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4. 


    The meeting in the Baltimore and Ohio executive offices turned out very differently from what Frank had expected. To his surprise, to say nothing of his pleasure, the Railroad representatives seemed eager to hear the details of his plans, grateful even, that he had come all this way to present such an attractive proposition, one that would profit both of them so handsomely. Why, it was inevitable, preordained you might say, that they should finally be introduced. Surely any delay was due only to finding a mutually convenient time within their busy schedules.

     Once they had dealt with those social amenities, the haggling could begin, but there was not much of it, for they soon reached an agreement: the Railroad would receive, in return for granting access to the valley and its associated mineral rights, twenty-five percent of any future profits, a proportional share that exceeded his first proposal, yes, but was substantially less than the upper limit he held in reserve as a final concession. Of course, no one objected when Frank guaranteed that the Railroad would be used, if access could be arranged, for all of the mine's future transportation needs, particularly when such access would cost them nothing.

    What was really clever about the design of Frank's offer was that he obtained far more than mere mineral rights from the Railroad. He made them a partner with a vested interest in his future success, and when he left the bargaining table, he left not only with a signed contract but also with a check for $25,000, a loan from the Railroad at ten percent annual interest, which if not repaid within ten years, would be convertible, at the Railroad's option, into a twenty percent share of all the mining company's assets. Frank, to his credit, had no intention of dividing ownership in his mining company with the railroad. If the mine were successful, the loan could easily be repaid; if otherwise, then why not invite the Railroad to share in its liabilities as well as its assets, including an opportunity to help satisfy its creditors.

    None of this, however, was as neatly packaged as it might appear on first glance. Frank was no fool. He recognized that he had just signed an agreement with the Railroad that was very likely illegal. As a result of the state's generosity, the Railroad enjoyed an exclusive easement through the valley and its adjacent area, but that privilege almost certainly did not extend to its mineral rights. He would be paying the Railroad for rights they had no right to grant. The Railroad, with its coterie of highly paid lawyers, was obviously aware of those legal shortcomings but chose to ignore the niceties of the law, mere frivolous details when profits were at issue. The arrogance of these corporations! Frank smirked. Well, he had a plan to deal with that little problem, too, but he would need help, something he hoped to obtain in the future. For now, he would pay the Railroad and wait his turn.

 

    Where to next? Why, westward, to be sure, to Pittsburgh and his dear Becky. It would be extravagantly misleading to describe the greeting he received on Nathaniel Lambert's threshold as a jubilant celebration, but to some degree the old man had tempered his previous hostility. Once he had recovered from his astonishment that Frank had actually returned, he began to perceive the young man differently; after all, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had treated him as a serious minded fellow, someone who could be trusted with their property and cash. He had prospects, it would seem.          Nevertheless, Nathaniel was reluctant to consider Frank a suitable potential son-in-law: future prospects were a dubious replacement for present wealth; prospects were little more than a risky promissory note that might prove worthless. Frank did have an impressive bank balance, that was true, but the money belonged to someone else, the Railroad, in fact. The young man was not the well financed mine developer he pretended to be; he was actually a penurious mendicant, a debtor of the Railroad.

    But Rebecca was of a different mind entirely than her overly protective parent. If her father would not bless their marriage, then the couple would elope. She was several years past her majority, and there was legally nothing Nathaniel could do to prevent her from leaving. Faced with his daughter's resolve, he conceded defeat, and a hasty wedding was arranged, for Frank was overdue in West Virginia.

   

    A week later, the newly married couple embarked by steamboat along the Monongahela for Morgantown. Frank was an employee on his previous passage; now, he was a paying passenger. He was returning to his valley with a bride and her piles of luggage; he was also bringing along more money, an additional thirty thousand dollars, investments from Nathaniel Lambert and some of his associates in the lumber industry. What was good for the Railroad was apparently good for all.

    When Frank turned this carriage into the valley, Rebecca became despondent; she was clearly appalled. A campsite on a grassy plateau might have been comfortable living arrangements for a young, carefree bachelor, but it was only a filthy, squalid clearing in a wilderness to a young wife with a gentile background. She was growing more and more disillusioned with each hour spent away from the safe haven of her father's home. No kitchen, only a dirty, coal burning fire. And where were the bathrooms? she sobbed, inconsolably.           

     At that moment, Frank recognized the extent of his own witlessness when dealing with women. How could he bring his new wife to Virginia without first preparing more suitable living accommodations? What was he thinking of? Why, he had hardly given the matter of where they might live any thought at all. They needed a suitable home, he realized, and he better provide one quickly before he lost the one thing he desired above all else; she represented everything he had worked for.

    He quickly offered Rebecca all the reassurances he could summon. They would stay in the valley only overnight. Everything she deserved would be provided as soon as possible. They were only here temporarily to check on things after his long absence. He had not had enough time to prepare something more comfortable and suitable for a beautiful young woman. And so on.

     In the morning, they would ride back to Morgantown and stay in a hotel or perhaps with friends while he arranged for a permanent home. He promised to build her a spacious and luxurious home on this very spot. Well, that was another mistake. Rebecca wanted no part of his coal mine or his wet, rock littered, stream rutted valley. If they were going to stay in western Virginia at all, they would live in a large, cosmopolitan town, one with all the amenities. Like Morgantown, for instance.

    Well, that was decided, then. And for the next four months, Frank and Rebecca stayed in hotels and eventually rented a house in town. Each day, he would ride out to work at his mine while she stayed in Morgantown looking at parcels of real estate for  their new home and consulting with architects on its design. It kept him busy and Rebecca happy although she was spending more money on furnishings than he could earn selling wagon loads of coal, money that might have been more wisely invested in the mine. But there was nothing for it. A man soon learns, as all men must, that the best course is not always the wisest.

January 2012

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