| One morning, while Miss Ophelia
was busy in some of her domestic cares, St. Clare's voice was heard, calling
her at the foot of the stairs.
"Come down here, Cousin, I've something to show you."
"What is it?" said Miss Ophelia, coming down, with her sewing
in her hand.
"I've made a purchase for your department,--see here," said St.
Clare; and, with the word, he pulled along a little negro girl, about eight
or nine years of age.
She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes,
glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over
everything in the room. Her mouth, half open with astonishment at the
wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of
teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck
out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture
of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil,
an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was
dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with
her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something
odd and goblin-like about her appearance,--something, as Miss Ophelia
afterwards said, "so heathenish," as to inspire that good lady
with utter dismay; and turning to St. Clare, she said,
"Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here
"For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she should go.
I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line. Here,
Topsy," he added, giving a whistle, as a man would to call the
attention of a dog, "give us a song, now, and show us some of your
The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and the
thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she
kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands,
knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and
producing in her throat all those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the
native music of her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and
giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a
steam-whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her
hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity
over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance
from the corners of her eyes.
Miss Ophelia stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement. St.
Clare, like a mischievous fellow as he was, appeared to enjoy her
astonishment; and, addressing the child again, said,
"Topsy, this is your new mistress. I'm going to give you up to
her; see now that you behave yourself."
"Yes, Mas'r," said Topsy, with sanctimonious gravity, her
wicked eyes twinkling as she spoke.
"You're going to be good, Topsy, you understand," said St.
"O yes, Mas'r," said Topsy, with another twinkle, her hands
still devoutly folded.
"Now, Augustine, what upon earth is this for?" said Miss
Ophelia. "Your house is so full of these little plagues, now,
that a body can't set down their foot without treading on 'em. I get
up in the morning, and find one asleep behind the door, and see one black
head poking out from under the table, one lying on the door-mat,--and they
are mopping and mowing and grinning between all the railings, and tumbling
over the kitchen floor! What on earth did you want to bring this one
"For you to educate--didn't I tell you? You're always
preaching about educating. I thought I would make you a present of a
fresh-caught specimen, and let you try your hand on her, and bring her up in
the way she should go."
"_I_ don't want her, I am sure;--I have more to do with 'em now than
I want to."
"That's you Christians, all over!--you'll get up a society, and get
some poor missionary to spend all his days among just such heathen.
But let me see one of you that would take one into your house with you, and
take the labor of their conversion on yourselves! No; when it comes to
that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and it's too much care, and so
"Augustine, you know I didn't think of it in that light," said
Miss Ophelia, evidently softening. "Well, it might be a real
missionary work," said she, looking rather more favorably on the child.
St. Clare had touched the right string. Miss Ophelia's
conscientiousness was ever on the alert. "But," she added,
"I really didn't see the need of buying this one;--there are enough
now, in your house, to take all my time and skill."
"Well, then, Cousin," said St. Clare, drawing her aside,
"I ought to beg your pardon for my good-for-nothing speeches. You
are so good, after all, that there's no sense in them. Why, the fact
is, this concern belonged to a couple of drunken creatures that keep a low
restaurant that I have to pass by every day, and I was tired of hearing her
screaming, and them beating and swearing at her. She looked bright and
funny, too, as if something might be made of her;--so I bought her, and I'll
give her to you. Try, now, and give her a good orthodox New England
bringing up, and see what it'll make of her. You know I haven't any
gift that way; but I'd like you to try."
"Well, I'll do what I can," said Miss Ophelia; and she
approached her new subject very much as a person might be supposed to
approach a black spider, supposing them to have benevolent designs toward
"She's dreadfully dirty, and half naked," she said.
"Well, take her down stairs, and make some of them clean and clothe
Miss Ophelia carried her to the kitchen regions.
"Don't see what Mas'r St. Clare wants of 'nother nigger!" said
Dinah, surveying the new arrival with no friendly air. "Won't
have her around under _my_ feet, _I_ know!"
"Pah!" said Rosa and Jane, with supreme disgust; "let her
keep out of our way! What in the world Mas'r wanted another of these
low niggers for, I can't see!"
"You go long! No more nigger dan you be, Miss Rosa," said
Dinah, who felt this last remark a reflection on herself. "You
seem to tink yourself white folks. You an't nerry one, black _nor_
white, I'd like to be one or turrer."
Miss Ophelia saw that there was nobody in the camp that would undertake
to oversee the cleansing and dressing of the new arrival; and so she was
forced to do it herself, with some very ungracious and reluctant assistance
It is not for ears polite to hear the particulars of the first toilet of
a neglected, abused child. In fact, in this world, multitudes must
live and die in a state that it would be too great a shock to the nerves of
their fellow-mortals even to hear described. Miss Ophelia had a good,
strong, practical deal of resolution; and she went through all the
disgusting details with heroic thoroughness, though, it must be confessed,
with no very gracious air,--for endurance was the utmost to which her
principles could bring her. When she saw, on the back and shoulders of
the child, great welts and calloused spots, ineffaceable marks of the system
under which she had grown up thus far, her heart became pitiful within her.
"See there!" said Jane, pointing to the marks, "don't that
show she's a limb? We'll have fine works with her, I reckon. I
hate these nigger young uns! so disgusting! I wonder that Mas'r would
The "young un" alluded to heard all these comments with the
subdued and doleful air which seemed habitual to her, only scanning, with a
keen and furtive glance of her flickering eyes, the ornaments which Jane
wore in her ears. When arrayed at last in a suit of decent and whole
clothing, her hair cropped short to her head, Miss Ophelia, with some
satisfaction, said she looked more Christian-like than she did, and in her
own mind began to mature some plans for her instruction.
Sitting down before her, she began to question her.
"How old are you, Topsy?"
"Dun no, Missis," said the image, with a grin that showed all
"Don't know how old you are? Didn't anybody ever tell you?
Who was your mother?"
"Never had none!" said the child, with another grin.
"Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you
"Never was born!" persisted Topsy, with another grin, that
looked so goblin-like, that, if Miss Ophelia had been at all nervous, she
might have fancied that she had got hold of some sooty gnome from the land
of Diablerie; but Miss Ophelia was not nervous, but plain and business-like,
and she said, with some sternness,
"You mustn't answer me in that way, child; I'm not playing with you.
Tell me where you were born, and who your father and mother were."
"Never was born," reiterated the creature, more emphatically;
"never had no father nor mother, nor nothin'. I was raised by a
speculator, with lots of others. Old Aunt Sue used to take car on
The child was evidently sincere, and Jane, breaking into a short laugh,
"Laws, Missis, there's heaps of 'em. Speculators buys 'em up
cheap, when they's little, and gets 'em raised for market."
"How long have you lived with your master and mistress?"
"Dun no, Missis."
"Is it a year, or more, or less?"
"Dun no, Missis."
"Laws, Missis, those low negroes,--they can't tell; they don't know
anything about time," said Jane; "they don't know what a year is;
they don't know their own ages.
"Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?"
The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.
"Do you know who made you?"
"Nobody, as I knows on," said the child, with a short laugh.
The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and
"I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."
"Do you know how to sew?" said Miss Ophelia, who thought she
would turn her inquiries to something more tangible.
"What can you do?--what did you do for your master and
"Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on
"Were they good to you?"
"Spect they was," said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia
Miss Ophelia rose from this encouraging colloquy; St. Clare was leaning
over the back of her chair.
"You find virgin soil there, Cousin; put in your own ideas,--you
won't find many to pull up."
Miss Ophelia's ideas of education, like all her other ideas, were very
set and definite; and of the kind that prevailed in New England a century
ago, and which are still preserved in some very retired and unsophisticated
parts, where there are no railroads. As nearly as could be expressed,
they could be comprised in very few words: to teach them to mind when they
were spoken to; to teach them the catechism, sewing, and reading; and to
whip them if they told lies. And though, of course, in the flood of
light that is now poured on education, these are left far away in the rear,
yet it is an undisputed fact that our grandmothers raised some tolerably
fair men and women under this regime, as many of us can remember and
testify. At all events, Miss Ophelia knew of nothing else to do; and,
therefore, applied her mind to her heathen with the best diligence she could
The child was announced and considered in the family as Miss Ophelia's
girl; and, as she was looked upon with no gracious eye in the kitchen, Miss
Ophelia resolved to confine her sphere of operation and instruction chiefly
to her own chamber. With a self-sacrifice which some of our readers
will appreciate, she resolved, instead of comfortably making her own bed,
sweeping and dusting her own chamber,--which she had hitherto done, in utter
scorn of all offers of help from the chambermaid of the establishment,--to
condemn herself to the martyrdom of instructing Topsy to perform these
operations,--ah, woe the day! Did any of our readers ever do the same,
they will appreciate the amount of her self-sacrifice.
Miss Ophelia began with Topsy by taking her into her chamber, the first
morning, and solemnly commencing a course of instruction in the art and
mystery of bed-making.
Behold, then, Topsy, washed and shorn of all the little braided tails
wherein her heart had delighted, arrayed in a clean gown, with well-starched
apron, standing reverently before Miss Ophelia, with an expression of
solemnity well befitting a funeral.
"Now, Topsy, I'm going to show you just how my bed is to be made.
I am very particular about my bed. You must learn exactly how to do
"Yes, ma'am," says Topsy, with a deep sigh, and a face of woful
"Now, Topsy, look here;--this is the hem of the sheet,--this is the
right side of the sheet, and this is the wrong;--will you remember?"
"Yes, ma'am," says Topsy, with another sigh.
"Well, now, the under sheet you must bring over the
bolster,--so--and tuck it clear down under the mattress nice and
smooth,--so,--do you see?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Topsy, with profound attention.
"But the upper sheet," said Miss Ophelia, "must be brought
down in this way, and tucked under firm and smooth at the foot,--so,--the
narrow hem at the foot."
"Yes, ma'am," said Topsy, as before;--but we will add, what
Miss Ophelia did not see, that, during the time when the good lady's back
was turned in the zeal of her manipulations, the young disciple had
contrived to snatch a pair of gloves and a ribbon, which she had adroitly
slipped into her sleeves, and stood with her hands dutifully folded, as
"Now, Topsy, let's see _you_ do this," said Miss Ophelia,
pulling off the clothes, and seating herself.
Topsy, with great gravity and adroitness, went through the exercise
completely to Miss Ophelia's satisfaction; smoothing the sheets, patting out
every wrinkle, and exhibiting, through the whole process, a gravity and
seriousness with which her instructress was greatly edified. By an
unlucky slip, however, a fluttering fragment of the ribbon hung out of one
of her sleeves, just as she was finishing, and caught Miss Ophelia's
attention. Instantly, she pounced upon it. "What's this?
You naughty, wicked child,--you've been stealing this!"
The ribbon was pulled out of Topsy's own sleeve, yet was she not in the
least disconcerted; she only looked at it with an air of the most surprised
and unconscious innocence.
"Laws! why, that ar's Miss Feely's ribbon, an't it? How could
it a got caught in my sleeve?
"Topsy, you naughty girl, don't you tell me a lie,--you stole that
"Missis, I declar for 't, I didn't;--never seed it till dis yer
"Topsy," said Miss Ophelia, "don't you now it's wicked to
"I never tell no lies, Miss Feely," said Topsy, with virtuous
gravity; "it's jist the truth I've been a tellin now, and an't nothin
"Topsy, I shall have to whip you, if you tell lies so."
"Laws, Missis, if you's to whip all day, couldn't say no other
way," said Topsy, beginning to blubber. "I never seed dat
ar,--it must a got caught in my sleeve. Miss Feeley must have left it
on the bed, and it got caught in the clothes, and so got in my sleeve."
Miss Ophelia was so indignant at the barefaced lie, that she caught the
child and shook her.
"Don't you tell me that again!"
The shake brought the glove on to the floor, from the other sleeve.
"There, you!" said Miss Ophelia, "will you tell me now,
you didn't steal the ribbon?"
Topsy now confessed to the gloves, but still persisted in denying the
"Now, Topsy," said Miss Ophelia, "if you'll confess all
about it, I won't whip you this time." Thus adjured, Topsy
confessed to the ribbon and gloves, with woful protestations of penitence.
"Well, now, tell me. I know you must have taken other things
since you have been in the house, for I let you run about all day yesterday.
Now, tell me if you took anything, and I shan't whip you."
"Laws, Missis! I took Miss Eva's red thing she wars on her
"You did, you naughty child!--Well, what else?"
"I took Rosa's yer-rings,--them red ones."
"Go bring them to me this minute, both of 'em."
"Laws, Missis! I can't,--they 's burnt up!"
"Burnt up!--what a story! Go get 'em, or I'll whip you."
Topsy, with loud protestations, and tears, and groans, declared that she
_could_ not. "They 's burnt up,--they was."
"What did you burn 'em for?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Cause I 's wicked,--I is. I 's mighty wicked, any how.
I can't help it."
Just at this moment, Eva came innocently into the room, with the
identical coral necklace on her neck.
"Why, Eva, where did you get your necklace?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Get it? Why, I've had it on all day," said Eva.
"Did you have it on yesterday?"
"Yes; and what is funny, Aunty, I had it on all night. I
forgot to take it off when I went to bed."
Miss Ophelia looked perfectly bewildered; the more so, as Rosa, at that
instant, came into the room, with a basket of newly-ironed linen poised on
her head, and the coral ear-drops shaking in her ears!
"I'm sure I can't tell anything what to do with such a child!"
she said, in despair. "What in the world did you tell me you took
those things for, Topsy?"
"Why, Missis said I must 'fess; and I couldn't think of nothin' else
to 'fess," said Topsy, rubbing her eyes.
"But, of course, I didn't want you to confess things you didn't
do," said Miss Ophelia; "that's telling a lie, just as much as the
"Laws, now, is it?" said Topsy, with an air of innocent wonder.
"La, there an't any such thing as truth in that limb," said
Rosa, looking indignantly at Topsy. "If I was Mas'r St. Clare,
I'd whip her till the blood run. I would,--I'd let her catch it!"
"No, no Rosa," said Eva, with an air of command, which the
child could assume at times; "you mustn't talk so, Rosa. I can't
bear to hear it."
"La sakes! Miss Eva, you 's so good, you don't know nothing
how to get along with niggers. There's no way but to cut 'em well up,
I tell ye."
"Rosa!" said Eva, "hush! Don't you say another word
of that sort!" and the eye of the child flashed, and her cheek deepened
Rosa was cowed in a moment.
"Miss Eva has got the St. Clare blood in her, that's plain.
She can speak, for all the world, just like her papa," she said, as she
passed out of the room.
Eva stood looking at Topsy.
There stood the two children representatives of the two extremes of
society. The fair, high-bred child, with her golden head, her deep
eyes, her spiritual, noble brow, and prince-like movements; and her black,
keen, subtle, cringing, yet acute neighbor. They stood the
representatives of their races. The Saxon, born of ages of
cultivation, command, education, physical and moral eminence; the Afric,
born of ages of oppression, submission, ignorance, toil and vice!
Something, perhaps, of such thoughts struggled through Eva's mind.
But a child's thoughts are rather dim, undefined instincts; and in Eva's
noble nature many such were yearning and working, for which she had no power
of utterance. When Miss Ophelia expatiated on Topsy's naughty, wicked
conduct, the child looked perplexed and sorrowful, but said, sweetly.
"Poor Topsy, why need you steal? You're going to be taken good
care of now. I'm sure I'd rather give you anything of mine, than have
you steal it."
It was the first word of kindness the child had ever heard in her life;
and the sweet tone and manner struck strangely on the wild, rude heart, and
a sparkle of something like a tear shone in the keen, round, glittering eye;
but it was followed by the short laugh and habitual grin. No! the ear
that has never heard anything but abuse is strangely incredulous of anything
so heavenly as kindness; and Topsy only thought Eva's speech something funny
and inexplicable,--she did not believe it.
But what was to be done with Topsy? Miss Ophelia found the case a
puzzler; her rules for bringing up didn't seem to apply. She thought
she would take time to think of it; and, by the way of gaining time, and in
hopes of some indefinite moral virtues supposed to be inherent in dark
closets, Miss Ophelia shut Topsy up in one till she had arranged her ideas
further on the subject.
"I don't see," said Miss Ophelia to St. Clare, "how I'm
going to manage that child, without whipping her."
"Well, whip her, then, to your heart's content; I'll give you full
power to do what you like."
"Children always have to be whipped," said Miss Ophelia;
"I never heard of bringing them up without."
"O, well, certainly," said St. Clare; "do as you think
best. Only I'll make one suggestion: I've seen this child
whipped with a poker, knocked down with the shovel or tongs, whichever came
handiest, &c.; and, seeing that she is used to that style of operation,
I think your whippings will have to be pretty energetic, to make much
"What is to be done with her, then?" said Miss Ophelia.
"You have started a serious question," said St. Clare; "I
wish you'd answer it. What is to be done with a human being that can
be governed only by the lash,--_that_ fails,--it's a very common state of
things down here!"
"I'm sure I don't know; I never saw such a child as this."
"Such children are very common among us, and such men and women,
too. How are they to be governed?" said St. Clare.
"I'm sure it's more than I can say," said Miss Ophelia.
"Or I either," said St. Clare. "The horrid cruelties
and outrages that once and a while find their way into the papers,--such
cases as Prue's, for example,--what do they come from? In many cases,
it is a gradual hardening process on both sides,--the owner growing more and
more cruel, as the servant more and more callous. Whipping and abuse
are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline.
I saw this very early when I became an owner; and I resolved never to begin,
because I did not know when I should stop,--and I resolved, at least, to
protect my own moral nature. The consequence is, that my servants act
like spoiled children; but I think that better than for us both to be
brutalized together. You have talked a great deal about our
responsibilities in educating, Cousin. I really wanted you to _try_
with one child, who is a specimen of thousands among us."
"It is your system makes such children," said Miss Ophelia.
"I know it; but they are _made_,--they exist,--and what _is_ to be
done with them?"
"Well, I can't say I thank you for the experiment. But, then,
as it appears to be a duty, I shall persevere and try, and do the best I
can," said Miss Ophelia; and Miss Ophelia, after this, did labor, with
a commendable degree of zeal and energy, on her new subject. She
instituted regular hours and employments for her, and undertook to teach her
to read and sew.
In the former art, the child was quick enough. She learned her
letters as if by magic, and was very soon able to read plain reading; but
the sewing was a more difficult matter. The creature was as lithe as a
cat, and as active as a monkey, and the confinement of sewing was her
abomination; so she broke her needles, threw them slyly out of the window,
or down in chinks of the walls; she tangled, broke, and dirtied her thread,
or, with a sly movement, would throw a spool away altogether. Her
motions were almost as quick as those of a practised conjurer, and her
command of her face quite as great; and though Miss Ophelia could not help
feeling that so many accidents could not possibly happen in succession, yet
she could not, without a watchfulness which would leave her no time for
anything else, detect her.
Topsy was soon a noted character in the establishment. Her talent
for every species of drollery, grimace, and mimicry,--for dancing, tumbling,
climbing, singing, whistling, imitating every sound that hit her
fancy,--seemed inexhaustible. In her play-hours, she invariably had
every child in the establishment at her heels, open-mouthed with admiration
and wonder,--not excepting Miss Eva, who appeared to be fascinated by her
wild diablerie, as a dove is sometimes charmed by a glittering serpent.
Miss Ophelia was uneasy that Eva should fancy Topsy's society so much, and
implored St. Clare to forbid it.
"Poh! let the child alone," said St. Clare. "Topsy
will do her good."
"But so depraved a child,--are you not afraid she will teach her
"She can't teach her mischief; she might teach it to some children,
but evil rolls off Eva's mind like dew off a cabbage-leaf,--not a drop sinks
"Don't be too sure," said Miss Ophelia. "I know I'd
never let a child of mine play with Topsy."
"Well, your children needn't," said St. Clare, "but mine
may; if Eva could have been spoiled, it would have been done years
Topsy was at first despised and contemned by the upper servants.
They soon found reason to alter their opinion. It was very soon
discovered that whoever cast an indignity on Topsy was sure to meet with
some inconvenient accident shortly after;--either a pair of ear-rings or
some cherished trinket would be missing, or an article of dress would be
suddenly found utterly ruined, or the person would stumble accidently into a
pail of hot water, or a libation of dirty slop would unaccountably deluge
them from above when in full gala dress;-and on all these occasions, when
investigation was made, there was nobody found to stand sponsor for the
indignity. Topsy was cited, and had up before all the domestic
judicatories, time and again; but always sustained her examinations with
most edifying innocence and gravity of appearance. Nobody in the world
ever doubted who did the things; but not a scrap of any direct evidence
could be found to establish the suppositions, and Miss Ophelia was too just
to feel at liberty to proceed to any length without it.
The mischiefs done were always so nicely timed, also, as further to
shelter the aggressor. Thus, the times for revenge on Rosa and Jane,
the two chamber maids, were always chosen in those seasons when (as not
unfrequently happened) they were in disgrace with their mistress, when any
complaint from them would of course meet with no sympathy. In short,
Topsy soon made the household understand the propriety of letting her alone;
and she was let alone, accordingly.
Topsy was smart and energetic in all manual operations, learning
everything that was taught her with surprising quickness. With a few
lessons, she had learned to do the proprieties of Miss Ophelia's chamber in
a way with which even that particular lady could find no fault. Mortal
hands could not lay spread smoother, adjust pillows more accurately, sweep
and dust and arrange more perfectly, than Topsy, when she chose,--but she
didn't very often choose. If Miss Ophelia, after three or four days of
careful patient supervision, was so sanguine as to suppose that Topsy had at
last fallen into her way, could do without over-looking, and so go off and
busy herself about something else, Topsy would hold a perfect carnival of
confusion, for some one or two hours. Instead of making the bed, she
would amuse herself with pulling off the pillowcases, butting her woolly
head among the pillows, till it would sometimes be grotesquely ornamented
with feathers sticking out in various directions; she would climb the posts,
and hang head downward from the tops; flourish the sheets and spreads all
over the apartment; dress the bolster up in Miss Ophelia's night-clothes,
and enact various performances with that,--singing and whistling, and making
grimaces at herself in the looking-glass; in short, as Miss Ophelia phrased
it, "raising Cain" generally.
On one occasion, Miss Ophelia found Topsy with her very best scarlet
India Canton crape shawl wound round her head for a turban, going on with
her rehearsals before the glass in great style,--Miss Ophelia having, with
carelessness most unheard-of in her, left the key for once in her drawer.
"Topsy!" she would say, when at the end of all patience,
"what does make you act so?"
"Dunno, Missis,--I spects cause I 's so wicked!"
"I don't know anything what I shall do with you, Topsy."
"Law, Missis, you must whip me; my old Missis allers whipped me.
I an't used to workin' unless I gets whipped."
"Why, Topsy, I don't want to whip you. You can do well, if
you've a mind to; what is the reason you won't?"
"Laws, Missis, I 's used to whippin'; I spects it's good for
Miss Ophelia tried the recipe, and Topsy invariably made a terrible
commotion, screaming, groaning and imploring, though half an hour
afterwards, when roosted on some projection of the balcony, and surrounded
by a flock of admiring "young uns," she would express the utmost
contempt of the whole affair.
"Law, Miss Feely whip!--wouldn't kill a skeeter, her whippins.
Oughter see how old Mas'r made the flesh fly; old Mas'r know'd how!"
Topsy always made great capital of her own sins and enormities, evidently
considering them as something peculiarly distinguishing.
"Law, you niggers," she would say to some of her auditors,
"does you know you 's all sinners? Well, you is--everybody is.
White folks is sinners too,--Miss Feely says so; but I spects niggers is the
biggest ones; but lor! ye an't any on ye up to me. I 's so awful
wicked there can't nobody do nothin' with me. I used to keep old
Missis a swarin' at me half de time. I spects I 's the wickedest
critter in the world;" and Topsy would cut a summerset, and come up
brisk and shining on to a higher perch, and evidently plume herself on the
Miss Ophelia busied herself very earnestly on Sundays, teaching Topsy the
catechism. Topsy had an uncommon verbal memory, and committed with a
fluency that greatly encouraged her instructress.
"What good do you expect it is going to do her?" said St.
"Why, it always has done children good. It's what children
always have to learn, you know," said Miss Ophelia.
"Understand it or not," said St. Clare.
"O, children never understand it at the time; but, after they are
grown up, it'll come to them."
"Mine hasn't come to me yet," said St. Clare, "though I'll
bear testimony that you put it into me pretty thoroughly when I was a
"Ah, you were always good at learning, Augustine. I used to
have great hopes of you," said Miss Ophelia.
"Well, haven't you now?" said St. Clare.
"I wish you were as good as you were when you were a boy,
"So do I, that's a fact, Cousin," said St. Clare.
"Well, go ahead and catechize Topsy; may be you'll make out something
Topsy, who had stood like a black statue during this discussion, with
hands decently folded, now, at a signal from Miss Ophelia, went on:
"Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will,
fell from the state wherein they were created."
Topsy's eyes twinkled, and she looked inquiringly.
"What is it, Topsy?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Please, Missis, was dat ar state Kintuck?"
"What state, Topsy?"
"Dat state dey fell out of. I used to hear Mas'r tell how we
came down from Kintuck."
St. Clare laughed.
"You'll have to give her a meaning, or she'll make one," said
he. "There seems to be a theory of emigration suggested
"O! Augustine, be still," said Miss Ophelia; "how can I do
anything, if you will be laughing?"
"Well, I won't disturb the exercises again, on my honor;" and
St. Clare took his paper into the parlor, and sat down, till Topsy had
finished her recitations. They were all very well, only that now and
then she would oddly transpose some important words, and persist in the
mistake, in spite of every effort to the contrary; and St. Clare, after all
his promises of goodness, took a wicked pleasure in these mistakes, calling
Topsy to him whenever he had a mind to amuse himself, and getting her to
repeat the offending passages, in spite of Miss Ophelia's remonstrances.
"How do you think I can do anything with the child, if you will go
on so, Augustine?" she would say.
"Well, it is too bad,--I won't again; but I do like to hear the
droll little image stumble over those big words!"
"But you confirm her in the wrong way."
"What's the odds? One word is as good as another to her."
"You wanted me to bring her up right; and you ought to remember she
is a reasonable creature, and be careful of your influence over her."
"O, dismal! so I ought; but, as Topsy herself says, `I 's so
In very much this way Topsy's training proceeded, for a year or
two,--Miss Ophelia worrying herself, from day to day, with her, as a kind of
chronic plague, to whose inflictions she became, in time, as accustomed, as
persons sometimes do to the neuralgia or sick headache.
St. Clare took the same kind of amusement in the child that a man might in
the tricks of a parrot or a pointer. Topsy, whenever her sins brought
her into disgrace in other quarters, always took refuge behind his chair;
and St. Clare, in one way or other, would make peace for her. From him
she got many a stray picayune, which she laid out in nuts and candies, and
distributed, with careless generosity, to all the children in the family;
for Topsy, to do her justice, was good-natured and liberal, and only
spiteful in self-defence. She is fairly introduced into our _corps be
ballet_, and will figure, from time to time, in her turn, with other