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A Little Girl's Ascent of Vesuvius

by Katie C. Yorke

 

One beautiful morning we took a carriage and started from Naples on a trip to Mount Vesuvius. We drove along the bay for several miles, and when we reached the foot of the mountain we began to ascend through vast fields of lava, which had flowed there during previous eruptions. I always imagined that lava was white and smooth, but this was of a grayish-black color, and very ragged.

The carriage-road ends at the Observatory, which is a building where a scientific man resides, being appointed by the government to watch the state of the volcano. He can tell when there is going to be an eruption, and always notifies the people.

There we found guides and men with saddled horses waiting to take us to the foot of the cone. After a short ride we reached it, and dismounted, and started up. The cone is so steep, and covered with cinders, that people that are unaccustomed to such walking can't get up it without assistance, because every step you take you slide back several inches. We thought we would be pulled up by the guides, but the rest of the party got tired, and had to be carried on their shoulders. I managed to walk nearly all the way, and when I got tired my guide carried me too.

About half way up we stopped at a cave where some men were waiting to sell us some new Lacrima Christi wine. We drank some, and rested, and went on to the top. When we reached it we were nearly four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and had a beautiful view of Naples, the bay, the islands, the villages, and the surrounding mountains.

We enjoyed the view very much, but every little while the wind would blow a cloud of sulphurous vapor from the crater, and nearly suffocate us. We walked to the edge of the crater and looked down, but we couldn't see much, because of the vapor. One of the guides went down into it a little way, and brought us up some pieces of sulphur. The cinders were so hot they burned our feet, and when we poked sticks into some cavities they caught fire.

The thick vapor annoyed us so that we soon decided to go down. Just as we were starting, the mountain gave a low, deep growl, and trembled under us, so we were very glad to leave. It was great fun going down, because the cinders were so loose that at each step we would slide a long way. Part way down we caught a pale yellow butterfly that was almost stifled by the sulphurous fumes.

When we reached the foot of the cone, we found we had been only twenty minutes coming down, although it took us an hour and a half to go up. No sooner had we arrived at the Observatory than we were surrounded by crowds of ragged, beggarly looking men and boys, who insisted on blacking our shoes, or pretended they had been guides, and tried to make us pay them for things they had never done at all. We ordered them away, but they kept on tormenting us, so we jumped into the carriage, and drove off as fast as we could, leaving them all behind, shouting, screaming, and wildly gesticulating.

Since I was there they have built a railroad up the mountain, but I should not think it would be half so much fun to go up in the cars.