As Chapter 20 opens, Lyddie is working at the looms and has all of her old strength back. However, the floor is very different now. Diana has left the factory, and Lyddie misses her kind, confident presence. Instead of working with Diana, Lyddie finds herself mentoring Brigid, the Irish girl, as Diana had once mentored her. When she realizes Brigid cannot read, she patiently teaches her first the sounds of the letters and then how to read and write. Their lessons continue after working hours, with Lyddie meeting Brigid in various places. Lyddie never goes to Brigid's house, not because she is afraid to go into the squalid Irish section but because she doesn't want Brigid to "be ashamed of the only home she had."
Lyddie misses her family and feels a weight in her chest over her lost dream of having them all reunited in their old cabin again, but she tries to tell herself it is better to not have to worry about repaying the debt or to be responsible for her siblings. She gets a letter from Charlie telling her that he and Rachel are doing well and urging her to consider Luke Stevens' offer of marriage. Then she receives a letter from the asylum telling her that her mother has passed away. She feels surprisingly little sorrow; in a sense she lost her mother a long time ago.
One day during the fall, Lyddie waits for Brigid to emerge from the factory behind her at quitting time, but Brigid does not appear. Lyddie goes back into the building to look for her and encounters Mr. Marsden, the supervisor, making unwanted advances toward Brigid. Lyddie grabs a bucket of water and turns it upside down on the overseer's head. Lyddie and Brigid then escape from the building; Lyddie finds herself laughing uncontrollably because she remembers the bear that had gotten into their cabin and managed to get the oatmeal pot stuck on its head.