A Scapegoat for Promiscuous Drunks, Friendly Calls, and Humbug Resolutions

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From Mark Twain’s January 1st, 1863 column in the Territorial Enterprise:

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

“The Undertaker’s Chat” — Mark Twain

“Now that corpse,” said the undertaker, patting the folded hands of deceased approvingly, “was a brick—every way you took him he was a brick. He was so real accommodating, and so modest-like and simple in his last moments. Friends wanted metallic burial-case—nothing else would do. I couldn’t get it. There warn’t going to be time—anybody could see that.

“Corpse said never mind, shake him up some kind of a box he could stretch out in comfortable, he warn’t particular ’bout the general style of it. Said he went more on room than style, anyway in a last final container.

“Friends wanted a silver door-plate on the coffin, signifying who he was and wher’ he was from. Now you know a fellow couldn’t roust out such a gaily thing as that in a little country-town like this. What did corpse say?

“Corpse said, whitewash his old canoe and dob his address and general destination onto it with a blacking-brush and a stencil-plate, ‘long with a verse from some likely hymn or other, and p’int him for the tomb, and mark him C. O. D., and just let him flicker. He warn’t distressed any more than you be—on the contrary, just as ca’m and collected as a hearse-horse; said he judged that wher’ he was going to a body would find it considerable better to attract attention by a picturesque moral character than a natty burial-case with a swell door-plate on it.

“Splendid man, he was. I’d druther do for a corpse like that ‘n any I’ve tackled in seven year. There’s some satisfaction in buryin’ a man like that. You feel that what you’re doing is appreciated. Lord bless you, so’s he got planted before he sp’iled, he was perfectly satisfied; said his relations meant well, perfectly well, but all them preparations was bound to delay the thing more or less, and he didn’t wish to be kept layin’ around. You never see such a clear head as what he had—and so ca’m and so cool. Jist a hunk of brains—that is what he was. Perfectly awful. It was a ripping distance from one end of that man’s head to t’other. Often and over again he’s had brain-fever a-raging in one place, and the rest of the pile didn’t know anything about it—didn’t affect it any more than an Injun Insurrection in Arizona affects the Atlantic States. Well, the relations they wanted a big funeral, but corpse said he was down on flummery—didn’t want any procession—fill the hearse full of mourners, and get out a stern line and tow him behind. He was the most down on style of any remains I ever struck. A beautiful, simpleminded creature—it was what he was, you can depend on that. He was just set on having things the way he wanted them, and he took a solid comfort in laying his little plans. He had me measure him and take a whole raft of directions; then he had the minister stand up behind a long box with a table-cloth over it, to represent the coffin, and read his funeral sermon, saying ‘Angcore, angcore!’ at the good places, and making him scratch out every bit of brag about him, and all the hifalutin; and then he made them trot out the choir, so’s he could help them pick out the tunes for the occasion, and he got them to sing ‘Pop Goes the Weasel,’ because he’d always liked that tune when he was downhearted, and solemn music made him sad; and when they sung that with tears in their eyes (because they all loved him), and his relations grieving around, he just laid there as happy as a bug, and trying to beat time and showing all over how much he enjoyed it; and presently he got worked up and excited, and tried to join in, for, mind you, he was pretty proud of his abilities in the singing line; but the first time he opened his mouth and was just going to spread himself his breath took a walk.

“I never see a man snuffed out so sudden. Ah, it was a great loss—a powerful loss to this poor little one-horse town. Well, well, well, I hain’t got time to be palavering along here—got to nail on the lid and mosey along with him; and if you’ll just give me a lift we’ll skeet him into the hearse and meander along. Relations bound to have it so—don’t pay no attention to dying injunctions, minute a corpse’s gone; but, if I had my way, if I didn’t respect his last wishes and tow him behind the hearse I’ll be cuss’d. I consider that whatever a corpse wants done for his comfort is little enough matter, and a man hain’t got no right to deceive him or take advantage of him; and whatever a corpse trusts me to do I’m a-going to do, you know, even if it’s to stuff him and paint him yaller and keep him for a keepsake—you hear me!”

He cracked his whip and went lumbering away with his ancient ruin of a hearse, and I continued my walk with a valuable lesson learned—that a healthy and wholesome cheerfulness is not necessarily impossible to any occupation. The lesson is likely to be lasting, for it will take many months to obliterate the memory of the remarks and circumstances that impressed it.

By Mark Twain. From Sketches New and Old.

Mark Twain, Walmart Greeter

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From Mike Mitchell’s Just Like Us series.

“Hunting the Deceitful Turkey” — Mark Twain

“Hunting the Deceitful Turkey” — Mark Twain

When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time. I was not able to hit anything with it, but I liked to try. Fred and I hunted feathered small game, the others hunted deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, and such things. My uncle and the big boys were good shots. They killed hawks and wild geese and such like on the wing; and they didn’t wound or kill squirrels, they stunned them. When the dogs treed a squirrel, the squirrel would scamper aloft and run out on a limb and flatten himself along it, hoping to make himself invisible in that way—and not quite succeeding. You could see his wee little ears sticking up. You couldn’t see his nose, but you knew where it was. Then the hunter, despising a “rest” for his rifle, stood up and took offhand aim at the limb and sent a bullet into it immediately under the squirrel’s nose, and down tumbled the animal, unwounded, but unconscious; the dogs gave him a shake and he was dead. Sometimes when the distance was great and the wind not accurately allowed for, the bullet would hit the squirrel’s head; the dogs could do as they pleased with that one—the hunter’s pride was hurt, and he wouldn’t allow it to go into the gamebag.

In the first faint gray of the dawn the stately wild turkeys would be stalking around in great flocks, and ready to be sociable and answer invitations to come and converse with other excursionists of their kind. The hunter concealed himself and imitated the turkey-call by sucking the air through the leg-bone of a turkey which had previously answered a call like that and lived only just long enough to regret it. There is nothing that furnishes a perfect turkey-call except that bone. Another of Nature’s treacheries, you see. She is full of them; half the time she doesn’t know which she likes best—to betray her child or protect it. In the case of the turkey she is badly mixed: she gives it a bone to be used in getting it into trouble, and she also furnishes it with a trick for getting itself out of the trouble again. When a mamma-turkey answers an invitation and finds she has made a mistake in accepting it, she does as the mamma-partridge does—remembers a previous engagement—and goes limping and scrambling away, pretending to be very lame; and at the same time she is saying to her not-visible children, “Lie low, keep still, don’t expose yourselves; I shall be back as soon as I have beguiled this shabby swindler out of the country.”

When a person is ignorant and confiding, this immoral device can have tiresome results. I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of the United States one morning, because I believed in her and could not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was trusting her and considering her honest. I had the single-barrelled shotgun, but my idea was to catch her alive. I often got within rushing distance of her, and then made my rush; but always, just as I made my final plunge and put my hand down where her back had been, it wasn’t there; it was only two or three inches from there and I brushed the tail-feathers as I landed on my stomach—a very close call, but still not quite close enough; that is, not close enough for success, but just close enough to convince me that I could do it next time. She always waited for me, a little piece away, and let on to be resting and greatly fatigued; which was a lie, but I believed it, for I still thought her honest long after I ought to have begun to doubt her, suspecting that this was no way for a high-minded bird to be acting. I followed, and followed, and followed, making my periodical rushes, and getting up and brushing the dust off, and resuming the voyage with patient confidence; indeed, with a confidence which grew, for I could see by the change of climate and vegetation that we were getting up into the high latitudes, and as she always looked a little tireder and a little more discouraged after each rush, I judged that I was safe to win, in the end, the competition being purely a matter of staying power and the advantage lying with me from the start because she was lame.

Along in the afternoon I began to feel fatigued myself. Neither of us had had any rest since we first started on the excursion, which was upwards of ten hours before, though latterly we had paused awhile after rushes, I letting on to be thinking about something else; but neither of us sincere, and both of us waiting for the other to call game but in no real hurry about it, for indeed those little evanescent snatches of rest were very grateful to the feelings of us both; it would naturally be so, skirmishing along like that ever since dawn and not a bite in the meantime; at least for me, though sometimes as she lay on her side fanning herself with a wing and praying for strength to get out of this difficulty a grasshopper happened along whose time had come, and that was well for her, and fortunate, but I had nothing—nothing the whole day.

More than once, after I was very tired, I gave up taking her alive, and was going to shoot her, but I never did it, although it was my right, for I did not believe I could hit her; and besides, she always stopped and posed, when I raised the gun, and this made me suspicious that she knew about me and my marksmanship, and so I did not care to expose myself to remarks.

I did not get her, at all. When she got tired of the game at last, she rose from almost under my hand and flew aloft with the rush and whir of a shell and lit on the highest limb of a great tree and sat down and crossed her legs and smiled down at me, and seemed gratified to see me so astonished.

I was ashamed, and also lost; and it was while wandering the woods hunting for myself that I found a deserted log cabin and had one of the best meals there that in my life-days I have eaten. The weed-grown garden was full of ripe tomatoes, and I ate them ravenously, though I had never liked them before. Not more than two or three times since have I tasted anything that was so delicious as those tomatoes. I surfeited myself with them, and did not taste another one until I was in middle life. I can eat them now, but I do not like the look of them. I suppose we have all experienced a surfeit at one time or another. Once, in stress of circumstances, I ate part of a barrel of sardines, there being nothing else at hand, but since then I have always been able to get along without sardines.

 

“Everything human is pathetic” (Mark Twain)

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Twain & Einstein in “Good Grief! Still More Wuthering Heights” (Mike Kupperman)

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(Via/more).

“The Story of the Ram” — Mark Twain

“The Story of the Old Ram” by Mark Twain

Every now and then, in these days, the boys used to tell me I ought to get one Jim Blaine to tell me the stirring story of his grandfather’s old ram but they always added that I must not mention the matter unless Jim was drunk at the time just comfortably and sociably drunk. They kept this up until my curiosity was on the rack to hear the story. I got to haunting Blaine; but it was of no use, the boys always found fault with his condition; he was often moderately but never satisfactorily drunk. I never watched a man’s condition with such absorbing interest, such anxious solicitude; I never so pined to see a man uncompromisingly drunk before. At last, one evening I hurried to his cabin, for I learned that this time his situation was such that even the most fastidious could find no fault with it he was tranquilly, serenely, symmetrically drunk not a hiccup to mar his voice, not a cloud upon his brain thick enough to obscure his memory. As I entered, he was sitting upon an empty powder-keg, with a clay pipe in one hand and the other raised to command silence. His face was round, red, and very serious; his throat was bare and his hair tumbled; in general appearance and costume he was a stalwart miner of the period. On the pine table stood a candle, ar~d its dim light revealed “the boys” sitting here and there on bunks, candle-boxes, powder-kegs, etc. They said:

“Sh ! Don’t speak he’s going to commence.”

THE STORY OF THE OLD RAM

I found a seat at once, and Blaine said:

“I don’t reckon them times will ever come again. There never was a more burlier old ram than what he was. Grandfather fetched him from Illinois got him of a man by the name of Yates Bill Yates maybe you might have heard of him; his father was a deacon Baptist and he was a rustler, too; a man had to get up rusher early to get the start of old Thankful Yates; it was him that put the Greens up to jining teams with my grandfather when he moved West. Seth Green was prob’ly the pick of the flock; he married a Wilkerson Sarah Wilkerson good cretur, she was one of the likeliest heifers that was ever raised in old Stoddard, everybody said that knowed her. She could heft a bar’l of flour as easy as I can flirt a flapjack. And spin? Don’t mention it! Independent? Humph! When Sile Hawkins come abrowsing around her, she let him know that for all his tin he couldn’t trot in harness alongside of her. You see, Sile Hawkins was no, it warn’s Sile Hawkins, after all it was a galoot by the name of Filkins I disremember his first name; but he was a stump come into pra’r meeting drunk, one night, hooraying for Nixon, becuz he thought it was a primary; and old deacon Ferguson up and scooted him through the window and he lit on old Miss Jefferson’s head, poor old filly. She was a good soul had a glass eye and used to lend it to old Miss Wagner, that hadn’t any, to receive company in; it warn’s big enough, and when Miss Wagner warn’s noticing, it would get twisted around in the socket, and look up, maybe, or out to one side, and every which way, while t’other one was looking as straight ahead as a spyglass. Grown people didn’t mind it, but it most always made the children cry, it was so sort of scary. She tried packing it in raw cotton, but it wouldn’t work, somehow the cotton would get loose and stick out and look so kind of awful that the children couldn’t stand it no way. She was always dropping it out, and turning up her old dead-light on the company empty, and making them oncomfortable, becuz she never could tell when it hopped out, being blind on that side, you see. So somebody would have to hunch her and say, ‘Your game eye has fetched loose, Miss Wagner dear’ and then all of them would have to sit and wait till she jammed it in again wrong side before, as a general thing, and green as a bird’s egg, being a bashful cretur and easy sot back before company. But being wrong side before warn’s much fetched him from Illinois got him of a man by the name of Yates Bill Yates maybe you might have heard of him; his father was a deacon Baptist and he was a rustler, too; a man had to get up rusher early to get the start of old Thankful Yates; it was him that put the Greens up to jining teams with my grandfather when he moved West. Seth Green was prob’ly the pick of the flock; he married a Wilkerson Sarah Wilkerson good cretur, she was one of the likeliest heifers that was ever raised in old Stoddard, everybody said that knowed her. She could heft a bar’l of flour as easy as I can flirt a flapjack. And spin? Don’t mention it! Independent? Humph! When Sile Hawkins come a- browsing around her, she let him know that for all his tin he couldn’t trot in harness alongside of her. You see, Sile Hawkins was no, it warn’s Sile Hawkins, after all it was a galoot by the name of Filkins I disremember his first name; but he was a stump come into pra’r meeting drunk, one night, hooraying for Nixon, becuz he thought it was a primary; and old deacon Ferguson up and scooted him through the window and he lit on old Miss Jefferson’s head, poor old filly. She was a good soul had a glass eye and used to lend it to old Miss Wagner, that hadn’t any, to receive company in; it warn’s big enough, and when Miss Wagner warn’s noticing, it would get twisted around in the socket, and look up, maybe, or out to one side, and every which way, while t’other one was looking as straight ahead as a spyglass. Grown people didn’t mind it, but it most always made the children cry, it was so sort of scary. She tried packing it in raw cotton, but it wouldn’t work, somehow the cotton would get loose and stick out and look so kind of awful that the children couldn’t stand it no way. She was always dropping it out, and turning up her old dead-light on the company empty, and making them oncomfortable, becuz she never could tell when it hopped out, being blind on that side, you see. So somebody would have to hunch her and say, ‘Your game eye has fetched loose, Miss Wagner dear’ and then all of them would have to sit and wait till she jammed it in again wrong side before, as a general thing, and green as a bird’s egg, being a bashful cretur and easy sot back before company. But being wrong side before warn’s much difference, anyway, becuz her own eye was sky-blue and the glass one was yeller on the front side, so whichever way she turned it it didn’t match nohow. Old Miss Wagner was considerable on the borrow, she was. When she had a quilting, or Dorcas S’iety at her house she gen’ally borrowed Miss Higgins’s wooden leg to stump around on, it was considerable shorter than her other pin, but much she minded that. She said she couldn’t abide crutches when she had company, becuz they were so slow; said when she had company and things had to be done, she wanted to get up and hump herself. She was as bald as a jug, and so she used to borrow Miss Jacops’s wig Miss Jacops was the coffin-peddler’s wife a ratty old buzzard, he was, that used to go roosting around where people was sick, waiting for ’em; and there that old rip would sit all day, in the shade, on a coffin that he judged would fit the can’idate; and if it was a slow customer and kind of uncertain, he’d fetch his rations and a blanket along and sleep in the coffin nights. He was anchored out that way, in frosty weather, for about three weeks, once, before old Robbins’s place, waiting for him; and after that, for as much as two years, Jacops was not on speaking terms with the old man, on account of his disapp’inting him. He got one of his feet froze, and lost money, too, becuz old Robbins took a favorable turn and got well. The next time Robbins got sick, Jacops tried to make up with him, and varnished up the same old coffin and fetched it along; but old Robbins was too many for him; he had him in, and ‘pe…red to be powerful weak; he bought the coffin for ten dollars and Jacops was to pay it back and twenty-five more besides if Robbins didn’t like the coffin after he’d tried it. And then Robbins died, and at the funeral he bursted off the lid and riz up in his shroud and told the parson to let up on the performances, becuz he could not stand such a coffin as that. You see he had been in a trance once before, when he was young, and he took the chances on another, cal’lating that if he made the trip it was money in his pocket, and if he missed fire he couldn’t lose a cent. And by George he sued Jacops for the rhino and got jedgment; and he set up the coffin in his back parlor and said he ‘lowed to take his time, now. It was always an aggravation to Jacops, the way that miserable old thing acted. He moved back to Indiany pretty soon went to Wellsville Wellsville was the place the Hogadorns was from. Mighty fine family. Old Maryland stock. Old Squire Hogadorn could carry around more mixed licker, and cuss better than most any man I ever see. His second wife was the widder Billings she that was Becky Martin; her dam was deacon Dunlap’s first wife. Her oldest child, Maria, married a missionary and died in grace et up by the savages. They et him, too, poor feller biled him. It warn’s the custom, so they say, but they explained to friends of his’n that went down there to bring away his things, that they’d tried missionaries every other way and never could get any good out of ’em and so it annoyed all his relations to find out that that man’s life was fooled away just out of a dern’d experiment, so to speak. But mind you, there ain’t anything ever reely lost; everything that people can’t understand and don’t see the reason of does good if you only hold on and give it a fair shake; Prov’dence don’t fire no blank ca’tridges, boys. That there missionary’s substance, unbeknowns to himself, actu’ly converted every last one of them heathens that took a chance at the barbecue. Nothing ever fetched them but that. Don’t tell me it was an accident that he was biled. There ain’t no such a thing as an accident. When my uncle Lem was leaning up agin a scaffolding once, sick, or drunk, or suthin, an Irishman with a hod full of bricks fell on him out of the third story and broke the old man’s back in two places. People said ir was an accident. Much accident there was about that. He didn’t know what he was there for, but he was there for a good object. If he hadn’t been there the Irishman would have been killed. Nobody can ever make me believe anything different from that. Uncle Lem’s dog was there. Why didn’t the Irishman fall on the dog? Becuz the dog would a seen him a-coming and stood from under. That’s the reason the dog warn’s appinted. A dog can’t be depended on to carry out a special providence. Mark my words it was a put-up thing. Accidents don’t happen, boys. Uncle Lem’s dog I wish you could a seen that dog. He was a reglar shepherd or rusher he was part bull and part shepherd splendid animal; belonged to parson Hagar before Uncle Lem got him. Parson Hagar belonged to the Western Reserve Hagars; prime family; his mother was a Watson; one of his sisters married a Wheeler; they settled in Morgan County, and hŠ got nipped by the machinery in a carpet factory and went through in less than a quarter of a minute; his widder bought the piece of carpet that had his remains wove in, and people come a hundred mile to ‘tend the funeral. There was fourteen yards in the piece. She wouldn’t let them roll him up, but planted him just so full length. The church was middling small where they preached the funeral, and they had to let one end of the coffin stick out of the window. They didn’t bury him they planted one end, and let him stand up, same as a monument. And they nailed a sign on it and put put on put on it sacred to the m-e-m-o-r-y of fourteen y-a-r-d-s of three-ply car – – – pet containing all that was m-o-r-t-a-l of of W-i-l-l-i-a-m W-h-e ”

Jim Blaine had been growing gradually drowsy and drowsier his head nodded, once, twice, three times dropped peacefully upon his breast, and he fell tranquilly asleep. The tears were running down the boys’ cheeks they were suffocating with suppressed laughter and had been from the start, though I had never noticed it. I perceived that I was “sold.” I learned then that Jim Blaine’s peculiarity was that whenever he reached a certain stage of intoxication, no human power could keep him from setting out, with impressive unction, to tell about a wonderful adventure which he had once had with his grandfather’s old ram and the mention of the ram in the first sentence was as far as any man had ever heard him get, concerning it. He always maundered off, interminably, from one thing to another, till his whisky got the best of him and he fell asleep. What the thing was that happened to him and his grandfather’s old ram is a dark mystery to this day, for nobody has ever yet found out.