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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Topsy
By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)
 

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.  1
  “Come down here, cousin: I’ve something to show you.”  2
  “What is it?” said Miss Ophelia, coming down with her sewing in her hand.  3
  “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.  4
  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:—  5
  “Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?”  6
  “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 call the attention of a dog, “give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing.”  7
  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.  8
  Miss Ophelia stood silent; perfectly paralyzed with amazement.  9
  St. Clare, like a mischievous fellow as he was, appeared to enjoy her astonishment; and addressing the child again, said:—  10
  “Topsy, this is your new mistress. I’m going to give you up to her; see now that you behave yourself.”  11
  “Yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with sanctimonious gravity, her wicked eyes twinkling as she spoke.  12
  “You’re going to be good, Topsy, you understand,” said St. Clare.  13
  “Oh, yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with another twinkle, her hands still devoutly folded.  14
  “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?”  15
  “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.”  16
  “I don’t want her, I am sure: I have more to do with ’em now than I want to.”  17
  “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 on.”  18
  “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.  19
  St. Clare had touched the right string. Miss Ophelia’s conscientiousness was ever on the alert.  20
  “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.”  21
  “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.”  22
  “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 it.  23
  “She’s dreadfully dirty, and half naked,” she said.  24
  “Well, take her down-stairs, and make some of them clean and clothe her up.”  25
  Miss Ophelia carried her to the kitchen regions.  26
  “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 round under my feet, I know!”  27
  “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!”  28
  “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 ain’t nerry one, black nor white. I’d like to be one or turrer.”  29
  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 from Jane.  30
  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.  31
  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.  32
  “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 buy her!”  33
  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.  34
  Sitting down before her, she began to question her.  35
  “How old are you, Topsy?”  36
  “Dunno, Missis,” said the image, with a grin that showed all her teeth.  37
  “Don’t know how old you are? Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Who was your mother?”  38
  “Never had none!” said the child with another grin.  39
  “Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?”  40
  “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:—  41
  “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.”  42
  “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 us.”  43
  The child was evidently sincere; and Jane, breaking into a short laugh, said:—  44
  “Laws, Missis, there’s heaps of ’em. Speculators buys ’em up cheap, when they’s little, and gets ’em raised for market.”  45
  “How long have you lived with your master and mistress?”  46
  “Dunno, Missis.”  47
  “Is it a year, or more, or less?”  48
  “Dunno, Missis.”  49
  “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.”  50
  “Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?”  51
  The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.  52
  “Do you know who made you?”  53
  “Nobody, as I knows on,” said the child with a short laugh.  54
  The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added:—  55
  “I spect I growed. Don’t think nobody never made me.”  56
  “Do you know how to sew?” said Miss Ophelia, who thought she would turn her inquiries to something more tangible.  57
  “No, Missis.”  58
  “What can you do? what did you do for your master and mistress?”  59
  “Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on folks.”  60
  “Were they good to you?”  61
  “Spect they was,” said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia cunningly.  62
  Miss Ophelia rose from this encouraging colloquy; St. Clare was leaning over the back of her chair.  63
  “You find virgin soil there, cousin: put in your own ideas; you won’t find many to pull up.”
*        *        *        *        *
  64
  On one occasion, Miss Ophelia found Topsy with her very best scarlet India Canton crape shawl wound around 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.  65
  “Topsy!” she would say, when at the end of all patience, “what does make you act so?”  66
  “Dunno, Missis: I spects ’cause I’s so wicked!”  67
  “I don’t know anything what I shall do with you, Topsy.”  68
  “Law, Missis, you must whip me; my old Missis allers whipped me. I ain’t used to workin’ unless I gets whipped.”  69
  “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?”  70
  “Law, Missis, I’s used to whippin’: I spects it’s good for me.”  71
  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.  72
  “Law, Miss Feely whip! Wouldn’t kill a skeeter, her whippin’s. Oughter see how old Mas’r made de flesh fly: old Mas’r know’d how!”  73
  Topsy always made great capital of her own sins and enormities, evidently considering them as something peculiarly distinguishing.  74
  “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 ain’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’se de wickedest crittur in de world;” and Topsy would cut a summerset, and come up brisk and shining on to a higher perch, and evidently plume herself on the distinction.  75
 
 
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