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raw and mean whisky in the saloon as was ever sold for the sum which I gave
for it - fifty cents. It was about nine o'clock at night when I bethought me
of the horse which I had sworn to ride home that evening. I untied the
beast with some difficulty, and led him to a mounting block. I got on the
block, and, after putting my foot securely in the stirrup, fell into the
saddle, I was too drunk to think further, and so permitted the horse to
take whatever course suited it best. It took the road toward home, but not
as quietly as a butterfly would have started. He flew with furious speed,
onward through the night, bearing me as if I had only been a feather. I did
not, for I could not, attempt to control him. It was a race with death, and
the chances were in death's favor long before we reached the home stretch.
Possibly I might have ridden safely home had the road been a straight one,
but it was not, and, on making a short turn, I was thrown from the saddle,
but my feet were securely fastened in the stirrups, and so I was dragged
onward by the animal, which did not pause in its mad career, but rather
sped forward more wildly than ever. I was dragged thus over a quarter of a
mile, and would undoubtedly have been killed had not one and then the other
stirrup broken. I lay with my feet in the detached stirrups until near
morning, wholly unconscious and dead, I presume, to all appearances. It was
quite a while after I came to my senses before I could realize what had
happened, who, and what, and where I was, and then my knowledge was too
vague to enable me to determine anything definitely. I crawled to a house
which was near by, fortunately, and remained there during the morning. I
was badly, but not dangerously, injured. The skin was torn from one side of
my face, and three of my fingers were disjointed. I was bruised all over,
and cut slightly in several places. How I escaped death is a miracle, but
escape it I did. The horse went on home and was found early in the morning,
with the stirrup leathers dangling from the saddle. When the family saw the
horse they at once were of the opinion that I had been killed, and my
father took the road to Raleigh immediately, thinking to find my dead body
on the way. Fearing that they would discover the horse and be frightened
about me, I started home, and had not gone far when I met my father. As
soon as he saw me walking in the road, he burst into tears. I did not dare
look as he rode up to me, but continued walking, and he rode slowly past
me. I could hear his sobs, but was too much overcome with shame to speak. I
walked on toward home as fast as I could, and my heart-broken but happy
father followed slowly in my rear. When I got within sight of the house my
sister saw me and ran to meet me, crying: "Oh, we thought you were killed
this time - I was sure you were killed. It is so dreadful to think of!" etc.
She was crying and laughing in a breath. My feelings were such as words can
not describe. I wanted the earth to open and swallow me up. I suffered a
thousand deaths. This is only one of a hundred similar debauches, each more
deplorable and humiliating in its consequences than the last.

At times, as the waters of the awful sea called the Past dash over me, I
almost die of strangulation. I pant and gasp for breath, and shudder and
tremble in my terror. My spree on this occasion was not yet over; my
appetite was burning and raging, and notwithstanding my almost miraculous
escape from a drunken death, I watched my opportunity, like a man bent on
self-destruction, and again mounted the same horse and started for Raleigh.
But my father had preceded me, and given orders at the saloon and elsewhere
that I should not be allowed more liquor. I was determined to satisfy my
appetite, and with this purpose subjugating every other, I went on to
Lewisville, where I remained for more than a week, drinking day and night.
Finally one of my brothers, hearing of my whereabouts, came after me and
took me home. I was so completely exhausted the moment that the liquor
began to die out that I had to go to bed, and there I remained for some
time. After such debauches the physical suffering is intense and great; but
it is little in comparison with the tortures of the mind. After such a
spree as the one just mentioned, it has generally been out of my power to
sleep for a week or longer after getting sober. I have tossed for hours and
nights upon a bed of remorse, and had hell with all its flames burning in
my heart and brain. Often have I prayed for death, and as often, when I
thought the final hour had come, have I shrunk back from the mysterious
shadow in which flesh has no more motion. Often have I felt that I would
lose my reason forever, but after a period of madness, nature would be
merciful and restore me my lost senses. Often have I pressed my hands
tightly over my mouth, fearing that I would scream, and as often would a
low groan sound in my blistered throat, the pent up echo of a long maniacal
wail. Often have I contemplated suicide, but as often has some benign power
held back my desperate hand; once, indeed, I tried to force the gates of
death by an attempt to take my own life, but, heaven be forever praised! I
did not succeed, for the knife refused to cut as deep as I would have had
it. I thought I would be justifiable in throwing off by any means such a
load of horror and pain as I was weighed down with. Who would not escape
from misery if he could? I argued. If the grave, self-sought, would hide
every error, blot out every pang, and shield from every storm, why not seek

They have in certain lands of the tropics a game which the people are said
to watch with absorbing interest. It is this: A scorpion is caught. With
cruel eagerness the boys and girls of the street assemble and place the
reptile on a board, surrounded with a rim of tow saturated with some
inflammable spirit. This ignited, the torture of the scorpion begins.
Maddened by the heat, the detested thing approaches the fiery barrier and
attempts to find some passage of escape, but vain the endeavor! It retreats
toward the center of the ring, and as the heat increases and it begins to
writhe under it, the children cry out with pleasure - a cry in which, I
fancy, there is a cadence of the sound which sends a thrill of delight
through hell - the sound of exultation which rises from the tongues of
bigots when the martyr's soul mounts upward from the flames in which his
body is consumed. Again the scorpion attempts to escape, and again it is
turned back by that impassable barrier of fire. The shouts of the children
deepen. At last, finding that there is no way by which to fly, the hated
thing retreats to the center of its flaming prison and stings itself to
death. Then it is that the exultation of the crowd of cruel tormentors is
most loudly expressed. But do not infer from what I have said that I look
with favor on suicide under any circumstances. That I do not do, but I
would have you look at society and some of its victims.

See what barriers of flame are often thrown around poor, despairing,
miserable men! Listen to that indifference and condemnation, and this wail
of agony! Can you wonder that the outcast abandons hope and plunges the
knife into his heart? He is driven to madness, and feeling that all is
lost, he commits an act which does indeed lose everything for him, for it
bars the gates of heaven against him. Before he had nothing on earth; now
he has nothing in paradise. Alas for those who triumph over the fall of a
fellow creature. God have mercy on those who exult over the wretchedness of
a victim of alcohol! Woe to those who ridicule his efforts to escape, and
who mock him when he fails. Do they not help to shape for him the dagger of
self-destruction? What ingredients of poison do they not mix with the fatal
drink which deprives him of breath? With what threads do they strengthen
the rope with which he hangs himself! Where should the most blame rest,
where does it most rest in the eyes of God - with society which drives him
forth a depraved and friendless creature? or with himself no longer
accountable for his acts? O the agony of feeling that on the whole face of
the earth there is not a face that will look upon you in kindness, nor a
heart that will throb with compassion at sight of your misery! I know what
this agony is, for in my darkest hours I have looked for pity and strained
my ears to catch the tones of a kindly voice in vain. But let me hasten to
say, lest I be misunderstood, that since I commenced to lecture, I have had
the support and active help of thousands of the very best men and women in
the land. I doubt that there was ever a man in calamity trying to escape
from terrors worse than those of death who had more aid than has been
extended to me. Could prayers and tears lift one out of misfortune and
wretchedness I would long ago have stood above all the tribulations of my
life. I desire to have every man and woman that has bestowed kindness on
me, if only a word or look, know that I remember such kindness, and that I
long to prove that it was not thrown away. Every day there rises before me
numberless faces I have met from time to time, each beautiful with the
love, sympathy, and pity which elevates the human into the divine. There
are others, I regret to say, that pass before me with dark looks and
scowls. I know them well, for they have sought to discourage and drag me
down. Their tongues have been quick to condemn and free to vilify me. I
seek no revenge on them. I forgive as wholly and freely as I hope to be
forgiven. May God soften their tiger hearts and melt their hyena souls.


The ever-recurring spell - Writing in the sand - Hartford City - In the
ditch - Extricated - Fairly started - A telegram - My brother's death - Sober - A
long night - Ride home - Palpitation of the heart - Bluffton - The
inevitable - Delirium again - No friends, money, nor clothes - One hundred
miles from home - I take a walk - Clinton county - Engage to teach a
school - The lobbies of hell - Arrested - Flight to the country - Open
school - A failure - Return home - The beginning of a terrible experience - Two
months of uninterrupted drinking - Coatless, hatless, and bootless - The
"Blue Goose" - The tremens - Inflammatory rheumatism - The torments of the
damned - Walking on crutches - Drive to Rushville - Another drunk - Pawn
my clothes - At Indianapolis - A cold bath - The consequence - Teaching
school - Satisfaction given - The kindness of Daniel Baker and his wife - A
paying practice at law.

I was at all times unhappy, and hence I was always restless and
discontented. I was continually striving for something that would at least
give me contentment, but before I could establish myself in any thing the
ever-recurring spell would seize me, and whatever confidence I had
succeeded in gaining was swept away. I wrote in sand, and the incoming tide
with a single dash annihilated the characters. During one of my uneasy
wanderings I went to Hartford City, Indiana. Hartford "City," like all
other cities In the land, has a full supply of saloons. With a view of
advertising myself I had my friends announce on the second day after my
arrival that I would deliver a political speech. This speech was listened
to by an immense crowd, and heartily praised by the party whose principles
I advocated. I was puffed up with the enthusiasm of the people, and
repaired with some of the local leaders to a saloon to take a drink in
honor of the occasion. The drink taken by me as usual wrought havoc. I
wanted more, as I always do when I take one drink, and I got more. I got
more than enough, too, as I always do. On the way home with a gentleman
whom I knew, I fell into a ditch, but was extricated with difficulty, and
finally carried to the house of a friend. My clothes were wet and covered
with mud. After sleeping awhile I got up and stole from the house very much
as a thief would have sneaked away. I was fairly started on another spree,
and for three weeks I drank heavily and constantly. Sometime during the
third week of my debauch I received a telegram stating that my brother was
dead. The suddenness and terrible nature of the news caused me to become
sober at once. It was just at twilight when I received the telegram, and
there was no train until nine o'clock the next morning. That night seemed
like an age to me. I never closed my eyes in sleep, but lay in my bed weak
and terror-stricken, waiting for the morning. It came at last, for the
longest night will end in day. I got on the train and sat down by a window.
I was so weak and nervous that I could not hold a cup in my hand. But I
wanted no more liquor. The terrible news of the previous day had frightened
away all desire for drink. I had not ridden far when I was seized with
palpitation of the heart. The sudden cessation from all stimulants had left
my system in a condition to resist nothing, and when my heart lost its
regular action, the chances were that I could not survive. All day I drew
my breath with painful difficulty, and thought that each respiration would
be the last. I raised the car window and put out my head so that the
rushing air would strike my face, and this revived me. When I got home my
brother was buried. I had left him a few days before in good health and
proud in his strength. I returned to find him hidden forever from my sight
by the remorseless grave. What I felt and suffered no one knew, nor can
ever know. Every night for weeks I could see my brother in life, but the
cold reality of death came back to me with the light of day. I was stunned
and almost crazed by the blow, and yet there were not wanting persons who,
incapable of a deep pang of sorrow, said that I did not care. Could they
have been made to suffer for one night the agony which I endured for weeks
they would learn to feel for the miseries of others, and at the same time
have a knowledge of what sufferings the human heart is capable.

My next move was to Bluffton, Wells county, Indiana, where I arranged to go
into the practice of the law. But here at Bluffton, as elsewhere, were the
devil's recruiting offices - the saloons - and the first night after I
reached the town I got drunk. I remained in Bluffton until I got over the
debauch, which embraced a siege of the delirium tremens more horrible than
that already described. When I came to myself, I determined that I would go
home. I was without money; I had no friends in Bluffton, and but few
clothes to my back, and it was over one hundred miles to my father's, but I
started on foot and walked the whole way. I stayed quietly at home a few
days, and then went to Howard and Clinton counties on business, which was
to make some collections on notes for other parties. While in Clinton
county I engaged to teach a district school, and in order to begin at the
time specified by the trustees, I returned home to get ready. I started to
return to Clinton county on Friday, so as to be there to open school on the
following Monday. I got off the train at Indianapolis, and went into one of
the numerous lobbies of hell near the depot. It was a week from that
evening before I was sober enough to realize where I was, who I was, where
I had come from, and whither I had started. I could hardly believe it
possible that I had fallen again, but there was no doubt of the fact. I had
been arrested and had pawned my trunk to get money to pay my fine. To this
day I don't know why I was arrested, but for being drunk, I suppose. I fled
from the city, and walked thirty miles into the country, where I borrowed
enough money of a friend to redeem my trunk. I then started for my school.
Notwithstanding I was one week behind, the trustees were still expecting
me, and on Monday morning, one week later than the time appointed at first,
I opened school. But I was so worn out and confused in my faculties that at
noon I was forced to dismiss the school. I hurried from the house to a
small village in the neighborhood and there I got more liquor. The next
morning I left for home. Such a condition of affairs was lamentable and
damnable, but I was powerless to make it better. I have often wondered what
the people of that neighborhood thought when they found that I had taken a
cargo of whisky and disappeared as mysteriously as I came. If the young
idea shot forth at all during that season among the children of that
district it was directed by other hands than mine. I never sent in a bill
for the sixty-two and a half cents due me for that half day's work. If the
good people of Clinton will consent to call the matter even, I will here
and now relinquish every possible claim, right, or title to the aforesaid
amount. They have probably long since forgotten the school which was not
taught, and the pedagogue who did not teach. I arrived at home in course of
time, and remained there a few days.

It was not long until my restless disposition drove me forth in search of
some new adventure, and now comes the brief and imperfect recital of the
most terrible experiences of my life. On the first of July I began to
drink, and it was not until the first of September that I quit. During this
time I went to Cincinnati twice, once to Kentucky, and twice to Lafayette.
I traveled nearly all the time, and much of the time I was in an
unconscious state. I started from home with two suits of clothes which I
pawned for whisky after my money was all gone. I arrived at Knightstown one
day without coat, vest or hat. I was also barefooted. A friend supplied me
with these necessary articles, and as soon as I put them on I went to a
saloon kept by Peter Stoff, and there I staid four days without venturing
out on the street. As soon as I was able, I took up my journey homeward.
When I got to Raleigh I was so completely worn out that I dropped down in a
shoe shop and saloon, both of which were in the same compartment of a
building. That night I took the tremens. The next day my father came after
me in a spring wagon, and hauled me home. For the most part, during the two
months of which I speak, I had slept out doors, without even a dog for
company, and I contracted slight cold and fever, which terminated in an
attack of inflammatory rheumatism in my left knee. The rheumatism came on
in an instant, and without any previous warning. The first intimation I had
of it was a keen pain, such as I imagine would follow a knife if thrust
through the centre of the knee. When the doctor reached the house my knee
had swollen enormously. I was burning up with a violent fever, and was wild
with delirium. He at once blistered a hole in each side of my knee, and
applied sedatives. My suffering was literally that of the damned. I lay
upon my back for days and nights on a small lounge, without sleeping a
wink, so great was my suffering. For forty-eight hours my eyes were rolled
upward and backward in my head in a set and terrible rigidity. In my
delirium, I thought my room was overran by rats. I tried to fight them off
as they came toward me, but when I thought they were gone I could detect
them stealing under my lounge, and presently they would be gnawing at my
knee, and every time one of them touched me, a thrill of unearthly horror
shot through me. They tore off pieces of my flesh, and I could see these
pieces fall from their bloody jaws. No pen could describe my sickening and
revolting sensations of horror and agony. For sixty days did I lie upon my
back on that couch, unable to turn on either side, or move in any way,
without suffering a thousand deaths. I experienced as much pain as ever was
felt by any mortal being, and it is still a wonder to me how I survived. I
was, on more than one occasion, believed to be dead by my friends, and they
wrapped me in the winding sheet. Even then I was conscious of what they
were doing, and yet I was unable to move a muscle, or speak, or groan. A
horrible fear came over me that they would bury me alive. I seemed to die
at the thought, but, had mountains been heaped upon me, it would have been
as easy for me to show that I was not dead. But I would gradually regain
the power of articulation, and then again would hope rise in the hearts of
those who were watching. At last, but slowly, I recovered sufficiently to
be able to leave my room. I procured a pair of crutches, and by their aid I
could go about the house. Next I went out riding in a buggy, and after a
time got so that I could walk without difficulty, though not without my
crutches, for I did not yet dare to bear weight on my afflicted knee.

One day I went to Rushville, and - O, curse of curses! - gave way to my
appetite. The moment the whisky began to affect me, I forgot that I had
crutches, and set my lame leg down with my whole weight upon it. The sudden
and agonizing pain caused me to give a scream, and yet I repeated the step
a number of times. But the insufferable pain caused me to return home.

It was now winter. The Legislature was in session at Indianapolis, and I
was promised a position, and, with this end in view, packed my trunk and
bid good-by to the folks at home. At Shelbyville, at which place I had a
little business to attend to, I took a drink. Just how and why I took it
has been already told, for the same cause always influenced me. The same
result followed, and at Indianapolis I kept up the debauch until I had
traded a suit of clothes worth sixty dollars for one worth, at a liberal
estimate, about sixty-five cents. I even pawned my crutches, which I still
used and still needed. One day I went to a bath-room, and after remaining
in the bath for half an hour, with the water just as warm as I could bear
it, I resolved to change the programme, and, without further reflection, I
turned off the warm and turned on water as cold as ice could make it. It
almost caused my death. In an instant every pore of my body was closed, and
I was as numb as one would be if frozen. Even my sight was destroyed for a
few minutes, but I contrived to get out of the bath and put on my rags. I
found my way, with some difficulty, to the Union Depot, and boarded a
train, but I did not notice that it was not the train I wanted to travel on
until it was too late for me to correct the mistake. I went to Zionsville,
and lay there three days under the charge of two physicians. I then started
again to go home, expecting to die at any moment. At last I reached
Falmouth, and was carried to my father's, where I passed two weeks in
suffering only equaled by that which I had already borne.

On again recovering my health, I began to look about for something to do,
and hearing of a vacant school east of Falmouth, and about four miles from
my father's, I made application and was employed to teach it. It is with
pride (which, after the record of so many failures, I trust will readily be
pardoned) that I chronicle the fact that from the beginning to the end of
the term I never tasted liquor. I look back to those months as the happiest
of my life. I did what is seldom done, for in addition to keeping sober
(which I believe most teachers do without an effort), I gave complete
satisfaction to every parent, and pleased and made friends with every
scholar (a thing, I believe, that most teachers do not do). Very bright and
vivid in memory are those days, made more radiant by contrast with the
darkness and degradation which lie before and after them. As I dwell upon
them a ray of their calm light steals into my soul, and the faces of my
loved scholars come out of the intervening darkness and smile upon me,
until, for a brief moment, I forget my barred window, the mad-house, and my
desolation, and fancy that I am again with them. I boarded with Daniel
Baker, and can never forget his own and his good wife's kindness.

At the close of my school I was in better health and spirits than I had
ever before been. I began to feel that there was still a chance for me to
redeem the losses of the past, and I can not describe how happy the thought
made me. I again began the practice of law, and for six months I devoted
myself to my duties. I had a large and paying practice, and not once but
often was I engaged in cases where my fees amounted to from fifty to one
hundred dollars, and once I received two hundred and fifty dollars. I will
further say that my clients felt that they were paying me little enough in
each case, considering the service I rendered them. But during the latter
part of the time I suffered much from low spirits and nervousness, and my
desire for whisky almost drove me wild at times. I fought this appetite
again and again with desperate determination, and how the contest would

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 6 of 12)