Excerpt from Elizabeth Winthrop’s “Counting on Grace”

This novel about a 12-year-old mill worker was inspired by a Lewis Hine photograph.

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(Continued from page 3)

Miss Lesley has her ruler raised and suddenly she stops moving too.

The door opens. French Johnny pokes his head in first, almost like a little kid asking permission. He went to this school himself. He knows how hard the benches can be after a day of sitting. He knows every hook by the door and the way the handle of the coal stove wriggles out and slams to the floor when someone ain't paying mind. French Johnny is the second hand at the mill. He's in charge of the spinning room where my mother runs six frames. He's come up the hill in his white apron to get a mill rat. That's what they call the kids who work in the mill. We all end up as mill rats.

"Yes?" Miss Lesley says with no respect in her voice. She might as well be talking to a second grader like my brother, Henry.

"Come for the boy," says French Johnny. He sounds like he don't want to be here. He knows she won’t let this one go without a fight. Truth is she argues with him over every single one of us.

"Well, you can turn around and walk right out of here. You're not taking him," says Miss Lesley, keeping her back to barrel-bellied French Johnny. She's acting as if he's no bigger than one of those sow bugs come out of the woodwork this time of year. "Class, I want you to pay attention to the board. We're going to make the sound of these two letters." Her ruler smacks the CH. "Chuh," she says to the younger ones. "Repeat after me. Chuh."

But nobody says nothing. We're all waiting and watching French Johnny.

"Chuh," she says again, her voice rising. She's getting angry.

Nobody speaks.

I can't stand silence like that.

"Chuh," I say, and two of the little kids laugh.


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