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"
We drove for two miles along the precipice bank of the Niagara river: this precipice is 250 feet high, without a parapet, and the green, deep flood rages below. At the Suspension Bridge they demanded a toll of sixty cents, and contemptuously refused two five-dollar notes offered them by Mr. Walrence, saying they were only waste paper. This extraordinary bridge, over which a train of cars weighing 440 tons has recently passed, has a span of 800 feet, and a double roadway, the upper one being used by the railway. The floor of the bridge is 230 feet above the river, and the depth of the river immediately under it is 250 feet! The view from it is magnificent; to the left the furious river, confined in a narrow space, rushes in rapids to the Whirlpool; and to the right the Horse-shoe Fall pours its torrent of waters into the dark and ever invisible abyss. When we reached the American side we had to declare to a custom-house officer that we were no smugglers; and then by an awful road, partly covered with stumps, and partly full of holes, over the one, and through the other, our half-tipsy driver jolted us, till we wished ourselves a thousand miles from Niagara Falls. "There now, faith, and wasn't I nearly done for myself?" he exclaimed, as a jolt threw him from his seat, nearly over the dash-board.
We passed through the town bearing the names of Niagara Falls and Manchester, an agglomeration of tea-gardens, curiosity-shops, and monster hotels, with domes of shining tin. We drove down a steep hill, and crossed a very insecure-looking wooden bridge to a small wooded island, where a man with a strong nasal twang demanded a toll of twenty-five cents, and anon we crossed a long bridge over the lesser rapids.
The cloudy morning had given place to a glorious day, abounding in varieties of light and shade; a slight shower had fallen, and the sparkling rain-drops hung from every leaf and twig; a rainbow spanned the Niagara river, and the leaves wore the glorious scarlet and crimson tints of the American autumn. Sun and sky were propitious; it was the season and the day in which to see Niagara. Quarrelsome drosky drivers, incongruous mills, and the thousand trumperies of the place, were all forgotten in the perfect beauty of the scene - in the full, the joyous realisation of my ideas of Niagara. Beauty and terror here formed a perfect combination. Around islets covered with fair foliage of trees and vines, and carpeted with moss untrodden by the foot of man, the waters, in wild turmoil, rage and foam: rushing on recklessly beneath the trembling bridge on which we stood to their doomed fall. This place is called "The Hell of Waters," and has been the scene of more than one terrible tragedy.
This bridge took us to Iris Island, so named from the rainbows which perpetually hover round its base. Everything of terrestrial beauty may be found in Iris Island. It stands amid the eternal din of the waters, a barrier between the Canadian and American Falls. It is not more than sixty-two acres in extent, yet it has groves of huge forest trees, and secluded roads underneath them in the deepest shade, far apparently from the busy world, yet thousands from every part of the globe yearly tread its walks of beauty. We stopped at the top of a dizzy pathway, and, leaving the Walrences to purchase some curiosities, I descended it, crossed a trembling foot-bridge, and stood alone on Luna Island, between the Crescent and American Falls. This beauteous and richly-embowered little spot, which is said to tremble, and looks as if any wave might sweep it away, has a view of matchless magnificence. From it can be seen the whole expanse of the American rapids, rolling and struggling down, chafing the sunny islets, as if jealous of their beauty. The Canadian Fall was on my left; away in front stretched the scarlet woods; the incongruities of the place were out of sight; and at my feet the broad sheet of the American Fall tumbled down in terrible majesty. The violence of the rapids cannot be imagined by one who has not seen their resistless force. The turbulent waters are flung upwards, as if infuriated against the sky. The rocks, whose jagged points are seen among them, fling off the hurried and foamy waves, as if with supernatural strength. Nearer and nearer they come to the Fall, becoming every instant more agitated; they seem to recoil as they approach its verge; a momentary calm follows, and then, like all their predecessors, they go down the abyss together. There is something very exciting in this view; one cannot help investing Niagara with feelings of human agony and apprehension; one feels a new sensation, something neither terror, wonder, nor admiration, as one looks at the phenomena which it displays. I have been surprised to see how a visit to the Falls galvanises the most matter-of-fact person into a brief exercise of the imaginative powers.