Lyddie focuses more on Rachel and less on herself when Rachel comes to live with her.
Lyddie is not really a selfish person, but she can be very hyper-focused. When she leaves the farm, her family is scattered in every direction. Lyddie has a dream of getting them all back together again, and everything she does is in pursuit of this dream. That is why she becomes so fixated on money. She feels responsible for her family’s debts.
Lyddie’s youngest sister dies, her mother is institutionalized, and her little sister Rachel has nowhere to go. Her uncle brings Rachel to Lyddie, because he really doesn’t seem to care what happens to her. It doesn’t matter to him that Lyddie is not an adult.
When her uncle drops off Rachel, Lyddie’s first thought is horror. She fears she will be kicked out of her company boarding house. Factory girls are not allowed to have children living with them.
Lyddie had received a letter from their mother telling her Rachel was not doing well, but she was not prepared for how thin and small Rachel was.
And what was she to do with Rachel? The child hadn't spoken a word since her arrival. She hadn't even cried. She seemed more dead than alive. And precious time must be spent finding her a place to stay and precious money put out for her keep‐more if she was to go to school. (Ch. 16)
The girl seems like a big burden to Lyddie at first. Mrs. Bedlow says she is too young to work in the factory, which frustrates Lyddie. Young girls work as doffers, but Rachel is not strong enough. Lyddie is not sure she can support the girl. She barely makes any money once she has paid for her room and board.
Lyddie becomes fiercely protective of her though. She wants to give her a future, where she can get strong and go to school. Rachel is not with her long when Charlie arrives to take her with him. He has a real family, and they want to adopt Rachel.
Even though having Rachel show up unannounced was hard for Lyddie, letting Rachel go is harder. Rachel represented family to Lyddie. She understands that Rachel will have a better life, but she hates to lose her. Lyddie feels like her purpose in life is to get the family together. When that dream disappears, she does not know what to do.
No! she wanted to howl. No! What will be the use of me, then? But she kept her lips pressed together against such a cry. At last she said, "There's Rachel ..." (Ch. 18)
Lyddie has become used to protecting Rachel. It is her reason for existence. The little girl and Lyddie are a family. When Charlie comes, he takes that with him. Charlie feels bad because he knows Lyddie tried, but in reality Rachel is better off with him.
After Rachel leaves, Lyddie has only herself to think of. The farm is gone, and she doesn't need to send money home. She misses Rachel and Charlie and the dream of them being a family. For a short time when Rachel was with her she felt as if that dream was possible again.