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acquainted with the part as yet unknown to them. They hover round and round in the air, seeking to catch one or other thread that is to guide them through the labyrinth. Some find it ; others do not.
In this manner the carrier pigeons are practised bit by bit along the whole distance between Paris and Antwerp. They attentively observe, or study, and learn by heart, each conspicuous object which serves them as a land-mark on the way. It is usual to exercise particular pigeons between the two cities, which it is wished to connect by this sort of postal communication ; and it is necessary to have a certain number for going, and others for returning After the birds have been accustomed to inhabit a certain district, and to travel by a particular route, it is not found easy to divert them from their wonted course, and to make them available in any other direction.
My friends, the members of the Antwerp Society, assured me that their pigeons had frequently flown from Paris to Antwerp in six or seven hours ; consequently in a much shorter time than that in which the same journey is performed by the railway train. By bird's flight, the distance between the two cities is forty miles (German *), and there fore it follows that these carrier pigeons must travel at the rate of from twenty to thirty English miles an hour. It is scarcely conceivable that they should possess the strength of wing and vigour of lungs requisite for such a flight; and it is no unfrequent occurrence for several of them to die on arriving at their journey's end. In stormy weather the loss of two-thirds of the birds dispatched on such a long flight, is a disaster always to be counted on. It is, therefore, usual to send off a whole flock, all bearing the same intelligence, so as to ensure the chance of one at least reaching its destination.
* The German mile includes nearly three and a half English miles.
The pigeon expedition which I saw dispatched from Antwerp, consisted of about thirty birds. The point of departure was a somewhat elevated site in the outskirts of the city. A spot like this is always made choice of lest the pigeons, on first taking flight, should lose themselves amidst the house-tops and church-spires of the city with which they are unacquainted ; and by having the open country before them, they are enabled to trace out their own land-marks. When the pigeons are to be sent off on lengthened journeys, it is usual to convey them to the point of departure at a very early hour in the morning :-by this means they are dispatched in quietude, unmolested by an assemblage of curious gazers, and they have the light of a whole day before them for their journey. Carrier pigeons do not pursue their flight after night-fall, being then precluded by the darkness from seeing the surrounding country with sufficient distinctness to enable them to discern their resting-places, or stations. In the obscurity of night the whole flock might light on strange dove-cotes, and be captured ; an accident which would occasion the total failure of a postal expedition, for the few pigeons who might escape capture, would, on the return of morning, be bewildered and unable to recombine their plan of route.
Pigeons are not suited for postal communication between places so remote one from another that the journey cannot be completed in a single day. If it can be accomplished in one flight, so much the better. Antwerp and Paris are, I believe, the extreme points of distance within which carrier pigeons are capable of journeying with certainty.
Herr Kohl gives no account of these stations or stages. We once saw one at Montrieul, the first station beyond Dover,
towards Paris. The town stands on a high eminence, and is well adapted for the purpose.
The cote was on the roof of a café. It was a square apartment with a flat ceiling, in which was cut a small door or trap : on the inside of this was fixed a small bell. If a Dover pigeon had alighted on the trap, the bell would have rung, and called the attention' of an attendant always in waiting. The pigeon would have been secured, the dispatch taken from under its wing, and the messenger put into its cage. In a twinkling the cyphered paper would be fastened under the wing of the Beauvais or Amiens pigeon, and it would be sent off. On arriving at its destination, the same formula would be gone through, and the Paris pigeon would take the dispatch to its destination. Although several pigeons, even in fine weather, are entrusted with the same message, two seldom arrive at the common destination at the same time, so that at each place the operation we have described is frequently repeated, in order that at least one of many dispatches may be certain of arriving at the destination.
These establishments were costly. Besides the great number of pigeons necessary to be kept at each station, some of the single birds were valuable. Fifty and sixty pounds was sometimes given for a clever pigeon. Those between Dover and Montrieul, and vice versa, were among the most valuable, for none but sharp-sighted messengers could find their way across the Channel ; few flights were sent away without some members of it being lost.
But to return to the Antwerp pigeons—and to Mr. Kohl. Having, he continues, reached the open, elevated spot before-mentioned, the flat baskets carried by the servants were uncovered, and the little voyageurs rapidly winged their way upwards. The intelligence they were to convey to Paris was written in little billets, fastened under their
wings. The pigeons I saw sent off had been brought in covered baskets from Paris, and were as yet totally unacquainted with Antwerp and its environs.
Their ignorance of the locality was manifest in the wavering uncertainty of their movements when they first took wing. On rising into the air, they gathered closely together, like foreigpers in a strange country, and presently they steered their course along the confines of the city, in a direction quite contrary to that of Paris. They then soared upwards, spirally, and after several irregular movements (during which they seemed to be looking for the right way, and hesitating which course to take), they all suddenly darted off to south-west, directing their rapid flight straight to Paris, as if gladly quitting inhospitable Antwerp, where they had been scantily fed and carelessly tended.
As soon as the birds were fairly out of sight, the pigeontrainers proceeded homeward, not a little gratified by the conviction that their fleet messengers, with the intelligence they bore under their wings, would outstrip the speed of a railway train which had started some time before them.
To me the most interesting point in the whole scene was the interval (about the space of a quarter of an hour) during which the pigeons wavered to and fro, seeking their way in a state of uncertainty. That appeared to me to be a wonderful manifestation of intelligence on the part of the birds. It is frequently affirmed that the carrier pigeon finds its way without the exercise of intelligence or observation, and merely by the aid of some incomprehensible instinct ; but, from my own observations of the Antwerp pigeons, I am convinced that this is a mistake. Another circumstance tending to show that the birds are guided by something more than mere instinct, is, that during foggy
weather the employment of carrier pigeons is found to be almost as impracticable as the use of the optical telegraph. But though it is not the practice to dispatch carrier pigeons at times when the atmosphere is very thickly obscured by fog, yet, owing to the keenness and accuracy of the visual power of these birds, which is much more perfect than that of man, they have an advantage over the telegraph. The latter is wholly useless when the atmosphere is only slightly obscured ; but carrier pigeons frequently soar quite above the region of mist, and are thus enabled to trace their course without interruption. Stations of carrier pigeons are established in most of the principal towns of Belgium.
The members of the Antwerp pigeon-training society, whom I accompanied on the occasion above described, were citizens of the middle class of society. But in Belgium, pigeon-training has its attractions even for persons of rank and wealth, many of whom are enthusiastic pigeon fanciers; indeed, pigeon-fying is as fashionable an amusement in Belgium as horse-racing in England. Prizes, consisting of sums of money as high as sixty thousand francs, are frequently won in matches of pigeons—to say nothing of the betting to which those matches give occasion.