The Love Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein by O Henry
The Blue Light Drug Store is downtown, between the Bowery and First
Avenue, where the distance between the two streets is the shortest.
The Blue Light does not consider that pharmacy is a thing of bric-a-
brac, scent and ice-cream soda. If you ask it for pain-killer it
will not give you a bonbon.
The Blue Light scorns the labour-saving arts of modern pharmacy. It
macerates its opium and percolates its own laudanum and paregoric.
To this day pills are made behind its tall prcscription desk--pills
rolled out on its own pill-tile, divided with a spatula, rolled with
the finger and thumb, dusted with calcined magnesia and delivered in
little round pasteboard pill-boxes. The store is on a corner about
which coveys of ragged-plumed, hilarious children play and become
candidates for the cough drops and soothing syrups that wait for them
Ikey Schoenstein was the night clerk of the Blue Light and the friend
of his customers. Thus it is on the East Side, where the heart of
pharmacy is not g1ace. There, as it should be, the druggist is a
counsellor, a confessor, an adviser, an able and willing missionary
and mentor whose learning is respected, whose occult wisdom is
venerated and whose medicine is often poured, untasted, into the
gutter. Therefore Ikey's corniform, be-spectacled nose and narrow,
knowledge-bowed figure was well known in the vicinity of the Blue
Light, and his advice and notice were much desired.
Ikey roomed and breakfasted at Mrs. Riddle's two squares away. Mrs.
Riddle had a daughter named Rosy. The circumlocution has been in
vain--you must have guessed it--Ikey adored Rosy. She tinctured all
his thoughts; she was the compound extract of all that was chemically
pure and officinal--the dispensatory contained nothing equal to her.
But Ikey was timid, and his hopes remained insoluble in the menstruum
of his backwardness and fears. Behind his counter he was a superior
being, calmly conscious of special knowledge and worth; outside he
was a weak-kneed, purblind, motorman-cursed rambler, with ill-fitting
clothes stained with chemicals and smelling of socotrine aloes and
valerianate of ammonia.
The fly in Ikey's ointment (thrice welcome, pat trope!) was Chunk
Mr. McGowan was also striving to catch the bright smiles tossed about
by Rosy. But he was no outfielder as Ikey was; he picked them off
the bat. At the same time he was Ikey's friend and customer, and
often dropped in at the Blue Light Drug Store to have a bruise
painted with iodine or get a cut rubber-plastered after a pleasant
evening spent along the Bowery.
One afternoon McGowan drifted in in his silent, easy way, and sat,
comely, smooth-faced, hard, indomitable, good-natured, upon a stool.
"Ikey," said he, when his friend had fetched his mortar and sat
opposite, grinding gum benzoin to a powder, "get busy with your ear.
It's drugs for me if you've got the line I need."
Ikey scanned the countenance of Mr. McGowan for the usual evidences
of conflict, but found none.
"Take your coat off," he ordered. "I guess already that you have
been stuck in the ribs with a knife. I have many times told you
those Dagoes would do you up."
Mr. McGowan smiled. "Not them," he said. "Not any Dagoes. But
you've located the diagnosis all right enough--it's under my coat,
near the ribs. Say! Ikey--Rosy and me are goin' to run away and get
Ikey's left forefinger was doubled over the edge of the mortar,
holding it steady. He gave it a wild rap with the pestle, but felt
it not. Meanwhile Mr. McGowan's smile faded to a look of perplexed
"That is," he continued, "if she keeps in the notion until the time
comes. We've been layin' pipes for the getaway for two weeks. One
day she says she will; the same evenin' she says nixy. We've agreed
on to-night, and Rosy's stuck to the affirmative this time for two
whole days. But it's five hours yet till the time, and I'm afraid
she'll stand me up when it comes to the scratch."
"You said you wanted drugs," remarked Ikey.
Mr. McGowan looked ill at ease and harassed--a condition opposed to
his usual line of demeanour. He made a patent-medicine almanac into
a roll and fitted it with unprofitable carefulness about his finger.
"I wouldn't have this double handicap make a false start to-night for
a million," he said. "I've got a little flat up in Harlem all ready,
with chrysanthemums on the table and a kettle ready to boil. And
I've engaged a pulpit pounder to be ready at his house for us at
9.30. It's got to come off. And if Rosy don't change her mind
again!"--Mr. McGowan ceased, a prey to his doubts.
"I don't see then yet," said Ikey, shortly, "what makes it that you
talk of drugs, or what I can be doing about it."
"Old man Riddle don't like me a little bit," went on the uneasy
suitor, bent upon marshalling his arguments. "For a week he hasn't
let Rosy step outside the door with me. If it wasn't for losin' a
boarder they'd have bounced me long ago. I'm makin' $20 a week and
she'll never regret flyin' the coop with Chunk McGowan."
"You will excuse me, Chunk," said Ikey. "I must make a prescription
that is to be called for soon."
"Say," said McGowan, looking up suddenly, "say, Ikey, ain't there a
drug of some kind--some kind of powders that'11 make a girl like you
better if you give 'em to her?"
Ikey's lip beneath his nose curled with the scorn of superior
enlightenment; but before he could answer, McGowan continued:
"Tim Lacy told me he got some once from a croaker uptown and fed 'em
to his girl in soda water. From the very first dose he was ace-high
and everybody else looked like thirty cents to her. They was married
in less than two weeks."
Strong and simple was Chunk McGowan. A better reader of men than
Ikey was could have seen that his tough frame was strung upon fine
wires. Like a good general who was about to invade the enemy's
territory he was seeking to guard every point against possible
"I thought," went on Chunk hopefully, "that if I had one of them
powders to give Rosy when I see her at supper to-night it might brace
her up and keep her from reneging on the proposition to skip. I
guess she don't need a mule team to drag her away, but women are
better at coaching than they are at running bases. If the stuff'll
work just for a couple of hours it'll do the trick."
"When is this foolishness of running away to be happening?" asked
"Nine o'clock," said Mr. McGowan. "Supper's at seven. At eight Rosy
goes to bed with a headache. At nine old Parvenzano lets me through
to his back yard, where there's a board off Riddle's fence, next
door. I go under her window and help her down the fire-escape.
We've got to make it early on the preacher's account. It's all dead
easy if Rosy don't balk when the flag drops. Can you fix me one of
them powders, Ikey?"
Ikey Schoenstein rubbed his nose slowly.
"Chunk," said he, "it is of drugs of that nature that pharmaceutists
must have much carefulness. To you alone of my acquaintance would I
intrust a powder like that. But for you I shall make it, and you
shall see how it makes Rosy to think of you."
Ikey went behind the prescription desk. There he crushed to a powder
two soluble tablets, each containing a quarter of a grain of morphia.
To them he added a little sugar of milk to increase the bulk, and
folded the mixture neatly in a white paper. Taken by an adult this
powder would insure several hours of heavy slumber without danger to
the sleeper. This he handed to Chunk McGowan, telling him to
administer it in a liquid if possible, and received the hearty thanks
of the backyard Lochinvar.
The subtlety of Ikey's action becomes apparent upon recital of his
subsequent move. He sent a messenger for Mr. Riddle and disclosed
the plans of Mr. McGowan for eloping with Rosy. Mr. Riddle was a
stout man, brick-dusty of complexion and sudden in action.
"Much obliged," he said, briefly, to Ikey. "The lazy Irish loafer!
My own room's just above Rosy's. I'll just go up there myself after
supper and load the shot-gun and wait. If he comes in my back yard
he'll go away in a ambulance instead of a bridal chaise."
With Rosy held in the clutches of Morpheus for a many-hours deep
slumber, and the bloodthirsty parent waiting, armed and forewarned,
Ikey felt that his rival was close, indeed, upon discomfiture.
All night in the Blue Light Drug Store he waited at his duties for
chance news of the tragedy, but none came.
At eight o'clock in the morning the day clerk arrived and Ikey
started hurriedly for Mrs. Riddle's to learn the outcome. And, lo!
as he stepped out of the store who but Chunk McGowan sprang from a
passing street car and grasped his hand--Chunk McGowan with a
victor's smile and flushed with joy.
"Pulled it off," said Chunk with Elysium in his grin. "Rosy bit the
fire-escape on time to a second, and we was under the wire at the
Reverend's at 9.3O 1/4. She's up at the flat--she cooked eggs this
mornin' in a blue kimono--Lord! how lucky I am! You must pace up
some day, Ikey, and feed with us. I've got a job down near the
bridge, and that's where I'm heading for now."
"The--the--powder?" stammered Ikey.
"Oh, that stuff you gave me!" said Chunk, broadening his grin; "well,
it was this way. I sat down at the supper table last night at
Riddle's, and I looked at Rosy, and I says to myself, 'Chunk, if you
get the girl get her on the square--don't try any hocus-pocus with a
thoroughbred like her.' And I keeps the paper you give me in my
pocket. And then my lamps fall on another party present, who, I says
to myself, is failin' in a proper affection toward his comin' son-in-
law, so I watches my chance and dumps that powder in old man Riddle's