The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Chapter XVIII. My Stony Guardian

It was during this period that I spent a short time at Niagara. In the hurry of setting out upon my journey thither, I left behind that traveling companion, which was more indispensable than any article or all possible articles of luggage, my box of boluses. Too late to repair the error, too late for my own serenity, I found out that my staff of life was out of reach at a place on Lake Ontario where the most concentrated cannabine preparation is the jib-stay of a fore-and-after.

At the Falls, however, and once grown enthusiastic, I fared much better than I had expected. The only trace of suffering at first perceptible was left in the shape of a somewhat nervously-written name on the entry-book of the hotel. The excitement of a sublimity which, to say the least, is extra-natural, for a while sustained me above pain for the loss of the super-natural.

Moreover, a material support came in to augment the spiritual. As lemon-juice had been sometimes an effectual cure for the sufferings of excess, I now discovered that a use of tobacco, to an extent which at other times would be immoderate, was a precentive of the horrors of abandonment. Making use of this knowledge, I smoked incessantly when out of the immediate presence of the waters — never could I bring myself, however needy, to puff in the face of Niagara — a blasphemy of deed only second to one of word which came to my notice during this visit.

For an hour of one glorious morning I had been looking down from the balcony of the Goat Island tower upon the emerald crown in all the luxury of solitude. A heavy footstep from within sounded upon the staircase, breaking up my dream, and the next moment flashed upon the platform a man who had come to “do” the falls, with the odors of metropolis still cleaving to his garments, and rotund in all the plenitude of corporeal well-being — an Omphalopsychite by necessity, since he found it impossible to look down at all without resting his eyes upon that portion of his individuality tangent to the lower border of the waistcoat. The utmost that I could ask from this adipose formation was to keep silence: he did not even do that. Turning his face toward the wind to get its full tonic effect, for a while he drank it in copious draughts, and then enthusiastically broke forth to me, “What a splendid thing to give a man appetite for his dinner!” Sensitive as my state made me at that moment, I so far controlled myself as to answer nothing. It was well that I had not been hasheesh-glorified when he made his assault, or, notwithstanding he no way lacked in the bodily, he might not have been heard of again till he was fished out of Ontario.

It has always been surprising to me that the Falls are so much the theme of lovers of the sublime to the almost entire exclusion of the Rapids. The Rapids have a majesty of their own, which, to my mind, has never yielded at all to the very different one of the Falls. Trying to resolve this difference by analysis, it seems to be this: in the precipitous brink over which takes place the final leap of the waters, we find a reason for the grand power of the descent. Higher up the river the slope of the flood is comparatively imperceptible; the headlong crash of the waves becomes to us a result of some inner will rather than of soulless gravity; and by the putting forth of power from this mysterious will we are overwhelmed, seeming to find our cause in spirit and not in matter. Quite as holy a place does the upper point of the Island appear to me, looking forth, as it does, upon the oceanic wrath of that resistless billowy soul, from the silent eddy where it cleaves itself for the last maddening throes, far up to the line of its trembling in the first consciousness of ingathered strength against the farther sky, quite as holy as any station beside the shifting pavement of flecked and molten porphyry below the Fall, where the spray is forever floating back upon the headlong wall like marble-dust wind-driven from the floor of the Great Sculptor.

There is still another element in the sublimity of the place too little noticed, or noticed only as a curiosity. This is the Profile Rock, in the edge of the American Fall nearest to Goat Island. So little is it known, that many persons go there unaware of its existence, and come away without having had it pointed out to them. Indeed, by a mere superficial looker at, and not a student of Niagara, it would be, in all probability, passed over. Were I not near-sighted, I should be ashamed to confess that I did not see it myself until my eyes were called to it by a most sincere and ardent lover of all that is noble in nature, a very near and dear friend, whom I was so fortunate as to have beside me in most of my walks.

Sustaining the weight of those vast waters upon his half-bowed head, the stony figure stands, visible under the veil, or visible at least above the waist, yet no more is needed than the face, with its look of calm endurance, to suggest for him a whole history of Fate. At that time of which I have been speaking, I myself felt enough need of fortitude to give me an intense yearning toward this emblem of heroic patience, and as I looked upon him I more and more felt myself loving him even humanly. In many a vision afterward did he appear to me as a silent consoler, when Niagara itself had become an affliction to my memory; and as side by side we stood, he under his flood, I under mine, I gathered strength from his moveless eye to bear unto the end all which should finally be given to the triumph of resignation.

Alone and unable to sleep, though the late night heard nothing to break its stillness but the ceaseless rush of the river, I felt myself thus “flowing in words” to that mute face of forbearance:

Niagara! I am not one who seeks
  To lift his voice above thine awful hymn;
Mine be it to keep silence where God speaks,
  Nor with my praise to make his glory dim.

Yet unto thee, shape of the stony brow,
  Standing forever in thine unshared place,
The human soul within me yearneth now,
  And I would lay my head beside thy face

King, from dim ages of God set apart
  To bear the weight of a tremendous crown,
And feel the robes that wrap thy lonely heart
  Deaden its pulses as their folds flow down;

What sublime years are written on the scroll
  Of thine imperial, dread inheritance,
Man shall not read until its lines unroll
  In the great hand that set thy stony trance.

Perchance thy moveless adamantine look
  For its long watch o’er the abyss was bent
Ere the thick gates of primal darkness shook,
  And light broke in upon thy battlement.

And when that sudden glory lit thy crown,
  And God lent thee a rainbow from His throne,
E’en through thy stony breast flashed there not down
  Somewhat of His joy also made thine own?

Who knoweth but He gave thee to rejoice
  Till man’s hymn sounded through the time to be,
And when our choral coming hushed thy voice,
  Still left thee something of humanity?

Still seemest thou a priest — still the veil streams
  Before thy reverent eyes, and hides His light,
And thine is as the face of one who dreams
  Of a great glory now no more his right.

Soon shall I pass away; the mighty psalm
  Of thine o’ershadowing waters shall be heard
In memory only; but thy speechless calm
  Hath lessons for me more than many a word,

Teaching the glory of the soul that bears
  Great floods, a veil between him and the sun,
And, standing in the might of Patience, dares
  To bide His finishing who hath begun.

I have said that Niagara itself became an affliction to me. More especially was this the case after my total abandonment of hasheesh; but I must not anticipate. Every one of sensitive mind has noticed the permanency of impressions left by grand scenery, of none more so than Niagara. Indeed, I have acquaintances who for months, in all their day-dreams as well as those of sleep, were haunted by the Falls in a manner almost like optical illusion. Their visions were always delightful. Fancy now a mind naturally very impressible by scenery, rendered numberless times more sensitive by a process which left it a permanent photographic plate, and then exposed to such lights as those reflected from that supernatural river: you will then have the condition in which I left Niagara — a condition continuing for many a month afterward. So slowly did the traces of that imagery fade on my mind, that I have never, even now, wholly lost them. At times the terrors of the brink and the cataract still echo in dreams with a hasheesh mystery, and appall me as the presence of their real danger could hardly appall.

Upon returning to a place where hasheesh was within reach, I fled to it for relief as into an ark. By considerable self-government, I conquered the tendency to excess produced by long deprivation of the stimulus, and indulged in it within my stated boundaries only.

I now began to find that gradual was almost as difficult as instant abandonment. The utmost that could be done was to keep the bolus from exceeding fifteen grains. From ten and five, which at times I tried, there was an insensible sliding back to the larger allowance, and even there my mind rebelled at the restriction. While there was no suffering from absolute intellectual lassitude, there still, ever and anon, arose a longing more or less intense for the former music and ecstatic fantasia, which could not be satisfied by a mere panoramic display of internal images, however beautiful, dissolved in a moment by opening my eyes.

Yet I struggled strenuously against the fascination to a more generious ration, and hoped against hope for some indefinite time at which the dangerous spell might be entirely unbound.

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