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Idling In Mid-Ocean
by [?]

To those fortunate mortals from whom Poseidon exacts no tribute in crossing his broad domain, a transatlantic voyage must afford each year an ever new delight. The cares and worries of existence fade away and disappear in company with the land, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. One no longer feels like the bored mortal who has all winter turned the millstone of work and pleasure, but seems to have transmigrated into a new body, endowed with a ravenous appetite and perfectly fresh sensations.

Perhaps it is only the novelty of the surroundings; but as I lie somnolent in my chair, tucked into a corner of the white deck, watching the jade-colored water rush past below, and the sea-gulls circle gayly overhead, the summum bonum of earthly contentment seems attained. The book chosen with care remains uncut; the sense of physical and mental rest is too exquisite to be broken by any effort, even the reading of a favorite author.

Drowsy lapses into unconsciousness obscure the senses, like the transparent clouds that from time to time dim the sunlight. A distant bell in the wheel-house chimes the lazy half-hours. Groups of people come and go like figures on a lantern-slide. A curiously detached reeling makes the scene and the actors in it as unreal as a painted ship manned by a shadowy crew. The inevitable child tumbles on its face and is picked up shrieking by tender parents; energetic youths organize games of skill or discover whales on the horizon, without disturbing one’s philosophic calm.

I congratulate myself on having chosen a foreign line. For a week at least no familiar name will be spoken, no accustomed face appear. The galling harness of routine is loosened; one breathes freely again conscious of the unoccupied hours in perspective.

The welcome summons to luncheon comes as a pleasant shock. Is it possible that the morning has passed? It seems to have but commenced. I rouse myself and descend to the cabin. Toward the end of the meal a rubicund Frenchman opposite makes the startling proposition that if I wish to send a message home he will undertake to have it delivered. It is not until I notice the little square of oiled paper he is holding out to me that I understand this reference to the “pigeon post” with which the Compagnie Transatlantique is experimenting. At the invitation of this new acquaintance I ascend to the upper deck and watch his birds depart.

The tiny bits of paper on which we have written (post-card fashion) message and address are rolled two or three together, and inserted into a piece of quill less than two inches long, which, however, they do not entirely fill. While a pigeon is held by one man, another pushes one of the bird’s tail-feathers well through the quill, which is then fastened in its place by two minute wooden wedges. A moment later the pigeon is tossed up into the air, and we witness the working of that mysterious instinct which all our modern science leaves unexplained. After a turn or two far up in the clear sky, the bird gets its bearings and darts off on its five-hundred-mile journey across unknown seas to an unseen land-a voyage that no deviation or loitering will lengthen, and only fatigue or accident interrupt, until he alights at his cote.

Five of these willing messengers were started the first day out, and five more will leave to-morrow, poor little aërial postmen, almost predestined to destruction (in the latter case), for we shall then be so far from land that their one chance of life and home must depend on finding some friendly mast where an hour’s rest may be taken before the bird starts again on his journey.