The Last Quart
by Ellis Parker Butler
This is the story of the last quart of whiskey remaining on earth, and of its end. I do not say it is a true story; I dare not say it is a true story. If I said it was a true story you would know I was lying, because it will be a long, long time before the very last quart of private stock comes to its end. I therefore set the date of this story as December 25th, 2000, and admit at once that it is a story of the imagination.
The story begins like this: "It was an awful, a terrible, an historic moment. On the table, around which the thirteen men sat, stood the last bottle of whiskey remaining on earth. It was the hour of midnight. In one moment more the clock would strike and a century would die and the last quart on earth would be drained, a fitting libation to death of the twentieth century."
I consider that a remarkably good beginning for the story. It has quality; it is a distinguished beginning; it is classy. Few but I could have written it. I consider myself in all respects a wonderful writer.
The story continues: "This last, ultimate, final bottle of red eye was the property of John Juggs, multimillionaire, and his friends had gathered to see him drink this last quart. He had invited them, using specially engraved invitations which read, 'You are invited to see John Juggs drink the last quart of whiskey remaining in the world.' Now they were gathered together and the bottle stood on the table, the cork pulled, and one crystal clear glass before John Juggs. 'Gentlemen,' he said, arising, 'I am about to drink the last quart of --', but at that instant the electric lights went out."
I need hardly confess, now, that this is one of those stories in which something is stolen and the host says, "Gentlemen, the doors have been locked. In a moment I shall turn out the lights and count one hundred slowly. When the lights are turned on I shall expect to see the stolen article on the table. I do this because we are all gentlemen and I don't want to search you and thus prove that one of my friends is a thief. I prefer to give the guilty man a chance to return the loot."
Once in his life every author hopes to write one of these "Gentlemen, I shall count one hundred" stories. I have always longed to write one and now I am doing so. I consider it a masterpiece. All right; let's go!
"I am about to drink the last quart of --" said John Juggs, but at that instant the lights went out. For a few moments there was confusion in the room -- sharp cries of dismay, movings to and fro, coughs, sneezes, double-shuffles and one thing and another. Then John Juggs found the light button and turned on the lights again. He walked to the table and picked up the bottle. A look of anger, sternly repressed, came upon his face.
"Gentlemen," he said, "for you are all gentlemen, an awkward thing has happened. While the lights were out someone has stolen two inches of the priceless whiskey out of this bottle."
He paused to let this awful fact sink home.
"I do not pretend to say which of you is guilty," he continued sternly. "You are all my bosom friends and I refrain from accusing any of you, but the missing whiskey must be returned to that bottle. On that point I am inexorable. Otherwise I send for the police, have you all searched and send the guilty man to prison for nine million years or something like that. I propose to lock the door, turn out the lights and then count one hundred, slowly. Before I reach one hundred the missing whiskey must be put back in that bottle."
He cast a piercing glance at the twelve men, his bosom friends. Eleven of them met his glance with glances equally firm. These were Jarreau, Jefferson, Josephs, Jenny, Jensen, Johns, Jaeger, Juan, Jordan, Jones and Jupp. (His friends were all J's). Alphonse Jiggles alone refused to meet his eye. Even as Juggs looked Alphonse Jiggles slipped slowly from his chair and slid under the table, where he sat with a sickening smile on his face, beating time with one hand while he sang, in a muddled voice, this song:
"Clap hands! Clap hands! till father comes home;
For this is the day he gets his pay,
We'll all stick around and take it away;
The poor old jay is on his way,
Clap hands! Clap hands!"
"Alas," said John Juggs to himself, "I know the thief!"
At the end of the song Alphonse Jiggles cried "Whoopee!" in a loud voice, and dropped back flat on the rug. Only the tip of his left little finger moved, and it only twitched. John Juggs frowned.
"Now, gentlemen!" said John Juggs. "One!"
He stepped across the room and turned out the lights.
"Two!" he said slowly.
The room was in absolute, pit-like darkness. Alphonse Jiggles snored gently under the table.
"Three! Four! Five! Six!'' counted John Juggs, with his eyes closed, and "Seven! Eight! Nine!"
Sounds began to mingle with the snore of Alphonse Jiggles. Chairs moved. Breaths came thickly. Feet scuffled the floor. Men sighed. Moments passed. And still John Juggs counted.
"Ninety-seven! Ninety-eight! Ninety-nine!" his voice rang out.
He placed his hand on the light button.
"Fair warning! Third and last call! ONE HUNDRED!"
He flashed on the light. For an instant the glare blinded him, then a look of sad surprise came into his eyes. The eleven men no longer sat in their chairs. They were all under the table. They were all beating time. They were all singing "Clap hands!"
John Juggs picked up the bottle that had held the last quart of whiskey in the world. It was absolutely empty.
With a bitter curse John Juggs raised the empty bottle and hit his cranium three times heavily.
"Solid bone! he said in a tone of deep disgust; "absolutely, completely solid!"