Friday, 29 January 2016

Mr Strutt's Mill, Character 4, Billy by Bridget McLarnon, White Peak Writers

A small boy, grubby, pale and snuffly. A baggy felt hat is collapsed over upper face and ears while his trailing muffler, shirt and jacket are also too large for him. The sleeves are rolled up above his wrists. The shirt is white rubbed to pale grey, everything else is shades of dusty brown with occasional skims of grease. His trousers are held by twine wrapped around his waist, the legs have been cut down with fraying edges just above bony ankles. No shoes. Feet are white-skinned, gritty, too small for the rest of him. Voice faint, he is half-asleep.
Billy. They said I was seven. I can get under lots of machines. Mother brought us from Manchester, it took three coaches and a wagon from first light yesterday, we slept under a bridge. We used work in t’ mill in Manchester – we all did except Mother. Father’s dead – last year. Mother heard was better wages and houses here. She found a golden guinea – in the street. Just lying there, like. The man in the fine coat said I was too young to work. Our Joan could stop home with me. We could go to Sunday school and learn to read. Mother was cross, said a widow-woman like her couldn’t afford us to sit round like gentry. The man said that her and our four eldest should earn enough for all. Mother said that me and our Joan would waste more than she could earn and the others wouldn’t come regular unless she was at home to shoo them out. The man said if they were able to work in the mill, they should be able to behave at home. Mother then said she’d try it out but when the man said about paid in tickets for milk, coal and the like she wasn’t having any of that nonsense, she said we would be off! She pulled me up but I started crying because Sunday school and tickets for milk sounded nice. I said they hit us with straps when we fell asleep at’ other mill and the man in the fine coat said that wasn’t allowed at his mill. Mother said alright, alright, we’d stay, give it a go if I’d stop the noise. They gave me a cup of milk for myself after. Bridget McLarnon White Peak Writers

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