THE LOST BLEND
by O. Henry
Since the bar has been blessed by the clergy, and cocktails
open the dinners of the elect, one may speak of the saloon.
Teetotalers need not listen, if they choose; there is always
the slot restaurant, where a dime dropped into the cold
bouillon aperture will bring forth a dry Martini.
Con Lantry worked on the sober side of the bar in Kenealy's
cafe. You and I stood, one-legged like geese, on the other
side and went into voluntary liquidation with our week's
wages. Opposite danced Con, clean, temperate, clear-headed,
polite, white-jacketed, punctual, trustworthy, young,
responsible, and took our money.
The saloon (whether blessed or cursed) stood in one of those
little "places" which are parallelograms instead of streets,
and inhabited by laundries, decayed Knickerbocker families
and Bohemians who have nothing to do with either.
Over the cafe lived Kenealy and his family. His daughter
Katherine had eyes of dark Irish--but why should you be
told? Be content with your Geraldine or your Eliza Ann.
For Con dreamed of her; and when she called softly at the
foot of the back stairs for the pitcher of beer for dinner,
his heart went up and down like a milk punch in the shaker.
Orderly and fit are the rules of Romance; and if you hurl
the last shilling of your fortune upon the bar for whiskey,
the bartender shall take it, and marry his boss's daughter,
and good will grow out of it.
But not so Con. For in the presence of woman he was tongue-tied
and scarlet. He who would quell with his eye the sonorous
youth whom the claret punch made loquacious, or smash with
lemon squeezer the obstreperous, or hurl gutterward the
cantankerous without a wrinkle coming to his white lawn tie,
when he stood before woman he was voiceless, incoherent,
stuttering, buried beneath a hot avalanche of bashfulness
and misery. What then was he before Katherine? A trembler,
with no word to say for himself, a stone without blarney,
the dumbest lover that ever babbled of the weather in the
presence of his divinity.
There came to Kenealy's two sunburned men, Riley and McQuirk.
They had conference with Kenealy; and then they took possession
of a back room which they filled with bottles and siphons and
jugs and druggist's measuring glasses. All the appurtenances
and liquids of a saloon were there, but they dispensed no
drinks. All day long the two sweltered in there pouring and
mixing unknown brews and decoctions from the liquors in their
store. Riley had the education, and he figured on reams of
paper, reducing gallons to ounces and quarts to fluid drams.
McQuirk, a morose man with a red eye, dashed each unsuccessful
completed mixture into the waste pipe with curses gentle,
husky and deep. They labored heavily and untiringly to achieve
some mysterious solution like two alchemists striving to
resolve gold from the elements.
Into this back room one evening when his watch was done
sauntered Con. His professional curiosity had been stirred
by these occult bartenders at whose bar none drank, and who
daily drew upon Kenealy's store of liquors to follow their
consuming and fruitless experiments.
Down the back stairs came Katherine with her smile like
sunrise on Gweebarra Bay.
"Good evening, Mr. Lantry," says she. "And what is the news
to-day, if you please?"
"It looks like r-rain," stammered the shy one, backing to
"It couldn't do better," said Katherine. "I'm thinking there's
nothing the worse off for a little water." In the back room
Riley and McQuirk toiled like bearded witches over their
strange compounds. From fifty bottles they drew liquids
carefully measured after Riley's figures, and shook the
whole together in a great glass vessel. Then McQuirk would
dash it out, with gloomy profanity, and they would begin
"Sit down," said Riley to Con, "and I'll tell you.
"Last summer me and Tim concludes that an American bar in
this nation of Nicaragua would pay. There was a town on the
coast where there's nothing to eat but quinine and nothing
to drink but rum. The natives and foreigners lay down with
chills and get up with fevers; and a good mixed drink is
nature's remedy for all such tropical inconveniences.
"So we lays in a fine stock of wet goods in New York, and
bar fixtures and glassware, and we sails for that Santa
Palma town on a lime steamer. On the way me and Tim sees
flying fish and plays seven-up with the captain and steward,
and already begins to feel like the high-ball kings of the
tropics of Capricorn.
"When we gets in five hours of the country that we was going
to introduce to long drinks and short change the captain calls
us over to the starboard binnacle and recollects a few things.
"'I forgot to tell you, boys,' says he, 'that Nicaragua slapped
an import duty of 48 per cent ad valorem on all bottled goods
last month. The President took a bottle of Cincinnati hair tonic
by mistake for tobasco sauce, and he's getting even. Barrelled
goods is free.'
"'Sorry you didn't mention it sooner,' says we. And we bought
two forty-two gallon casks from the captain, and opened every
bottle we had and dumped the stuff all together in the casks.
That 48 per cent would have ruined us; so we took the chances
on making that $1,200 cocktail rather than throw the stuff
"Well, when we landed we tapped one of the barrels. The mixture
was something heartrending. It was the color of a plate of Bowery
pea soup, and it tasted like one of those coffee substitutes
your aunt makes you take for the heart trouble you get by picking
losers. We gave a nigger four fingers of it to try it, and he
lay under a cocoanut tree three days beating the sand with his
heels and refused to sign a testimonial.
"But the other barrel! Say, bartender, did you ever put on a
straw hat with a yellow band around it and go up in a balloon
with a pretty girl with $8,000,000 in your pocket all at the
same time? That's what thirty drops of it would make you feel
like. With two fingers of it inside you, you would bury your face
in your hands and cry because there wasn't anything more worth
while around for you to lick than little Jim Jeffries. Yes, sir,
the stuff in that second barrel was distilled elixir of battle,
money and high life. It was the color of gold and as clear as
glass, and it shone after dark like the sunshine was still in
it. A thousand years from now you'll get a drink like that
across the bar.
"Well, we started up business with that one line of drinks, and
it was enough. The piebald gentry of that country stuck to it
like a hive of bees. If that barrel had lasted that country
would have become the greatest on earth. When we opened up of
mornings we had a line of Generals and Colonels and ex-Presidents
and revolutionists a block long waiting to be served. We started
in at 50 cents silver a drink. The last ten gallons went easy
at $5 a gulp. It was wonderful stuff. It gave a man courage and
ambition and nerve to do anything; at the same time he didn't
care whether his money was tainted or fresh from the Ice Trust.
When that barrel was half gone Nicaragua had repudiated the
National debt, removed the duty on cigarettes and was about to
declare war on the United States and England.
"'Twas by accident we discovered this king of drinks, and
'twill be by good luck if we strike it again. For ten months
we've been trying. Small lots at a time, we've mixed barrels
of all the harmful ingredients known to the profession of
drinking. Ye could have stocked ten bars with the whiskies,
brandies, cordials, bitters, gins and wines me and Tim have
wasted. A glorious drink like that to be denied the world!
'Tis a sorrow and a loss of money. The United States as a
nation would welcome a drink of that sort, and pay for it."
All the while McQuirk had been carefully measuring and pouring
together small quantities of various spirits, as Riley called
them, from his latest pencilled prescription. The completed
mixture was of a vile, mottled chocolate color. McQuirk tasted
it, and hurled it, with appropriate epithets, into the waste
"'Tis a strange story, even if true," said Con. "I'll be going
now along to my supper."
"Take a drink," said Riley. "We've all kinds except the lost
"I never drink," said Con, "anything stronger than water. I am
just after meeting Miss Katherine by the stairs. She said a true
word. 'There's not anything,' says she, 'but is better off for a
When Con had left them Riley almost felled McQuirk by a blow on
"Did ye hear that?" he shouted. "Two fools are we. The six
dozen bottles of 'pollinaris we had on the slip--ye opened
them yourself--which barrel did ye pour them in--which barrel,
"I mind," said McQuirk, slowly, "'twas in the second barrel
we opened. I mind the blue piece of paper pasted on the side
"We've got it now," cried Riley. "'Twas that we lacked. 'Tis the
water that does the trick. Everything else we had right. Hurry,
man, and get two bottles of 'pollinaris from the bar, while I
figure out the proportionments with me pencil."
An hour later Con strolled down the sidewalk toward Kenealy's
cafe. Thus faithful employees haunt, during their recreation
hours, the vicinity where they labor, drawn by some mysterious
A police patrol wagon stood at the side door. Three able cops
were half-carrying, half-hustling Riley and McQuirk up its rear
steps. The eyes and faces of each bore the bruises and cuts of
sanguinary and assiduous conflict. Yet they whooped with strange
joy, and directed upon the police the feeble remnants of their
"Began fighting each other in the back room," explained Kenealy
to Con. "And singing! That was worse. Smashed everything pretty
much up. But they're good men. They'll pay for everything. Trying
to invent some new kind of cocktail, they was. I'll see they come
out all right in the morning."
Con sauntered into the back room to view the battlefield. As he
went through the hall Katherine was just coming down the stairs.
"Good evening again, Mr. Lantry," said she. "And is there no
news from the weather yet?"
"Still threatens r-rain," said Con, slipping past with red in
his smooth, pale cheek.
Riley and McQuirk had indeed waged a great and friendly battle.
Broken bottles and glasses were everywhere. The room was full of
alcohol fumes; the floor was variegated with spirituous puddles.
On the table stood a 32-ounce glass graduated measure. In the
bottom of it were two tablespoonfuls of liquid--a bright golden
liquid that seemed to hold the sunshine a prisoner in its
Con smelled it. He tasted it. He drank it.
As he returned through the hall Katherine was just going up
"No news yet, Mr. Lantry?" she asked with her teasing laugh.
Con lifted her clear from the floor and held her there.
"The news is," he said, "that we're to be married."
"Put me down, sir!" she cried indignantly, "or I will--Oh,
Con, oh, wherever did you get the nerve to say it?"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~