"I wrote to Henry, you know, seven or eight weeks ago," Frank began,"but he never answered. It seems he's disappeared."
"Yes, I heard about that," Cameron replied.
"You did?" Frank looked up, surprised. He wondered how Cameron knew; the two of them had not spoken since the day Bevens left Morgantown for Washington.
"Yes. I received a letter from Henry several weeks ago. I suppose I assumed that you had received one as well."
"No. I've heard nothing, I'm afraid." Frank was taken aback. He thought that he was the link between Bevens and Cameron. He never thought that a separate, perhaps closer, friendship might have risen between them.
"Alice broke their engagement."
"Apparently there was someone else, a naval officer. I don't know the details. As you can imagine, Henry was heartbroken, devastated, really."
"Yes, I'm sure he was. Henry told me they were deeply in love. What happened next?"
"The rest is a little foggy. He resigned his position with Brewster; he didn't want to return to Pennsylvania, bad memories and all. He said he heard from you and asked me to extend his best wishes to you and your family. That's about all; it was a short letter. No return address, by the way. It was mailed from a Western Union office in Washington. I tend to agree with you. Henry has disappeared, which is, under the circumstances, exactly what he would have wanted to do."
"Then there's nothing to be done about it at present."
"Nothing," Cameron echoed his sentiments.
Frank stood and poured both of them another drink. Then he began to describe the particulars of the contract he had signed with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Cameron listened carefully without interrupting. It was important to him, as an attorney, to hear Frank's perceptions of the agreement.
Next, he passed to more pressing matters: the disastrous state of his financial affairs. He was nearly dead broke, completely loaned out without any prospects of obtaining more. If he did not receive a substantial infusion of new cash, the mine would close in a week, and he would have to declare personal bankruptcy. More than the mine, he was worried about keeping their home.
"All right, Frank. I didn't realize the magnitude of the problems. I'm worry we didn't speak sooner.
"First of all, you've got to limit your personal liability with the mine, keep your business and private lives separate. Right now, as I understand it, the mine is organized as a partnership between you and the Railroad. Yes, I realize that you have the majority interest. It is essential that you legally incorporate the mine at once. Of course, that means that you'll have to obtain the Railroad's permission, but that shouldn't be difficult once they recognize the extent of the mine's indebtedness. They probably think that they're the only creditors. Incorporation will protect them as well.
"Secondly, you have to secure the mineral rights to the property. The best way to achieve that would be to purchase the property outright; then you wouldn't be at the mercy of the state's changing political tides. But that can't be done directly. The state owns the property, but the Railroad controls it. You're no more than a transient as far as they're concerned.
"Now we come to the tricky part. As you've correctly pointed out, the contract between you and the Railroad is blatantly illegal. The Railroad has easement but not title. They can use the land but not convey it. If they found a band of hoboes squatting there, they would have to ask the state to evict them. They can't exercise domain over something they don't own."
"Are you suggesting that I take them to court and try to have the contracted abrogated?"
"No, Frank, that wouldn't really help very much even if you obtained a favorable decision. The contract would be declared void and your fictitious mineral rights would revert back to the state, the rightful owners of the property. The Railroad would be unaffected; they would retain their easement. Getting that revoked is next to impossible. The Commonwealth of Virginia, for their part, could then order you off the property as a trespasser."
"Without any legal recourse?"
"None, not in this case. There is precedent for claiming ownership of the property since you've been resident for several years and have invested substantial funds in the mine's development. The problem there, though, is that conveyance is prohibited so long as the Railroad maintains its easement."
"Could they surrender the easement back to the state?"
"Yes! Good thinking, Frank. That is precisely what I had in mind. The Railroad renounces the easement, thus clearing the title, and you claim the property."
"Great! How do we get started, Cameron."
"Well, not very easily. People will have to be diverted from their present path. That will probably involve a bride or two."
"Couldn't I go to prison?"
"Yes. You would be breaking the law. But accepting a bride is wrongdoing,too; for government officials, it's malfeasance, a term that comes with a nasty roster of criminal penalties. So involving a few minor functionaries in your shenanigans will gain you some extra protection. It's highly improbable that anyone remotely involved would bring charges; they would implicate themselves.
"So how should I proceed?"
"Go to the Railroad and ask them to surrender their easement. In return, offer them a bribe. Well, use a masquerade. Call it a one time payment as compensation to tear up the contract and relinquish the easement. Also agree to pay them a bonus for extending the period of repayment on your loan. I'm sorry, old chap, but this will require more cash. Believe me, it's the only way.
"How much have you paid them so far on their partnership interest?"
"Excellent! That just provides more incentive for them to accept your offer. Why continue to carry a bad investment?
"Then you go to the state and file a claim on the property based on the items we touched on before. More money, unfortunately, will have to pass hands. The cooperation of a few feudal lords will be necessary to bring this about, but probably not too much. Everything they gain from the transaction is a bonus; the amounts are negotiable. You may also have to actually purchase the property if the ownership claim itself is disallowed. The specific procedure to be followed in order to achieve title doesn't really matter; the results are what count."
"All that sounds fine, Cameron, but I don't have any money."
"I was about to come to that. I may be able to help a little with financing. I've made quite a few business connections in town and my family has more. I suggest two things: first, let's use those contacts for new loans; second, let's sell stock in the mine. I know you'd like to preserve sole proprietorship in the mine with the Railroad only as a silent partner, but sacrifices are necessary for survival. The key to everything is Henry's plan for shipping the coal to market. If that's successful, the funds will be available to pay off the loans and buy back the stock from the investors. Strictly speaking, all the stock offerings will be illegal anyway. You can't sell stock in an unincorporated business, and you very likely have no more interests that haven't already been spoken for that can still be sold. Too many pieces of the business have been guaranteed to too many parties at this point.
"But you need the money immediately, before incorporation can be completed; there simply won't be enough time for the legal niceties. Sell the stock now, get the funds, and hold off the creditors: everything else will fall into place. Eventually-provided we manage to avoid prison.
"Anymore questions for now?"
"No, Cameron. You've certainly given me a lot to think about."
"Yes, I have. But don't think about it too long; there isn't much time, you know.
"Frank, I should go. I still have a number of things yet to accomplish before the day is over. I'll be in touch."
Then Cameron stood, shook hands with Frank, and started out the door to his horse. He mounted, turned and waved goodbye once more, and started down the slope from the plateau.
Frank stood and watched him ride off. I need him, he realized. I need both of them, Henry and Cameron. Henry might be gone, perhaps for good, but Cameron is still here, and I have to keep him here.
"Wait, Cameron," he called, running after the receding rider heading toward the stream and the mouth of the valley.
Cameron reined in his mount and turned around, waiting, a smile beginning to crease his countenance.
"Hello again, Frank. What did I forget?"
"Forget? Oh, nothing. Did you know that I offered Henry a job at the mine? Well, more than that, really. I couldn't afford to pay him anything, so I offered him a fifteen percent interest in the mine."
Cameron looked puzzled and frowned. "No, Frank, I wasn't aware of that. Henry didn't mention it to me in his letter. But that may explain why he hasn't replied. He might be thinking it over."
"I'd like to offer you the same deal, a fifteen percent interest in the mine. I need you."
"That's very flattering, Frank," Cameron smiled, "but I already have a job, and more importantly, I know very little about coal mining, although I would like to know more after listening to you and Henry talk. What makes you think I could help you beyond what I've offered to do?"
"Cameron, I will always need your legal expertise, but I will need you more as someone I can trust, and someone I know is very capable of running things administratively around here. I may be the visionary, and Henry, the engineering wizard, but only you can really run a business."
Cameron climbed down from his horse and looked off into the distance, back toward the Montague Mountain peak. "You know, Frank, I rode out here today for two reasons. I wanted to make sure that you were aware that I'd heard from Henry. And I wanted to ask you for a job. I've been bored working in town. I'd like to join you on your adventure. I was dying, hoping that you would say something. So," he said with a wide grin, extending his hand once more,"I accept."