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The mill was going up on the river bank and had a small dam associated with it, so Pierce judged it was going to use water power. But it was the largest mill he'd ever seen, and he realized there was an important idea rising on this granite foundation.
There was no one about in the twilight, so Pierce entered the building and examined the structure in detail. In several places, the wooden flooring had great openings to the ground below. Pierce looked down into one of the openings and saw a stone-lined run beneath the building. He traced the run back toward the river, where he saw a temporary dam. Before the dam, there was more construction, and Pierce judged this was a mechanism for regulating the flow of water through the run beneath the building.
The wide openings in the floor were apparently for the placement of water wheels, turbines of the type Pierce had known from Leeds. The flooring itself was punctuated with smaller holes, which he judged were for the anchoring of machinery. It looked in general like Mr. Stephenson's mill in Leeds, except it was about four times the size. Pierce doubted America could provide the raw materials and the demand to keep such a place fully engaged.
"May I help you, sir?"
Pierce was startled. He was not used to men sneaking up on him. He turned and saw a slight, well dressed young man standing between him and the open door frame. The young man had a pistol trained on him. Pierce knew his worn, dusty clothing gave him the look of a vagabond, and he rather expected to be shot. He did not fear being shot, but he thought it could be an inconvenience.
He stood mutely before the man.
"English?" said the man.
Pierce thought there was nothing to be gained from being English. He used a French accent to reply. "No, I am French. I am an engineer of manufacturing, and I admire this structure."
The young man seemed to relax somewhat. "Forgive me, Monsieur. I am vexed by the English."
Pierce assumed it was too dark for the man to see how ill-used his clothing was. "I, too," he said.
The man lowered his pistol. "A fellow sufferer! How may I be of service to you, Monsieur?"
"Are you Monsieur Lowell?" said Pierce.
"I am come here to meet you." Pierce had a gift for saying the right things to human beings. It was part of what allowed him to survive when so many of his fellows met with stakings or starvation. He made use of the gift that evening when he talked with Lowell. He asked a few strategically chosen questions about the design of the mill, and the man opened like an overripe lily.
Lowell invited Pierce to sit with him in the dark on a low stone wall outside the mill and listen to him describe his vision of a new kind of manufacturing. It took only moments for Pierce to understand he was in the presence of genius. Smuggling the plans for his machinery out of England was the smallest part of what Lowell had done. His real achievement was his vision of a completely unified manufacturing process. He intended to bring every step in the production of cloth together in this one mill. Here, machinery would card, spin, bleach and finally weave the cloth. Bales of ginned cotton would enter one door and bolts of coarse cloth would come out the other.
"In England," said Lowell, "there are mills that weave cloth, and there are mills that spin yarn. No mill proprietor has yet attempted to unify the processes."
Pierce knew a great deal about English textile manufacturing, but he encouraged Lowell to continue. "English cowardice," he said.
"It is not cowardice," said Lowell. "They simply cannot afford to do it. Competition keeps them from forming alliances. And there is still a great deal of putting-out in England. Carding and spinning is often done in homes. But this country has no large class of displaced people to whom we might put out the work. My plan is for us to acquire industry without creating such a class to begin with."
"If there are no poor, where will you find hands to perform the work in your mill?" said Pierce.
"Young, single farm women." Lowell pointed to a building across the street. "We are building boardinghouses for them. We shall guarantee their safety and provide them opportunities for spiritual development and intellectual enlightenment. We shall pay them more money for a few years' work than they might otherwise see in their lifetimes."
Pierce thought about a large manufacturing establishment tended by hordes of young, single women, working machinery by day and pursuing spiritual development in the evenings.
"Monsieur," he said, "have you need of a manufacturing engineer?"
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