The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version

Six: Cotton
The cry of the naked was sweeping the world. From the peasant toiling in Russia, the
lady lolling in London, the chieftain burning in Africa, and the Esquimaux freezing in
Alaska; from long lines of hungry men, from patient sad-eyed women, from old folk and
creeping children went up the cry, "Clothes, clothes!" Far away the wide black land that
belts the South, where Miss Smith worked and Miss Taylor drudged and Bles and Zora
dreamed, the dense black land sensed the cry and heard the bound of answering life
within the vast dark breast. All that dark earth heaved in mighty travail with the bursting
bolls of the cotton while black attendant earth spirits swarmed above, sweating and
crooning to its birth pains.
After the miracle of the bursting bolls, when the land was brightest with the piled mist of
the Fleece, and when the cry of the naked was loudest in the mouths of men, a sudden
cloud of workers swarmed between the Cotton and the Naked, spinning and weaving and
sewing and carrying the Fleece and mining and minting and bringing the Silver till the
Song of Service filled the world and the poetry of Toil was in the souls of the laborers.
Yet ever and always there were tense silent white-faced men moving in that swarm who
felt no poetry and heard no song, and one of these was John Taylor.
He was tall, thin, cold, and tireless and he moved among the Watchers of this World of
Trade. In the rich Wall Street offices of Grey and Easterly, Brokers, Mr. Taylor, as chief
and confidential clerk surveyed the world's nakedness and the supply of cotton to clothe
it. The object of his watching was frankly stated to himself and to his world. He purposed
going into business neither for his own health nor for the healing or clothing of the
peoples but to apply his knowledge of the world's nakedness and of black men's toil in
such a way as to bring himself wealth. In this he was but following the teaching of his
highest ideal, lately deceased, Mr. Job Grey. Mr. Grey had so successfully manipulated
the cotton market that while black men who made the cotton starved in Alabama and
white men who bought it froze in Siberia, he himself sat—
"High on a throne of royal state
That far outshone the wealth
Of Ormuz or of Ind."
Notwithstanding this he died eventually, leaving the burden of his wealth to his
bewildered wife, and his business to the astute Mr. Easterly; not simply to Mr. Easterly,
but in a sense to his spiritual heir, John Taylor.
To be sure Mr. Taylor had but a modest salary and no financial interest in the business,
but he had knowledge and business daring—effrontery even—and the determination was
fixed in his mind to be a millionaire at no distant date. Some cautious fliers on the market
gave him enough surplus to send his sister Mary through the high school of his country
home in New Hampshire, and afterward through Wellesley College; although just why a