"In five minutes I learned the reason for that wink, for three girls, dressed in gorgeous silks, appeared at my table. They knelt down on cushions at my feet. Their ages appeared to be about thirteen years, but they were painted and calcimined within an inch of their lives. They were Chinese "Sing-song Girls," the cabaret singers of the Celestial Empire, the geishas of China.
"No wantchee," I said.
In a flash one girl jumped up and frowned at me. "I spiggoty Eeng-leesh veree goodee. You right now tellee Bossman you wantchee me come singee one song. Hell-dam', here I am. I veree goodee singee."
"All right, infant," I capitulated weakly, "trot out your grand opera," and she, sensing my consent, if not understanding my words, motioned to her orchestra.
Now, a Sing-song girl's orchestra consists of one player, and each girl has her own accompanist. The "orchestra" of my linguistic singer was a wrinkled octogenarian with rheumy almost sightless eyes who performed upon the squawkiest Chinese fiddle I had ever heard. He played four notes and then the girl began to sing. Her voice was stupendous in volume; it was shrill as the grating of a hundred files; it was as tuneless as the first notes of a rooster, heard by an insomnia-ridden man. How can I describe that song? Imagine a man yodeling a cracked falsetto at the top of his voice and religiously attempting to sing two out of every three notes a half beat out of time and two degrees out of harmony, then permit him to be assisted by vicious interruptions from a pocket edition of a horse-fiddle and you have the tout ensemble of a Chinese cabaret song.
The other two children sang their songs with equally enthusiastic furor. I have been many times told that the Sing-song girls are not children. It has been patiently explained to me that they are never younger than fifteen years of age, and more often their ages average from twenty to twenty-five years. But they are all so tiny; their hair dressed with the long bangs that proclaims the unmarried woman, their flowered jackets and absurdly high-water trousers--all makes them seem like little children, costumed and be-painted for some amateur festival.
After they had finished their song they bowed low to me, and the girl who first sang asked if I would do her the honorable favor of presenting her with my pocket handkerchief and three of my calling cards. I did so.
She thanked me very prettily, and then, with all the importance of a conjuror doing a famous trick, she scrutinized my visiting card and said:
"Now, I weel read your mas' honorable dam' name. It ees-'Jambs Ben-eeet'."
Whereupon, with a delightedly triumphant smile, she tucked my pocket-handkerchief in her jacket, apparently as a memento of the occasion. The two other girls crowded about her, and she distributed the two remaining visiting cards. This ceremony completed she led her troupe of co-stars away".