Niagara — Arrival at Forsythes — First sight of the Falls — Goat Island — The Rapids — Buffalo — Lake Erie — Canandaigna — Stage-coach adventures
At length we reached Niagara. It was the brightest day that June could give; and almost any day would have seemed bright that brought me to the object, which for years, I had languished to look upon.
We did not hear the sound of the Falls till very near the hotel, which overhangs them; as you enter the door you see behind the hall an open space surrounded by galleries, one above another, and in an instant you feel that from thence the wonder is visible.
I trembled like a fool, and my girls clung to me, trembling too, I believe, but with faces beaming with delight. We encountered a waiter who had a sympathy of some sort with us, for he would not let us run through the hall to the first gallery, but ushered us up stairs, and another instant placed us where, at one glance, I saw all I had wished for, hoped for, dreamed of.
It is not for me to attempt a description of Niagara; I feel I have no powers for it.
After one long, stedfast gaze, we quitted the gallery that we might approach still nearer, and in leaving the house had the good fortune to meet an English gentleman, (The accomplished author of “Cyril Thornton.”) who had been introduced to us at New York; he had preceded us by a few days, and knew exactly how and where to lead us. If any man living can describe the scene we looked upon it is himself, and I trust he will do it. As for myself, I can only say, that wonder, terror, and delight completely overwhelmed me. I wept with a strange mixture of pleasure and of pain, and certainly was, for some time, too violently affected in the physique to be capable of much pleasure; but when this emotion of the senses subsided, and I had recovered some degree of composure, my enjoyment was very great indeed.
To say that I was not disappointed is but a weak expression to convey the surprise and astonishment which this long dreamed of scene produced. It has to me something beyond its vastness; there is a shadowy mystery hangs about it which neither the eye nor even the imagination can penetrate; but I dare not dwell on this, it is a dangerous subject, and any attempt to describe the sensations produced must lead direct to nonsense.
Exactly at the Fall, it is the Fall and nothing else you have to look upon; there are not, as at Trenton, mighty rocks and towering forests, there is only the waterfall; but it is the fall of an ocean, and were Pelion piled on Ossa on either side of it, we could not look at them.
The noise is greatly less than I expected; one can hear with perfect distinctness everything said in an ordinary tone, when quite close to the cataract. The cause of this, I imagine to be, that it does not fall immediately among rocks, like the far noisier Potomac, but direct and unbroken, save by its own rebound. The colour of the water, before this rebound hides it in foam and mist, is of the brightest and most delicate green; the violence of the impulse sends it far over the precipice before it falls, and the effect of the ever varying light through its transparency is, I think, the loveliest thing I ever looked upon.
We descended to the edge of the gulf which received the torrent, and thence looked at the horse-shoe fall in profile; it seems like awful daring to stand close beside it, and raise one’s eyes to its immensity. I think the point the most utterly inconceivable to those who have not seen it, is the centre of the horse-shoe. The force of the torrent converges there, and as the heavy mass pours in, twisted, wreathed, and curled together, it gives an idea of irresistible power, such as no other object ever conveyed to me.
The following anecdote, which I had from good authority, may give some notion of this mighty power.
After the last American war, three of our ships stationed on Lake Erie were declared unfit for service, and condemned. Some of their officers obtained permission to send them over Niagara Falls. The first was torn to shivers by the rapids, and went over in fragments; the second filled with water before she reached the fall; but the third, which was in better condition, took the leap gallantly, and retained her form till it was hid in the cloud of mist below. A reward of ten dollars was offered for the largest fragment of wood that should be found from either wreck, five for the second, and so on. One morsel only was ever seen, and that about a foot in length, was mashed as by a vice, and its edges notched like the teeth of a saw. What had become of the immense quantity of wood which had been precipitated? What unknown whirlpool had engulphed it, so that, contrary to the very laws of nature, no vestige of the floating material could find its way to the surface?
Beyond the horse-shoe is Goat Island, and beyond Goat Island the American fall, bold, straight, and chafed to snowy whiteness by the rocks which meet it; but it does not approach, in sublimity or awful beauty, to the wondrous crescent on the other shore. There, the form of the mighty cauldron, into which the deluge poors, the hundred silvery torrents congregating round its verge, the smooth and solemn movement with which it rolls its massive volume over the rock, the liquid emerald of its long unbroken waters, the fantastic wreaths which spring to meet it, and then, the shadowy mist that veils the horrors of its crash below, constitute a scene almost too enormous in its features for man to look upon. “Angels might tremble as they gazed;” and I should deem the nerves obtuse, rather than strong, which did not quail at the first sight of this stupendous cataract.
Minute local particulars can be of no interest to those who have not felt their influence for pleasure or for pain. I will not tell of giddy stairs which scale the very edge of the torrent, nor of beetling slabs of table rock, broken and breaking, on which, shudder as you may, you must take your stand or lose your reputation as a tourist. All these feats were performed again and again even on the first day of our arrival, and most earthly weary was I when the day was done, though I would not lose the remembrance of it to purchase the addition of many soft and silken ones to my existence.
By four o’clock the next morning I was again at the little shantee, close to the horse-shoe fall, which seems reared in water rather than in air, and took an early shower-bath of spray. Much is concealed at this early hour by the heavy vapour, but there was a charm in the very obscurity; and every moment, as the light increased, cloud after cloud rolled off, till the vast wonder was again before me.
It is in the afternoon that the rainbow is visible from the British side; and it is a lovely feature in the mighty landscape. The gay arch springs from fall to fall, a fairy bridge.
After breakfast we crossed to the American side, and explored Goat Island. The passage across the Niagara, directly in face of the falls, is one of the most delightful little voyages imaginable; the boat crosses marvellously near them, and within reach of a light shower of spray. Real safety and apparent danger have each their share in the pleasure felt. The river is here two hundred feet deep. The passage up the rock brings you close upon the American cataract; it is a vast sheet, and has all the sublimity that height and width, and uproar can give; but it has none of the magic of its rival about it. Goat Island has, at all points, a fine view of the rapids; the furious velocity with which they rush onward to the abyss is terrific; and the throwing a bridge across them was a work of noble daring.
Below the falls, the river runs between lofty rocks, crowned with unbroken forests; this scene forms a striking contrast to the level shores above the cataract. It appears as if the level of the river had been broken up by some volcanic force. The Niagara flows out of Lake Erie, a broad, deep river; but for several miles its course is tranquil, and its shores perfectly level. By degrees its bed begins to sink, and the glassy smoothness is disturbed by a slight ripple. The inverted trees, that before lay so softly still upon its bosom, become twisted and tortured till they lose their form, and seem madly to mix in the tumult that destroys them. The current becomes more rapid at every step, till rock after rock has chafed the stream to fury, making the green one white. This lasts for a mile, and then down sink the rocks at once, one hundred and fifty feet, and the enormous flood falls after them. God said, let there be a cataract, and it was so. When the river has reached its new level, the precipice on either side shows a terrific chasm of solid rock; some beautiful plants are clinging to its sides, and oak, ash, and cedar, in many places, clothe their terrors with rich foliage.
This violent transition from level shores to a deep ravine, seems to indicate some great convulsion as its cause, and when I heard of a burning spring close by, I fancied the volcanic power still at work, and that the wonders of the region might yet increase.
We passed four delightful days of excitement and fatigue; we drenched ourselves in spray; we cut our feet on the rocks; we blistered our faces in the sun; we looked up the cataract, and down the cataract; we perched ourselves on every pinnacle we could find; we dipped our fingers in the flood at a few yards’ distance from its thundering fall; in short, we strove to fill as many niches of memory with Niagara as possible; and I think the images will be within the power of recall for ever.
We met many groups of tourists in our walks, chiefly American, but they were, or we fancied they were, but little observant of the wonders around them.
One day we were seated on a point of the cliff, near the ferry, which commands a view of both the Falls. This, by the way, is considered as the finest general view of the scene. One of our party was employed in attempting to sketch, what, however, I believe it is impossible for any pencil to convey an idea of to those who have not seen it. We had borrowed two or three chairs from a neighbouring cottage, and amongst us had gathered a quantity of boughs which, with the aid of shawls and parasols, we had contrived to weave into a shelter from the midday sun, so that altogether I have no doubt we looked very cool and comfortable.
A large party who had crossed from the American side, wound up the steep ascent from the place where the boat had left them; in doing so their backs were turned to the cataracts, and as they approached the summit, our party was the principal object before them. They all stood perfectly still to look at us. This first examination was performed at the distance of about a dozen yard from the spot we occupied, and lasted about five minutes, by which time they had recovered breath, and acquired courage. They then advanced in a body, and one or two of them began to examine (wrong side upwards) the work of the sketcher, in doing which they stood precisely between him and his object; but of this I think it is very probable they were not aware. Some among them next began to question us as to how long we had been at the Falls; whether there were much company; if we were not from the old country, and the like. In return we learnt that they were just arrived; yet not one of them (there were eight) ever turned the head, even for a moment, to look at the most stupendous spectacle that nature has to show.
The company at the hotel changed almost every day. Many parties arrived in the morning, walked to the falls; returned to the hotel to dinner, and departed by the coach immediately after it. Many groups were indescribably whimsical, both in appearance and manner. Now and then a first-rate dandy shot in among us, like a falling star.
On one occasion, when we were in the beautiful gallery, at the back of the hotel, which overlooks the horse-shoe fall, we saw the booted leg of one of this graceful race protruded from the window which commands the view, while his person was thrown back in his chair, and his head enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
I have repeatedly remarked, when it has happened to me to meet any ultra fine men among the wilder and more imposing scenes of our own land, that they throw off, in a great degree, their airs, and their “townliness,” as some one cleverly calls these simagrees, as if ashamed to “play their fantastic tricks” before the god of nature, when so forcibly reminded of his presence; and more than once on these occasions I have been surprised to find how much intellect lurked behind the inane mask of fashion. But in America the effect of fine scenery upon this class of persons is different, for it is exactly when amongst it, that the most strenuous efforts at elegant nonchalance are perceptible among the young exquisites of the western world. It is true that they have little leisure for the display of grace in the daily routine of commercial activity in which their lives are passed, and this certainly offers a satisfactory explanation of the fact above stated.
Fortunately for our enjoyment, the solemn character of the scene was but little broken in upon by these gentry. Every one who comes to Forsythe’s Hotel (except Mrs. Bogle Corbet), walks to the shantee, writes their name in a book which is kept there, and, for the most part, descends by the spiral staircase which leads from the little platform before it, to the rocks below. Here they find another shantee, but a few yards from the entrance of that wondrous cavern which is formed by the falling flood on one side, and by the mighty rock over which it pours, on the other. To this frail shelter from the wild uproar, and the blinding spray, nearly all the touring gentlemen, and even many of the pretty ladies, find their way. But here I often saw their noble daring fail, and have watched them dripping and draggled turn again to the sheltering stairs, leaving us in full possession of the awful scene we so dearly loved to gaze upon. How utterly futile must every attempt be to describe the spot! How vain every effort to convey an idea of the sensations it produces! Why is it so exquisite a pleasure to stand for hours drenched in spray, stunned by the ceaseless roar, trembling from the concussion that shakes the very rock you cling to, and breathing painfully in the moist atmosphere that seems to have less of air than water in it? Yet pleasure it is, and I almost think the greatest I ever enjoyed. We more than once approached the entrance to this appalling cavern, but I never fairly entered it, though two or three of my party did. I lost my breath entirely; and the pain at my chest was so severe, that not all my curiosity could enable me to endure it.
What was that cavern of the winds, of which we heard of old, compared to this? A mightier spirit than Aeolus reigns here.
Nor was this spot of dread and danger the only one in which we found ourselves alone. The path taken by “the company” to the shantee, which contained the “book of names” was always the same; this wound down the steep bank from the gate of the hotel garden, and was rendered tolerably easy by its repeated doublings; but it was by no means the best calculated to manage to advantage the pleasure of the stranger in his approach to the spot. All others, however, seemed left for us alone.
During our stay we saw the commencement of another staircase, intended to rival in attraction that at present in use; it is but a few yards from it, and can in no way, I think, contribute to the convenience of the descent. The erection of the central shaft of this spiral stair was a most tremendous operation, and made me sick and giddy as I watched it. After it had been made fast at the bottom, the carpenters swung themselves off the rocks, by the means of ropes, to the beams which traversed it; and as they sat across them, in the midst of the spray and the uproar, I thought I had never seen life periled so wantonly. But the work proceeded without accident, and was nearly finished before we left the hotel.
It was a sort of pang to take what we knew must be our last look at Niagara; but “we had to do it,” as the Americans say, and left it on the 10th June, for Buffalo.
The drive along the river, above the Falls, is as beautiful as a clear stream of a mile in width can make it; and the road continues close to it till you reach the ferry at Black Rock.
We welcomed, almost with a shout, the British colours which we saw, for the first time, on Commodore Barrie’s pretty sloop, the Bull Dog, which we passed as it was towing up the river to Lake Erie, the commodore being about to make a tour of the lakes.
At Black Rock we crossed again into the United States, and a few miles of horrible jolting brought us to Buffalo.
Of all the thousand and one towns I saw in America, I think Buffalo is the queerest looking; it is not quite so wild as Lockport, but all the buildings have the appearance of having been run up in a hurry, though every thing has an air of great pretension; there are porticos, columns, domes, and colonnades, but all in wood. Every body tells you there, as in all their other new-born towns, and every body believes, that their improvement, and their progression, are more rapid, more wonderful, than the earth ever before witnessed; while to me, the only wonder is, how so many thousands, nay millions of persons, can be found, in the nineteenth century, who can be content so to live. Surely this country may be said to spread rather than to rise.
The Eagle Hotel, an immense wooden fabric, has all the pretension of a splendid establishment, but its monstrous corridors, low ceilings, and intricate chambers, gave me the feeling of a catacomb rather than a house. We arrived after the table d’hote tea-drinking was over, and supped comfortably enough with a gentleman, who accompanied us from the Falls: but the next morning we breakfasted in a long, low, narrow room, with a hundred persons, and any thing less like comfort can hardly be imagined.
What can induce so many intellectual citizens to prefer these long, silent tables, scantily covered with morsels of fried ham, salt fish and liver, to a comfortable loaf of bread with their wives and children at home? How greatly should I prefer eating my daily meals with my family, in an Indian wig-wam, to boarding at a table d’hote in these capacious hotels; the custom, however, seems universal through the country, at least we have met it, without a shadow of variation as to its general features, from New Orleans to Buffalo.
Lake Erie has no beauty to my eyes; it is not the sea, and it is not the river, nor has it the beautiful scenery generally found round smaller lakes. The only interest its unmeaning expanse gave me, arose from remembering that its waters, there so tame and tranquil, were destined to leap the gulf of Niagara. A dreadful road, through forests only beginning to be felled, brought us to Avon; it is a straggling, ugly little place, and not any of their “Romes, Carthages, Ithacas, or Athens,” ever provoked me by their name so much. This Avon flows sweetly with nothing but whiskey and tobacco juice.
The next day’s journey was much more interesting, for it showed us the lake of Canandaigua. It is about eighteen miles long, but narrow enough to bring the opposite shore, clothed with rich foliage, near to the eye; the back-ground is a ridge of mountains. Perhaps the state of the atmosphere lent an unusual charm to the scene; one of those sudden thunderstorms, so rapid in approach, and so sombre in colouring, that they change the whole aspect of things in a moment, rose over the mountains and passed across the lake while we looked upon it. Another feature in the scene gave a living, but most sad interest to it. A glaring wooden hotel, as fine as paint and porticos can make it, overhangs the lake; beside it stands a shed for cattle. To this shed, and close by the white man’s mushroom palace, two Indians had crept to seek a shelter from the storm. The one was an aged man, whose venerable head in attitude and expression indicated the profoundest melancholy: the other was a youth, and in his deep-set eye there was a quiet sadness more touching still. There they stood, the native rightful lords of the fair land, looking out upon the lovely lake which yet bore the name their fathers had given it, watching the threatening storm that brooded there; a more fearful one had already burst over them.
Though I have mentioned the lake first, the little town of Canandaigua precedes it, in returning from the West. It is as pretty a village as ever man contrived to build. Every house is surrounded by an ample garden, and at that flowery season they were half buried in roses.
It is true these houses are of wood, but they are so neatly painted, in such perfect repair, and show so well within their leafy setting, that it is impossible not to admire them.
Forty-six miles farther is Geneva, beautifully situated on Seneca Lake. This, too, is a lovely sheet of water, and I think the town may rival its European namesake in beauty.
We slept at Auburn, celebrated for its prison, where the highly-approved system of American discipline originated. In this part of the country there is no want of churches; every little village has its wooden temple, and many of them too; that the Methodists and Presbyterians may not clash.
We passed through an Indian reserve, and the untouched forests again hung close upon the road. Repeated groups of Indians passed us, and we remarked that they were much cleaner and better dressed than those we had met wandering far from their homes. The blankets which they use so gracefully as mantles were as white as snow.
We took advantage of the loss of a horse’s shoe, to leave the coach, and approach a large party of them, consisting of men, women, and children, who were regaling themselves with I know not what, but milk made a part of the repast. They could not talk to us, but they received us with smiles, and seemed to understand when we asked if they had mocassins to sell, for they shook their sable locks, and answered “no.” A beautiful grove of butternut trees was pointed out to us, as the spot where the chiefs of the six nations used to hold their senate; our informer told me that he had been present at several of their meetings, and though he knew but little of their language, the power of their eloquence was evident from the great effect it produced among themselves.
Towards the end of this day, we encountered an adventure which revived our doubts whether the invading white men, in chasing the poor Indians from their forests, have done much towards civilizing the land. For myself, I almost prefer the indigenous manner to the exotic.
The coach stopped to take in “a lady” at Vernon; she entered, and completely filled the last vacant inch of our vehicle; for “we were eight” before.
But no sooner was she seated, than her beau came forward with a most enormous wooden best-bonnet box. He paused for a while to meditate the possibilities — raised it, as if to place it on our laps — sunk it, as if to put it beneath our feet. Both alike appeared impossible; when, in true Yankee style he addressed one of our party with. If you’ll just step out a minute, I guess I’ll find room for it.”
“Perhaps so. But how shall I find room for myself afterwards?”
This was uttered in European accents, and in an instant half a dozen whiskey drinkers stepped from before the whiskey store, and took the part of the beau.
“That’s because you’ll be English travellers I expect, but we have travelled in better countries than Europe — we have travelled in America — and the box will go, I calculate.”
We remonstrated on the evident injustice of the proceeding, and I ventured to say, that as we had none of us any luggage in the carriage, because the space was so very small, I thought a chance passenger could have no right so greatly to incommode us.
“Right! — there they go — that’s just their way — that will do in Europe, may be; it sounds just like English tyranny, now don’t it? but it won’t do here.” And thereupon he began thrusting in the wooden box against our legs, with all his strength.
“No law, sir, can permit such conduct as this.”
“Law!” exclaimed a gentleman very particularly drunk, “we makes our own laws, and governs our own selves.”
“Law!” echoed another gentleman of Vernon, “this is a free country, we have no laws here, and we don’t want no foreign power to tyrannize over us.”
I give the words exactly. It is, however, but fair to state, that the party had evidently been drinking more than an usual portion of whiskey, but, perhaps, in whiskey, as in wine, truth may come to light. At any rate the people of the Western Paradise follow the Gentiles in this, that they are a law unto themselves.
During the contest, the coachman sat upon the box without saying a word, but seemed greatly to enjoy the joke; the question of the box, however, was finally decided in our favour by the nature of the human material, which cannot be compressed beyond a certain degree.
For the great part of this day we had the good fortune to have a gentleman and his daughter for our fellow-travellers, who were extremely intelligent and agreeable; but I nearly got myself into a scrape by venturing to remark upon a phrase used by the gentleman, and which had met me at every corner from the time I first entered the country. We had been talking of pictures, and I had endeavoured to adhere to the rule I had laid down for myself, of saying very little, where I could say nothing agreeable. At length he named an American artist, with whose works I was very familiar, and after having declared him equal to Lawrence (judging by his portrait of West, now at New York), he added, “and what is more, madam, he is perfectly self-taught.”
I prudently took a few moments before I answered; for the equalling our immortal Lawrence to a most vile dauber stuck in my throat; I could not say Amen; so for some time I said nothing; but, at last, I remarked on the frequency with which I had heard this phrase of self-taught used, not as an apology, but as positive praise.
“Well, madam, can there be a higher praise?”
“Certainly not, if spoken of the individual merits of a person, without the means of instruction, but I do not understand it when applied as praise to his works.”
“Not understand it, madam? Is it not attributing genius to the author, and what is teaching compared to that?”
I do not wish to repeat all my own bons mots in praise of study, and on the disadvantages of profound ignorance, but I would, willingly, if I could, give an idea of the mixed indignation and contempt expressed by our companion at the idea that study was necessary to the formation of taste, and to the development of genius. At last, however, he closed the discussion thus, — “There is no use in disputing a point that is already settled, madam; the best judges declare that Mr. H— g’s portraits are equal to that of Lawrence.”
“Who is it who has passed this judgement, sir?”
“The men of taste of America, madam.”
I then asked him, if he thought it was going to rain?
The stages do not appear to have any regular stations at which to stop for breakfast, dinner, and supper. These necessary interludes, therefore, being generally impromptu, were abominably bad. We were amused by the patient manner in which our American fellow-travellers ate whatever was set before them, without uttering a word of complaint, or making any effort to improve it, but no sooner reseated in the stage, than they began their complaints — “twas a shame” — “twas a robbery” — “twas poisoning folks” — and the like. I, at last, asked the reason of this, and why they did not remonstrate? “Because, madam, no American gentleman or lady that keeps an inn won’t bear to be found fault with.”
We reached Utica very late and very weary; but the delights of a good hotel and perfect civility sent us in good humour to bed, and we arose sufficiently refreshed to enjoy a day’s journey through some of the loveliest scenery in the world.
Who is it that says America is not picturesque? I forget; but surely he never travelled from Utica to Albany. I really cannot conceive that any country can furnish a drive of ninety-six miles more beautiful, or more varied in its beauty. The road follows the Mohawk River, which flows through scenes changing from fields, waving with plenty, to rocks and woods; gentle slopes, covered with cattle, are divided from each other by precipices 500 feet high. Around the little falls there is a character of beauty as singular as it is striking. Here, as I observed of many other American rivers, the stream appears to run in a much narrower channel than it once occupied, and the space which it seems formerly to have filled, is now covered with bright green herbage, save that, at intervals, large masses of rock rise abruptly from the level turf; these are crowned with all such trees as love the scanty diet which a rock affords. Dwarf oak, cedars, and the mountain ash, are grouped in a hundred different ways among them; each clump you look upon is lovelier than its neighbour; I never saw so sweetly wild a spot.
I was surprised to hear a fellow-traveller say, as we passed a point of peculiar beauty, “all this neighbourhood belongs, or did belong, to Mr. Edward Ellice, an English Member of Parliament, but he has sold a deal of it, and now, madam, you may see as it begins to improve;” and he pointed to a great wooden edifice, where, on the white paint, “Cash for Rags,” in letters three feet high, might be seen.
I then remembered that it was near this spot that my Yankee friend had made his complaint against English indifference to “water privilege.” He did not name Mr. Edward Ellice, but doubtless he was the “English, as never thought of improvement.”
I have often confessed my conscious incapacity for description, but I must repeat it here to apologize for my passing so dully through this matchless valley of the Mohawk. I would that some British artist, strong in youthful daring, would take my word for it, and pass over, for a summer pilgrimage through the State of New York. In very earnest, he would wisely, for I question if the world could furnish within the same space, and with equal facility of access, so many subjects for his pencil. Mountains, forests, rocks, lakes, rivers, cataracts, all in perfection. But he must be bold as a lion in colouring, or he will make nothing of it. There is a clearness of atmosphere, a strength of chiaro oscuro, a massiveness in the foliage, and a brilliance of contrast, that must make a colourist of any one who has an eye. He must have courage to dip his pencil in shadows black as night, and light that might blind an eagle. As I presume my young artist to be an enthusiast, he must first go direct to Niagara, or even in the Mohawk valley his pinioned wing may droop. If his fever run very high, he may slake his thirst at Trenton, and while there, he will not dream of any thing beyond it. Should my advice be taken, I will ask the young adventurer on his return (when he shall have made a prodigious quantity of money by my hint), to reward me by two sketches. One shall be the lake of Canandaigua; the other the Indians’ Senate Grove of Butternuts.
During our journey, I forget on which day of it, a particular spot in the forest, at some distance from the road, was pointed out to us as the scene of a true, but very romantic story. During the great and the terrible French revolution (1792), a young nobleman escaped from the scene of horror, having with difficulty saved his head, and without the possibility of saving any thing else. He arrived at New York nearly destitute; and after passing his life, not only in splendour, but in the splendour of the court of France, he found himself jostled by the busy population of the New World, without a dollar between him and starvation. In such a situation one might almost sigh for the guillotine. The young noble strove to labour; but who would purchase the trembling efforts of his white hands, while the sturdy strength of many a black Hercules was in the market? He abandoned the vain attempt to sustain himself by the aid of his fellow-men, and determined to seek a refuge in the forest. A few shillings only remained to him; he purchased an axe, and reached the Oneida territory. He felled a few of the slenderest trees, and made himself a shelter that Robinson Crusoe would have laughed at, for it did not keep out the rain. Want of food, exposure to the weather, and unwonted toil, produced the natural result; the unfortunate young man fell sick, and stretched upon the reeking earth, stifled, rather than sheltered, by the withering boughs which hung over him; he lay parched with thirst, and shivering in ague, with the one last earthly hope, that each heavy moment would prove the last.
Near to the spot which he had chosen for his miserable rest, but totally concealed from it by the thick forest, was the last straggling wigwam of an Indian village. It is not known how many days the unhappy man had lain without food, but he was quite insensible when a young squaw, whom chance had brought from this wigwam to his hut, entered, and found him alive, but totally insensible. The heart of woman is, I believe, pretty much the same every where; the young girl paused not to think whether he were white or red, but her fleet feet rested not till she had brought milk, rum, and blankets, and when the sufferer recovered his senses, his head was supported on her lap, while, with the gentle tenderness of a mother, she found means to make him swallow the restoratives she had brought.
No black eyes in the world, be they of France, Italy, or even of Spain, can speak more plainly of kindness, than the large deep-set orbs of a squaw; this is a language that all nations can understand, and the poor Frenchman read most clearly, in the anxious glance of his gentle nurse, that he should not die forsaken.
So far the story is romantic enough, and what follows is hardly less so. The squaw found means to introduce her white friend to her tribe; he was adopted as their brother, speedily acquired their language, and assumed their dress and manner of life. His gratitude to his preserver soon ripened into love, and if the chronicle spoke true, the French noble and the American savage were more than passing happy as man and wife, and it was not till he saw himself the father of many thriving children that the exile began to feel a wish of rising again from savage to civilized existence.
My historian did not explain what his project was in visiting New York, but he did so in the habit of an Indian, and learnt enough of the restored tranquillity of his country to give him hope that some of the broad lands he had left there might be restored to him.
I have made my story already too long, and must not linger upon it farther than to say that his hopes were fulfilled, and that, of a large and flourishing family, some are settled in France, and some remain in America, (one of these, I understood, was a lawyer at New York), while the hero and the heroine of the tale continue to inhabit the Oneida country, not in a wigwam, however, but in a good house, in a beautiful situation, with all the comforts of civilized life around them.
Such was the narrative we listened to, from a stage coach companion; and it appears to me sufficiently interesting to repeat, though I have no better authority to quote for its truth, than the assertion of this unknown traveller.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55