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



At last the happy day of my deliverance came. The penalty for pretending to marry one milliner and for being married by another milliner was paid. My sentence was fulfilled. I had looked forward to this day for months. Of all my jail and prison life in different States, this in Vermont was the hardest, the most severe. My obstinacy, no doubt, did much at first to enhance my sufferings, and it was the accident only of my saving Morey's life that made the last part of my imprisonment a little more tolerable. When I was preparing to go, it was discovered that the fine suit of clothes I wore into the prison had been given by mistake or design to some one else, and my silk hat and calf-skin boots had gone with the clothes. But never mind! I would have gone out into the world in rags—my liberty was all I wanted then. The Warden gave me one of his own old coats, a ragged pair of pantaloons, and a new pair of brogan shoes. He also gave me three dollars, which was precisely a dollar a year for my services, and this was more than I ever meant to earn there. Thus equipped and supplied I was sent out into the streets of Windsor.

I had not gone half a mile before I met a poor old woman whom I had known very well in Rutland. She recognized me at once, though I know I was sadly changed for the worse. She was on her way to Fall River, where she had relatives, and where she hoped for help, but had no money to pay her fare, so I divided my small stock with her, and that left me just one dollar and a half with which to begin the world again. I went down to the bridge and the toll—gatherer gave me as much as I could eat, twenty five cents in money, and a pocket-full of food to carry with me. I was heading, footing rather, for Meredith Bridge in New Hampshire. It was in the month of December; and I was poorly clad and without an overcoat. I must have walked fifteen miles that afternoon, and just at nightfall I came to a wayside public house and ventured to go in. As I stood by the fire, the landlord stepped up and slapping me on the shoulder, said:

"Friend, you look as if you were in trouble; step up and have something to drink."

I gladly accepted the invitation to partake of the first glass of liquor I had tasted in three years. It was something, too, everything to be addressed thus kindly. I told this worthy landlord my whole story; how I had been trapped by the two milliners, and how I had subsequently suffered. He had read something about it in the papers; he felt as if he knew me; he certainly was sorry for me; and he proved his sympathy by giving me what then seemed to me the best supper I had ever eaten, a good bed, a good breakfast, a package of provisions to carry with me, and then sent me on my way with a comparatively light heart.

It rained, snowed, and drizzled all day long. I tramped through the wet snow ankle deep, but made nearly forty miles before night, and then came to a public house which I knew well. When I was in the bar-room drying myself and warming my wet and half-frozen feet, I could not but think how, only a few years before, I had put up at that very house, with a fine horse and buggy of my own in the stable, and plenty of money in my pocket. The landlord's face was familiar enough, but he did not know me, nor, under my changed circumstances, did I desire that he should. Supper, lodging, and breakfast nearly exhausted my small money capital; I was worn and weary, too, and the next day was able to walk but twenty miles, all told. On the way, at noon I went into a farm house to warm myself. The woman had just baked a short-cake which stood on the hearth, toward which I must have cast longing eyes, for the farmer said:

"Have you had your dinner, man?"

"No, and I have no money to buy any."

"Well, you don't need money here. Wife, put that short-cake and some butter on the table; now, my man, fall to and eat as much as you like."

I was very hungry, and I declare I ate the whole of that short-cake. I told these people that I had been in better circumstances, and that I was not always the poor, ragged, hungry wretch I appeared then. They made we welcome to what I had eaten and when I went away filled my pockets with food. At night I was about thirty miles above Concord. I had no money, but trusting to luck, I got on the cars—the conductor came, and when he found I had no ticket, he said he must put me off. It was a bitter night and I told him I should be sure to freeze to death. A gentleman who heard the conversation at once paid my fare, for which I expressed my grateful thanks, and I went to Concord.

On my arrival I went to a hotel and told the landlord I wanted to stay there till the next day, when a conductor whom I knew would be going to Meredith Bridge; that I was going with him, and that he would probably pay my bill at the hotel. "All right," said the landlord, and he gave me my supper and a room. The next noon my friend, the conductor, came and when I first spoke to him he did not recognize me; I told him who I was, but to ask me no questions as to how I came to appear in those old clothes, and to be so poor; I wanted to borrow five dollars, and to go with him to Meredith Bridge. He greeted me very cordially, handed me a ten-dollar Bill—twice as much as I asked for—said he was not going to the Bridge till next day, and told me meanwhile, to go to the hotel and make myself comfortable.

I went back to the hotel, paid my bill, stayed there that day and night, and the next morning "deadheaded," with my friend the conductor to Meredith Bridge. Everybody knew me there. The hotel-keeper made me welcome to his house, and said I could stay as long as I liked.

"Say, dew ye ever cure anybody, Doctor?" asked my old friend, the landlord, and he laughed and nudged me in the ribs, and asked me to take some of his medicine from the bar, which I immediately did.

I was at home now. But the object of my visit was to see if I could not collect some of my old bills in that neighborhood, amounting in the aggregate to several hundred dollars. They were indeed old bills of five or six years' standing, and I had very little hope of collecting much money. I went first to Lake Village, and called on Mr. John Blaisdell, the husband of the woman whom I had cured of the dropsy, in accordance, as she believed at the time, with her prophetic dream. Blaisdell didn't know me at first; then he wanted to know what my bill was; I told him one hundred dollars, to say nothing of six years' interest; he said he had no money, though he was regarded as a rich man, and in fact was.

"But sir," said I, "you see me and how poor I am. Give me something on account. I am so poor that I even borrowed this overcoat from the tailor in the village, that I might present a little more respectable appearance when I called on my old patients to try to collect some of my old bills. Please to give me something."

But he had no money. He would pay for the overcoat; I might tell the tailor so; and afterwards he gave me a pair of boots and an old shirt. This was the fruit which my "blossom" of years before brought at last. I saw Mrs. Blaisdell, but she said she could do nothing for me. She had forgotten what I had done for her.

Of all my bills in that vicinity, with a week's dunning, I collected only three dollars; but a good friend of mine, Sheriff Hill, went around and succeeded in making up a purse of twenty dollars which he put into my hands just as I was going away. My old landlord wanted nothing for my week's board; all he wanted was to know "if I ever cured anybody;" and when I told him I did, "sometimes" he insisted upon my taking more of his medicine, and he put up a good bottle of it for me to carry with me on my journey.

With my twenty dollars I went to Portsmouth, where I speedily felt that I was among old and true friends. I had not been there a day before I was called upon to take care of a young man who was sick, and after a few weeks charge of him I received in addition to my board and expenses, three hundred dollars. I was now enabled to clothe myself handsomely, and I did so and went to Newburyport, where I remained several weeks and made a great deal of money.

In the spring I went to White River Junction, and while I was in the hotel taking a drink with some friends, who should come into the bar-room but the Lake Village tailor from whom I had borrowed the overcoat which I had even then on my back. I was about to thank him for his kindness to me when he took me aside and said reproachfully:

"Doctor, you wore away my overcoat and this is it, I think."

"Good heavens! didn't John Blaisdell pay you for the coat? He told me he would; its little enough out of what he owes me."

"He never said a word to me about it," was the reply. I told the tailor the circumstances; I did not like to let him to know that I had then about seven hundred dollars in my pocket; I wished to appear poor as long as there was a chance to collect any of my Meredith and Lake Village bills; so I offered him three dollars to take back the coat. He willingly consented and that was the last of the "Blossom" business with the Blaisdells.

I was bound not to leave this part of the country without revisiting Windsor, and I went there, stopping at the best house in the town, and, I fear, "putting on airs" a little. I had suffered so much in this place that I wanted to see if there was any enjoyment to be had there. Satisfaction there was, certainly—the satisfaction one feels in going back under the most favorable circumstances, to a spot where he has endured the very depths of misery. After a good dinner I set out to visit the prison. Here was the very spot in the street where, only a few months before, I, a ragged beggar, had divided my mere morsel of money with the poor woman from Rutland. What change in my circumstances those few months had wrought. I had recovered my health which bad food, ill usage, and imprisonment had broken down, and was in the best physical condition. The warden's old coat and pantaloons had been exchanged for the finest clothes that money would buy. I had a good gold watch and several hundred dollars in my pocket. I had seen many of my old friends, and knew that they were still my friends, and I was fully restored to my old position. My three years' imprisonment was only a blank in my existence; I had begun life again and afresh, precisely where I left off before I fell into the hands of the two Vermont milliners.

All this was very pleasant to reflect upon; but do not believe I thought even then, that the reason for this change in my circumstances, and changes for the better, was simply because I had minded my business and had let women alone.

When I called on Warden Harlow, and courteously asked to be shown about the prison, he got up and was ready to comply with my request, when he looked me full in the face and started back in amazement:

"Well, I declare! Is this you?"

"Yes, Warden Harlow; but I want you to understand that while I am here I do not intend to do a bit of work, and you can't make me. You may as well give it up first as last; I won't work anyhow."

The Warden laughed heartily, and sent for Deputy Morey who came in to "see a gentleman," and was much astonished to find the prisoner, who, two years before, had saved his life from the hands and knife of the madman Hall. I spent a very pleasant hour with my old enemies, and I took occasion to give them a hint or two with regard to the proper treatment of prisoners. I then made the rounds of the prison, and went into the dungeon where I had passed so many wretched hours for weeks at a time. The warden and his deputy congratulated me upon my improved appearance and prospects, and hoped that my whole future career would be equally prosperous.

Nor did I forget to call up my friend in need and friend indeed in the toll-house at the bridge. I stayed three or four days in Windsor, finding it really a charming place, and I was almost sorry to leave it. But my only purpose in going there, that is to revisit the prison, was accomplished, and I started for New York, and went from there to Port Jervis, where I met my eldest son.

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