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10.

  

    Bevens was gone but his legacy remained; a wind of urgency had swept through Frank's mining encampment. Within two weeks, an additional dozen miners had been hired, and more were on the way. Working days had been lengthened, for Frank was determined to stay on the schedule that Bevens had demanded he meet. With all the overtime and the number of new employees, his payroll had more than doubled. Where the money to pay everyone would come from was a mystery that Frank kept pushing to the back of his mind. But he could sense disaster lurking nearby. If he did not find a source of additional funds, and find it soon, the mine would have to close before the end of the month.

    With the supply of money almost depleted, Frank was growing desperate about the  precariousness of his situation. Everyday was a struggle to conceal his uneasiness from others, especially from Rebecca. She had enough responsibilities at home, raising a  son and keeping the household running smoothly. He would do the worrying for both of them. For a while, he considered asking the Railroad for another loan, though he had failed to make a single payment on the first one. But he decided against it. They would almost certainly refuse, and given the state of his finances, they would probably threaten to foreclose as well. For his part, Frank preferred to close the mine rather than forfeit ownership to a group of creditors who had invested money but nothing of themselves.

    A week before, Frank finally admitted, at least to himself, that he needed help. The mine had grown well beyond his ability to manage everything. He decided to offer Henry Bevens a job, but in lieu of a salary he could not afford to pay, Frank would offer him a fifteen per cent share of the mine. It went against every grain of his nature to share the mine with anyone, but quite simply he did not know what else to do.

    When he sat down to write to Bevens, he suddenly realized that he had no idea where he was or how to contact him. He left Morgantown for Washington, that much was known, but the details of his destination were never disclosed. The Capitol was a large city, an easy place to disappear. Bevens had been working for the Brewster Mining Company up in Pennsylvania, not far away, and he may have lived nearby in Uniontown, but Frank did not have a personal address. He would have to send his letter to Brewster Mining and hope that his employer forwarded it to Bevens wherever he was, assuming, of course, that even they knew. Then Frank was informed of his whereabouts. Rebecca told him.

    Rebecca waited several days before she felt comfortable opening the envelope that Bevens had left on the foyer table the day he left. He had requested that she open it later. She decided to define that term for herself. But even that extended waiting period did not prepare her for its contents. She was stunned. The envelope contained a roll of bills, five hundred dollars in all, to help pay for Christopher's future education. Why, they hardly knew the man, and he was sharing his hard earned savings. He also enclosed a short letter, wishing them well and thanking them for sharing both their home and family with a lonesome stranger. He asked her to contact him if ever she were in need. And he left an address in Washington where he would be staying. At first, Rebecca blushed as most young women would. Was Henry a little sweet on her, she wondered. Then she realized that Henry's affections toward her were meant to be shared with Frank and Christopher. It was easier to express those feelings to a woman. That was the way men were, and she was wise enough to know the difference.                                                                                                                  

    That was more than a month ago, and Frank had heard nothing since. In the meantime, work on mine development continued: the portal was widened to thirty feet, and narrow gauge tracks were being laid from the yard into the tunnel. The rails  extended about halfway to the working face, which had reached six hundred feet beyond the entrance.        

    To Frank's complete surprise, they were making amazing progress, far in excess of his most optimistic plans. They were advancing into the mountain at the rate of more than fifteen feet a day, just as Bevens thought they could. They could go even faster if Frank could hire more workers. Work on the face had to stop every five feet until new support beams could be nailed in place and davy lights strung along the entry. At this rate, the rail laying crew would soon catch up with the miners at the face. Best of all, they had increased production; they were moving coal faster out of the valley, but the piles were growing ever higher with each day's advance. If only Bevens were here, Frank lamented, they could divide the problems between them. Bevens, after all, in Frank's opinion, was a genius.

    Well, maybe Bevens was a genius, but if that were true, it had never been proven. Henry Bevens was a fine civil engineer, that much had been established by the dozens of sturdy bridges he had helped build along the Baltimore and Ohio right-of-way, from Ohio to the Atlantic Ocean. But as far as coal mining was concerned, he had less practical experience than Frank, the fellow on whom he had showered a wealth of information: a potpourri of facts, theories, rumors, and conjectures that when mixed together might produce a successful coal mine or an unbalanced edifice on the brink of collapse and ruin. Which outcome was the most likely? Only time would determine the final result. Bevens was experimenting with coal mine design more than he was applying knowledge gained over years of experience. So Bevens was a good man, but he was also a man with a weakness, an overconfidence in his own abilities. Years afterward, mining engineers would study his designs and shake their heads in wonderment. How such exotic, unique configurations as his layers and spirals ever survived over the years without breaking down into a pile of rubble was a subject more worthy of study than the design itself. This much may be said: If a qualified, experienced coal mining engineer had designed the Montague Mine, it would never have been built in the way that it was; but if it were not for Henry Bevens, it seems equally likely that the Montague Mine would never have been built at all. There is a line of demarcation between a visionary and a fool, and sometimes it is hard to tell where it lies.

    Three of the most important people in Frank Montague's life, Rebecca, Henry Bevens, and Cameron Healey had helped play a part in the birth of the Montague Mine. He was about to meet another one.

January 2012

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