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



From Troy I went, first to Newburyport, Mass., where I had some business, and where I remained a week, and then returned to Troy again. Next I went to Bennington, Vt., to sell medicines and practice, and I found enough to occupy me there for full two months. From Bennington to Rutland, selling medicines on the way, and at Rutland I intended to stay for some time. My oldest son was there well established in the medical business, and I thought that both of us together might extend a wide practice and make a great deal of money.

No doubt we might have done so, if I had minded my medical business only, and had let matrimonial matters alone. I had just got rid of a worthless woman in New Hampshire with a very narrow escape from State prison. But, as my readers know by this time, all experience, even the bitterest, was utterly thrown away upon me; I seemed to get out of one scrape only to walk, with my eyes open, straight into another.

At the hotel where I went to board, there was temporarily staying a woman, about thirty-two years old, Margaret Bradly, by name, who kept a large millinery establishment in town. I became acquainted with her, and she told me that she owned a house in the place, in which she and her mother lived; but her mother had gone away on a visit, and as she did not like to live alone she had come to the hotel to stay for a few days till her mother returned. Margaret was a fascinating woman; she knew it, and it was my miserable fate to become intimate, altogether too intimate with this designing milliner.

I went to her store every day, sometimes two or three times a day, and she always had in her backroom, wine or something stronger to treat me with, and in the evening I saw her at the hotel. When her mother came back, and Margaret opened her house again, I was a constant visitor. I was once more caught; I was in love.

Matters went on in this way for several weeks, when one evening I told her that I was going next day to Troy on business, and she said she wanted to go there to buy some goods, and that she would gladly take the opportunity to go with me, if I would let her. Of course, I was only too happy; and the next day I and my son, and she and one of the young women in her employ, who was to assist her in selecting goods, started for Troy. When I called for her, just as we were leaving the house, the old lady, her mother, called out:

"Margaret, don't you get married before you come back."

"I guess I will," was Margaret's answer, and we went, a very jovial party of four, to Troy and put up at the Girard House, where we had dinner together, and drank a good deal of wine. After dinner my son and myself went to attend to our business, she and her young woman going to make their purchases, and arranging to meet us at a restaurant at half past four o'clock, when we would lunch preparatory to returning to Rutland.

We met at the appointed place and hour, and had a very lively lunch indeed, an orgie in fact, with not only enough to eat, but altogether too much to drink. I honestly think the two women could have laid me and my son under the table, and would have done it, if we had not looked out for ourselves; as it was, we all drank a great deal and were very merry. We were in a room by ourselves, and when we had been there nearly an hour, it occurred to Margaret that it would be a good idea to humor the old lady's dry joke about the danger of our getting married during this visit to Troy.

"Henry," said she to my son; "Go out and ask the woman who keeps the saloon where you can get a blank marriage certificate, and then get one and bring it here, and we'll have some fun."

We were all just drunk enough to see that there was a joke in it, and we urged the boy to go. He went to the woman, who directed him to a stationer's opposite, and presently he came in with a blank marriage certificate. We called for pen and ink and he sat down and filled out the blank form putting in my name and Margaret Bradley's, signing it with some odd name I have forgotten as that of the clergyman performing the ceremony. He then signed his own name as a witness to the marriage, and the young woman who was with us also witnessed it with her signature. We had a great deal of fun over it, then more wine, and then it was time for us to hurry to the depot to take the six o'clock train for Rutland.

Reaching home at about eleven o'clock at night, we found the old lady up, and waiting for Margaret. We went in and Margaret's first words were:

"Well, mother! I'm married; I told you, you know, I thought I should be; and here's my certificate."

The mother expressed no surprise—she knew her daughter better than I did, then—but quietly congratulated her, while I said not a single word. My son went to see his companion home, and, as I had not achieved this latest greatness, but had it thrust upon me, I and my new found "wife" went to our room. The next day I removed from the hotel to Margaret's house and remained there during my residence in Rutland, she introducing me to her friends as her husband, and seeming to consider it an established fact.

Three weeks after this mock marriage, however, I told Margaret that I was going to travel about the State a while to sell my medicines, and that I might be absent for some time. She made no objections, and as I was going with my own team she asked me to take some mantillas and a few other goods which were a little out of fashion, and see if I could not sell them for her. To be sure I would, and we parted on the best of terms.

Behold rue now, not only a medical man and a marrying man, but also a man milliner. When I could not dispose of my medicines, I tried mantillas, and in the course of my tour I sold the whole of Margaret's wares, faithfully remitting to her the money for the same. I think she would have put her whole stock of goods on me to work off in the same way; but I never gave her the opportunity to do so.

My journeying brought me at last to Montpelier where I proposed to stay awhile and see if I could establish a practice. I had disposed of my millinery goods and had nothing to attend to but my medicines—alas that my professional acquirements as a marrying man should again have been called in requisition. But it was to be. It was my fate to fall into the hands of another milliner.

"Insatiate monster! would not one suffice?"

It seems not. There was a milliner at Rutland whose family and, friends all believed to be my wife, though she knew she was not; and here in Montpelier, was ready waiting, like a spider for a fly, another milliner who was about to enmesh me in the matrimonial net. I had not been in the place a week before I became acquainted with Eliza Gurnsey. I could hardly help it, for she lived in the hotel where I stopped, and although she was full thirty-five years old, she was altogether the most attractive woman in the house. She was agreeable, good-looking, intelligent, and what the vernacular calls "smart." At all events, she was much too smart for me, as I soon found out.

She had a considerable millinery establishment which she and her younger sister carried on, employing several women, and she was reputed to be well off. Strange as it may seem in the light of after events, she actually belonged to the church and was a regular attendant at the services. But no woman in town was more talked about, and precisely what sort of a woman she was may be estimated from the fact that I had known her but little more than a week, when she proposed that she, her sister and I should go to Saratoga together, and have a good time for a day or two.

I was fairly fascinated with the woman and I consented. The younger sister was taken with us, I thought at first as a cover, I knew afterwards as a confederate, and Eliza paid all the bills, which were by no means small ones, of the entire trip. We stopped in Saratoga at a hotel, which is now in very different hands, but which was then kept by proprietors who, in addition to a most excellent table and accommodations, afforded their guests the opportunity, if they desired it, of attending prayers every night and morning in one of the parlors. This may have been the inducement which made Eliza insist upon going to this house, but I doubt it.

For our stay at Saratoga, three or four days, was one wild revel. We rode about, got drunk, went to the Lake, came back to the hotel, and the second day we were there, Eliza sent her sister for a Presbyterian minister, whose address she had somehow secured, and this minister came to the hotel and married us. I presume I consented, I don't know, for I was too much under the effect of liquor to know much of anything. I have an indistinct recollection of some sort of a ceremony, and afterwards Eliza showed me a certificate—no Troy affair, but a genuine document signed by a minister residing in Saratoga, and witnessed by her sister and some one in the hotel who had been called in. But the whole was like a dream to me; it was the plot of an infamous woman to endeavor to make herself respectable by means of a marriage, no matter to whom or how that marriage was effected.

Meanwhile, the Montpelier papers had the whole story, one of them publishing a glowing account of my elopement with Miss Gurnsey, and the facts of our marriage at Saratoga was duly chronicled. This paper fell into the hands of Miss Bradley, at Rutland, and as she claimed to be my wife, and had parted with me only a little while before, when I went out to peddle medicines and millinery, her feelings can be imagined. She read the story and then aroused all Rutland. I had not been back from Saratoga half an hour before I was arrested in the public house in Montpelier and taken before a magistrate, on complaint of Miss Bradley, of Rutland, that I was guilty of bigamy.

The examination was a long one, and as the facts which were then shown appeared afterwards in my trial they need not be noted now. I had two first-rate lawyers, but for all that, and with the plainest showing that Margaret Bradley had no claim whatever to be considered my wife, I was bound over in the sum of three thousand dollars to appear for trial, and was sent to jail. There was a tremendous excitement about the matter, and the whole town seemed interested.

To jail I went, Eliza going with me, and insisting upon staying; but the jailer would not let her, nor was she permitted to visit me during my entire stay there, at least she got in to see me but once. I made every effort to get bail, but was unsuccessful. Eight long weary months elapsed before my trial came on, and all this while I was in jail. My trial lasted a week. The Bradley woman knew she was no more married to me than she was to the man in the moon; but she swore stoutly that we were actually wedded according to the certificate. On the other hand, my son swore to all the facts about the Troy spree, and his buying and filling out the certificate, which showed for itself that, excepting the signature of the young woman who also witnessed it, it was entirely in Henry's handwriting. I should have got along well enough so far as the Bradley woman was concerned; but the prosecution had been put in possession of all the facts relative to my first and worst marriage, and the whole matter came up in this case. The District Attorney had sent everywhere, as far even as Illinois, for witness with regard to that marriage. It seemed as if all Vermont was against me. I have heard that with the cost of witnesses and other expenses, my trial cost the state more than five thousand dollars. My three lawyers could not save me. After a week's trial the case went to the jury, and in four hours they returned a verdict of "guilty."

My counsel instantly appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and, meanwhile I went back to jail where I remained three months more. A few days after I returned to jail a friend of mine managed to furnish me with files and saws, and I went industriously to work at the gratings of my window to saw my way out. I could work only at night, when the keepers were away, and I covered the traces of my cuttings by filling in with tallow. In two months I had everything in readiness for my escape. An hour's more sawing at the bars would set me free. But just at that time the Governor of the State, Fletcher, made a visit to the jail. I told him all about my case. He assured me, after hearing all the circumstances, that if I should be convicted and sentenced, he would surely pardon me in the course of six or eight weeks. Trusting in this promise, I made no further effort to escape though I could have done so easily any night; but rather than run the risk of recapture, and a heavier sentence if I should be convicted, I awaited the chances of the court, and looked beyond for the clemency of the Governor.

Well, finally my case came up in the Supreme Court. It only occupied a day, and the result was that I was sentenced for three years in the State prison. I was remanded to jail, and five days from that time I was taken from Montpelier to Windsor.

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