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Montpelier

Arnold, Bliss and Arnold soon became H.C. Arnold & Co., through the purchase of Bliss's interest by the other two partners, and in 1870, purchased a store in Montpelier, Indiana. While the firm remained a partnership between Henry C. and James T. Arnold, operations at Bluffton continued under the name H.C.Arnold & Co., while those in Montpelier went under the name J.T. Arnold & Co. At this time Father was twenty-six and still unmarried.

Montpelier, in those days, had about five hundred inhabitants and took a misdirected pride in being the toughest town in the state; the only admitted rival was Kendallville. The latter town grew more rapidly but I doubt if its toughness kept up with its population. We stopped in Kendallville in 1939, on one of our trips through Indiana. I was anxious to see the rival in evil of my boyhood home, but it was somewhat disappointing; Kendallville seemed a nice little village and we had no exception to take to it.

Now Montpelier was really tough. The Critzers were probably the worst, although the Miners and the Coffins and the Lockwoods were not exactly of the Sunday-school stratum. The first named family appears to have lived largely by periodically robbing my father's store. McGrew, who wasn't himself so tough - I knew him as intimately as a child could - operated a small store in the village and was suspected, rightly or wrongly, of serving as a fence for the Critzer gang. This suspicion was somewhat strengthened when Mr. McGrew and Mr. Critzer fell out and Mr. McGrew found it necessary to shoot his fellow townsman on the street - probably to escape a like fate himself. After that, the situation was somewhat improved but still far from perfect. Even in my own time the store was robbed several times and I wasn't born until eight years after he went there.

Old man Maddox was a pretty cagey old farmer, a bit unscrupulous at times but smart. He had a hell of a family - Tom and Frank and Beck (probably Rebecca) - Tom arrived at, or came perilously near the penitentiary when I was a boy there; Frank shot a fellow townsman a little later, escaping punishment in some way; Beck tried her best to shoot Mrs. Miner for traducing her character (as if anyone could) and Mrs. Miner returned the compliment in kind - no success in either case, their marksmanship not being equal to their animosity. Old man Maddox once told my father that he had made lots of money in his life but that he had to spend it all keeping his children out of prison.

I have a very clear recollection of my own of the time when the two rival hotelkeepers fell out and expressed their mutual resentment by shooting each other in my father's store. One gained a lame arm out of it and I forget what the other one received but it was something of minor import. This business of holding their little shooting match inside the store was not regarded as strictly the right thing to do and it made my dad a little mad, especially as one of the stray bullets went clear through a box of hats that were on one of the counters; Father always considered that he was the worst casualty. The funny part of it all is that the inn-keepers either never did get very mad about it all or else they soon got over it. I recall seeing them myself talking amicably together, while one of them still had his arm in a sling.

My father owned the building in which one of the hotels was located - it was the only three-story building in town. Once in a while, I used to go there for dinner. I never paid anything, presumably my dad had a charge account but I always thought it was because it was his hotel. Every one sat at one big table and the first thing that happened was for one of the waitresses to go down the line; "tea or coffee", "tea or coffee", "tea or coffee", never seeming to wait a second. I always wondered how she was ever able to keep her record straight, she went so fast.

Montpelier could be a very pretty little town by now. Every street crossing on the main street was made into something of a square by making the corner lot - about 100' by 100' - public property. In my time they were filled with hitching racks; now they probably furnish parking space; I don't know, not having seen the town for nearly fifty years.6

I think it was in 1871 that my father was married and brought his bride - Samantha Elizabeth Johnston - down to what my old Scotch Grandmother caustically referred to as "that hog-wallow of a Montpelier". Most of the low-brow citizens saved a lot of time in those days by omitting the first syllable and referring to the town as ‘Pelier. While it is my intention to deal briefly with my maternal ancestry in a separate section, this is a good place to digress enough to paint a little portrait of my mother as an individual, as she survives in my memory.

Samantha Elizabeth Johnston - that was her full name, as I learned only a few years ago, but no one ever referred to her, even semi-officially, by any other name than Lizzie - was the oldest child of a little Scotch doctor, who seems to have had ambition enough to educate himself even in those pioneer days, and Janet Craig, that hard-bitten old Scotch Grandmother of mine, of who, you will hear a lot more, if this narrative continues to the completion that I anticipate. My mother was born some time near Christmas in the year 1850, in a sleepy little Indiana village called Ossian (there must have been a few other Scots around), having some five hundred inhabitants now - probably much less then. She was quite pretty, a little brown eyed, brown haired, fiery tempered Scotch lassie, measuring about four feet eleven with her shoes on and weighing around eighty-nine pounds, when in the full vigor of health. Smart, ambitious, with a leaning toward culture, she was fairly well educated, having been to college in Pittsburgh for at least a year or two. My Aunt Kit always said that, during their courtship, Jim and Lizzie spent their time reading to each other. She was perhaps one of the most orderly house-keepers that was ever born, something of a musician, in a modest way, and continually laboring to improve herself mentally. One of her many ambitions was to dress her children in the very latest style; I wore clothes from Best & Co. when the Lilliputian Bazaar was in its infancy. Fortunately, I ante-dated the collaboration of Mrs. Burnett and Reginald Birch far enough to escape being another of the interminable line of Little Lord Fauntleroys that came along in the eighties. This is my father's story, not mine, so I will not dwell upon that detail.

You will find recorded that the date of my parent's marriage was May 18, 1871. Promptly on schedule came a daughter, unfortunately born dead, to whom no name appears to have been given. All my life I have felt terribly sorry for that little girl, her lack of a name grieving me most. She was important enough to have a grave but not enough so to attain a name - that is one of the very few things for which I have never been able to forgive my parents. I know where the poor child is buried and some day I may go back there just to see what, if anything, is carved on her headstone.

My brother - Robert Johnston Arnold - was born August 10, 1873. Robert was an old family name of my good mother's family, regarding which more details will appear when I tell her story more fully, and the name Johnston, of course, being applied merely because it was my mother's maiden name. The full story of "Bob" will be given later on, when he will receive his chapter or page at least; for the present his birth is the important item.

Some three years later - February 2, 1877 - another son appears, Henry Craig Arnold, named partly after a paternal uncle and partly after my father's nephew and partner and, for a middle name, going back one generation further to take the maiden name of my maternal grandmother. Henry will in due course get his treatment.

November 5, 1878 is the extremely important date (important to me at least) that marked the advent of the third son - James Stuart Arnold7 - who, for a middle name went one generation further back in my grandmother's family. It seems that I had some sort of congenital cardiac trouble and was not supposed to be allowed to cry when I was a baby. This solicitude endured long enough for me to appreciate its trading value and, when I wanted anything I shouldn't have, my childish threat was: "I'll cry!" One day my Aunt Kit - who appears now and then in this tale - saw a great light. On her own initiative, she picked me up and sat me down emphatically on the couch, with the admonition, "All right, damn you, cry!" I did and it didn't prove fatal; I have never been troubled with heart-disease since. I have always thought that a hell of a lot of miraculous cures of childhood ills might be accomplished with similar treatment.

About the time I was born, my father made his only venture into politics and ran for the Indiana legislature. He was a republican and ran away ahead of his ticket. When they counted up the votes in the schoolhouse on election night, every time a good Democratic ticket came up that was scratched so as to show J.T. Arnold for the legislature, some spectator would shout: "There goes another suit of clothes!" How many suits the election cost my dad does not appear. Strange a field as politics seems to me to be for my father to venture into, he seems to have made quite a success of his one little attempt. Years afterward, I talked to several of his contemporaries in the Indiana legislature and they were loud in his praise; he appears to have been particularly adept at "railroading" minor bills and getting them passed before the opposition had time to get itself organized. Two terms seem to have satisfied his craving to be a statesman, as he never ran for office again.

In the early eighties, when I was about four, I formed the very pleasant (for me) habit of wandering down to the store and asking my father for a penny; I always got it. When he wasn't available, I hit the first one of the clerks that was handy; the result was always the same - I received my penny. It was very difficult for me to understand the explanation that it wasn't proper for me to ask the clerks for pennies; I think I had some sort of vague idea that, since my father owned the store, he also owned the clerks. These pennies were always spent down at "Uncle Nail's" candy store - my dad kept only barber-shop stick, which was way beneath contempt to me - a few doors away. (Aunty Nail ran a millinery store and was quite a character - she may get her paragraph yet.) After a while, I reached the conclusion that a penny wasn't enough and one day I formed rather dubiously the plan of hitting my father for a nickel. I scarcely expected it to work but thought it worth trying. To my surprise, Father handed it over without even a hint of protest. I grabbed it in my fist and ran out of the store, before he could change his mind. I was half way down to Uncle Nail's before I took a look at my nickel. To my shocked surprise it was just another penny; I never had quite the same confidence in my dad after that.

As a rule, the local store-keeper is not the most popular character in a small country town but my father could have anything he wanted in Montpelier. I can remember hearing, at one time or another, somebody say something derogatory about practically every person that lived in Montpelier, except "J.T." I fooled around that town, off and on, for a number of years, moving and associating with the highest and the lowest, but I never heard a remark about my father that was not couched in terms of the warmest respect, confidence and appreciation. My sampling covered everything from the parsonage to the barbershop and, if you know your tank-town barbershops, you get what I am driving at. Once Father was in Bluffton, sitting on the hotel balcony over looking the local street fair, when my cousin Zada introduced him to a man from Montpelier, saying, "Your should know my uncle, Mr. Arnold, he used to live in your town." The unknown (to us) stranger said: "My God, is this the J.T. Arnold that everyone in Montpelier talks about?" This was forty years after my father had moved away.

In the summer of 1881, my father built the "New House". He picked a lot of about an acre, flat as a billiard table and literally filled with big red-oak trees; in the middle he built what, to all of us, seemed a mansion. It must have a palace, as it cost four thousand dollars. My life really started with the new house, specifically I remember my oldest brother Bob running up his flag, with crepe on it, when President Garfield died. (Incidentally, my father, mother and Aunt Kit were sojourning to Long Branch, when they brought Garfield there - to die as it turned out.) I remember, as if it was yesterday, riding up from the old house to the new on the last dray-load. This was November, 1881, just after I had passed my third birthday.

Just to show that we were not completely benighted in Montpelier, I might mention that my father installed a telephone in his home, early in 1882. There were four parties on the line; viz. Tom Neal's grain elevator (1 ring), Tom Neal's residence (2 rings), J.T. Arnold & Co. (3 rings), and J.T. Arnold's residence (4 rings). These telephones, when first installed, ante-dated the Blake transmitter and you had to speak into and listen with the ear phone - sometimes embarrassingly inconvenient, when both parties wanted to talk at the same time. The new transmitters came in shortly after the line was established however.

As I look back upon it, it seems a long time that I lived in the new house; a time crowded with happy little experiences that seemed to make me feel that the world was a pretty nice place to be in. I often wonder if everyone's mind is as full of happy childhood memories as mine. Even when Uncle Bob got delirium tremens and cut his throat, the interruption was essentially temporary - Uncle Bob was tough and didn't die. We kids rather enjoyed his convalescence; it seems he had to exercise his larnyx in order to save his voice, so reading aloud was prescribed and we kids got the benefit of it. I recall that I was conscious at the time that there was something wrong with the picture, to have Uncle Bob always so willing to read to us. Of course, I did not fully appreciate how he came to be so sick; some of the neighbor kids had spread the story before me in full vividness but I just didn't believe it, family loyalty, I suppose.

One of my clear cut recollections is of the dining room, with a long table, my father at one end and my mother at the other and the intervening spaces filled with from fourteen to eighteen people - every day, it seemed. Three kids, Grandmother, Uncle Will and his wife Aunt Kit, Andy Johnston (cousin of my mother) and his wife, Lydia Devore, two hired girls (eating with the family, of course), all seem to my recollection to have been at every meal. Once, years after, I told my father something of the impression I had and asked if he ran a boarding-house. His reply was characteristic: "Hell, no body paid me any board; your memory is correct but those people didn't board there, they just lived there."

As I was emerging from babyhood, my father formed the habit, as it seemed to me, of going to Florida for a brief vacation each winter. As I look back upon it, he went every winter for a long time - probably he really went a couple of times. Oranges never tasted so good, before or since, as the ones he used to send back. I remember the time he brought back a great big fruit, somewhat resembling an orange, which he explained, was nice to look at but wasn't fit to eat, being too bitter. It seems funny now to recall all that he had to say about it but all this was a year or so before Mrs. Frank Leslie accomplished the feat of introducing the grape-fruit to New York.

Henry Branham, who ran a hardware store right across the street from J.T. Arnold & Co., was a rather oldish man with a long white beard and, as seemed to be usual, he and my father were great friends. Hen had a son, who was inclined to be a bit of a wild youth, as small town manners went, and Hen asked my father to give him a job to try to make a man of him. Although my father rather liked Will Branham, he was a little dubious but willing. He told Will that unwise drinking by his clerks was the one thing that he just wouldn't stand for and that he had one established rule - he wouldn't fire a clerk the first time he got drunk, that might be an accident, but that the second time that it happened, out he went with no appeal. This rule worked fine; all the clerks knew that they were entitled to one grand jag without endangering their jobs and none of them wanted to waste it, with the result that they kept religiously sober, in anticipation of an occasion worthy of the expenditure of their one time grace. Will Branham took the job under the conditions offered, behaved himself and went on to much greater things in life, always swearing by J.T. Arnold, as the finest man who ever lived.

Hen was deeply appreciative. Years after Father had left Montpelier, I accompanied him back on a visit. His passage through the business section of the town was a sort of a triumph. After he had held an informal reception in front of the old store and had started for the train, my Uncle Will said: "What's the matter between you and Hen Branham, I notice you didn't speak to him." My father immediately went back and laughingly bawled old Hen out for shaving off his beard so that he couldn't be recognized and wrung his hand with warm cordiality. I thought the old fellow was going to break down and cry, right there on the street.

There was no bank in Montpelier, those days. My father had the only burglar-proof safe in town and, enjoying the trust and confidence of all the way he did, it gradually grew to be the custom for anybody and everybody, who had any money, to bring their surplus cash to the store and let "J.T." keep it for them. Anytime they wanted it they could have it, the checking against balances being somewhat informal and generally amounted to walking up to my dad and saying, "Jimmy, can I have a dollar (or ten or a hundred, as the case might be). Old man Maddox, of course, had a good balance with "J.T." most of the time, against which it was by no means unusual for the members of his family to draw, in modest amounts, in the customary informal manner.

Kit Johnston (my Aunt Kit) was the cashier and, one Saturday night, Beck Maddox was in the store, somewhat loud mouthed from a few drinks but otherwise much as usual. Casually she strolled up to the cashier's window and said: "Kit, give me a dollar." "You will have to see J.T.", Kit told her. "Aw, Kit, give me a dollar; you know Jimmie would give it to me if he was here." "No, you can't have it.", said Kit, as she busied herself at her desk. Somewhat peremptorily it came: "Kit, give me a dollar." Kit looked up and found herself gazing into the muzzle of a revolver, thrust in at the cage window. Kit always said she didn't know the caliber of the gun but was satisfied that she could have dropped an apple in it, if not a pumpkin; I think Beck got her dollar.

This modest banking business gave my father an idea and he was planning to open up a bank but didn't get around to it before circumstances led him away from Montpelier, as will be related further on. Father always had a quiet ambition to have one of his boys be a banker. Bob partially filled it by being a bookkeeper in the Old First National Bank of Chattanooga and I perhaps helped when I came into the financial field in New York in 1919.

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6That is an error, I passed through in 1928 but do not recall any beauty.
7The middle name is really Stewart but was Anglicized by my stepmother when I was too young to care.

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