Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

as eighteen people, men, women, and children,--all in flaunting rags,
with a colored scarf here and there, or a gay petticoat, or a scarlet
cap,--perhaps a priest, with broad black hat, in the center,--driving
along like a comet, the poor horse in a gallop, the bells on his
ornamented saddle merrily jingling, and the whole load in a roar of
merriment.

But we shall never get to Vesuvius at this rate.  I will not even
stop to examine the macaroni manufactories on the road.  The long
strips of it were hung out on poles to dry in the streets, and to get
a rich color from the dirt and dust, to say nothing of its contact
with the filthy people who were making it.  I am very fond of
macaroni.  At Resina we take horses for the ascent.  We had sent
ahead for a guide and horses for our party of ten; but we found
besides, I should think, pretty nearly the entire population of the
locality awaiting us, not to count the importunate beggars, the hags,
male and female, and the ordinary loafers of the place.  We were
besieged to take this and that horse or mule, to buy walking-sticks
for the climb, to purchase lava cut into charms, and veritable
ancient coins, and dug-up cameos, all manufactured for the demand.
One wanted to hold the horse, or to lead it, to carry a shawl, or to
show the way.  In the midst of infinite clamor and noise, we at last
got mounted, and, turning into a narrow lane between high walls,
began the ascent, our cavalcade attended by a procession of rags and
wretchedness up through the village.  Some of them fell off as we
rose among the vineyards, and they found us proof against begging;
but several accompanied us all day, hoping that, in some unguarded
moment, they could do us some slight service, and so establish a
claim on us.  Among these I noticed some stout fellows with short
ropes, with which they intended to assist us up the steeps.  If I
looked away an instant, some urchin would seize my horse's bridle;
and when I carelessly let my stick fall on his hand, in token for him
to let go, he would fall back with an injured look, and grasp the
tail, from which I could only loosen him by swinging my staff and
preparing to break his head.

The ascent is easy at first between walls and the vineyards which
produce the celebrated Lachryma Christi.  After a half hour we
reached and began to cross the lava of 1858, and the wild desolation
and gloom of the mountain began to strike us.  One is here conscious
of the titanic forces at work.  Sometimes it is as if a giant had
ploughed the ground, and left the furrows without harrowing them to
harden into black and brown stone.  We could see again how the broad
stream, flowing down, squeezed and squashed like mud, had taken all
fantastic shapes,--now like gnarled tree roots; now like serpents in
a coil; here the human form, or a part of it,--a torso or a limb,--in
agony; now in other nameless convolutions and contortions, as if
heaved up and twisted in fiery pain and suffering,--for there was
almost a human feeling in it; and again not unlike stone billows.  We
could see how the cooling crust had been lifted and split and turned
over by the hot stream underneath, which, continually oozing from the
rent of the eruption, bore it down and pressed it upward.  Even so
low as the point where we crossed the lava of 1858 were fissures
whence came hot air.

An hour brought us to the resting-place called the Hermitage, an
osteria and observatory established by the government.  Standing upon
the end of a spur, it seems to be safe from the lava, whose course
has always been on either side; but it must be an uncomfortable place
in a shower of stones and ashes.  We rode half an hour longer on
horseback, on a nearly level path, to the foot of the steep ascent,
the base of the great crater.  This ride gave us completely the wide
and ghastly desolation of the mountain, the ruin that the lava has
wrought upon slopes that were once green with vine and olive, and
busy with the hum of life.  This black, contorted desert waste is
more sterile and hopeless than any mountain of stone, because the
idea of relentless destruction is involved here.  This great
hummocked, sloping plain, ridged and seamed, was all about us,
without cheer or relaxation of grim solitude.  Before us rose, as
black and bare, what the guides call the mountain, and which used to
be the crater.  Up one side is worked in the lava a zigzag path,
steep, but not very fatiguing, if you take it slowly.  Two thirds of
the way up, I saw specks of people climbing.  Beyond it rose the cone
of ashes, out of which the great cloud of sulphurous smoke rises and
rolls night and day now.  On the very edge of that, on the lip of it,
where the smoke rose, I also saw human shapes; and it seemed as if
they stood on the brink of Tartarus and in momently imminent peril.

We left our horses in a wild spot, where scorched boulders had fallen
upon the lava bed; and guides and boys gathered about us like
cormorants: but, declining their offers to pull us up, we began the
ascent, which took about three quarters of an hour.  We were then on
the summit, which is, after all, not a summit at all, but an uneven
waste, sloping away from the Cone in the center.  This sloping lava
waste was full of little cracks,--not fissures with hot lava in them,
or anything of the sort,--out of which white steam issued, not unlike
the smoke from a great patch of burned timber; and the wind blew it
along the ground towards us.  It was cool, for the sun was hidden by
light clouds, but not cold.  The ground under foot was slightly warm.
I had expected to feel some dread, or shrinking, or at least some
sense of insecurity, but I did not the slightest, then or afterwards;
and I think mine is the usual experience.  I had no more sense of
danger on the edge of the crater than I had in the streets of Naples.

We next addressed ourselves to the Cone, which is a loose hill of
ashes and sand,--a natural slope, I should say, of about one and a
half to one, offering no foothold.  The climb is very fatiguing,
because you sink in to the ankles, and slide back at every step; but
it is short,--we were up in six to eight minutes,--though the ladies,
who had been helped a little by the guides, were nearly exhausted,
and sank down on the very edge of the crater, with their backs to the
smoke.  What did we see?  What would you see if you looked into a
steam boiler?  We stood on the ashy edge of the crater, the sharp
edge sloping one way down the mountain, and the other into the
bowels, whence the thick, stifling smoke rose.  We rolled stones
down, and heard them rumbling for half a minute.  The diameter of the
crater on the brink of which we stood was said to be an eighth of a
mile; but the whole was completely filled with vapor.  The edge where
we stood was quite warm.

We ate some rolls we had brought in our pockets, and some of the
party tried a bottle of the wine that one of the cormorants had
brought up, but found it anything but the Lachryma Christi it was
named.  We looked with longing eyes down into the vapor-boiling
caldron; we looked at the wide and lovely view of land and sea; we
tried to realize our awful situation, munched our dry bread, and
laughed at the monstrous demands of the vagabonds about us for money,
and then turned and went down quicker than we came up.

We had chosen to ascend to the old crater rather than to the new one
of the recent eruption on the side of the mountain, where there is
nothing to be seen.  When we reached the bottom of the Cone, our
guide led us to the north side, and into a region that did begin to
look like business.  The wind drove all the smoke round there, and we
were half stifled with sulphur fumes to begin with.  Then the whole
ground was discolored red and yellow, and with many more gay and
sulphur-suggesting colors.  And it actually had deep fissures in it,
over which we stepped and among which we went, out of which came
blasts of hot, horrid vapor, with a roaring as if we were in the
midst of furnaces.  And if we came near the cracks the heat was
powerful in our faces, and if we thrust our sticks down them they
were instantly burned; and the guides cooked eggs; and the crust was
thin, and very hot to our boots; and half the time we couldn't see
anything; and we would rush away where the vapor was not so thick,
and, with handkerchiefs to our mouths, rush in again to get the full
effect.  After we came out again into better air, it was as if we had
been through the burning, fiery furnace, and had the smell of it on
our garments.  And, indeed, the sulphur had changed to red certain of
our clothes, and noticeably my pantaloons and the black velvet cap of
one of the ladies; and it was some days before they recovered their
color.  But, as I say, there was no sense of danger in the adventure.

We descended by a different route, on the south side of the mountain,
to our horses, and made a lark of it.  We went down an ash slope,
very steep, where we sank in a foot or little less at every step, and
there was nothing to do for it, but to run and jump.  We took steps
as long as if we had worn seven-league boots.  When the whole party
got in motion, the entire slope seemed to slide a little with us, and
there appeared some danger of an avalanche.  But we did n't stop for
it.  It was exactly like plunging down a steep hillside that is
covered thickly with light, soft snow.  There was a gray-haired
gentleman with us, with a good deal of the boy in him, who thought it
great fun.

I have said little about the view; but I might have written about
nothing else, both in the ascent and descent.  Naples, and all the
villages which rim the bay with white, the gracefully curving arms
that go out to sea, and do not quite clasp rocky Capri, which lies at
the entrance, made the outline of a picture of surpassing loveliness.
But as we came down, there was a sight that I am sure was unique.  As
one in a balloon sees the earth concave beneath, so now, from where
we stood, it seemed to rise, not fall, to the sea, and all the white
villages were raised to the clouds; and by the peculiar light, the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com