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A Watch-Night Service In San Francisco
by [?]

I came into the city with a quarter of a dollar, two bits, or one shilling and a halfpenny in my possession. Starvation and sleeping on boards when I was by no means well broke me down and at the same time embittered me. On the third day I saw some of my equal outcasts inspecting a bill on a telegraph pole in Kearny Street, and on reading it I found it a religious advertisement of some services to be held in a street running out of Kearny, I believe in Upper California Street. At the bottom of the bill was a notice that men out of work and starving who attended the meeting would be given a meal. Having been starving only some twenty-four hours I sneered and walked on. My agnosticism was bitter in those days, bitter and polemic.

But I got no work. The streets were full of idle men. They stood in melancholy groups at corners, sheltering from the rain. I knew no one but a few of my equals. I could get no ship; the city was full of sailors. I starved another twenty-four hours, and I went to the service. I said I went for the warmth of the room, for I was ill-clad and wet. I found the place half full of out-o’-works, and sat down by the door. The preacher was a man of a type especially disagreeable to me; he looked like a business man who had cultivated an aspect of goodness and benevolence and piety on business principles. Without being able to say he was a hypocrite, he struck me as being one. He was not bad-looking, and about thirty-five; he had a band of adoring girls and women about him. I was desolate and disliked him and went away.

But I returned.

I went up to him and told him brutally that I disbelieved in him and in everything he believed in, explaining that I wanted nothing on false pretences. My attitude surprised him, but he was kind (still with that insufferable air of being a really first-class good man), and he bade me have something to eat. I took it and went, feeling that I had no place on the earth.

But a little later I met an old friend from British Columbia. He was by way of being a religious man, and he had a hankering to convert me. Failing personally, he cast about for some other means, and selected this very preacher as his instrument. Having asked me to eat with him at a ten-cent hash house, he inveigled me to an evening service, and for the warmth I went with him. I became curious about these religious types, and attended a series of services. I was interested half in a morbid way, half psychologically. Scott, my friend, found me hard, but my interest made him hope. He took me, not at all unwilling, to hear a well-known revivalist who combined religion with anecdotes. He told stories well, and filled a church every night for ten days. During these days I heard him attentively, as I might have listened to any well-told lecture on any pseudo-science. But my intellect was unconvinced, my conscience untouched, and Scott gave me up. I attended a number of services by myself; I was lonely, poor, hopeless, living an inward life. The subjective became real at times, the objective faded. I had a little occasional work, and expected some money to reach me early in the year. But I had no energy, I divided my time between the Free Library and churches. And it drew on to Christmas.

It was a miserable time of rain, and Christmas Day found me hopeless of a meal. But by chance I came across a man whom I had fed, and he returned my hospitality by dining me for fifteen cents at the “What Cheer House,” a well-known poor restaurant in San Francisco. Then followed some days of more than semi-starvation, and I grew rather light-headed. The last day of the year dawned and I spent it foodless, friendless, solitary. But after a long evening’s aimless wandering about the city I came back to California Street, and at ten o’clock went to the Watch-Night Service in the room of the first preacher I had heard.