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The Tonic Port
by [?]

We do a large export trade (that is, the firm does), and there are often samples lying about in the office. There was a bottle of Tarret’s Tonic Port, which had been there some time, and one of the partners told the head clerk that he could have it if he liked. Later in the day the head clerk said if a bottle of Tarret’s Tonic Port was any use to me I might take it home. He said he had just opened it and tasted it, because he did not like to give anything away until he knew if it was all right.

I thanked him. “Tastes,” I said, “just like any ordinary port, I suppose?”

“Well,” he said, “it’s more a tonic port than an ordinary port. But that’s only what you’d expect from the label.”

“Quite so,” I said–“quite so.” I looked at the label, and saw that it said that the port was peculiarly rich in phosphates. I put the bottle in my bag that night and took it home.

* * * * *

“Eliza,” I said, “I have brought you a little present. It is a bottle of port.” Eliza very rarely takes anything at all, but if she does it is a glass of port. In this respect I admire her taste. Port, as I have sometimes said to her, is the king of wines. We decided that we would have a glass after supper. That is really the best time to take anything of the kind; the wine soothes the nerves and prevents insomnia.

Eliza picked the bottle up and looked at the label. “Why,” she said, “you told me it was port!”

“So it is.”

“It says tonic port on the label.”

“Well, tonic port practically is port. That is to say, it is port with the addition of–er–phosphates.”

“What are phosphates?”

“Oh, there are so many of them, you know. There is quinine, of course, and magnesium, and–and so on. Let me fill your glass.”

She took one very little sip. “It isn’t what I should call a pleasant wine,” she said. “It stings so.”

“Ah!” I said, “that’s the phosphates. It would be a little like that. But that’s not the way to judge a port. What you should do is to take a large mouthful and roll it round the tongue,–then you get the aroma. Look: this is the way.”

I took a large mouthful.

When I had stopped coughing I said that I didn’t know that there was anything absolutely wrong with the wine, but you wanted to be ready for it. It had come on me rather unexpectedly.

Eliza said that very likely that was it, and she asked me if I would care to finish my glass now that I knew what it was like.

I said that it was not quite a fair test to try a port just after it had been shaken about. I would let the bottle stand for a day or two. Ultimately I took what was left in Eliza’s glass and my own, and emptied it into the garden. I did this because I did not want our general servant to try it when she cleared away, and possibly acquire a taste for drink.

Next morning I found that two of our best geraniums had died during the night. I said that it was most inexplicable. Eliza said nothing.

* * * * *

A few nights afterward, Eliza asked me if I thought that the tonic port had stood long enough.

“Yes,” I said; “I will decant it for you, and then if Miss Sakers calls you might say carelessly that you were just going to have a glass of port, and would be glad if she would join you.”