Miss Ophelia found that it was no easy matter to bring anything like order into the St. Clare household. The slaves had been left to themselves so long, and had grown so untidy, that they were not at all pleased with Miss Feely, as they called her, for trying to make them be tidy. However, she had quite made up her mind that order there must be. She got up at four o’clock in the morning, much to the surprise of the housemaids. All day long she was busy dusting and tidying, till Mrs. St. Clare said it made her tired to see cousin Ophelia so busy.
One morning, while Miss Ophelia was busy, as usual, she heard Mr. St. Clare calling her from the foot of the stairs.
‘Come down here, cousin. I have something to show you.’
‘What is it?’ said Miss Ophelia, coming down with her sewing in her hand.
‘I have bought something for you. See here,’ he said, pulling forward a little black girl of about eight or nine years old.
She was quite black. Her round, shining eyes glittered like glass beads. Her wooly hair was plaited into little tails which stuck out in all directions. Her clothes were dirty and ragged. Miss Ophelia thought she had never seen such a dreadful little girl in all her life.
‘Cousin, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?’ she asked, in dismay.
‘For you to teach, to be sure, and train in the way she should go,’ said Mr. St. Clare, laughing. ‘Topsy,’ he went on, ‘this is your new mistress. See, now, that you behave yourself.’
‘Yes, mas’r,’ said Topsy gravely, but her eyes had a wicked twinkle in them.
‘You’re going to be good, Topsy, you understand?’ said Mr. St. Clare.
‘Oh yes, mas’r’ said Topsy again, meekly folding her hands, but with another twinkle in her eyes.
‘Now cousin, what is this for? Your house is full of these little plagues as it is. I get up in the morning and find one asleep behind the door; see one black head poking out from under the table; another lying on the mat. They tumble over the kitchen floor, so that a body can’t put their foot down without treading on them. What on earth did you want to bring this one for?’
‘For you to teach, didn’t I tell you?’
‘I don’t want her, I’m sure. I have more to do with them now than I want.’
‘Well the fact is, cousin,’ said Mr. St. Clare, drawing her aside, ‘she belonged to some people who were dreadfully cruel and beat her. I couldn’t bear to hear her screaming every day, so I bought her. I will give her to you. Do try and make something of her.’
‘Well, I’ll do what I can,’ said Miss Ophelia. ‘She is fearfully dirty, and half naked.’
‘Well, take her downstairs, and tell somebody to clean her up, and give her some decent clothes.’
Getting Topsy clean was a very long business. But at last it was done.
Then, sitting down before her, Miss Ophelia began to question her.
‘How old are you, Topsy?’
‘Dunno, missis,’ said she, grinning like an ugly little black doll.
‘Don’t know how old you are! Did nobody ever tell you? Who was your mother?’
‘Never had none,’ said Topsy, with another grin.
‘Never had any mother! What do you mean? Where were you born?’
‘Never was born.’
‘You mustn’t answer me like that, child,’ said Miss Ophelia sternly. ‘I am not playing with you. Tell me where you were born, and who your father and mother were.’
‘Never was born,’ said Topsy again very decidedly. ‘Never had no father, nor mother, nor nothin!’
Miss Ophelia hardly knew what to make of her. ‘How long have you lived with your master and mistress, then?’ she asked.
‘Is it a year, or more, or less?’
‘Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?’ asked Miss Ophelia next.
Topsy looked puzzled, but kept on grinning.
‘Do you know who made you?’
‘Nobody as I knows on,’ replied Topsy, with a laugh. ‘Spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody ever made me.’