Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
Historic Doubts of Riley Hood
By Richard Malcolm Johnston (1822–1898)
[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 aged—a virtue that he professed to fear might die out before long.
  “Childern,” he would say, “ain’t raised like they used to be. They think they smarter not only than grown people, but old people, an’ they’ll ’spute thar words like they knowed all about it, an’ old people knowed nothin’; an’ they want the hick’ry, that whut they want.”  2
  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. Hood’s 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.  3
  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 sister’s, of Riley’s 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.  4
  “I did not, I did not, on my blessed word, gran’ma; I wouldn’t of believed it of the impident. He’ll not do it agin while I’m a-livin’.”  5
  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:  6
  “Gittin’ too smart, my young man, an’ a danger of too big for your breeches. People tells me you so smart you got ’way up ’bove gran’ma, an’ she acknowledge she know nothin’ compar’d to you.”  7
  Riley, knowing what was safest, answered not, except with looks partly avoiding, partly penitent, and for the rest suppliant.  8
  “Yes, sir, smarter’n gran’ma! that all the fambly ben a-lookin’ up to from all—from all generations, sir, exceptin’ o’ you, sir. Now, sir, I’d be that proud that they ain’t everybody I’d even speak to, ef I could believe you’d ever live to come anywhars nigh a-bein’ as smart a man as your gran’ma—er as smart a ’oman—that is, as a—whutsonever—”  9
  Here, feeling that Riley would laugh if he dared at this confused comparison, he grew more incensed and louder.  10
  “Oh yes, sir; you want to laugh, do you? But you know who’s who now; an’ it ain’t gran’ma you can conterdick an’ run over, not by a jugful. Whut you got to say, sir, ’bout takin’ up gran’ma ’bout the Rev’lution War? I want it quick, an’ I want it squar’, up an’ down.”  11
  Riley looked up humbly, and seemed trying to find words adequate to express his remorse for obstructing transmission of the events of that historic age.  12
  “Frank.”  13
  The sound was low; for Mrs. Hood’s voice, like her husband’s, 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 husband’s 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:  14
  “Yes, sir; lemme hear ’bout your conterdictin’ o’ gran’ma ’bout the Rev’lution 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’ it’s left for you, you little—”  15
  “Frank,” said his wife, lowly, almost suppliantly, from behind, “it were only that gran’ma she insisted that Guilford Court-House were in Virginny, an’ Riley—an’ the child say he done it polite—he corrected gran’ma, an’ he say that sister Patsy say she think he were right in a-sayin’ it were in North Callina.”  16
  Mr. Hood slid himself down somewhat in his chair, threw back his head, stretched out his legs, letting them rest wide apart on his heels, and looked scornfully at his son for several moments.  17
  “Riley Hood,” he then broke forth, “wuz you thar? I must supposen you wuz, an’ that you had the layin’ off of Old Virginny, an’ North Callina to boot.”  18
  “Oh no, Frank; Riley, you know, if you’ll rec’lect a minute, is thes twelve year old; an’ this was in the Rev’lution War, before the child were borned, or, as to that, me an’ you uther.”  19
  “I’d s’pose then, sir, nobody could never of altered them lines.”  20
  “But then, Franky—”  21
  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.  22
  “Ho, yes, sir; it’s Franky now, is it, sir? you impident—”  23
  “Oh no, Franky; by no means. It ain’t Riley. The child have too much respects of his father to call him that, as he know well enough he better have. It’s me, an’ I was goin’ on to say that when gran’ma—an’ bless her heart, she know how I love her—but 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-empt’in’ clos’t to whar she lived an’ intoo one another—”  24
  “You inconsidible or’nary!” cried Mr. Hood, in profoundest, angriest disgust, “them towns an’ them rivers all b’longs to you, don’t they, sir? You built ’em, and you run ’em, an’ you—the goodness laws of mercies! Whut is this generation o’ boys a-comin’ to?”  25
  With a prudence commendable in the circumstances, he pocketed both hands, as if in apprehension of their seizing upon and throttling the audacious monster beneath him.  26
  “Yes, indeed, Franky, an’ when gran’ma went on to make Gener’l Washinton whip Julus Cæsar at the Cowpens, an’ the child—an’ he done it respeckful—but he told gran’ma that Mr. Cordy say, an’ he’s a schoolmaster, you know, that Julus Cæsar were dead an’ buried before Gener’l Washinton ever even started to the Cowpens—”  27
  “Aha! aha! aha!” ejaculated Mr. Hood, in rapid sequence, adroitly changing his method of attack. “I jes’ now see whut’s ben a-troublin’ your granduous mind. It’s gran’ma’s lies. Ye are jealous of ’em, is ye, sir? Want ’em all for yourself, do you, sir? Needn’t 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 gran’ma. 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? Couldn’t of ben nobody but gran’ma, as nobody here would own knowin’ nothin’ about it. Who that tried to git out o’ pullin’ White-Face’s calf’s tail through the auger-hole in Jim mule’s 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 weren’t goin’ to tell no lies fer you ner agin you? I wouldn’t be surprisened if old Aunt Peggy weren’t mistakened, an’ gran’ma done that too.”  28
  “No, Franky; you whipped the child well for them, an’ I were glad you did, for he deserved all he got. An’ it’s not that gran’ma want to tell lies, nor Riley want to make out she do; for he’s obleeged to know, like everybody know that know gran’ma, that she have ben as straightforwards an’ truth-tellin’ woman as ever lived or died, twell now she’s old, an’ her riclection’s a-failin’; an’ Riley, which to my certain knowledge actuil dote on his gran’ma; but when she went on about Gener’l Greene comin’ up of a suddent on Nepoleon Nebonaparte, why, you see, my dear Franky—”  29
  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:  30
  “Riley Hood, from now out, gran’ma’s lies none o’ your business, sir. She shall tell many as she pleases, sir. An’ sir, I give you the hick’ry ontel you can’t squeal, ner squirm, ner—”  31
  “Frank, Frank Hood!” screamed his wife, pointing towards the gate, “for gracious sake, look behind you!”  32
  Turning, and seeing his grandma, he wheeled, rushed back to the house, through the back door, made for the field, and did not return until dusk.  33
  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.  34
  I leave him for a while to his various ruminations.  35
  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.  36
  “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?”  37
  “Come in, gran’ma. Howdye? Glad to see you; that I am, you dear, precious gran’ma. Now you set right down in that rockin’-cheer. There, now; give me your bonnet. Warm this evenin’, ain’t it? ’special’ walkin’. But you do look so well and peert, gran’ma.”  38
  “I’m mod’r’t’, honey, thank the good Lord. But you hain’t told me whut ail Franky, an’ I ken but be oneasy what make him mirate ’ith his woices so heavy, an’ run back’ard so rapid.”  39
  “Franky, gran’ma, were then a-scoldin’ of Riley for denyin’ of some—but 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 gran’ma, it’s him. Riley! Riley!” she called, “here’s gran’ma come to see us. Weren’t 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, don’t rumple it. Yes, ma’am; an’ ef you’ll believe me, gran’ma, 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 gran’ma, 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 gran’ma, Riley do.”  40
  The boy soon appeared, holding modestly in his hand the new cap.  41
  “Why, Godamighty bless the child!” exclaimed the old lady; “I don’t 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 hadn’t of tuck hisself off so quick I’d of give it to him good fer doin’ of it. Come here, my child, an’ let gran’ma hug him.” Riley accepted the embrace gratefully. “He’s a smart boy, an ’ll make a man, ef he lives, shore’s your borned. Why, Betsy, honey, you mayn’t know it about that boy, but he know a’ready right smart ’bout the Rev’lution War; an’ whensonever he come to see gran’ma, gran’ma goin’ to make it her business to p’int out to him more about them awful battleses. Gran’ma know all about them, because she were borned an’ raised right thar whar they wuz fit, bless the child’s heart. An’ as for Franky, ef he ain’t afeared to let me lay my eyes on him before I go back home to Patsy’s, you tell him from me that I say I’m older’n 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, ain’t you ben married long enough to found out before now what kind o’ creeters men folks is? An’ that many’s the time they think they got to rip an’ t’ar round, an’ make out like they want to break everything in a thousan’ small pieces, when a ’oman, ef she’ll only jes’ keep her temper fer the times a-bein’, an’ let him do his bilin’ a while by hisself, arfter while, when he’s biled over, he’ll swage down an’ git cooled all over agin? Ef you hain’t, I tell you that now, because you young, an’ got your life to go through ’ith. It’s the natur’ o’ the seek o’ the nuniversal men people o’ the good Lord’s yeth, an’ us women has to put up ’ith it the best we ken. They’re borned that way, an’ made that way. They don’t allays mean nothin’ by thar cavortin’, no more’n a horse allays mean by his snortin’—why, bless my soul, thar’s a rhyme—an’ bless the child’s heart for not a-forgittin’ of his old gran’ma! Ef it don’t ’mind me o’ the time, an’ it war when Gener’l Greene cum a-ridin’ by our house—”  42
  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, gran’ma, for me hereafter, she may make as many histories an’ jographies as she want, an’ go by ’em wharsonever they’ll take her. She may have the Atlantic Ocean an’ the Gulf o’ Mexico, both of ’em, a-empt’in’ in the Jeems an’ the Staunton all in one place, ’ith the Roanoke flung in to boot, an’ I’ll not try to hender ’em. She may even pit Gener’l Washinton an’ the old man Noah agin one ’nother right at the door o’ the ark, for me, an’ I’ll stan’ aside an’ let ’em fight it out theirselves, her an’ them.”  43
  “I think I would, if I were in your place,” she answered.  44
  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 gran’ma, 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 gran’ma comin’ as I left for the field this evenin’.”  45
  “Yes, she were here.”  46
  He waited for more in vain.  47
  “Gran’ma fetch any news?” he asked, at length.  48
  “No, not new news. She did tell some things not egzactly like I’ve heard her before about Gener’l 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 vi’lent passion in their families when no ’casion for it.”  49
  When she had told him the whole story, he said, “Well, apun my soul! What is a feller to do in sech a case?”  50
  “Why, they is nothin’, Frank, ef you want to know. Nothin’. Because the’ ain’t nothin’ to do nothin’ about. Riley meant no disrespects of his gran’ma, an’ which you ought to of knew, but he’ll never conterdict gran’ma again, no matter how her riclections gits all mixed up, because the child don’t natchel want to be thes eat up bodacious alive by his own father about Julus Cæsar nor nobody else. I knewed they weren’t no ’casion for sech a harricane, because I knewed gran’ma, if she hadn’t done forgot a’ready she’d forget all about it soon as she see that new cap, an’ I were glad you weren’t here when she let out on you.”  51
  He reflected for some time; then, in a friendly tone, said, “I sposen then gran’ma an’ all thinks I ben making a cussed fool o’ myself; an’ I ain’t shore in my own mind but whut I has.”  52
  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.  53

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