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 café.
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 café 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 pipes 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
Down the back stairs came Katherine with her smile like sunrise on
"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 the wall.
"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 again.
"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
"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
"'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 away.
"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 to 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 sink.
"'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 blend."
"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 little
When Con had left them Riley almost felled McQuirk by a blow on the
"Did ye hear that?" he shouted. "Two fools are we. The six dozen
bottles of 'pollinaris we had on the ship—ye opened them
yourself—which barrel did ye pour them in—which barrel, ye mudhead?"
"I mind," said McQuirk, slowly, "'twas in the second barrel we
opened. I mind the blue piece of paper pasted on the side of it."
"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 café.
Thus faithful employees haunt, during their recreation hours, the
vicinity where they labor, drawn by some mysterious attraction.
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 pugnacious
"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 auriferous depths.
Con smelled it. He tasted it. He drank it.
As he returned through the hall Katherine was just going up the
"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,
where, oh, wherever did you get the nerve to say it?"