"You's jealous, Roxy, dat's what's de matter wid you, you hussy--yah--yah--yah! Dat's de time I got you!"
"Oh, yes, _you_ got me, hain't you. 'Clah to goodness if dat conceit o' yo'n strikes in, Jasper, it gwine to kill you sho'. If you b'longed to me, I'd sell you down de river 'fo' you git too fur gone. Fust time I runs acrost yo' marster, I's gwine to tell him so."
This idle and aimless jabber went on and on, both parties enjoying the friendly duel and each well satisfied with his own share of the wit exchanged--for wit they considered it.
Wilson stepped to the window to observe the combatants; he could not work while their chatter continued. Over in the vacant lots was Jasper, young, coal black, and of magnificent build, sitting on a wheelbarrow in the pelting sun--at work, supposably, whereas he was in fact only preparing for it by taking an hour's rest before beginning. In front of Wilson's porch stood Roxy, with a local handmade baby wagon, in which sat her two charges--one at each end and facing each other. From Roxy's manner of speech, a stranger would have expected her to be black, but she was not. Only one sixteenth of her was black, and that sixteenth did not show. She was of majestic form and stature, her attitudes were imposing and statuesque, and her gestures and movements distinguished by a noble and stately grace. Her complexion was very fair, with the rosy glow of vigorous health in her cheeks, her face was full of character and expression, her eyes were brown and liquid, and she had a heavy suit of fine soft hair which was also brown, but the fact was not apparent because her head was bound about with a checkered handkerchief and the hair was concealed under it. Her face was shapely, intelligent, and comely--even beautiful. She had an easy, independent carriage--when she was among her own caste--and a high and "sassy" way, withal; but of course she was meek and humble enough where white people were.
To all intents and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but the one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen parts and made her a Negro. She was a slave, and salable as such. Her child was thirty-one parts white, and he, too, was a slave, and by a fiction of law and custom a Negro. He had blue eyes and flaxen curls like his white comrade, but even the father of the white child was able to tell the children apart--little as he had commerce with them--by their clothes; for the white babe wore ruffled soft muslin and a coral necklace, while the other wore merely a coarse tow-linen shirt which barely reached to its knees, and no jewelry.
The white child's name was Thomas a Becket Driscoll, the other's name was Valet de Chambre: no surname--slaves hadn't the privilege. Roxana had heard that phrase somewhere, the fine sound of it had pleased her ear, and as she had supposed it was a name, she loaded it on to her darling. It soon got shorted to "Chambers," of course.
Wilson knew Roxy by sight, and when the duel of wits begun to play out, he stepped outside to gather in a record or two. Jasper went to work energetically, at once, perceiving that his leisure was observed. Wilson inspected the children and asked:
"How old are they, Roxy?"
"Bofe de same age, sir--five months. Bawn de fust o' Feb'uary."
"They're handsome little chaps. One's just as handsome as the other, too."
A delighted smile exposed the girl's white teeth, and she said:
"Bless yo' soul, Misto Wilson, it's pow'ful nice o' you to say dat, 'ca'se one of 'em ain't on'y a nigger. Mighty prime little nigger, _I_ al'ays says, but dat's 'ca'se it's mine, o' course."
"How do you tell them apart, Roxy, when they haven't any clothes on?"
Roxy laughed a laugh proportioned to her size, and said:
"Oh, _I_ kin tell 'em 'part, Misto Wilson, but I bet Marse Percy couldn't, not to save his life."
Wilson chatted along for awhile, and presently got Roxy's fingerprints for his collection--right hand and left--on a couple of his glass strips; then labeled and dated them, and took the "records" of both children, and labeled and dated them also.