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



Where to go, not what to do, was the next question. Wherever I might go and establish myself, if only for a few days, or a few weeks, I was sure to have almost immediately plenty of patients and customers enough for my medicines—this had been my experience always—and unfortunately for me, I was almost equally sure to get into some difficulty from which escape was not always easy. Looking over the whole ground for a fresh start in business, it seemed to me that Maine was the most favorable place. Whenever I had been there I had done well; it was one of the very few States I had lived in where I had not been in jail or in prison; nor had I been married there, though the Biddeford widow did her best to wed me, and it is not her fault that she did not succeed in doing it.

To Maine, then, I went, settling down in Augusta, and remaining there four months, during which time I had as much as I could possibly attend to, and laid by a very considerable sum of money. While I was there I heard the most unfavorable reports with regard to the health of my eldest son Henry. Prison life at Trenton had broken him down in body as well as in spirit, and he had been ill, some of the time seriously, nearly all the time since he went to Unadilla. The fact that he was entirely innocent of the offence for which he was imprisoned, preyed upon his mind, and with the worst results. As these stories reached me from week to week, I became anxious and even alarmed about him, and at last I left my lucrative business in Augusta and went to New York. I could not well go to Unadilla to visit Henry without seeing his mother, whom I had no desire to see; so I sent for him to come to me in the city if was able to do so. I knew that if medicine or medical attendance would benefit him, I should be able to help him.

In a few days he came to me in a most deplorable physical condition. He was a mere wreck of his former self. Almost immediately he began to talk about the attempt to abduct the boy from Oxford; how innocent he was in the matter, and how terribly he had suffered merely because he happened to be with me when I rashly endeavored to kidnap the lad. All this went through me like a sharp sword. It seemed as if I was the cause, not only of great unhappiness to myself, but of pain and misery to all who were associated or brought in contact with me. For this poor boy, who had endured and suffered so much on my account, I could not do enough. My means and time must now be devoted to his recovery, if recovery, was possible.

He was weak, but was still able to walk about, and he enjoyed riding very much. I kept him with me in the city a week or two, taking daily rides to the Park and into the country, and when he felt like going out in the evening I made him go to some place of amusement with me. I had no other business, and meant to have none, but to take care of Henry, and I devoted myself wholly to his comfort and happiness. In a few days he had much improved in health and spirits, so much so, that I meditated making a long tour with him to the South, hoping that the journey there and back again would fully restore him.

Fortunately, my recent Maine business had put me in possession of abundant funds, and when I had matured my scheme, and saw that Henry was in tolerable condition to travel, I proposed the trip to him, and he joyfully assented to my plan. I wanted to get him far away, for awhile, from a part of the country which was associated in his mind, more than in mine, with so much misery, and he seemed quite as eager to go. Change of air and scene I knew would do wonders for him bodily, and would build him up again.

We made our preparations and started for the South, going first to Baltimore and then on through the Southern States by railroad to New Orleans. It was late in the fall of 1860, just before the rebellion, when the south was seceding or talking secession, and was already preparing for war. Henry's physical condition compelled us to rest frequently on the way, and we stopped sometimes for two or three days at a time, at nearly every large town or city on the entire route. Everywhere there was a great deal of excitement; meetings were held nearly every night secession was at fever heat, and there was an unbounded expression and manifestation of ill-feeling against the north and against northern men. Nevertheless, I was never in any part of the Union where I was treated with so much courtesy, consideration and genuine kindness as I was there and then. I was going south, simply to benefit the invalid who accompanied me; everybody seemed to know it; and everybody expressed the tenderest sympathy for my son. Wherever we stopped, it seemed as if the people at the hotels, from the landlord to the lowest servant, could not do enough for us. At Atlanta, Augusta, Mobile, and other places, where we made our stay long enough to get a little acquainted, my son and myself were daily taken out to ride, and were shown everything of interest that was to be seen. Henry did not enjoy this journey more than I did—to me as well as to him, the trip was one prolonged pleasure, and by the time we reached New Orleans nearly a month after we left New York, my son had so recuperated that I had every hope of his speedy and full restoration.

It was the beginnings of winter when we reached New Orleans; but during the whole month of December while we remained in that city, winter, if indeed it was winter, which we could hardly believe, was only a prolongation of the last beautiful autumn days we had left at the north. Now Orleans was then at the very height of prosperity; business was brisk, money was plenty, the ships of all nations and countless steamboats from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville and all points up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers lay at the levee. The levee itself, from end to end, for miles along the river front, was one mass of merchandise which had come to the city, or was awaiting shipment. I had never seen a livelier city. Indescribably gay, too, was New Orleans that winter. The city was full of strangers; the hotels were thronged; there were balls every night; the theatres were crowded, and everybody seemed bent on having a good time. With all the rest, there was an extraordinary military furor, and militia companies and regiments paraded the streets every day, while secession meetings were held in various halls, or in the public squares, nearly ever night.

From the St. Charles hotel where we stopped, St. Charles street seemed ablaze and alive all night, and densely thronged all day. Sunday brought no rest, for Sunday, so far as military parades, amusement and general gaiety were concerned, was the liveliest day in the week; and Sunday night the theatres were sure to present their best performances and to draw their largest audiences. And so, from morning till night, and from night till morning again, all was whirl, stir, bustle, business, enjoyment, and excitement. To me, unaccustomed as I was to such scenes, New York even seemed tame and dull, and slow in comparison with New Orleans.

This is a picture of the Crescent City as it presented itself to me and to my son in the early part of the winter before the war. No one knew or even dreamed of the terrible times that were to come. No one believed that war was probable, or even possible; it was well enough, perhaps, to prepare for it; but secession was to be an accomplished fact, and the North and all the world would quietly acknowledge it. This was the general sentiment in the city; though secession, and what would, or what might come of it, was the general topic of talk in the hotels, in the restaurants, at the theatres, in the streets, everywhere. Now and then some southerner with whom I had become acquainted would try to draw me out to ascertain my sentiments on the subject, but I always laughed, and said good naturedly:

"My dear sir, I didn't come down here to talk about secession, but to see if the southern climate would benefit my sick son."

The fact was that I minded my own business, and minded it so well that while I was in New Orleans I managed to find a few patients and sold recipes and medicines enough to pay the entire expenses of our journey thus far, from the North.

Almost every day my son and I drove somewhere up to Carrolton, down to the battle-ground, or on the shell road to Lake Ponchartrain. It was a month of genuine enjoyment to us both; of profit to me pecuniarily; and of the best possible benefit to Henry's health.

Early in January we took passage on one of the finest of the Mississippi steamboats for St. Louis. The boat was crowded, and among the passengers were a good many merchants, Northern men long resident in New Orleans, who thought they saw trouble coming, and accordingly had closed up their business in the Crescent City, and were now going North to stay there. We had on board, too, the usual complement of gamblers and amateur or professional poker-players, who kept the forward saloon near the bar, and known in the river vernacular as the "Texas" of the boat, lively all day long and well into the night, or rather the next morning. It was ten or eleven days before we reached St. Louis. Nothing notable occurred on the trip; but day after day, as we proceeded northward, and left the soft, sunny south behind us, with the daily increasing coldness and wintry weather, Henry seemed to decline by degrees, and gradually to lose nearly all that he had gained since we left New York. When we reached St. Louis he was seriously sick. I was very sorry we had come away so soon in the season, and proposed that we should return and stay in the south till spring; but Henry would not consent. There was nothing to be done, then, but to hurry on to the east, and when we arrived in New York Henry would not go home to his mother in Unadilla, but insisted upon accompanying me to Boston. I was willing enough that he should go with me, for then I could have him under my exclusive care; but when we arrived in Boston he was so overcome by the excitement of travel, and was so feeble from fatigue as well as disease, that instead of having him go with me to Augusta, as I intended, by the advice of a friend I took him into the country where he could be nursed, be quiet, and be well taken care of till spring. I left him in good hands, promising to come and see him as soon as I could, and then went back to my old business in Augusta.

It required a little time to knot the new end of that business to the end where I had broken off three months before; but I was soon in full practice again and was once more making and saving money. I had no matrimonial affair in hand, no temptation in fact, and none but strictly professional engagements to fulfil. In Augusta and in several other towns which I visited, for the whole of the rest of the winter, I was as busy as I could be. Early in the spring I made up my mind to run away for a week or two, and arranged my business so that I could go down into Massachusetts and visit Henry, hoping, if he was better, to bring him back with me to Maine.

Two of my patients in Paris, Maine, had each given me a good horse in payment for my attendance upon them and their families, and for what medicines I had furnished, and I took these horses with me to sell in Boston. I drove them down, putting a good supply of medicines in my wagon to sell in towns on the way, and when I arrived in Boston sold out the establishment, getting one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the wagon, three hundred dollars for one horse, and four hundred dollars for the other—a pretty good profit on my time and medicine for the two patients—and I brought with me besides about eighteen hundred dollars, the net result, above my living expenses, of about three months' business in Maine, and what I had done on the way down through Massachusetts. I am thus minute about this money because it now devolves upon me to show what sort of a family of children my first and worst wife had brought up.

Of these children by my first marriage, my eldest son Henry, since he had grown up, had been with me nearly as much as he had been with his mother, and I loved him as I did my life. Since he became of age, at such times when I was not in prison, or otherwise unavoidably separated from him, we had been associated in business, and had traveled and lived together. I knew all about him; but of the rest of the children I knew next to nothing. Shortly after I sold my horses, one day I was in my room at the hotel, when word was brought to me that some one in the parlor wanted to see me.

I went down and found a young man, about twenty-one years of age, who immediately came to me addressing me as "father," and he then presented a young woman, about two years older than he was, as his sister and my daughter. I had not seen this young gentleman since the time when I had carried him off from school and from the farmer to whom he was bound, and had clothed him and taken him with me to Amsterdam and Troy, subsequently sending him to my half-sister at Sidney. The ragged little lad, as I found him, had grown up into a stout, good-looking young man; but I had no difficulty in recognizing him, though I was much at loss to know the precise object of this visit; so after shaking hands with them, and asking then how they were, I next inquired what they wanted?

Well, they had been to see Henry, and he was a great deal better.

I told them I was very glad to hear it, and that I was then on my way to visit him, and hoped to see him in a few days, as soon as I could finish my business in Boston; if Henry was as well as they reported I should bring him away with me.

"But if you are busy here," said my young man, "we can save you both time and trouble. We will go to Henry again and settle his bills for board and other expenses, and will bring him with us to you at this hotel."

This, at the time, really seemed to me a kindly offer; it would enable me to stay in Boston and attend to business I had to do, and Henry would come there with his brother and sister in a day or two. I at once assented to the plan, and taking my well-filled pocket-book from the inside breast pocket of my coat, I counted out two hundred and fifty dollars and gave them to the young man to pay Henry's board, doctor's and other bills, and the necessary car fares for the party. They then left me and started, as I supposed, to go after Henry.

But a few days went on and I saw and heard nothing of Henry. At last word came to me one day that some one down stairs wanted to see me and I told the servant to send him to my room, hoping that it might be Henry. But no; it was my young man, of whom I instantly demanded:

"Where is your brother, whom you were to bring to me a week ago? What have you done with the money I gave you for his bills?"

"I hadn't been near Henry; sister has gone home; and I've spent the money on a spree, every cent of it, here in Boston, and I want more."

"Want more!" I exclaimed in blank amazement:

"Yes, more; and if you don't give it to me, I'll follow you wherever you go, and tell people all I know about you."

"You scoundrel," said I, "you come here and rob, not me, but your poor, sick brother, and then return and attempt to blackmail me. Get out of my sight this instant."

He sprung on me, and made a desperate effort to get my money out of my pocket. We had a terrible struggle. He was younger and stronger than I was, and as I felt that I was growing weaker I called out loudly for help and shouted "Murder!"

The landlord himself came running into the room; I succeeded in tearing myself away, from the grasp of my assailant, and the landlord felled him to the floor with a chair. He then ran to the door and called to a servant to bring a policeman.

"No, don't!" I exclaimed; "Don't arrest the villain, for I can make no complaint against him—he is my son!"

But the landlord was bound to have some satisfaction out of the affair; so he dragged the young man into the hall and kicked him from the top of the stairs to the bottom, where, as soon as he had picked himself up, a convenient servant kicked him out into the street. I have never set eyes on my young man since his somewhat sudden departure from that hotel.

And when I went to visit my poor Henry a day or two afterwards, I can hardly say that I was surprised, though I was indignant to learn that his brother and sister had never been near him at all since he had been in Massachusetts. They knew where and how he was from his letter's to his mother; they knew, too, from the same letters—for I had notified Henry—at what time I would be in Boston, and with this information they had come on to swindle me. I have no doubt, when the young man came the second time to rob me, he would have murdered me, if the landlord had not come to my assistance. And this was the youngest son of my first and worst wife!!

I found Henry in better condition than I expected, and I took him back with me to Augusta. I did not tell him of his brother's attempt to rob and kill. Me—it would have been too great a shock for him. He stayed with me only a few days and then, complaining of being homesick, he went to visit his mother again.

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