Page:Inside Canton.djvu/137

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half worn-out rags; but as soon as I receive them I clean them carefully, and it often happens that when they redeem them, which seldom occurs, the owners are astonished to receive quite a new article, instead of the old thing they had left sometime before. The transformation which these rags undergo in my hands, is itself worth all the interest I receive."

After this, it must be admitted that the pawnbrokers of Europe are mere children compared with those of the Celestial Empire; the former have never thought of this argument in proof of the excellence of their profession.

As the honest usurer said, the articles left with him were for the most part mere rubbish; they were half worn-out clothes, women's trousers, a few ornaments—the remnants of more prosperous times—a few hereditary pieces of furniture, which the owners had not wished to sell, doubtless from respect to some cherished memory; all which proved to us that it was misery rather than vice which supported this den of usury. We could obtain no information as to the sums advanced annually by these houses, nor as to the rate of interest; to every question on the subject, our Chinese linguist replied by affecting not to understand us.

At first it appeared extraordinary to us that peaceable citizens, people who had retired from business and were in search of quiet, should take