In 1898, Hillary Cook is a child devoted to her widowed mother and at 11 years old works. The textile mill in town puts children to work in the factory in 12 hour shifts 6 days a week. She and her young acquaintances meet briefly at work and share church services at a distance. Two of her close friends at work meet Sunday afternoons for their only day off to explore their world of wildflowers and make-believe stories. A significant mystery to them is the talk of children being transferred through their town regularly by train. Disaster befalls one child, then another, and another. These are children known to these three best friends. They cannot ever imagine that one of them might become a victim soon but, in fact, disaster is imminent.
Tragedy and a horrible ending await a child these girls know from the textile mill and a father is to blame. Another child they know is last seen staring out the window of a passing train and none can give the reason. The children forge friendships and adapt to common practices of abuse, poverty, growing up too quickly, and low wages for long hours and dangerous working conditions. Through conversations of town folk, personal experiences, and escapes, these young girls are indoctrinated into harsh and abusive risk-taking that even more mature natures should not have to endure.
Such turmoil in the lives of timid young ladies starts them imagining what they would be capable of enduring in a worst case scenario. Little knowledge is available for them to learn what goes on behind closed doors of abandoned boys and girls. But they learn from worldly children they meet in the streets on a trip to town that some prostitute themselves to survive.
Never mind that the worst of characters is none other than the boss at work who waits for young girls to express needs making them vulnerable to his lecherous advances. Nothing is free in his office as he trades favor for favor.
Life’s circumstances turn for the worst for Hillary, an only child, whose mother is desperately ill. One day, she becomes brave enough to ask for the boss’s favor learning too late of his malicious intent when he offers to pay the rent and doctor bills. She lives with her degrading secret. Her only hope is to leave this town as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
[ REVIEW: BRIDIE’S DAUGHTER is next. ]