Humorous misunderstandings were one of many effective devices Mark Twain used in his writings. This piece does more than simply entertain us through the use of misunderstandings. Twain makes us chuckle while revealing attitudes and life styles of American’s southwest during the 1800’s.

Mark Twain's Nevada Funeral
Scotty Briggs and the Clergyman

Mark Twain Nevada Funeral

Scotty Briggs choked and even shed tears; but with an effort he mastered his voice and said in mournful tones to the clergyman:

“Are you the duck that runs the gospel-mill next door?”

“Am I the---pardon me, I believe I do not understand.”

With another sigh and half-sob, Scotty rejoined:

“Why you see we are in a bit of trouble, and the boys thought maybe you would give us a lift, if we’d tackle you---that is, if I’ve got the rights of it and you are the head clerk of the hymnal-works next door.”

“I am the shepherd in charge of the flock whose fold is next door.”

“The which?”

“The spiritual adviser of the little company of believers whose sanctuary adjoins these premises.”

Scotty scratched his head, reflected a moment, and then said:

“You ruther hold over me, pard. I reckon I can’t call that hand. Ante and pass the buck.”

“How? I beg pardon. What did I understand you to say?”

“Well, you’ve ruther got the bulge on me. Or maybe we’ve both got the bulge somehow. You don’t smoke me and I don’t smoke you. You see, one of the boys has passed in his checks and we want to give him a good send-off, and so the thing I’m on now is to roust out somebody to jerk a little chin-music for us and waltz him through handsome.”

“My friend, I seem to grow more and more bewildered. Your observations are wholly incomprehensible to me. Cannot you simplify them in some way? At first I thought perhaps I understood you, but I grope now. Would it not expedite matters if you restricted yourself to categorical statements of fact unencumbered with obstructing accumulations of metaphor and allegory?”

Another pause, and more reflection. Then, said Scotty:

“I’ll have to pass, I judge.”


“You have raised me out, pard.”

“I still fail to catch your meaning.”

“Why, that last lead of yourn is too many for me---that’s the idea. I can’t neither trump nor follow suit.”

The Clergyman sank back in his chair perplexed. Scotty leaned his head on his hand and gave himself up to thought. Presently his face came up, sorrowful but confident.

“I’ve got it now, so’s you can savvy,” he said. “What we want is a gospel-sharp. See?”

“A what?”

“Gospel-sharp. Parson.”

“Oh! Why did you not say so before? I am a clergyman---a parson.”

“Now you talk! You see my blind and straddle it like a man. Put it there!”—extending a brawny paw, which closed over the minister’s small hand and gave it a shake indicative of fraternal sympathy and fervent gratification.

“Now we’re all right, pard. Let’s start fresh. Don’t you mind my snuffling a little---becuz we’re in a power of trouble. You see one of the boys has gone up the flume---“

“Gone where?”

“Up the flume---throwed up the sponge, you understand,”

“Throwed up the sponge?”

“Yes---kicked the bucket---“

“Ah!---has departed to that mysterious country from whose bourne no traveler returns.”

“Return! I reckon not. Why pard, he’s dead!

“Yes, I understand.”

“Oh, you do? Well I thought maybe you might be getting tangled some more. Yes, you see he’s dead again---

Again? Why, has he ever been dead before?”

“Dead before? No! Do you reckon a man has got as many lives as a cat? But you bet you he’s awful dead now, poor old boy, and I wish I’d never seen this day. I don’t want no better friend than Buck Fanshaw. I knowed him by the back; and when I know a man like him, I freeze to him---you hear me. Take him all round, pard, there never was a bullier man in the mines. No man ever knowed Buck Fanshaw to go back on a friend. But it’s all up, you know, it’s all up. It ain’t no use. They’ve scooped him.”

“Scooped him?”

“Yes---death has. Well, well, well, we’ve got to give him up. Yes, indeed. It’s kind of a hard world, after all, ain’t it? But pard, he was a rustler! You ought to see him get started once. He was a bully boy with a glass eye! Just spit in his face and give him room according to his strength, and it was just beautiful to see him peel and go in. He was the worst son of a thief that ever drawed breath. Pard, he was on it! He was on it bigger than an Injun!”

“On it? On what?”

“On the shoot. On the shoulder. On the fight, you understand. He didn’t give a continental for anybody. Beg your pardon, friend, for coming so near saying a cuss-word---but you see I’m on an awful strain, in this palaver, on account of having to camp down and draw everything so mild. But we’ve got to give him up. There ain’t any getting around that I don’t reckon. Now if we can get you to help plant him---“

“Preach the funeral discourse? Assist at the obsequies?”

“Obs-quies is good. Yes. That’s it---that’s our little game. We are going to get the thing up regardless, you know. He was always nifty himself, and so you bet you his funeral ain’t going to be no slouch---solid silver door-plate on his coffin, six plumes on the hearse, and a driver on the box in a boiled shirt and a plug hat---how’s that for high? And we’ll take care of you, pard. We’ll fix you all right. There’ll be a kerridge for you; and whatever you want, you just ‘scape out and we’ll tend to it. We’ve got a shebang fixed up for you to stand behind, in No. 1’s house, and don’t you be afraid. Just go in and toot your horn, if you don’t’ sell a clam. Put Buck through as bully as you can, pard, for anybody that knowed him will tell you that he was one of the grandest men that was ever in the mines.

“You can’t draw it too strong. He never could stand it to see things going wrong. He’s done more to make this town quiet and peaceable than any man in it. I’ve seen him lick four toughs in eleven minutes, myself. If a thing wanted regulating, he wasn’t a man to go browsing around after somebody to do it, but he would prance in and regulate it himself. He warn’t a Catholic. Scasely. He was down on ‘em. His word was, ‘No Irish need apply!’ But it didn’t make no difference about that when it came down to what a man’s rights was---and so, when some roughs jumped the Catholic bone-yard and started in to stake out town lots in it he went for ‘em! And he cleaned ‘im, too! I was there, pard, and I seen it myself.”

“That was very well, indeed---at least the impulse was---whether the act was strictly defensible or not. Had deceased any religious convictions? That is to say, did he feel a dependence upon, or acknowledge allegiance to a higher power?”

More reflection.

“I reckon you’ve stumped me again, pard. Could you say it over once more, and say it slow?”

“Well, to simplify it somewhat, was he, or rather had he ever been connected with any organization sequestered from secular concerns and devoted to self-sacrifice in the interests of morality?”

“All down but nine---set ‘em up on the other alley, pard.”

“What did I understand you to say?”

“Why, you’re most too many for me, you know. When you get in with your left I hunt grass every time. Every time you draw you fill; but I don’t seem to have any luck. Let’s have a new deal.”

“How? Begin again?”

“That’s it.”

“Very well. Was he a good man, and---“

“There---I see that; don’t put up another chip till I look at my hand. A good man, says you? Pard, it ain’t no name for it. He was the best man that ever---pard, you would have doted on that man. He was always for peace, and he would have peace---he could not stand disturbances. Pard, he was a great loss to this town. It would please the boys if you could chip in something like that and do him justice. Here once when the Catholics got to throwing stones through the Methodist Sunday school windows, Buck Fanshaw, all of his own notion, shut up his saloon and took a couple of six-shooters and mounted guard over the Sunday school. Says he, “No Irish need apply!” And they didn’t. He was the bulliest man in the mountains, pard! He could run faster, jump higher, hit harder, and hold more tangle-foot whisky without spilling it than any man in seventeen counties. Put that in, pard---it’ll please the boys more than anything you could say. And you can say, pard, that he never shook his mother.”

“Never shook his mother?”

“That’s it---any of the boys will tell you so.”

“Well, but why should he shake her?”

“That’s what I say---but some people does.”

“Not people of any repute.”

“Well, some that averages pretty so-so.”

“In my opinion the man that would offer personal violence to his own mother ought to---“

“Cheese it, pard; you’ve banked your ball clean outside the string. What I was a drivin’ at was that he never throwed off on his mother---don’t you see? No, indeedy! He gave her a house to live in, and town lots, and plenty of money; and he looked after her and took care of her all the time; and when she was down with the small-pox, I’m damned if he didn’t set up nights and nuss her himself! Beg your pardon for saying damned, but it hopped out too quick for yours truly. You’ve treated me like a gentleman, pard, and I ain’t the man to hurt your feelings intentional. I think you’re upstanding. I think you’re a square man, pard. I like you, and I’ll lick any man that don’t. I’ll lick him till he can’t tell himself from a last year’s corpse! Put it there!

And with another, vigorous fraternal hand-shake, Scotty Briggs exited.

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