"Lyddie" by Katherine Paterson, Chapters 6–10

August 10, 2022
Determined to support her family, Lyddie is drawn to the textile mills flourishing in 19th-century Lowell, Massachusetts, but her dreams are threatened by the brutal working conditions she finds there.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–5, Chapters 6–10, Chapters 11–16, Chapters 17–23
“I have some bread and cheese,” she said.
“A veritable feast,” he said, his good humor returned.
“It was half Stevenses’ calf by rights,” she said, trying to diminish for both of them the enormity of what she had done.
“Don’t be impertinent!”
“I’m not having your dead body on my conscience,” the cook said.
Her heart was light even if her feet felt clumsy in their makeshift boots and oversized stockings.
Long before dark they were chafing in the unaccustomed bindings of stockings and ill-fitting boots, reminding her that they had done too much.
Then, just at dusk, the sky opened, and it began to rain—not light spring showers, but cold, soaking torrents of rain, streaming down her face, icicling rivulets down her chest and legs.
The mistress of the local inn was at first shocked to see a young girl traveling alone and then solicitous.
Lyddie hesitated, but her sodden clothes and blistered feet reminded her how unsuited she was to continue the journey.
How rude they were, these so-called gentry.
The thaw and spring rains had turned parts of the roadway into muddy sloughs, and despite the coachman’s skill, early on the last morning they were stuck fast.
The passengers were all obliged to alight, and the four men ordered by the coachman to push the wheels out of the rut.
Lyddie watched the hapless gentlemen heave and shove and sweat, all to no avail.
She found a flat stone and put it under the mired wheel.
He jerked the reins, his eyes twinkling, as more cries came up from the irate inmates as they tried to disentangle their bodies in the carriage and settle themselves on the seats once more.
Coaching can be a wearisome, lonesome job, my girl.
They were huge and foreboding in the gray light of afternoon.
In the clatter of five girls dressing and squabbling over a single basin, Lyddie was forced fully awake and began to remember where she was.
He does it to amuse himself and humiliate his betters. He’d wreck a coach if he thought it would give him a rollicking story to tell in the tavern that night.
So Lyddie was moved to a smaller bedroom on the third floor to be with Amelia, Prudence, and the obviously disgruntled Betsy, who, since their previous roommate had gone home to New Hampshire the week before, had had the luxury of a bed to herself.
The gate of the fence was locked like a jail yard, but Mrs. Bedlow wasn’t deterred. She simply went to the door of one of the low buildings and walked in.
From the brick face, six even rows of windows seemed to glower down at her through the gray April drizzle like so many unfriendly eyes.
“It must seem imposing to a farm girl,” Mrs. Bedlow said.
Mrs. Bedlow marched her over to the hospital after dinner where a doctor cruelly gouged her leg and poured a mysterious liquid directly into the wound.
They entered the factory complex through the counting room as they had two weeks before, but this time it was teeming with men, all dressed like gentlemen.
From the overarching metal frame crowning each machine, wooden harnesses, carrying hundreds of warp threads drawn from a massive beam at the back of each loom, clanked up and down.
No one seemed to mind the deafening din.
At either end of the shed, made by the crisscrossing of warp threads, was a narrow wooden trough. From the trough on the left she retrieved the shuttle.
“We call it the kiss of death,” she shouted, smiling wryly to soften the words.
Still, the physical strength the work required paled beside the dexterity needed to rethread a shuttle quickly, or, heaven help her, tie one of those infernal weaver’s knots.
During one of these respites, Diana drew Lyddie to the nearest window.
She wanted to learn everything—to become as quietly competent as the tall girl.
A local phrenologist was in one corner measuring a girl’s skull and preparing to read her character from his findings.
It seemed extravagant to take another sheet to write to Charlie, but Diana had said that she ought to write to him as well.
“She’s devious,” Amelia muttered. “You have to watch her. Believe me, Lyddie. I’m only thinking of your own good.”
Today will be something more strenuous, I fear. We’ll work all three looms together, all right?
He yanked the cord, the wide leather belt above him shifted from a loose to a tight pulley, and suddenly all the hundred or so silent looms, in raucous concert, shuddered and groaned into fearsome life.
Now that she thought of it, she could hardly breathe, the air was so laden with moisture and debris.
And up to now you thought yourself a strapping country farm girl who could do anything, didn’t you?
She fought sleep, ravenous for every word. She had not had any appetite for the bountiful meal downstairs, but now she was feeling a hunger she knew nothing about.

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