On The Shoulders.
In The Chair.
In fifteen min-utes we had reached the edge of the crater. Below us was a monstrous cauldron, half a mile in width and hundreds of feet deep. When the white smoke allowed us to observe the sides of the abyss, we saw that they were colored yellow, red, and purple, like the walls of the Grand Canon of the Yellowstone. The ground around the crater was so hot that the soles of our boots were scorched, and a stick thrust an inch or two below the surface burst into a flame. Clouds of sulphurous smoke rolled up from the great void, continually. At intervals of two or three minutes, a dull explosion was heard below, a sheet of flame flashed before us like a fiery curtain, and red-hot stones were hurled to a height of seventy feet above our heads. These usually fell back into the crater; but twice they came beyond the edge, and struck the cone so near to us that we beat a hasty retreat. I thought then, and I still think, that when the mountain is as active as it was that summer, no matter what the guides may say, there is a risk in going to the crater; and when at night, from our hotel in Naples, we watched the showers of rocks shoot up like red-hot shells into the vault of night, we shuddered as we remembered how near we had stood to them a few hours before. Only two weeks after our departure from Naples Vesuvius showed again its fearful power of destruction. Once more a gaping wound burst open in the monster's side, and from it molten lava poured forth in a fiery flood. The very carriage road over which we had driven fifteen days before was covered with a lurid stream three hundred feet in breadth. As, day by day, in northern Europe we read accounts of this eruption, how deeply we regretted that it had not taken place a fortnight earlier. But as it was, we saw enough to appreciate the words of Goethe, when he compared Vesuvius to a peak of hell rising out of Paradise.
Looking Into The Crater.
From the volcano we naturally made our way to the most interesting of its victims, - Pompeii. I shall always remember the moment, when, having left our carriage outside in the dusty thoroughfare I stood, for the first time, before the ancient entrance to the buried town. I felt as if I were assisting at a miracle; for I was standing on the threshold of a resurrected city, and was about to see the incarnation of antiquity. Spectres of human beings have, it is said, appeared at various times and places in this world, but only here can one behold the ghost of a metropolis. The world has only one Pompeii.
Railway And Valley.
A Pompeian Street.
We passed on through the ancient gate, which formerly was the principal exit to the sea, and found ourselves in one of the Pompeian streets. The first impression made upon me by this city was that of amazement at its preservation. Eighteen hundred years since it was filled with joyous life? Impossible! At the first glance one might conclude it had been ruined only half a century ago. Pompeii has risen from the grave and cast aside part of her ashen burial robe, and, although dead, is still almost as well preserved as when she was entombed. Instinctively I looked around me here for people, but neither in the buildings nor in the streets appeared a single living being. I listened, but these desolate pavements gave echo to no footsteps save our own. The second impression made upon me by Pompeii was that of silence.
The Marine Gate.
Forum And Arch.
Its stillness haunted roar; but all these miles of empty streets were speechless and the houses tenantless. Under a burning sun there was no dust; within the ruts there rolled no chariot wheels. In the gay colonnades and courts to right and left we heard no music and no laughter; yet, after all, we would not have it otherwise. The genius of Pompeii is Solitude, - the natural guardian of all ruins, without which we could never feel the fascination of their history. Meantime, the original buildings were around us everywhere. It is true only their lower stories remain, for the upper portions, chiefly made of wood, were set on fire and consumed by live ashes from Vesuvius; and yet this is the same pavement on which the old Pompeians passed when Jesus walked in Galilee; and here, raised to a level with the curb, are the ancient stepping-stones, pressed often, doubtless, by the sandaled feet of fair Pompeian ladies. Between them, also, are the marks made by the wheels of vehicles, and cut perhaps more deeply on the fatal night when all were fleeing for their lives.