MaggieWentworth pulled the heavy iron cart through the packed-dirt tunnel. The cart's rusted wheels whined on the corroded metal track that stretched into darkness before and behind her. She could feel the hard leather strap dig into the flesh of her thighs, and her back ached with the pressure. This was a heavy load, fit more for a hardened man than for a woman not bred for this kind of labor. The overseer at the mine was feeling particularly vindictive that day to have given her a load like this. Maggie had refused his lewd advances the morning before, and so today, the coal in her cart was piled high, and she was pulling it on her hands and knees over the rough dirt through one of the tightest shafts in Crestford Mine.
It had only been a few months since Maggie came to work at Crestford. In that little time, she had managed to alienate herself both from the overseer as well as from the other cart haulers, who were mostly young boys or young women like herself. But Maggie wasn't surprised at her current situation. Having grown up in a rural village quite a distance from Crestford Mine, and spending most of her time outdoors among other healthy, vibrant village girls and boys, she would have thought it unusual if she had made friends here. Fenton, her home village, had avoided some of the worst effects of an industrializing country: factories and mines, and the gaunt, distorted laborers who worked them, were virtually unknown there. Most villagers in her town sharecropped at the local farms, which they had operated for generation upon generation, except of course those that had been forced from such work by the rapidly dwindling communal farmland, another product of the changing economy. Or they labored at a small mill nearby, operated by Mr. Ghent, a kindly old man hardly known for his exploitative labor conditions. For the people of Crestford, though, there was no choice but mine work. To them, Fenton was like an unattainable paradise. And Maggie, with her pious, high-minded manner and soft, pretty country features, struck jarringly on the rough, begrimed characters of Crestford.
From the beginning, she was a target of their jeers and ridicules. She had never heard such language as the men used, and was shocked to hear the young girls and boys following their example. They impugned her virtue. They called her slut and tramp, and took bets on how long her fair features would last down in there in the dark, where most worked as many as 15 or 16 hours a day. And they mocked her when she would express her moral outrage at their behavior, and cite scripture at them or warn them of the danger to their eternal souls. Most of them, though, had hardly heard the words of the Bible. Churchgoing was irregular at best in Crestford, and Sunday Schools for the children were nonexistent. It was a hard fact for Maggie, who had grown up in a staunchly religious environment.
Worst of all, the harassment didn't stop at rough or irreligious talk. As the men grew bolder, especially with the realization that Maggie had no relations to protect her, they began harassing her bodily as well. It was dark in the mine, and quarters were close. The men could well get away with inappropriate contact if they wanted to, and they did more and more these days. The boys, too, seeing their fathers and brothers pinch and squeeze the "country slut" Maggie, soon followed suit. Maggie, in whose mind this sort of immoral abuse was as if she herself was committing immoral acts, sorely felt her precarious position, and prayed to God and her savior Jesus Christ to deliver her from this heathen place.
No, Maggie wasn't brought up for this sort of work or lifestyle. In fact, her father had been a respectable tailor in Fenton. Maggie was likely to be married to a solidly middle-class professional man, and so had not been brought up to any particular trade. Her father had been courting the son of the local banker for Maggie, a young Mr. Dunby, whom Maggie thought so dashing in his riding coat and handsome breeches that she would blush when he came for dinner or met her in the street. But dreams of being Mrs. Dunby dissolved barely six months ago. Her father had died suddenly of a heart ailment, and had left his wife and only daughter only debtors' notes at the bank and unpaid bills. Of course, like any well-bred daughter of a respectable tradesman, Maggie could sing and play piano and knit, but these things didn't translate as easily into ready money as they did into the possibility of future matrimony. Thus, having no income, she and her mother were thrown on the local parish for relief, which in better times would have supplied them with enough money perhaps to set up Maggie as a schoolmaster's apprentice. But times were hard: local magistrates were becoming stingier with parish funds.
Soon after, Maggie and her mother found work at a local dressmaker's, but her mother was not a robust woman, and the long hours and close work inflamed her arthritis until she couldn't use her hands after just a month. Unable to afford both of them on her small income, Maggie's mother was forced to enter the parish workhouse. Mrs. Wentworth toiled there for two months, where the indifferent workhouse Guardian had her pulling oakum. She soon fell ill from the damp, unwholesome conditions. The last Maggie heard was that she lay dying of a fever in the sick ward, and would most likely receive a pauper burial. This was too much to deal with for Maggie, who loved her mother dearly. The final blow, however, came when Maggie's employer suddenly closed her shop, throwing all the girls out of work. Times were tight, and local employment scarce, so Maggie, friendless and penniless, went the only place she could to make a shilling: the Crestford mine. Crestford was always looking for laborers: no one lasted long there.
Maggie had heard tales of mine work, of the hot and close quarters of the shafts, of men working without shirts, and sometimes women, too. She had heard of the immoral practices that sometimes went on in deep in the mines, of men and women forced into close contact, of flesh on flesh, and even of relations between the men and women. Like animals, she had thought: Christian men and women of England forced into slavery and into depraved conditions.
Little did she ever entertain the idea of working there herself. But now, deep in the shaft, lugging 75 pounds of coal in an iron cart, her once-nice walking dress clinging in rags to her sweat-soaked body, and her hair, equally soaked, pulled back, she forced herself on through a particularly crowded passage, and tried not to look as the men leered at her, nudging each other and joking about her femininity. It hadn't helped that the overseer--a fat, disgusting, wretch of a man--had made her miserable life even more difficult by plying her with his greasy advances. When she reacted naturally with disgust, he cursed her and even encouraged his men in their depraved humor. No one, not even the other girls--themselves mostly as depraved and even as debauched as the men--came to her defense.
Once, very early on when she first came to the mine, she had seen first hand what could become of girls forced to work there. Before they relegated her to cart-hauling--one of the toughest of the jobs--they had her delivering candles to the workers. One day (or night--it wasn't clear in the mines) she crawled through one of the auxiliary shafts to deliver a box of candles to the men working there. From the mouth of an abandoned shaft along the way she could hear noises emanating, like human, but perhaps a trapped animal. She crawled in to investigate and soon after came upon a scene that shocked and sickened her. A young man hardly out of adolescence and a girl barely of marrying age were engaged in the most vicious activity. Maggie had never seen anything like it, except perhaps in the stalls at a local farm: the boy was on his knees, his back hunched over because of the tight space of the shaft. He had no shirt on, which didn't surprise her, but his pants were down around his ankles, which did. And beneath him, with her behind to the boy, was the girl. She too had nothing covering her chest. Her smallish breasts were squashed beneath her against the ground, and she was partly on her knees, her rump in the air. The boy was repeatedly pushing his hips against her rump, and every time he did the girl would moan grotesquely, making sounds and panting like a pigs Maggie had seen mating back in Fenton. In the candlelight, she could see both of them sweating profusely, and she could hear the wet, smacking sound of flesh on flesh as he forced his hips against her behind.
The girl, her skirt hiked over her hips, clutched at the ground, her eyes closed in what could have been pain, except that she kept repeating in a thick and husky voice, "That's right, Will! That's right!" Maggie was riveted to the scene, both in moral horror and fascination. After just a few moments, the boy began to whimper, and the girl said suddenly, almost ferociously, "Not in me, Will! Do it on me arse!" In response, the boy pulled himself away from the girl. Maggie could now clearly see her arse in full view, red with the friction of the boy's hips, and she could see the boy, too. She could see his manhood, fully erect--a new sight for her, and she noted how much it resembled the sex of the farm animals back home. He grabbed it and began pulling it rapidly, making the same whimpering noises. The girl looked back, her face now cracked by a wanton smile. "Come on, Will! Hurry up! They'll miss us up there!" In response, Will let out a low moan and from his erection shot his seed. It burst out forcefully, and Maggie nearly let out a cry of her own in surprise. She saw sticky strands of it land on the girl's flesh, some of it going all the way up her back and almost to her hair. The girl didn't seem to care that it dripped down her sides. Instead, she merely pulled her blouse up over her wet body. Spent, the boy gave the girl a playful slap on her behind and said, "Well, Jenny, miss us or no, this here's the best shaft in the mine!"
As they giggled over this foul joke, which Maggie only half understood, Maggie retreated quietly back down the tunnel to finish her task.
Since then, Maggie had witnessed many such scenes, though none so flagrant. She had seen women, young ones mostly, stripped to the waste from the heat of the place, suffering filthy men to rub against them "accidentally." She had seen men fondling women's breasts, and once even a man touch the rear of a woman below her skirts. Mostly the girls laughed such instances off, but Maggie had seen more than one girl encouraging it. She had seen Jenny again, too, going off discretely with another man, this time much older than Will. She wondered often why Jenny seemed so fresh and active, and then it occurred to her that Jenny probably didn't do much mine work. Especially after seeing her with the overseer, encouraging his advances, Maggie thought that Jenny earned her wages in other ways than cart-hauling.
As the days and weeks passed, Maggie grew more and more accustomed to the rough talk, the curses, the lewd gestures and advances of the men and boys. What she once considered devilish and repugnant talk she now found herself occasionally employing in her own thoughts. More than once, she even heard herself muttering aloud the foulest language at a particularly provoking miner. At first this change in her manner frightened her, and she prayed long and hard at night for the strength to forbear against her tribulations. But as her work grew more wearisome, Maggie had all but fallen off praying before bed: this was time needed for sleep. She soon resigned herself to this language of the mines that was becoming natural to her, just as natural as it was to these beasts toiling away to their own moral and physical destruction deep in the earth.
Maggie's moral defenses were declining in other regards, as well. Sometimes, she would feel a hand on her, groping her in the dark, and hardly even realize it. On one occasion, she had even undone her own blouse for some relief from the suffocating heat. Her breasts, loosed from the thin material, hung free. Her soft flesh was pearly with sweat as she went about her tasks. Soon, though, she caught the eye of a young man, massaging himself in one dark corner, gazing at her lustily, his jaw slack. He didn't even register any feeling of shame when she met his eye. She had thought him working on something, but she now realized he had been there fondling himself for some time. Maggie, though, hardly bothered to cover herself, she was so hot. And she could hardly feel righteous condemnation at this perversity. This soulless creature was hardly human: reared in the mines, with no education, and only the gross talk of immoral men and women to keep him company, he was no better than an animal. If she couldn't persevere down here, with her strong moral upbringing, how was this man supposed to? Maggie even found herself growing curious as the young man fondled himself nearby. Without realizing it, she even turned herself toward him to give him a fuller view of her breasts. She was intrigued that this seemed to increase his arousal, and that his arousal caused her own breasts to harden in response. His movements grew more rapid and his face began to contort as if in pain. Maggie yearned to see the final result of his activities, as she had seen the result of Will's.
She stepped forward to get a better look. If was no better than an animal, then she was hardly committing any sin by encouraging him. His teeth were clenched, and his breath came through them forcefully, along with some saliva that sprayed out. Maggie, fascinated, was but a few feet from him, and could now see his manhood clearly. An instant later, the young man began to jerk and convulse, and a thick stream of his seed dribbled from his sex. It didn't spray out like Will's did, but oozed from him, collecting in a small puddle on the floor. Maggie, suddenly disgusted with herself, clutched her blouse to her chest and slinked off down the corridor. An hour later found her in a dark passage, on her knees, praying for forgiveness and deliverance. But deep down she knew these were just words, and she knew that her horror and disgust was but a show for herself, and bad one at that.
Month followed month, Maggie hardly knew how much time passed. Since nothing shocked her anymore, not even herself especially after the incident with the young man, there was nothing notable to mark the passage of time there in the dark. Maggie probably would have kept on in this fashion, slowly wasting away in the mine, suffering the same ailments as the others, and eventually cripple herself and be forced into the workhouse like her mother and as she had heard many others do.
She endured the gropes and comments of the rough miners with relative indifference. The monotony of it all even depleted whatever passing fascination had made her encourage the young man in his self-pleasure. One day, though, was different. She was delivering a box of tools to some men in one of the deeper shafts when there was a slight cave-in along her route. She was forced to take an alternate course along an abandoned auxiliary shaft. She soon found another miner forced to do the same crouching in the tunnel behind her. Unable to turn, she couldn't get a glimpse of this one. She could feel him close on her heels, the dim light from his candled helmet barely illuminating the tunnel. The going was slow, and she sensed his impatience, sensed him moving closer, heard and felt his breath. Her vague sense of fear caused her to sweat even more, blinding her eyes with it so she was forced to stop more than once to wipe her brow. She knew, though, that if she stopped, he would nearly brush up against her behind, so she tried to keep moving.
Finally, she had to stop, and as she did, she could feel a bold hand on the flesh of her leg. At first she thought it was just him bumping into her, but she noted that it wasn't retracted. Before she could collect herself to move on, the hand had moved, up beneath her skirts. Maggie froze, unable to move. She wanted to turn, but she couldn't in the tightness of the tunnel. She wanted to cry out, but who would hear her this deep? And who would care? The hand on the back of her thigh progressed upward. Women in the mines didn't dare wear knickers: the heat could be too intense. So Maggie found herself open to the fondling of this miner, unprotected even by the thin veil of feminine material.
As his hand slowly creeped up to her most delicate area, Maggie thought she heard a noise, like a goat bleating. With some surprise, she realized it was coming from her own throat. She was making that noise, bleating like an animal in lust as this rough miner's hand found its way to her slick inner thighs. He began massaging her center, his fingers rubbing her pubic mound, while his thumb fumbled at her opening, which was moist now with more than sweat. Maggie briefly considered the moral ramifications of what she was doing, but these thoughts were intrusions from a former life, and she nearly laughed at herself for her own naïve quaintness.
All rational thoughts quickly fled when the miner's thumb found its way into her own dark recess, quickly removing the last of her virtues. As the pain subsided, Maggie could feel this man's thumb working in and out of her, his fingers manipulating her mound. Her breathing was ragged, and it echoed off the walls of the tunnel. But Maggie couldn't hear over the sound of her own heart beating in her ears. Soon the voices in her throat became louder, closer together, until she emitted almost a continuous moan. The miner's hand worked faster and faster, Maggie's hips bucked against him. She could smell her own body, its pungent odor, and it only increased her arousal.
Her bucking increased to a frenzied pace. Her hair fell in tatters around her face, soaked in her sweat. Her dress clung to her moist body, and sweat beaded down her arms. She ventured to look back once more, and this time, in the dim light, she could see her assailant, though not his features very well. Like the perverted young man in the mine shaft, this man's pants were undone, and his hand worked his manhood furiously. She could hear his broken breathing. She caught sight briefly of his manhood as his hand slipped down it, and she couldn't help feeling a thrill of illicit pleasure, of animal pleasure, as she let her gaze rest on it. She wondered why he wasn't doing to her what Will had done to Jenny.
Finally, Maggie's senses blurred and her mind reeled as the feeling between her legs reached climax. For a few seconds, she could hardly breathe, and her legs felt as if they were on fire. Exhausted, her arms buckled beneath her and she collapsed in a sweaty heap. Undeterred, the miner kept fisting his prick (she had heard it called thus by the vulgar boys in the mine), and massaging the globes of her rear end. Finally, she heard him gurgle and whimper, and then his motions stopped. The hand was withdrawn. She could hear him retreat down the tunnel, leaving her alone in the dark.
Even through the thick haze of indifference that had clouded her brain, thoughts of this episode plagued Maggie for days afterward. Could she have become like one of these beasts in this mine? Had she no scruples about letting strange men pleasure themselves with her? Was she a common strumpet, like Jenny? Her one peace of mind was in the fact that the anonymous miner and the young man had evidently not boasted of the incident to anyone else. As far as the others were concerned, Maggie was still the fresh country girl, unspoiled, at least bodily, by the mines.
More plaguing were Maggie's less wholesome, less self-chastising thoughts. Ever since these episodes, Maggie's dreams were filled with the sounds and smells of it, and she occasionally awoke with her own hand between her legs. She knew from the preacher's sermons back in her village that sin begat more, deeper sins. Was she on the downward path the preacher spoke of? Had her animal nature betrayed her very soul? She almost laughed at this idea though: what was the use of a soul if you lived in hell? God evidently had forgotten these people, and her, and if so, she was already living out her own eternal torment. Yielding herself up to other damned souls was hardly a sin now. In fact, it had been her only enjoyment since coming here.