What do Lyddie and Triphena overhear the two men talking about when they come into the inn in Lyddie?
Lyddie overhears two men discussing rewards for escaped slaves.
Lyddie overhears two hired men discussing escaped slaves one day in the tavern. She usually enjoys listening to the hired men because they talk as they work, and she finds the conversations interesting. On this day, she is curious about the escaped slaves. One of the men says “another slave up near Ferrisburg" was caught.
"The legislature can say all they want to about not giving up runaways, but as long as them rewards are high, somebody's going to report them." (Ch. 4)
The problem is that slavery is legal in some parts of the country, and not in others. The southerners practice slavery, while it is illegal in the north. Ultimately, this creates some confusion if runaway slaves are escaping to the north.
The men use the example of owning a horse, comparing owning slaves to owning other property.
“ …Man buys a horse fair and legal, he sure as hell going after it if it bolts. You pay for something, it's yours. If the law says a man can own slaves, he's got a right to go after them if they bolt. Ain't no difference I can see." (Ch. 4)
According to Otis, slaves are property, and if you turn one in you deserve to collect the reward like any other property. Clearly these men would turn in a slave if they found one.
Lyddie has never seen a black person, but she sympathizes with them. She feels trapped herself, sold into a kind of servitude by her family to pay off their debts. She considers what to do, based on the price of the reward. Turning in a slave would allow her to pay off her debts and return home.
Lyddie will have to face this choice soon, when she encounters her first slave, Ezekial. However, she does not turn him in to collect the reward. She helps him instead. This shows that while Lyddie can be selfish, she also has a good heart and is capable of making selfless gestures.