He was not the only one about the temporary railroad station who eyed the group with curiosity and interest. Two of the travellers were ladies from the bluegrass and scarcely one of all the natives lingering about the workings had ever seen a lady from the bluegrass, while, to the young surveyors and the group of civil engineers who had, for months, been exiled by their work among the mountains from all association with such lovely creatures, it was a joy to stand apart and covertly gaze at them. Many a young fellow, months away from home, who had grasped the newspapers and letters which had come in with the other mail with eager fingers, anxious to devour their contents, had, after the two ladies had descended from the train, almost forgotten his anxiety to get the news from home, and stood there, now, with opened letters in his hands, unread.
The ladies were very worthy of attention, too. Miss Alathea Layson, the elder of the two, was slight, beautifully groomed despite the long and dirty trip on rough cars over the crude road-bed of a newly graded railway. A woman whose thirtieth birthday had been left behind some years before, she still had all the brightness and vivacity of the twenties in her carriage and her manner. Her voice, as it drifted to the young moonshiner, was a new experience to him—soft, well modulated, cultivated, it was of a sort which he had never heard before, and, while it seemed to him affected, nevertheless thrilled him with an unacknowledged admiration.
It was she who showed the greatest disappointment about the general ignorance concerning Layson’s whereabouts, and that voice made instantaneous and irresistible appeal to the older men among the party of engineers and surveyors, who, finding an excuse in her discomfiture, flocked about her, hats off, backs bent in humble bows, proffering assistance, three deep in the circle.
The other lady traveller, whom Miss Alathea called Miss Barbara, more especially attracted the attention of the younger men, and, as they stood aloof to gaze at her, held such mountain dwellers as were near, paralyzed with wonder and admiration. Nothing so brilliantly beautiful as she in form, carriage, face, coloring or dress had ever been seen there in the little valley.
She was a florid girl of twenty, or, perhaps, of twenty-one or two. Her eyes were the obtrusive feature of her face, and she used them with a freedom which held callow youth spellbound. Her gown was more pretentious than that of her more elderly companion. This, of course, was justified by the difference between their ages; but there seemed to be, beyond this, a flaunting gayety about it and her manner which were not, in the eyes of the older and wiser men among the group who watched, justified by anything. It would have been a hard thing for the most critical of them to have definitely mentioned just what forced this strong impression on their minds, but it was forced upon them very quickly. One of them, a cute and keen observer as he was, of many years experience, decided the moot point, though, and whispered his decision to a grizzled man (the engineer in charge of the whole enterprise upon that section of construction) who stood next him.