But not this year, and not next. By and by."
I had been having considerable trouble with my wings. The day after I helped the choir I made a dash or two with them, but was not lucky. First off, I flew thirty yards, and then fouled an Irishman and brought him down - brought us both down, in fact. Next, I had a collision with a Bishop - and bowled him down, of course. We had some sharp words, and I felt pretty cheap, to come banging into a grave old person like that, with a million strangers looking on and smiling to themselves.
I saw I hadn't got the hang of the steering, and so couldn't rightly tell where I was going to bring up when I started. I went afoot the rest of the day, and let my wings hang. Early next morning I went to a private place to have some practice. I got up on a pretty high rock, and got a good start, and went swooping down, aiming for a bush a little over three hundred yards off; but I couldn't seem to calculate for the wind, which was about two points abaft my beam. I could see I was going considerable to looard of the bush, so I worked my starboard wing slow and went ahead strong on the port one, but it wouldn't answer; I could see I was going to broach to, so I slowed down on both, and lit. I went back to the rock and took another chance at it. I aimed two or three points to starboard of the bush - yes, more than that - enough so as to make it nearly a head-wind. I done well enough, but made pretty poor time. I could see, plain enough, that on a head-wind, wings was a mistake. I could see that a body could sail pretty close to the wind, but he couldn't go in the wind's eye. I could see that if I wanted to go a-visiting any distance from home, and the wind was ahead, I might have to wait days, maybe, for a change; and I could see, too, that these things could not be any use at all in a gale; if you tried to run before the wind, you would make a mess of it, for there isn't anyway to shorten sail - like reefing, you know - you have to take it ALL in - shut your feathers down flat to your sides. That would LAND you, of course. You could lay to, with your head to the wind - that is the best you could do, and right hard work you'd find it, too. If you tried any other game, you would founder, sure.
I judge it was about a couple of weeks or so after this that I dropped old Sandy McWilliams a note one day - it was a Tuesday - and asked him to come over and take his manna and quails with me next day; and the first thing he did when he stepped in was to twinkle his eye in a sly way, and say, -
"Well, Cap, what you done with your wings?"
I saw in a minute that there was some sarcasm done up in that rag somewheres, but I never let on. I only says, -
"Gone to the wash."
"Yes," he says, in a dry sort of way, "they mostly go to the wash - about this time - I've often noticed it. Fresh angels are powerful neat. When do you look for 'em back?"
"Day after to-morrow," says I.
He winked at me, and smiled.
Says I, -
"Sandy, out with it. Come - no secrets among friends. I notice you don't ever wear wings - and plenty others don't. I've been making an ass of myself - is that it?"
"That is about the size of it. But it is no harm. We all do it at first. It's perfectly natural. You see, on earth we jump to such foolish conclusions as to things up here. In the pictures we always saw the angels with wings on - and that was all right; but we jumped to the conclusion that that was their way of getting around - and that was all wrong. The wings ain't anything but a uniform, that's all. When they are in the field - so to speak, - they always wear them; you never see an angel going with a message anywhere without his wings, any more than you would see a military officer presiding at a court-martial without his uniform, or a postman delivering letters, or a policeman walking his beat, in plain clothes. But they ain't to FLY with! The wings are for show, not for use. Old experienced angels are like officers of the regular army - they dress plain, when they are off duty.