List Of Contents | Contents of Their Pilgrimage, by Charles Dudley Warner
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clothes, and torn limb from baggage, if not limb from limb, were unable
to account for this silence, and the absence of the common highwaymen,
until they remembered that the State had bought the Falls, and the agents
of the government had suppressed many of the old nuisances.  It was
possible now to hear the roar of the cataract.

This unaccustomed human stillness was ominous to King.  He would have
welcomed a Niagara of importunity and imprecations; he was bursting with
impatience to express himself; it seemed as if he would die if he were
silent an hour longer under that letter.  Of course the usual American
relief of irritability and impatience suggested itself.  He would
telegraph; only electricity was quick enough and fiery enough for his
mood.  But what should he telegraph?  The telegraph was not invented for
love-making, and is not adapted to it.  It is ridiculous to make love by
wire.  How was it possible to frame a message that should be commercial
on its face, and yet convey the deepest agony and devotion of the
sender's heart?  King stood at the little telegraph window, looking at
the despatcher who was to send it, and thought of this.  Depressed and
intent as he was, the whimsicality of the situation struck him.  What
could he say?  It illustrates our sheeplike habit of expressing ourselves
in the familiar phrase or popular slang of the day that at the instant
the only thing King could think of to send was this: "Hold the fort, for
I am coming."  The incongruity of this made him smile, and he did not
write it.  Finally he composed this message, which seemed to him to have
a businesslike and innocent aspect: "Too late.  Impossible for me to
change.  Have invested everything.  Expect letter."  Mechanically he
counted the words when he had written this.  On the fair presumption that
the company would send "everything" as one word, there were still two
more than the conventional ten, and, from force of habit, he struck out
the words " for me."  But he had no sooner done this than he felt a sense
of shame.  It was contemptible for a man in love to count his words, and
it was intolerable to be haggling with himself at such a crisis over the
expense of a despatch.  He got cold over the thought that Irene might
also count them, and see that the cost of this message of passion had
been calculated.  And with recklessness he added: "We reach the Profile
House next week, and I am sure I can convince you I am right."

King found Niagara pitched to the key of his lacerated and tumultuous
feelings.  There were few people at the Cataract House, and either the
bridal season had not set in, or in America a bride has been evolved who
does not show any consciousness of her new position.  In his present mood
the place seemed deserted, the figures of the few visitors gliding about
as in a dream, as if they too had been subdued by the recent commission
which had silenced the drivers, and stopped the mills, and made the park
free, and was tearing down the presumptuous structures along the bank.
In this silence, which emphasized the quaking of the earth and air, there
was a sense of unknown, impending disaster.  It was not to be borne
indoors, and the two friends went out into the night.

On the edge of the rapids, above the hotel, the old bath-house was in
process of demolition, its shaking piazza almost overhanging the flood.
Not much could be seen from it, but it was in the midst of an elemental
uproar.  Some electric lamps shining through the trees made high lights
on the crests of the rapids, while the others near were in shadow and
dark.  The black mass of Goat Island appeared under the lightning flashes
in the northwest sky, and whenever these quick gleams pierced the gloom
the frail bridge to the island was outlined for a moment, and then
vanished as if it had been swept away, and there could only be seen
sparks of light in the houses on the Canadian shore, which seemed very
near.  In this unknown, which was rather felt than seen, there was a
sense of power and of mystery which overcame the mind; and in the black
night the roar, the cruel haste of the rapids, tossing white gleams and
hurrying to the fatal plunge, begat a sort of terror in the spectators.
It was a power implacable, vengeful, not to be measured.  They strolled
down to Prospect Park.  The gate was closed; it had been the scene of an
awful tragedy but a few minutes before.  They did not know it, but they
knew that the air shuddered, and as they skirted the grounds along the
way to the foot-bridge the roar grew in their stunned ears.  There,
projected out into the night, were the cables of steel holding the frail
platform over the abyss of night and terror.  Beyond was Canada.  There
was light enough in the sky to reveal, but not to dissipate, the
appalling insecurity.  What an impious thing it seemed to them, this
trembling structure across the chasm!  They advanced upon it.  There were
gleams on the mill cascades below, and on the mass of the American Fall.
Below, down in the gloom, were patches of foam, slowly circling around in
the eddy --no haste now, just sullen and black satisfaction in the awful
tragedy of the fall.  The whole was vague, fearful.  Always the roar, the
shuddering of the air.  I think that a man placed on this bridge at
night, and ignorant of the cause of the aerial agitation and the wild
uproar, could almost lose his reason in the panic of the scene.
They walked on; they set foot on Her Majesty's dominions; they entered
the Clifton House--quite American, you know, with its new bar and office.
A subdued air about everybody here also, and the same quaking, shivering,
and impending sense of irresponsible force.  Even "two fingers," said the
artist, standing at the bar, had little effect in allaying the impression
of the terror out there.  When they returned the moon was coming up,
rising and struggling and making its way slowly through ragged masses of
colored clouds.  The river could be plainly seen now, smooth, deep,
treacherous; the falls on the American side showed fitfully like patches
of light and foam; the Horseshoe, mostly hidden by a cold silver mist,
occasionally loomed up a white and ghostly mass.  They stood for a long
time looking down at the foot of the American Fall, the moon now showing
clearly the plunge of the heavy column--a column as stiff as if it were
melted silver-hushed and frightened by the weird and appalling scene.
They did not know at that moment that there where their eyes were
riveted, there at the base of the fall, a man's body was churning about,
plunged down and cast up, and beaten and whirled, imprisoned in the
refluent eddy.  But a body was there.  In the morning a man's overcoat
was found on the parapet at the angle of the fall.  Someone then
remembered that in the evening, just before the park gate closed, he had
seen a man approach the angle of the wall where the overcoat was found.
The man was never seen after that.  Night first, and then the hungry
water, swallowed him.  One pictures the fearful leap into the dark, the
midway repentance, perhaps, the despair of the plunge.  A body cast in
here is likely to tarry for days, eddying round and round, and tossed in
that terrible maelstrom, before a chance current ejects it, and sends it
down the fierce rapids below.  King went back to the hotel in a terror of
the place, which did not leave him so long as he remained.  His room
quivered, the roar filled all the air.  Is not life real and terrible
enough, he asked himself, but that brides must cast this experience also
into their honeymoon?

The morning light did not efface the impressions of the night, the
dominating presence of a gigantic, pitiless force, a blind passion of
nature, uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  Shut the windows and lock the
door, you could not shut out the terror of it.  The town did not seem
safe; the bridges, the buildings on the edge of the precipices with their
shaking casements, the islands, might at any moment be engulfed and
disappear.  It was a thing to flee from.

I suspect King was in a very sensitive mood; the world seemed for the
moment devoid of human sympathy, and the savageness and turmoil played
upon his bare nerves.  The artist himself shrank from contact with this
overpowering display, and said that he could not endure more than a day
or two of it.  It needed all the sunshine in the face of Miss Lamont and
the serenity of her cheerful nature to make the situation tolerable, and
even her sprightliness was somewhat subdued.  It was a day of big,
broken, high-sailing clouds, with a deep blue sky and strong sunlight.
The slight bridge to Goat Island appeared more presumptuous by daylight,
and the sharp slope of the rapids above it gave a new sense of the
impetuosity of the torrent.  As they walked slowly on, past the now
abandoned paper-mills and the other human impertinences, the elemental
turmoil increased, and they seemed entering a world the foundations of
which were broken up.  This must have been a good deal a matter of
impression, for other parties of sightseers were coming and going,
apparently unawed, and intent simply on visiting every point spoken of in
the guide-book, and probably unconscious of the all-pervading terror.
But King could not escape it, even in the throng descending and ascending
the stairway to Luna Island.  Standing upon the platform at the top, he
realized for the first time the immense might of the downpour of the
American Fall, and noted the pale green color, with here and there a
violet tone, and the white cloud mass spurting out from the solid color.
On the foam-crested river lay a rainbow forming nearly a complete circle.
The little steamer Maid of the Mist was coming up, riding the waves,
dashed here and there by conflicting currents, but resolutely steaming
on--such is the audacity of man--and poking her venturesome nose into the
boiling foam under the Horseshoe.  On the deck are pigmy passengers in
oil-skin suits, clumsy figures, like arctic explorers.  The boat tosses
about like a chip, it hesitates and quivers, and then, slowly swinging,

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