ON THE "EOLUS." T was on one of the cool, brilliant days which early June brings to the Narragansett country, that the steamer "Eolus" pushed out from Wickford Pier on her afternoon trip to Newport. The sky was of a beautiful translucent blue; the sunshine had a silvery rather than a golden radiance. A sea-wind blew up the Western Passage, so cool as to make the passengers on the upper deck glad to draw their wraps about them. The low line of the mainland beyond Conanicut and down to Beaver Tail glittered with a sort of clear-cut radiance, and seemed lifted a little above the water. Candace Arden heard the Captain say that he judged, from the look of things, that there was going to be a change of weather before long.
Captain Peleg King was a great favorite on his line of travel. He had a pleasant, shrewd face, grizzled hair, a spare, active figure; and he seemed to notice every one of his passengers and to take an interest in them.
"Going down to Newport, Miss?" he said to Candace, after giving her one or two quick looks.
The question was superfluous, for the "Eolus" went nowhere else except to Newport; but it was well-meant, for the Captain thought that Candace seemed lonely and ill at ease, and he wished to cheer her.
"Yes, sir," she answered, shyly.
"Your folks there for the summer?" he went on.
"No, sir; I'm going to stay with my cousin Mrs. Gray."
"Mrs. Courtenay Gray you mean, I guess. Well, it's queer, but I sort er thought that you favored her a little. She's down early this year. I fetched her and the family across on my evening trip more 'n two weeks ago. Mrs. Gray's a mighty nice lady; I'm always pleased when she comes aboard. Wouldn't you like to take a seat in the wheel-house, Miss? The wind's blowing pretty fresh."
Candace was not aware that this was a distinguishing attention which the Captain did not pay everybody, and which she owed partly to her connection with Mrs. Gray and partly to her solitary look, which had touched Captain Peleg's benevolent heart. He had a girl of his own "over to Wickford," who was about the same age; and it made him "kind of tender" toward other girls who didn't seem to have any one to look after them. But the wind was fresh, and it was pleasant to be spoken to and noticed by some one on this, the first long journey of her short life; so she thankfully accepted the Captain's invitation, and let him escort her along the deck, and assist her to mount the two steps which led into the wheel-house.
It was rather a pleasant-looking place in which she found herself. Three sides of the little enclosure were lined with windows, through which the green shores, which seemed to be rapidly drifting past them, could be seen. The fourth side was filled with a long cushioned bench. In the middle of the glassed front was the big brass wheel, shining with polish and friction, and revolving artistically in the hands of its steersman, who kept his eye fixed alternately on the water and on his compass. There seemed to be no regulation against speaking to this "man at the wheel," or if there were, it was not strictly regarded; for two young ladies, who were already ensconced in one corner of the long seat, were plying him with all manner of questions....