MONDAY, December 23.
Now for a frank confession. Like Mark Twain's preacher with the car rhyme, "I have got it, got it bad" - the "curio" malady in one of its most virulent types. Ever since we were dropped upon that uncanny land of Japan the symptoms of forthcoming disorder have not been wanting. I had to succumb occasionally, but rallied in time to preserve a tolerably clean bill of health. But if I have one weakness more than another, it is for the harmony of sweet sounds, and this the tempter knew right well. I met my fate in the famous Temple of Hoonan, in which is the most celebrated "gong" in China. I struck it, and listened. For more than one full minute, I believe, that bowl was a quivering mass of delicious sound. I thought it would never cease to vibrate. In Japan I had counted one that sounded fifty seconds, and its music rang in my ears for days. I asked "Ah-Cum" why the temple would not sell this gong and buy another far cheaper; for my opinion is, and my experience too, that there is nothing in China that money will not buy. However, this was an exception. Well, does the priest know where there are any temple gongs that can be bought? Yes, three that belonged to a temple destroyed by the rebels some years ago, and which were still in the hands of curio dealers. The address was obtained, and off we set to see them. I wish I could describe the places we visited in our search, the collections of curios we saw! No antiquary outside of Canton ever saw a tithe of the strange old things we examined. One might stumble upon a magic mirror, or an Aladdin's lamp, in some of these recesses, and scarcely wonder at it; all is so strange. But to the gongs. There is a little bit of history connected with one of them which is significant. We found we had to get from one of the priests a certain ticket before the article could be delivered. I thought a moment, and then:
"Oh, my prophetic soul, my uncle!"
It was even so. The priest had seen "his uncle," the curio dealer, and in some moment of want or dire temptation had pledged the gong of the temple for an advance. I got those which had a fairer record, and told our guide I wanted the other if he could get it; but this was impossible. Judge of my surprise, however, when the identical gong reached me at Hong Kong. I have it, with the pawn mark fortunately only partially obliterated, but so that the name of the guilty priest is no longer legible. Ah-Cum must have bargained for that ticket, the rogue, knowing I would pay the price; but really, had that gong reached me while in Canton, and had it been possible for me to return it to the right temple, I should not have thought, under the circumstances, of carrying it off. It seems as if I were in some degree a receiver of stolen goods; but as it only came to me after we had reached Hong Kong, and I knew neither priest nor temple, what could I do but decide to hold it myself until claimed by the rightful owners? Therefore, my friends, one and all of you, please take notice: whatever you may take a fancy to among my curios, don't ask me for that gong. I don't feel my title quite as clear as I could wish it, but I shall ease my conscience by agreeing with myself to act as temporary custodian - only that and nothing more. There are others beside temples' gongs, and I have to confess to several (genuine "sous chows," all of them). Indeed to-day was the curio day throughout. I cannot give even a partial record of the spoils as our procession marched hotelward in the evening. I burst into loud laughter as I eyed our party. In the advance was Ah-Cum, the guide, bearing aloft a fearful idol, "the ugliest I could find in China," this being Sister Lucy's characteristic commission; Vandy followed with his pockets stuffed with "birds'-nests," "Joss-sticks," "temple money," and etceteras too numerous to mention; then came two coolies, one after the other, naked as Adam after he donned the fig-leaf, carrying the gongs, while I brought up the rear with fans, vials, ivory carvings, and what-not. I cannot tell what part of this maze of shops we had been in, but the curio shops were so far from our hotel that not a man about them knew where it was, although there is but one European hotel in the city, consequently the coolies had to follow us. Vandy has just reported that it will take nine boxes to hold our spoils from here. I exclaim, Vandy, for goodness' sake let us get out of this immediately and try to regain our good, hard common sense, and be sound, practical men once more. Give me a Pittsburgh Commercial and let me see the price of pig metal, and what is said of steel rails and coke and manufactured iron, and all the rest of it; and that monthly report of the Lucy Furnaces and of the Edgar Thomson, both the largest upon record. Thanks! Ah! now I feel better. How is it with thee, my friend? Fortunately Vandy felt the necessity for keeping an eye upon me, and he never was in such danger himself. But if any one can pass through Canton and escape a touch of the Toodleian malady, which prompts one to buy everything one sees, I warrant him sound to the core.
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