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5.

    Eighteen months after arriving in Monongalia County as a new bride, Rebecca Montague woke early one morning just before dawn, soaked with perspiration, feeling weak and nauseated. It might be a stomach infection, she suggested gently to her worried husband. But that was just an evasion; she had seen the signs before in other women. Even so, she was determined to keep her suspicions to herself. Two months later a doctor confirmed what she already knew: she was pregnant with their first child.

    Frank had finally taken leave of his work at the mine to finish their home on a bluff overlooking the eastern banks of the Monongahela, a mile south of Morgantown. He was proud of the work that Rebecca had accomplished in designing and furnishing the house, but as the framing began, his help was needed to supervise the carpenters and masons, work more appropriate for a man experienced in dealing with tradesmen.

    It had become easier these days to leave the mine in other hands, at least for relatively short periods of time. He had employees now, thirty-two miners and a foreman to direct their work. The mine entrance had been widened and extended almost twenty-five feet into the mountain's interior, thick timbers reinforcing the ribs and overburden along its length. More coal was being produced than ever, but getting his heavy laden wagons to the markets in town was just as difficult as always.

    Financial worries began to dominate Frank's every conscious moment. They were living profligately, spending well beyond their income, but Frank refused to impose any constrains upon Rebecca. She was so enthusiastic about decorating their home that he wanted nothing to dampen her happiness, nor did he want anything to interfere with the birth of a healthy child.

    It was true that the house, now considered one of the finest homes in Monongalia County, was expensive to furnish and maintain, but placing an emphasis on their living expenses in town was really a diversion, an excuse for Frank to avoid confronting the real source of their problems. The cost of operating the mine, buying supplies, tools and raw materials, meeting weekly payrolls, and paying the Railroad their due was simply smothering them in debt. He had long since exhausted their original financial reserves, his own savings and the loans from the Railroad and Rebecca's family; facing  bankruptcy, he had no recourse but to borrow more, and borrow he did to the end of his dwindling credit, an astounding happenstance since he had yet to repay a dollar of interest or principal to any of his many lenders. It was all a matter of cash flow insufficiency, really. His workers were removing coal from Montague Mountain at a satisfactory pace, but it was lying about the valley in piles waiting days for an empty wagon.

    That a solution to Frank's dilemma revealed itself just in time to avoid ruin is hardly a mystery uncovered; otherwise this narrative would have ended prematurely. And it has already been established that such an unfortunate outcome never occurred. Well, all of that is true, but the providence of Frank's salvation, if not exactly stupefying in itself, was certainly unpredictable.

   

    The solution came bound together with a blessing. Christopher Montague, named after his paternal grandfather, a grocer in Reading Pennsylvania, was born in Morgantown, Virginia on May 16, 1857. He was a beautiful, robust baby as one might have anticipated given the grace and beauty of his mother, which is not to slight Frank's appearance; he was handsome enough but attractive in a rough and tumble down sort of way, lacking altogether the delicate features of his wife.

    Now the baptism of such a special child, Frank and Rebecca reasoned, should fall on a special occasion, and so they chose a day of double celebration, the following fourth of July; Christopher would share the circumstances of his baptism with the birth of his country.

    Following services at the Morgantown Congregational Church, all the guests were invited back to Frank's and Rebecca's home for an enormous feast. Food and drink were plentiful; an unbroken succession of musicians, the most talented in the area, provided continuous entertainment. It was on this occasion that Frank was introduced, separately, to a pair of men who would both make important contributions to Frank's undertaking at the Montague Mine and share his destiny as well.

    Cameron Healey was a newly minted attorney who had just arrived in town from New Haven, Connecticut banishing a law degree from Yale University. He was born and bred in Spartanburg, South Carolina but the years spent in northern schools had not dented his southern accent nor sullied his graceful manners. Cameron was less than average height, perhaps five feet six or seven inches, with wavy blond hair and a tendency to burden his carriage with a few excess pounds. He was a true southern gentleman, exuding charm from every breathing pore.

    He was also incomparably brilliant, a talented, gifted lawyer only twenty-five years old who still sought a goal that might sharpen the purpose of his life. Cameron had been offered a position with a firm in Fairmont, but he was still interested in learning more about Frank's coal mining enterprise, for it seemed to Cameron that justice was more fully served when adventure and speculation reaped riches than when steady, dependable work supported a comfortable life.

   

    The second fellow that Frank met that memorable afternoon was Henry Bevens, a civil engineer from Columbus, Ohio who had previously worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, of all companies, designing bridges between Baltimore and Philadelphia, a job that he left after only two years: the work was tedious and unrewarding, the pay, given his education and experience, marginal at best.

    For the last four years, he had been working as an engineer for the Brewster Mining Company in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a community not far from the Virginia border. The coal mining industry was growing prodigiously, he explaining, and mining engineering was a new discipline; he wanted to be there at its birth.

    Of all the guests at the party, Henry was the only one not to have received a personal invitation. As it turned out, he was on vacation and traveling to Washington, D.C. to visit his fiancee. He disembarked in Morgantown to buy a rail ticket, and since it was Sunday, he decided to attend the first church service he happened upon. When the entire congregation was invited to the celebration at Frank's house, Henry, in a good-natured way, followed the crowd and was enjoying the party immensely. He was now thirty-one years old.

    Both men seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Frank's mining business and were willing to offer their opinions about his difficulties in moving extracted coal to market. At his invitation, both agreed to stay at his home and visit the mine the following Monday morning. 

January 2012

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