Hollis looked smiling into the box. He had lately made a dash home through the Canal. He had been away six months, and only joined us again just in time for this last trip. We had never seen the box before. His hands hovered above it; and he talked to us ironically, but his face became as grave as though he were pronouncing a powerful incantation over the things inside.
“Every one of us,” he said, with pauses that somehow were more offensive than his words—“every one of us, you’ll admit, has been haunted by some woman . . . And . . . as to friends . . . dropped by the way . . . Well! . . . ask yourselves . . .”
He paused. Karain stared. A deep rumble was heard high up under the deck. Jackson spoke seriously—
“Don’t be so beastly cynical.”
“Ah! You are without guile,” said Hollis, sadly. “You will learn . . . Meantime this Malay has been our friend . . .”
He repeated several times thoughtfully, “Friend . . . Malay. Friend, Malay,” as though weighing the words against one another, then went on more briskly—
“A good fellow—a gentleman in his way. We can’t, so to speak, turn our backs on his confidence and belief in us. Those Malays are easily impressed—all nerves, you know—therefore . . .”
He turned to me sharply.
“You know him best,” he said, in a practical tone. “Do you think he is fanatical—I mean very strict in his faith?”
I stammered in profound amazement that “I did not think so.”
“It’s on account of its being a likeness—an engraved image,” muttered Hollis, enigmatically, turning to the box. He plunged his fingers into it. Karain’s lips were parted and his eyes shone. We looked into the box.
There were there a couple of reels of cotton, a packet of needles, a bit of silk ribbon, dark blue; a cabinet photograph, at which Hollis stole a glance before laying it on the table face downwards. A girl’s portrait, I could see. There were, amongst a lot of various small objects, a bunch of flowers, a narrow white glove with many buttons, a slim packet of letters carefully tied up. Amulets of white men! Charms and talismans! Charms that keep them straight, that drive them crooked, that have the power to make a young man sigh, an old man smile. Potent things that procure dreams of joy, thoughts of regret; that soften hard hearts, and can temper a soft one to the hardness of steel. Gifts of heaven—things of earth . . .
Hollis rummaged in the box.