Frank helped Rebecca clear away the dishes and utensils from lunch. He had arrived home with his friends several hours before; the three of them had ridden out from the mine at sunrise, not stopping for breakfast. In a few hours, Bevens would be leaving by train for Washington, D.C. This would probably be Frank's last opportunity to ask him for any further advice.
"Gentlemen, would you care to join me for coffee and cigars on the veranda?"
Frank stood and motioned for the others to follow him to the wide, columned porch running along the back of the house. Once they were comfortably seated in wicker chairs, Hopkins emerged from inside the house bearing a tray with cups of steaming hot coffee and a freshly opened box of cigars from North Carolina. He was a black servant but no slave; he worked for wages and lived in his own quarters in town. Frank rarely talked about politics during his business dealings. He was a Yankee, both by birth and by conviction, a fervent abolitionist, but he felt that others, especially people like Cameron, might have different views given the circumstances of their upbringing; consequently, he carefully avoided raising the topic of slavery during any of their conversations.
The three men sipped their coffee and puffed on their cigars whilst enjoying the Monongahela River panorama enfolding beneath their bluff top vantage point. Today was Saturday, and the river was filled with leisure craft, both graceful sailboats and skiff, headed down current toward Fairmont. Only a few commercial vessels, one steamboat and two barges, made an appearance.
Frank was waiting for an appropriate moment when he could ask Bevens a few more questions, but Cameron interrupted their meditative silence first."Frank, how will those boats get back? They can't possibly sail or row back upriver."
"Oh, there's quite a bustling maritime business hauling vessels back from Fairmont and points south. The smaller craft will be taken by wagon overland to their home docks; the larger ones will be ferried back by steamboat. You'll get used to seeing the activity around here."
Then he turned to Bevens. "You've given me a lot of information, Henry."
"Indeed I have, Frank. So much of it, in fact, that you're about to ask me where you should start."
"Henry, I do believe you're a clairvoyant."
"You've got to pick up the pace. Hire more workers. That would be the place to begin. It's imperative that you reach the center of the mountain as soon as possible. Let's see, you've covered, what, forty feet during the past year? That kind of progress won't do at all. Set a schedule and a goal.
"Reach the center of the mountain in three months. That means digging thirty feet a day."
"Henry, I won't be able to move that fast even if I double the number of miners I have now."
"Well, probably not. Then go for something more attainable, say fifteen feet a day. That will double the necessary time to six months. It's a longer period than I'd like to see, but you should be able to maintain the pace. Nevertheless, try to accomplish more. Remember, getting that coal to market as rapidly as possible is critical.
"As I'm sure you noticed, I took some measurements yesterday. Your mine entrance is about fifteen feet wide. It's too narrow. Widen it to at least twenty feet; thirty feet would be even better; in fact, make it thirty. You'll need the space later, so you might as well do it now while it's easier. On the other hand, your roof is about eight feet high. As you go forward, lower the height to seven feet. You won't need the extra clearance. And start laying mine rail, from the entrance to the furthest point of progress. Keep extending the right-of-way as you proceed. You'll need double tracks, one for each direction, inby and outby. Eventually, you'll need additional portals, for ventilation and emergency escape routes, too, but keep it simple for now: widen and extend the tunnel to the center as soon as possible and lay tracks as you go."
"What about the central shaft for the elevator and hoist?"
"Don't worry about it for a while. It won't take three months to drill down to the valley level. But you might begin thinking about getting the railroad up to your future processing plant. It would be much easier to carry the cable drum and drilling equipment by steam rather than haul it by wagon. That's all I can think of for now, Frank, but if something else comes up, you can ask me later."
"Henry, I wish I could convince you to stay."
"Ah, but you can't. I'm on a quest, you know."
Bevens reached into his pocket and withdrew his silver watch. He flipped it open and handed it to Frank. A recent photograph of a young, but very average looking woman, had been inserted into the lid.
Frank studied the image: sweet but homely, he thought. "She's lovely, Henry. I can see why you're anxious to leave."
"Oh, I know Alice is no great beauty," he smiled, "certainly not along side your Rebecca, but thank you anyway. She suits me, I would say, and tells me she's fallen in love. That's enough for me. It should be enough for any man, in my opinion."
"So you plan to marry. What comes next?"
"I do plan to marry. Where Alice and I end up next has yet to be decided. I still have my job with Brewster, so I may be back this way again. Or I may move on. I just can't say right now."
Well, Frank was disappointed, but he understood how Bevens felt; he had followed the same path himself a few years earlier.
"So you're packed?"
"Yes. I had my luggage sent round to the station earlier. I should take my leave now; I don't want to miss the only train today."
Bevens bade his goodbye to Rebecca and her son privately, thanking her for their gracious hospitality. He had immensely enjoyed his stay, he wanted her to know, and he was leaving a little gift for Christopher, an envelope on the foyer table. He would prefer that she open it later. Then he left the house, presumably for the last time, and went outside to the road where Frank and Cameron were waiting in the utility wagon for the half hour ride to the Morgantown station.
The three friends stood silently on the platform as the passenger train approached from the northwest, clanging noisily and hugging the very same tracks they had ridden along together, only one day previously, on the way to climb Montague Mountain.
Before climbing on board, Bevens shook their hands, warmly. "I hate to leave, I really do. I feel that I've made two good friends for the rest of my life even though we've not known each other long. I'll miss both of you."
He turned away, mounted the steps and boarded, waving farewell from the entrance to his sleeping compartment. Then abruptly, with a blast of steam accompanied by the screech of metal shoes breaking free, the train began to lurch forward, the giant locomotive wheels starting to rotate, grinding ferociously against the steel rails. As the passenger train pulled out of Morgantown, gathering speed, Frank watched it leave, the engine belching a trial of grey-black coal smoke, until it finally disappeared from view, around the wide curve that turned sharply toward eastern Virginia. Then he was gone.
Frank and Cameron stood on the platform without speaking, each alone in his thoughts. Then they walked to the end of the station where the wagon was waiting and rode home.