Seven Wives and Seven Prisons; Or, Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac



I went at once to the Prisoners Home, where I was kindly received, and I stayed there two days. The superintendent then paid my passage to Pittsfield where I wished to go and meet my son. From Pittsfield I went to Albany, then New York, and from there to Newtown N. J. Here I went into practice, meeting with almost immediate success, and staid there two months. It was my habit to go from town to town to attend to cases of a certain class and to sell my vegetable preparations; and from Newtown I went to Belvidere, stopping at intermediate towns on the way, and from Belvidere I went to Harmony, a short distance below, to attend a case of white swelling, which I cured.

Now just across the Delaware river, nine miles above Easton, Penn., lived a wealthy Dutch farmer, named Scheimer, who heard of the cure I had effected in Harmony, and as he had a son, sixteen years of age, afflicted in the same way, he sent for me to come and see him. I crossed the river, saw the boy, and at Scheimer's request took up my residence with him to attend to the case. He was to give me, with my board, five hundred dollars if I cured the boy; but though the boy recovered under my treatment, I never received my fee for reasons which will appear anon. I secured some other practice in the neighborhood, and frequently visited Easton, Belvidere, Harmony, Oxford, and other near by places, on either side of the river.

The Scheimer family consisted of the "old folks" and four sons and four daughters, the children grown up, for my patient, sixteen years old, was the youngest. The youngest daughter, Sarah, eighteen years old, was an accomplished and beautiful girl. Now it would seem as if with my sad experience I ought by this time, to have turned my back on women forever. But I think I was a monomaniac on the subject of matrimony. My first wife had so misused me that it was always in my mind that some reparation was due me, and that I was fairly entitled to a good helpmate. The ill-success of my efforts, hitherto, to secure one, and my consequent sufferings were all lost upon me—experience, bitter experience, had taught me nothing.

I had not been in the Scheimer family three months before I fell in love with the daughter Sarah and she returned my passion. She promised to marry me, but said there was no use in saying anything to her parents about it; they would never consent on account of the disparity in our ages, for I was then forty years old; but she would marry me nevertheless, if we had to run away together. Meanwhile, the old folks had seen enough of our intimacy to suspect that it might lead to something yet closer, and one day Mr. Scheimer invited me to leave his house and not to return. I asked for one last interview with Sarah, which was accorded, and we then arranged a plan by which she should meet me the next afternoon at four o'clock at the Jersey ferry, a mile below the house, when we proposed to quietly cross over to Belvidere and get married. I then took leave of her and the family and went away.

The next day, at the appointed time, I was at the ferry—Sarah, as I learned afterwards, left the house at a much earlier hour to "take a walk" and while she was, foolishly I think, making a circuitous route to reach the ferry, her father, who suspected that she intended to run away, went to the ferryman and told him his suspicions, directing him if Sarah came there by no means to permit her to cross the river. Consequently when Sarah met me at the ferry, the ferryman flatly refused to let either of us go over. He knew all about it, he said, and it was "no go." I had two hundred dollars in my pocket and I offered him any reasonable sum, if he would only let us cross; but no, he knew the Scheimers better than he knew me, and their goodwill was worth more than mine. Here was a block to the game, indeed. I had sent my baggage forward in the morning to Belvidere; Sarah had nothing but the clothes she wore, for she was so carefully watched that she could carry or send nothing away; but she was ready to go if the obstinate ferryman had not prevented us.

While we were pressing the ferryman to favor us, down came one of Sarah's brothers with a dozen neighbors, and told her she must return home or he would carry her back by force. I interfered and said she should not go. Whereupon one fellow took hold of me and I promptly knocked him down, and notified the crowd that the first who laid hands on me, or who attempted to take her home violently, would get a dose from my pistol which I then exhibited:

"Sarah must go willingly or not at all," said I.

The production of my pistol, the only weapon in the crowd, brought about a new state of affairs, and the brother and others tried persuasion; but Sarah stoutly insisted that she would not return. "Now hold on," boys, said I, "I am going to say something to her." I then took her aside and told her that there was no use in trying to run away then; that she had better go home quietly, and tell the folks that she was sorry for what she had done, that she had broken off with me, and would have nothing more to do with me; that I would surely see her to-morrow, and then we could make a new plan. So she announced her willingness to go quietly home with her brother and she did so. I went to a public house half a mile below the ferry. That night the gang came down to this house with the intention of driving me away from the place, or, possibly, of doing something worse; but while they were howling outside, the landlord sent me to my room and then went out and told the crowd I had gone away.

The next morning I boldly walked up to Scheimer's house to get a few books and other things I had left there, and I saw Sarah. I told her to be ready on the following Thursday night and I would have a ladder against her window for her to escape by. She promised to be ready. Meantime, though I had been in the house but a few minutes, some one who had seen me go in gathered the crowd of the day before, and the first thing I knew the house was beseiged. Mrs. Scheimer had gone up stairs for my things. I went out and faced the little mob. I was told to leave the place or they would kill me. One of Sarah's brothers ran into the house, brought out a musket and aimed it at me; but it missed fire. I drew my pistol the crowd keeping well away then, and told him that if he did not instantly bring that musket to me I would shoot him. He brought it, and I threw it over the fence, Sarah crying out from the window, "good! good!" The mob then turned and abused and blackguarded her. Then the old lady came out, bringing a carpet bag containing my books and things, asking me to see if "it was all right." I had no disposition to stop and examine just then; I told the mob I had no other business there; that I was going away, and to my surprise, I confess, I was permitted to leave the place unmolested.

It is quite certain the ferryman made no objection to my crossing, and I went to Belvidere where I remained quietly till the appointed Thursday night, when I started with a trusty man for Scheimer's. We timed our journey so as to arrive there at one o'clock in the morning. Ever since her attempt to elope, Sarah had been watched night and day, and to prevent her abduction by me, Mr. Scheimer had two or three men in the house to stand guard at night. Sarah was locked in her room, which is precisely what we had provided for, for no one in the house supposed that she could escape by the window. There was a big dog on the premises, but he and I were old friends, and he seemed very glad to see me when I came on the ground on this eventful night. Sarah was watching, and when I made the signal she opened the window and threw out her ready prepared bundle. Then my man and I set the ladder and she came safely to the ground. A moment more and we would have stolen away, when, as ill luck would have it, the ladder fell with a great crash, and the infernal dog, that a moment before seemed almost in our confidence, set up a howl and then barked loud enough to wake the dead.

Forthwith issued from the house old Scheimer, two of his sons and his hired guard—a half dozen in all. There was a time then. The girl was instantly seized and taken into the house. Then all hands fell upon us two, and though I and my man fought our best they managed to pound us nearly to death. The dog, too, in revenge no doubt for the scare the ladder had given him, or perhaps to show his loyalty to his master, assisted in routing us, and put in a bite where he could. It is a wonder we were not killed. Sarah, meanwhile, was calling out from the house, and imploring them not to murder us. How we ever got away I hardly know now, but presently we found ourselves in the road running for our lives, and running also for the carriage we had concealed in the woods, half a mile above. We reached it, and hastily unhitching and getting in we drove rapidly for the bridge crossing over to Belvidere. That beautiful August night had very few charms for us. It would have been different indeed if I had succeeded in securing my Sarah; and to think of having the prize in my very grasp, and the losing all!

We reached the hotel in Belvidere at about half-past two o'clock in the morning, wearied, worn, bruised and disheartened. My man had not suffered nearly as severely as I had; the bulk of their blows fell upon me, and I had the sorest body and the worst looking face I had ever exhibited. I rested one day and then hurried on to New York. Of course, I had no means of knowing the feelings or condition of the loved girl from whom I had been so suddenly and so violently parted. I only learned from an Easton man whom I knew and whom I met in the city, that "Sarah Scheimer was sick"—that was all; the man said he did'nt know the family very well, but he had heard that Miss Scheimer had been "out of her head, if not downright crazy."

Crazy indeed! How mad and how miserable that poor girl was made by her own family, I did not know till months afterward, and then I had the terrible story from her own lips. It seems that when her father and his gang returned from pursuing me, as they did a little way up the road towards Belvidere, they found her almost frantic. They locked her up in her room that night with no one to say so much as a kind word to her. How she passed that night, after the scenes she had witnessed, and the abuse with which her father and brothers had loaded her before they thrust her into her prison, may be imagined. The next day she was wrought up to a frenzy. Her parents pronounced her insane, and called in a Dutch doctor who examined her and said she was "bewitched!" And this is the remedy he proposed as a cure; he advised that she should be soundly flogged, and the devil whipped out of her. Her family, intensely angered at her for the trouble she had made them, or rather had caused them to make for themselves, were only too glad to accept the advice. The old man and two sons carried a sore bruise or two apiece they got from me the night before, and seized the opportunity to pay them off upon her. So they stripped her bare, and flogged her till her back was a mass of welts and cuts, and then put her to bed. That bed she never left for two months, and then came out the shadow of her former self. But the Dutch doctor declared that the devil was whipped out of her, and that she was entirely cured. A few months afterward the family had the best of reasons for believing that they had whipped the devil into her, instead of out of her.

After staying in New York a few days, I went to Dover, N.H., where I had some acquaintances, and where I hoped to get into a medical practice, which, with the help of my friends, I did very soon. I lived quietly in that place all winter, earning a good living and laying by some money. During the whole time I never heard a word from Sarah. I wrote at least fifty letters to her, but as I learned afterward, and, indeed, surmised at the time, every one of them was intercepted by her father or brothers, and she did not know where I was and so could not write to me. I left Dover in May and went down to New York. I had some business there which was soon transacted, and early in June I went over to New Jersey—to Oxford, a small place near Belvidere.

This place I meant to make my base of operations for the new campaign I had been planning all winter. I "put up" at a public house kept by a man who was known in the region round about as the "Boston Yankee," for he migrated from Boston to New Jersey and was doing a thriving business at hotel keeping in Oxford. What a thorough good-fellow he was will presently appear. I had been in the hotel four days and had become pretty intimate with the landlord before I ventured to make inquiries about what I was most anxious to learn; but finally I asked him if he knew the Scheimers over the river? He looked at me in a very comical way, and then broke out:

"Well, I declare, I thought I knew you, you're the chap that tried to run away with old Scheimer's daughter Sarah, last August; and you're down here to get her this time, if you can."

I owned up to my identity, but warned Boston Yankee that if he told any one who I was, or that I was about there, I'd blow his brains out.

"You keep cool," said he, "don't you be uneasy; I'm your friend and the gal's friend, and I'll help you both all I can; and if you want to carry off Sarah Scheimer and marry her, I'll tell you how to work it. You see she has been watched as closely as possible all winter, ever since she got well, for she was crazy-like, awhile. Well, you could'n't get nearer to her, first off, than you could to the North Pole; but do you remember Mary Smith who was servant gal, there when you boarded with Scheimer?" I remembered the girl well and told him so, and he continued: "Well, I saw her the other day, and she told me she was living in Easton, and where she could be found; now, I'll give you full directions and do you take my horse and buggy to-morrow morning early and go down and see her, and get her to go over and let Sarah know that you're round; meantime I'll keep dark; I know my business and you know yours."

I need not say how overjoyed I was to find this new and most unexpected friend, and how gratefully I accepted his offer. He gave me the street, house and number where Mary Smith lived and during the evening we planned together exactly how the whole affair was to be managed, from beginning to end. I went to bed, but could scarcely sleep; and all night long I was agitated by alternate hopes and fears for the success of the scheme of to-morrow.

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