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"
In 1759, while the French, who had in their pay the Seneca Indians, hovered round the British, a large supply of provisions was forwarded from Fort Niagara to Fort Schlosser by the latter, under the escort of a hundred regulars. The savage chief of the Senecas, anxious to obtain the promised reward for scalps, formed an ambuscade of chosen warriors, several hundred in number. The Devil's Hole was the spot chosen - it seemed made on purpose for the bloody project. It was a hot, sultry day in August, and the British, scattered and sauntered on their toilsome way, till, overcome by fatigue or curiosity, they sat down near the margin of the precipice. A fearful yell arose, accompanied by a volley of bullets, and the Indians, breaking from their cover, under the combined influences of ferocity and "fire-water," rushed upon their unhappy victims before they had time to stand to their arms, and tomahawked them on the spot. Waggons, horses, soldiers, and drivers were then hurled over the precipice, and the little stream ran into the Niagara river a torrent purple with human gore. Only two escaped to tell the terrible tale. Some years ago, bones, arms, and broken wheels were found among the rocks, mementos of the barbarity which has given the little streamlet the terror- inspiring name of Bloody Run.
After depositing our purchases at the Clifton House, where the waiter warned us to put them under lock and key, I hoped that sight-seeing was over, and that at last I should be able to gaze upon what I had really come to visit - the Falls of Niagara. But no; I was to be victimised still further; I must "go behind the great sheet," Mr. and Mrs. Walrence would not go; they said their heads would not stand it, but that, as an Englishwoman, go I must. In America the capabilities of English ladies are very much overrated. It is supposed that they go out in all weathers, invariably walk ten miles a day, and leap five-barred fences on horseback. Yielding to "the inexorable law of a stern necessity," I went to the Rock House, and a very pleasing girl produced a suit of oiled calico. I took off my cloak, bonnet, and dress. "Oh," she said, "you must change everything, it's so very wet." As, to save time, I kept demurring to taking off various articles of apparel, I always received the same reply, and finally abandoned myself to a complete change of attire. I looked in the mirror, and beheld as complete a tatterdemallion as one could see begging upon an Irish highway, though there was nothing about the dress which the most lively imagination could have tortured into the picturesque. The externals of this strange equipment consisted of an oiled calico hood, a garment like a carter's frock, a pair of blue worsted stockings, and a pair of India-rubber shoes much too large for me. My appearance was so comic as to excite the laughter of my grave friends, and I had to reflect that numbers of persons had gone out in the same attire before I could make up my mind to run the gauntlet of the loiterers round the door. Here a negro guide of most repulsive appearance awaited me, and I waded through a perfect sea of mud to the shaft by which people go under Table Rock. My friends were evidently ashamed of my appearance, but they met me here to wish me a safe return, and, following the guide, I dived down a spiral staircase, very dark and very much out of repair.
Leaving this staircase, I followed the guide along a narrow path covered with fragments of shale, with Table Rock above and the deep abyss below. A cold, damp wind blew against me, succeeded by a sharp pelting rain, and the path became more slippery and difficult. Still I was not near the sheet of water, and felt not the slightest dizziness. I speedily arrived at the difficult point of my progress: heavy gusts almost blew me away; showers of spray nearly blinded me; I was quite deafened and half-drowned; I wished to retreat, and essayed to use my voice to stop the progress of my guide. I raised it to a scream, but it was lost in the thunder of the cataract. The negro saw my incertitude and extended his hand. I shuddered even there as I took hold of it, not quite free from the juvenile idea that "the black comes off." He seemed at that moment to wear the aspect of a black imp leading me to destruction.
The path is a narrow, slippery ledge of rock. I am blinded with spray, the darkening sheet of water is before me. Shall I go on? The spray beats against my face, driven by the contending gusts of wind which rush into the eyes, nostrils, and mouth, and almost prevent my progress; the narrowing ledge is not more than a foot wide, and the boiling gulf is seventy feet below. Yet thousands have pursued this way before, so why should not I? I grasp tighter hold of the guide's hand, and proceed step by step holding down my head. The water beats against me, the path narrows, and will only hold my two feet abreast. I ask the guide to stop, but my voice is drowned by the "Thunder of Waters." He guesses what I would say, and shrieks in my ear, "It's worse going back." I make a desperate attempt: four steps more and I am at the end of the ledge; my breath is taken away, and I can only just stand against the gusts of wind which are driving the water against me. The gulf is but a few inches from me, and, gasping for breath, and drenched to the skin, I become conscious that I have reached Termination Rock.