Chapter One

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"Did you hear what happened to one of the boys yesterday?" Isabel mumbled as we crossed the cobbled courtyard towards the factory.

Behind us, the bell tolled, and the sun was just appearing in the distance, tucked away behind the brick buildings that lined the streets. The sky was a pale pink, a hint of sunlight just appearing in the distance. The morning light shone down on our small piece of courtyard. Every now and then, a cold chill would pass by us causing the two of us to shiver and huddle closer together to try and shield ourselves. Our morning walks from the dormitory to the factory usually consisted of the same things, discussing the rumours from the day before. How much work had been done, whether someone had gotten hurt and most importantly, what sort of mood the foreman might be in.

Every day was the same, no days off, no break in routine. Up early to walk to the factory, a break mid-way through the day for some cold porridge, work until late into the evening before bed. The only time the routine changed was if someone got hurt and that was rare. Getting injured was an instant dismissal and without anywhere to go, we tried our hardest to avoid injury. Being dismissed meant a life on the streets if we lived that long. Factory work was a dangerous thing and each day posed a new threat, some more deadly than the last.

"No, what?" I asked, pulling my shawl further up my arms to protect me from the bitter morning chill.

"He got his arm stuck in one of the machines, they had to halt production for the rest of the afternoon to get him out."

"Was he okay? Did he live, I mean?"

"I don't know. You'll have to ask Lucy, she overheard the foreman talking to Mr Thompson after we finished work."

"I'll ask her during the break. Come on, if we're late the foreman will have us cleaning under the machines."

Together, we crossed the remainder of the courtyard at a slight run, holding onto our bonnets to stop them blowing away in the wind. Our boots slapped against the cobblestone, the sound drowned out by the bell that was slowly coming to an end. Before we entered the factory, we paused outside to make ourselves more presentable, straightening our bonnets and smoothing our skirts. We entered the room and passed by the foreman, his eyes watching us with a glare that would have sent the hardest of men running in fright. As the door closed behind us, the ringing of the bell came to an end, signalling to both us and the foreman that we had not arrived late for our duties.

One second late to the factory floor meant a punishment and that punishment was often to do the most dangerous jobs in the factory. Crawling under the machines to clean the floor underneath. Girls who had been sent this task and were not paying attention often ended up scalped, their hair having been ripped off by the movement of the machine. Some had lost fingers, others had lost their arm, and some had even lost their lives. Being late was something we all avoided if we could help it. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of the foreman's wrath or end up spending the morning crawling on their hands and knees under deadly equipment.

With the foreman still watching me, I crossed the factory floor and headed towards the back of the room, passing the machines that whirred and clicked every time they were moved. At the far end of the room, I grabbed a wooden bucket with a small, metal handle and set about cleaning the fluff from the floor. My job was simple enough, collect all the small pieces of thread that had been dropped during the work to stop them clogging the machine and bringing a halt to the entire workday. One misplaced piece and the entire machine could seize up and halt production. Any pauses in production meant punishment for everyone in the factory. An extra hour of work, extra chores, sometimes they even made us work through the night to make up the loss of the day.

"That was close, Rosie," Suzanna muttered as I passed her. She continued to move the loom back and forth and didn't even stop to look down at me for fear of getting in trouble.

The Factory Girl // Book 1 in the Rosie Grey seriesWhere stories live. Discover now