But although there was no one in that part, there was certainly something going on in the saloon bar, round the corner. I heard heavy breathing. A cork left its bottle with a pop. A pause. Then a voice remarked:
‘Gin, blast it! T’hell with gin!’
There followed a shattering crash. The voice gave a sozzled chuckle.
‘Thash the mirror. Wash good of mirrors, anyway?’
Another cork popped.
”S’ damned gin again,’ complained the voice, offended.
‘T’hell with gin.’
This time the bottle hit something soft, thudded to the floor, and lay there gurgling away its contents.
‘Hey!’ I called. ‘I want a drink.’
There was a silence. Then:
‘Who’re you?’ the voice inquired, cautiously.
‘I’m from the hospital,’ I said. ‘I want a drink.’
‘Don’ ‘member y’r voice. Can you see?’
‘Yes,’ I told him.
‘Well then, for God’s sake get over the bar, Doc, and find me a bottle of whisky.’
‘I’m doctor enough for that,’ I said.
I climbed across, and went around the corner. A large-bellied, red-faced man with a greying walrus moustache stood there clad only in trousers and a collarless shirt. He was fairly drunk. He seemed undecided whether to open the bottle he held in his hand, or to use it as a weapon.
”F you’re not a doctor, what are you?’ he demanded, suspiciously.
‘I was a patient – but I need a drink as much as any doctor,’ I said. ‘That’s gin again you’ve got there,’ I added.
‘Oh, is it! B—- gin,’ he said, and slung it away. It went through the window with a lively crash.
‘Give me that corkscrew,’ I told him.
I took down a bottle of whisky from the shelf, opened it, and handed it to him with a glass. For myself I chose a stiff brandy with very little soda, and then another. After that my hand wasn’t shaking so much.
I looked at my companion. He was taking his whisky neat, out of the bottle.
‘You’ll get drunk,’ I said.
He paused and turned his head towards me. I could have sworn that his eyes really saw me.
‘Get drunk! Damn it, I am drunk,’ he said, scornfully.
He was so perfectly right that I didn’t comment. He brooded a moment before he announced:
‘Gotta get drunker. Gotta get mush drunker.’ He leaned closer. ‘D’you know what? – I’m blind. Thash what I am – blind’s a bat. Everybody’s blind’s a bat. ‘Cept you. Why aren’t you blind’s a bat?’
‘I don’t know,’ I told him.
”S that bloody comet, b—-it! Thash what done it. Green shootin’ shtarsh – an’ now everyone’s blind’s a bat. D’ju shee green shootin’ shtarsh?’
‘No,’ I admitted.
‘There you are. Proves it. You didn’t see ’em: you aren’t blind. Everyone else saw ’em’ – he waved an expressive arm – ‘all’s blind’s bats. B—- comets, I say.’
I poured myself a third brandy, wondering whether there might not be something in what he was saying.
‘Everyone blind?’ I repeated.
‘Thash it. All of ’em. Prob’ly everyone in th’ world – ‘cept you,’ he added, as an afterthought.
‘How do you know?’ I asked.
”S’easy. Listen!’ he asked.
We stood side by side leaning on the bar of the dingy pub, and listened. There was nothing to be heard – nothing but the rustle of a dirty newspaper blown down the empty street. Such a quietness held everything as cannot have been known in those parts for a thousand years and more.
‘See what I mean? ‘S’obvious,’ said the man.
‘Yes,’ I said slowly. ‘Yes – I see what you mean.’
I decided that I must get along. I did not know where to. But I must find out more about what was happening.
‘Are you the landlord?’ I asked him.
‘Wha’ ‘f I am?’ he demanded, defensively.
‘Only that I’ve got to pay someone for three double brandies.’
‘Ah, forget it.’
‘But, look here -‘
‘Forget it, I tell you. D’ju know why? ‘Cause what’s the good ‘f money to a dead man? An’ thash what I am – ‘s good as. Jus’ a few more drinks.’
He looked a pretty robust specimen for his age, and I said so.
‘Wha’s good of living blind’s a bat?’ he demanded, aggressively. ‘Thash what my wife said. An’ she was right – only she’s more guts than I have. When she found as the kids was blind too, what did she do? Took ’em into our bed with her, and turned on the gas. Thash what she done. An’ I hadn’t the guts to stick with ’em. She’s got pluck, my wife, more’n I have. But I will have soon. I’m goin’ back up there soon – when I’m drunk enough.’
What was there to say? What I did say served no purpose save to spoil his temper. In the end he groped his way to the stairs and disappeared up them, bottle in hand. I didn’t try to stop him, or follow him. I watched him go. Then I knocked back the last of my brandy, and went out into the silent street.