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Going Blind
by [?]

I met him in the Full-and-Plenty Dining Rooms. It was a cheap place in the city, with good beds upstairs let at one shilling per night–“Board and residence for respectable single men, fifteen shillings per week.” I was a respectable single man then. I boarded and resided there. I boarded at a greasy little table in the greasy little corner under the fluffy little staircase in the hot and greasy little dining-room or restaurant downstairs. They called it dining-rooms, but it was only one room, and them wasn’t half enough room in it to work your elbows when the seven little tables and forty-nine chairs were occupied. There was not room for an ordinary-sized steward to pass up and down between the tables; but our waiter was not an ordinary-sized man–he was a living skeleton in miniature. We handed the soup, and the “roast beef one,” and “roast lamb one,” “corn beef and cabbage one,” “veal and stuffing one,” and the “veal and pickled pork,” one–or two, or three, as the case might be–and the tea and coffee, and the various kinds of puddings–we handed them over each other, and dodged the drops as well as we could. The very hot and very greasy little kitchen was adjacent, and it contained the bathroom and other conveniences, behind screens of whitewashed boards.

I resided upstairs in a room where there were five beds and one wash-stand; one candle-stick, with a very short bit of soft yellow candle in it; the back of a hair-brush, with about a dozen bristles in it; and half a comb–the big-tooth end–with nine and a half teeth at irregular distances apart.

He was a typical bushman, not one of those tall, straight, wiry, brown men of the West, but from the old Selection Districts, where many drovers came from, and of the old bush school; one of those slight active little fellows whom we used to see in cabbage-tree hats, Crimean shirts, strapped trousers, and elastic-side boots– “larstins,” they called them. They could dance well; sing indifferently, and mostly through their noses, the old bush songs; play the concertina horribly; and ride like–like–well, they could ride.

He seemed as if he had forgotten to grow old and die out with this old colonial school to which he belonged. They had careless and forgetful ways about them. His name was Jack Gunther, he said, and he’d come to Sydney to try to get something done to his eyes. He had a portmanteau, a carpet bag, some things in a three-bushel bag, and a tin bog. I sat beside him on his bed, and struck up an acquaintance, and he told me all about it. First he asked me would I mind shifting round to the other side, as he was rather deaf in that ear. He’d been kicked by a horse, he said, and had been a little dull o’ hearing on that side ever since.

He was as good as blind. “I can see the people near me,” he said, “but I can’t make out their faces. I can just make out the pavement and the houses close at hand, and all the rest is a sort of white blur.” He looked up: “That ceiling is a kind of white, ain’t it? And this,” tapping the wall and putting his nose close to it, “is a sort of green, ain’t it?” The ceiling might have been whiter. The prevalent tints of the wall-paper had originally been blue and red, but it was mostly green enough now–a damp, rotten green; but I was ready to swear that the ceiling was snow and that the walls were as green as grass if it would have made him feel more comfortable. His sight began to get bad about six years before, he said; he didn’t take much notice of it at first, and then he saw a quack, who made his eyes worse. He had already the manner of the blind–the touch of every finger, and even the gentleness in his speech. He had a boy down with him–a “sorter cousin of his,” and the boy saw him round. “I’ll have to be sending that youngster back,” he said, “I think I’ll send him home next week. He’ll be picking up and learning too much down here.”