“We climbed on the lava. It was cool above but still alive with fire below. We could see dimly the extent of the destruction beyond the barrier of brown which had enclosed the streets, torn down the houses, invaded the vineyards and broken Cook’s railways. A better idea of the surroundings was obtained at dawn from the railway. We saw north what was left of Bosco Trecase—a great, square stone church and a few houses inland in a sea of dull, brown lava. North and east rose a thousand patches of blue smoke like swamp miasma. All was dull and desolate slag, with nowhere the familiar serpentine forms of the old lava streams. In terrible contrast with the volcanic evidences were strong cypresses and blooming camelias in a neighboring cemetery.
“We ate a hasty luncheon before sunrise, when the great beauty of the scene was revealed. The column now seemed higher and more massive, rising to three times the height of Vesuvius. Each portion had a concentric motion and new aspects. The south edges floating toward the sea showed exquisite curved surfaces, due to the upper moving current. It was like the decoration of the side of a great sarcophagus. As a yellow dust hangs over Naples and hides the volcano, I count myself fortunate to have seen all day from leeward this spectacle of changing, undiminishing beauty.
“The wedge of cultivated land ruined east of the volcano extended at least ten miles, with a width of twenty or thirty miles. Fancy a rich and thickly populated country of vineyards lying under three to six inches of ashes and cinders of the color of chocolate with milk, while above, to the west, the volcano in full activity is distributing to the outer edges of the circle the same fate, and you will get an idea of the desolate impression of the scene, a tragedy colossal and heartrending. Like that of Calabria, it enlists the sympathy of the civilized world. It takes time for such a calamity to be realized.
“Two miles below San Giuseppe we struck cinders which the soldiers were shoveling, making a narrow road for the refugees. Our wagon driver begged off from completing his contract to take us to San Giuseppe. We had not the heart to insist, so the rest of the journey to the railway at Palma, eight miles, was made laboriously on foot for three hours through sliding cinders.
“In many places temporary shelters had been built by the roadside, like children’s playhouses. Here women were huddled with their bedding, awaiting the coming of supplies which the army had begun to distribute. The men were largely occupied with shoveling cinders from the stronger roofs and floors into heaps three to six feet deep along the roadside. Many two-wheeled carts loaded with salvage, drawn by donkeys or pushed by peasants, were making their way along, the women with bundles on their heads or carrying poultry.
“In the square of San Giuseppe was an encampment of soldiers, with low tents. Near a destroyed church, in coarse yellow linen shrouds, were the bodies of thirty-three of the persons who there lost their lives. The peasants were sad, but uncomplaining; in fact, for so excitable a people they were wonderfully calm. As evidence of the thrift and self-respect of these, we were not once asked for alms during the afternoon.”