CHAPTER XI. "I've seen nothing" - A disappointment - Incongruities - Hotel gaieties and "doing Niagara" - Irish drosky-drivers - "The Hell of Waters" - Beauties of Niagara - The picnic party - The White Canoe - A cold shower-bath - "The Thunder of Waters"
The feelings which Mrs. Hemans had attributed to Bruce at the source of the Nile, were mine as I took my first view of Niagara. The Horse-shoe Fall at some distance to my right was partially hidden, but directly in front of me were the American and Crescent Falls. The former is perfectly straight, and looked like a gigantic mill-weir. This resemblance is further heightened by an enormous wooden many-windowed fabric, said to be the largest paper-mill in the United States. A whole collection of mills disfigures this romantic spot, which has received the name of Manchester, and bids fair to become a thriving manufacturing town! Even on the British side, where one would have hoped for a better state of things, there is a great fungus growth of museums, curiosity-shops, taverns, and pagodas with shining tin cupolas. Not far from where I stood, the members of a picnic party were flirting and laughing hilariously, throwing chicken-bones and peach-stones over the cliff, drinking champagne and soda-water. Just as I had succeeded in attaining the proper degree of mental abstraction with which it is necessary to contemplate Niagara, a ragged drosky-driver came up, "Yer honour, may be ye're in want of a carriage? I'll take ye the whole round - Goat Island, Whirlpool, and Deil's Hole - for the matter of four dollars." Niagara made a matter of "a round," dollars, and cents, was too much for my equanimity; and in the hope of losing my feelings of disappointment, I went into the Clifton House, enduring a whole volley of requests from the half-tipsy drosky-drivers who thronged the doorway.
This celebrated hotel, which is kept on the American plan, is a huge white block of building, with three green verandahs round it, and can accommodate about four hundred people. In the summer season it is the abode of almost unparalleled gaiety. Here congregate tourists, merchants, lawyers, officers, senators, wealthy southerners, and sallow down-easters, all flying alike from business and heat. Here meet all ranks, those of the highest character, and those who have no character to lose; those who by some fortunate accident have become possessed of a few dollars, and those whose mine of wealth lies in the gambling-house - all for the time being on terms of perfect equality. Balls, in doors and out of doors, nightly succeed to parties and picnics; the most novel of which are those in the beautiful garden in front of the hotel. This garden has spacious lawns lighted by lamps; and here, as in the 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' the visitors dance on summer evenings to the strains of invisible music. But at the time of my second visit to the Falls all the gaiety was over; the men of business had returned to the cities, the southerners had fled to their sunny homes - part of the house was shut up, and in the great dining-room, with tables for three hundred, we sat down to lunch with about twenty-five persons, most of them Americans and Germans of the most repulsive description. After this meal, eaten in the "five minutes all aboard" style, we started on a sight-seeing expedition. Instead of being allowed to sit quietly on Table Rock, gazing upon the cataract, the visitor, yielding to the demands of a supposed necessity, is dragged a weary round - he must see the Falls from the front, from above, and from below; he must go behind them, and be drenched by them; he must descend spiral staircases at the risk of his limbs, and cross ferries at that of his life; he must visit Bloody Run, the Burning Springs, and Indian curiosity-shops, which have nothing to do with them at all; and when the poor wretch is thoroughly bewildered and wearied by "doing Niagara," he is allowed to steal quietly off to what he really came to see - the mighty Horse-shoe Fall, with all its accompaniments of majesty, sublimity, and terror.
Round the door of the Clifton House were about twenty ragged, vociferous drosky-drivers, of most demoralised appearance, all clamorous for "a fare." "We want to go to Goat Island; how much is it?" "Five dollars." "I'll take you for four dollars and a half." "No, sir, he's a cheat and a blackguard; I'll take you for four." "I'll take you as cheap as any one," shouts a man in rags; "I'll take you for three." "Very well." "I'll take you as cheap as he; he's drunk, and his carriage isn't fit for a lady to step into," shouted the man who at first asked five dollars. After this they commenced a regular melee, when blows were given and received, and frequent allusions were made to "the bones of St. Patrick." At last our friend in rags succeeded in driving up to the door, and we found his carriage really unfit for ladies, as the stuffing in most places was quite bare, and the step and splash-boards were only kept in their places by pieces of rope. The shouting and squabbling were accompanied by Niagara, whose deep awful thundering bass drowns all other sounds.