The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version
Thirty-five: The Cotton Mill
The people of Toomsville started in their beds and listened. A new song was rising on the
air: a harsh, low, murmuring croon that shook the village ranged around its old square of
dilapadated stores. It was not a song of joy; it was not a song of sorrow; it was not a song
at all, perhaps, but a confused whizzing and murmuring, as of a thousand ill-tuned, busy
voices. Some of the listeners wondered; but most of the town cried joyfully, "It's the new
John Taylor's head teemed with new schemes. The mill trust of the North was at last a
fact. The small mills had not been able to buy cotton when it was low because Cresswell
was cornering it in the name of the Farmers' League; now that it was high they could not
afford to, and many surrendered to the trust.
"Next thing," wrote Taylor to Easterly, "is to reduce cost of production. Too much goes
in wages. Gradually transfer mills South."
Easterly argued that the labor was too unskilled in the South and that to send Northern
spinners down would spread labor troubles. Taylor replied briefly: "Never fear; we'll
scare them with a vision of niggers in the mills!"
Colonel Cresswell was not so easily won over to the new scheme. In the first place he
was angry because the school, which he had come to regard as on its last legs, somehow
still continued to flourish. The ten-thousand-dollar mortgage had but three more years,
and that would end all; but he had hoped for a crash even earlier. Instead of this, Miss
Smith was cheerfully expanding the work, hiring new teachers, and especially she had
brought to help her two young Negroes whom he suspected. Colonel Cresswell had
prevented the Tolliver land sale, only to be inveigled himself into Zora's scheme which
now began to worry him. He must evict Zora's tenants as soon as the crops were planted
and harvested. There was nothing unjust about such a course, he argued, for Negroes
anyway were too lazy and shiftless to buy the land. They would not, they could not, work
without driving. All this he imparted to John Taylor, to which that gentleman listened
"H'm, I see," he owned. "And I know the way out."
"A cotton mill in Toomsville."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"Bring in whites."
"But I don't want poor white trash; I'd sooner have niggers."