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at the gate which led into the front yard at home, I fell off my horse and
tumbled to the ground, a wretched heap of helpless clay. I remained on the
ground, lying in the snow, until I froze my hands, feet, and ears. It was
about three o'clock in the morning when I got to the house. So they told
me, for I have no knowledge of going, and, indeed, I remembered nothing
that took place.

When I came to consciousness I found myself wrapped up in a blanket, lying
in bed, with hot bricks at my feet. I was in the room occupied by father
and mother, and the first object that met my wandering sight was the face
of my mother. The look with which she regarded me will never fade from my
memory. There was in it the sorrow and anguish of death. She rose from her
bed at sight of me, and with streaming eyes and screaming voice called the
family up to bid them good-by; she said she was dying - that I had killed
her. I sprang from my bed in such a horror of terrible suffering, mental
and physical, as never swept over the body and soul of mortal man. I felt
my heart thumping and beating as though it would burst forth from my bosom;
the hot, hissing blood rushed to my aching, fevered brain, and a torrent of
sweat burst forth on my icy forehead. I could not have suffered more
physical agony had a thousand swords been driven through my quivering body,
nor would my miserable soul have been in more insufferable pain had it been
confined in the regions of the damned. It was some time before anything
like quiet was restored, but as soon as it was, some of the family went to
the gate and found my hat and took charge of the horse which I had ridden.
That morning I dragged myself to school with a sad, heavy heart. As my
scholars came in, they seemed to understand that something was the matter
with me, and often during the day their wondering looks were directed
toward me as if they sought some explanation of my appearance. The day was
a long and weary one to me - a day, like many another since then, of most
intense wretchedness. About noon one of my feet became so swollen that it
was necessary for me to take off my boot, and by the time I dismissed
school it had got so bad that I could not draw on my boot, so that I had to
walk home, a distance of one mile, over the frozen ground with nothing to
protect my foot but a woolen sock. On entering the house, my mother burst
into tears at sight of me. I must have been a pitiable object, and yet how
little did I deserve the wealth of priceless sympathy lavished upon me.
That night, and many nights succeeding it, the only way I could get into
bed was to put an old-fashioned chair with rounds in the back, beside the
bed and crawl up round by round until I got on a level with the bed, and
then let go and fall over into the bed.

It is needless for me to say that I firmly resolved and honestly felt that
I would never again taste the liquor which leads to madness, misery, and
death. For some time I kept my resolution; and would to God that I could
here conclude by saying that I never again allowed a drop of it to pass my
lips. But I am writing an autobiography, and I have told you that I would
not shrink from telling the truth. So it will happen that other and still
more desperate and disgraceful episodes of drunkenness will have to be
recorded.

In the spring of 1867 I went to Connersville, and began the study of law
with the Hon. John S. Reid. Unfortunately, and I fear designedly, I made my
acquaintances among, and selected my companions from, the most dissolute,
idle, and intemperate class of young men in the town. Connersville then had
and still has among its citizens some very wealthy men, who suffered their
boys to grow up without much care, mostly in idleness. As might be expected
the indifference of the fathers, joined to the natural inclinations of the
sons, has proved the ruin of the latter. I now call to mind several of
those young men who are hopeless and complete wrecks. Idleness and
dissipation have done their terrible work in every case which I call to
mind.

I read a little law, and drank a great deal of whisky, and as a natural
consequence the time then passing was for the most part worse than lost. Up
to this period the duration of my sprees was not longer than a day and
night. They now were not confined to one day, for when I went out on what
is called a "regular spree," it was liable to be two or three days, as it
has since been two or three weeks, before I got back. Got back! Where from?
The reader knows too well.

Out on a spree! These are melancholy and heart-breaking words. Out on a
spree! Oh, how much of misery is implied! Out on a spree! Readers, every
one, I hope you will never have it said that you are out on a spree. To go
out on a spree is to throw away strength, without which the battle of life
can not be fought; it is to squander money which you may need badly for the
necessaries of life, which had better be thrown into the fire and burnt up
than spent in such a way; it is to quench the light of ambition, to crush
hope, entomb joy, lay waste the powers of the mind, neglect duty, desert
the family, and commit in the end suicide. Arson may have walked by your
side while out on a spree, red murder may have grinned, dagger in hand,
upon you, and death stalked within your shadow, ready in a thousand ways to
strike you down. Don't go out on sprees. Think of the pity of them, the
wrong, the disgrace, the remorse, the misery. Going on an occasional spree
only will not do. Some men will keep sober for weeks, and even months, but
a birthday, or a wedding, or a national holiday, or a fit of the blues, or
a streak of good luck, starts them off, and habit, like a smouldering
flame, breaks out, and for a time all is over. Such men scotch, but they do
not kill the cobra of intemperance, and soon or late the other result will
follow, the snake will kill them. The reptile is tenacious of life, and so
long as the life remains there is danger from the deadly venom of its
tooth. Those who have never formed the habit of drinking had better die at
once than live to form it. Those who have formed the habit should subdue it
and never enter into a compromise with it. The good effects of months of
abstinence may be swept away in an hour. Open the flood-gates of indulgence
never so little and the torrent will force its way through and drown every
worthy resolution. Its tide is next to resistless. Days of drunkenness
succeed, months of self-denial are lost, and deplorable results follow
everywhere. Wives are driven to desperation, mothers to despair, children
to want. Demoralization, starvation, damnation follow. Friends are
separated, homes are desolated, and souls are driven to hell itself, and
yet people will talk lightly, and even jokingly of the very thing which
leads to these terrible losses and sufferings - out on a spree.

Debauches not only destroy all capacity for usefulness while they last, but
they demand the vital strength which has wisely been gathered in the system
for days of possible need, when sickness and natural infirmities will lay
hands on the mind or body. The debauch of to-day will borrow from to-morrow
or from next week, or month, or year, that which can not be restored. The
bloated face, the dull, glassy eye, the furtive glance of fear and shame,
the trembling gait, all speak of ravages produced by other causes than
those of time. Indeed, the flight of years can produce no such effects, for
inexorable and wearing as fleeting days and months are, their natural
results differ very widely from those which are caused by an abuse of the
powers of nature. Besides this, many men who are shattered wrecks are still
young in years, and the dew of youth but for dissipation might yet have
glistened on their foreheads.

It was at this period that the appetite burst forth in a fearful flame
which scorched life itself, and burnt every energy of my being. It was fast
getting to be a consuming, craving, devouring passion, subjecting my very
soul to its dreadful tyranny. My spells increased in frequency, and their
duration was more and more prolonged. I would remain drunk from eight to
ten days, until I got so nervous that I could not sleep, and night after
night I would be counting the hours and longing for morning, which, when it
came with its blessed light, gradually revealing the pattern of the paper
on the walls, caused me to hide my face in the bedclothes and wish for
black and never-ending night to come and hide me from the world and my
misery. From such vigils, feverish and unrefreshed, it may easily be
supposed that I sought the open window in anguish, and bathed my aching,
throbbing forehead in the cool, pure air. At last my condition became so
deplorable that my friends sent my father word to come and take me home,
which he did. While at Connersville, in all my dark and desolate trials,
William Beck was my friend and helper. He never then forsook me, and he
never since has forsaken me, but still remains my faithful and sympathizing
friend - a friend whose valuation is beyond gold, and for whom I entertain
the deepest feelings of gratitude. I returned home with my father and
remained several months, keeping sober all the while. During most of the
time I applied myself vigorously to the study of the law, making rapid
progress.

I believe I have as yet not stated that, in the intervals long or short
between my sprees, I abstained totally from the use of ardent spirits. I
never could and never did drink in moderation. One drink would always
kindle such a fire in my blood that it was out of my power to prevent its
spreading into a conflagration. I have very many times been accused of
"drinking on the sly," as they say, but every such accusation is false. I
have also been accused of using opium. I know the pitiable wretch that
started that lie - for it is a lie - and the poor dupe that repeated it. For
five years my appetite has been so fierce at times, that, I repeat, had I
touched the point of the finest needle in alcohol and placed it to my
tongue, I would have got drunk had I known that that drunk would have
plunged my soul into hell and eternal torments. O appetite, cold, cruel,
heartless, accursed, consuming, devouring appetite! No other malady like
thee ever afflicted man. Would that I could paint thee, in all thy accursed
hideousness, in letters of unfading fire, and write them in the vaulted
firmament to flame forth to all generations to come their eternal warning.




CHAPTER VI.

Law Practice at Rushville - Bright prospects - The blight - From bad to
worse - My mother's death - My solemn promise to her - "Broken, oh,
God!" - Reflection - My remorse - The memory of my mother - A young man's
duty - Blessed are the pure in heart - The grave - Young man, murder not your
mother - Rum - A knife which is never red with blood, but which has severed
souls and stabbed thousands to death - The desolation and death which are in
alcohol.


My next move was to Rushville, where I opened an office and commenced
practicing law. For a time I kept sober, and was so successful in my
profession that from the very beginning I more than made my expenses. In
fact my prospects for a brilliant career as a lawyer seemed most
flattering. The predictions were many that an uncommon future lay before
me, but, alas, I could stand prosperity no better than adversity. My
appetite grew to such a craving for stimulants that it tortured me. It had
slumbered for weeks, as it has since, only to make itself manifest in the
end with the force of a hurricane. While it had appeared to sleep it was
gathering strength. At the time it dragged me down I was boarding with some
others at the house of an elderly widow. So completely was I transformed
from a man into something debased that I went to her house and fell through
the front door on the floor dead drunk. The landlady had me carried back to
my office, where I lay like a water-sodden log, wholly unconscious, until
the next morning. When I awoke I had no knowledge of anything that had
happened. My friends informed me of my fall at the house, and of their
bearing me back to the office. I upbraided myself bitterly, but it was days
before I had the courage to show my face on the streets, so keen were my
shame and sense of disgrace. Time softens the wildest remorse, and in a few
weeks I regained a state of quiet feeling. But unfortunately most of my
associates were among the class of young men who are never averse to taking
a drink, and it was not long before I found myself again visiting the
saloons, although I did not give up right away to take a drink with them.
But I got to staying in the saloons more than in my office, and began to go
down steadily. Good people who felt sorry for me, and who wanted to aid me,
would do nothing for me unless I would do something for myself, and this I
could not, or did not do.

I moved from office to office, always descending in respectability, because
always violating my promises not to drink. Occasionally I would make a
desperate effort to reform, gathering about me every element of strength
which I could possibly command, and for a while I would be successful, but
just as hope would begin to light up my darkened path and my friends begin
to feel a new-born confidence in me, an infernal and terrible desire would
take possession of me, and in a moment all that I had gained would be swept
away by my yielding to the demon that tempted me. A debauch longer and more
utterly sickening and vile than the last followed, after which I would
settle down into a condition of hopelessness which would appal the bravest
and strongest. So deplorable, indeed, was my feeling regarding the matter
that then, as since, I kept on drinking for days after the appetite had
left me or had been satiated, in order to deaden the horrible agony that I
knew would crush me when my reason returned.

I now come to an event in my life which affected me at the time beyond the
power of words, and which I can not without tears of choking sorrow even
now dwell upon. I refer to the death of my mother, which occurred during
the winter after my going to Rushville in 1867. She had been sick a long
time, and had suffered very intense pain, but for days before her death I
think she forgot her own physical torments in anxiety and solicitude about
me. I went home a few days before she died, and remained with her until the
last. She talked to me much and often, always begging and pleading with me
as only a dying mother can plead, to save myself from the life of a
drunkard. I promised her solemnly and honestly that I would never again
taste liquor. As I gazed upon her wasted face and read death in every
lineament, and heard the dread angel's approach in every breath of pain she
drew, and saw above all in her fast dimming eye that the horrors of her
approaching dissolution were almost unthought of in her care for me, I
resolved deep down in my heart never to taste liquor again, and kneeling by
her dying form, I called heaven to witness that no more, oh, never, never
more, would I go in the way of the drunkard, or touch, in any form, the
unpitying and soul-destroying curse. I looked on her face, which was
growing strangely calm and white. She was dead, and it came upon me that
she who had loved and suffered most for me, and without a reproach, was
never more to look upon me again or speak words of comfort and aid to my
ears, so often unheeding. At that moment, looking through scalding tears at
her holy face, and afterwards when I heard the grave clods falling with
their terrible sound upon her coffin lid, I swore that I would keep my
promise, no matter what the temptation to break it might be. She would not
be here to see my triumph, but I would conquer for her memory's sake, and
all would be well. I swore by earth, sea, and sky, never, never to break
the promise made to her in the moment of her dying. That promise I broke
within two months from the day it was solemnized by my mother's death. I
shudder still, remembering the agony of that fall. Broken, oh God! - the
promise has been broken, is what first entered my mind. Never before had I
suffered as I then suffered.

My wild revel was protracted for days out of dread of the awful sorrow and
remorse that I knew must surely come on my getting sober. My mother
appeared to me in my troubled dreams, and talked to me as in life. Many
times in my slumber, and in my waking fancies did I see her pale, troubled
face, with her pitying eyes looking on me as from that bed of pain and
death, and at such times I reached out my hands toward her in mute pleading
for forgiveness, forgetting or not knowing that she was dead. But the
moment soon came when the truth was flashed through the blackness of night
upon me, and then my misery was more than I could bear. For years before
her death I had lain in my bed and listened to her moaning in her troubled
sleep, to the sighs which escaped from her heart and that of my father, and
I promised the God of my hoped-for salvation that if he would only let me
live I would no more give them pain. Cold, clammy sweat broke out over my
face, and my heart beat so low, and slow, and weak, that in very terror I
felt that my eyeballs were bursting from my head. Again and again I begged,
and plead, and prayed that God would spare me and let me live until I could
convince my father and mother that I never would drink again. But my
prayers were not answered. My mother went out from me in fear, and dread,
and doubt. My father lives, but for me he has little or no hope. If ever a
mortal longed and yearned for one thing more than another in this uncertain
existence, I long for a peaceful and quiet evening of life for my beloved
father. I implore the Father of all of us to give me grace and strength
enough to keep sober until my remaining parent is fully persuaded that I am
truly and beyond question saved from the curse which has driven me to an
asylum, and well nigh sent him, a broken-hearted man, to his grave. O for
a strength which will forever enable me to resist the hell-born and
hell-supported power of the fiend Alcohol! Could I do this and have my
father know it his dying hour would be full of sweet peace, and a joy so
shining that its light would drive afar off the shadows of his death agony.
In that knowledge death would be vanquished and heaven would stoop to earth
and cover his grave with glory. Oh, God! Grant me this one boon! Give me
this one request! In every step of my life I have disappointed him. In the
future let all other hopes, and joys, and aspirations die, if needs be, all
but this - this one - that I may never in any way touch liquor again. May
every man and woman who sees this allow their hearts to go out in an
earnest prayer that I may succeed in this one thing. It is now too late for
me to reach the bright promises of other years. It is now too late for me
to regain all that has been lost, but this I would do, and it will make me
feel at the last that I have not lived altogether to be a remorse and shame
to those who are bound to me by ties which can not be broken. God may
answer your prayers if not mine, so that from the throne of heavenly grace
may come the peace and rest for which my weary soul has sought so long in
vain.

When I drank after my mother's death, many persons took occasion, on
learning of it, to censure me in unsparing terms. It was even said that I
did not love my mother in life, that I had no respect for her memory in
death, and that I was a heartless wretch. These persons had no knowledge of
the power of my appetite. They did not know that the passion for liquor,
once developed or firmly established, is stronger in its unholy energy than
the love of the heart - of my heart, at least - for mother, father, brother,
or sister. But let me beg that I may not be charged with indifference to my
mother's memory. She comes before me now; she who was a true wife, a
faithful friend, a loving and gentle mother, and I kneel to her and pray
her blessing and pardon - I would clasp her to my heart, but alas! when I
would touch her, the bitter memory comes that she is gone. But I would not
repine, for I know she is with her God. Her life was pure and blameless,
and her soul, on leaving its weary earthly tabernacle, passed to its
inheritance - a mansion incorruptible, and one that will not fade away. She
bore her cross without a murmer of complaint, and she has been crowned
where the spirit of the just are made perfect. Blessed are the pure in
heart, we read, and I know that I am not misquoting the spirit of the holy
book when I say for the same reason, blessed is my mother, for she was pure
of heart, and passed from tribulation to peace, from night to day, from
sorrow to joy, from weariness to rest - rest in the bosom of God.

It may be that some young man will read these pages whose mother is still
among the living. I do not think that such a one will be without love for
his mother - a dear, compassionate, doating, gentle mother, who loved him
before he knew the name of love; who sang him to sleep in the years that
were, and awoke him with kisses on the bright mornings long ago; who bathed
his head with a soft hand when it throbbed with pain, and smiled when the
glow of health was on his cheek. She wept holy tears when he suffered, and
when he was delighted her heart beat with pleasure. It was she who taught
him that august prayer which is sacred in its simplicity to childhood. She
is aged now; her wealth of brown hair is white with age's winter, her step
is no longer quick, her eye has lost its lustre, and her hand is shaken
with the palsy of lost vigor. There are wrinkles in her brow and hollows in
the cheeks which were once so lovely that his father would have bartered a
kingdom for them. She is sitting by the side of the tomb waiting for the
mysterious summons which must soon come. Oh, young man, you for whom this
mother has suffered, you for whom she cherishes a love which is priceless
and deathless, you will not hasten her into eternity by an act, or word, or
look, will you? It would kill her to know that you had fallen under sin's
destroying stroke. Sometimes she goes to the portrait of your boyish face
and looks at it; at other times she takes down some worn and faded garment,
that you were wont to wear in those beautiful days of the past, and recalls
how you looked when you wore it; then she goes to the room where you used
to sleep and looks at the cradle in which she so often rocked you to sleep,
and, after all is seen, she returns to her chair - the old easy chair - and
waits to hear tidings of you. What would you have her know?

What news of yourself can you send her? Think of it well. Will you put your
wayward foot on her tender and feeble heart? Is her breathing so easy that
you would impede it with a brutal stab? Oh, if you know no pity for
yourself, have some for her. You will not murder her, will you? Yes, you
reply, and the laughter of mocking devils floats up from the caves of
hell - "Yes! give me more rum!" Now, hear the truth: The time will come when
the grass will seem to wither from your feet, pain will stifle your breath,
remorse will gnaw your heart and fill all your days and nights with misery
unspeakable; your dreams will torture you in sleep, and your waking
thoughts will be torments; your path will lie in gloom, and your bed will
be a pillow of thorns. You will cry in vain for that departed mother. You
will beg heaven to give her back, but the grave will be silent. The grasses
are creeping over her tomb, and the white hands have crumbled upon her
faithful breast. But no, you will not kill her. You will not call for rum.
I have wronged you, thank God! You will be a man. You are a man. You will
lay this book down, and swear that you will never touch the accursed,
ruinous drink, and you will keep your oath. By sobriety and good habits you
will lengthen your mother's days in the land, and smooth her troubled brow,
and give strength to her failing limbs.

Rum is a dreadful knife whose edge is never red with blood, but which yet
severs throats from ear to ear. It assassinates the peace of families, it
cuts away honor from the family name, it lets out the vital spark of life,
and is followed by inconsolable death. It pierces hearts, and enters the
bosom of trust, goring it with gashes which God alone can heal. Rum is a
robber who is deaf to hungry children's cries and famished wives'
pleadings. He is a fell destroyer from whom peace and comfort and content
fly. No one can afford to be his subject, and it is the duty of every one
to rise in arms against him. Let him be cursed everywhere. Let anathemas be


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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 4 of 12)