Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Why Mark Wouldn't Like to Die Abroad


Mark Twain cracked so many jokes, I thought I would entertain him a bit myself, and told him about an aunt of mine who, while dying, heard that she was going to lie in state in the green room.

"Not in the green room," said auntie. "I always hated that wall paper. Besides, it's unhealthy."

Twain admitted that was good fun, and regretted not having thought of the green paper himself.

"She must have been a fine old girl," he said, "to stand up for her rights even 'in extremis,' as the doctors call it."

"By the way," he continued, "every time I paddle the Atlantic I say to myself, 'Mark, old boy, don't die on this trip.' For, of course, folks have a foolish notion that one's bones must rest at home. Accordingly, if I died as United States consul in the Kingdom of Sheba—if there be such a place—Washington would have to send a warship to fetch my bones back to America. Again, if I died a plain citizen in London, I would be shipped back in an ordinary liner. But think of it. Before shipping my body, it would have to go into an undertaker's vault, and undertakers' cellars are dark and mildewed, and nasty smelling. By George, I wouldn't like to be in a cellar for a week or two. And afterwards they would place the casket in the hold of the ship with other boxes, and the rats come gnawing about, and perhaps the ocean looks in too and gives you a swim. No, it isn't pleasant to die abroad. I want to die at home, in bed and in comfort."

At another time Mark returned to the theme, saying:

"Remember my story about the body in the morgue? They couldn't make out whether the person was dead or merely shamming death, and so they put a bell-rope in the man's hand, and later, when the man awoke from his deathlike sleep and rang the bell, the watchers got so frightened they ran away, and, it being freezing cold, the man died a real death. When they next looked upon him, he was as dead as a doornail. No, as I said before, I want to die at home, without any bell-ropes, or undertakers' cellars, or rats, or bilge water."