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THE THREE ROBERTS
If any member of our particular branch of the Arnold Family inclines toward superstition, let him watch his step and be careful about naming any of his sons Robert. Just why, I do not know, but that name seems likely to put the kiss of death upon his future. Lest this be regarded as insufficiently backed by factual evidence, I will briefly relate the story, or rather stories, of the three Roberts.
My grandmother's family, as recorded here, came from Scotland in 1828 and settled first in New York State. While there a third child was born, a son named Robert. Later, the family moved to Canada for a short stay and there the third son, David, was born. When the family returned to the United States it consisted of two daughters and three sons; William born in Scotland; Robert, born in New York State; and David, born in Canada.
Beyond the state of his birth, I really know little about Robert Craig. I think, however, that he was probably a mischievous kid, with a sense of humor unusual for a Scot, who is more likely to be witty than truly humorous, his favorite way to get around his mother was to insist that she shouldn't be too hard on him, for he was the only son she had who could ever be president of the United States. He seems to have slipped into the mists of tradition pretty completely; I knew William and David, both fairly well to do farmers, and I know my mother's aunt, who married Marcellus Justice, although I never saw her and cannot recall her name, if I ever heard it. Robert's obscurity leads me to suspect that possibly all did not go well with his life - hence his installation as the initial Robert. There must at least have been something lovable in his character, as witnessed by the christening as Robert of both my grandmother's and my mother's oldest sons by that name.
The Robert of the next generation was a wild Scot. God made the country, man made the cities, but the devil made the small towns, and that was where my grandmother's oldest son, next in age to my mother grew up. In his early manhood, or late boyhood, he fell into association with a bunch of drovers, handling cattle between the various communities in northern Indiana; there were fewer railroads there than now. The diversion of these drovers appears to have been of an alcoholic nature, running more to quantity than quality, and their natures were not such as could be expected to make a sissified molly-coddle out of young Robert Craig and they didn't. The record of his early career is a little blurred but was probably not heroic, the odor of cheap whisky pervading it all. Bob was rough; rough in his associations, rough in his language, and rough in appearance, but there must have been much in his character that was lovable for, even at his lowest, there were a number of substantial people in Bluffton who tried to keep him in the straight and narrow path, at least enough so he would not go completely to pot, and my father liked him in spite of his faults.
The first definite anecdote that floats up out of the mist seems to have come along about the end of the seventies or beginning of the eighties, when he was in his early twenties. It seems that there was a local character of parts, who lived up the river a little above Bluffton, who wielded some power in the community. He was a widower, living with his daughter and, rumor had it, mistreated her; his local political influence apparently preventing anyone doing very much about it except talk.
One day Bob and a friend - maybe one of the Crosby boys or his cousin Frank Craig from Ossian, I do not know - were returning from a days hunting and, as they came past the old fellow's place about dusk, the heard the girl screaming. Without a word, Bob and his companion rested their guns against a fence, vaulted over, and investigated. Details are again lacking but it seems that Bob worked on the old fellow quite effectively, the result lying somewhere between assault and battery and felonious assault with intent to kill, depending upon which side your sympathies lay. Bob came home and told his mother about it. I wasn't there, of course, but, knowing my grandmother as I do, I am satisfied that she gave him hell and then, after she had unburdened her soul, she packed his grip, gave him what money she could scrape together and away he hied to Nebraska. Nothing ever came of the trouble but incidents of the Nebraska trip furnish a glimpse of Uncle Bob.
When he first landed in Nebraska, or at least as soon as he was broke, he got a job as a farm hand or harvest gang worker, I am not sure which. Come spring again and Bob saw a great light; railroads were pretty scarce in Nebraska in those days and, if he only had a wagon and a team of horses, he could positively get rich freighting. Now Bob's reaction to that brilliant thought was the normal reaction of everyone who ever came in contact with my father - he wrote to J.T. Probably my mother had something to do with it but, anyhow, a prompt reply came in the form of a check for $500, which Bob invested in a team and wagon and proceeded on the way to fortune. How far he progressed is not a part of the record; probably he saw more money and drank more whisky that summer than he ever thought there was in the world, but that is just a surmise of mine. When winter closed down on Nebraska, the team was put up in a livery stable to board and by spring had to be sold to pay the feed bill, etc. (The "etc." may have been at the nearby gin mill.) and Bob came home, much like the prodigal son, to take a job hauling logs from the surrounding woods to my father's saw-mill; doubtless with some vague idea of working out the debt but the record does not show that Father ever got back any of his $500.
Not long after that, Bob went on a terrible bender - they called them sprees in those days - and wound up with a raging case of delirium tremins, in the process of enjoying which he conceived the brilliant idea of cutting his own throat. He may have been drunker than he thought for he botched the job and missed both the jugular vein and the carotid artery and so didn't kill himself, although he seems to have nicked his larynx somewhat. During his period of incapacity, which naturally was spent at our house, - where else? - the doctors decided that, if he didn't want to lose his voice entirely, it would be necessary for him to use it considerably, so he was given the job of reading to us kids. I recall that his voice was a bit husky but, of course, we weren't supposed to know the whys and wherefores of Uncle Bob's illness but the kids in the little town were not so reticent and we were ultimately pretty accurately informed. Normally Bob wasn't the type to spend hours of his day reading to children but he was faithful for a time and we considered his having cut his throat as just a providential break by means of which we had an almost unlimited supply of stories read to us. He eventually recovered but he never liked to wear a collar. We youngsters used to wonder at Uncle Bob's strange aversion to collars and preference for a soft handkerchief around his neck but we never pressed him very hard on the subject; with all his lovable qualities, there was a certain Scotch dourness about him at times that did not encourage flippancy.
While his neck got well, after a fashion, the experience didn't seem to have any very beneficial effect upon his general character, at least not to the extent of destroying his confidence in the benefits to be derived from the quantitative consumption of ardent spirits. He kept gaily along his particular conception of the Primrose Path until Dr. Keely opened up in Dwight, Illinois. That name means scarcely anything to this generation, so I will have to digress for a few paragraphs.
Along in the early eighties, a Doctor Keely discovered, or thought he discovered, that alcoholism was a disease and should be treated. It seems that Dr. Keely had studied drunks all his life; even in childhood, when kids of his age were usually afraid of them, he was fascinated by drunken people. He finally worked out that injections of bichlorid of gold, administered hyperdermically, would cure the craving for liquor. Don't ask me what bicholord of gold is - I know nothing beyond the implication of the term itself.
The interesting thing about it all is that his treatment seemed to work. In addition to the original one at Dwight, Illinois, "Keely Cure" institutions sprung up all over the country, or at least all over the Middle West. Every village in that part of the country had a group of bums who wholeheartedly subscribed to Dr. Keely's disease theory and regarded themselves as aggravated cases; it made a wonderful alibi. Gradually those who had any money left that they hadn't drunk up or who had relatives who had money, together with enough interest in one of the local inebriates, were packed up and sent to the nearest Keely Cure. In addition to the one at Dwight, there was one at Warsaw, Indiana and they rapidly increased, until it seemed almost that every cross-pads village or hamlet had one. I repeat, the really funny part of it all is that it apparently was efficacious. The breed of village drunks seemed on the way to extinction and it finally got so that a convivial individual could hardly get half a jag on without his friends and relatives getting together and arranging to ship him off to the nearest "jag hospital". In a few weeks, depending on the stubbornness of the attack of the disease of course, he would be restored to his community; he wouldn't take a drink and, in a goodly percentage of the cases, there developed a most non-understandable willingness to go to church on Sundays, prayer-meetings on Wednesday evenings and all that sort of thing.
This fool thing went on for several years before anyone seems to have had curiosity enough to try to find out what would really happen, if a Keely graduate took a notion to resume his alcoholic experiments. And this part is to me another non-understandable payoff; when some of the bolder spirits did try it, they very promptly either died or went crazy. Why they were affected that way, I do not know but do so they did, times without number. Whether the "gold-cure" itself had anything to do with it or not is to me a mystery but the regularity of the thing was too pronounced to be entirely accidental. In any event, the Keely Cure craze gradually faded out of our Middle Western lives and I doubt if there is today, in the whole United States, one real genuine "Bi-chlorid of Gold" jag-hospital doing business.
Uncle Bob was inclined to look with contemptful scorn upon Dr. Keely's glorious work, his list of cures, and connected therewith. I used to sometimes suspect that he didn't really want to "get well". He had, of course, had his attention called to it on numerous occasions; no man who habitually took a drink could escape that but he just wasn't interested. He used to duck the question by saying that he couldn't afford the extravagance. My father had moved to Chattanooga by this time, so no one seems to have had the happy thought of writing to J.T.for the funds to "save" Bob. In justice to my grandmother, let me say here that I have no recollection of ever hearing her utter one word that betokened any thought of subjecting Bob to "the cure". This wasn't because she cherished any illusions regarding Bob either.
Finally, however, along about 1890, Hi Grove and some other of Bob's more respectable and affluent friends made up a sort of purse and prevailed upon Bob to take the cure - they would pay for it. Somewhat reluctantly, I suspect, Bob consented, went to either Dwight or Warsaw, I am not sure which, and came back duly "cured". Somewhere in his earlier alcoholic travels, Bob had learned to be a butcher and, possibly with the unexpended balance of the cure fund, he opened up a meat market in Bluffton and really traveled the straight and narrow for about three years; long enough at least so my wonderful old grandmother could go to her reward, happy in the thought that Bob was all straightened out again. This happened in the fall of 1893 and within a few months thereafter, Bob began again to experiment with the effects of alcohol on the human system, with the ultimate result that he joined his mother within a few months - dead at or around forty.
The career of Robert III was less spectacular than that of his immediate predecessor and, while ultimately just as disastrous, was, on the surface, in many ways less candidly disreputable. Robert III was my oldest brother - Robert Johnston Arnold, born August 10, 1873. Like many oldest sons, he benefited by the lack of experience of his parents. Perhaps a better way to state the particular case would be to say that Henry and I suffered from the failures of the experiments my father made in raising Bob. Within the limits of Father's means, Bob got everything he wanted; skates, sleds, guns, bicycles (they were new then), every imaginable thing that a kid could ask for was his. His most pronounced characteristic was a red-hot enthusiasm for what was in anticipation, followed promptly by neglect of realization, as soon as the novelty wore off. This, in fact, was the predominating characteristic of his life. Through him, my father learned by experience that it didn't pay to pamper kids and Henry and I were not pampered; we had to content ourselves with inheriting Bob's outgrown or discarded toys; we worked to earn money to pay for our own bicycles, whereas Bob had received his just for the asking. Many things we did without that he had enjoyed, Father having learned something that we didn't yet know - the pleasure derived from many things fails to come up to the cost.
Bob didn't want to go to public school - Bob didn't go to the public school, he went to a business college. (That's how come he was the only one of three of us who wrote a decent hand.) Bob decided early that he wanted to go to college ( when he was only 16 and hadn't any business going to college) - Bob went one year to DePauw. Bob decided he wanted to quit and go to work - Father gave him a job. Bob changed his mind again and wanted to go to P.M.C. - and to P.M.C. he went (it was P.M.A. in those days). At the end of two years - the panic of 1893 was upon us then - Bob refused to put my father to any further expense for his education - the only generous act of self denial that I can trace to him - and resumed the job that Father had given him some years before.
Within a year or two, Bob and Shell Loomis, the younger son of the president of Loomis & Hart, conceived the brilliant idea of going into business in New Orleans, finishing up the knocked down coffins made by L. & H. and selling them to the undertakers in the deep South, to bury plantation negros etc. in. Promptly the two fathers complied and they were established. The venture lasted long enough to lose all of the money that the parents felt was justified and fairly soon Bob and Shell were back at their old jobs in Chattanooga. (I could tell you a lot of gossip about that New Orleans venture but I will save it to be passed out verbally, if ever.)
While I was in college, along about 1896 or 1897, Henry wrote me that Bob had begun to take up the collection at the Presbyterian Church. (much omitted matter would throw considerable light upon the inconsistency of that move). My reply was that somebody had better watch the plate and a prophecy that ere long Bob would have a job in the First National Bank, the president of which (T.G. Montague) was a pillar in the church we attended. The prophecy turned out to be more accurate than the suspicion and Bob soon become one of the bookkeepers in the bank, promptly discontinuing the plate-passing at church.
The only abiding and the most consistent characteristic that Bob ever had, in his youth, was a desire to play soldier. He was always drilling a bunch of kids and the only time he would condescend to play with us little fellows was when he needed us in his army. Bob was only a little runt of about five feet three or less but he joined the National Guard of the State of Tennessee when he was sixteen. Knowing the age limit was eighteen, I asked him how he did it and he said it was because he was an accomplished liar. He went to the summer encampment in 1890 and brought home enough bed-bugs to infest his room and spread them the Henry's and mine - not the slightest criticism, whereas we other two kids would have been scalped at least, if not shot at sunrise. By 1892 - when he was nineteen and had been a year at P.M.C. - he was made adjutant of the regiment. The age limit was twenty-one for commissioned officers, so I suppose his prevaricative abilities had not deteriorated over the period; I didn't even ask.
Bob still tinkered with the militia and, by 1989, found himself a captain of the Third Tennessee Regiment in Spanish American War - age twenty-four plus. After that war was over and his regiment mustered out, he went to the Phillippines as a first Lieutenant and fought (?) through the insurrection. The only military anecdote I recall is that he was back with the rear guard, bossing the bull-carts, when Lawton was killed. At the end of hostilities, he was offered a commission in the regular army (the realization of his life's dream) but was rejected at the examination, due to flunking terribly in mathematics and to the humorous fact that the army authorities finally awakened to the fact that he was only five feet two and a half instead of the five feet four the regulations specified.
Back he came to Chattanooga, to another job created for him by Father, but Dad said: "He wasn't much good, as he spent all his time crying around because he couldn't get into the army." Father stood it as long as he could and then sat down and wrote a personal letter to President McKinley (the only man of really national prominence with whom he as personally acquainted) and told him that he didn't think it was particularly fair to ask a kid, who had been in active military service for the preceding four years, to pass a mathematical examination and that, if they hadn't discovered his lack of height during the four years referred to, perhaps that wouldn't be a very serious handicap after all. This letter was mailed September 4, 1901 and, when my father picked up the morning paper the next day and learned that McKinley had been assassinated in Buffalo the day before, he resignedly said: "Well, at least I tried." The joker of the whole thing is that, in some unexplainable way, that letter did the trick and, before Christmas, Bob was appointed a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery - a most God-Awful branch of the service for a poor mathematician to select.
During his army career, which lasted about eight years, Bob married Alma Bottoms and young Frank Robert was born. I recall that, in 1906, while he was posted at Angel Island, he commanded the first detachment of U.S. troops that moved into San Francisco after the earthquake (or the fire, as denizens like to say). He failed to qualify for promotion to Captain and eventually succeeded in floating himself out of the army on a river of alcohol - and anyone who knows the old army will admit that that was no puny accomplishment, of itself - and Father had him on his hands again. Promptly Father put about thirty thousand dollars into a Louisiana lumber scheme, initiated by Al Johnson, and thereby got Bob a job. Soon Bob and the thirty thousand dollars and the job went the way of all things that Bob touched and he was on Father's hands again. About this time, I had started my venture into business at Hightstown and Bob conceived the notion that he would make a good operator of chicken farm, only his must, of course, be in California. This called for more money from Father - not so much this time but still a substantial sum.
It took Bob only a few years to lose his chicken farm and, incidentally, his wife along with it: she having decided that she couldn't stand it any longer and, upon advice from father, packed up and left. Incidentally, this was the second bit of advice Father had given Alma on affairs matrimonial, the first piece being the rather bluntly expressed thought, that he expressed just before the wedding, that she seemed to be a fine girl but was certainly a damn fool to marry Bob. Alma ignored the first but followed the second, which shows that, at least, the lady had intelligence enough to learn by experience.
Now, when Bob was forty, Father had him on his hands again. About this time, your Uncle Henry and I figured out that, if Father had started out when Bob was twenty and given him an allowance of ten dollars a day (more than he ever earned in his life), he could have paid it out of the interest on the money he had blown on him and still have the principle, whereas now the principle was gone. Directly or indirectly, during those twenty years, my father spent eighty thousand dollars in fruitless efforts to make Bob self supporting. However, by this time, Father was beginning to learn by experience himself; he let Bob eat and sleep at home and gave him an allowance of $5.00 a week for spending money and just let him loaf.
The funny part of it all is that Bob didn't really want to loaf. He went to the local law school and ere long was admitted to the bar of Tennessee. All my father gained by that was the added expense of renting him an office and paying his telephone bill, the $5.00 spending money was still required. Bob caught me, about this time, in one of my few flush periods and wanted to borrow $350 to properly equip his office. I nearly fell for it but Father told me that, if I loaned Bob any money, it would be because I was a bigger fool than Bob was, which just didn't seem possible to him.
When the first World War came along, Bob tried to get back into the service - the Judge Advocate's Department, he being a lawyer - but the U. S. Army couldn't be interested. After the war, he got himself a job in the Veterans Department, which he held for several years. This is the only period in Bob's life when he seems to have actually been really self-supporting. He held the job until he died, early in the nineteen twenties.
Such is the story of the Three Roberts. Much of the reprehensible history of Robert III has been omitted; it was less lurid than that of Robert II but not much more creditable. Years after all of the Roberts were gone, I spoke to Father about them, particularly the latter two, trying to find out how much bitterness he retained against them. To my mild surprise, there was not bitterness toward either; he briefly listed their good qualities and their bad, viewing each apparently with perfect objectivity and finally dismissing them - Robert II, who had cost him hundreds upon hundreds of dollars, and Robert III, who had cost him thousands upon thousands - with the statement that: "It has been my experience that people in this world are much as God made them and there is little you can do about it."
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