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"
As the sound of the muffled drum too often accompanies the trumpet, so the beauty of Luna Island must ever remain associated in my mind with a terrible catastrophe which recently occurred there. Niagara was at its gayest, and the summer at its hottest, when a joyous party went to spend the day on Luna Island. It consisted of a Mr. and Mrs. De Forest, their beautiful child "Nettie," a young man of great talent and promise, Mr. Addington, and a few other persons. It was a fair evening in June, when moonlight was struggling for ascendancy with the declining beams of the setting sun. The elders of the party, being tired, repaired to the seats on Iris Island to rest, Mr. De Forest calling to Nettie, "Come here, my child; don't go near the water." "Never mind - let her alone - I'll watch her," said Mr. Addington, for the child was very beautiful and a great favourite, and the youthful members of the party started for Luna Island. Nettie pulled Addington's coat in her glee. "Ah! you rogue, you're caught," said he, catching hold of her; "shall I throw you in?" She sprang forward from his arms, one step too far, and fell into the roaring rapid. "Oh, mercy! save - she's gone!" the young man cried, and sprang into the water. He caught hold of Nettie, and, by one or two vigorous strokes, aided by an eddy, was brought close to the Island; one instant more, and his terrified companions would have been able to lay hold of him; but no - the hour of both was come; the waves of the rapid hurried them past; one piercing cry came from Mr. Addington's lips, "For Jesus' sake, O save our souls!" and, locked in each other's arms, both were carried over the fatal Falls. The dashing torrent rolled onward, unheeding that bitter despairing cry of human agony, and the bodies of these two, hurried into eternity in the bloom of youth, were not found for some days. Mrs. De Forest did not long survive the fate of her child.
The guide related to me another story in which my readers may be interested, as it is one of the poetical legends of the Indians. It took place in years now long gone by, when the Indians worshipped the Great Spirit where they beheld such a manifestation of his power. Here, where the presence of Deity made the forest ring, and the ground tremble, the Indians offered a living sacrifice once a year, to be conveyed by the water spirit to the unknown gulf. Annually, in the month of August, the sachem gave the word, and fruits and flowers were stowed in a white canoe, to be paddled by the fairest maiden among the tribes.
The tribe thought itself highly honoured when its turn came to float the blooming offering to the shrine of the Great Spirit, and still more honoured was the maid who was a fitting sacrifice.
Oronto, the proudest chief of the Senecas, had an only child named Lena. This chief was a noted and dreaded warrior; over many a bloody fight his single eagle plume had waved, and ever in battle he left the red track of his hatchet and tomahawk. Years rolled by, and every one sent its summer offering to the thunder god of the then unexplored Niagara. Oronto danced at many a feast which followed the sacrificial gift, which his tribe had rejoicingly given in their turn. He felt not for the fathers whose children were thus taken from their wigwams, and committed to the grave of the roaring waters. Calma, his wife, had fallen by a foeman's arrow, and in the blood of his enemies he had terribly avenged his bereavement. Fifteen years had passed since then, and the infant which Calma left had matured into a beautiful maiden. The day of sacrifice came; it was the year of the Senecas, and Lena was acknowledged to be the fairest maiden of the tribe. The moonlit hour has come, the rejoicing dance goes on; Oronto has, without a tear, parted from his child, to meet her in the happy hunting-grounds where the Great Spirit reigns. The yell of triumph rises from the assembled Indians. The white canoe, loosed by the sachems, has shot from the bank, but ere it has sped from the shore another dancing craft has gone forth upon the whirling water, and both have set out on a voyage to eternity.
The first bears the offering, Lena, seated amidst fruits and flowers; the second contains Oronto, the proud chief of the Senecas. Both seem to pause on the verge of the descent, then together rise on the whirling rapids. One mingled look of apprehension and affection is exchanged, and, while the woods ring with the yells of the savages, Oronto and Lena plunge into the abyss in their white canoes. [Footnote: I have given both these anecdotes, as nearly as possible, in the bombastic language in which they were related to me by the guide.]