LONDON in mid-December, on the eve of the departure of the mail steamer for the West Indies, was a disconsolate place.
The least woeful spot, perhaps, was Regent Street at high noon. The road was covered with a sour, chocolate-coloured mud which spat viciously from under the Juggernaut wheels of motor omnibuses. Above there was no suggestion of either atmosphere or sky, but merely a pall of fog as cheerless as a poor-house blanket. The street began in mist and ended in mist, while into the same gelid shadow the carriages vanished. Things were seen as through a glass darkly, so that the housetops looked like distant battlements.
There was a smell abroad as of mildew, seasoned by the stench of petrol and the acrid filth of the street. The shop windows were steamed over by a clammy sweat. Within were half-suffocated lights, for the day showed no distinctions of morn, afternoon or eventide.
The people who walked the pavements kept their eyes upon the slimy stones. They seemed narcotised by a cold, the shrewdness of which no thermometer could register. The only sounds that cheered them were the hissing of wheels, the hammering of hoofs, and the occasional jingle of hansom-cab bells.
The only patch of colour I can remember in this last walk in London was derived from a yellow and red poster dealing with Christmas festivities. It was carried by a damp, sepia-tinted man, and the gaudy colours were reflected in the pool of liquid mud Over which he stood stupefied. There was also a barrow filled with hollya pile of shining leaves and scarlet berriesbut beyond these the houses, the vehicles, and the people were all chilled down to the general grey of cellar mould.
Then came an indefinite sea journey, in no way unlike so many others, marked by recollections of a fading port, the thud of engines, the scud of the wave under the ship’s bow, the landing from a boat on a hot, white quay crowded with negroes.
As the last association with any land was concerned with a walk along Regent Street, so the next took the form of swimming in a pool within the coral reef at Barbados.
It was again high noon. The rays of the tropical sun were keen as a hot sword-blade. The sea was sensuously warm. On the shore, on the edge of a coral cliff some twelve feet high, was a bathing-hut of brown wood with warped sun-shutters, and a flight of blistering steps leading to the water. The little cliff was hollowed out into caverns by the tide, while over its brink hung creepers in long festoons.
The cabin was shaded by the leaves of a sea-grape tree. A clump of bananas, a hibiscus bush covered with crimson flowers, and some acacias kept company with the hut. As I floated in the pool I could watch a humming-bird busy with the blossoms of the sea-grape, and could follow the flight of many dragon-flies.
The sky above was the deepest blue, the sea beyond the reef was the colour of a pansy, while upon the reef itself the surf broke in a line of white. The sea within the reef was a wondrous green, and so clear was the water and so white the sand that in swimming one’s shadow could be seen on the weedless bottom. In the distance, where the small cliff ended, there came a beach, curved like a sickle, with palms and impenetrable trees along the rim of the strand. The air was heavy with the smell of the sea, while upon the ear there fell no sound except that of the surf on the reef.