Chapter 7: Workers
“You two must be new,” said the barefoot boy, jumping down. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you out. Name’s Chester.” A long line of spools whirled noisily behind him.
Eli held his ear. He hunched his shoulders from the pain. “What do we do?” he got out.
“Girls are sweepers, boys are doffers,” Chester said.
“What’s a doffer?” asked Eli.
“When those bobbins get empty you put a new one in its place. It’s simple, just watch your step so you don’t fall in the machinery.” He held up his right hand. His middle finger and part of his fourth finger were missing. He gave a sad half smile. “Still works, anyhow.”
Ouch. We would have to be very careful. “What does a sweeper do?” I asked.
“Sweeps the lint out from under the machines. Your job’s important because if too much lint gets in the machines it messes up their gears.”
“Oh. Why do you have bare feet?” I asked.
“So I don’t slip,” he replied. He grabbed a cylinder heavy with thread from a pile on a nearby cart. Graceful as a cat, he scampered up onto the monster of a machine. Without slowing down, he stepped over the moving parts, removed an empty bobbin, and set the full one in place.
Eli unlaced his shoes, pulled off his socks and threw them aside. His hands shook as he grabbed another full bobbin. Carefully, much more slowly than Chester, he climbed up onto the machine. I held my breath. If he slipped he would fall into moving gears sharp as alligator teeth!
Eli was probably furious at me and he had a right. I had convinced him to time travel with me by describing the magician and the twins I’d met from the circus on trip one. But I never dreamed on trip two we’d be forced to work in a mill! I was amazed that so far he was holding it together. But how long could he keep it up? Eli replaced the bobbin, and climbed back down. I breathed.
The brush in my hand had a wooden handle and black bristles. To my right, a skinny girl with the same kind of brush slid on her stomach under the machines. She came out again with a pile of linty dust that she swept into a dustpan. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the boss man was glaring at me. “Oh, no,” I groaned.
I got down on my belly. The space between the floor and the bottom of the machine was only about as high as the space under my bed at home. I was going to get covered with lint, but that was the least of my problems right now.
What if my hair got caught in the moving parts! How I wished I had straight hair instead of curls that stuck out in every direction! I smoothed down my hair the best I could and inched forward under the machine. It sounded like a train right above my head. My arm was shaking but I stretched it out, drawing arcs in the dusty floor, brushing the pile of lint out in front of the machine. Slowly, I slid back out. I survived! “Whew,” I said out loud.