The Italian Government did all it could at the moment to alleviate the horrors of the situation, sending money to be expended in relief work and dispatching high officials of the government to give aid and encouragement by their presence. The King, Victor Emmanuel, and Queen Helene reached the scene of destruction as early as possible and lent their personal assistance to the work of rescue.
Obliged to leave his automobile, which could not move over the cinder-choked road, the King went forward with difficulty on horseback, the animal floundering through four feet of ashes, stumbling into holes, and half blinded by the fall of dust and cinders.
“How did you escape?” he asked a priest whom he met in his journey.
“I put myself in safety,” was the reply.
“What do you mean?” asked the King.
“Realizing the danger, I left Nola.”
“What!” cried the King, with a flush of anger. “You, a minister of God, were not here to share the danger of your people and administer the last sacraments? You did very wrong and forgot your duty.”
Reaching Ottejano, the King did what he could to expedite the work of rescue at that central point of disaster, more than a hundred dead bodies being taken from the ruins in his presence. He stood with set pale face watching the removal of the victims and directing the movement of the workers. During his visit at the front he inspected the temporary camp hospitals, in which the soldiers were caring for the injured and suffering, speaking to the poor victims, giving them what comfort he could, and asking what he could do to relieve their distress. Every request or desire was received with sympathy and orders given to have it fulfilled.
A pitiful scene took place when the King bent over a poor man, whose right leg had been amputated, and asked what he could do to comfort and aid him in his affliction.
“Send me my son, who is serving as a soldier,” said the maimed peasant.
The King, visibly affected, clasped the old man’s hand and exclaimed:
“My poor fellow! I can do much, but to grant your request would mean breaking the laws, which I must be the first to respect. I would give anything I have were it possible by so doing to send your son to you, but I cannot do so.”
While the King was thus engaged at the scenes of desolation, Queen Helene visited the charitable institutions at Naples and inspected the places where the refugees were housed, doing what she could to improve conditions and add to the comfort of the sufferers. The Princess of Schleswig-Holstein, who was in Naples, made an automobile visit to the afflicted towns, but the motor broke down, and she was forced to return on foot, walking a distance of twelve miles through the ashes and displaying a power of endurance that surprised the natives.