All heads swing with the ruler as if we got no power on our own to decide where our eyes should go.
Last summer Thomas was fooling around when they were moving a big new spinning frame into the room. He slipped in the grease and the gearbox got rolled right over his bare foot. By the time they lifted it off him, harm was already done.
Thomas spent three months at home. His foot healed all crooked and he walks on the side of it now. Makes him lean far over just to walk and he falls a lot. No use for him at the mill no more.
He hates school. I hear him talking about running away, but that would be mighty hard with a foot that curls around under itself like a fern coming out in the spring.
Now French Johnny decides he's going to pretend Miss Lesley ain't there. They've been through all this before. Every time the overseer sends him up the hill to collect another child, Miss Lesley acts as if one of her arms is getting chopped off.
"Let's go, boy," he says.
"Arthur, you stay right there," she says, not taking her eye off French Johnny.
Arthur's gone back to reading our book. He's thinking, Maybe if I pretend this ain't happening, then it ain't. I know he wants to stay in school. He's not like me or the other boys. Dougie is counting the days, begging his father to send him down the hill even though he's only nine. I want to go too 'cause of the money I can make. Ever since my father got sick four years ago, we've been behind in the store bills.
But Arthur is different. If reading like a machine makes you smart, then he's the smartest person I ever knew. Arthur hates noise, too many people around, loud games. I could give you a whole list of ways Arthur is different from the other boys. The only thing in the world that Arthur loves besides his mother is books. His father died of the pneumonia last winter. That's why French Johnny come for him. Arthur and his mother live in mill housing up on French Hill like most of the rest of us. You can't stay in a mill house unless every able-bodied person works. Arthur's twelve, long past time for him to go in.
"Boy, no trouble now," says French Johnny, his voice raised a notch. "Come along quiet." Arthur lifts his head from the page and looks at Miss Lesley.