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Via Brindisi by Harlan H. Ballard


We left India in a bag of leather. Dark and narrow it was, but greater messengers than Postal Cards have to wait a while in darkness before the time comes for them to tell their message. Flowers have to—so do butterflies.

Do not think from this that I was lonely. Oh no. I rode next to a grand Letter in white, and not far from a portly Circular in buff. However, as he was not of my clasp, I shunned him. The Letter, on the contrary, charmed me; he seemed so self-contained, so wrapped up in his own thoughts. Besides, he bore a crest and a monogram and a superscription to be proud of. He was quite reserved; but before we passed Aden his angularity had so far worn off that I learned that he was commissioned to bear a message to a dainty young lady in the southwest of England. What the message was I could only guess. Letters are not nearly so frank about such matters as I have been taught to consider proper. Still, it must have been something very delightful, for one could tell from his crest and monogram that the Letter had been sent by a person of gentle blood, and in fact he told me that his master was a handsome young man in a military coat. Moreover, he said that this young man had given him a very warm pressure of the hand at parting (which had left a deep impression on him), and had even touched him lightly to his lips.

Possibly you have never reflected upon the fact that Postal Cards and Letters have any feelings. But wait. Perhaps one of our race is waiting at this very moment to undeceive you. After the right one comes along and tells you his message, you will know thenceforward that we are quite alive, and have great power over the affections.

Post-office clerks have no sentiment. All along the way they handled us as rudely as if we had been mere blank pieces of pasteboard. One or two of them coolly stared at me till I was very red in the face, and then turned me over and stared again, until I felt as if I were getting read in my back. I am told that such rudeness is not uncommon. As if this were not enough, the fellow then laid me upon my back, and picking up a heavy instrument, struck me a violent blow in the face. It was as if I had been stamped upon, and I carry the marks of it to this day. Why he did it, I do not know, unless it was because I was a foreigner.

The gentleman for whom I was travelling was a student, and I was carrying a glad message to an old chum of his in Massachusetts. I lived with this student some weeks before he sent me on my errand. As I lay in a pigeon-hole of his desk, I often saw him get out his books and study. He sometimes read them aloud. He liked Horace best of all. He would light a cigar, put his feet on the desk, and read Satires as if he were very happy indeed. I soon became fond of Horace too. I liked to listen to his queer stories of life in Rome, of his love of country life, and of his dear friends Virgil and Mæcenas.

My favorite story was the "Trip on a Canal-Boat." I used to picture to myself the jolly poet sitting by the prow of the quaint boat, watching the twinkling lights alongshore; and listening to the loud songs and rude jests of the barge-men. So when I learned that I was to be sent on a long journey, you may believe it was no small comfort to me to learn that I was to go "viâ Brindisi." I was to visit the very town to which the poet had travelled so long ago. Perhaps between here and Rome I might even catch a glimpse of the old canal. Fortunately there was a little crack in the side of the bag where I lay, and I managed to get a peep of the town. I could not see anything which satisfied me much. Brindisi is not what Brundusium was. When Virgil died there, when Cæsar marched against it with golden eagles, when Antony threatened there the man who afterward became Augustus, it was a great city. It had an excellent harbor, strong fortifications, and sixty thousand inhabitants. Now it is nothing.

I can not tell you of all the interesting places I passed on my way. In fact, I hardly know myself where I did go, for I slept most of the time, and when awake, my bruised head ached so badly that I did not care to be curious.

In fact, until I reached Brindisi I had only once attempted to peep out. I did wish to view the Suez Canal. But for that I should have been obliged to go around the Cape of Storms. To be sure, in that case I might have caught a glimpse of Table Mountain and its vaporous "table-cloth," and have seen the rocky isle where Napoleon was caged. But that would have been small compensation for the tedious voyage. So I regarded the Suez Canal as in some sort a friend, and I tried to see it. But the vulgar yellow Circular I told you of edged himself directly in front of me, and hid the view completely. I had no more remarkable adventures until we reached the Post-office in London. I did not suffer at all on the Channel, though my courtly friend the Letter and his pages were all quite distressed. He was unkind enough to say that my escape was probably due to the fact that I had nothing inside. I excused the discourtesy, under the circumstances, and was heartily sorry to part from him at London. Here I was taken out and given a breath of fresh air. But here, also, I suffered. Another clerk seized me, and struck me a violent blow on the breast. He certainly left a red mark upon me. I think that I shall not recover from my ill-treatment.

I have lived long enough to reach the one to whom I was sent, and to give him glad congratulations on his—But, there! I almost told my secret. It is my greatest fault.

My life is nearly over. I meant to tell you of Bombay, its race-course, its fine harbor which gives it its name, its wealthy Parsees, and good Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, but I am too much worn out. I have had my face photographed for you. You can see my scars. You must not turn me over and read my glad message. That would not be fair. I too have a superscription. I have been of use. I have been told that after my death I may live again; that I may, perhaps, live in white, and become a grand Letter. I may even get a monogram and a crest. It is not impossible. Other messengers of glad tidings die and live again. Flowers do—and butterflies.