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-- Discussion Of Chapter 12

Then they attacked me. Betty pounded me with her slipper, and Bunny pulled my hair. They were furious.
"It wasn't fair to kill us and let yourself be the only one alive", said Jean.
"And it wasn't even a good story", said Betty. "You said you'd have revenge for me burning the White Horse, and you never did it."
"If", I said, "getting bumped off struggling for a worm isn't your idea of a subtle revenge, I'm sorry for your perception."
"The whole thing was silly", said Michael. "That tin mine, humph! That was too far fetched. You shouldn't have brought in the convicts at all. I hated them."
"But you must admit", said I cheerfully, "that whatever its faults, the story had one great merit...the hero triumphed over all difficulties and lived on happily ever afterwards."
"On what? Earthworms?" and Betty threw a cushion at me.
"I didn't mind getting killed", said Robert, "but I did object to being killed the way you made it. Honestly, Neill, do you think I'd sit out on a doorstep and trust a bunch of convicts like that? Without even getting one of them?" he added ruefully. "No, the story was all right in some parts, but the end was just lousy."
"Good touch", laughed David, "that bit about the two singles to Hell. Better if you'd said first-class ones though."
"Excursion", said I, "might have been better."
"Latin ex = out, for they went out all right."
"But", said David, "an excursion is a cheap trip."
"A cheap trip for cheap yeggs", said I.
"Wouldn't it be nice", said Betty in her sweetest manner, "if somebody good were to write the story about the last man alive? It would make a good novel."
"H. G. Wells could do it", said Michael, who read a lot. "He knows so much. He would make it sound as if it were true. And he knows science too. In The Invisible Man and The Food of the Gods it all seems so absolutely scientific. Yes, Wells could do it."
"The art of story-telling isn't easy", said Gordon. "Of course anyone can tell a story that obviously isn't true, but I mean a story like they put in a book. You need brains for that."
"Neill always makes mistakes", said Bunny. "That about the German chaps being eaten by wolves in France. How did we know? See? That's what I mean."
"Well", I began, "I hadn't time to tell everything you know. I took it for granted that your instinct would tell you that we had picked up a bottle on the beach with a message from them."
"I suppose it's easy to find a message by bottle from the middle of a French forest", sneered Bunny.
"They, of course, threw it in the river", said I.
"And, naturally, of all places, it came to Sizewell Gap", he said.
"Homing instinct", said I. "In olden days Sizewell Gap was a notorious smugglers' cove. Any self-respecting bottle would --"
Here there was a united interruption, a forcible one that cannot be printed in a nice book.
"What did you do after we were all dead?" asked Evelyn.
"That", said I, "is another story which I may tell you next term", but they were unanimous in declaring that they had no desire to hear any story in which they did not take part.
"Pity", I said with a heavy sigh, "for after your deaths I had time to concentrate on my scientific work."
"Your what?" cried Michael with a derisive laugh.
"My biological work", I proceeded. "I discovered how to make new humans in the lab."
"What were they like?" asked David amused.
"All body, no brains", I said. "Pre-cloud man failed because he could think. Because he had intelligence he made weapons and conquered the animals, but then his intelligence was so feeble that all he could do was to go on making weapons which he used to conquer other men. My new race had no self-consciousness; they acted on instinct. They weren't ashamed of their naked bodies; they made no religion, no laws, no morals; they had no weapons, no wars; they did not have rich and poor; there was no disease among them; they died of old age."
"But", said Gordon, "all that would describe cows or sheep."
"Quite", I said; "in other words, I made a human race that was as high as the animal race."
"Here!" said Robert, with marked suspicion in his voice, "Did you mean the story to teach us something?"
"You mean, was it a tale with a moral? Yes, it was a story with a moral."
"What moral?"
"That the man who pays the piper calls the tune."
"Meaning what?"
"That the bloke as has all the trouble of making up the story deserves to be the only man left alive. In reality, I can't bump off all the young pests who follow me around all day asking the time, or have I seen Corks, or will I lend him tuppence, but in my story I can plan and execute revenge. The phantasy of any idiot who runs a free school must be that he is the last person alive."
"Time we were moving, lads", said Michael. "When Neill begins to talk psychology the only defence is flight. Come on."
"Where shall we go?" said Bunny.
"To the hockey-field", said David. "We must have a competition to see who can beat the others on the quick draw."
And for the next week someone said: Stick 'em up ! every time I turned a corner, and at the next General Meeting Robert sat with two wooden gats in his belt, and when he rose to speak on the question of Gerd's making a row in the cinema he said: "Say, sister, was the other broads in on this once-over? Youse frails try to beat the rap on the movie chisel in, and when the movie big bum lissens in on the short wave and beats it to a show-down, the janes do the wet hankie racket. Whatta yuh mean by it?"


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Discussion of chapter 12 of 'The Last Man Alive' by A. S. Neill. This page is copyrighted.