It is interesting to learn that two men stood heroically to their post of duty during the whole scene of the explosion, Professor Matteucci, Director of the Royal Observatory, and his American assistant, Professor Frank A. Perret, of New York. Though the building occupied by them was exposed to the full force of the rain of stones from the burning mountain, they remained undauntedly at their post through that week of terror. On the 14th some of that venturesome fraternity, the newspaper correspondents, reached their eyrie on the highest habitable point on Vesuvius and heard the story of their experiences.
For several days Professors Matteucci and Perret and their two servants had been cut off from the outside world and bombarded by the volcano, their rations consisting of bread, cheese and dried onions, until on Friday a hardy guide was induced to push through to them with some provisions. During the eruption the Professor had kept at his instruments, taking observations day and night and making calculations in the midst of the inferno. Roughly dressed, he looked like a Western cowboy after a hard ride in a dust storm. The portico where he stood was knee deep in ashes, and from the observatory terrace narrow paths had been cut through the ashes, but as far as the eye could reach an ocean of ashes and twisted rivers were alone visible, with Vesuvius rising grimly in the midst. The great monster was enveloped in a cloak of white, as if buried under a snowstorm, its surface being here and there slit with gulches in which lava ran. At the bottom of one of those gulches lay the wrecked remnants of the peninsular railway, a portion of its twisted cable protruding through the ashes. As the correspondents ascended the mountain they were surprised by the apparition of natives, men wrinkled with age, who emerged from dugouts just below the observatory and offered them milk and eggs, just as if they were ordinary visitors to the volcano. As they descended they heard the sound of a mandolin from one of these dugouts. Evidently Vesuvius had no terrors for these case-hardened veterans.
We have already told the story gleaned by the correspondents from the daring scientists. Matteucci completed his record of boldness on Friday, the 13th, by climbing to a point far above the observatory, at the imminent risk of his life, to observe the conditions then existing. From what he says he believed the end of the disturbance near, though he did not venture to predict. As for the ashes, which a light wind was then blowing in a direction away from Naples, he said: “The ill wind is now blowing good to other places, for ashes are the best fertilizer it is possible to use. It is merely a question just now of having too much of a good thing.”