« AnteriorContinuar »
They reached the Falls while daylight yet lingered over the awful abyss, and the officer, who had beheld this wonderful sight from the opposite shore, proposed to his companion to halt, that he might survey it under a new aspect. The latter, who seemed in no haste, cheerfully complied, and even seemed pleased with the opportunity of acting the Cicerone, and detailing all the wonderful tales extant, in relation to the great cataract. He did not, it is true, relate that surprising fact which Goldsmith has recorded, and Morse has copied from him, i. e. that the Indians descend these rapids in their canoes, in safety; because, notwithstanding this circumstance is vouched for by two celebrated doctors, great amateurs in rivers, winds, and mountains, the vulgar give it no credit, and the natives deny it. Strange infatuation, that the assertions of philosophers should not be believed, in preference to our own erring senses and crude notions of probability! When our officer mentioned this story to his guide, he exclamed, “Impossible! the man's sartainly cracked!” And had he told the same individual that Dr. Mitchell had said that a whale was not a fish, he would have expressed a similar astonishment; so incredulous is ignorance, so unwillingly does it bow to science and research. For my part, I make it a rule never to quarrel with a philosopher, and am therefore willing to admit that it is not only a safe but a remarkably salubrious and amusing recreation to paddle a canoe down the Falls and back again.
Leaving this spot, the officer was conducted by his guide to another object of admiration. A short distance below the cataract, the river, rushing along with the immense velocity acquired by being precipitated from so great a height, suddenly strikes a perpendicular precipice, which juts boldly into the stream from the American
side, and the current thus thrown abruptly to the left, creates a whirlpool, which is not the least among the curiosities of this region. The officer advanced to the edge of the cliff, and gazed in silence on the foaming current, and its overhanging banks, now dimly discovered through the gray twilight. His reveries were broken by his companion, who narrated a melancholy tale connected with the scene of their contemplation. Many years ago, when all of this country was in the possession of the British, a detachment of troops, having under their convoy a number of families with their furniture and baggage, were overtaken by night in this vicinity. They still proceeded, however, in hopes of reaching the forts below. But the French and Indians had formed an ambuscade at this very spot, and just as the devoted party were passing along the brink of the precipice, the savage foe rushed on them with hideous yells. Those alone who have heard the soulthrilling cry of the Indian warrior, who have heard it breaking through the gloom of the night, with all its horrible accompaniments, with the wail of infants, and the shrieks of women with the groans of the dying, the prayers and curses of the living, those only can conceive the horror of such a moment. In vain the troops endeavoured to resist—the tomahawk was drenched in blood-the European heard the dreadful war-cry, and felt that it was his knell; he received the fatal blow from an unseen hand, and had not the stern pleasure of beholding his antagonist, but fell without the gratification of avenging his death, or the honour of defending his life. Still the foe pressed on; with the war-whoop was mingled loud shouts of triumph and the laugh of demoniac exultation; the soldiers gave back, the horses, panic struck, fled from the din of battle, and in a moment were precipitated into the yawning gulf; men, women, and
children followed, and the whole of this unhappy party slept that night under the wave. “ It is said," continued the informer, “ that their spirits may still be seen of a moonlight night, dancing in circles in yonder whirling place, where the water goes round so rapidly—and now, see there! what is that?” The officer looked in the direction designated by the finger of his companion, and beheld a black object in the whirlpool, rising a foot or two above the surface of the water, circulating rapidly with it, and gradually approaching the centre, until it was swallowed in the vortex. He could easily imagine that the trunks and boughs of trees, floating down the current might be drawn into the pool, and whirling around with the velocity of the water, might assume an upright position, and present the appearance which alarmed the inhabitants, and gave probability to their conjectures. I have never been altogether satisfied with this sophism of my friend. It is not possible at this time to ascertain the true character of the apparition which he beheld, nor is it my business, as a faithful historian, to risk my reputation by giving a positive opinion upon the subject: yet I must remark, that I have no reason, nor had my military friend any, to induce a belief that this was not as genuine and as honest a ghost as ever was beheld by mortal eyes. The fact is, that this young gentleman had lately seen so many of his fellow mortals despatched prematurely to their graves, that his mind had become familiarized with death, and in his dealings with substantial dangers he had acquired a contempt for unreal shadows. I am glad, however, to be able to add that he had the discretion to conceal his scepticism from his fellow traveller, to whose remark he gravely replied, “ that human bodies when not decently buried seldom rested in peace, but that he had never heard of their doing any
harm.” His companion assented to the truth of this sagacious remark, and they pursued their journey.
These conversations having banished reserve, and the companions beginning to grow into confidence with each other, the officer ventured to inquire how near their route would lead to Fort Niagara, and learned that they must pass within a short distance of that fortress. Concealing his sense of the danger which this information implied to his person and mission, he said carelessly, “Well, I suppose they will not disturb peaceable travellers?” “Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't," was the reply. “Do they ever get out as far as your little village?” “Oh, yes, often.” “ And how do they behave there?" .“ Bad enough, bad enough,” and he then proceeded to narrate a number of particulars, showing how these petty marauders destroyed their property, insulted their women, and bullied their men, adding to the most monstrous acts of cruelty and oppression, the meanness of picking locks and pilfering trifles. It was by no means a matter of pleasing reflection to the Bearer of Despatches, that he must rest that night, if he rested at all, under a roof subject to these domiciliary visits: but he had other causes of uneasiness. It is well known that all the inhabitants within the reach of an English garrison, who are capable of corruption, become corrrupt. English gold, which is but a bugbear among the virtuous, presents a tempting lure to the loose and unprincipled inhabitants of a frontier, who can scarcely be said to belong to any country; and our armies sometimes encountered spies and traitors, where they had fondly hoped to find friends. On this occasion, our officer, who had incautiously placed himself under the guidance of a stranger, began to feel, as darkness gathered around him, that he had acted imprudently, as the latter could as easily conduct
him to Fort Niagara as to a place of safety. He concealed his suspicions, and determined to act warily.
It was dark when they reached Lewistown, a little village which had been entirely reduced to ashes by the enemy. The moon, which now shone brightly, disclosed the solitary chimneys standing amid the ruins, the fruittrees surrounded by briars, the remains of enclosures, and all the marks of desolation. A more beautiful situation could scarcely be imagined, but it was now a wilder
Here they took a path which led them from the river. A thick forest now overshadowed them, and they proceeded in silence and wrapped in impenetrable darkness, except at intervals, when they reached the summit of a hill, and the moon shot her beams through the branches. It was only by seizing such opportunities to watch the progress, and mark the exact position of this friendly luminary, that our officer, by forming some estimate of the course he was pursuing, could judge of the fidelity of his guide. They passed an eneampment of the Tuscarora Indians, where all was dark and silent; and about midnight arrived at the place of destination, which, though characterized as a village, was composed of only two or three log cabins. To one of these, which was dignified with the name of a public house, our traveller was conducted by his companion who apologized for not inviting him to his own house, owing to to the lateness of the hour, and the want of accomodations.
Mine host, though called from his bed, cheerfully assisted his guest in putting away his tired horse, and then led him through a room, where three or four rough twofisted fellows lay snoring with their feet to the fire, to a chamber on the upper floor. Supper he declined, as well from policy as from want of appetite; and having secured