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Chapter 46 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

A Scientific Julep

To drown care and sorrow men drink. The spirit of wine freely quaffed will master either bodily pain or mental suffering—for a time. There is no form of the one or phase of the other so difficult to subdue as the pang of jealousy. Wine must be deeply quaffed before that corroding poison can be washed free from the heart.

But there is a partial relief in the wine-cup, and I sought it. I knew it to be only temporary, and that the sorrow would soon return. But even so—even a short respite was to be desired. I could bear my thoughts no longer.

I am not brave in bearing pain. I have more than once intoxicated myself to deaden the pitiful pain of a toothache. By the same means I resolved to relieve the dire aching of my heart.

The spirit of wine was nigh at hand, and might be imbibed in many forms.

In one corner of the “smoking-saloon” was the “bar,” with its elegant adornments—its rows of decanters and bottles, with silver stoppers and labels its glasses, and lemons, and sugar-crushers—its bouquet of aromatic mint and fragrant pines—its bunches of straw tubes for “sucking” the “mint-julep,” the “sherry-cobbler,” or the “claret sangaree.”

In the midst of this entourage stood the “bar-keeper,” and in this individual do not picture to yourself some seedy personage of the waiter class, with bloodless cheeks and clammy skin, such as those monstrosities of an English hotel who give you a very degoût for your dinner. On the contrary, behold an elegant of latest fashion—that is, the fashion of his country and class, the men of the river. He wears neither coat nor vest while in the exercise of his office, but his shirt will merit an observation. It is of the finest fabric of the Irish loom—too fine to be worn by those who have woven it—and no Bond Street furnishing-house could equal its “make up.”

Gold buttons glance at the sleeves, and diamonds sparkle amid the profuse ruffles on the bosom. The collar is turned down over a black silk riband, knotted à la Byron; but a tropic sun has more to do with this fashion than any desire to imitate the sailor-poet. Over this shirt stretch silk braces elaborately needle-worked, and still further adorned by buckles of pure gold. A hat of the costly grass from the shores of the South Sea crowns his well-oiled locks, and thus you have the “bar-keeper of the boat.” His nether man need not be described. That is the unseen portion of his person, which is below the level of the bar. No cringing, smirking, obsequious counter-jumper he, but a dashing sprig, who, perhaps, owns his bar and all its contents, and who holds his head as high as either the clerk or captain.

As I approached this gentleman, he placed a glass upon the counter, and threw into it some broken fragments of ice. All this was done without a word having passed between us.

I had no need to give an order. He saw in my eye the determination to drink.


“No,” said I; “a mint-julep.”

“Very well, I’ll mix you a julep that’ll set your teeth for you.”

“Thank you. Just what I want.”

The gentleman now placed side by side two glasses—tumblers of large size. Into one he put, first, a spoonful of crushed white sugar—then a slice of lemon—ditto of orange—next a few sprigs of green mint—after that a handful of broken ice, a gill of water, and, lastly, a large glass measure of cognac. This done, he lifted the glasses one in each hand, and poured the contents from one to the other so rapidly that ice, brandy, lemons, and all, seemed to be constantly suspended in the air, and oscillating between the glasses. The tumblers themselves at no time approached nearer than two feet from each other! This adroitness, peculiar to his craft, and only obtained after long practice, was evidently a source of professional pride. After some half-score of these revolutions the drink was permitted to rest in one glass, and was then set down upon the counter.

There yet remained to be given the “finishing touch.” A thin slice of pine-apple was cut freshly from the fruit. This held between the finger and thumb was doubled over the edge of the glass, and then passed with an adroit sweep round the circumference.

“That’s the latest Orleans touch,” remarked the bar-keeper with a smile, as he completed the manoeuvre.

There was a double purpose in this little operation. The pine-apple not only cleared the glass of the grains of sugar and broken leaves of mint, but left its fragrant juice to mingle its aroma with the beverage.

“The latest Orleans touch,” he repeated; “scientific style.”

I nodded my assent.

The julep was now “mixed”—which fact was made known to me by the glass being pushed a little nearer, across the marble surface of the counter.

“Have a straw?” was the laconic inquiry.

“Yes; thank you.”

A joint of wheaten straw was plunged into the glass, and taking this between my lips I drew in large draughts of perhaps the most delicious of all intoxicating drinks—the mint-julep.

The aromatic liquid had scarce passed my lips when I began to feel its effects. My pulse ceased its wild throbbing. My blood became cool, and flowed in a more gentle current through my veins, and my heart seemed to be bathing in the waters of Lethe. The relief was almost instantaneous, and I only wondered I had not thought of it before. Though still far from happy, I felt that I held in my hands what would soon make me so. Transitory that happiness might be, yet the reaction was welcome at the moment, and the prospect of it pleasant to my soul. I eagerly swallowed the inspiring beverage—swallowed it in large draughts, till the straw tube, rattling among the fragments of ice at the bottom of the glass, admonished me that the fluid was all gone.

“Another, if you please!”

“You liked it, I guess?”

“Most excellent!”

“Said so. I reckon, stranger, we can get up a mint-julep on board this here boat equal to either Saint Charles or Verandah, if not a leetle superior to either.”

“A superb drink!”

“We can mix a sherry-cobbler too, that ain’t hard to take.”

“I have no doubt of it, but I’m not fond of sherry. I prefer this.”

“You’re right. So do I. The pine-apple’s a new idea, but an improvement, I think.”

“I think so too.”

“Have a fresh straw?”

“Thank you.”

This young fellow was unusually civil. I fancied that his civility proceeded from my having eulogised his mint-juleps. It was not that, as I afterwards ascertained. These Western people are little accessible to cheap flattery. I owed his good opinion of me to a far different cause—the discomfiture I had put on the meddling passenger! I believe he had also learnt, that it was I who had chastised the Bully Larkin! Such “feats of arms” soon become known in the region of the Mississippi Valley, where strength and courage are qualities of high esteem. Hence, in the bar-keeper’s view, I was one who deserved a civil word; and thus talking together on the best of terms, I swallowed my second julep, and called upon him for a third, Aurore was for the moment forgotten, or when remembered, it was with less of bitterness. Now and then that parting scene came uppermost in my thoughts; but the pang that rose with it was each moment growing feebler, and easier to be endured.

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