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Vagabond Adventures

Vagabond Adventures
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Author: Keeler Ralph
Title: Vagabond Adventures
Release Date: 2019-02-28
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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{i}

VAGABOND ADVENTURES.

BY

RALPH KEELER.



BOSTON:
FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO.

1870.{ii}
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870,
BY RALPH KEELER,
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co.,
Cambridge.


TO
My old Friend
EDWARD P. BASSETT, Esq.,
 

This book is affectionately inscribed, with the wish, which is hardly ahope, that the public may take my Life half as easily and good-naturedlyas he takes his own.

R. K.

{iv} 

{v} 

CONTENTS.

BOOK I.
AMONG WHARVES AND CABINS.
Æt. 11.
CHAPTER I.
Prefatory11
CHAPTER II.
Family Matters14
CHAPTER III.
A Fugitive23
CHAPTER IV.
A Stormy Time34
CHAPTER V.
A Boy’s Paradise47
CHAPTER VI.{vi}
The Contumely of Captains54
CHAPTER VII.
Almost a Tragedy62
CHAPTER VIII.
Taken Prisoner71
CHAPTER IX.
Squalor80
CHAPTER X.
A Final Triumph90
BOOK II.
THREE YEARS AS A NEGRO-MINSTREL.
Æt. 12-15.
CHAPTER I.
My First Company101
CHAPTER II.
I become a Beneficiary108
CHAPTER III.
The Fate of the Serenaders116
CHAPTER IV.{vii}
The Trials and Triumphs of the “Booker Troupe”129
CHAPTER V.
The Last of the “Booker Troupe”145
CHAPTER VI.
The Mitchells156
CHAPTER VII.
On the Floating Palace173
CHAPTER VIII.
Wild Life187
CHAPTER IX.
The Performer Socially205
CHAPTER X.
Adieu to the Stage214
BOOK III.
THE TOUR OF EUROPE FOR $181 INCURRENCY.
Æt. 20-22.
CHAPTER I.
Starting on a Cattle-Train223
CHAPTER II.{viii}
Taking to European Ways230
CHAPTER III.
Student Life and Wanderings242
CHAPTER IV.
A Fight with Famine254
CHAPTER V.
The Conclusion266

{9}

BOOK I.
AMONG WHARVES AND CABINS.
Æt. 11.

{11}{10}

CHAPTER I.
PREFATORY.

IT is an odd sort of fortune to have lived an out-of-the-way oradventurous life. There is always a temptation to tell of it, and notalways a reasonable surety that others share the interest in it of theconteur himself. It would, indeed, be a nice problem in thedescriptive geometry of narrative to determine the exact point where thelines of the two interests meet,—that of the narrator and that of thepeople who have to endure the narration. I cannot say that I ever hopeto solve this problem; and in the present instance, especially, I wouldwith due respect submit its solution to the acuter intellects of others.

This little book is intended to contain a plain sketch of my personalhistory up to the close of my twenty-second year. The autobiographicalform is used, not because of any supposed interest of the public in thewriter himself, but{12} because there does not seem to be any other way inwhich a connected account of the adventures can well be given.

No one, I think, can be more sensible than I am that my story is nothingif not true. Hume has wisely said, “A man cannot speak long of himselfwithout vanity.” I should like to be allowed to add that I have neverknown or conceived of a person—except probably the reader and writer ofthese pages—who could talk five minutes about himself without—lying.That is, to be sure, reducing the thing to mathematical exactness. Anoverestimating smile, or an underestimating shrug of the shoulders, or atone of the voice even, will always—though sometimes inadvertently—

“leave it still unsaid in part,
Or say it in too great excess.”

While this is not so applicable to written history, still in the face ofhyperbolic and bathetic possibilities I owe it to myself to premise thatI am going to be more than ordinarily truthful in this autobiography.

And there is certainly some merit in telling the truth, for it is hardwork when one is his{13} own hero, and not what is sometimes termed a moralhero at that. I can too, I may add, claim this single merit from thestart, with a meekness almost bordering on honesty; since it happensthat I am forced to be veracious by the fact that there are scores ofpeople yet in the prime of life who are cognizant of the main events ofthe ensuing narrative.{14}

CHAPTER II.
FAMILY MATTERS.

IT may be laid down as a general principle, to start with, that a boyhad better not run away from home. Good and pious reasons are notwanting, and might be here adduced, in substantiation of this generalprinciple. Some trite moralizing might be done just now, in a gravestatement that an urchin needs not run away into the world after itstroubles, since they will come running to him soon enough, and that ahome is the last fortress weary men build (and oftentimes place in theirwives’ names) against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.Why, therefore, it may be asked, with overwhelming conviction to theadult,—who, by the way, is not supposed to be one of the congregationof the present preaching,—why, therefore, should the juvenile fugitivehasten unduly to leave what all the effort of his after life will be toregain?{15}

Thus having done my duty by any boy of a restless disposition who maychance to read these memoirs and be influenced by my vagrant example, Iproceed to state that I ran away from home at the mature age of eleven,and have not been back, to stay over night, from that remote period tothis present writing.

It is due, however, to both of us,—the home and myself,—to observethat it was not a very attractive hearth that I ran from. My father andmother were dead, and no brothers or sisters of mine werethere,—nothing at all, indeed, like affection, but something very muchlike its opposite. On the whole, I think, under exactly the samecircumstances, I would run away again.

But I hope this remark will not lead the thoughtless reader to assumethat I am not of a respectable family; no well-regulated memoir could bewritten without one. A “respectable family” has long since become theacknowledged starting-point, and not unfrequently the scapegoat, of yourconventional autobiography. A posteriori, therefore, ourrespectability is established from the very fact that there is anautobiographer in the family.{16}

When, however, a great truth has once been discovered, it is always easyto find many paths of proof converging toward it. When Kepler, forinstance, by some strange guess or inspiration, hit upon the colossalfact that the planets move in elliptical orbits, it was comparatively aneasy thing,—or should have been, to make this scientific parallelcorrect,—to come at half a dozen proofs of it in the simple propertiesof the conic sections. Thus, too, fortunately for us, the respectabilityof our family can be proved in many ways, and even, like Kepler’s Laws,by mathematics itself. Nay, our proofs can be, and indeed are,established by common arithmetical notation and numeration; because themembers of our family are generally rich.

This is manifestly an unusual advantage for an autobiographer, since, asis well known, he almost invariably comes of “poor but honest parents.”And there is no little pride mixed with the candor with which I boast,that I am to this day, pecuniarily, the poorest of my race.

The devious course of my wanderings, as a youthful negro-minstrel and asthe European tourist of one hundred and eighty-one paper dol{17}lars, leftme in the early part of my life no time or inclination to look into suchcommonplaces as the matters of my inheritance. It was but a week agothat I rode over the broad Ohio prairie where I was born, and passed bythe pleasant farms which, with the broad prairie, were the patrimonyleft to me,—or, I should say, to the kind gentlemen who administeredthem for me. That property has never been any care to me. It was sothoroughly administered during my minority that I have never since hadthe trouble even of collecting rents.

Now there may be people, of a recklessly imaginative type, who supposeit would excite a pleasurable thrill to ride thus over a great prairiewhich bears one’s own name, but no more tangible emolument for thequondam heir; and there may be people of so aspiring mentalconstitutions as to think it a grateful, rollicking piece of vanity topass unrecognized through a town which was once sold by one’s ownadministrator for fifty-two dollars: but I am free to confess that Ihave endured these honors within the past week, and have carried nothingaway with me, in the matter of gratification or sentiment, but a dash ofthe{18} sadness which has settled about the wreck and ruin of the oldhomestead.

Nothing seems to thrive there but the cold-spring at the foot of thesand-ridge, and the poplar and weeping-willow which grow above it. Thesetrees had and have for me a plaintive undertone to the rhythm of theirrustling leaves which I do not hope to make others hear. The willow wasthe whip with which a friend rode twenty miles from the county-seat tovisit my father, in the early times, and it was stuck in the groundthere, on the margin of the spring, by my little sister; the poplar wasplanted beside it by my mother. They are both tall trees now, and asprig from one of them has been growing a long time over the graves offather, mother, and sister.

 

At an early stage of my existence and of my orphanage I was introducedto a species of in transitu life, being passed from one naturalguardian to another very much as wood is loaded upon Mississippisteamboats. It was, indeed, rather a rough passage of shortstages,—each, however, more remote from my Ohio birthplace;{19} and I havealways thought there would not have been so many figurative slivers leftbehind in the hands through which I passed, if the passage had not beenso rough and headlong. Finally, at the age of eight or nine years, I wasshipped away to Buffalo, N. Y., to be placed at school.

I was sent thither down Lake Erie from Toledo, on board the old steamerIndiana, Captain Appleby commanding. Many are yet living, I suppose, whowill remember this craft,—the first of the kind upon which I everembarked. For my part, at least, I think I shall forget everything elsebefore I forget the noble sheet-iron Indian who stood astride of hersolitary smoke-stack, and bent his bow and pointed his arrow at the lakebreezes. A meagre brass-band, too, as was the generous custom of thosedays, was attached to the steamer, and discoursed thin, gratuitous musicduring the voyage. To a more sophisticated gaze the attenuated, besmokedbrave of my juvenile rapture would, alas! have looked more like anindifferent silhouette plastered belligerently against the sky; but itwas the first piece of statuary I ever saw, as that execrable brass bandmade the first concert I ever{20} heard, and the Apollo Belvedere, at Rome,or Strauss’s own orchestra, led by himself, at Vienna, has never sinceexcited in me such honest thrills of admiration. It was many and many amonth before that swarthy sheet-iron Indian ceased occasionally to sailat night through a mingled cloud of coal-smoke and brass music, in myboyish dreams.

The lake was remarkably calm, and the entire passage to Buffalo was foryears one of my pleasantest memories. On that first voyage, undoubtedly,was engendered the early love of steamboats, the fruit of which ripenedsoon afterward into the adventures I am about to relate. Nothing, I amconvinced, but this boundless affection for the species of craft inquestion enables me

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