
V. THE ENCHANTED CITY, AND BEYOND.
They knew none of the hotels in Rochester, and they had chosen a certain
one in reliance upon their handbook. When they named it, there stepped
forth a porter of an incredibly cordial and pleasant countenance, who
took their travelling-bags, and led them to the omnibus. As they were
his only passengers, the porter got inside with them, and seeing their
interest in the streets through which they rode, he descanted in a strain
of cheerful pride upon the city's prosperity and character, and gave the
names of the people who lived in the finer houses, just as if it had been
an Old-World town, and he some eager historian expecting reward for his
comment upon it. He cast quite a glamour over Rochester, so that in
passing a body of water, bordered by houses, and overlooked by odd
balconies and galleries, and crossed in the distance by a bridge upon
which other houses were built, they boldly declared, being at their wit's
end for a comparison, and taken with the unhoped-for picturesqueness,
that it put them in mind of Verona. Thus they reached their hotel in
almost a spirit of foreign travel, and very willing to verify the
pleasant porter's assurance that they would like it, for everybody liked
it; and it was with a sudden sinking of the heart that Basil beheld
presiding over the register the conventional American hotel clerk. He
was young, he had a neat mustache and well-brushed hair; jeweled studs
sparkled in his shirt-front, and rings on his white hands; a gentle
disdain of the travelling public breathed from his person in the mystical
odors of Ihlang ihlang. He did not lift his haughty head to look at the
wayfarer who meekly wrote his name in the register; be did not answer him
when he begged for a cool room; he turned to the board on which the keys
hung, and, plucking one from it, slid it towards Basil on the marble
counter, touched a bell for a call-boy, whistled a bar of Offenbach, and
as he wrote the number of the room against Basil's name, said to a friend
lounging near him, as if resuming a conversation, "Well, she's a mighty
pooty gul, any way, Chawley!"
When I reflect that this was a type of the hotel clerk throughout the
United States, that behind unnumbered registers at this moment he is
snubbing travellers into the dust, and that they are suffering and
perpetuating him, I am lost in wonder at the national meekness. Not that
I am one to refuse the humble pie his jeweled fingers offer me. Abjectly
I take my key, and creep off up stairs after the call-boy, and try to
give myself the genteel air of one who has not been stepped upon. But I
think homicidal things all the same, and I rejoice that in the safety of
print I can cry out against the despot, whom I have not the presence to
defy. "You vulgar and cruel little soul," I say, and I imagine myself
breathing the words to his teeth, "why do you treat a weary stranger with
this ignominy? I am to pay well for what I get, and I shall not complain
of that. But look at me, and own my humanity; confess by some civil
action, by some decent phrase, that I have rights and that they shall be
respected. Answer my proper questions; respond to my fair demands. Do
not slide my key at me; do not deny me the poor politeness of a nod as
you give it in my hand. I am not your equal; few men are; but I shall
not presume upon your clemency. Come, I also am human!"
Basil found that, for his sin in asking for a cool room, the clerk had
given them a chamber into which the sun had been shining the whole
afternoon; but when his luggage had been put in it seemed useless to
protest, and like a true American, like you, like me, he shrank from
asserting himself. When the sun went down it would be cool enough; and
they turned their thoughts to supper, not venturing to hope that, as it
proved, the handsome clerk was the sole blemish of the house.
Isabel viewed with innocent surprise the evidences of luxury afforded by
all the appointments of a hotel so far west of Boston, and they both
began to feel that natural ease and superiority which an inn always
inspires in its guests, and which our great hotels, far from impairing,
enhance in flattering degree; in fact, the clerk once forgotten, I
protest, for my own part, I am never more conscious of my merits and
riches in any other place. One has there the romance of being a stranger
and a mystery to every one else, and lives in the alluring possibility of
not being found out a most ordinary person.
They were so late in coming to the supper-room, that they found
themselves alone in it. At the door they had a bow from the head-waiter,
who ran before them and drew out chairs for them at a table, and signaled
waiters to serve them, first laying before them with a gracious flourish
the bill of fare.
A force of servants flocked about them, as if to contest the honor of
ordering their supper; one set upon the table a heaping vase of
strawberries, another flanked it with flagons of cream, a third
accompanied it with Gates of varied flavor and device; a fourth
obsequiously smoothed the table-cloth; a fifth, the youngest of the five,
with folded arms stood by and admired the satisfaction the rest were
giving. When these had been dispatched for steak, for broiled white-fish
of the lakes,--noblest and delicatest of the fish that swim,--for
broiled chicken, for fried potatoes, for mums, for whatever the lawless
fancy, and ravening appetites of the wayfarers could suggest, this fifth
waiter remained to tempt them to further excess, and vainly proposed some
kind of eggs,--fried eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, or
"O, you're sure, dearest, that this isn't a vision of fairy-land, which
will vanish presently, and leave us empty and forlorn? "plaintively
murmured Isabel, as the menial train reappeared, bearing the supper they
had ordered and set it smoking down.
Suddenly a look of apprehension dawned upon her face, and she let fall
her knife and fork. "You don't think, Basil," she faltered, "that they
could have found out we're a bridal party, and that they're serving us so
magnificently because--because--O, I shall be miserable every moment
we're here!" she concluded desperately.
She looked, indeed, extremely wretched for a woman with so much broiled
white-fish on her plate, and such a banquet array about her; and her
husband made haste to reassure her. "You're still demoralized, Isabel,
by our sufferings at the Albany depot, and you exaggerate the blessings
we enjoy, though I should be sorry to undervalue them. I suspect it's
the custom to use people well at this hotel; or if we are singled out for
uncommon favor, I think: I can explain the cause. It has been discovered
by the register that we are from Boston, and we are merely meeting the
reverence, affection, and homage which the name everywhere commands!
"It 's our fortune to represent for the time being the intellectual and
moral virtue of Boston. This supper is not a tribute to you as a bride,
but as a Bostonian."
It was a cheap kind of raillery, to be sure, but it served. It kindled
the local pride of Isabel to self-defense, and in the distraction of the
effort she forgot her fears; she returned with renewed appetite to the
supper, and in its excellence they both let fall their dispute,--which
ended, of course, in Basil's abject confession that Boston was the best
place in the world, and nothing but banishment could make him live
elsewhere,--and gave themselves up, as usual, to the delight of being
just what and where they were. At last, the natural course brought them
to the strawberries, and when the fifth waiter approached from the corner
of the table at which he stood, to place the vase near them, he did not
retire at once, but presently asked if they were from the West.
Isabel smiled, and Basil answered that they were from the East.
He faltered at this, as if doubtful of the result if he went further, but
took heart, then, and asked, "Don't you think this is a pretty nice
hotel"--hastily adding as a concession of the probable existence of much
finer things at the East--"for a small hotel?"
They imagined this waiter as new to his station in life, as perhaps just
risen to it from some country tavern, and unable to repress his
exultation in what seemed their sympathetic presence. They were charmed
to have invited his guileless confidence, to have evoked possibly all the
simple poetry of his soul; it was what might have happened in Italy, only
there so much naivete would have meant money; they looked at each other
with rapture. and Basil answered warmly while the waiter flushed as at a
personal compliment: "Yes, it 's a nice hotel; one of the best I ever
saw, East or West, in Europe or America."
They rose and left the room, and were bowed out by the head-waiter.
"How perfectly idyllic!" cried Isabel. "Is this Rochester, New York, or
is it some vale of Arcady? Let's go out and see."
They walked out into the moonlit city, up and down streets that seemed
very stately and fine, amidst a glitter of shop-window lights; and then,
Less of their own motion than of mere error, they quitted the business
quarter, and found themselves in a quiet avenue of handsome residences,--
the Beacon Street of Rochester, whatever it was called. They said it was
a night and a place for lovers, for none but lovers, for lovers newly
plighted, and they made believe to bemoan themselves that, hold each
other dear as they would, the exaltation, the thrill, the glory of their
younger love was gone. Some of the houses had gardened spaces about
them, from which stole, like breaths of sweetest and saddest regret, the
perfume of midsummer flowers,--the despair of the rose for the bud. As
they passed a certain house, a song fluttered out of the open window and
ceased, the piano warbled at the final rush of fingers over its chords,
and they saw her with her fingers resting lightly on the keys, and her
graceful head lifted to look into his; they saw him with his arm yet
stretched across to the leaves of music he had been turning, and his face
lowered to meet her gaze.
"Ah, Basil, I wish it was we, there!"
And if they knew that we, on our wedding journey, stood outside, would
not they wish it was they, here?"
"I suppose so, dearest, and yet, once-upon-a-time was sweet. Pass on;
and let us see what charm we shall find next in this enchanted city."
"Yes, it is an enchanted city to us," mused Basil, aloud, as they
wandered on, "and all strange cities are enchanted. What is Rochester to
the Rochesterese? A place of a hundred thousand people, as we read in
our guide, an immense flour interest, a great railroad entrepot, an
unrivaled nursery trade, a university, two commercial colleges, three
collegiate institutes, eight or ten newspapers, and a free library. I
dare say any respectable resident would laugh at us sentimentalizing over
his city. But Rochester is for us, who don't know it at all, a city of
any time or country, moonlit, filled with lovers hovering over piano-
fortes, of a palatial hotel with pastoral waiters and porter,--a city of
handsome streets wrapt in beautiful quiet and dreaming of the golden age.
The only definite association with it in our minds is the tragically
romantic thought that here Sam Patch met his fate."
"And who in the world was Sam Patch?
"Isabel, your ignorance of all that an American woman should be proud of
distresses me. Have you really, then, never heard of the man who
invented the saying, 'Some things can be done as well as others,' and
proved it by jumping over Niagara Falls twice? Spurred on by this
belief, he attempted the leap of the Genesee Falls. The leap was easy
enough, but the coming up again was another matter. He failed in that.
It was the one thing that could not be done as well as others."
"Dreadful!" said Isabel, with the cheerfullest satisfaction. "But what
has all that to do with Rochester?"
"Now, my dear, You don't mean to say you didn't know that the Genesee
Falls were at Rochester? Upon my word, I'm ashamed. Why, we're within
ten minutes' walk of them now."
"Then walk to them at once!" cried Isabel, wholly unabashed, and in fact
unable to see what he had to be ashamed of. "Actually, I believe you
would have allowed me to leave Rochester without telling me the falls
were here, if you hadn't happened to think of Sam Patch."
Saying this, she persuaded herself that a chief object of their journey
had been to visit the scene of Sam Patch's fatal exploit, and she drew
Basil with a nervous swiftness in the direction of the railroad station,
beyond which he said were the falls. Presently, after threading their
way among a multitude of locomotives, with and without trains attached,
that backed and advanced, or stood still, hissing impatiently on every
side, they passed through the station to a broad planking above the river
on the other side, and thence, after encounter of more locomotives, they
found, by dint of much asking, a street winding up the hill-side to the
left, and leading to the German Bierhaus that gives access to the best
view of the cataract.
The Americans have characteristically bordered the river with
manufactures, making every drop work its passage to the brink; while the
Germans have as characteristically made use of the beauty left over, and
have built a Bierhaus where they may regale both soul and sense in the
presence of the cataract. Our travellers might, in another mood and
place, have thought it droll to arrive at that sublime spectacle through
a Bierhaus, but in this enchanted city it seemed to have a peculiar
A narrow corridor gave into a wide festival space occupied by many
tables, each of which was surrounded by a group of clamorous Germans of
either sex and every age, with tall beakers of beaded lager before them,
and slim flasks of Rhenish; overhead flamed the gas in globes of
varicolored glass; the walls were painted like those of such haunts in
the fatherland; and the wedding-journeyers were fair to linger on their
way, to dwell upon that scene of honest enjoyment, to inhale the mingling
odors of beer and of pipes, and of the pungent cheeses in which the
children of the fatherland delight. Amidst the inspiriting clash of
plates and glasses, the rattle of knives and forks, and the hoarse rush
of gutturals, they could catch the words Franzosen, Kaiser, Konig, and
Schlacht, and they knew that festive company to be exulting in the first
German triumphs of the war, which were then the day's news; they saw
fists shaken at noses in fierce exchange of joy, arms tossed abroad in
wild congratulation, and health-pouring goblets of beer lifted in air.
Then they stepped into the moonlight again, and heard only the solemn
organ stops of the cataract. Through garden-ground they were led by the
little maid, their guide, to a small pavilion that stood on the edge of
the precipitous shore, and commanded a perfect view of the falls. As
they entered this pavilion, a youth and maiden, clearly lovers, passed
out, and they were left alone with that sublime presence. Something of
definiteness was to be desired in the spectacle, but there was ample
compensation in the mystery with which the broad effulgence and the dense
unluminous shadows of the moonshine invested it. The light touched all
the tops of the rapids, that seemed to writhe sway from the brink of the
cataract, and then desperately breaking and perishing to fall, the white
disembodied ghosts of rapids, down to the bottom of the vast and deep
ravine through which the river rushed away. Now the waters seemed to
mass themselves a hundred feet high in a wall of snowy compactness, now
to disperse into their multitudinous particles and hang like some
vaporous cloud from the cliff. Every moment renewed the vision of beauty
in some rare and fantastic shape; and its loveliness isolated it, in
spite of the great town on the other shore, the station with its bridge
and its trains, the mills that supplied their feeble little needs from
the cataract's strength.
At last Basil pointed out the table-rock in the middle of the fall, from
which Sam Patch had made his fatal leap; but Isabel refused to admit that
tragical figure to the honors of her emotions. "I don't care for him!"
she said fiercely. "Patch! What a name to be linked in our thoughts with
this superb cataract."
"Well, Isabel, I think you are very unjust. It's as good a name as
Leander, to my thinking, and it was immortalized in support of a great
idea, the feasibility of all things; while Leander's has come down to us
as that of the weak victim of a passion. We shall never have a poetry of
our own till we get over this absurd reluctance from facts, till we make
the ideal embrace and include the real, till we consent to face the music
in our simple common names, and put Smith into a lyric and Jones into a
tragedy. The Germans are braver than we, and in them you find facts and
dreams continually blended and confronted. Here is a fortunate
illustration. The people we met coming out of this pavilion were lovers,
and they had been here sentimentalizing on this superb cataract, as you
call it, with which my heroic Patch is not worthy to be named. No doubt
they had been quoting Uhland or some other of their romantic poets,
perhaps singing some of their tender German love-songs,--the tenderest,
unearthliest love-songs in the world. At the same time they did not
disdain the matter-of-fact corporeity in which their sentiment was
enshrined; they fed it heartily and abundantly with the banquet whose
relics we see here."
On a table before them stood a pair of beer-glasses, in the bottoms of
which lurked scarce the foam of the generous liquor lately brimming them;
some shreds of sausage, some rinds of Swiss cheese, bits of cold ham,
crusts of bread, and the ashes of a pipe.
Isabel shuddered at the spectacle, but made no comment, and Basil went
on: "Do you suppose they scorned the idea of Sam Patch as they gazed upon
the falls? On the contrary, I've no doubt that he recalled to her the
ballad which a poet of their language made about him. It used to go the
rounds of the German newspapers, and I translated it, a long while ago,
when I thought that I too was in 'Arkadien geboren'.
'In the Bierhauagarten I linger
By the Falls of the Geneses:
From the Table-Rock in the middle
Leaps a figure bold and free.
Aloof in the air it rises
O'er the rush, the plunge, the death;
On the thronging banks of the river
There is neither pulse nor breath.
Forever it hovers and poises
Aloof in the moonlit air;
As light as mist from the rapids,
As heavy as nightmare.
In anguish I cry to the people,
The long-since vanished hosts;
I see them stretch forth in answer,
The helpless hands of ghosts.'"
"I once met the poet who wrote this. He drank too much beer."
"I don't see that he got in the name of Sam Patch, after all," said
"O yes; he did; but I had to yield to our taste, and where he said, I
'Springt der Sam Patsch kuhn and frei',' I made it 'Leaps a figure bold
As they passed through the house on their way out, they saw the youth and
maiden they had met at the pavilion door. They were seated at a table;
two glasses of beer towered before them; on their plates were odorous
crumbs of Limburger cheese. They both wore a pensive air.
The next morning the illusion that had wrapt the whole earth was gone
with the moonlight. By nine o'clock, when the wedding-journeyers resumed
their way toward Niagara, the heat had already set in with the effect of
ordinary midsummer's heat at high noon. The car into which they got had
come the past night from Albany, and had an air of almost conscious
shabbiness, griminess, and over-use. The seats were covered with
cinders, which also crackled under foot. Dust was on everything,
especially the persons of the crumpled and weary passengers of overnight.
Those who came aboard at Rochester failed to lighten the spiritual gloom,
and presently they sank into the common bodily wretchedness. The train
was somewhat belated, and as it drew nearer Buffalo they knew the
conductor to have abandoned himself to that blackest of the arts, making
time. The long irregular jolt of the ordinary progress was reduced to an
incessant shudder and a quick lateral motion. The air within the cars
was deadly; if a window was raised, a storm of dust and cinders blew in
and quick gusts caught away the breath. So they sat with closed windows,
sweltering and stifling, and all the faces on which a lively horror was
not painted were dull and damp with apathetic misery.
The incidents were in harmony with the abject physical tone of the
company. There was a quarrel between a thin, shrill-voiced, highly
dressed, much-bedizened Jewess, on the one side, and a fat, greedy old
woman, half asleep, and a boy with large pink transparent ears that stood
out from his head like the handles of a jar, on the other side, about a
seat which the Hebrew wanted, and which the others had kept filled with
packages on the pretense that it was engaged. It was a loud and fierce
quarrel enough, but it won no sort of favor; and when the Jewess had
given a final opinion that the greedy old woman was no lady, and the boy,
who disputed in an ironical temper, replied, "Highly complimentary, I
must say," there was no sign of relief or other acknowledgment in any of
the spectators, that there had been a quarrel.
There was a little more interest taken in the misfortune of an old
purblind German and his son, who were found by the conductor to be a few
hundred miles out of the direct course to their destination, and were
with some trouble and the aid of an Americanized fellow-countryman made
aware of the fact. The old man then fell back in the prevailing apathy,
and the child naturally cared nothing. By and by came the unsparing
train-boy on his rounds, bestrewing the passengers successively with
papers, magazines, fine-cut tobacco, and packages of candy. He gave the
old man a package of candy, and passed on. The German took it as the
bounty of the American people, oddly manifested in a situation where he
could otherwise have had little proof of their care. He opened it and
was sharing it with his son when the train-boy came back, and
metallically, like a part of the machinery, demanded, "Ten cents!"
The German stared helplessly, and the boy repeated, "Ten cents! ten
cents!" with tiresome patience, while the other passengers smiled. When
it had passed through the alien's head that he was to pay for this
national gift and he took with his tremulous fingers from the recesses of
his pocket-book a ten-cent note and handed it to his tormentor, some of
the people laughed. Among the rest, Basil and Isabel laughed, and then
looked at each other with eyes of mutual reproach.
"Well, upon my word, my dear," he said, "I think we've fallen pretty low.
I've never felt such a poor, shabby ruffian before. Good heavens! To
think of our immortal souls being moved to mirth by such a thing as
this,--so stupid, so barren of all reason of laughter. And then the
cruelty of it! What ferocious imbeciles we are! Whom have I married?
A woman with neither heart nor brain!"
"O Basil, dear, pay him back the money-do."
"I can't. That's the worst of it. He 's money enough, and might justly
take offense. What breaks my heart is that we could have the depravity
to smile at the mistake of a friendless stranger, who supposed he had at
last met with an act of pure kindness. It's a thing to weep over. Look
at these grinning wretches! What a fiendish effect their smiles have,
through their cinders and sweat! O, it's the terrible weather; the
despotism of the dust and heat; the wickedness of the infernal air. What
a squalid and loathsome company!"
At Buffalo, where they arrived late, they found themselves with several
hours' time on their hands before the train started for Niagara, and in
the first moments of tedium, Isabel forgot herself into saying, "Don't
you think we'd have done better to go directly from Rochester to the
Falls, instead of coming this way?"
"Why certainly. I didn't propose coming this way."
"I know it, dear. I was only asking," said Isabel, meekly. "But I
should think you'd have generosity enough to take a little of the blame,
when I wanted to come out of a romantic feeling for you."
This romantic feeling referred to the fact that, many years before, when
Basil made his first visit to Niagara, he had approached from the west by
way of Buffalo; and Isabel, who tenderly begrudged his having existed
before she knew him, and longed to ally herself retrospectively with his
past, was resolved to draw near the great cataract by no other route.
She fetched a little sigh which might mean the weather or his hard-
heartedness. The sigh touched him, and he suggested a carriage-ride
through the city; she assented with eagerness, for it was what she had
been thinking of. She had never seen a lakeside city before, and she was
taken by surprise. "If ever we leave Boston," she said, "we will not
live at Rochester, as I thought last night; we'll come to Buffalo." She
found that the place had all the picturesqueness of a sea-port, without
the ugliness that attends the rising and falling tides. A delicious
freshness breathed from the lake, which lying so smooth, faded into the
sky at last, with no line between sharper than that which divides
drowsing from dreaming. But the color was the most charming thing, that
delicate blue of the lake, without the depth of the sea-blue, but
infinitely softer and lovelier. The nearer expanses rippled with dainty
waves, silver and lucent; the further levels made, with the sun-dimmed
summer sky, a vague horizon of turquoise and amethyst, lit by the white
sails of ships, and stained by the smoke of steamers.
"Take me away now," said Isabel, when her eyes had feasted upon all this,
"and don't let me see another thing till I get to Niagara. Nothing less
sublime is worthy the eyes that have beheld such beauty."
However, on the way to Niagara she consented to glimpses of the river
which carries the waters of the lake for their mighty plunge, and which
shows itself very nobly from time to time as you draw toward the
cataract, with wooded or cultivated islands, and rich farms along its low
shores, and at last flashes upon the eye the shining white of the
rapids,--a hint, no more, of the splendor and awfulness to be revealed.
As the train stopped, Isabel's heart beat with a child-like 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 tallboys. 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
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
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 giants 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 of lamentation, 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 careen 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 felled 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 behalf, 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 farthest limit of the 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; ant now they felt its
sensitive nerves quiver under them and sympathetically through them as
they advanced farther and farther toward 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
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 prom the water's brink, and shagged with pine and cedar,
displayed the tender verdure of grass and bushes intermingled with the
dark evergreens that comb from ledge to ledge, till they point their
speary tops above the crest of bluffs. In front, where tumbled rocks and
expanses of caked 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 Horseshoe, 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 mid-air like a filmy web,
scarce more passable than the rainbow that flings its arch above the
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
"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
"Well," said Richard, "I wanted you to go there."
"But you said that you always heard this was the a 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,
"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 my 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?"
"O 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 yon 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 eaves-droppers, who found no moment
favorable for revealing themselves after the comedy began, issued from
"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. "O, certainly," he said. "But what an amusingly illogical
"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
"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
"O!" 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 of womankind
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 pigmy 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 beadwork, and other trumpery, to sell.
Shops so useless, they agreed, could not be found outside the Palms
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 honey-moon is in some degree an alien
there, and must discern a certain immodesty in him 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
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 pincushion. "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.
Spell-bound, 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 war 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
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 rang.
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 O, build it strong and stanch,
And to the lines and the treacherous rocks look well as yon 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 least,
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 ways
Battle for, fettered betwixt them, and who amidst their strife
Straggles 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 mediaeval chivalry, and the glory of
mediaeval 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 corner-stone of the new temple there.
Goat Island is marvelously 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 glanced up 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
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 grossed 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."
"O do, Basil, do, have me taken off in a boat!" implored Isabel. "You
see yourself the Midges 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
"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
"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. O, what shall we
"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, "O 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
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
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 my 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
"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."
"O 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
mustache, 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 farther 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 get 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 slave-holder 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 tie 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
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 the 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 hydraulio
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 running over the brink
from time to time.
"If your 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--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 Bowdur 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, "O,
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 marveled 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
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
create 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
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
weatherboarding, or lower down, where the unobstructed light showed the
grim tearful 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
inclosure 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 of Nature 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
"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
"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
She lightly burlesqued the woes of a prima donna, with clasped hands and
"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
"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. O, I
shall dream about it! and the rush, and the whirl, and the dampness in
one's face, and the everlasting chirr-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
"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
"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 allowing (O 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 that 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.
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