“Have you,” he went on, “ever stolen, or told any lie?”
I was able to say no, except admitting as to the first, usual college “conveyances,” and as to the last, an occasional “blinder” to the professors. He was gracious enough to say that these could be overlooked as incident to the occasion.
“Have you ever been dissipated, living riotously and keeping late hours?”
This also could be forgiven me as an incident of youth.
“Did you ever,” he went on, “commit the crime of using intoxicating drinks as a beverage?”
I answered that I had never been a habitual drinker, that I had never been what was called a “moderate drinker,” that I had never gone to a bar and drank alone; but that I had been accustomed, in company with other young men, on convivial occasions to taste the pleasures of the flowing bowl, sometimes to excess, but that I had also tasted the pains of it, and for months before my demise had refrained from liquor altogether. The holy man looked grave, but, after reflection, said this might also be overlooked in a young man.
“What,” continued he, in tones still more serious, “has been your conduct with regard to the other sex?”
I fell upon my knees in a tremor of fear. I pulled from my bosom a little book like the one Leperello exhibits in the opera of “Don Giovanni.” There, I said, was a record of my flirtation and inconstancy. I waited long for the decision, but it came in mercy.
“Rise,” he cried; “young men will be young men, I suppose. We shall forgive this also to your youth and penitence.”
“Your examination is satisfactory, he informed me,” after a pause; “you can now enter the abodes of the happy.”
Joy leaped within me. We approached the gate. The key turned in the lock. The gate swung noiselessly on its hinges a little open. Out flashed upon me unknown splendors. What I saw in that momentary gleam I shall never whisper in mortal ears. I stood upon the threshold, just about to enter.
“Stop! one moment,” exclaimed St. Peter, laying his hand on my shoulder; “I have one more question to ask you.”
I turned toward him.
“Young man, did you ever use tobacco?”
“I both smoked and chewed in my lifetime,” I faltered, “but...”
“Then to Hell with you!” he shouted in a voice of thunder.
Instantly the gate closed without noise, and I was flung, hurled, from the battlement, down! down! down! Faster and faster I sank in a dizzy, sickening whirl into an unfathomable space of gloom. The light faded. Dampness and darkness were round about me. As before, for days and days I rose exultant in the light, so now forever I sank into thickening darkness,—and yet not darkness, but a pale, ashy light more fearful.
In the dimness, I at length discovered a wall before me. It ran up and down and on either hand endlessly into the night. It was solid, black, terrible in its frowning massiveness.