Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Historic Doubts of Riley Hood
By Richard Malcolm Johnston (18221898)
[Born in Hancock Co., Ga., 1822. Died in Baltimore, Md., 1898. Mr. Absalom Billingslea, and Other Georgia Folk. 1887.]
MR. FRANCIS HOOD, a man of thirty-five, rather small, high-tempered, and impulsive, was married to a tall wife, who, though of much mildness of speech, had quite enough of courage for all necessary purposes. What he regarded his chief virtue was veneration for the ageda virtue that he professed to fear might die out before long.
Childern, he would say, aint raised like they used to be. They think they smarter not only than grown people, but old people, an theyll spute thar words like they knowed all about it, an old people knowed nothin; an they want the hickry, that whut they want.
These allusions were understood to have been made to occasional reports of what had been said by some of the boys in the neighborhood about certain statements of his grandmother, whom he had ever held in the very highest reverence. A native of the upper part of North Carolina, whence, after the War of Independence, the family had removed to Georgia, now a widow of fourscore, she resided with her granddaughter, Mr. Hoods sister, a mile distant. Ever a great talker, she had grown more and more fond of discoursing upon noted events that had occurred in her youth, and her reminiscences had begun lately to be received with some grains by all except her dutiful grandson. A few of these even Mr. Hood possibly might have felt himself at liberty to doubt somewhat if given by another than his grandmother. As it was, he regarded it his pious duty to accept and to defend all.
He had never so much as dreamed that his son Riley, now twelve years old, and with some little schooling, could have the audacity to controvert, and to her very face, any narration of the stirring times of which she spoke, and of some of which she was a part. Therefore few things could have astonished and disgusted him more than her telling him one day, while calling at his sisters, of Rileys having lately left the house after disputing with her about things that had happened right where she had lived, and scores on scores of years before Riley Hood was born, or ever so much as thought about.
Cutting short his visit, he returned home. Incensed as he was, he intended to be as cool as possible, and he was gratified on entering the house to find that Mrs. Hood was in the back yard engaged in some outdoor business. In a voice low and unconcerned as he could put it, he called Riley, who was standing near his mother. Having ordered him to a seat on the top step of the front piazza, he took a chair, and with his back to the door thus began, in tones that painfully resisted the constraint put upon them with every word:
Yes, sir, smartern granma! that all the fambly ben a-lookin up to from allfrom all generations, sir, exceptin o you, sir. Now, sir, Id be that proud that they aint everybody Id even speak to, ef I could believe youd ever live to come anywhars nigh a-bein as smart a man as your granmaer as smart a omanthat is, as awhutsonever
Oh yes, sir; you want to laugh, do you? But you know whos who now; an it aint granma you can conterdick an run over, not by a jugful. Whut you got to say, sir, bout takin up granma bout the Revlution War? I want it quick, an I want it squar, up an down.
The sound was low; for Mrs. Hoods voice, like her husbands, was in inverse ratio to her size. But it had this peculiarity: the lower it sounded, the more it meant sometimes to convey. She merely called her husbands name, and paused in the doorway. He winced. He had never quarreled with his wife. He loved her too well for that. Then he knew that she dearly loved his grandmother, always treating her respectfully and affectionately. He winced; but this served to enrage him more towards Riley, whom Mrs. Hood, as he well knew, had never upheld in anything approaching insolent behavior. During the remainder of this tripartite conference the boy never opened his mouth, Mrs. Hood spoke only to Mr. Hood, and he only to Riley. Stiffening himself yet more, and setting his chair so that his back was squarely towards the doorway, the accuser proceeded:
Yes, sir; lemme hear bout your conterdictin o granma bout the Revlution War, that everybody, exceptin of you, an not a-exceptin o your own blessed mothers, acknowledge to her a-knowin more bout them times than anybody in this whole settlement, er anywhar around; an its left for you, you little
Frank, said his wife, lowly, almost suppliantly, from behind, it were only that granma she insisted that Guilford Court-House were in Virginny, an Rileyan the child say he done it politehe corrected granma, an he say that sister Patsy say she think he were right in a-sayin it were in North Callina.
These beginning words were almost inaudible. Now the softer her words the more difficult, as Mr. Hood knew from experience, to maintain a cause to which she was opposed, and he saw the importance of becoming yet more indignant and magisterial.
Oh no, Franky; by no means. It aint Riley. The child have too much respects of his father to call him that, as he know well enough he better have. Its me, an I was goin on to say that when granmaan bless her heart, she know how I love herbut when she went to put Yorktown, whar the British give up, right thar by Danville, an make the Jeems River, an the Staunton, an the Roanoke all a-emptin clost to whar she lived an intoo one another
You inconsidible ornary! cried Mr. Hood, in profoundest, angriest disgust, them towns an them rivers all blongs to you, dont they, sir? You built em, and you run em, an youthe goodness laws of mercies! Whut is this generation o boys a-comin to?
Yes, indeed, Franky, an when granma went on to make Generl Washinton whip Julus Cæsar at the Cowpens, an the childan he done it respeckfulbut he told granma that Mr. Cordy say, an hes a schoolmaster, you know, that Julus Cæsar were dead an buried before Generl Washinton ever even started to the Cowpens
Aha! aha! aha! ejaculated Mr. Hood, in rapid sequence, adroitly changing his method of attack. I jes now see whuts ben a-troublin your granduous mind. Its granmas lies. Ye are jealous of em, is ye, sir? Want em all for yourself, do you, sir? Neednt be a-lookin behind me. Look straight at me, sir. Who wuz it denied eatin them green May-apples ontwell they swelled you up ith the colic, an you had to holler an peach on yourself, an your ma had to pour a cup-ful o castor-oil an ippercac down you, an scall you in a tub o hot water to boot? Who done that? I think it must of ben granma. Who that penned up old billy-goat an the little peach-orchid boar, an they fit an fit ontwell long arfter the sun sot, an they never did quit twell nary one could see whar to put in his licks? Couldnt of ben nobody but granma, as nobody here would own knowin nothin about it. Who that tried to git out o pullin White-Faces calfs tail through the auger-hole in Jim mules stall, an were tyin a knot in it when old Aunt Peggy come on you, an you knowed I knowed, nigger as she wuz, she werent goin to tell no lies fer you ner agin you? I wouldnt be surprisened if old Aunt Peggy werent mistakened, an granma done that too.
No, Franky; you whipped the child well for them, an I were glad you did, for he deserved all he got. An its not that granma want to tell lies, nor Riley want to make out she do; for hes obleeged to know, like everybody know that know granma, that she have ben as straightforwards an truth-tellin woman as ever lived or died, twell now shes old, an her riclections a-failin; an Riley, which to my certain knowledge actuil dote on his granma; but when she went on about Generl Greene comin up of a suddent on Nepoleon Nebonaparte, why, you see, my dear Franky
Mr. Hood, who for some time had sat with his hands clasped behind his head, and hammering with the heel of one foot the toes of the other, groaned in anguish, rose, rushed down the steps, turned round, and, as he retreated backward, shouted, in a terrific voice:
The reflections of Mr. Hood during the remainder of the day were so uncomfortable that he became uncommonly fretful towards the hands. He had left his poor grandma to fight her battle alone; yet somehow his recent defeat made him feel conscious that if he had remained he would have been unable to render to her assistance of any importance. But he could not but hope that his wife, regarding the great difference between the age of her assailant and her own, especially in her own house, would be as forbearing as possible consistently with her evident resolution to protect her offspring. The points of history in dispute he knew not precisely how to regard. Being almost without any education, he did not feel himself competent to judge, though he must have some apprehension that his grandma may have mixed Cæsar and Bonaparte rather too much with the thrilling scenes that she had been relating to Riley. Later he found himself growing sorry for his wife, in spite of his knowledge of her sufficiency in ordinary contests, and he began to sympathize with her in a possible first defeat; for he loved her with all his heart.
The old lady, whose approach had been observed so late, aiding her steps with a cane whose head towered above her own, stood for a moment at the gate, seemingly much surprised at the loud cries and singular actions of her grandson. When he had fled, she slowly advanced up the walk. Like his father, Riley retreated, but only into the house. His mother met the visitor half-way.
What Franky ben a-fussin so about, Betsy, honey? asked grandma. I heerd him a-hollerin an a-bawlin clean in the lane. What could of made him bile over so brash? Any o the niggers make him mad?
Come in, granma. Howdye? Glad to see you; that I am, you dear, precious granma. Now you set right down in that rockin-cheer. There, now; give me your bonnet. Warm this evenin, aint it? special walkin. But you do look so well and peert, granma.
Franky, granma, were then a-scoldin of Riley for denyin of somebut which the poor child is sorry enough for it, an never meant any impidence at all; an ef I ever see a child that love an have respects of his granma, its him. Riley! Riley! she called, heres granma come to see us. Werent that good in her? Come out an tell her howdye. But first you open the top drawer of my bureau, an take out an fetch here that new cap you made me make for her; an you handle it keerful precious, an whatever you do, dont rumple it. Yes, maam; an ef youll believe me, granma, that boy, here this very mornin, thes made me put down my work, an go to makin that cap he have made me promuss to make for his granma, an he bought the meturials hisself out of the store an paid for em out of his own cotton money; an he het the iron for me, an he set by an watched me the whole blessed time I were at it tell I finished. Riley think a heap of his granma, Riley do.
Why, Godamighty bless the child! exclaimed the old lady; I dont know whut could of got holt o Franky to be bawlin that way at sech a fine boy. Franky ought to be shamed o hisself, an ef he hadnt of tuck hisself off so quick Id of give it to him good fer doin of it. Come here, my child, an let granma hug him. Riley accepted the embrace gratefully. Hes a smart boy, an ll make a man, ef he lives, shores your borned. Why, Betsy, honey, you maynt know it about that boy, but he know aready right smart bout the Revlution War; an whensonever he come to see granma, granma goin to make it her business to pint out to him more about them awful battleses. Granma know all about them, because she were borned an raised right thar whar they wuz fit, bless the childs heart. An as for Franky, ef he aint afeared to let me lay my eyes on him before I go back home to Patsys, you tell him from me that I say Im oldern him, an by good rights I ought to know a good child an a smart child when I come up ith him, an But laws me, Betsy, honey, aint you ben married long enough to found out before now what kind o creeters men folks is? An that manys the time they think they got to rip an tar round, an make out like they want to break everything in a thousan small pieces, when a oman, ef shell only jes keep her temper fer the times a-bein, an let him do his bilin a while by hisself, arfter while, when hes biled over, hell swage down an git cooled all over agin? Ef you haint, I tell you that now, because you young, an got your life to go through ith. Its the natur o the seek o the nuniversal men people o the good Lords yeth, an us women has to put up ith it the best we ken. Theyre borned that way, an made that way. They dont allays mean nothin by thar cavortin, no moren a horse allays mean by his snortinwhy, bless my soul, thars a rhymean bless the childs heart for not a-forgittin of his old granma! Ef it dont mind me o the time, an it war when Generl Greene cum a-ridin by our house
The narration, which there is not space to give, was listened to with deepest attention and respect. When the visitor was gone, Riley said to his mother. Well, ma, granma, for me hereafter, she may make as many histories an jographies as she want, an go by em wharsonever theyll take her. She may have the Atlantic Ocean an the Gulf o Mexico, both of em, a-emptin in the Jeems an the Staunton all in one place, ith the Roanoke flung in to boot, an Ill not try to hender em. She may even pit Generl Washinton an the old man Noah agin one nother right at the door o the ark, for me, an Ill stan aside an let em fight it out theirselves, her an them.
When Mr. Hood came home his face had never worn a more pleasant, affectionate expression. One would have thought that it would have taken days and days to work such a change. He was extremely anxious to hear account of the last battle fought by his granma, and he had come prepared in his mind, like a loyal husband, to lift up, if sorely wounded, the wife of his bosom, and comfort her to the extent of every resource he had within him. No allusion for quite a length of time was made to the visit; but he was thankful to notice the moderately cheerful responses made by his wife to his most cheerful remarks. He did not speak a word to Riley, nor seem to be even aware of his presence, during the whole evening. After the latter had gone to bed, he said, Oh, Betsy, my dear, I thought I saw granma comin as I left for the field this evenin.
No, not new news. She did tell some things not egzactly like Ive heard her before about Generl Washinton, Debonaparte, an them, but she were mostly took up ith the praisin an huggin of Riley, an the expressin her opinions about men persons that flies into vilent passion in their families when no casion for it.
Why, they is nothin, Frank, ef you want to know. Nothin. Because the aint nothin to do nothin about. Riley meant no disrespects of his granma, an which you ought to of knew, but hell never conterdict granma again, no matter how her riclections gits all mixed up, because the child dont natchel want to be thes eat up bodacious alive by his own father about Julus Cæsar nor nobody else. I knewed they werent no casion for sech a harricane, because I knewed granma, if she hadnt done forgot aready shed forget all about it soon as she see that new cap, an I were glad you werent here when she let out on you.
The contradiction that he had hoped for did not come. Yet, when, after several cordial assurances of self-reproach, she kindly admitted that he was nobody but a man person, but as such he was in her opinion as good as the best of them, and to a certainty the dearest little fellow in this blessed world to her, he kissed her, kicked up his heels, and gloried in the occasion that had led to words that, coming not often, were the more welcome when they came.