Chapter Sixteen

And what of those next few years immediately following the San Francisco earthquake? The first years were busy reconstruction years. Rebuilding after devastation always brings its own good times because hands and minds are kept busy.

It was natural as most of Papa's clients were busy building new streets, roadways, and houses, some few of them put some attention to garages. That was something new, "garage." We even had to borrow a French word to designate it: "The place to keep an automobile." Oh, the changeover did not happen all at once, but by 1910, it was obvious that if San Francisco had tossed two coins in the air to determine which way it was going to travel in the future, "the horse" did not come down with "heads" on top.

Papa himself began to spread out, in other ways, too, trying to determine where his influence could best be placed. For one thing, he needed big audiences for his type of preaching. San Francisco had always welcomed the street preacher, even from Gold Rush Days. But men no longer had time to loiter on the streets, or in the corrals, where they had once congregated, when the horse was of paramount importance.

So William began to travel once more, always southward, to such major towns as Stockton, Merced, Visalia, Ceres, Bakersfield, even Orange and Los Angeles counties. He worked training horses first in one locality, then in another. He held a few evangelistic meetings in such towns as Stockton and Bakersfield. The scrapbook records clippings include all of these, showing him still preaching to crowds using horse training for a drawing card, but these meetings were gradually diminishing. There was, however, a trip he made quite frequently, and that was to San Quentin. It gave him his most attentive audience even for its being a captive one. And for no other audience in the state did he spend more time preparing the sermons he so enjoyed giving.

At the time I was ten years old and in the first term of the fifth grade, and advanced enough in school to study shorthand. Papa had a friend, a reporter for the Oakland ENQUIRER, teach me the rudiments of newspaper writing and also shorthand for note-taking. In every respectable Irish family, you know, there has to be one member who was educated for the priesthood and one who was prepared to be a writer. I, obviously, had been chosen for the latter.

My brothers, definitely, were taken up with baseball and football for their "spare time." So it turned out that on Saturday, Papa would get me to help him with his correspondence and sermon preparation while I performed my secretarial duties, so to speak, looking up references in the big Strong's Concordance and jotting down story illustrations. It was fun for me to take down his dictation -- the exciting little stories of incidents he had enjoyed in the strange places where he had traveled. Patagonia was one I remembered, the Sandwich Islands, another of course; Peru, too, such remote yet familiar Ports of Call: Calloa, Sydney, Lahaina. Nothing delighted him more that to "help" me write a composition for school about these, although my teachers knew they did not come from my own experience. By the time I entered high school, I had a fairly large-sized carton of manuscripts written. They were lost as we moved form place to place. It's too bad I did not take better care of them! Writers never seem to learn the importance of jotting down impressions of the moment.

When school permitted, I went with him to those Big Valley towns nearby. I once asked him it I couldn't accompany him on one of his frequent trips to San Quentin. And even today I can see his big frame shaking with laughter. "No, Sister, you can't go this time. This is a trip for men only. But I'll tell you what it'll be like, so you can imagine you are there, and when I return I'll tell you what happened. You can help me prepare my talk, if you wish, so we can keep it for the record."

"I'll leave from Vallejo Street wharf and soon be steaming past the guns of Alcatraz, past Angel Island," he smiled, reflecting only goats played there, and I new what he was thinking.

Then he described the journey, speaking of the irony that San Quentin should be located at that one spot in all California where the waters of the Bay are most gentle.

"Even the hills seem to lift one up to the heavens touched by Mount Tamalpais which seems to apprehend the gravity of the situation," he told me, but I could not understand then how much the sorrow of those in prison touched his heart. Later, working with him, taking his sermons down form dictation, I came to know what he must have said. Looking back, I'm certain he planned it this way to become part of my religious education.

Even today, I can close my eyes and almost hear him preaching to his favorite congregation on that fall day late in 1910.

I did not have to witness the service to see him standing before thousands of sad, intent men, waiting for him to speak, according to his manner to get an audience's full attention.

His countenance certainly would have been grave, his head held high, his left hand clasping the large, closed Bible to his breast.

I'm certain he saw in the audience at least one steeple of a man who had loved God's craggy country with an abiding passion -- until the day his farm was taken away from him, as it had been with Papa's father, and thanked God that He spared him this experience. He probably saw a young, handsome man, too, with a quiet face, who didn't belong there. He had never seen his eight brothers after he entered the workhouse. They left to join those others of the big Mullen family who had taken Australia's offer for free land and gone to the Kimberly District in Australia, where gold was later discovered.

He must have seen an irrepressible, good-natured Irishman in the audience, joking with the man next to him as though he was getting ready to ship off for the Sandwich Islands, just as he himself had done. He saw a blond Scandinavian making merry in a San Francisco saloon after a long haul around the Horn, only to lie prostrate on the floor after two drinks and awaken the next day to find himself on a strange cruise to Shanghai, as he had often seen on his travels. It happened often in San Francisco until the Unions, in 1905, put a stop to "Shanghaiing."

There also must have been a man, who after years of bitterness, found it more natural to nourish the hate inside him than the love God had put in him, until he finally turned against that society, which had sought to restrain him behind iron bars.

Yes, and he must have pictured a man with a heavy head and a low, square forehead, burrowing into dank, dreary mines twelve hours each deadly day, until his face was as gloomy as the shafts of the mines. He saw a leathered face of a man who was once an agile rider, and quick to draw a gun of a Saturday night on a West Coast plaza as he was to lasso a bronco before on the range.

He saw a sullen Mexican in a hovel, who had once been a proud caballero of limitless sections.

He saw a proud, ambitious man who stole, and got away with it, because he had political power. He knew some of those in this category had to be now in his audience. But he knew God offered redemption to every one born. He saw a labor leader who wanted to correct the injustice done to the seamen, and he saw labor leaders succumb to the desire for easy money.

He saw them all -- as individuals -- and he saw them as one.

He saw them as his father, and his brothers, and himself. He saw them as his neighbors and even his might-have-been sons.

But they did not look at him. They only looked into the never-ending space of the penitentiary walls.

He saw them all and knew that his message was for men who were lost, as he, too, had been lost and the blood coursed strong in his veins as to almost overwhelm him. The secret of his eloquence came from his grateful heart, his heart so grateful it would almost overflow inside him.

"There is none good, no not one," he whispered knowing he was talking of these men, and of his father, his brothers, his neighbors, and of himself. He knew and thanked God that, through the miracle of Christ, he had been saved this terrible fate that locked a man inside four skyless walls.

But he said nothing.

The discipline of the prison showed and the room too, remained silent.

He tried to speak, once, but he could not.

He paused -- a long slow pause. The eyes of this big man, with the massive head set courageously on solid shoulders, filled as the eyes of a little child. Even those in the back knew the tears were there. Not one could have wanted to tangle with him on the outside, yet they knew this strong man was too overcome with their grief to say one word.

Still, he stood squarely on the balls of his feet, broad shoulders back, seeming even taller than he was, head upward as though reaching to heaven.

Finally, he began to talk. His first words were quiet, solemn, slow, studied, melodious and soft, like a father talking to a little son of whom he was very fond. Little by little, the carefully-chosen words became louder, stronger, faster -- but always keeping that affectionate, melodious, magnetic cadence that compelled people to listen even when they didn't want to.

He was ready, now, to open his Bible. "Dearly beloved, I have chosen my text from the sixth verse of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah:"

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned every one to his own way;

And the Lord hath laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

"I am also going to read down through the eighth verse of the same chapter:"

He was taken from prison and from judgment;

And who shall declare his generation?

For he was cut off from the land of the living;

For the transgression of my people was He


As he read he seemed to understand, for the first time, how hate had been bred in him, in all men; how greed and envy and jealousy had piled up the aggressions from childhood to the grave -- until it was easier to yield to the hate than to turn to the Love of God that alone could save humanity from its own destruction -- the man in the prison and the man who, through God's mercy, was still out of it.

They knew as they listened, he was a man who knew about these things. They knew he had learned form sorrowful experiences that "Faith in God" and the adherence to the teachings of this Jesus Christ who, too, was taken from prison could save them as it had saved him.

"You know you are not free as you sit before me, but I tell you our own iniquities have imprisoned us all. They have cut us all off from the Love of God that is the power of Salvation. You who are here, and will be here until that day when they will come and get you and tell you there will be no more days, you can be free. But only in fulfilling the will of God can you or anyone free himself from the abuses of government, from the abuses of the manufacturer, the landowner, the slum owner, the bully, the thief, the labor agitator -- all men who live for themselves and not for the will of God. But I offer you all hope of eternity, for it is only in fulfilling God's will can you be saved from eternal damnation, and that will is to love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself.

"Dearly beloved, I know for some of you there is no happy prospect that through toil and good behavior you can say good-bye to the labor within these walls by day and the aloneness in the cells by night. The years will drag slowly on until your sorrows will be buried in your grave and hired attendants will wipe away the cold sweat of death from your brow and put you in a convict's coffins, and take you to the hill and so end your life."

The heads of many of the convicts fell forward, those men who knew they would spend the rest of their lives there. All over the room, there broke out the convulsive sobbing of the men, as though it were the voice of one man.

He looked about the hundreds and hundreds of faces, before so stern and hard, but now soft, relaxed, wet with tears, and not out of sympathy for themselves. Each one knew it was humanity about whom the big man spoke, not himself, not them, but all men.

…all our righteousness are

as filthy rags;

And we all do fade as a leaf;

And our iniquities, like the wind,

Have taken us away.

"But there is no cause for despair. Man may have shut you out for a few years; but Christ has served out your sentence that you might have freedom in Eternity. God gives it to you this moment, if you will but believe in Him. There is love for you in Jesus Christ. There is mercy. There is heaven."
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