Excerpt from Elizabeth Winthrop's "Counting on Grace"- page 5 | History | Smithsonian

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 4)

French Johnny is all the way in the room now. He's squirmed around the door and closed it behind him. He signals to Arthur, who pays him no mind. "Monsieur Jean," says Miss Lesley. "You have not been invited into my classroom."

"Now, Miss Lesley, don't give me trouble this morning. You know he's got to go. He's the only man left in the house now, and his mother needs him to doff her frames. He'll come back when the work slacks off."

Miss Lesley whirls around. Her eyes are shooting fire. "You say that every time. I do believe lying is still considered a sin in your religion and in mine, monsieur." The way she says mister in French makes it sound dirty and French Johnny flinches almost like he's been smacked with the ruler. "The work never slacks off."

In the summer when the river drops, it does," says French Johnny. But we all know that's lame. That's not going to get him anywhere with Miss Lesley.

"Do you have papers for him?" she asks. "You know the law, don't you, monsieur? No children under the age of fifteen while school is in session? Where are his papers?" She's facing him full on now. "Don't take me for a fool, monsieur."

That dirty word again. The ruler rises up, points at his belly.

"The work is never going to slack off." She takes a step toward him.

French Johnny holds his ground, but he’s keeping an eye on her.

"Arthur Trottier is my best student. He could be a teacher or a manager or even a lawyer someday. So long as you leave him be. Because we both know the only way he will ever come back to this school is when your machine spits him out. Like Thomas there."

Without turning or even looking behind her, she moves the ruler around until it's pointing at Thomas Donahue, the biggest boy in the class, who's scrunching himself down in the back row trying to hide.

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