Elihu Vedder.

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of the salt "mash" put out the wooden decoys. We were in
a skiff and a scow, the one a sail-boat, the other was rowed or
paddled. Now it so happened that there was a man with us from
Philadelphia who wore spectacles. This in itself is nothing
against him, as our President, at the time I write, a mighty hunter,
wears them ; but one is so particular about being shot I wish
he had n't. We noticed his way was to leave the hammers of his
gun down ; when game came up, he half-cocked the gun, and at
the last moment fully cocked it. The danger of this habit was
pointed out to him ; that anything might lift the hammer a little,
which falling back on the cap the gun would be discharged. The
others being old sportsmen, he was persuaded, and half-cocked
his double-barrelled gun. The boats were close together I
alone in the scow. The snipe were coming up through the fog,
and we were whistling for them. It was then he must have, from
habit, half-cocked his gun, as he thought, and then it was fully
cocked, his fingers on the triggers, and he mooning about through
his spectacles. I was crouched down ready for the birds, when he
turned his gun full on me and bang ! off it went. My gun
was knocked clean out of my hands, and my left arm, stunned, as
if by the blow of a sledge-hammer, hung powerless by my side.

Well, what was done was done, and I had to see to doing what
was next to do. I made them take a handkerchief, and with a
thole-pin from the scow made a tourniquet. Some one felt faint
at the sight of so much blood, but I, feeling no great pain and
always being a "city-chap," put on airs, and directed everything
with the utmost coolness. The great thing was to get to a doctor.
Having used a thole-pin for the tourniquet, the scow had to be
paddled, the boat being too heavy, and so two of the fellows got


in and paddled for dear life towards shore. The funny always
comes in. I felt that I might be bleeding to death, and while
sorry for the poor fellows, knowing how important it was to get
to the doctor as soon as possible, feeling faint yet in no great pain,
I would now and then fetch a heavy groan, when, without turn-
ing, the good boys would renew their efforts and cause me to
giggle under the coat thrown over me. Of course I was a sight:
the bloody arm, trousers torn and bloody from a wound in the
leg, two little touches just under my nose, and a lot of shot
in my right hand, which are there to this day, made me an inter-
esting sight.

But the airs I put on ! On nearing the shore I asked : "Who is
that man loading that waggon with seaweed" ? "Deacon So-
and-So." "Now, boys, you see if he hasn't some excuse for
not helping me." And sure enough: "Wall, you see I've just
loaded up, and there's Smith over there's got a team; he can
hitch up in no time." I told him to go to the Devil and let me
bleed to death that I might have known he was one of those
pious chaps. You see I was a young reprobate then and knew no
better. He was shamed and hustled out the seaweed, and on the
springless cart I was jogged off to the doctor's, and never thought
to give the deacon that quarter which would enable him to look
back to the incident with resignation. The doctor was off on his
rounds, but the kind wife and pretty daughter were filled with
pity. Feeling yet no pain, the airs continued. So, begging pardon
for making my first call in such a condition, I had them bring me
the doctor's books and found out the first treatment for gunshot
wounds, and then was taken to the inn where I was stopping.
I ought to say boarding-house, store, and gun-shop, for it was
all these. Then I sent off for my brother in New York. The wife


of the Philadelphia!! who shot me was a perfect little angel as
a nurse, while he must have suffered more than I did, for was not
I a hero, while he was a person held in little esteem just then.

The old doctor was for cutting off my arm, but I did not en-
courage him and used bad language. But when the pain set in, a
great many of my airs departed, and things getting worse instead
of better, with arm on a pillow, I was gotten to New York and to
the house of the ever kind D's. Here my wise medical brother
concluded he did not know as much as he supposed he did, and
brought his professor to see me Dr. Parker, the father of my
friend Mrs. D. Stimson, whose husband the doctor is one of
my very best remaining friends. The Professor found that the
main artery had been touched and an aneurism formed, and said
it must be seen to at once, and so the next morning it was tied.
The recovery was slow and I am not free from pain in my left
arm to this day. It has always been, after a pause - " How lucky
it was your left arm ! " In the case of my friend Butler, they did
not say that, on seeing his empty right-arm sleeve, but thought
it not knowing he had always been left-handed. I would not
have written this long, tiresome account, had it not been by
particular request, and I am glad it is off my mind once and for
all. After this I made a visit to my father in Matanzas, and on
coming North, Ben and I left for Europe, my arm yet in a sling.

I have said I made a visit to Matanzas ; this giving me a chance
to digress, I may as well do so and get that, like the shooting, off
my mind also.

While in Matanzas I went fishing, but found that was the one
thing I could not do with only one hand. I could dress myself,
and even tie my cravat by the aid of my teeth but not fish.



I tried holding the slack of the line in my mouth as I hauled it in,

but it did not work.
Yet I did make with one hand a little amulet in silver. It was

to enshrine some little token, some remembrance of my

mother; but rinding my heart
made a better shrine, I never
used the little amulet for that
purpose. I give an illustration
of it to show what can be done
with one hand, and will also
tell of a little incident in re-
gard to it. I found that I
could not make more than the
body, so had the handles and
other things I had designed
made for me in Rome. This
was done so clumsily that it
is perfectly evident those
things are of a different date,
as was proved on my showing
the amulet to two of the best
old antiquarians in Rome at
that time Odelli and De-
polletti who both declared
AMULET that the body was of old

Arab workmanship, but that the "finimenti" were modern

restorations. As I find this is going to be a famous batch of

digressions, I may as well interpolate a little one apropos of

In the old days we used to play innocent games of cards in


which all could join, and when I was unsuccessful I used always
to get one of my Japanese nitchkas, which I called an amulet,
and it did indeed seem to give me luck ; so much so that Stillman,
the famous correspondent, one evening as he joined the game
said, "I'll play, but I won't have any of those d amulets " a
neat way of indicating in one word the object, and his opinion
of it.

I will now try to go fishing again, and if I do not interrupt
myself, may succeed. In fact I did go fishing, but it was like the
man's fishing who said the fishing was good, but he did n't catch
any fish.

In going to the fishing-grounds we drifted along the coast in
the dark, warm tropic night, kept from going ashore by the land
breeze, which came off to us laden with the strong smell of earth,
and the odour of the flowers, the air tremulous with the thrilling
of thousands of tree-toads, sounding like innumerable silver
sheep-bells. The starry sky was mirrored in the sea below, so we
seemed between two skies, except when below the wave a phos-
phorescent track, like a shooting star, marked where some big
fish was chasing a smaller one ; for while all seemed peace, and
in the mind of a lone boy thoughts akin to worship arose, in
Nature all about him it was pitiless war ; and death kept pace
with life. This was impressed on me one day by a vision of sud-
den death which I have never forgotten.

I was following the padron, who was casting his net. We were
wading in the clear water waist-deep, when Isaw something on
the bottom and called him back to look at it. It seemed a vigor-
ous mass of vitality, of a rich velvet brown, and had large eyes.
The padron at once tore it up from off the rocks, and it as quickly
enlaced his arm with its tentacles. This did not seem to concern


him, for he managed to get at the under side of the animal and
fumbling at its very vitals brought it to his mouth and gave it a
quick, sharp bite. At once over this rich brown live thing, spread-
ing to the end of its arms, passed an ashy pallor ; the arms fell limp-
ly off, and he threw the dead thing into the basket at his back.

All was peaceful on the little island of Mono Grande. The
shore was strewn with broken conch-shells, where the fishermen
had feasted. A few black crosses marked where the consump-
tives of Cardenas mouldered away the result of their last try
for life. From a point near by the pelicans rose in clouds, or
streamed off in long lines to fish. Yes, all was peaceful. I know
of nothing in Art that more perfectly gives the feeling of these
scenes than a sketch by La Fargeof some island in the South Seas.
It represents a little island, a mere patch of green ; a man with
a spear is wading out from it through the tranquil shallow water
and that is all, except that it is all light and floats in the very
shimmer of a tropic day. We, in a like shimmer, could look down
through the clear water and see on the bottom the blackened ribs
of the burnt slaving schooners, burnt after landing their wretched
cargoes. This was a discordant note, but not to the eye to the
eye all was God's peace.

While in Matanzas I had two dreams which I think are worth
recording. I do so diffidently, as I know that the dreams of one
person are not very interesting to another in fact, tiresome.
There is such a thing as skipping, however, which might here
come in very well.

How such dreams are affected by the state of the body when
they take place is shown by the following one which I had just
after returning from my excursion with the fisherman, and while
my wounded arm was yet in a sling.


I dreamed that I was floating in a light skiff on a southern
summer sea among little green coral islands. Stretched out on the
bottom of the skiff I floated peacefully, lulled by the rippling
water and fanned by a gentle breeze. All was in a golden haze ;
but this thickened gradually, the wind increased, and when at
last the boat grounded on a beach all was dark and grey. There
stood in the dim light a girlish figure. She was beautiful but
sad, and as I gazed into her eyes and kissed the passive mouth,
two great tears coursed down her cheeks. It became darker;
the waves washed over my feet ; the wind began to howl ; I knew
not where I was, but the girl took my hand and commenced
leading me through the now invading waves. Soon the hand
became hard and grasped me so firmly that I was in pain ; and
the wind became a tempest. The waves rose higher, and the
hand became of iron and dragged me through the storm, and
the nails of it seemed growing into my flesh as I was whirled
along. It became too horrible to stand, and I awoke and found
I was lying on my wounded arm and my hand was burning
like a coal.

Again I found myself in a kind of cell or tomb, under a moun-
tain of granite which must have been at least five miles high, and
I thought, "This is the end; there is no hope; escape is impos-
sible ; compose yourself and die decently. But what is the use of
how you die ? God himself cannot find you here. The sound of the
last trump cannot reach you here." And the roof was descending,
I could feel it within a few inches of my face. " I am lost! What
can I do ? Fool! there is only one way of escape you must
wake up and save yourself! " And with all the strength of my
being I made a last desperate effort and burst through one seem-
ing awakening after another, until I awoke and was saved. Had


'I not made that last great effort, I believe I should have been
found dead in my bed.

Was that granite mountain a Welsh Rabbit ? They usually
think so, but do you know, I am constantly meeting men and
women who come and go and are more vague to me than that
dream. Thinner than dreams quite unsubstantial the mere
stuffing of life saw-dust. Perhaps I am that to them.

I now go North again, and have always wondered if the Angel
did not hasten my departure somewhat for there was a girl!
This girl, or maid, or lady's companion, had been left stranded
in Matanzas, and father had taken her and was waiting for an
opportunity to ship her back to the North. She was a young, weak,
lachrymose thing, always weeping over her separation from a
young man somewhere in Maine. Of course it was my duty to
comfort her, which I did so effectually that soon I began to find
little bits of poetry under my pillow on retiring and such
poetry ! This was more than I bargained for, especially as the
weeping was kept up, the cause now being unrequited affection
hopeless love disparity of position all set forth in verse
into which she dropped as naturally as she did into tears. It was
high time I left, and I did leave. Pity is akin to love yes, it
was time I left fortunately alone.

Here is richness ! Here is a letter from my old friend Ben
Ben of the Quaint Legends Benjamin Day. Here is one who
also can open a little window into the Past; he cometh at the
eleventh hour, to be sure, but he bringeth his little harvest, and
what I forget, he remembers, and vice versa. I am glad to see
he has no better memory for dates than I have. He belongs to the
Quaint Legends, Paris the First Time, and to the Struggle
War-Time and his letter hops all over the place, so that


like Brian O'Lin, I shall have to put him in the middle, and
while the reader can yet remember something of the Legends.
In fact, so far as legends go, I might turn them over to Ben with
no great loss to the reader and a saving of trouble to myself. But
I cannot resist putting my oar in occasionally in the form of


notes; this I hesitate the less in doing as I have seen it done
lately by a very great man whose business it is to make books.
And, by the way, I have remarked a singular thing in these
books about great people, people who once lived in Boston,
London, and Rome, that none of them when young ever
flirted; now we did; however, "I make no comment." Ben,
after telling of his sorrows, and he has had fearful ones,


dear old boy ! says that he is now like an old tree with tender
clinging vines to cheer and enliven it, and that his last eleven
years have been most happy; and then proceeds:

"My earliest recollections of our boyhood days hike back to the
old Dutch-roofed home in East New York, adjoining Bedford.
Regularly every Friday, after school, I was on my way to spend
Saturday and Sunday with you. How well I remember those
halcyon days ; the walk up the lane of trees, the welcome of Cot-
torita the parrot, with her 'Quien tai es? ' (is that right?) the
beautiful old tree from which her cage hung, then the joyous
bark of Jack, the welcome of Grandpa and Grandma Vedder,
and of Aunt Caister, with the usual enquiries about Aunt Eve-
line, my mother. How quickly you and I got busy with our pro-
jects for a day's tramp in the adjoining woods, where you were
the wild Indian and I the early settler. Then our search for
Indian relics in what we supposed were Indian mounds, the dig-
ging we did, and our return home after a hard day's work, to go
to bed under the low, sheltering roof of the attic and be lulled to
sleep by the patter of the raindrops on the shingles. Ah me ! was
there ever such joy as you and I felt in the very act of living !
Such schemes for future wealth as were conceived in those boy-
hood days, for you may remember that I earned my pocket-
money by painting show-cards, and that you were absorbed in a
japanning process ; cutting out slices of mother-of-pearl, embed-
ding them on a thick surface of Japan varnish, baking them in
Grandma's oven, much to her disgust, and afterwards rubbing
them to a smooth surface with pumice-stone and water, to be
subsequently painted and gilded into dreams of beauty. I shall
never forget the trouble we had with the real gold-leaf, for you
did allow me to help you.


" Marshall Ibbotson had a shop in his father's barn at Bedford ;
he had tools. You and I there learned how to make trap-cages,
for Marshall let us have a try at it. Shortly afterwards you se-
cured a prize in an old spring clock, and we built a steamboat (or
. clock-boat) and launched her in a pond near by. She had a toy
cannon and fired a salute that nearly swamped her. [Here Ben
forgets the attack on a fort by the fleet of which I was the Admiral,
and how he was shot in the leg by the cannon, thus making it like
a real fight ; and the fun of getting out the shot with a penknife.]

"We then turned our attention to a skate-boat. It was finally
built of three boards, and a bean-pole for a mast. Our greatest
trouble was in securing an old sheet for a sail, and I remember
we could not wait for the ice to get firm enough to hold our weight
and so in our first venture, as I sat in the front holding up the
mast, you saw the ice getting humpy and yelled to me to jump, at
the same time jumping yourself and leaving the boat to steer
itself, which it did, circling in various directions, and finally
lowered me gently up to my neck in ice-water, and then went
pirouetting out of our reach, leaving me incased in an armour
of ice, and you wildly anxious about the recovery of Grandma's

" It was about this time, in '53, that Alexander and you and I
went on a fishing venture to Canarsie and got stuck in the middle
of Rockaway Bay, and only got loose at eleven P. M., when we
made for the beach and secured a night's lodging in a fisherman's
inn built on piles. You will recall the fish-stories we heard during
the balance of the night, the long rooms with the beds on the floor,
where the weary sailors lay stretched, our bath in the ocean next
morning, our bill 18 cents each: supper, 6; lodging, 6;
breakfast, 6 which I like to recall in contrast with the cost


of present outings. I was never good on remembering dates,
never kept a journal, hence the kaleidoscopic impressions I am
giving you ; but I think it was about this time that the home in
Clinton Avenue was on the tapis, and your architectural ideas
first developed, and the quasi-Gothic cottage was in vogue ; we
were both full of it, and plan after plan was drawn and dis-
cussed, but whether your plans were approved and carried out,
I don't remember. It was probably this effort that led to your
going into an architect's office was n't Snooks the name ?

[Here he forgets the great part my dear mother took in the
planning of the house. The architects were Shugg and Beers
although I admit that Snooks is good.]

"Then you went to Sherbourne, to Matteson, where you met
Purdy and Joe Rhodes ; Joseph Lemuel with the religious father,
whom the son silenced with his clipping album about minister.
I made you a visit there of some weeks and was stung with the
artistic microbe which finally led to my trip to Paris with you
in 1856. That I will always remember, as well as the fun we all
had in Sherbourne with the canal-boat, and old stage-coach, and
the dear lassies, the Sherbourne band, etc., etc. Have you for-
gotten the forty-mile walk to Utica to hear Ole Bull play, and the
arrival dead tired an hour after the concert was over ? The habit
of exaggerating recollections to cater to the lovers of the marvel-
lous sometimes interferes with their exactitude ; perhaps we never
got there ; I am in doubt about it.

[We did get there in time, although I had forgotten that he
was along. It must have been so, for I remember the flashing
of a diamond in the butt of Ole Bull's bow.]

" Put this down as a fact ; we sailed from N. Y. to Havre
in June, 1856, on the Barcelona, with a screw-propeller, and a


tendency to roll that was exasperating to a weak stomach. An
eighteen days' trip on a sea as smooth as glass, with no ice at
the end of the sixth day, after which it required the finest skill
of the French cook to disguise the tainted flavour of the food.
Here we met Janin, pere, with his two sons whom he was taking
to Paris for their studies, the little English Captain, with his
joke about the Countess who was ill, etc., etc.

[The little English Captain's name was Mortalman, and the
seasick Countess was represented by an orange, a bottle, and a
napkin. This after-dinner trick I improved on by substituting
a seltzer syphon for the bottle, which comes in magnificently at
the psychological moment. Jules Janin was always receiving the
letters of the great Jules Janin, to the latter's disgust.]

"The game of Lansquenet that went on in the cabin with the
expert French officers and the rich( ?) Young Americans ; our ar-
rival in Paris ; our rooms ; yours and mine a long narrow room,
with our rich friend Joe in a swell room adjoining, in the Rue
Neuve Pigalle, Montmartre. Your discovery at two o'clock in the
morning of Rhodes' middle name, and our calling him at Seven
A. M. in unison, ' Joseph Lemuel ! Wake up ! ' That reminds
me that later, when you came on for the Fair, while at my home
in Hoboken we were talking about quite other matters, when you
suddenly said, 'Ben! I know what caused those mounds.'
'What?' I asked, knowing at once what you meant. 'Why,
trees that had been blown over and have left only their rotted

[It was also the great mass of earth lifted out of the ground
by the roots leaving always an unexplained fosse on one side
of the mysterious mound. Rooms at first in Notre Dame de
Lorette, afterwards Rue Pigalle.]


"Here is a synopsis of what is to come if of use to you. Cut-
ting out Hal, Jule Very, Hen Brown and your brother, by
means of an arrow and spool of thread, and sending messages
by means thereof to the girls across the way in St. Mark's Place.
Imitation silk stockings were painted on our bare feet encased
in patent-leather pumps rivalling our wealthy seniors."

The sequel of establishing communications with the girls
opposite I tell under the heading of the " Lover's Tryst," but
there is another sequel ; it is that Ben and I, who thought we were
so clever, found a piece of music in the girls' parlour from one
of the big boys, showing that they also had not been idle. How
did we get into the house on the footing of callers ? Nothing
more simple. The girls brought a friend to the Dusseldorf
Gallery, and after introducing him, he in turn introduced us to
the family in due form.

As to the wonderful painted stockings, they were a great suc-
cess, but were only worn one evening, and the colours fortunately
did not run.


.... * ,

: . < v :


Europe- -First Time



AND now before the boy starts out with his nice watch
and his new trunk (I have it yet) for Europe the first
time, the Old Man would say that there are two
lives we lead ; in one, we may be thrashing cannibals or be eaten
by them in our efforts to convert them to Christianity ; we may
be frizzling in the Tropics, or freezing in the Arctic Circle and
eating up the poor dogs who have helped us to the last; but
wherever we are, there is another life, the life of thought, which
goes on incessantly and which may have even in a tranquil
studio its adventures, its successes, its burdens, or its humiliat-
ing failures. And it is rather this last life the Old Man dwells on,
perhaps to the exclusion of much that would interest those who
want to know more about that lively and heated period called
Youth. I think a little careful reading between the lines will
discover traces enough of that time all through these Digressions,
- at least a proper proportion of it. In fact, if I keep on I may
come to a period which might properly be called that of Old Boy-
hood ; it sounds well and I may use it as a heading. But some-


how, in the foregoing I have not said what I started out to say.
A friend has just remarked that he wants to see more detail,

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 8 of 29)