The "Leopold," a splendid Tuscan steamer plying between Marseilles and Naples, had just doubled Procida Point. The passengers, cured of their sea-sickness by the sight of land, most efficacious of all remedies, were all out on deck. On the part reserved for the first-class passengers, stood a number of Englishmen endeavoring to get away as far as possible from each other and to trace around themselves a circle none might venture to enter. Their splenetic faces were carefully shaven, their cravats had not a wrinkle, their shirt collars, white and stiff, looked like triangles of Bristol board, their hands were protected by brand-new Suede gloves, and their new boots shone with Lord Elliot's blacking. They looked as if they had just emerged from one of the compartments of their dressing-cases, for in their correct get-up there were visible none of the little disorders of dress which are the usual consequences of travel.
There were noblemen, members of Parliament, city merchants, tailors from Regent Street, and cutlers from Sheffield, all proper, grave, motionless, and bored. Nor were ladies wanting, for Englishwomen are not sedentary like the women of other lands, and the smallest pretext suffices to justify their leaving their island. By the side of the great ladies and of the wives of commoners, somewhat ripe beauties, with blotchy faces, bloomed, their faces half concealed by their blue veils, maidens with complexions of milk and roses, with shimmering golden tresses, and long white teeth, recalling the favourite types of "Keepsakes," and proving that english engravings are not so untrue to life as if often said. These lovely creatures repeated, each in turn, with the most delightful British accent, the obligatory "Vedi Napoli e poi mori;" perused their Murray or wrote down their impressions of travel upon their note-books, without paying the least attention to the glances of a number of would-be Don Juans from Paris who roamed about in their vicinity, while the angry mammas grumbled about French impropriety.
On the edge of the aristocratic quater-deck, strolled, while smoking their cigars, three or four young fellows whose straw or felt hats, sack-coats with huge horn buttons, and duck trousers, made it easy to recognise as artists, a fact confirmed by the mustaches a la Rubens, or cropped short a la Paolo Veronese. Inspired by very different motives they also were tying, like the dandies, to catch a glimpse of the beauties whom their lack of wealth forbade their approaching more closely, and these efforts somewhat interfered with their enjoyment of the magnificent panorama outspread before them.
In the bows of the vessel, leaning against the bulwarks or seated on coils of rope, were grouped the third-class passengers, engaged in consuming the provisions uneaten on account of the sea-sickness, and casting not one glance upon the finest view in the world, for the feeling of nature is the privilege of cultivated minds which are not absorbed wholly by the material needs of life.
The weather was fine; the blue waves rolled broadly on with scarce power enough to efface the ship's wake. The smoke from the funnel, forming clouds in the glorious heavens, blew away softly in cottony flakes, and the paddle-wheels, revolving in an iridescent diamond spray, churned the water with joyous activity as if aware of the proximity of the harbour.
Already the purple lines of hills that, from Posilipo to Vesuvius, encircle the wondrous gulf at the upper end of which Naples lies like a sea-nymph resting and drying herself after her bath, were becoming more distinct and stood out more plainly against the brilliant azure of the heavens. Already a few white spots, showing on the darker background of the land, indicated the presence of towns scattered along the countryside. The sails of the homeward-bound fishing-boats slipped along the smooth blue waters like swans' feathers blown by the breeze, and spoke of human activity upon the majestic solitude of the sea.
Very soon the Castle of Saint-Elmo and the Convent di San Martino came out distinctly on the crest of the mountain on which stands Naples, showing about the domes of the churches, the terraces of the hotels, the fronts of the palaces, and the verdure of the gardens, that were yet but faintly visible through a luminous haze. Then the Castello dell' Ovo, squatting on its foam-flecked reef, seemed to approach the steamer, and the pier with its lighthouse drew near like an arm holding a torch.