As the family farm is in serious debt, Lyddie and her brother Charlie need to leave home in order to find work. With their old man nowhere to be seen and their mother in a psychiatric institution, the two young siblings really have no choice.
Charlie quickly finds work in a saw-mill. As for Lyddie, she winds up working as a kitchen maid at an inn called Cutler's Tavern. Unfortunately, things don't work out for her too well in her new career. The tavern's owner, Mrs. Cutler, is a hard taskmaster who drives Lyddie into the ground, treating the young girl like a skivvy and forcing her to slave away for hours on end each day. To make matters worse, Mrs. Cutler makes Lyddie sleep in the hall and tells her she can only go to bed once all the guests have, and that she must wake up before them.
Working conditions at Cutler's Tavern, then, are appalling. Lyddie knows that she can, and must, do better. Mrs. Cutler inadvertently gives her a helping hand by firing her. Lyddie then makes her way to Lowell, Massachusetts, where she will find work in a textile mill.