Previously on The Mill: Esther decided to take a stand and gave the rapey overseer what was coming to him.
Esther is carted off to the bigger town nearby to stand trial for assaulting the overseer.
Tommy, meanwhile, heads into the kitchen and asks Mrs T if there’s anything he can do. She dismisses him, since he only has the one hand, though he insists he could at least stir something.
Mr T arrives at the Liverpool workhouse to pick up two kids to replace Tommy and Esther, whose guilt I guess is just presumed. He chooses one girl, and she begs him to take her sister as well. The guy in charge of the workhouse whispers that he doesn’t think the sister will last long, and, indeed, she does look rather small and frail. Timperley looks her over and says she just needs feeding up and looking after, which is what they do at Quarry Bank. Wow, that was actually pretty nice of him.
Esther is put into the dock and the trial begins. The judge asks Crout if she had a reason to attack him. Of course, Crout says no, and the Judge tells Esther that, if this is proven to be in any way politically motivated, she’ll be deported to Australia.
Timperley’s on his way home with the two girls. He urges them to breathe in some nice lungfuls of fresh country air and get rid of all the city crap. The little’un starts coughing immediately.
Esther’s finally getting a chance to tell her side of the story, and she explains that the bell was basically driving her crazy, and also Crout’s a rapist. The judge determines that when Crout was found, his trousers were around his ankles. Crout lies that he was about to use the privy, but the judge scoffs that the privy was occupied, so try again. Crout again lies and says he took off his belt to give Esther a whipping. To prove the pants wouldn’t fall down without being unbuttoned, the judge tells him to take the belt off. The trousers stay up, so it’s obvious what Crout was doing.
Timperley and the girls arrive at Quarry Bank and he tells them they’re all a big happy family there, and if they work hard and are good, they won’t be orphans anymore. He brings them inside and introduces them to Mrs T, who clearly doesn’t think much of them, and then takes them upstairs.
The judge declares Esther a 15-year-old delinquent, but accepts her plea of self-defense and tells Robert to get his factory in order. Esther, always having to have the last word, tells the judge that he’s got her age wrong: she’s actually 17.
The doctor and Hannah are checking out Tommy’s arm as the two new girls are ushered past into the girls’ dorm. Tommy stresses about losing his job, but Hannah reassures him they’ll find something else for him to do. Timperley leaves the girls in the dorm, and the older one, Lucy, comforts her sister and starts combing her hair.
Later, Samuel Greg comes in to witness the doctor’s examination of the two girls for fitness to work. He takes one look at the little one and immediately says she’ll have to go back. He asks Mr T what he was thinking and Timperley says he was thinking of what they told the parish visitors just last week about not wanting to bust up families. Ohhh, in your face, Samuel!
Esther arrives back at the mill (Daniel sees her return and looks pleased), but as soon as she hops down from the carriage Crout grabs her and tells her she’ll wish she’d gone to jail when he’s done with her. Jesus, this moron doesn’t know when to stop, does he? She rushes off to the other side of the carriage and insists to Robert that her age seems to be wrong on her papers. He doesn’t care and tells Crout to get her to the mill and come see him in the office.
Esther’s return to the mill is greeted with relieved smiles all around. She takes her place at one of the machines and gets back to work.
Samuel tells the girls to sign a contract which binds them to the mill until they’re 21. In return for their work, they’ll get food, shelter, and clothes. Robert, who’s in a serious mood, sweeps in and rejects the littler girl, saying they don’t have a bed for her anymore, so she’ll have to go. Samuel’s aghast, pointing out that they’re sisters, but Robert shouts that times have changed, and now they have to compete and everything, so they can’t afford to be benevolent. He tells Timperley to take her back to the workhouse, and Lucy begs to go back with her. Robert harshly tells her not to blame him, but to blame the law and Esther Price. How about we blame you for not controlling your rapist overseer, Robert? God, what a dick. How much could it possibly cost to feed one undersized kid? Especially when you’re apparently doctoring the papers to get some of these kids’ work for free for an extra few years.
Susannah is delivered to Daniel, who needs her to test the prototype loom he’s working on. She’s happy to note that she can sit at it, which is useful to her, being preggo and all. And clearly this was a benevolent moment, because it was one of the Gregs who recommended her for this. Daniel the angry guesses that the Gregs want him to make what used to be a man’s work into something even a pregnant woman can do, although I haven’t seen too many men working the looms out in the mill, so I don’t know what he’s so mad about here. It’s not like she’s stealing work from skilled male workers or anything. Susannah retorts that the Gregs want her to be able to support herself and her child because the Gregs believe in taking care of their employees. He thinks the Gregs are more interested in saving money, because they can pay women less. Yeah, it’s probably that too.
Crout arrives at Robert’s office and is immediately fired. Thank you, Robert. Crout tries to argue, of course, but Robert won’t hear it. So Crout gets angry and spills the beans about Susannah: apparently the father of her child is Robert’s brother. And that’s definitely news to Robert.
A new overseer is installed at the mill and all the girls smile and practically dance a jig.
Daniel starts to show Susannah how the new loom works and asks after Tommy, whom he figures is on his way back to the workhouse soon. Susanna says they’ll find something for him to do in the area, but he doubts it. He starts talking about the loom, but she’s distracted when she spots William Greg, the brother in question, going into Robert’s office. And for the record, he runs one of the family’s other mills nearby. She looks terrified.
On the road back to Liverpool, Mr T stops the carriage, gets out, and goes to talk to the little girl. He kindly tells her that she’s gotten a rotten deal, and that things will be pretty lousy for her back in Liverpool, so he’s going to do her a solid and let her escape. He points the way to a town over yonder full of decent people who will look after her. He even offers to tell her sister where she is, and since it’s closer than Liverpool, she’ll be able to visit. He offers her a hand down from the carriage and asks her (in a non-creepy way, I think I should mention) for a little kiss goodbye. The kid dully asks him if he’ll take her to the town if she allows him more than that. Woah. Timperley’s face freezes and he grabs her out of the carriage and leaves her by the roadside. And she finally gets a name: Catherine.
Susannah is brought into Robert’s office, where William’s waiting, and is told about Crout’s accusations. Robert guesses that Crout will spend his last few days in the village spreading the story about William and Susannah, so they need to do something to nip it in the bud. Robert promises her a job and home in the village once the child is born, and oh-so-benevolently offers to take the child on as a free labourer someday (yay!) as long as she tells everyone that Crout was the father. Blech. That doesn’t sit well with Susannah, but she has no choice but to go along with it.
Tommy is visited by Daniel, who asks to take some measurements. Tommy freaks out, thinking that Daniel’s an undertaker, but Daniel explains he’s a mechanic and might be able to make Tommy something to use as a hand. Tommy asks hesitantly if that means he’s staying, and Daniel asks if he really wants to stay, after what happened. Tommy reminds him that the alternative is bleak, and Daniel says that the decision to keep him will be up to their paternal employers, but maybe they can improve his chances.
Little Catherine tramps across the fields; the mill workers tramp home; Timperley orders up a steak at an inn and quickly buries himself in a pint, looking a bit grossed out with himself.
The girls return to the dorm and Esther is none too pleased to find Lucy sharing a bed with her. She grudgingly introduces herself and asks if she’s a replacement for Tommy. Mrs T snaps that she’d be a replacement for Esther, if there were any justice. She leads the kids in prayer and now it’s bedtime. Lucy weeps quietly.
Lucy’s first day at work. She’s given the rundown by the new overseer, who sets her to gathering waste cotton.
Hannah goes to the apprentice house to see Tommy and is just in time to stop him being dispatched to the workhouse on Robert’s orders. Talk about someone who doesn’t know when to stop. Tommy’s freaking out, since they promised he could stay, and Daniel was going to make him a new hand and everything. Hannah goes to him, says she’s on her way to Manchester and is already late, so she can’t really deal with this now. But she isn’t about to just let Tommy get shipped off either.
Lucy finds Tommy’s blood on the floor and Esther tells her that’s the reason she’s there. She warns her to watch her nails and fingers in the machines. She pokes fun at the girl and Lucy snaps that Esther’s the reason her sister got sent back to the workhouse. Esther brings up her age again as an example of how the Gregs can be wrong about things, and Lucy fabulously yells at her to shut up about her age already, because nobody cares, and she sounds like she’s about five years old anyway. I like this girl.
Hannah has decided to take Tommy along with her to Manchester, where she’s attending an anti-slavery talk with her son, William. Doherty’s there as well, because of course. The talk’s being given by a former slave named Mary Prince. Tommy stares at his surroundings in wonder as Hannah apologises to Mrs Prince for keeping her waiting.
Back at the mill, Esther yanks Lucy out of the way of some machinery just in time to save her from being crushed.
Esther takes her age complaint to Daniel, who explains to her that they probably deliberately shaved two years off her age so they could get that much more time from her for free. I can’t believe that didn’t occur to her, but then, she’s not a terribly deep thinker. He suggests she find her baptismal certificate if she can, to prove when she was born. She was born in Liverpool, and he thinks it’ll be impossible for her to find, but you know what this girl’s like when she has something to focus on. Meanwhile, Miriam urges Lucy to eat something.
Mary Prince tells her story, which is harrowing, of course. Tommy is spellbound. When she finishes, he goes to clap with the rest of the crowd, but then remembers he only has one hand, so he slaps his thigh instead.
Lucy screws up, and the overlooker grabs her and tells her she needs to pick up the pace. She drops half a comb when he grabs her and Esther fetches it, giving it back to her after he leaves. She also asks her what Liverpool’s like these days, and how many churches it has. Before Lucy can answer, the overlooker yells at them to get back to work.
Hannah rather rudely asks Mary Prince if she ever had kids, as if that’s relevant or any of her business, and Mary tells a drawn out story that basically boils down to: lady, having kids in slavery sucks. Doherty stands and asks Mary how she feels about sharing a stage with Hannah, whose family owns five cotton mills, as well as a slave plantation in the Caribbean. Woah. Hanna says that her husband did inherit a plantation, but he never wanted that business, and she promises that their ‘negroes’ are very well treated. Mary asks if she’s ever been to the plantation, and when Hannah answers in the negative, Mary asks how she knows they’re well treated. Doherty decides to muddy the waters further by asking how Hannah can support the abolition of slavery while her family campaigns against the ten-hour bill and keeps English kids working untold hours in their mills. To be fair, I do think those are two separate issues. If he was campaigning against the fact that they basically own those children until the age of 21, I think he’d have a closer connection. Hannah, looking humiliated, sits back down.
End of the day, the workers return to the apprentice house. Susannah stops by Daniel’s workshop and sees him working on the new hand for Tommy. She tells him she heard the kid was sent away that morning. Daniel throws his prototype across the room in frustration. While trying to clear his head, he sees Lucy collapse in the street and goes to help her. She coughs and whimpers that her feet are too small. He reassures her that they’ll grow, and advises her to take special care at the end of the day, because when she’s tired she’s more likely to have an accident. He also shows her how weak cotton fiber is on its own, but when it’s woven together with others, it becomes stronger. SYMBOLISM!!!!!!
Robert leaves his office and stomps home, observed by Daniel, who looks a bit pissed off. Lucy returns to the dorm and falls face-first onto the bed, only to be roused for lessons. Uggggh.
The Gregs are relaxing at home, and Hannah scolds Robert for trying to abandon Tommy. Her husband reminds her that Robert’s in charge now. Hannah rounds on him and tells him they need to free all their slaves, because the incident with Doherty was humiliating. I think more to the point, Hannah, is the fact that it’s really hypocritical of you to campaign for abolition while owning actual slaves yourself. Maybe make that the point, rather than the fact that you looked bad in front of your friends. Samuel promises they have the best looked after workers in the Caribbean, but that’s not enough for her. Robert chimes in that slavery will be abolished soon, and when it is, Parliament will compensate former owners. So, it makes more fiscal sense to keep these people in bondage until they can at least get a good payout for them. Yowza. He’s a cold fish, this one. She suggests they just sell the place and Sam snaps at her that their hands are dirty because they make a living, and he’s sorry if this offends her useless friends, but if she likes living at her current rate, she’ll chill out and let Parliament do its thing. Robert finishes that the business has to come first. Hannah concedes the point but insists that Tommy stay. Robert, worn out after a long day, just says fine.
Esther goes to the Timperleys and asks for permission to go to Liverpool Easter weekend. They refuse to give it. And just for good measure, they call her mother a prostitute.
Daniel goes to drown his sorrows at the pub, where he’s joined by Doherty. Wow, he’s got some balls, doesn’t he? Doherty forgives him for attacking him, which Daniel thinks is rich, given their history. Apparently, back when Doherty got arrested for political agitating, Daniel went around and raised plenty of money for him to get out. But when Daniel was inside, Doherty failed to do the same, and as a result, Daniel’s father died. Yeah, I can see the bitterness now. Doherty insists he had no idea how badly off Dan’s father was and changes the subject to the Gregs, asking for any dirt Daniel can offer on Robert. He apologises again for Daniel’s father and asks if they can just shake hands and be friends, because there’s work to be done. Daniel bundles him out of there roughly, and Doherty shouts after him that he’ll be writing about the Gregs in the next issue of his newspaper or whatever, and there’s going to be a huge demonstration soon. I don’t think Daniel cares anymore.
At the apprentice house, one of the girls catches Lucy on her way to bed and tells her a ghost story about some dead apprentice who walks the house with a knife, but Esther threatens the girl and shuts her up. Lucy climbs back into bed. Miriam and Susannah catch up and Susannah tells Miriam she’s telling people Crout was the father of the baby. She won’t tell her why, though. Esther reassures Lucy and tells her how sorry she is about her sister. Lucy says she needs to go find her, and Esther offers to go with her, so she can find her baptism certificate. Susannah overhears this and tells Esther that she won’t get away with a slap on the wrist next time, and anyway, some words on a certificate won’t make a difference. Oh, but they’ll make a difference to Esther. She promises to help Lucy find her sister, if Lucy helps Esther find her certificate.
Except they’re never going to find Catherine, because she’s now lying dead in a field somewhere, with the other half of the comb clutched in one hand. Ooof.