The Persons of the Tale – a Fable by RLS
After the 32nd chapter of Treasure Island, two of the puppets strolled out to have a pipe before business should begin again, and met in an open place not far from the story.
“Good-morning, Cap’n,” said the first, with a man- o’-war salute, and a beaming countenance.
“Ah, Silver!” grunted the other. “You’re in a bad way, Silver.”
“Now, Cap’n Smollett,” remonstrated Silver, “dooty is dooty, as I knows, and none better; but we’re off dooty now; and I can’t see no call to keep up the morality business.”
“You’re a damned rogue, my man,” said the Captain.
“Come, come, Cap’n, be just,” returned the other. “There’s no call to be angry with me in earnest. I’m on’y a chara’ter in a sea story. I don’t really exist.”
“Well, I don’t really exist either,” says the Captain, “which seems to meet that.”
“I wouldn’t set no limits to what a virtuous chara’ter might consider argument,” responded Silver. “But I’m the villain of this tale, I am; and speaking as one sea- faring man to another, what I want to know is, what’s the odds?”
“Were you never taught your catechism?” said the Captain. “Don’t you know there’s such a thing as an Author?”
“Such a thing as a Author?” returned John, derisively. “And who better’n me? And the p’int is, if the Author made you, he made Long John, and he made Hands, and Pew, and George Merry—not that George is up to much, for he’s little more’n a name; and he made Flint, what there is of him; and he made this here mutiny, you keep such a work about; and he had tom Redruth shot; and—well, if that’s a Author, give me Pew!”
“Don’t you believe in a future state?” said Smollett. “Do you think there’s nothing but the present story- paper?”
“I don’t rightly know for that,” said Silver; “and I don’t see what it’s got to do with it, anyway. What I know is this: if there is sich a thing as a Author, I’m his favourite chara’ter. He does me fathoms better’n he does you—fathoms, he does. And he likes doing me. He keeps me on deck mostly all the time, crutch and all; and he leaves you measling in the hold, where nobody can’t see you, nor wants to, and you may lay to that! If there is a Author, by thunder, but he’s on my side, and you may lay to it!”
“I see he’s giving you a long rope,” said the Captain. “But that can’t change a man’s convictions. I know the Author respects me; I feel it in my bones; when you and I had that talk at the blockhouse door, who do you think he was for, my man?”
“And don’t he respect me?” cried Silver. “Ah, you should ’a’ heard me putting down my mutiny, George Merry and Morgan and that lot, no longer ago’n last chapter; you’d ’a’ heard something then! You’d ’a’ seen what the Author thinks o’ me! But come now, do you consider yourself a virtuous chara’ter clean through?”
“God forbid!” said Captain Smollett, solemnly. “I am a man that tries to do his duty, and makes a mess of it as often as not. I’m not a very popular man at home, Silver, I’m afraid!” and the Captain sighed.
“Ah,” says Silver. “Then how about this sequel of yours? Are you to be Cap’n Smollett just the same as ever, and not very popular at home, says you? And if so, why, it’s Treasure Island over again, by thunder; and I’ll be Long John, and Pew’ll be Pew, and we’ll have another mutiny, as like as not. or are you to be somebody else? And if so, why, what the better are you? and what the worse am I?”
“Why, look here, my man,” returned the Captain, “I can’t understand how this story comes about at all, can I? I can’t see how you and I, who don’t exist, should get to speaking here, and smoke our pipes for all the world like reality? Very well, then, who am I to pipe up with my opinions? I know the Author’s on the side of good; he tells me so, it runs out of his pen as he writes. Well, that’s all I need to know; I’ll take my chance upon the rest.”
“It’s a fact he seemed to be against George Merry,” Silver admitted, musingly. “But George is little more’n a name at the best of it,” he added, brightening. “And to get into soundings for once. What is this good? I made a mutiny, and I been a gentleman o’ fortune; well, but by all stories, you ain’t no such saint. I’m a man that keeps company very easy; even by your own account, you ain’t, and to my certain knowledge you’re a devil to haze. Which is which? Which is good, and which bad? Ah, you tell me that! Here we are in stays, and you may lay to it!”
“We’re none of us perfect,” replied the Captain. “That’s a fact of religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if you try to do yours, I can’t compliment you on your success.”
“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively.
“I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn a hair,” returned the Captain. “But I get beyond that: it mayn’t be sound theology, but it’s common sense, that what is good is useful too—or there and thereabout, for I don’t set up to be a thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous characters?”
“If you go to that,” replied Silver, “where would a story begin, if there wasn’t no villains?”
“Well, that’s pretty much my thought,” said Captain Smollett. “The Author has to get a story; that’s what he wants; and to get a story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he’s on the right side; and you mind your eye! You’re not through this story yet; there’s trouble coming for you.”
“What’ll you bet?” asked John.
“Much I care if there ain’t,” returned the Captain. “I’m glad enough to be Alexander Smollett, bad as he is; and I thank my stars upon my knees that I’m not Silver. But there’s the ink-bottle opening. to quarters!”
And indeed the Author was just then beginning to write the words:
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