The next day we came in sight of the shores of Europe. As we drew near, we passed over multitudes of open boats, river steamers and ships of all kinds, crowded with people. Many of these vessels were unfitted for a sea voyage, but the horrors they fled from were greater than those the great deep could conjure up. Their occupants shouted to us, through speaking-trumpets, to turn back; that all Europe was in ruins. And we, in reply, warned them of the condition of things in America, and advised them to seek out uncivilized lands, where no men dwelt but barbarians.
As we neared the shore we could see that the beaches, wharves and tongues of sand were everywhere black with people, who struggled like madmen to secure the few boats or ships that remained. With such weapons as they had hurriedly collected they fought back the better-armed masses of wild and desperate men who hung upon their skirts, plying the dreadful trade of murder. Some of the agonized multitude shrieked to us for help. Our hearts bled for them, but we could do nothing. Their despairing hands were held up to us in supplication as the air-ship darted over them.
But why dilate upon the dreadful picture that unrolled beneath us? Hamlets, villages, towns, cities, blackened and smoking masses of ruin. The conflicts were yet raging on every country road and city street; we could hear the shrieks of the flying, the rattle of rifles and pistols in the hands of the pursuers. Desolation was everywhere. Some even rushed out and fired their guns viciously at us, as if furious to see anything they could not destroy. Never before did I think mankind was so base. I realized how much of the evil in human nature had been for ages suppressed and kept in subjection by the iron force of law and its terrors. Was man the joint product of an angel and a devil? Certainly in this paroxysm of fate he seemed to be demoniacal.
We turned southward over the trampled gardens and vineyards of France. A great volcanic lava field of flame and ashes—burning, smoking—many miles in extent—showed where Paris had been. Around it ragged creatures were prowling, looking for something to eat, digging up roots in the fields. At one place, in the open country, I observed, ahead of us, a tall and solitary tree in a field; near it were the smouldering ruins of a great house. I saw something white moving in the midst of the foliage, near the top of the tree. I turned my glass upon it. It was a woman, holding something in her arms.
“Can we not take her up?” I asked the captain of the airship.
“We cannot stop the vessel in that distance—but we might return to it,” he replied.
“Then do so, for God’s sake,” I said.