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.
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 buy her!"
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 her teeth.
"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 born?"
"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 us."
The child was evidently sincere, and Jane, breaking into a short laugh, said,
"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 she added,
"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 mistress?"
"Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on folks."
"Were they good to you?"
"Spect they was," said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia cunningly.
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 command.
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 it."
"Yes, ma'am," says Topsy, with a deep sigh, and a face of woful earnestness.
"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.