“Yes,” he replied, smiling genially. “I have a small commission to execute, and I am told that you can help me.”
The girl paused for a moment, and then:
“Yes, very likely,” she said, speaking good English but with an odd intonation. “It is not jade? We have very little jade.”
“No, no. I wanted an enamelled casket.”
“Cloisonne? Yes, we have several.”
She pressed a bell, and, glancing up at the boy who had stood throughout the interview at the visitor’s elbow, addressed him rapidly in Chinese. He nodded his head and led the way through a second doorway. Closing this, he opened a third and ushered Mr. Hampden into a room which nearly caused the latter to gasp with astonishment.
One who had blundered from Whitechapel into the Khan Khalil, who had been transported upon a magic carpet from a tube station to the Taj Mahal, or dropped suddenly upon Lebanon hills to find himself looking down upon the pearly domes and jewelled gardens of Damascus, could not well have been more surprised. This great treasure-house of old Huang Chow was one of Chinatown’s secrets— a secret shared only by those whose commercial interests were identical with the interests of Huang Chow.
The place was artificially lighted by lamps which themselves were beautiful objects of art, and which swung from the massive beams of the ceiling. The floor of the warehouse, which was partly of stone, was covered with thick matting, and spread upon it were rugs and carpets of Karadagh, Kermanshah, Sultan-abad, and Khorassan, with lesser-known loomings of almost equal beauty. Skins of rare beasts overlay the divans. Furniture of ivory, of ebony and lemonwood, preciously inlaid, gave to the place an air of cunning confusion. There were tall cabinets, there were caskets and chests of exquisite lacquer and enamel, loot of an emperor’s palace; robes heavy with gold; slippers studded with jewels; strange carven ivories; glittering weapons; pots, jars, and bowls, as delicate and as fragile as the petals of a lily.
Last, but not least, sitting cross-legged upon a low couch, was old Huang Chow, smoking a great curved pipe, and peering half blindly across the place through large horn-rimmed spectacles. This couch was set immediately beside a wide ascending staircase, richly carpeted, and on the other side of the staircase, in a corresponding recess, upon a gilded trestle carved to represent the four claws of a dragon, rested perhaps the strangest exhibit of that strange collection—a Chinese coffin of exquisite workmanship.
The boy retired, and Mr. Hampden found himself alone with Huang Chow. No word had been exchanged between master and servant, but:
“Good morning, Mr. Hampden,” said the Chinaman in a high, thin voice. “Please be seated. It is from Mr. Isaacs you come?”