I had been having considerable trouble with my wings.
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. New
angels are like the militia - never shed the uniform - always
fluttering and floundering around in their wings, butting people
down, flapping here, and there, and everywhere, always imagining
they are attracting the admiring eye - well, they just think they
are the very most important people in heaven. And when you see one
of them come sailing around with one wing tipped up and t'other
down, you make up your mind he is saying to himself: 'I wish Mary
Ann in Arkansaw could see me now. I reckon she'd wish she hadn't
shook me.' No, they're just for show, that's all - only just for
"I judge you've got it about right, Sandy," says I.
"Why, look at it yourself," says he. "YOU ain't built for wings -
no man is. You know what a grist of years it took you to come here
from the earth - and yet you were booming along faster than any
cannon-ball could go. Suppose you had to fly that distance with
your wings - wouldn't eternity have been over before you got here?
Certainly. Well, angels have to go to the earth every day -
millions of them - to appear in visions to dying children and good
people, you know - it's the heft of their business. They appear
with their wings, of course, because they are on official service,
and because the dying persons wouldn't know they were angels if
they hadn't wings - but do you reckon they fly with them? It
stands to reason they don't. The wings would wear out before they
got half-way; even the pin-feathers would be gone; the wing frames
would be as bare as kite sticks before the paper is pasted on. The
distances in heaven are billions of times greater; angels have to
go all over heaven every day; could they do it with their wings
alone? No, indeed; they wear the wings for style, but they travel
any distance in an instant by WISHING. The wishing-carpet of the
Arabian Nights was a sensible idea - but our earthly idea of angels
flying these awful distances with their clumsy wings was foolish.
"Our young saints, of both sexes, wear wings all the time - blazing
red ones, and blue and green, and gold, and variegated, and
rainbowed, and ring-streaked-and-striped ones - and nobody finds
fault. It is suitable to their time of life. The things are
beautiful, and they set the young people off. They are the most
striking and lovely part of their outfit - a halo don't BEGIN."
"Well," says I, "I've tucked mine away in the cupboard, and I allow
to let them lay there till there's mud."
"Yes - or a reception."
"Well, you can see one to-night if you want to. There's a
barkeeper from Jersey City going to be received."
"Go on - tell me about it."
"This barkeeper got converted at a Moody and Sankey meeting, in New
York, and started home on the ferry-boat, and there was a collision
and he got drowned. He is of a class that think all heaven goes
wild with joy when a particularly hard lot like him is saved; they
think all heaven turns out hosannahing to welcome them; they think
there isn't anything talked about in the realms of the blest but
their case, for that day. This barkeeper thinks there hasn't been
such another stir here in years, as his coming is going to raise. -
And I've always noticed this peculiarity about a dead barkeeper -
he not only expects all hands to turn out when he arrives, but he
expects to be received with a torchlight procession."
"I reckon he is disappointed, then."
"No, he isn't. No man is allowed to be disappointed here.
Whatever he wants, when he comes - that is, any reasonable and
unsacrilegious thing - he can have. There's always a few millions
or billions of young folks around who don't want any better
entertainment than to fill up their lungs and swarm out with their
torches and have a high time over a barkeeper. It tickles the
barkeeper till he can't rest, it makes a charming lark for the
young folks, it don't do anybody any harm, it don't cost a rap, and
it keeps up the place's reputation for making all comers happy and
"Very good. I'll be on hand and see them land the barkeeper."
"It is manners to go in full dress. You want to wear your wings,
you know, and your other things."
"Halo, and harp, and palm branch, and all that."
"Well," says I, "I reckon I ought to be ashamed of myself, but the
fact is I left them laying around that day I resigned from the
choir. I haven't got a rag to wear but this robe and the wings."
"That's all right. You'll find they've been raked up and saved for
you. Send for them."
"I'll do it, Sandy. But what was it you was saying about
unsacrilegious things, which people expect to get, and will be
"Oh, there are a lot of such things that people expect and don't
get. For instance, there's a Brooklyn preacher by the name of
Talmage, who is laying up a considerable disappointment for
himself. He says, every now and then in his sermons, that the
first thing he does when he gets to heaven, will be to fling his
arms around Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and kiss them and weep on
them. There's millions of people down there on earth that are
promising themselves the same thing. As many as sixty thousand
people arrive here every single day, that want to run straight to
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and hug them and weep on them. Now mind
you, sixty thousand a day is a pretty heavy contract for those old
people. If they were a mind to allow it, they wouldn't ever have
anything to do, year in and year out, but stand up and be hugged
and wept on thirty-two hours in the twenty-four. They would be
tired out and as wet as muskrats all the time. What would heaven
be, to THEM? It would be a mighty good place to get out of - you
know that, yourself. Those are kind and gentle old Jews, but they
ain't any fonder of kissing the emotional highlights of Brooklyn
than you be. You mark my words, Mr. T.'s endearments are going to
be declined, with thanks. There are limits to the privileges of
the elect, even in heaven. Why, if Adam was to show himself to
every new comer that wants to call and gaze at him and strike him
for his autograph, he would never have time to do anything else but
just that. Talmage has said he is going to give Adam some of his
attentions, as well as A., I. and J. But he will have to change
his mind about that."
"Do you think Talmage will really come here?"
"Why, certainly, he will; but don't you be alarmed; he will run
with his own kind, and there's plenty of them. That is the main
charm of heaven - there's all kinds here - which wouldn't be the
case if you let the preachers tell it. Anybody can find the sort
he prefers, here, and he just lets the others alone, and they let
him alone. When the Deity builds a heaven, it is built right, and
on a liberal plan."
Sandy sent home for his things, and I sent for mine, and about nine
in the evening we begun to dress. Sandy says, -
"This is going to be a grand time for you, Stormy. Like as not
some of the patriarchs will turn out."
"No, but will they?"
"Like as not. Of course they are pretty exclusive. They hardly
ever show themselves to the common public. I believe they never
turn out except for an eleventh-hour convert. They wouldn't do it
then, only earthly tradition makes a grand show pretty necessary on
that kind of an occasion."
"Do they an turn out, Sandy?"
"Who? - all the patriarchs? Oh, no - hardly ever more than a
couple. You will be here fifty thousand years - maybe more -
before you get a glimpse of all the patriarchs and prophets. Since
I have been here, Job has been to the front once, and once Ham and
Jeremiah both at the same time. But the finest thing that has
happened in my day was a year or so ago; that was Charles Peace's
reception - him they called 'the Bannercross Murderer' - an
Englishman. There were four patriarchs and two prophets on the
Grand Stand that time - there hasn't been anything like it since
Captain Kidd came; Abel was there - the first time in twelve
hundred years. A report got around that Adam was coming; well, of
course, Abel was enough to bring a crowd, all by himself, but there
is nobody that can draw like Adam. It was a false report, but it
got around, anyway, as I say, and it will be a long day before I
see the like of it again. The reception was in the English
department, of course, which is eight hundred and eleven million
miles from the New Jersey line. I went, along with a good many of
my neighbors, and it was a sight to see, I can tell you. Flocks
came from all the departments. I saw Esquimaux there, and Tartars,
Negroes, Chinamen - people from everywhere. You see a mixture like
that in the Grand Choir, the first day you land here, but you
hardly ever see it again. There were billions of people; when they
were singing or hosannahing, the noise was wonderful; and even when
their tongues were still the drumming of the wings was nearly
enough to burst your head, for all the sky was as thick as if it
was snowing angels. Although Adam was not there, it was a great
time anyway, because we had three archangels on the Grand Stand -
it is a seldom thing that even one comes out."
"What did they look like, Sandy?"
"Well, they had shining faces, and shining robes, and wonderful
rainbow wings, and they stood eighteen feet high, and wore swords,
and held their heads up in a noble way, and looked like soldiers."
"Did they have halos?"
"No - anyway, not the hoop kind. The archangels and the upper-
class patriarchs wear a finer thing than that. It is a round,
solid, splendid glory of gold, that is blinding to look at. You
have often seen a patriarch in a picture, on earth, with that thing
on - you remember it? - he looks as if he had his head in a brass
platter. That don't give you the right idea of it at all - it is
much more shining and beautiful."
"Did you talk with those archangels and patriarchs, Sandy?"
"Who - I? Why, what can you be thinking about, Stormy? I ain't
worthy to speak to such as they."
"Of course not. You have got the same mixed-up idea about these
things that everybody has down there. I had it once, but I got
over it. Down there they talk of the heavenly King - and that is
right - but then they go right on speaking as if this was a
republic and everybody was on a dead level with everybody else, and
privileged to fling his arms around anybody he comes across, and be
hail-fellow-well-met with all the elect, from the highest down.
How tangled up and absurd that is! How are you going to have a
republic under a king? How are you going to have a republic at
all, where the head of the government is absolute, holds his place
forever, and has no parliament, no council to meddle or make in his
affairs, nobody voted for, nobody elected, nobody in the whole
universe with a voice in the government, nobody asked to take a
hand in its matters, and nobody ALLOWED to do it? Fine republic,
"Well, yes - it IS a little different from the idea I had - but I
thought I might go around and get acquainted with the grandees,
anyway - not exactly splice the main-brace with them, you know, but
shake hands and pass the time of day."
"Could Tom, Dick and Harry call on the Cabinet of Russia and do
that? - on Prince Gortschakoff, for instance?"
"I reckon not, Sandy."
"Well, this is Russia - only more so. There's not the shadow of a
republic about it anywhere. There are ranks, here. There are
viceroys, princes, governors, sub-governors, sub-sub-governors, and
a hundred orders of nobility, grading along down from grand-ducal
archangels, stage by stage, till the general level is struck, where
there ain't any titles. Do you know what a prince of the blood is,
"Well, a prince of the blood don't belong to the royal family
exactly, and he don't belong to the mere nobility of the kingdom;
he is lower than the one, and higher than t'other. That's about
the position of the patriarchs and prophets here. There's some
mighty high nobility here - people that you and I ain't worthy to
polish sandals for - and THEY ain't worthy to polish sandals for
the patriarchs and prophets. That gives you a kind of an idea of
their rank, don't it? You begin to see how high up they are, don't
you? just to get a two-minute glimpse of one of them is a thing for
a body to remember and tell about for a thousand years. Why,
Captain, just think of this: if Abraham was to set his foot down
here by this door, there would be a railing set up around that
foot-track right away, and a shelter put over it, and people would
flock here from all over heaven, for hundreds and hundreds of
years, to look at it. Abraham is one of the parties that Mr.
Talmage, of Brooklyn, is going to embrace, and kiss, and weep on,
when he comes. He wants to lay in a good stock of tears, you know,
or five to one he will go dry before he gets a chance to do it."
"Sandy," says I, "I had an idea that I was going to be equals with
everybody here, too, but I will let that drop. It don't matter,
and I am plenty happy enough anyway."
"Captain, you are happier than you would be, the other way. These
old patriarchs and prophets have got ages the start of you; they
know more in two minutes than you know in a year. Did you ever try
to have a sociable improving-time discussing winds, and currents
and variations of compass with an undertaker?"
"I get your idea, Sandy. He couldn't interest me. He would be an
ignoramus in such things - he would bore me, and I would bore him."
"You have got it. You would bore the patriarchs when you talked,
and when they talked they would shoot over your head. By and by
you would say, 'Good morning, your Eminence, I will call again' -
but you wouldn't. Did you ever ask the slush-boy to come up in the
cabin and take dinner with you?"
"I get your drift again, Sandy. I wouldn't be used to such grand
people as the patriarchs and prophets, and I would be sheepish and
tongue-tied in their company, and mighty glad to get out of it.
Sandy, which is the highest rank, patriarch or prophet?"
"Oh, the prophets hold over the patriarchs. The newest prophet,
even, is of a sight more consequence than the oldest patriarch.
Yes, sir, Adam himself has to walk behind Shakespeare."
"Was Shakespeare a prophet?"
"Of course he was; and so was Homer, and heaps more. But
Shakespeare and the rest have to walk behind a common tailor from
Tennessee, by the name of Billings; and behind a horse-doctor named
Sakka, from Afghanistan. Jeremiah, and Billings and Buddha walk
together, side by side, right behind a crowd from planets not in
our astronomy; next come a dozen or two from Jupiter and other
worlds; next come Daniel, and Sakka and Confucius; next a lot from
systems outside of ours; next come Ezekiel, and Mahomet, Zoroaster,
and a knife-grinder from ancient Egypt; then there is a long
string, and after them, away down toward the bottom, come
Shakespeare and Homer, and a shoemaker named Marais, from the back
settlements of France."