How to Cure a Drunkard

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851

"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise."
Proverbs 20:1

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper!" Proverbs 23:29-32


[The following story, literally true in its leading particulars, was told by a reformed man, who knew 'Wilson' very well. In repeating it, I do so in the first person, in order to give it more effect.]

I was enjoying my glass of whiskey, one night, at the little old "Black Horse" that used to stand a mile out of Somerset, (I hadn't joined the great army of teetotalers then,) when a neighboring farmer came in, who much enjoyed his whisky toddies. His name was Wilson. He was a quiet sort of a man when sober lively and chatty under the effect of a single glass argumentative and offensively dogmatic after the second toddy and downright insulting and quarrelsome after getting beyond that number of drinks. We liked him, and disliked him, on these accounts.

On the occasion referred too, he passed through all these changes, and finally sank off to sleep by the warm stove. Being in the way, and also in danger of tumbling upon the floor, some of us removed him to an old couch, where he slept soundly, entertaining us with rather an unmusical serenade. There were two or three mischievous fellows about the place, and one of them suggested it would be capital fun to blacken Wilson's face, and "make a darkey of him." No sooner said than done. Some lamp-black and oil were mixed together in an old tin cup, and a coat of this paint laid over the face of Wilson, who, all unconscious of what had been done, slept on as soundly and snored as loudly as ever. Fully two hours passed away before he awoke. Staggering up to the bar, he called for another glass of whisky toddy, while we made the old bar-room ring again with our peals of laughter.

"What are you all laughing at?" he said, as he became aware that he was the subject of jest, and turning his black face around upon the company as he spoke.

"Give us Zip Coon, old fellow!" called out one of the "boys" who had helped him to his beautiful mask.

"No! no! Lucy Long! Give us Lucy Long!" cried another.

"Can't you dance Jim Crow? Try it. I'll sing the wheel about and turn about, and do just so.' Now begin."

And the last speaker commenced singing Jim Crow.

Wilson neither understood nor relished all this. But the more angry and mystified he became, the louder laughed the company and the freer became their jests. At last, in a passion, he swore at us lustily, and leaving the barroom, in great anger, took his horse from the stable and rode off.

It was past eleven o'clock. The night was cold, and a ride of two miles made Wilson sober enough to understand that he had been rather drunk, and was still a good deal "in for it;" and that it wouldn't exactly do for his wife to see him just as he was. So he rode a mile past his house and then back again, at a slow trot, concluding that by this time the good woman was fast asleep. And so she was. He entered the house, crept silently upstairs, and got quietly into bed, without his better half being wiser therefor.

On the next morning, Mrs. Wilson awoke first. But what was her surprise and horror, upon rising up, to see, instead of her lawful husband, what she thought a strapping negro, as black as charcoal, lying at her side. Her first impulse was to scream; but her presence of mind in this trying position, enabled her to keep silence. You may be sure that she didn't remain long in such a close contact with Sir Darkey. Not she! For, slipping out of bed quickly, but noiselessly, she glided from the room, and was soon downstairs in the kitchen, where a stout, two-fisted Irish girl was at work preparing breakfast.

"Oh! dear! Kitty!" she exclaimed, panting for breath, and looking as pale as a ghost, "have you seen anything of Mr. Wilson, this morning?"

"Oh no. But what ails you? You are as white as a sheet?"

"Oh! mercy! Kitty. You wouldn't believe it, but there's a monstrous negro in my room!"

"Gracious me! Mrs. Wilson, a negro?"

"Yes, indeed, Kitty!" returned Mrs. Wilson, trembling in every limb. "And worse and worse, he's in my bed! I just woke up and thought it was Mr. Wilson by my side. But, when I looked over, I saw instead of his face, one as black as the stove. Mercy on me! I was frightened almost to death."

"Is he asleep?" asked Kitty.

"Yes, sound asleep and snoring. Oh! dear! What shall we do? Where in the world is Mr. Wilson? I'm afraid this negro has murdered him."

"Ouch! the blasted murdering thief!" exclaimed Kitty, her organ of combativeness, which was very large, becoming terribly excited. "Get into mistress's bed, and the lady there herself, the omadhoun! The black, murdering thief of a villain!"

And Kitty, thinking of no danger to herself, and making no calculation of consequences, seized a stout hickory pole which stood in one corner of the kitchen, and went upstairs. The noise roused Wilson from his sleep, and he raised up in bed just as Kitty entered the room.

"Oh! you murdering thief of a villain!" shouted Kitty, as she caught sight of his black face, pitching into him with her pole, and sweeping off his night-cap, at the imminent risk of taking his head with it.

"Stop!! Are you mad!"

"Mad is it, you thief!" retorted Kitty, who did not recognize the voice, and taking a surer aim this time with her pole, brought him a tremendous blow alongside of the head, which knocked him senseless.

Mrs. Wilson who was at the bottom of the stairs, heard her husband's exclamation, and, knowing his voice, came rushing up, and entered the room in time to see Kitty's formidable weapon come with terrible force against his head. Before the blow could be repeated, for Kitty, ejaculating her "murdering thief of a villain!" had lifted the pole again, Mrs. Wilson threw her arms around her neck, and cried, "Don't, don't, Kitty, for mercy's sake!" It's Mr. Wilson, and you've killed him!"

"Mr. Wilson Indeed!" retorted Kitty, indignantly, struggling to free herself. "Is Mr. Wilson a thief of a negro, ma'am?"

But even Kitty's eyes, as soon as they took the pains to look more closely, saw that it was indeed all as the mistress had said. Wilson had fallen over on his face, and his head and white neck were not to be mistaken.

The pole dropped from Kitty's hands, and, with the exclamation, "Oh dear!" she turned and shot from the room.

The blow which Wilson received was severe, breaking through the flesh and bruising and lacerating his ear badly. He recovered very soon, however, and, as he arose up, caught sight of himself in a looking glass which hung opposite. We may be sure that it took all parties, in this exciting and almost tragic affair, some time to understand exactly what was the matter. Wilson's recollection of the loud merriment that had driven him from the "Black Horse" on the previous night, when it revived, as it did pretty soon, explained all to him, and set him to talking in a most unchristian manner.

Poor Kitty was so frightened at what she had done that she gathered up her "duds" and fled instantly, and was never again seen in that neighborhood.

As for Wilson, he was cured of his nocturnal visits to the "Black Horse," and his love of whisky toddy. Some months afterwards he espoused the temperance cause, and I've heard him tell the tale myself, many a time, and laugh heartily at the figure he must have cut, when Kitty commenced beating him for a "thief of a negro!"