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 prescription deskpills 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 inside.
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 glaci. 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 Ikeys 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. Riddles two squares away. Mrs. Riddle had a daughter named Rosy. The circumlocution has been in vainyou must have guessed itIkey adored Rosy. She tinctured all his thoughts; she was the compound extract of all that was chemically pure and officinalthe 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 Ikeys ointment (thrice welcome, pat trope!) was Chunk McGowan.
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 Ikeys 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. Its drugs for me if youve 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 youve located the diagnosis all right enoughits under my coat, near the ribs. Say! IkeyRosy and me are goin to run away and get married to-night.
Ikeys 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. McGowans smile faded to a look of perplexed gloom.
That is, he continued, if she keeps in the notion until the time comes. Weve been layin pipes for the getaway for two weeks. One day she says she will; the same evenin she says nixy. Weve agreed on to-night, and Rosys stuck to the affirmative this time for two whole days. But its five hours yet till the time, and Im afraid shell stand me up when it comes to the scratch.
You said you wanted drugs, remarked Ikey.
Mr. McGowan looked ill at ease and harasseda 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 wouldnt have this double handicap make a false start to-night for a million, he said. Ive got a little flat up in Harlem all ready, with chrysanthemums on the table and a kettle ready to boil. And Ive engaged a pulpit pounder to be ready at his house for us at 9.30. Its got to come off. And if Rosy dont change her mind again!Mr. McGowan ceased, a prey to his doubts.
I dont 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 dont like me a little bit, went on the uneasy suitor, bent upon marshalling his arguments. For a week he hasnt let Rosy step outside the door with me. If it wasnt for losin a boarder theyd have bounced me long ago. Im makin $20 a week and shell 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, aint there a drug of some kindsome kind of powders thatll make a girl like you better if you give em to her?
Ikeys 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 enemys territory he was seeking to guard every point against possible failure.
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 dont need a mule team to drag her away, but women are better at coaching than they are at running bases. If the stuffll work just for a couple of hours itll do the trick.
When is this foolishness of running away to be happening? asked Ikey.
Nine oclock, said Mr. McGowan. Suppers at seven. At eight Rosy goes to bed with a headache. At nine old Parvenzano lets me through to his back yard, where theres a board off Riddles fence, next door. I go under her window and help her down the fire-escape. Weve got to make it early on the preachers account. Its all dead easy if Rosy dont 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 Ikeys 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 rooms just above Rosys. Ill just go up there myself after supper and load the shot-gun and wait. If he comes in my back yard hell 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 oclock in the morning the day clerk arrived and Ikey started hurriedly for Mrs. Riddles 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 handChunk McGowan with a victors smile and flushed with joy.
Pulled it off, said Chunk with Elysium in his grin. Rosy hit the fire-escape on time to a second, and we was under the wire at the Reverends at 9.3O <. Shes up at the flatshe cooked eggs this mornin in a blue kimonoLord! how lucky I am! You must pace up some day, Ikey, and feed with us. Ive got a job down near the bridge, and thats where Im heading for now.
Thethepowder? 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
Riddles, and I looked at Rosy, and I says to myself, Chunk, if you
get the girl get her on the squaredont 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 Riddles