Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

halted for a minute or two, scanning the torrent thoughtfully. I said that, as a guide, he ought to have a rope in such a place ; but he retorted that, as no traveller had ever thought of coming there, he did not see the necessity of keeping a rope. He waded in. The struggle to keep himself erect was evident enough ; he swayed, but recovered himself again and again. At length he slipped, gave way, did as I had done, threw himself towards the bank, and was swept into the shallows. Standing in the stream near its edge, he stretched his arm towards me.

I retained the pitchfork handle, for it had been useful among the boulders. By wading some way in, the staff could be made to reach him, and I proposed his seizing it. “If you are sure,' he replied, 'that in case of giving way, you can maintain your grasp, then I will certainly hold you.' Remarking that he might count on this, I waded in, and stretched the staff to my companion. It was firmly grasped by both of us. Thus helped, though its onset was strong, I moved safely across the torrent. All danger ended here. We afterwards roamed sociably among the torrents and boulders below the Cave of the Winds. The rocks were covered with organic slime, which could not have been walked over with bare feet, but the felt shoes effectually prevented slipping We reached the cave and entered it, first by a wooden way carried over the boulders, and then along a narrow ledge, to the point eaten deepest into the shale. When the wind is from the south, the falling water, I am told, can be seen tranquilly from this spot; but when we were there, a blinding hurricane of spray was whirled against us.

THE FALLS OF NIAGARA.

PART III.--IN A BOAT. To complete my knowledge of Niagara, I desired to see the fall from the river below it, and long negotiations were necessary to secure the means of doing so. The only boat fit for the undertaking had been laid up for the winter ; but this difficulty was at length overcome. The main one was to secure oarsmen sufficiently strong and skilful to urge the boat where I wished it to be taken. The son of the owner of the boat, a finely-built young fellow, but only twenty, and therefore not sufficiently hardened, was willing to go ; and up the river, it was stated, there lived another man who could do anything with the boat which strength and daring could accomplish. He came. His figure and expression of face certainly indicated extraordinary firmness and power. On Tuesday, 5th November, we started, each of us being clad in oilcloth. The elder oarsman at once assumed a tone of authority over his companion, and struck immediately in amid the breakers below the American Fall. He hugged the cross freshets instead of striking out into the smoother water. I asked him why he did so, and he replied that they were directed outwards, not downwards. The struggle, however, to prevent the bow of the boat from being turned by them, was often very severe.

The spray was in general blinding, but at times it disappeared, and yielded noble views of the fall. The edge of the cataract is crimped by indentations which exalt its beauty. Here and there, a little below the highest ledge, a secondary one juts out; the water strikes it, and bursts from it in huge protuberant masses of foam and spray. We passed Goat Island, came to the Horseshoe, and worked for a time along its base, the boulders over which Conroy and myself had scrambled a few days previously lying between us and the cataract. A rock was before us, concealed and revealed at intervals, as the waves passed over it. Our leader tried to get above this rock, first on the outside of it; the water, however, was here in violent motion. The men struggled fiercely, the older one ringing out an incessant peal of command and exhortation to the younger. As we were just clearing the rock, the bow came obliquely to the surge; the boat was turned suddenly round, and shot with astonishing rapidity down the river. The men returned to the charge, now trying to get up between the half-concealed rock and the boulders to the left. But the torrent set in strongly through this channel. The tugging was quick and violent, but we made little way. At length, seizing a rope, the principal oarsman made a desperate attempt to get upon one of the boulders, hoping to be able to drag the boat through the channel ; but it bumped so violently against the rock, that the man flung himself back and relinquished the attempt.

We returned along the base of the American Fall, running in and out among the currents which rushed from it laterally into the river. Seen from below, the American Fall is certainly exquisitely beautiful, but it is a mere frill of adornment to its nobler neighbour the Horseshoe. At times we took to the river, from the centre of which the Horseshoe Fall appeared specially magnificent. A sheet of cloud across the neck of Mont Blanc can double its apparent height, so here the green summit of the cataract above the smoke of spray appeared lifted to an extraordinary elevation.

THE FALLS OF NIAGARA.

PART IV.-THE WHIRLPOOL RAPIDS.

From a point a little way below the American Fall, a ferry crosses the river, in summer, to the Canadian side. Below the ferry is a suspension bridge for carriages and foot passengers, and a mile or two lower down is the railway suspension bridge. Between ferry and bridge the river Niagara flows unruffled; but at the suspension bridge the bed steepens and the river quickens its motion. Lower down the gorge narrows, and the rapidity and turbulence increase. At the place called the “Whirlpool Rapids' I estimated the width of the river at 300 feet, an estimate confirmed by the dwellers on the spot. When it is remembered that the drainage of nearly half a continent is compressed into this space, the impetuosity of the river's rush may be imagined. From the edge of the cliff above the rapids, we descendeda little, I confess, to a climber's disgust—in an 'elevator,' because the effects are best seen from the water level.

Two kinds of motion are here obviously active, a motion of translation, and a motion of undulation—the race of the river through its gorge, and the great waves generated by its collision with, and rebound from, the obstacles in its way. In the middle of the river the rush and tossing are most violent ; at all events, the impetuous force of the individual waves is here most strikingly displayed. Vast pyramidal heaps leap incessantly from the river, some of them with such energy as to jerk their summits into the air, where they hang momentarily suspended in crowds of liquid spherules. The sun shone for a few minutes. At times the wind, coming up the river, searched and sifted the spray, carrying away the lighter drops, and leaving the heavier ones behind. Wafted in the proper direction, rainbows appeared and disappeared fitfully in the lighter mist. In other directions the common gleam of the sunshine from the waves and their shattered crests was exquisitely beautiful. The complexity of the action was still further illustrated by the fact that in some cases, as if by the exercise of a local explosive force the drops were shot radially from a particular centre, forming around it a kind of halo.

The first impression, and, indeed, the current explanation of these rapids is, that the central bed of the river is cumbered with large boulders, and that the jostling, tossing, and wild leaping of the water there are due to its impact against these obstacles. I doubt this explanation. At all events, there is another sufficient reason to be taken into account. Boulders derived from the adjacent cliffs visibly cumber the sides of the river. Against these the water rises and sinks rhythmically but violently, large waves being thus produced. On the generation of each wave, there is an immediate compounding of the wave motion with the river motion. The ridges, which in still water would proceed in circular curves round the centre of disturbance, cross the river obliquely, and the result is that at the centre waves commingle which have really been generated at the sides. In the first instance, we had a composition of wave motion with river motion; here we have the coalescence of waves with waves.

Where crest and furrow cross each other, the motion is annulled ; where furrow and furrow cross, the river is ploughed to a greater depth ; and where crest and crest aid each other, we have that astonishing leap of the water which breaks the cohesion of the crests, and tosses them shattered into the air. From the water level the cause of the action is not so easily seen ; but from the summit of the cliff the lateral generation of the waves and their propagation to the centre are perfectly obvious. If this explanation be correct, the phenomena observed at the Whirlpool Rapids form one of the grandest illustrations of the principle of interference.

At some distance below the Whirlpool Rapids we have the celebrated whirlpool itself. Here the river makes a sudden bend to the north-east, forming nearly a right angle with its previous direction. The water strikes the concave bank with great force, and scoops it incessantly away. A vast basin has been thus formed, in which the sweep of the river prolongs itself in gyratory currents. Bodies and trees which have come over the falls, are stated to circulate here for days without finding the outlet. From various points of the cliffs above, this is curiously hidden. The rush of the river into the whirlpool is obvious enough; and though you imagine the outlet must be visible, if one existed, you cannot find it. Turning, however, round the bend of the precipice to the north-east, the outlet comes into view.

The Niagara season was over, the chatter of sightseers had ceased, and the scene presented itself as one of holy seclusion and beauty. I went down to the river's edge, where the weird loneliness seemed to increase. The basin is enclosed by

« AnteriorContinuar »