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Wings of the Wind

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At last out of khaki, and dressed in conventional evening clothes, I felt as if I were indeed writing the first words of another story on the unmarred page of the incoming year. As I entered the library my mother, forgetting that it was I who owed her deference, came forward with outstretched arms and a sound in her voice like that of doves at nesting time. Dad's welcome was heartier, even though his eyes were dimmed with happy tears. And old Bilkins, our solemn, irreproachable butler, grinned benignly as he stood waiting to announce dinner. What a wealth of affection I had to be grateful for!

I did not lack gratitude, but with the old year touching the heels of the new, and Time commanding me to get in step, my return to civil life held few inducements. Instead of a superabundance of cheer, I had brought from France jumpy nerves and a body lean with over training—natural results of physical exhaustion coupled with the mental reaction that must inevitably follow a year and a half of highly imaginative living.

But there was another aspect less tangible, perhaps more permanent—and all members of combat divisions will understand exactly what I mean. When America picked up the gauntlet, an active conscience jerked me from a tuneful life and drove me out to war—for whether men are driven by conscience, or a government draft board, makes no difference in the effect upon those who come through. Time after time, for eighteen months, I made my regular trips into hell—into a hell more revolting than mid-Victorian evangelists ever pictured to spellbound, quaking sinners. Never in this world had there been a parallel to the naked dangers and nauseous discomforts of that western front; never so prolonged an agony of head-splitting noises, lacerations of human flesh, smells that turned the body sick, blasphemies that made the soul grow hard, frenzied efforts to kill, and above all a spirit, fanatical, that urged each man to bear more, kill more, because he was a Crusader for the right.

Into this red crucible I had plunged, and now emerged—remolded. In one brief year and a half I had lived my life, dreamed the undreamable, accomplished the unaccomplishable. Much had gone from me, yet much had come—and it was this which had come that distorted my vision of future days; making them drab, making my fellows who had not taken the plunge seem purposeless and immature. Either they were out of tune, or I was—and I thought, of course, that they were. What freshness could I bring to an existence of peace when my gears would not mesh with its humdrum machinery!

My mother, ever quick to detect the workings of my mind as well as the variations of my body, had noticed these changes when I disembarked the previous week, and had become obsessed with the idea that I stood tottering on the brink of abysmal wretchedness. So, while I was marking time the few days at camp until the hour of demobilization, she summoned into hasty conference my father, our family doctor, and the select near relatives whose advice was a matter of habit rather than value, to devise means of leading me out of myself....