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hurled against him by the young and old of both sexes. Death is an angel of
mercy sometimes - this destroyer never. Death may open the gates of heaven
to every victim, but this destroyer can unbar alone the gates of hell. He
takes away concord and love and joy, and in their stead leaves the horror
and misery of pandemonium!


Blank, black night - Afloat - From place to place - No rest - Struggles - Giving
way - One gallon of whisky in twenty-four hours - Plowing corn - Husking
corn - My object - All in vain - Old before my time - A wild, oblivious
journey - Delirium tremens - The horrors of hell - The pains of the
damned - Heavenly hosts - My release - New tortures - Insane wanderings - In the
woods - At Mr. Hinchman's - Frozen feet - Drive to town in a buggy surrounded
by devils - Fears and sorrows - No rest.

From this time until I tried to break the terrible chain that bound me by
lecturing on the miseries and evils of intemperance, my life was one long,
hopeless, blank, black night. More than one half of the time for five years
I was dead to everything but my own despairing, helpless, pitiable and
despicable condition. I was afloat without provision, sail, or compass, on
an ocean of darkness, and from one period of deeper gloom to another I
expected to go down in the sightless oblivion and so end my accursed
existence. I could see no prospect of a rift in the curtain of pitchy cloud
which hung over me. I was myself an ever-shifting, restless, uneasy
tempest. My unrest and nervous dread of some swift approaching doom too
awful to be conceived became so intense and real that I fled from place to
place. Not unfrequently I came to myself during these epochs of madness
and found that I was a hundred or more miles from home, without friends,
respectable or even sufficient clothing, or money - a bloated and beastly
wreck. I know not how I ever found my way back, or why I prolonged
my life under such circumstances; but it seems the instinct called
self-preservation was yet stronger than the ills which assailed me. Days
were like weeks to me, and weeks as months, and mouths as years, and in all
and through all I managed to crawl forward toward the grave which is still
out yonder in the future, finding no pleasure in myself and no delight in
anything beautiful and holy. As I lift the dread curtain and glance
tremblingly along the path which stretches through the funereal shadows of
the past, I feel that it was a thousand years ago when I was a child in my
mother's dear protecting arms. Sin may have moments of pleasure, but the
pleasure is but a hollow semblance in advance of seemingly never-ending
hours of remorse and suffering.

More than once I made desperate efforts to escape from my humiliating
thraldom, and, as I was sober during the days of struggle, I sought and
found business, and thus managed to secure a little money, although most of
my clients were poor and anything but influential. I always did my best for
them, however, and seldom lost a case. But at the end of a few days a
strange, undefinable, uneasy feeling began to crawl over me and crept into
my heart; I became more and more restless, anxious and nervous. I was soon
too uneasy to sit still or lie down. Horrible sufferings, agonies untold,
woe unspeakable, deprived me of reason, and when I had the inclination I
had not the will to guide myself aright. Then all of a sudden, my fierce
and unrelenting appetite would sweep, vulture like, down upon me, and I
would feel myself on the point of giving way. After this I would rally
for a brief season, but only to sink into still deeper misery and
desperation. There were days without food, and nights without sleep,
but - God pity me! - not without liquor. I lived on the hellish liquid
alone, and such a life! The devils of the lower world could see nothing to
envy in it. It was worse than their own torture. The quantity of liquor
which I now required was enormous. I have drank, on the closing days of a
spree, one gallon of whisky within the duration of twenty-four hours, and
when I could not get whisky, I would drink alcohol, vinegar, camphor,
liniment, pepper-sauce - in short, anything that would have a tendency to
heat my stomach. I would have drank fire could I have done so knowing that
it would satisfy the thirst that was consuming me. I left untried no means
that would enable me to break away from my appetite. For two or three
summers after I began practicing law, I went into the country and engaged
myself to plow corn at seventy-five cents per day, in order to keep myself
as long as possible from the dangers of the town. In the autumn season,
after a debauch of weeks, I have hired out and shucked or husked corn in
order to get money with which to buy myself boots and winter clothing. I
occasionally taught school in the country, but not for money, for I have
made more at my profession, when in a condition to practice it, in a single
day than I got for teaching a whole month. My object was to free myself, to
break my manacles, to open the door of my prison cell and walk forth in the
upright posture of a man. Sadly I write, "in vain!" If I fled, the demon
outran me; if I broke a link, the demon moulded another; if I prayed, he
put the curse into my mouth. As I look back over my horror-haunted, broken,
misspent, and false existence, I realize how worthless I am, and I see that
my life is a failure. I am in my thirty-second year, and am prematurely
old, without the wisdom, or gray hairs, or goodness, or truth, or respect
which should accompany age. My heart is frosty but not my hair.

I will now endeavor to recite some of the scenes through which I passed,
that the reader may form for himself an opinion regarding my sufferings. I
left Rushville on one of my periodical sprees (I do not remember the exact
time, but no matter about that, the fact is burning in my memory), and
after three or four weeks of blind, insane, drunken, unpremeditated
travel - heaven only knows where - I found myself again in Rushville, but
more dead than alive. I experienced a not unfamiliar but most strange
foreboding that some terrible calamity was impending. I was more nervous
than ever before, so much so in fact that I became alarmed seriously, and
called on Dr. Moffitt for medical advice. He diagnosed my case, and
informed me that my condition was dangerous, unnatural and wild. He gave me
some medicine and kindly advised me to go into his house and lie down, I
remained there two days and nights, and in spite of his able treatment and
constant care I grew worse. Do you know what is meant by delirium tremens,
reader? If not, I pray God you may never know more than you may learn from
these pages. I pray God that you may never experience in any form any of
the disease's horrors. It was this, the most terrible malady that ever
tortured man, that was laying its ghastly, livid, serpentine hands upon me.
All at once, and without further warning, my reason forsook me altogether,
and I started from Dr. Moffitt's house to go to my boarding place. The
sidewalks were to me one mass of living, moving, howling, and ferocious
animals. Bears, lions, tigers, wolves, jaguars, leopards, pumas - all wild
beasts of all climes - were frothing at the mouth around me and striving to
get to me. Recollect that while all this was hallucination, it was just as
real as if it had been an undeniable and awful reality. Above and all
around me I heard screams and threatening voices. At every step I fell over
or against some furious animal. When I finally reached the door leading to
my room and just as I was about to enter, a human corpse sprang into the
doorway. It had motion, but I knew that it was a tenant of that dark and
windowless abode, the grave. It opened full upon me its dull, glassy,
lustreless eyes; stark, cold, and hideous it stood before me. It lifted a
stiffened arm and struck me a blow in the face with its icy and almost
fleshless hand from which reptiles fell and writhed at my feet. I turned to
rush into another room, but the door was bolted. I then thought for a
second that I was dreaming, and I awoke and laughed a wild laugh, which
ended in a shriek, for I knew that I was awake. I turned again toward my
own door, and the form had vanished. I jumped into my room and tore off my
clothes, but as I threw aside my garments, each separate piece turned into
something miscreated and horrible, with fiendish and burning eyes, that
caused my own to start from their sockets. My room was filled with menacing
voices, and just then a mighty wind rushed past my window, and out of the
wind came cries, and lamentations, and curses, which took shapes unearthly,
and ranged about the bed on which I lay shuddering. Die! die! die! they
shrieked. I was commanded to hold my breath, and they threatened horrors
unimaginable if I did not obey.

I now believed that my time had come to render up the life which had been
so much abused. I asked what would become of my soul when my body gave it
up, and they told me it would descend to the tortures of an everlasting
hell, and that once there, my present sufferings would be as bliss compared
with what was in store for me for an endless age. As my eyes wandered about
the room - I was afraid to close them - I saw that innumerable devils were
crowding into it. They were henceforth to be my companions, and if the
Prince of all of them ever allowed me to leave for a brief time the regions
of infernal woe, it would be in their company and on missions such as they
were now fulfilling. I called aloud for my mother, and a voice more
diabolical than any I had yet heard, hissed into my ears that she was
chained in hell, but immediately a million devils screamed, "Liar! she is
in heaven!" I refused then to hold my breath, and told them to kill me and
do their worst. In an instant the spirit of my mother, like a benediction,
rested beside me. As she begged for me I knew that it was her voice,
natural as in her life on earth. While she was yet imploring for me the
room became radiant, and I saw that it was full of angels. I felt a strange
joy. My sins were pardoned, and I was told that I should go forth and
preach and save souls. I was commanded to get out of bed, put on my
clothes, and go down stairs, where I would be told what to do. I obeyed,
and on opening the door that led to the street, a man came to me and he bid
me follow him. The spirits whispered to me that the man was Christ, and his
looks, acts and steps even were such as I had conceived were his when he
was once a meek and lowly sufferer on earth. I followed him about sixty
rods, when he told me to stop. I did so, and just then the heavens opened
with a great blaze of glory, and millions of angels came down. Such music
as then broke upon my senses I never heard before, and have never since
heard. The angels would approach near me and tell me they were going to
take me to heaven with them; then they would disappear for an instant and
devils gathered about me. I could hear music and see the heavenly hosts
returning. They came and went many times thus, and after they went away the
last time, I was again surrounded by fiends who inflicted every torture on
me. Christ commanded me to stand in that place, I thought, and there I
remained. It was very cold, and I froze my feet and hands. I then felt that
the devils were burning off my feet, and I shrieked for liquor. I looked
down and saw a bottle at my feet, but when I reached down to get it a lion
threw his claws over it, and warned me with a fierce growl not to touch it.
The snow melted, the season changed, and I was standing in mud and mire up
to my neck. Ropes were tied around me, and horses were hitched to them to
drag me from the deeps, but in trying to draw me out the ropes would snap
asunder and I was left imbedded in the clay. They could not move me,
because Christ had commanded me to stand there. A little while before the
break of day the Savior appeared and told me to go. I started to run, but
when I got alongside the old depot there burst from it the combined screams
of millions of incarnate devils. I can hear in fancy still the avalanche of
voices which rolled from those lost myriads. I ran into the first house to
which I came. Its saw at a glance what was the nature of my terrible
trouble, but he had no power to help me. I beheld the face of a black fiend
grinning on me through a window. In the center of his forehead was an
enormous and fiery eye, and about his sinister mouth the grin which I at
first saw became demoniacal. He called the fiends, and I heard them come as
a rushing tornado, and surround the house. Everything I attempted to do was
anticipated by them. If I thought of moving my hand I heard them say,
"Look! he is going to lift his hand." No matter what I did or thought of
doing, they cursed me.

When daylight at last came - and oh, what an age of dying agony lay behind
it in the vast hollow darkness of the night! - the horrid objects
disappeared, but the voices remained and talked with me all day. You who
read, imagine yourselves alone in a room, or walking deserted streets, with
voices articulating words to you with as clear distinctness as words were
ever spoken to you. Many of the voices were those of friends and
acquaintances whom I knew to be in their graves, and yet they - their
voices - were conversing with, or talking to me, during the whole of that
long, long, terrible day. I was tortured with fears and a dread of
something infinitely horrible. I went to my office - the voices were there!
I stepped to the window, and on the street were men congregating in front
of the building. I could hear their voices, and they were all talking of
hanging me. I had committed an appalling crime, they said. I knew not where
to go or whither to fly. Now and then I could hear strains of music. The
dreaded night came on, and with it the fiends returned. In the excitement
of breaking from my office, I forgot to put on my overcoat. The moment I
got on the street the freezing wind drove me back, but hundreds of voices
gathered around me and threatened me with death if I entered the door
again. I went away followed by them, and wandered in a thin coat up and
down the streets, and through the woods all night. The wonder was that I
did not freeze to death. I could hear crowds of excited people at the court
house discussing me, I thought. When I started to go there, every door and
window of the building flew open and fiery devils darted out and cursed me
away. All the time I was dying for whisky, but the saloon keepers would not
give me a drop. They saw and understood what was the matter with me, and
refused to finish the work begun in their dens. I started at last in the
direction of home. Just outside of the town a man by my side showed me a
bottle of whisky. I was dying for it, and begged him for at least one
swallow. He opened the bottle and held it to my lips, and I saw that the
bottle was full of blood. Again and again did he deceive me. Exhausted at
last, I sank down in the snow and begged for death to come and end my life,
but instead, a company of citizens of Rushville, whom I knew, gathered
around me and a glass of whisky was handed to me. I saw that everyone
present held a similar glass in his hand, which, at a given word, was
raised to the mouth. I hastened to drink, but while they drained their
glasses, I could not get a drop from mine. I looked more closely at the
glass and discovered that there were two thicknesses to it, and that the
liquor was contained between them. I studied how I could break the glass
and not spill the whisky, and begged and plead with the men to have mercy
on me. I got out into the woods four or five miles from Rushville, and
wandered about in the snow, but all around and above me were the universal
and eternal voices threatening me. A thousand visions came and went; a
thousand tortures consumed me; a thousand hopes sustained me.

I quit the woods pursued by winged and cloven-footed fiends, and ran to the
house of Andy Hinchman. He received and gave me shelter until morning, when
he carried me back home in his buggy. I had no more than got into his house
when it was surrounded by my tormentors. They raised the windows and
commenced throwing lassos at me, in order, as they said, to catch me and
drag me out that they might kill me. I sat up in my chair until daylight,
fighting them off with both hands. All these terrible torments were, I
repeat, realities, intensified over the ordinary realities of life a
hundred fold. I had wandered to and fro, as I have described, but the
people, the angels and the devils were alike the phantasmagoria of my
diseased mind. For one week after the night last mentioned, I had no use of
either arm. I had so frozen my feet that I could not put on my boots. Mr.
Hinchman kindly loaned me a pair that I succeeded, although with great
pain, in drawing on, for they were three sizes larger than I was in the
habit of wearing. The devils were still with me, but I had moments of
reason when I could banish them from my mind. On our way to town they rode
on top of the buggy and clung to the spokes of the wheels, and whirled over
and over with dizzy revolutions. How they fought, and cursed, and shrieked!
When I got to my room it was the same, and for days I was surrounded the
greater part of the time with demons as numberless as those seen in the
fancy of the mighty poet of a Lost Paradise marshaled under the infernal
ensign of Lucifer on the fiery and blazing plains of hell! For more than
one month after the madness left me I was afraid to sleep in a room alone,
and the least sound would fill me with fear. I ran when none pursued, and
hid when no one was in search of me. My sleep was fitful and full of
terrible dreams, and my days were days of unrest and anguish unspeakable.


Wretchedness and degradation - Clothes, credit, and reputation all lost - The
prodigal's return to his father's house - Familiar scenes - The beauty of
nature - My lack of feeling - A wild horse - I ride him to Raleigh and get
drunk - A mixture of vile poison - My ride and fall - The broken stirrups - My
father's search - I get home once more - Depart the same day on the wild
horse - A week at Lewisville - Sick - Yearnings for sympathy.

My condition now grew worse from day to day. I descended step by step
to the lowest depths of wretchedness and degradation. Often my only
sleeping-place was the pavement, or a stairway, or a hall leading to some
office. I lost my clothes, pawning most of them to the rum-sellers, until I
was unfit to be seen, so few and dirty and ragged were the garments which I
could still call my own. In ten years I have lost, given away, and pawned
over fifty suits of clothes. Within the three years just past I have had
six overcoats that went the way of my reputation and peace of mind.

I left Rushville at the time of which I am writing, but not until it was
out of my power to either buy or beg a drop of liquor - not until my
reputation was destroyed and everything else that a true man would
prize - and then, like the prodigal who had wallowed with swine, I returned
to my father's house - the home of my childhood, around which lay the scenes
which were imprinted on my mind with ineffaceable colors. But I had
destroyed the sense which should have made them comforting to me. I have no
doubt that nature is beautiful - that there are fine souls to whom she is a
glorious book, on whose divine pages they learn wisdom and find the highest
and most exalting charms. But I, alas, am dead to her subtle and sacred
influences. However, I might have been benefited by my stay at home, had it
been difficult for me to find that which my appetite still craved; but it
was not so. Falmouth and Raleigh and Lewisville were still within easy
reach, and not only at these, but at many other places could liquor be
procured, and I got it. The curse was on me. My condition became such that
it was unsafe to send me from home on any business. I can recall times when
I left horses hitched to the plow or wagon and went on a spree, forgetting
all about them, for weeks. I had left home firm in the resolve to not touch
a drop of liquor under any circumstances, and so thoroughly did I believe
that I would not, that I would have staked my soul on a wager that I would
keep sober. But the sight of a saloon, or of some person with whom I had
been on a drunk, or even an empty beer keg, would rouse my appetite to such
an extent that I gave up all thoughts of sobriety and wanted to get drunk.
I always allowed myself to be deceived with the idea that I would only get
on a moderate drunk this time, and then quit forever. But the first drink
was sure to be followed by a hundred or a thousand more.

Once while in a state of beastly intoxication at Rushville, my father came
for me and took me home in a wagon, and for two weeks I scarcely stirred
outside of the house. But the house which should have been a paradise to me
was made a prison by reason of my desires for the hell-created liberty of
entering saloons and associating with men as reckless as myself. I became
morose, nervous, and uneasy. I took a horseback ride one morning and would
not admit to myself that I cared less for the ride than to feel that I
could go where I could get liquor. I did not want to drink, but like the
moth which returns by some fatal charm again and again to the flames which
eventually consume it, I could not resist the temptation to go where I
could lay my hands on the curse. There was on the farm, among the horses,
one that was unusually wild, which had hitherto thrown every person that
mounted it. The only way it could be managed at all was with a rough
curb-bitted bridle, and even then each rein had to be drawn hard. If there
was any one thing on which I prided myself at that time it was my
proficiency in riding horses. I determined on mastering this horse, and
early one morning I mounted his back. I got along without a great amount of
difficulty in keeping my seat until I got to Raleigh. Here I dismounted and
sat in the corner groceries for an hour or more, talking to acquaintances.
Finally, like the dog returning to his vomit, I crossed the street and went
into a saloon. Had the door opened into the vermilion lake of fire I would
have passed through it if I had been sure of getting a drink, so sudden and
uncontrollable was the appetite awakened. Only a few minutes before I had
with religious solemnity assured two young men who were keeping a dry goods
store there that I had quit drinking forever. To test me, I suppose, one of
them had said to me that he had some excellent old whisky, and wanted me to
try a little of it, and offered me the jug. I carried it to my mouth, and
took a swallow. It was a villainous compound of whisky, alcohol and drugs
of various kinds, which he sold in quart bottles under the name of some
sort of bitters which were warranted to cure every disease: and I will add
that I believe to this day that they would do what he said they would, for
I do not think any human being, bird, or beast, unless there is another
Quilp living, could drink two bottles of it in that number of days and not
be beyond the need of further attention than that required to prepare him
for burial. It was the sight of the jug and the taste of the poison slop
which it contained that aroused my appetite and scattered my resolves to
the tempest. Once in the saloon I drank without regard to consequences, and
without caring whether the horse I rode was as jaded and tame as Don
Quixote's ill-favored but famous steed, or as wild and unmanageable as the
steed to which the ill-starred Mazeppa was lashed. I did not stop to
consider that a clear head and steady hand were necessary to guide that
horse and protect my life, which would be endangered the moment I again
mounted my horse. Ordinarily I would have gone away and left the horse to
care for itself, but I remembered the character of the horse, and with a
drunken maniac's perversity of feeling I would not abandon it. I designed
getting only so drunk, and then I would show the folks what a young man
could really do. On leaving the saloon I returned to the jug, which
contained the mixture described, and which would have called up apparitions
on the blasted heath that would have not only startled the ambitious thane,
but frightened the witches themselves out of their senses.

I took one full drink - what is called in the vernacular of the bar room a
"square" drink - from the jug, and that, uniting with the saloon slop, made
me a howling maniac. I have forgotten to mention that I got a quart of as

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 5 of 12)