A Reminiscence of the Back Settlements
by Mark Twain
“Now that corpse [said the undertaker, patting the folded hands of the 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, any way, in the 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 pint him for the tomb, and mark him C. O. D., and just let him skip along. He warn’t distressed any more than you be–on the contrary just as carm 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 doorplate 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’ round. You never see such a clear head as what he had–and so carm and so cool. Just 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, simple-minded 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 a minister stand up behind a long box with a tablecloth over it 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–it was 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 a 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.