Chapter Twenty-Four

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Mathias looked completely different from the last time I had seen him. His hair was rid of dirt, exposing the bright red colour that had always been covered, his face no longer covered in dirt and ash, instead, he was pale with red cheeks. He was no longer in the uniform of the factor, trousers that were too short, a white shirt that was no longer white and a small jacket. Instead, his trousers fit, he was wearing a shirt that looked freshly washed and a jacket that was folded just past his elbow. On his left arm, it looked normal. His right, it didn't.

Just under the folded sleeves of his jacket was a white bandage. It wrapped around the top of his elbow, continued a little further down and then came to an abrupt stop, wrapping around the small piece of arm that was left below his elbow. There was nothing beyond that point, it just came to a stop. I hadn't seen the injury after it had happened, but even knowing about it wasn't enough of a warning. It was strange, seeing how it just stopped with nothing else. I got lucky with just a burn that required nothing more than constant attention. I'm not sure what I would have done if it had been anything serious.

"Wha' happened to you?" he asked, gesturing to the burn.

"I could ask you the same question! We all thought you'd." I paused. "You know."

"I thought I was a goner too. He threw me out those gates quicker than I could process what 'ad even 'appened. I was lucky. Someone found me the next morning, near the bakery. She took me to see Doctor Ealing and, well, let me live with her. 'Course, I ain't told her the truth, she wouldn't believe me." He shrugged. "Now, wha' happened with you?"

"There was a fire, in the storeroom the day after your accident. He dismissed me in the middle of the night and that was that. I never got a chance to say goodbye to the girls." I took a breath. "Doctor Ealing's son, Robert, found me the next morning and took me to see his Father and they offered me a trial position in their household, it lasts until next week. I'm hoping I've done enough to stay. They don't know the truth, either, I told them I came from the workhouse."

"I said the same thing, it made sense at the time. We both did pretty well, considerin'."

"Hm, the lucky two."

"I don't feel very lucky," Mathias said, moving his right arm as though he was trying to move fingers that weren't there.

"It'll get easier."

"Tha's what Doctor Ealing says." He shrugged. "Did you say a fire in the storeroom?"

"Yes. The foreman asked me to put some of the completed cloth away, the fire had already started."

"A fire, in the storeroom? Didn't tha' seem a bit odd to you?"

"What do you mean?"

"We worked in a cloth factory, Rosie. Fires didn't jus' start. I migh' be wrong, but did you ever think he migh' have set it? You know, to get rid of you?"

He had a point. I had been so caught up in trying to figure out a way to survive after the fire, to keep the secret about the factory and stay on with the Ealing family, I hadn't even thought about it. Minor burns weren't unusual. Sometimes people would get friction burns from working with the cotton, or they would fall against the brazier if they didn't get enough sleep the night before. There had never been a fire. All of our machines worked with manpower, there was no chance of a spark or flame that could lead to a blaze within the confines of the factory. Unless someone knocked over the brazier and the coals fell onto the wood floor, fire just didn't happen.

Of course, the thought of someone setting the fire deliberately and causing that much damage to property was ludicrous. The factory needed the money the cloth provided to remain in operation, losing that much stock would be a risk to them so the idea didn't sit right with me. Although there was no logical reason for the fire, no reason for it to have started in the first place, I didn't the foreman or Mr Thompson would set it on purpose. They wouldn't risk their workers, their own stock to get rid of me, I wasn't worth that much to them. At least I didn't think I did.

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