The scene of T. S. Arthur’s gloomy sermon is the rural hamlet of Cedarville, where, during ten nights scattered over a decade, an anonymous travelling man observes the cancerous ravages of the saloon on an innocent community. Stopping for the First Night at the Sickle and Sheaf tavern, he is impressed by his neat lodgings and his friendly landlord, Simon Slade. But this seeming idyl is marred by the sight of the drunkard, Joe Morgan, and the furtive nips taken in the bar by Slade’s twelve-year-old son, Frank. At this point, the slides take up the story:
- 1. A year later, the narrator returns to Cedarvillc. On this Second Night in the barroom, Slade tries to eject Joe AIorgan from his establishment. The tavernkeeper hurls a glass—which strikes the innocent brow of Morgan’s daughter Alary, come to fetch her father.
- 2. Feverish from her head wound, little Mary makes her remorse-ridden father promise not to drink again until she recovers. Later, she awakes to find him seized with the “drunkard’s madness.” His teeth rattling, he exclaims. “I thought there was a great toad under the clothes.” Airs. Morgan runs for help.
- 3. On the Fourth Night, Mary’s life ebbs away. As she breathes her last, Joe Morgan swears that he will never touch another drop. “Oil, father! dear, dear father!” the child cries out with joy—and expires.
- 4. Five years pass before the traveller returns to Ccdarville for the Fifth Night. The town has a seedy look, the tavern is filthy and foul-smelling, and Simon Slade’s features betray a coarse sensuality. In this interlude, his son Frank, by now a drunken wastrel, goes out on a Iwoxy buggy ride with another ne’er-do-well, ruining a prize horse in the process.
- 5. Sad is the fate of Willy Hammond, the gifted but too amiable son of the local capitalist, whose gambling debts and debaucheries have bankrupted his father. The Sixth Night finds Willy being fleeced at cards by the sly gamester Harvey Green and Judge Lyman, political stooge of the liquor interests.
- 6. The game continues on into the Seventh Night. Green accuses the hapless youth of cheating—and plunges a knife into his breast. The wound is fatal. In a violent aftermath, Willy’s mother dies of heartbreak, Green is murdered by an angry mob, and Simon Slade and Lyman are mauled and savagely mutilated.
- 7. Ry the Eighth Night, the whole town seems overcome by the sickness emanating from the Sickle and Sheaf. Rut none are more debased than the tavern’s slatternly proprietors, the Slades. In a quarrel, Simon tries to strike his son, but is restrained.
- 8. The next night, the Slades Rght again: Frank assaults and kills his father with a brandy bottle. But lo, Demon Drink has claimed its final victim!
- 9. Assembling at the Sickle and Sheaf on the Tenth Night, the town votes to outlaw alcohol. “The accursed traffic must cease among us.” proclaims one temperance advocate. “You must cut off the fountain, if you would dry up the stream.” The narrator recognizes the speaker: he is none other than Joe Morgan.