PERHAPS you saw him with me in the Yard last week, - a long, thin man dressed in black, with a capacious white felt hat resting soberly on his straight black hair, smooth face, and age anywhere from forty-five to sixty? No, you did n't see him? Well, he looked every inch (and he is some seventy-seven inches high) exactly what he is, the leading deacon of the Smithfield Centre Orthodox Church; one of the bluest of the blue, and a most unrelenting enemy of card-playing, horse-racing, dancing, and the theatre. I trembled as I saw him looming in the distance; my heart sank down to my boots, and I felt as if the last day had come. "Na-than-i-el," he said, in slow, measured tones, "I have come from Smithfield Centre, at much expense of time and money, to see how you are faring in this godless sink of iniquity denominated Harvard College. Strange rumors have reached Smithfield that you have been seen entering Satan's antechamber, in vulgar parlance called the Globe Theatre; that you are an adept in gambling; that your room is adorned with the painted Jezebels of the stage. Nephew Nathaniel, the jaws of hell are opening wide to receive you; already its sulphurous breath has tainted you, and the arch-fiend is about to claim you for his own. Conduct me to your room, that I may see with my own eyes whether this report of the youth who promised to lead so well in Friday night prayer-meetings is true."
"O Lord!" I groaned to myself, "it's all up with me now. That miserable fool, Billy Lawson, who was down last week and lost $5 to me at poker, has given me dead away. No more shall I fish the streams of Smithfield Centre, or stroll in the woods with my pretty cousin Priscilla. Uncle Luther will never invite again such a godless sinner as I am to spend the summer at his house."
When we reached the room, there on the mantelpiece calmly rested pictures of Venie Clancy as Evangeline, Neilson as Cymbeline, Fanny Davenport as Viola, Nellie Beaumont, Kate Everleigh, Maude Branscombe, &c., &c., all more or less nude, generally more.
My Uncle Luther's eye at once rested on them. "These, then, are the painted Jezebels of the stage; I will examine them." Slowly he looked at the dozen or more, lingering long over Neilson and Fanny Davenport. He did n't say a word; but, knowing that in a moment I should be verbally castigated within an inch of my life, I decided to ???y, at least for an hour, till I could brace myself against the approaching storm. While the bell was ringing I said, "My dear Uncle Luther, I must go to a recitation now, will be back in an hour; make yourself thoroughly at home in my absence. You will find the Zion's Herald and the Evangelist on the table." (My shoes came home last night wrapped up in these papers, and I remembered putting them on the table.) Uncle Luther was still silent. "Great heavens," I thought, "how mad he is!"
An hour passed. Sundry "braces" at Carl's had made me feel more like meeting my Uncle Luther. I entered the room quietly to see what the old cove was about. By thunder, he was still looking at the pictures! When he saw me, the picture dropped, and I fancied I saw a blush his cheek. "Nathaniel," - the storm was coming; but as I began to feel as if I did n't care whether school kept or not, I lit a cigarette (he abominates smoking) and sat on the table prepared to take it, - take it, - "Nathaniel," he repeated, "these Jez - women are very comely and shapely; they are endowed with souls as you are, my poor, misguided boy. I have been praying for them the past hour; I would that I might see them before I do more for their salvation." I was thunderstruck. "What, Uncle Luther, you want to go to the theatre?" A spasm seemed to seize him at the mention of theatre, but he bravely held out, "Yes, Nathaniel, I would see the beautiful, misguided women before I pray for them on Friday night."
Eight o'clock saw us seated in the front row of the Howard; I determined to give him a benefit for once. Before the curtain rose, he was nervous and fidgety, but, the curtain once up, and his eyes were glued to the stage; they opened wider and wider, spots of color came in his cheeks, and his breath came and went rapidly; to look at him was more fun than the play. Never once during the evening did he look away from the stage, and when the play was over he bade me good-night, and without saying more went home to his hotel. The next morning a letter came, and I thought before I opened it : "Ah, my goose is thoroughly cooked; the old man has given me up as a lost sheep and will have nothing more to do with me." Judge of my surprise when I read : -
NEPHEW NATHANIEL, - You have strayed far from the narrow path, but, my poor boy, you have been sorely tempted. I myself felt Satan's influence last evening, and it was only after wrestling with the arch-fiend in prayer during the midnight watches last night that I decided to leave by the early train this morning for Smithfield Centre. I pardon your sins, my poor boy, and hope that when your vacation begins you will come to us at Smithfield Centre, that the good influence of Priscilla and myself may counteract the workings of the Devil.
Your affectionate uncle,
LUTHER.P. S. Bring those pictures when you come.