Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Deacon Giless Distillery
By George Barrell Cheever (18071890)
[Born in Hallowell, Me., 1807. Died at Englewood, N. J., 1890. The Hill Difficulty, with other Miscellanies. 1849.]
SOME time ago the writers notice was arrested by an advertisement in one of the newspapers, which closed with words similar to the following: INQUIRE AT AMOS GILESS DISTILLERY. The reader may suppose, if he choose, that the following story was a dream, suggested by that phrase.
Deacon Giles was a man who loved money, and was never troubled with tenderness of conscience. His father and his grandfather before him had been distillers, and the same occupation had come to him as an heirloom in the family. The still-house was black with age, as well as with the smoke of furnaces that never went out, and the fumes of tortured ingredients, ceaselessly converted into alcohol. It looked like one of Vulcans Stithies, translated from the infernal regions into this world. Its stench filled the atmosphere, and it seemed as if drops of poisonous alcoholic perspiration might be made to ooze out from any one of its timbers or clapboards on a slight pressure. Its owner was a treasurer to a Bible Society; and he had a little counting-room in one corner of the distillery where he sold Bibles.
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house. Any one of those Bibles would have told him this, but he chose to learn it from experience. It was said that the Worm of the Still lay coiled in the bosom of his family, and certain it is that one of its members had drowned himself in the vat of hot liquor, in the bottom of which a skeleton was some time after found, with heavy weights tied to the ankle-bones. Moreover, Deacon Giless temper was none of the sweetest, naturally; and the liquor he drank, and the fires and spirituous fumes among which he lived, did nothing to soften it. If his workmen sometimes fell into his vats, he himself oftener fell out with his workmen. This was not to be wondered at, considering the nature of their wages, which, according to no unfrequent stipulation, would be as much raw rum as they could drink.
Deacon Giles worked on the Sabbath. He would neither suffer the fires of the distillery to go out, nor to burn while he was idle; so he kept as busy as they. One Saturday afternoon his workmen had quarrelled, and all went off in anger. He was in much perplexity for want of hands to do the work of the devil on the Lords day. In the dusk of the evening a gang of singular-looking fellows entered the door of the distillery. Their dress was wild and uncouth, their eyes glared, and their language had a tone that was awful. They offered to work for the Deacon; and he, on his part, was overjoyed; for he thought within himself that as they had probably been turned out of employment elsewhere, he could engage them on his own terms.
He made them his accustomed offer; as much rum every day, when work was done, as they could drink; but they would not take it. Some of them broke out and told him that they had enough of hot things where they came from, without drinking damnation in the distillery. And when they said that, it seemed to the Deacon as if their breath burned blue; but he was not certain, and could not tell what to make of it. Then he offered them a pittance of money; but they set up such a laugh, that he thought the roof of the building would fall in. They demanded a sum which the Deacon said he could not give, and would not, to the best set of workmen that ever lived, much less to such piratical looking scape-jails as they. Finally, he said, he would give half what they asked. if they would take two-thirds of that in Bibles. When he mentioned the word Bibles, they all looked towards the door, and made a step backwards, and the Deacon thought they trembled; but whether it was with anger or delirium tremens or something else, he could not tell. However, they winked, and made signs to each other, and then one of them, who seemed to be the head man, agreed with the Deacon, that if he would let them work by night instead of day, they would stay with him awhile, and work on his own terms. To this he agreed, and they immediately went to work.
The Deacon had a fresh cargo of molasses to be worked up, and a great many hogsheads then in from his country customers, to be filled with liquor. When he went home, he locked up the doors, leaving the distillery to his new workmen. As soon as he was gone, you would have thought that one of the chambers of hell had been transported to earth, with all its inmates. The distillery glowed with fires that burned hotter than ever before; and the figures of the demons passing to and fro, and leaping and yelling in the midst of their work, made it look like the entrance to the bottomless pit.
Some of them sat astride the rafters, over the heads of the others, and amused themselves with blowing flames out of their mouths. The work of distilling seemed play to them, and they carried it on with supernatural rapidity. It was hot enough to have boiled the molasses in any part of the distillery; but they did not seem to mind it at all. Some lifted the hogsheads as easily as you would raise a teacup, and turned their contents into the proper receptacles; some scummed the boiling liquids; some, with huge ladles, dipped the smoking fluid from the different vats, and raising it high in the air, seemed to take great delight in watching the fiery stream, as they spouted it back again; some drafted the distilled liquor into empty casks and hogsheads; some stirred the fires; all were boisterous and horribly profane, and seemed to engage in their work with such familiar and malignant satisfaction, that I concluded the business of distilling was as natural as hell, and must have originated there.
I gathered from their talk that they were going to play a trick upon the Deacon, that should cure him of offering rum and Bibles to his workmen; and I soon found out from their conversation and movements, what it was. They were going to write certain inscriptions on all his rum casks, that should remain invisible until they were sold by the Deacon, but should flame out in characters of fire as soon as they were broached by his retailers, or exposed for the use of the drunkards.
When they had filled a few casks with liquor, one of them took a great coal of fire, and having quenched it in a mixture of rum and molasses, proceeded to write, apparently by way of experiment, upon the heads of the different vessels. Just as it was dawn, they left off work, and all vanished together.
In the morning the Deacon was puzzled to know how the workmen got out of the distillery, which he found fast locked as he had left it. He was still more amazed to find that they had done more work in one night than could have been accomplished, in the ordinary way, in three weeks. He pondered the thing not a little, and almost concluded that it was the work of supernatural agents. At any rate they had done so much that he thought he could afford to attend meeting that day, as it was the Sabbath. Accordingly he went to church, and heard his minister say that God could pardon sin without an atonement, that the words hell and devils were mere figures of speech, and that all men would certainly be saved. He was much pleased, and inwardly resolved he would send his minister a half cask of wine; and, as it happened to be communion Sabbath, he attended meeting all day.
In the evening the men came again, and again the Deacon locked them in to themselves, and they went to work. They finished all his molasses, and filled all his rum barrels, and kegs, and hogsheads, with liquor, and marked them all, as on the preceding night, with invisible inscriptions. Most of the titles ran thus:
CONSUMPTION SOLD HERE. Inquire at Deacon Giless Distillery.
CONVULSIONS AND EPILEPSIES. Inquire at Amos Giless Distillery.
INSANITY AND MURDER. Inquire at Deacon Giless Distillery.
DROPSY AND RHEUMATISM. PUTRID FEVER, AND CHOLERA IN THE COLLAPSE. Inquire at Amos Giless Distillery.
DELIRIUM TREMENS. Inquire at Deacon Giless Distillery.
In the morning the workmen vanished as before, just as it was dawn; but in the dusk of the evening they came again, and told the Deacon it was against their principles to take any wages for work done between Saturday night and Monday morning, and as they could not stay with him any longer, he was welcome to what they had done. The Deacon was very urgent to have them remain, and offered to hire them for the season at any wages, but they would not. So he thanked them and they went away, and he saw them no more.
In the course of the week most of the casks were sent into the country, and duly hoisted on their stoups, in conspicuous situations, in the taverns and groceries, and rum-shops. But no sooner had the first glass been drawn from any of them, than the invisible inscriptions flamed out on the cask-head to every beholder. CONSUMPTION SOLD HERE. DELIRIUM TREMENS, DAMNATION AND HELL-FIRE. The drunkards were terrified from the dram-shops; the bar-rooms were emptied of their customers; but in their place a gaping crowd filled every store that possessed a cask of the Deacons devil-distilled liquor, to wonder and be affrighted at the spectacle. For no art could efface the inscriptions. And even when the liquor was drawn into new casks, the same deadly letters broke out in blue and red flame all over the surface.
The rumsellers, and grocers, and tavern-keepers were full of fury. They loaded their teams with the accursed liquor, and drove it back to the distillery. All around and before the door of the Deacons establishment the returned casks were piled one upon another, and it seemed as if the inscriptions burned brighter than ever. Consumption, Damnation, Death and Hell, mingled together in frightful confusion; and in equal prominence, in every case, flamed out the direction, INQUIRE AT DEACON GILESS DISTILLERY. One would have thought that the bare sight would have been enough to terrify every drunkard from his cups, and every trader from the dreadful traffic in ardent spirits. Indeed it had some effect for a time, but it was not lasting, and the demons knew it would not be, when they played the trick; for they knew the Deacon would continue to make rum, and that as long as he continued to make it, there would be people to buy and drink it. And so it proved.
The Deacon had to turn a vast quantity of liquor into the streets, and burn up the hogsheads; and his distillery has smelled of brimstone ever since; but he would not give up the trade. He carries it on still, and every time I see his advertisement, Inquire at Amos Giless Distillery, I think I see Hell and Damnation, and he, the proprietor.