Niagara

by Mark Twain

Ni­a­gara Falls is a most en­joy­able place of re­sort. The ho­tels are ex­cel­lent, and the prices not at all ex­or­bi­tant. The op­por­tu­ni­ties for fish­ing are not sur­passed in the coun­try; in fact, they are not even equaled else­where. Be­cause, in other lo­cal­i­ties, cer­tain places in the streams are much bet­ter than oth­ers; but at Ni­a­gara one place is just as good as an­other, for the rea­son that the fish do not bite any­where, and so there is no use in your walk­ing five miles to fish, when you can de­pend on being just as un­suc­cess­ful nearer home. The ad­van­tages of this state of things have never hereto­fore been prop­erly placed be­fore the pub­lic.

The weather is cool in sum­mer, and the walks and dri­ves are all pleas­ant and none of them fa­tigu­ing. When you start out to “do” the Falls you first drive down about a mile, and pay a small sum for the priv­i­lege of look­ing down from a precipice into the nar­row­est part of the Ni­a­gara River. A rail­way “cut” through a hill would be as comely if it had the angry river tum­bling and foam­ing through its bot­tom. You can de­scend a stair­case here a hun­dred and fifty feet down, and stand at the edge of the water. After you have done it, you will won­der why you did it; but you will then be too late.

The guide will ex­plain to you, in his blood-cur­dling way, how he saw the lit­tle steamer, Maid of the Mist, de­scend the fear­ful rapids—how first one pad­dle-box was out of sight be­hind the rag­ing bil­lows and then the other, and at what point it was that her smoke­stack top­pled over­board, and where her plank­ing began to break and part asun­der—and how she did fi­nally live through the trip, after ac­com­plish­ing the in­cred­i­ble feat of trav­el­ing sev­en­teen miles in six min­utes, or six miles in sev­en­teen min­utes, I have re­ally for­got­ten which. But it was very ex­tra­or­di­nary, any­how. It is worth the price of ad­mis­sion to hear the guide tell the story nine times in suc­ces­sion to dif­fer­ent par­ties, and never miss a word or alter a sen­tence or a ges­ture.

Then you drive over to Sus­pen­sion Bridge, and di­vide your mis­ery be­tween the chances of smash­ing down two hun­dred feet into the river below, and the chances of hav­ing the rail­way-train over­head smash­ing down onto you. Ei­ther pos­si­bil­ity is dis­com­fort­ing taken by it­self, but, mixed to­gether, they amount in the ag­gre­gate to pos­i­tive un­hap­pi­ness.

On the Canada side you drive along the chasm be­tween long ranks of pho­tog­ra­phers stand­ing guard be­hind their cam­eras, ready to make an os­ten­ta­tious fron­tispiece of you and your de­cay­ing am­bu­lance, and your solemn crate with a hide on it, which you are ex­pected to re­gard in the light of a horse, and a di­min­ished and unim­por­tant back­ground of sub­lime Ni­a­gara; and a great many peo­ple have the in­cred­i­ble ef­fron­tery or the na­tive de­prav­ity to aid and abet this sort of crime.

Any day, in the hands of these pho­tog­ra­phers, you may see stately pic­tures of papa and mamma, Johnny and Bub and Sis, or a cou­ple of coun­try cousins, all smil­ing va­cantly, and all dis­posed in stud­ied and un­com­fort­able at­ti­tudes in their car­riage, and all loom­ing up in their awe-in­spir­ing im­be­cil­ity be­fore the snubbed and di­min­ished pre­sent­ment of that ma­jes­tic pres­ence whose min­is­ter­ing spir­its are the rain­bows, whose voice is the thun­der, whose awful front is veiled in clouds, who was monarch here dead and for­got­ten ages be­fore this sack­ful of small rep­tiles was deemed tem­porar­ily nec­es­sary to fill a crack in the world’s un­noted myr­i­ads, and will still be monarch here ages and decades of ages after they shall have gath­ered them­selves to their blood-re­la­tions, the other worms, and been min­gled with the un­re­mem­ber­ing dust.

There is no ac­tual harm in mak­ing Ni­a­gara a back­ground whereon to dis­play one’s mar­velous in­signif­i­cance in a good strong light, but it re­quires a sort of su­per­hu­man self-com­pla­cency to en­able one to do it.

When you have ex­am­ined the stu­pen­dous Horse­shoe Fall till you are sat­is­fied you can­not im­prove on it, you re­turn to Amer­ica by the new Sus­pen­sion Bridge, and fol­low up the bank to where they ex­hibit the Cave of the Winds.

Here I fol­lowed in­struc­tions, and di­vested my­self of all my cloth­ing, and put on a wa­ter­proof jacket and over­alls. This cos­tume is pic­turesque, but not beau­ti­ful. A guide, sim­i­larly dressed, led the way down a flight of wind­ing stairs, which wound and wound, and still kept on wind­ing long after the thing ceased to be a nov­elty, and then ter­mi­nated long be­fore it had begun to be a plea­sure. We were then well down under the precipice, but still con­sid­er­ably above the level of the river.

We now began to creep along flimsy bridges of a sin­gle plank, our per­sons shielded from de­struc­tion by a crazy wooden rail­ing, to which I clung with both hands—not be­cause I was afraid, but be­cause I wanted to. Presently the de­scent be­came steeper and the bridge flim­sier, and sprays from the Amer­i­can Fall began to rain down on us in fast in­creas­ing sheets that soon be­came blind­ing, and after that our progress was mostly in the na­ture of grop­ing. Now a a fu­ri­ous wind began to rush out from be­hind the wa­ter­fall, which seemed de­ter­mined to sweep us from the bridge, and scat­ter us on the rocks and among the tor­rents below. I re­marked that I wanted to go home; but it was too late. We were al­most under the mon­strous wall of water thun­der­ing down from above, and speech was in vain in the midst of such a piti­less crash of sound.

In an­other mo­ment the guide dis­ap­peared be­hind the del­uge, and, be­wil­dered by the thun­der, dri­ven help­lessly by the wind, and smit­ten by the ar­rowy tem­pest of rain, I fol­lowed. All was dark­ness. Such a mad storm­ing, roar­ing, and bel­low­ing of war­ring wind and water never crazed my ears be­fore. I bent my head, and seemed to re­ceive the At­lantic on my back. The world seemed going to de­struc­tion. I could not see any­thing, the flood poured down sav­agely. I raised my head, with open mouth, and the most of the Amer­i­can cataract went down my throat. If I had sprung a leak now I had been lost. And at this mo­ment I dis­cov­ered that the bridge had ceased, and we must trust for a foothold to the slip­pery and pre­cip­i­tous rocks. I never was so scared be­fore and sur­vived it. But we got through at last, and emerged into the open day, where we could stand in front of the laced and frothy and seething world of de­scend­ing water, and look at it. When I saw how much of it there was, and how fear­fully in earnest it was, I was sorry I had gone be­hind it.

The noble Red Man has al­ways been a friend and dar­ling of mine. I love to read about him in tales and leg­ends and ro­mances. I love to read of his in­spired sagac­ity, and his love of the wild free life of moun­tain and for­est, and his gen­eral no­bil­ity of char­ac­ter, and his stately metaphor­i­cal man­ner of speech, and his chival­rous love for the dusky maiden, and the pic­turesque pomp of his dress and ac­cou­trements. Es­pe­cially the pic­turesque pomp of his dress and ac­cou­trements. When I found the shops at Ni­a­gara Falls full of dainty In­dian bead­work, and stun­ning moc­casins, and equally stun­ning toy fig­ures rep­re­sent­ing human be­ings who car­ried their weapons in holes bored through their arms and bod­ies, and had feet shaped like a pie, I was filled with emo­tion. I knew that now, at last, I was going to come face to face with the noble Red Man.

A lady clerk in a shop told me, in­deed, that all her grand array of cu­riosi­ties were made by the In­di­ans, and that they were plenty about the Falls, and that they were friendly, and it would not be dan­ger­ous to speak to them. And sure enough, as I ap­proached the bridge lead­ing over to Luna Is­land, I came upon a noble Son of the For­est sit­ting under a tree, dili­gently at work on a bead retic­ule. He wore a slouch hat and bro­gans, and had a short black pipe in his mouth. Thus does the bane­ful con­tact with our ef­fem­i­nate civ­i­liza­tion di­lute the pic­turesque pomp which is so nat­ural to the In­dian when far re­moved from us in his na­tive haunts. I ad­dressed the relic as fol­lows:

“Is the Wawhoo-Wang-Wang of the Whack-a-Whack happy? Does the great Speck­led Thun­der sigh for the war-path, or is his heart con­tented with dream­ing of the dusky maiden, the Pride of the For­est? Does the mighty Sachem yearn to drink the blood of his en­e­mies, or is he sat­is­fied to make bead retic­ules for the pap­pooses of the pale­face? Speak, sub­lime relic of by­gone grandeur—ven­er­a­ble ruin, speak!”

The relic said:

“An’ is it mesilf, Den­nis Hooli­gan, that ye’d be takin’ for a dirty Injin, ye drawlin’, lantern-jawed, spi­der-legged divil! By the piper that played be­fore Moses, I’ll ate ye!”

I went away from there.

By and by, in the neigh­bor­hood of the Ter­rapin Tower, I came upon a gen­tle daugh­ter of the abo­rig­ines in fringed and beaded buck­skin moc­casins and leg­gins, seated on a bench with her pretty wares about her. She had just carved out a wooden chief that had a strong fam­ily re­sem­blance to a clothes-pin, and was now bor­ing a hole through his ab­domen to put his bow through. I hes­i­tated a mo­ment, and then ad­dressed her:

“Is the heart of the for­est maiden heavy? Is the Laugh­ing Tad­pole lonely? Does she mourn over the ex­tin­guished coun­cil-fires of her race, and the van­ished glory of her an­ces­tors? Or does her sad spirit wan­der afar to­ward the hunt­ing-grounds whither her brave Gob­bler-of-the-Light­nings is gone? Why is my daugh­ter silent? Has she ought against the pale­face stranger?”

The maiden said:

“Faix, an’ is it Biddy Mal­one ye dare to be callin’ names? Lave this, or I’ll shy your lean car­cass over the cataract, ye snivel­ing blag­gard!”

I ad­journed from there also.

“Con­found these In­di­ans!” I said. “They told me they were tame; but, if ap­pear­ances go for any­thing, I should say they were all on the warpath.”

I made one more at­tempt to frat­er­nize with them, and only one. I came upon a camp of them gath­ered in the shade of a great tree, mak­ing wampum and moc­casins, and ad­dressed them in the lan­guage of friend­ship:

“Noble Red Men, Braves, Grand Sachems, War Chiefs, Squaws, and High Muck-a-Mucks, the pale­face from the land of the set­ting sun greets you! You, Benef­i­cent Pole­cat—you, De­vourer of Moun­tains—you, Roar­ing Thun­der­gust—you, Bully Boy with a Glass eye—the pale­face from be­yond the great wa­ters greets you all! War and pesti­lence have thinned your ranks and de­stroyed your once proud na­tion. Poker and seven-up, and a vain mod­ern ex­pense for soap, un­known to your glo­ri­ous an­ces­tors, have de­pleted your purses. Ap­pro­pri­at­ing, in your sim­plic­ity, the prop­erty of oth­ers has got­ten you into trou­ble. Mis­rep­re­sent­ing facts, in your sim­ple in­no­cence, has dam­aged your rep­u­ta­tion with the soul­less usurper. Trad­ing for forty-rod whisky, to en­able you to get drunk and happy and tom­a­hawk your fam­i­lies, has played the ever­last­ing mis­chief with the pic­turesque pomp of your dress, and here you are, in the broad light of the nine­teenth cen­tury, got­ten up like the rag­tag and bob­tail of the purlieus of New York. For shame! Re­mem­ber your an­ces­tors! Re­call their mighty deeds! Re­mem­ber Uncas!—and Red jacket! and Hole in the Day!—and Whoopde­doo­dledo! Em­u­late their achieve­ments! Un­furl your­selves under my ban­ner, noble sav­ages, il­lus­tri­ous gut­ter­snipes—”

“Down wid him!” “Scoop the blag­gard!” “Burn him!” “Hang him!” “Dhround him!”

It was the quick­est op­er­a­tion that ever was. I sim­ply saw a sud­den flash in the air of clubs, brick­bats, fists, bead-bas­kets, and moc­casins—a sin­gle flash, and they all ap­peared to hit me at once, and no two of them in the same place. In the next in­stant the en­tire tribe was upon me. They tore half the clothes off me; they broke my arms and legs; they gave me a thump that dented the top of my head till it would hold cof­fee like a saucer; and, to crown their dis­grace­ful pro­ceed­ings and add in­sult to in­jury, they threw me over the Ni­a­gara Falls, and I got wet.

About ninety or a hun­dred feet from the top, the re­mains of my vest caught on a pro­ject­ing rock, and I was al­most drowned be­fore I could get loose. I fi­nally fell, and brought up in a world of white foam at the foot of the Fall, whose celled and bub­bly masses tow­ered-up sev­eral inches above my head. Of course I got into the eddy. I sailed round and round in it forty-four times—chas­ing a chip and gain­ing on it—each round trip a half-mile—reach­ing for the same bush on the bank forty-four times, and just ex­actly miss­ing it by a hair’s-breadth every time.

At last a man walked down and sat down close to that bush, and put a pipe in his mouth, and lit a match, and fol­lowed me with one eye and kept the other on the match, while he shel­tered it in his hands from the wind. Presently a puff of wind blew it out. The next time I swept around he said:

“Got a match?”

“Yes; in my other vest. Help me out, please.”

“Not for Joe.”

When I came round again, I said:

“Ex­cuse the seem­ingly im­per­ti­nent cu­rios­ity of a drown­ing man, but will you ex­plain this sin­gu­lar con­duct of yours?”

“With plea­sure. I am the coro­ner. Don’t hurry on my ac­count. I can wait for you. But I wish I had a match.”

I said: “Take my place, and I’ll go and get you one.”

He de­clined. This lack of con­fi­dence on his part cre­ated a cold­ness be­tween us, and from that time for­ward I avoided him. It was my idea, in case any­thing hap­pened to me, to so time the oc­cur­rence as to throw my cus­tom into the hands of the op­po­si­tion coro­ner on the Amer­i­can side.

At last a po­lice­man came along, and ar­rested me for dis­turb­ing the peace by yelling at peo­ple on shore for help. The judge fined me, but I had the ad­van­tage of him. My money was with my pan­taloons, and my pan­taloons were with the In­di­ans.

Thus I es­caped. I am now lying in a very crit­i­cal con­di­tion. At least I am lying any­way—-crit­i­cal or not crit­i­cal. I am hurt all over, but I can­not tell the full ex­tent yet, be­cause the doc­tor is not done tak­ing in­ven­tory. He will make out my man­i­fest this evening. How­ever, thus far he thinks only six­teen of my wounds are fatal. I don’t mind the oth­ers.

Upon re­gain­ing my right mind, I said:

“It is an awful sav­age tribe of In­di­ans that do the bead­work and moc­casins for Ni­a­gara Falls, doc­tor. Where are they from?”

“Lim­er­ick, my son.”


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