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



After I had been in Port Jervis three or four days I matured a plan that had long been forcing in my mind, and that was, to try and see Sarah Scheimer once more, or at least to find out something about her and about our son. The boy, if he was living, must be about ten years of age. I had never seen him; nor, since the night when I was taken out of bed and carried to the Easton jail had I ever seen Sarah, or even heard from her, except by the message the Methodist minister brought to me from her the day after I was released from jail. In the long interval I had married the Newark widow, and had served a brief term in the New Jersey State prison for doing it; I had married Mary Gordon, in New Hampshire, and had run away, not only from her, but from constables and the prison in that state; the mock marriage with the Rutland woman at Troy, and the altogether too real marriage with the Montpelier milliner had followed; I had spent three wretched years in the Vermont prison at Windsor; and numerous other exciting adventures had checkered my career. What had happened to Sarah and her son during all this while? There was not a week in the whole time since our sudden separation when I had not thought of Sarah; and now I was near her old home, with means at my command, leisure on my hands, and I was determined to know something about her and the child.

So long a time had elapsed and I was so changed in my personal appearance that I had little fear of being recognized by any one in Pennsylvania or the adjoining part of New Jersey, who would molest me. The old matters must have been pretty much forgotten by all but the very few who were immediately interested in them. It was safe to make the venture at all events, and, I resolved to make the venture to see and learn what I could.

I had the idea in my mind that if Sarah was alive and well, and free, I should be able to induce her to fulfil her promise to come to me, and that we might go somewhere and settle down and live happily together. At any rate, I would try to see her and our child.

I did not communicate a word of all this to my son Henry. I told him I was going to New Jersey to visit some friends, to look for business, and I would like to have him accompany me. He consented; I hired a horse and carriage, and one bright morning we started. I had no friends to visit, no business to do, except to see Sarah—the dearest and best—loved of all my wives.

When we reached Water Gap I found an old acquaintance in the landlord of the hotel, and I told him where I was going, and what I hoped to do. He knew the Scheimers, knew all that had happened eleven years before, and he told me that Sarah had married again, seven years ago, and was the mother of two more children. She lived on a farm, half a mile from Oxford, and her husband who had married her for her money, and had been urged upon her by her parents, was a shiftless, worthless, drunken fellow. The boy—my boy—was alive and well, and was with his mother.

This intelligence changed, or rather made definite my plan. Sarah was nothing to me now. The boy was everything. I must see him, and if he was what he was represented to be, a bright little fellow, I determined that he should no longer remain in the hands and under the control of his drunken step-father, but I would carry him away with me if I could. It was nearly noon when we arrived at Oxford, and going to my old quarters, I found that "Boston Yankee," had long since left the place. There was a new landlord, and I saw no familiar faces about the house; all was new and strange to me. I made inquiries, and soon found out that Sarah's boy went to a school in town not far from the hotel, and I went there to "prospect," leaving Henry at the public house.

It was noon now, and fifty or more boys were trooping out of school. I carefully scanned the throng. The old proverb has it that it is a wise child who knows its own father; but it is not so difficult for a father to know his own children. The moment I put my eyes on Sarah's son, I knew him; he was the very image of me; I could have picked him out of a thousand. I beckoned to the boy and he came to me. He was barefoot; and his very toes betrayed him, for they "overrode" just as mine did; but his face was enough and would have been evidence of his identity as my son in any court in Christendom.

"Do you know me, my little man?" said I.

"No, sir, I do not."

"Do you know what was your mother's name before she was married?"

"Yes Sir, it was Sarah Scheimer."

"Do you know that the man with whom you live is not your rather?"

"Oh, yes, Sir, I know that; mother always told me so; but she never told me who my father was."

"My son," said I taking him in my arms, "I am your father; wait about here a few minutes till I can go and get my horse and carriage, and I will take you to ride."

I ran over to the hotel; ordered my horse to be brought to the door at once, got into the wagon with Henry and told him that Sarah Scheimer's boy was just across the way, and that I was going to carry him off with us. Henry implored me not to do it, and said it was dangerous. I never stopped to think of danger when my will impelled me. I did not know that at that moment, men who had noticed my excited manner, and who knew I was "up to something," were watching me from the hotel piazza. I drove over where the boy was waiting, called him to me, and Henry held the reins while I put out my hands to pull the boy into the carriage. Two of the men who were watching me came at once, one of them taking the horse by the head, and the other coming to me and demanding:

"What are you going to do with that boy?"

"Take him with me; he is my son."

"No you don't," said the man, and he laid hold of the boy and attempted to pull him out of the wagon. I also seized the lad who began to scream. In the struggle for possession, I caught up the whip and struck the man with the handle, felling him to the ground. All the while the other man was shouting for assistance. The crowd gathered. The boy was roughly torn from me, in spite of my efforts to retain him. Henry was thoroughly alarmed; and while the mob were trying to pull us also out of the carriage he whipped the horse till he sprang through the crowd and was well off in a moment.

"Get out of town as fast as you can drive," said I to Henry.

We were not half an hour in reaching Belvidere. There I stopped to breathe the horse a few minutes, and Henry insisted that he was starving, and must have something to eat; he would go into the hotel he said, and get some dinner. I told him it was madness to do it; but he would not move an inch further on the road till he had some dinner. He went into the dining room, and I paced up and down the piazza, nervous, anxious, fearing pursuit, dreading capture, well knowing what would happen when those Jerseymen should get hold of me and find out who I was. At that moment I saw the pursuers coming rapidly up the road. I called to my son:

"Henry, Henry! for God's sake come out here, quick!"

But he thought I was only trying to frighten him so as to hurry him away from his dinner, and get him on the road, and he paid no attention to my summons. I knew that I was the man who was wanted, and, without waiting for Henry, I jumped into my wagon and drove off. I just escaped, that's all. The moment I left, my pursuers were at the door. I looked back and saw them drag my son out of the house, and take him away with them. I turned my horse's head towards the Belvidere Bridge. All the country about there was as familiar to me as the county I was born in. I knew every road, and I had no fear of being caught. Once across the bridge and in Pennsylvania, and I was comparatively safe, unless I myself should be kidnapped as I was at midnight, only a little way from this very spot, eleven years before. Here was an opportunity now to rest and reflect. Confound those Scheimers and all their blood! Was I never to see the end of the scrapes that family would get me into, or which I was to get myself into, on account of the Scheimers?

Surely they could not harm Henry. They might have taken him merely in the hope of drawing me back to try to clear him, or rescue him, and then they would get hold of the man they wanted. My son had done nothing. He did not even know of the contemplated abduction till five minutes before it was attempted, and then he protested against it. He only held the horse when I pulled the lad into the wagon.

Nothing showed so completely the consciousness of his own entire innocence in the matter, as the coolness with which he sat down to his dinner in Belvidere, and insisted upon remaining when I warned him of our danger. These facts shown, any magistrate before whom he might be taken, must let him go at once. I thought, perhaps, if I waited a few hours where I was, he would be sure to rejoin me, and we could then return to Port Jervis without Sarah's son to be sure; but, otherwise, no worse off than we were when we set out on this ill-starred expedition in the morning.

All this seemed so plain to me that I sent over to Belvidere for a lawyer, who soon came across the bridge to see me, and to him I narrated the whole circumstances of the case from, beginning to end. I asked him if I had not a right to carry off the boy whom I knew to be my own? His reply was that he would not stop to discuss that question; all he knew was that there was a great hue and cry after me for kidnapping the boy; that my son was seized and held for aiding and abetting in the attempted abduction; and he advised me, as a friend, to leave that part of the country as soon as possible. I gave him fifty dollars to look after Henry's case. He thought, considering how little, and that little involuntarily, my son had to do with the matter, he might be got off; he would do all he could for him anyhow. He then returned to Belvidere, and I took the road north.

When I arrived at Port Jervis I detailed to my landlord the whole occurrences of the day—what I had tried to do, and how miserably I had failed, and asked him what was to be done next. He said "nothing;" we could only wait and see what happened.

The day following I received a letter from the Belvidere lawyer informing me that Henry had been examined, had been bound over in the sum of three hundred dollars to take his trial on a charge of kidnapping, and he was then in the county jail. I at once showed this letter to the landlord, and he offered to go down with another man to Belvidere and see about the bail. I gave him three hundred dollars, which he took with him and put into the bands of a resident there who became bail, and in a day or two Henry came back with them to Port Jervis.

My son was frantic; he had been roughly treated; and to think, he said, that he should be thrust into the common jail and kept there two days with all sorts of scoundrels, when he had done actually nothing! He would go back there, stand his trial, and prove his innocence, if he died for it. He reproached me for attempting to carry off the boy against his advice and warning; he knew we should into trouble; but he would show them that he had nothing to do with it; that's what he would do.

Now this was precisely what I did not wish to have him do. A trial of this case, even if Henry should come off scott free, would be certain to revive the whole of the old Scheimer story, which had nearly died away, and which I had no desire to have brought before the public again in any way whatever. The bail bond I was willing, eager even to forfeit, if that would end the matter. But Henry was sure they couldn't touch him, and he meant to have the three hundred dollars returned to me.

Seeing how sensitive the boy was on the subject, and how bent he was on proving his innocence, I thought it best to draw him away from the immediate locality, and so, in the course of a week, I persuaded him to go to New York with me, and we afterward went to Maine for a few weeks to sell my medicines. This Maine trip was a most lucrative one, which was very fortunate, for the money I made there, to the amount of several hundred dollars, was shortly needed for purposes which I did not anticipate when I put the money by.

We returned to New York, and I supposed that Henry had given up all idea of attempting to "prove his innocence;" indeed we had no conversation about the kidnapping affair for several weeks. But he slipped away from me. One day I came back to the hotel, and, inquiring for him, was told at the office he had left word for me that he had gone to Belvidere. A letter from him a day or two afterward confirmed this, to me, unhappy intelligence. The time was near at hand for his trial, and he had gone and given himself up to the authorities. He wrote to me again that he had sent word about his situation to his mother—my first and worst wife—and she and his sister were already with him.

Of course it was impossible for me to go there, if there were no other reasons, I was too immediately interested in this affair to be present, and I had no idea of undergoing a trial and a certain conviction for myself. But I sent down a New York lawyer with one hundred dollars, directing him to employ council there, and to advise and assist as much as he could. Meanwhile, I remained in New York, anxious, it is true, yet almost certain that it would be impossible, under the circumstances, to convict Henry of the kidnapping for which he was indicted. He had not even assisted in the affair, and was sure his counsel would be able to so convince the court and jury.

And reviewing the whole matter, now in my cooler moments, this scheme of trying to carry away Sarah's son, seemed to be as foolish, useless, and mad, as any one of my marrying adventures. Till I picked him out from among his schoolmates, I had never seen the child at all. When I started from Port Jervis to go down, as I supposed, into Pennsylvania, I had no more idea of kidnapping the boy than I had of robbing a sheep-fold. It was only when the landlord at Water Gap told me that Sarah had remarried, and was wedded to a worthless, drunken husband, that I conceived the plan of removing the boy from such associations. I was going to bring him up in a respectable manner. Alas! I did not succeed even in bringing him away.

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