The string of curses awoke the children before their father stormed into the room.
“Out!” he wheezed. ”Your mother chooses to have her baby on my only day off. Out!”
Between coughing fits he muttered, “another mouth to feed.”
“I’m going to Marcy’s.”
15 year old Sarah disappeared in the dirty, smoke filled street.
Working 14 hours a day as a piecer in the mill left Lizzy too tired to argue.
She looked up at the third floor where her family occupied two small rooms.
Papa would summon the midwife and go to his buddies.
Lizzy sighed. “Come boys, first the privy, then a drink at the pump.”
Her two brothers, both working as scavengers in the cotton mill, went along quietly.
“Hello Lizzy! How are you?”
Was this Emma? The one who, even without being provoked, always swore and used foul language?
Lizzy stared at Emma’s clean clothes and pointed to a notebook.
“I’m on my way to school,” Emma beamed.
“There’s no school on Sunday,” Willy said.
“Yes there is! I learn to read and write there.”
Having a drink at the pump, a boy showing rotten teeth taunted,
“You’re off to Bobby Wild Goose and his Ragged Regiment, Emma?”
When Emma didn’t respond with her usual expletives, Lizzy asked her,
“Were you punished? Did the foreman hit you on the head?”
“No, he didn’t,” Emma laughed. “Sorry, I have to run, we start at 10.”
She stopped in her tracks.
“Would you like to come too? How old are the boys?”
“I’m six,” Frances stuck out his chest, “he’s five and Lizzy’s 12.”
Lizzy hesitated. “I can’t ask my parents now.”
“Mama’s having another baby,” Willy volunteered.
“I see. Tell you what. Lunch break’s at 2 pm. We’re at St. Mary le Crypte Church. You know where that is?”
“It’s on North Gate Street,” Emma said. “Try to come; they have wonderful food!”
Frances pointed to a building from where nicely dressed people were leaving.
Skinny and dirty boys, raggedly dressed, ran screaming and cursing between the horse drawn carriages.
“Those bastards should join Raikes’ Ragamuffin Roundup,” Lizzy heard a gentleman say before she crossed the road.
Tired after the long walk and not daring to enter the imposing building in her dirty, ragged dress, Lizzy sat down. She did try to get permission, but hearing her mother’s screams from afar, decided not to bother.
“Let’s find them. Come, Willy,” Frances ran off.
“Hey, holy girl, why are you not inside the ragged school?”
The boy with the unkempt hair and angry eyes reminded Lizzy of her imprisoned brother James, whom she hadn’t seen in four years.
“None of your business, you ape!” she spit at his feet.
He cursed, but the brothers returned before he could grab her.
Lizzy stuck out her tongue at the menacing boy and ran after them.
Emma waited outside a churchyard building.
“But our clothes…” Lizzy was suddenly embarrassed.
“Not important. Only wash your faces, comb your hair and then you can come in. Here…”
Lizzy hesitantly accepted Emma’s comb, confused by the unexpected kindness.
“I’ve won it for memorizing Bible verses,” Emma proudly said.
The quiet was deafening. Such a difference from the clatter, rattle, banging and swishing of the mill.
The room was full of children busy copying words in a notebook.
“Welcome!" A nice smelling, smiling lady approached them.
"Emma told me about you. I’m Mrs. Hutton, the teacher. Come sit.”
Suddenly shy, the children followed her to the front of the class and sat down.
After lunch, Lizzy suffered from stomach ache because she wasn’t used to eating so much.
Her unruly brothers were taken under the wings of two older boys, while Emma explained the reading lesson’s incomprehensible words to her.
“I feel so stupid!” Lizzy whispered.
“You’ll learn. I did.” Emma pressed her arm.
After the church service led by Pastor Thomas Stock, tea was served.
With milk, sugar and plum pie!
At 4 pm, back in their classes, the children learned about the Bible and too soon it was 5.30 pm.
Time to go home.
The boys came running.
“Look, Lizzy, I’ve learned to write my name!” Beaming, Frances showed his notebook.
“Clever boy!” Emma praised him.
“We have to go home to mama,” Lizzy reminded them, clutching her own notebook.
“I’ll walk with you,” Emma said.
Linking arms with Lizzy, they crossed the street and headed for home.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
Accept Jesus as Your Lord and Savior Right Now - CLICK HERE
JOIN US at FaithWriters for Free. Grow as a Writer and Spread the Gospel.