Mr. Gunn and the Fretful Volcano
Mr. Gunn and the Fretful Volcano
By Robert Welles Ritchie
Author of “The Sandlotter,” “Wang," Etc.
Introducing the man who was born to do good to towns. Nothing was too big for him; hence this more or less true story of Mr. Gunn and the trained volcano that was to bring the world to Sacto’s doorstep.
MR. SIMEON C. GUNN—“Self-cocking Gunn,” his intimates called him—was born to do good to towns, just as Julius Cæsar was born to cross the Rubicon. It was a matter of predestination. He did good to his native town of Visalia at a very tender age by starting a grass fire, which in turn set the courthouse afire and burned it to the foundation; everybody said afterward that Visalia needed a new courthouse anyway and Lord only knew when Visalia’d gotten another one if it hadn’t been for that Gunn boy. When he was a college correspondent for a San Francisco paper he did good to North Berkeley by printing a story of a gold strike in Wildcat Creek; many people rushed to North Berkeley to dig gold, and, though they went away empty-handed, North Berkeley was put on the map. Perhaps that incident of the fake story gave Gunn, ’06, a clew to his life work, for immediately upon his graduation he started to hoist unconsidered towns into prominence.
A decayed Spanish mission, a lady violin player who took the Kniepp cure through the morning’s dew, and a novelist who lived up a tree all happened to be occupying contemporaneously a wild and picturesque nick in the coast line; Gunn seized upon them, sprayed them with the publicity calcium, and behold! Hebron-by-the-Sea sprang into being, full-armed with artistic atmosphere. Gunn took his in the shape of corner lots, which went like tamales on a cold night. Again, municipal engineers of Rathom, in Lake County, bored for a new water supply and struck a soda spring; instantly Gunn on the job and Sunday stories in all the syndicates from Pacific coast to Atlantic. “Gin rickeys from a fire hydrant! Rathom’s homes piped with fizz water.” The town council of Rathom voted Simeon C. a neat thousand for that.
So it went. Let any little California town show a circus feature which could be twisted to the infinite arts of publicity and promotion, and there the Self-cocking Gunn primed himself for volley firing; councilmen and Board of Trade members found themselves chained by his oratory; campaigns were devised and put through with a bang—and the town was done good. Somewhere in the process, certain emoluments inevitably were detached from some individual or corporate body and transferred to the account of Simeon C. Gunn. Sometimes accompanied by engrossed resolutions of thanks, sometimes just before the fast train could be flagged at the switch. Whether this increment came to him with a tableau or a quick curtain interested Mr. Gunn not half so much as its dimensional qualities: length, breadth, and thickness—more particularly thickness.
A mooted point among his biographers is, I believe, whether the mountain came to Mohammed. But if ever a man was fitted by natural gifts and the education which comes of their application to make a mountain move over his way, that man was Simeon C. Gunn. Trouble was that he hooked up with a mountain which, as a mountain, possessed much the same temperament that Gunn did as a man. That mountain happened to be Lassen.
When I was a youngster, folks from the northern end of the Sacramento Valley used to go camping on the little lakes and streams at Lassen’s foot, and no such pilgrimage was complete without a visit to Bumpuss’ Hell. This interesting three-acre stretch of bad lands halfway up the flank of the cone, presumably christened by a direct-spoken discoverer, a Mr. Bumpuss, was then all that remained of Lassen’s earlier activity as a volcano—a place that smelled abominably and whispered in steamy voices through cracks in the ground. A visitor to Bumpuss’ Hell—especially a young and imaginative visitor—enjoyed there all the thrills of a revivalist’s sermon on the life hereafter, with a graphic chart displayed of certain territories specified by the exhorter as being pasturage for the goats. Though a relatively small hell, Mr. Bumpuss’ was worth the price of admission. It gave food for thought.
As everybody who reads the papers knows, a couple of years ago Mount Lassen suddenly recalled its early wickedness and became once more a regular union-shop volcano, along with Vesuvius, Mauna Loa, and the other recognized smoke blowers. Bumpuss’ resort changed from a pitiful barnstormers’ back drop to a real Belasco stage set of the genuine article, and great was excitement throughout all California. Besides being “a land of sunshine, fruit, and flowers”—see ad.—the State had a volcano to blow for it.
The one peculiarity about Lassen as a volcano—and the one that makes this a story—is that it is irregular as a performer. Some went so far as to attach the same criticism to the activities of Simeon C. Gunn.
However, libel must not be allowed to cloud the rare summer day—rare because the silver thread in the tube stood at only one hundred and five.—when Simeon C. Gunn and a modest traveling bag stepped off the two-seventeen train from Frisco at the Sacto station. Nothing about the heat-curled boards of the depot gave any indication of life but a saddle-colored dog, who sat with one hind leg in the air, and, with eyes closed, gently moaned as he drilled for fleas in an inaccessible spot. The train sighed its way up the track, and a figure detached itself from the shady side of the depot, approaching the newcomer tentatively.
“Waiting for anybody, mister?” The native computed an accurate trajectory and landed a tobacco shrapnel on the exact tip of the dog's tail.
“Oh, just waiting for the crowd to thin out,” Gunn answered carelessly. “Then I’ll call a taxi and run up to the hotel.”
“Figure you'll have to call fair to middlin' loud for that taxicab, mister.” Not a flicker in the native’s tired eyes. “But I'm driver for the Occidental’s bus, and I guess I can wedge you in somehow."
The traveler lit a cigarette in a plain-gold holder four inches long—integral part of the Gunn “flash” was that holder—and entered the empty bus. He made a play of stumbling over the toes of hypothetical passengers, lifting his hat and murmuring apologies. The driver, watching him from the door with a dull eye, slowly conceived the idea that the town of Sacto was being insulted.
“Guess you are a stranger in this town,” he asserted, with nascent hostility.
“Yes, drive slowly,” Gunn purred, “so I won’t miss any of the skyscrapers.”
“They would miss seein’ you an’ that’s a fact,” was the parting shot, and the bus rolled away from the station
As a matter of truth, Sacto is unfortunately placed in relation to its depot. A quarter of a mile of red dust separates Main Street from the railroad track, and tarweed is thicker than real-estate signs along the intervening distance. But once you turn the corner of the Bone & Gimball Building—three stories and a clock tower—you find yourself in one of those typical valley towns of California—hustling to make its trousers meet its shoe tops and planning to put a crease in the former and a polish on the latter after the junction has been happily formed. Sacto was laid out by its pioneers on the flat top of a high, red clay cliff above the river; since the cliff is given to crumbling in freshets, Chinatown was assigned the best view, on the brink of the high bank—and a secret hope for a particularly heavy freshet went with the assignment, no doubt. Main Street was laid out at a conservative distance back. Each cross street running to the bluff’s brink frames at its easterly end a picture which could sell real estate in cities of far greater sophistication than Sacto: first the lazy, blue bend of the river down below; then the sweep of wheat fields and orchards up to the two great knuckles of Brown Buttes, sentinels of the foothills; and beyond, the blue battlements of the Sierra, with Mount Lassen a watchtower pinning them down forty miles due east of the town.
As the bus swung around the corner into Main Street, its lone occupant leaned far out the opened window to catch a glimpse of the mountain’s white majesty. He saw the sharp, truncated cone painted against the sky as against a blue screen, aloof, tremendously self-sufficient in its superiority over the lesser peaks. Mr. Simeon C. Gunn waved his greetings to Mount Lassen as one business man to another; he was on the ground, was Gunn, and now all Lassen, party of the second part, had to do was to play its game up to the handle and all would be well.
The Occidental’s clerk was visibly impressed by the four-inch gold cigarette holder and the vital, hawklike features behind it; both pushed across the desk in an easy, confidential attitude.
“Any rooms left in the ice box—right alongside the butter?” Gunn put his query with that artless smile of his which could always win him farther than a Native Son's button, even.
“With use of the sample room?” the clerk asked, with professional promptness. Gunn removed the cigarette holder with a flourish calculated to make failure to observe the bauble admission of total blindness.
“My dear young friend, you have me wrong—wrong! I am not a commercial traveler in the accepted sense. My line is not insecticides, aluminum stew pans. or neckties, but civic prosperity. My sample room is the peerless State of California, and I can point you to a dozen little cities therein which have bought my line and swear by it—cities, my young friend, where the hoot owls used to drive setting hens off their nests before I came, but where now the trolley gong has silenced the voice of the coyote and a ground squirrel’s rare enough to be an exhibit.
“Give me a nice, cool room, and I'll keep it until Sacto has a jitney line to the depot and a horse fountain in front of the opera house dedicated to me. You're going to hear something about Simeon C. Gunn before long."
The clerk's hand was on the keyboard, and Gunn’s pen was poised over the register when something happened.
Somewhere outside on Main Street, a bell pumped clangorous sound; noise of running feet on the sidewalks; hails and hellos from store to store. A darky, the Occidental’s bell hop, boot-black, bartenders’ assistant, and baggage rustler, thrust his head through the swinging door of the bar and chanted, in a deep bass, just two words: “Numbah nine-ty!” Every chair in the office lounge was deserted forthwith. From the “ladies parlor” on the second floor three young misses, giggling hysterically, raced downstairs to join the running crowd outside. A Chinese cook, with a half-plucked fowl dangling in his grasp, galloped through the office from the kitchen. The clerk was just vaulting over the desk when Gunn laid a commanding hand on his coat lapel.
“When the town’s burned to the ground, I suppose it’s customary——”
“No fire!” the clerk reassured. “Just No. 90. C’m’ on, take a look!"
The promoter of civic welfare followed the Occidental’s young man out into buzzing Main Street and down to the nearest corner, where a crowd was milling in high excitement. Shirt-sleeved clerks from grocery stores, ranchers with brick-red faces aglow under varnished hats, Donovan's soda-fountain clerk with a bottle of raspberry sirup still grasped in his hand, Sacto’s chief of police and Sacto’s chief drunkard—all the town was neck stretching toward the east. Gunn elbowed a shoe clerk off a favorable position on a curb top and looked, too.
Old Lassen on the job already! That was the sight that gladdened the heart of Calif0rnia’s town doctor. And what a sight!
Forty miles off there to the east, but through the telescopic lens of the crystal-clear atmosphere seeming not more than fifteen, a lordly white cone, spouting tens of thousands of tons—yes, tons—of smoke—oily black-and-gray ostrich plumes that rose a thousand feet above the lip of the cone before drooping and turning on themselves with a fetching “willow” effect. Hot, blue-white sky, white and dun pyramid of the distant peak, reverse Niagara of tumbling blackness ascending to make a smear against the bowl of the sky—all this color magic and tremendous disruption of an ordered sky line progressed without the faintest whisper of a noise; without the creaking of a cinema crank. Lassen’s show was stage-managed to a Frohman perfection.
The crowd at the Main Street corner kept silence; this spectacle was searching each individual to the core of his soul. Not so Simeon C. Gunn. A showman’s pride swelled within him. Here was his trained volcano doing its little trick in dress rehearsal, as it were, before the première which Mr. Gunn had come as manager to Sacto to stage. He bubbled exuberant satisfaction.
“There’s the little stunt that’s going to bring the world to Sacto’s doorstep.” Gunn clapped a white-aproned butcher on the shoulder as he pointed. “Now, that’s class!”
“Aw, you’d oughta seen No. 79,” the meat merchant retorted. “That was something! Old Lassen threw in a lot of frills with No. 79—a peewee earthquake and a noise like somebody sliding down a tin roof.”
“No. 79?” Gunn echoed, mystified.
“Sure! Last Monday week, I think it was, we got No. 79. This is No. 90. We got ’em all numbered, you savvy, so’s to keep tabs on ’em. They’ve been getting stronger right along, and some of the boys figure we’ll have a rain of frogs or bath bricks or something out of the usual like that when Old Hundred breezes along.”
“My friend’—Gunn tapped the butcher's shoulder solemnly and gave him the full voltage of the famous Gunn smile—“by the time ‘Old Hundred,’ as you call him, gets here, Sacto will have T. Roosevelt, old Doctor Carranza, and the fort of Novo Georgievsk backed right off the front page. Sacto will be a household word from Maine to Alaska, and they'll be naming babies and two-bit cigars after your pretty little town. And there’s just two people who are going to do this—old Mr. Mount Lassen, over yonder, and a man by the name of Simeon C. Gunn. Just mark that name down in your little book and consider it a bona-fide prophecy."
Saying which, Mr. Gunn moved on his philanthropical mission of doing Sacto good. He had the excellent intention of striking while the volcano was hot.
Now when Simeon C. Gunn struck, in the course of his affairs, it was with more foot pounds of energy and a heavier caliber of oratory than any man of his weight and class from Del Norte to San Bernardino. He was a Native Son, remember, and a Native Son does not have to be persuaded that California is the only unmortgaged piece of God’s country in the sisterhood of States. He knows and he can expound this fact to a stranger in more diversified language than »has been heard since the labor troubles at Babel. Dealing largely with Native Sons, as he did, Gunn’s forte lay in convincing the residents of the town he happened to be doing good that theirs was the most generously sun-kissed of all the cosseted area of California—better than the best, in short.
There was something ineffably gracious in the way the Self-cocking Gunn led a town councilman or member of a Board of Trade to the mahogany. He did it in the part of a man who has lived many years in anticipation of the pleasure of asking this particular councilman or Board of Trade member what it would be. Then, the private stock being set out, the savior of unconsidered towns would hook one elbow over the rail, fix his victim with an eye burning in crusader flame, and unlimber, battery by battery, the whole artillery arm of his oratory. That councilman who, unconvinced and unenthusiastic, could push through swinging-doors and out into plain sunlight afterward either had left his ear trumpet at home or had a heart like Skipper Ireson.
On this summer’s day, when the fire bell summoned the citizens of Sacto to witness the ninetieth matinee performance of the Sierra smoke blower, the door to the Occidental bar swung many, many times behind the missionary of Sacto’s salvation and material for his converting. Long after Lassen had finished his act—the mountain was an irregular performer, remember—members of the town council and of the Sacto Board of Trade had feet on the rail and were hearkening to winged words. That night there was a little meeting of the two bodies—oh, purely informal!—at the home of Major Horace Saleeby, who was president of the Board of Trade. Major Saleeby’s house was on the top of River Hill; from its wide veranda, where the meeting convened, the faint loom of Brown Buttes, across the river, and of the dim white cone of Lassen, directly behind the buttes, could be seen. Not a flicker of firelight over Lassen’s crater; the fickle volcano seemed as dead as any in the moon.
Burning cigar points punctured the darkness of the veranda. There was no sound but the mellifluous purling of the Gunn voice.
“Gentlemen”—he plunged to the climax which fifteen minutes of fervid word painting had precluded—“gentlemen, next week the conference of governors will be held at the Exposition down in San Francisco. There will be twenty-nine governors of States in attendance upon that conference—twenty-nine executives of as many great commonwealths of our Union, from the savannahs of Florida to the wheat empires of the Dakotas. Gentlemen, these governors are shrewd men, observant men—the picked men of their several States. What they see in California—her magnificent fruits, her glorious flowers, the wealth of her mines, the richness of her ranches—these things the governors will carry back with them to make report upon them to their people.
“Men of Sacto, I say show these governors the only active volcano in the confines of continental America. Bring them to this thriving little city of yours, let them see that unparalleled spectacle which I witnessed to-day for the first time, my very soul trembling with the terror and the grandeur of it all. Then let those twenty-nine governors return to their respective States, and what will be the first message they will give to their people? ‘See Sacto and its volcano!’ That will be the message, gentlemen. Sacto—Sacto——Sacto! The name will spread through all the East. I personally will guarantee that within ten days of the governors’ visit to Sacto photographs and write-up will appear in Sunday, supplements in ten great Eastern cities. You will get on the map. Future tourists to California will arrange their schedule to read: ‘See Sacto first.’ Yosemite Valley and the big trees will be mere side shows; the big tent will be right here in Sacto. Why, gentlemen, I was tremendously surprised, when I came to town to-day, and discovered that intelligent men like yourselves did not realize your opportunity—-Sacto’s great chance. A smoking volcano, with the brand, ‘Made in the U. S. A.,’ stamped on it—why, that’s a business asset for this town beside which the hanging gardens of Babylon had about as much kick as a horse-liniment sign on a rail fence.
“Here’s my proposition, gentlemen.” Gunn’s voice dropped" to a tense, confidential timbre. “Raise a fund for expenses and entertainment; place that sum in my hands within a week, and before I spend a five-cent nickel of it I'll have the promise of at least twenty-five of those twenty-nine governors to accept Sacto’s invitation, come up here in a body, be the guests of your lively little city, and view the volcano. The value of my services I place at the reasonable sum of a thousand dollars—including the management of every detail.”
Cigar tips all flared into brightness as if in reaction from the spell of the Gunn monologue, now finished. Then from over in the darkest corner the dry, thin pipe of old Henny Harkins, councilman and town wit:
“Does that thousand cover the management of the volcano, too? Maybe old Lassen’ll be skittish ’bout performing before the guvnors."
The question caught the angel of municipal good fairly between wind and water. Under the spell of the tremendous spectacle of that afternoon, Gunn’s burgeoning plans had progressed without consideration of the possibility this wet-blanket hurler had tossed out of the dark. Lassen had spouted smoke so whole-heartedly, with such an air of dependability, he had not given a thought to the faithful mountain’s refusal to do its tricks before company. Gunn was thrown back upon his old reliable antidote for mental chilblains—talk. Affecting to accept Councilman Henny Harkins’ query in the light of a humorous suggestion, nothing more, Gunn wove his airiest cobwebs of fancy above the hoary brow of Lassen, drew with a crayon of gold a picture of a glorified Sacto after twenty-nine—or positively twenty-five—governors had chanted its wonders back in a listening East. In the end he cut a gem of innuendo, which left his listeners to infer that Simeon C. Gunn found it no more difficult to guarantee a timely eruption of Lassen than the presence of the governors to witness the same. Happily none of the other confrères appeared to share the skepticism of Councilman Harkins,’ and the weak span in Gunn’s bridge of dreams held up.
Right there on Major Saleeby’s veranda Sacto’s representative citizens decided to raise two thousand dollars and capitalize Mount Lassen for the greater glory of the town. Committees were appointed—finance, ways and means, entertainment, et cetera; a tentative program of entertainment of the governors—aside, of course, from the great spectacle of the guaranteed eruption—was fashioned, and Gunn was empowered to take up with the railroad people the matter of a special train from Frisco. Incidentally he was to round up the governors and have them in Sacto the day after the adjournment of their conference atthe Exposition.
Simeon C. went back to the Occidental near midnight with the pleasant sense of a good day's work accomplished. But before he retired he sent to a friend of his, who was secretary to one of California’s senators in Washington, this telegram:
Came next morning this answer:
In a black fit of anger at this ill-timed humor, Gunn took an auto and was carried out to Brown Buttes, those two great knuckles of hills that rise between Sacto and Lassen, about midway of the road to the volcano. A little hotel resort squats over some boiling sulphur springs in the hollow between the two buttes, and this gave Gunn an objective. But during the course of luncheon served in an atmosphere of boiled bad eggs, a star-bright idea avalanched upon him—one of those ideas that made Napoleon win battles or Andrew Carnegie triple his output of libraries. His afternoon was spent in clambering among the rocks and rattlesnakes on the higher of the two buttes. From the top he reconnoitered the panoramic fling of the landscape east and west.
Behind, to the east, rose the dun and white cone of Lassen, like some mammoth quartz crystal lifting above the mass of conglomerate. A thin ribbon of smoke trailed off from its summit, index of the passing of No. 91 in the schedule of eruptions. Over to the west stretched the yellow valley, mottled with the pockmarks of live oaks and cut in twain by the silver blade of the Sacramento; the roofs of Sacto looked like a clutter of oyster shells.
Gunn was careful to determine the position of his vantage point in relation to the two objectives, Lassen and the town. The summit of the butte he stood on interposed itself directly upon a vision line between Sacto and he volcano. Satisfied on this and sundry other essential points, the Self-cocker returned to Sacto with the sunset.
In five days, the governors’ committee, as the Gunn-inspired organization of citizens styled itself, had collected the requisite two thousand dollars, and Simeon C. Gunn, accompanied by a welcoming delegation which was headed by Major Saleeby, went to San Francisco to round up Sacto’s distinguished guests. During the five days of frenzied financial campaigning, Lassen extended fair and honest promise of being on best behavior at the critical moment.
The mountain gave one exhibition, sometimes two, a day. No. 99 was voted a “stem-winder”; but at No. 99 the volcano stopped. “Saving Old Hundred for the governors,” all of Sacto said, with pride in the promise of a red-hot century demonstration.
The governors—all twenty-nine of them, with their families—came to Sacto in two private cars hitched to the tail of the Shasta Express. And Sacto was at the station to greet them. While the California Silver Cornet Band played “Hail to the Chief”—with the delicate insinuation of a plural object instead of the glorified singular embraced in the title—and the school children laid a path of roses for executive boots to tread, Simeon C. Gunn left Major Saleeby temporarily in charge of the distinguished guests and hurried to the baggage car before the express should continue its northward journey. There he had the satisfaction of seeing a long wooden case, strapped and bound with iron and having every outward sign of containing a great treasure, gently lowered to a hand truck. The case was addressed to “Simeon C. Gunn, Sacto,” and bore on its top and sides such stenciled monitions as “This side up,” “Use no hooks,” and “Keep dry.” From one of the day coaches stepped a dark-visaged stranger with a powder mark over one eye, who spoke a word to Gunn and then followed the mysterious case to an express wagon, riding away from the scene of the welcoming festivities on one of the stenciled “Use no hooks.”
Now the official program for the two days of the governors’ visit, artfully worded by Gunn and sold on the streets at ten cents the copy, told of a reception luncheon at the Occidental at noon, an automobile excursion to Los Animas Rancho at three p. m., visit to the Board of Trade exhibit in the skating rink at five o'clock, and so forth, right down to the farewell ball in Major Saleeby’’s home on River Hill on the second and last night of the governors’ stay. But there was nothing even remotely hinting at volcano viewing. That was the unknown quantity in the program.
Lassen, bland and innocent as the “infant phenomenon” in a road show, lifted its snowy cone to the blue and seemed to simper coyly under the battery of inquiring eyes turned from Sacto. But not a puff of smoke was launched from its lips, not a stone hurled. No. 99 was now two days past, but Old Hundred did not come.
Sacto’s citizens began to show all the symptoms of the seven—day itch when the visitors passed the first night in their midst without ever a peep from the mulish volcano. Privately they called down upon Lassen all the plagues of a mythical Sheol, but in the presence of the governors they talked about olives and wheat and California’s grand climate, sunshine, fruit, and flowers. Insensibly the wrath of Sacto, especially of the governors’ committee, which had persuaded Sacto to part with two thousand dollars, turned against Simeon C. Gunn. He would guarantee an eruption by that crazy-horse mountain, huh? He would bring all these governors and their wives and daughters up here just to make a goat of Sacto. All right—this the solemn promise made to a sympathetic crowd in the Occidental bar by Councilman Henny Harkins—all right; no eruption, no pay for Gunn. He was a smart Aleck, this Gunn fella, but he wasn't quite slick enough to get his thousand without delivering the goods.
So matters stood when, on the afternoon of the governors’ second and last day in Sacto, the mysterious stranger with the powder mark over one eye went out of town over the road to Brown Buttes. He went seated on top of the iron-bound packing case with the “Use-no-hooks" signs on it, the case being now in the wagon box of a light auto delivery cart. Before his departure he had a whispered conversation with Simeon C. Gunn.
The farewell ball in the spacious Saleeby mansion was all that anybody, except perhaps the sunshine-fruit-and-flower—fed governors themselves, could demand. The California Silver Cornet Band furnished the music; all the broad veranda overlooking the river was canvassed for dancing; a fairyland of winking lanterns lay among the orange trees. Members of the governors’ committee, designated by broad badges, had now come to the easy, confidential relation of joking with the visiting executives about the eruption which refused to fill an engagement. Each merry quip on the subject of Lassen evoked a tired “Ha, ha!”—short and grudging, like that—from the governor against whom it impinged.
As for Simeon C. Gunn, good angel of unconsidered towns, he was so frankly snubbed by Major Saleeby and the committee members that he did not go near the ballrooms. Instead he sat out under a blossoming orange tree with a sweet young fluffy person and was quite content. From time to time he lit a match to consult the face of his watch, as if he had an engagement in mind, and occasionally his eyes turned out over the river to the east, where lay Brown Buttes, and the recalcitrant Lassen just behind them.
“I think we’re just about due for an eruption,” Gunn murmured, when a fifth match showed him the watch hands at eleven-thirty. “Ah——”
Over in the east, a red glow appeared; first a pin point of blood against the night's curtain, then quickly growing to a wide smear. Little tongues of red flames felt their way higher and higher.
“Oh!” exclaimed the fluffy young thing. “Oh, goodness! But isn't that a little bit low down for Lassen?”
“Hush, sister!” Gunn quickly interposed. “This is a low-down eruption; but it's for the dear governors.”
From the house, meanwhile, excited calls, a rush of dark figures to the veranda rail, high-pitched “Ohs!” and “Ahs!” The red glow in the eastern sky deepened and broadened. A whole flock of vivid sparks—could they be rockets or red-hot bowlders?—arched up from the hot heart of the distant fire core and winked into oblivion. Gunn nodded his head sagely, as one who checks off the specifications of a contract.
“This is going very well, sister,” he purred. “This is going to make a hit.”
As if his words were a cue for a mighty piece of stage business, came then a most unusual noise. It was like driving a fire engine over a tin roof—if one may imagine that circumstance. It was ear-filling, cumulative. Frightened shrieks and squeaks sounded from the crowded veranda.
Then the big kick.
It came first from straight down in the major muscles of the earth—a sharp thrust upward, as if the area whereon Sacto stood was part of a coverlet over the shoulders of a sleeping giant and the sleeper had turned. Then the motion shifted to a sidewise thrust, violent and wavelike. An orange fell squarely on Gunn’s head. The fluffy young person fainted with a sad sigh. In the house of Major Saleeby, every light winked out, and above the creaking of strained timbers and crash of glass arose a pandemonium of shrieks.
All of this was but a prelude—a ruffle of the drums, as it were, to bring the star performer onto the stage. Over in the east, the blackness of night was burned away by a sudden flash of incandescence, and the whole cone of Lassen glowed blood-red in lava light. Hardly to be seen, so dwarfed was it by the greater brilliancy, the puny pinpoint of red in line with Lassen’s flaring beacon but below it—as far below as the summit of Brown Buttes, say—continued to spark fitfully.
So with earthquake and fire came Old Hundred, as advertised.
With the governors, whose private cars could not be hitched onto the mid-night southbound too soon to suit, departed also Simeon C. Gunn, bringer of good to towns. Unfortunately Mr. Gunn was not as pleased as might have been by the cuddling of a check for one thousand dollars against his bosom.
For that thousand was not net. Out of it had to be deducted a matter of three hundred dollars for fireworks, expressage, and the services of a mysterious stranger with a powder mark over one eye.
All of which had been so positively unnecessary, you see.