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      Early the next morning, Frank rode to the nearest stable in Morgantown and arranged for two fresh mounts to be brought to the house. He let Rebecca sleep; she had retired the night before exhausted from all the excitement surrounding Christopher's baptism and the attendant party. Kissing both his sleeping wife and infant son goodbye, he made his way quietly downstairs to the kitchen, there to prepare breakfast for his guests.

    Afterward, Frank and his two companions, Cameron Healey and Henry Bevens, rode north along the Monongahela past the Morgantown wharf toward the Baltimore and Ohio bridge several miles up river. A roadway for carriages and pedestrians was suspended from the under structure, a second level passing beneath the railroad right-of-way.

    Frank led his party across the bridge, then paused on the western riverbank.

Turning to Bevens, he asked, "Is that one of your projects, Henry?"

    "No, indeed. I'm afraid it was erected quite a few years before my time. But it's an impressive design, in my opinion, a solid structure. It will probably outlast the rails. Maybe the river, too," he chuckled.

    Henry nodded thoughtfully. It was a little test of his companion's expertise, and he had passed it with ease, with the nonchalance that only a man comfortable with his own competency would display.

    They followed the tracks through the small hamlet of Osage; a few residents were about, but most of the streets were empty. Around this time of day, Frank surmised, the men were busy at work, probably on the river or in Morgantown. At the end of town, the tracks curved in a wide sweep toward the northwest, toward the Pennsylvania border and the pike leading to Pittsburgh seventy miles distant.

    Hills and deep woods lined both sides of the raised roadbed, the foliage lush with mid-summer growth. Off to the left, to the southwest, a high forested slope rose gradually to a wide summit, the tallest peak breasting the hilly topography.

    Frank turned his mount away from the tracks and followed a narrow path toward the mountain. Just then, Cameron drew along side. "Frank, I thought we were heading toward your valley."

    "Oh, we'll get there presently. But first, I want you to see something. It's not that far."

    "Is that your mountain, Frank?" Bevens called out from the rear.

    "Yes it is, Henry. Montague Mountain." Then he added with a grin,"I named it after my son."

    Within an hour, the three riders had reached the base of a sheer cliff extending upward another hundred feet toward the summit.

    "I assume this is the end of our ride," Cameron observed, without much enthusiasm.

    "Well, it would be easier and just as fast if we climbed the rest of the way," Frank said, tethering his horse to a wide maple. "We can walk up. There's a path just off to the right."

    He led their group along the foot of the cliff to a narrow path that led to the summit, slabbing the wall to the left at an acute angle that was gradual enough to ameliorate the steepness of the climb. They stopped occasionally along the way; everyone was winded, and Cameron's legs were not used to the exertion. Too many years sitting behind a school desk, Frank decided.

    After twenty minutes, they stood on top. The summit resembled a peaceful meadow, though perhaps only in miniature. It was blanketed with weeds, stunted grass, and a smattering of wild flowers, all stirring in the mild breeze that had arisen from the north. A few copse of thin evergreen trees, their growth undoubtedly inhibited by strong winds, were scattered about, reminding Cameron of hummocks dotting a southern marsh. A dark, rippling pond spread across the summit's center, and for its outlet a gushing stream tumbled down into the valley below and Montague's mining site.

    Bevens walked over to the lip of the headwall, his eyes following the falling stream.

    "Pretty steep," he observed. "Did you climb up this way, Frank?"

    "Yes, I did. The last time took me about an hour. It's rough and slippery, but if you look around, you'll see that I've installed a few permanent rappel lines to make it easier."

    Bevens studied the rope lines that dangled toward the bottom, skeptically. Only an experienced  climber, physically fit, he decided, would find that method any easier. He walked around the summit, leaving the other two men to their animated conversation. Its dimensions were irregular, he noticed, its edges ill defined. The distance from the  valley headwall, perhaps eight hundred feet high, to the short cliff they had just climbed was relatively shallow, not more than fifty feet at most. Beyond the cliff bottom, the mountain side fell away gradually at a modest grade toward the railroad, probably a mile away. So its front edge was a knife, its back end a smudge. He took a few mental measurements, an ability apparently reserved for engineers, and then traversed the other axis, running east to west. The summit was much longer in this direction, he discovered, but its contours were also less striking. Its width became comparatively narrow on either end as it curved inward and descended rapidly to the pair of ridge lines that formed the valley's walls, much like the arms of the letter 'u.' There was a great deal of noise emanating from the valley floor, but evaluating  the mine work would require a closer look.

    Frank and Cameron had ended their discussion when Bevens approached.

    "Well, Henry, what do you think?" asked Frank.

    "I've seen about enough up here. I'd like to take a look at all that commotion down in the valley. By the way, what were you two so engrossed in?"

    "Some of the legal complications," Cameron replied. "Frank was just describing the particulars in the contract he signed with the Railroad, and I agree with him that both parties to the agreement are on shaky ground. You can't negotiate mineral rights without clear title to the property containing them."

    "So Frank's out of luck?"

    "Not necessarily. That depends on state politics. And things are pretty fluid in Richmond right now."


    The three men retraced their previous path and descended the cliff to the horses waiting below. They rode back to the railroad and again followed the tracks through Osage to the river. Then they turned south, and closely hugging the river bank, continued to the stream junction, in all about a two hour ride. The mouth to Montague's Valley lay a mile further up stream.

    Frank ushered his new friends through the narrow valley entrance, proceeding along the rough track toward the mine portal at the base of the mountain. Much had changed since the day, three long years ago, when he first followed this gurgling stream, tin pan at the ready, a vein of gold in his thoughts. An array of tents, temporary miner living quarters, had been erected upon the grassy plateau. Columns of smoke from cooking fires billowed upward toward the top of the adjacent ridge line. There were piles of coal everywhere, of variable quantity, some of the coal covered with dust and mixed together with an assortment of unidentified, crushed rocks; other piles of coal were shiny and black, evidently freshly washed. But none of it was being moved toward town, not for the moment at any rate.

    As they drew closer to the mine entrance, Frank finally saw his wagons, three of them, fully loaded, being led toward the entrance. He described the problem of transportation to his companions. Suddenly, a blast resounded through the valley. The men were blasting within the portal, Frank explained, a common occurrence throughout the day. Next, the weakened face would be loosened and finally collapsed using pick and axe. The rubble could then be loaded in a smaller, horse led wagon and brought to the washing bins for processing. Lastly, the coal would be classified according to purity and stored in separate piles, awaiting shipment to town.

January 2012

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