January 5, 1918. The editor of the Hibbert Journal betrays a secret and lawless passion for islands. They must be small sanctuaries, of course, far and isolated; for he shows quite rightly that places like the British Isles are not islands in any just and poetic sense. Our kingdom is earth, sour and worm-riddled earth, with all its aboriginal lustre trampled out. By islands he means those surprising landfalls, Kerguelen, the Antarctic Shetlands, Timor, Amboyna, the Carolines, the Marquesas, and the Galapagos. An island with a splendid name, which I am sure he would have mentioned had he thought of it, is Fernando de Noronha.
There must be a fair number of people to-day who cherish that ridiculous dream of an oceanic solitude. We remember that whenever a story-teller wishes to make enchantment seem thoroughly genuine, he begins upon an island. We might say, if in a hurry, that Defoe began it, but in leisure recall the fearful spell of islands in the Greek legends. It is easily understood. If you have watched at sea an island shape, and pass, forlorn in the waste, apparently lifeless, and with no movement to be seen but the silent fountains of the combers, then you know where the Sirens were born, and why awful shapes grew in the minds of the simple Greeks out of the wonders in Crete devised by the wise and mysterious Minoans, who took yearly the tribute of Greek youth--youth which never returned to tell.
How easily the picture of one's first island in foreign seas comes back! I had not expected mine, and was surprised one morning, when eastward-bound in the Mediterranean, to see a pallid mass of rock two miles to port, when I had imagined I knew the charts of that sea well enough. It was a frail ghost of land on that hard blue plain, and had a light of its own; but it looked arid and forbidding, a place of seamen's bones. Turning quickly to the mate I asked for its name. ";Alboran,"; he said, very quietly, without looking at it, as though keeping something back. He said no more. But while that strange glimmer was on the sea I watched it; I have learned nothing since of Alboran; and so the memory of that brief sight of a strange rock is as though once I had blundered on a dreadful secret which the men who knew it preferred to keep.
But there is a West Indian Island which for me is the best in the seas, because the memory of it is but a reflection of my last glimpse of the tropics. That landfall in the Spanish Main was as soundless as a dream. It was but an apparition of land. It might have been no more than an unusually vivid recollection of a desire which had once stirred the imagination of a boy. Looking at it, I felt sceptical, quite unprepared to believe that what once was a dream could be coming true by any chance of my drift through the years. Yet there it remained, right in our course, on a floor of malachite which had stains of orange drift-weed. It could have been a mirage. It appeared diaphanous, something so frail that a wind could have stirred it. Did it belong to this earth? It grew higher, and the waves could be seen exploding against its lower rocks. It was a dream come true. Yet even now, as I shall not have that landfall again, I have a doubt that waters could be of the colours which were radiant about that island, that rocks could be of rose and white, that trees could be so green and aromatic, and light--except of the Hesperides, which are lost--so like the exhilarating life and breath of the prime. A doubt indeed! For every whisper one hears to-day deepens the loom of a gigantic German attack.