Page:Inside Canton.djvu/161

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their gigantic lanterns, brilliantly painted with dragons entwined, and nameless blossoms; and these semi-transparent beacons serve to point out those dazzling abodes.

This transformation is the work of an instant of time; it is literally done under your eyes at a glance. The waves of the Tchou-kiang, only the moment before of a dull and dusky green, flash back all at once the stars in the sky, the humble lamp which lights the supper of the labourer, the spherical lantern which hangs in front of the quiet room of the tradesman, and those more subdued and tender fires towards which the gay night-flies and the heavy beetles will soon bend their course,—that is, the slender girls of Han, and the squat and corpulent mandarins. Here then we have, in some sort, the first act of the nocturnal drama nightly enacted upon the bosom of the Tchou-kiang; an act performed in dumb show, for there is a cessation of all accustomed sounds along the bank of the enchanted river, and one might suppose that the actors were recruiting themselves before entering upon a fresh scene.

But soon some indeterminate sounds begin to stir the soft air. Single, half-timorous voices are singing on board the tradesmen's barks—Chinese Hagars, probably, who are soothing their masters after the fashion of her whose acquaintance we made under the auspices of our friend the aquatic