In bed at night I’ve been reading a few pages of Mark Twain’s Roughing It, an account (mostly true) of his journey through the Wild West in the 1860s. I can only read a few pages at a time because to continue longer would almost certainly be to drive my poor husband out of the room—I cannot help laughing out loud. Two, three times a paragraph. It’s ridiculous. The laughing, I mean. Scott is wonderfully understanding about my ongoing love affair with Twain; it helps that Huckleberry Finn is one of Scott’s own favorite books, and we agree that it contains one of the finest moments in American literature.
(Longtime readers of Bonny Glen may recall that Huck was a very serious contender for the actual, real-life name of my youngest child. We made it his blog name instead. Which means, now that I think about it, more people call him that than the name on his birth certificate.)
Anyhow, Roughing It. Twain at his best: capturing a landscape and its people in the most vivid, lively manner—and hilariously, but that goes without saying. Here’s one of the passages that made me giggle—in this case, not so much because of the manner of expression (usually it’s his turns of phrase that slay me) but because of the unbelievable (and yet apparently true) ridiculousness of his having followed through on the impulse to commit what he calls a ‘boyish prank’ and a court of law might very well term ‘reckless endangerment’:
On the summit we overtook an emigrant train of many wagons, many tired men and women, and many a disgusted sheep and cow.
In the wofully dusty horseman in charge of the expedition I recognized John —. Of all persons in the world to meet on top of the Rocky Mountains thousands of miles from home, he was the last one I should have looked for. We were school-boys together and warm friends for years. But a boyish prank of mine had disruptured this friendship and it had never been renewed. The act of which I speak was this. I had been accustomed to visit occasionally an editor whose room was in the third story of a building and overlooked the street. One day this editor gave me a watermelon which I made preparations to devour on the spot, but chancing to look out of the window, I saw John standing directly under it and an irresistible desire came upon me to drop the melon on his head, which I immediately did. I was the loser, for it spoiled the melon, and John never forgave me and we dropped all intercourse and parted, but now met again under these circumstances.
We recognized each other simultaneously, and hands were grasped as warmly as if no coldness had ever existed between us, and no allusion was made to any. All animosities were buried and the simple fact of meeting a familiar face in that isolated spot so far from home, was sufficient to make us forget all things but pleasant ones, and we parted again with sincere “good-bye” and “God bless you” from both.