As the boat swung off from the wharf and slowly made its way down the narrow river, curving like a horse-shoe around its ice-bound banks, Laine, standing in the bow, scanned the scene closely, and wondered if it were but yesterday that he had been in the rush and stir of city life. Straight up from the water the bluff rose boldly. Rays of pale sunlight sent threads of rainbow colors on the snow which covered it, and through the crystal-coated trees, here and there, a stately mansion could be seen overlooking the river. Skimming the water, a sea-gull would now and then dip and splash and rise again in the clear, cold air, and, save for the throb of the engine, there was no sound.
Until the sun had set and darkness made farther scanning of banks and bluff and winding river impossible, Laine walked the deck, hands in pockets, and thought of the morrow and the days ahead. The boat would tie up for the night at Pratt’s Wharf and was due at ten the next morning at Brooke Bank if there was no unusual delay. Suddenly he remembered she had said other friends would be on the boat. Most of the passengers were obviously returning home from a shopping trip to the city, package-laden and bundle-burdened, but two city men he had noticed and then forgotten in the thought of other things. Who were they? He opened the door of the stuffy little cabin and went in. Five minutes later he was at the supper-table and next to the two men who were talking in undertones of former Christmases at Elmwood. They were young, good-looking, and of Claudia’s world. He got up and again went out.
For some time Laine had seen Claudia. Walking up and down the little wharf at the end of the long bridge, railless and narrow, which ran far out into the river, her hands in her muff, the collar of her fur coat turned up, her face unprotected by the brown veil which tied down securely the close-fitting hat, he had seen her a long way off, and as she waved her hand in greeting he lifted his hat and waved it in return.
A few minutes later he was shaking hands with her, with her uncle, with his two fellow-passengers, with a number of other people, and everybody was talking at once. Those on the wharf were calling out to those on the boat, and those on the boat were making inquiries of, or sending messages by those on the wharf, and not until Laine’s hands were again shaken well by Claudia’s uncle as the Essex drew off, did he understand just who was his host.
“A hearty welcome to Virginia, sir! A hearty welcome! We’re happy to have you in our home! Here, Claudia, you drive Mr. Laine in the small sleigh, and I’ll take the boys in the big one. Are you ready? Look at that rascal Jim dancing a horn-pipe instead of filling that wagon! We’re glad to know you, sir, glad to have you!” And for the third time Laine’s hands were shaken well by the ruddy-faced, white-haired old gentleman, with the twinkling, faded blue eyes, and old-fashioned clothes; shaken until they hurt. He was no longer a stranger. The touch of hands, the sound of voice, and a something without name had made him one of them, and that of which he had once been doubtful he knew was true.