Page:Inside Canton.djvu/163

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the father, mother, grandfather, and grandmother are ranged all round it upon cane seats, while the children, basin in hand, edge in and take places at the corners as they can. There is laughter, there is conversation, in these rude homes, and the shadow of thoughts of privation to come falls not upon the simple feast: each one, with a cheerful heart, eats his share of the meagre reward of a day of painful toil.

But, to speak truth, this patriarchal innocence does not preside in every one of these humble cabins. A-Moun pointed out to us some of the boats where women—and only women—were seated, in a squatting position, on the poop and round the sides. When a visitor introduces himself to these girls, they drop a mat woven of cane-strips at the back, and hang up a shawl in front; and although under these circumstances no curious eye could see into their retreat, the little lamp is quenched, and the boat lies unseen in the shadow of its shame. Alas! the poetic region of the tankas is like an ancient eclogue; the simplicity of nature is continually shouldered by a sinister sensuality.

This second stage of the nocturnal phase is commonly spread over some hours. At last, the lamps of the poor die out by degrees, and the songs are heard no more from the tankas and the tradesmen's boats. There is sleep in these peaceful abodes, and opulent vice lifts her forehead and breaks the silence