Chapters 4–6 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on March 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1297
Lyddie is settling into her job at the tavern, taking responsibility for the kitchen fire, coping with Willie, the hired boy, and developing a friendship with Triphena, the cook. Triphena tells her the story of two frogs that fell into a butter churn. One immediately drowned, but the other kept kicking and ended up floating on butter. Lyddie knows which frog she is.
As the months pass, Lyddie begins to lose her connection with her family. She does not hear from Charlie, and she does not think about him much, nor about her father. Lyddie and Charlie left notes for their father at the cabin, but now Lyddie begins to lose hope that he will ever return. She also feels that he never should have left his family.
As the autumn deepens and the snow falls, the tavern becomes less busy. One day, a “slave catcher” passes through, the Triphena mutters that she doesn’t “like the smell of them.” Lyddie notices that times are changing; people no longer spin their own wool but send it to the mills in Lowell, and as a result, the master is planning to sell his no-longer-profitable sheep.
Charlie surprises Lyddie with a visit, but the siblings cannot talk much, because they are not alone. Still, they share what little news they have; Lyddie worries that her brother has not grown much, but Charlie assures her that the miller is fair and that he has plenty to eat.
During the winter, Lyddie spends her days in the kitchen listening to the conversations of the men. They often discuss runaway slaves and the rewards offered for them, deciding that they would turn in runaways if they found them. Triphena calls them fools and says that they “don't know what it’s like to be trapped.” Lyddie thinks only of the one-hundred-dollar reward and how it would pay off her father’s debts.
When March arrives, everyone at the tavern is busy making syrup and molded sugar, and Lyddie finally gets a chance to go home.
When the mistress goes to Boston, Triphena tells Lyddie to take a couple of days off and go home. Lyddie is hesitant, not knowing if the mistress would approve, but Triphena assures her, and Lyddie decides to go. She stops at the mill to see Charlie, but the miller’s wife tells her that he is at school and adds that they are fond of her brother. Lyddie leaves quickly, unable to identify or express her feelings but realizing that she is losing Charlie. She does not want to embarrass him, yet she is jealous and angry that her brother has found a family beyond her. She is his “real family,” she thinks bitterly.
When Lyddie arrives at the cabin, she is shocked to find someone already there. She is in the process of climbing through the window—the wood she and Charlie stacked against the door is still in place—when she sees a shadow of a tall man. The man’s eyes shine out in contrast to his dark skin as he and Lyddie stare at each other.
Lyddie is both terrified and indignant as she faces the man in the cabin. He speaks first, reciting a Bible quotation about how the person who does not enter through the door is a thief or robber. His voice is soft and musical as he continues, assuring Lyddie that he knows she is neither. When Lyddie introduces herself, the man calls her his “hostess” and asks her forgiveness for his intrusion. “Brother Stevens,” he says, has assured him that Lyddie would not mind his staying in the cabin.
Lyddie allows the man to help her inside and takes a cup of tea from him as she tries to figure out who he is. She soon learns that he is Ezekial Abernathy, a fugitive hidden by the Stevens family. He tells Lyddie some of his history, how he learned to read the Bible, served as a preacher for his community, and managed to escape from slavery, leaving his wife and child behind but vowing to return for them.
In some sense, Ezekial reminds Lyddie of her father, and she becomes upset when he implies that she, too, is a slave of sorts. Lyddie insists that she is free, knowing even as she says it that it is not true. The two share a meal, and Lyddie begins to admit that she was tempted to turn him in as a runaway. She stops short of saying the words, but Ezekial understands. “But I won’t,” Lyddie asserts. “Now I know you, I couldn’t ever.” Ezekial thanks her for the compliment and calls her beautiful, which Lyddie denies.
Before she leaves the cabin the next morning, Lyddie gives Ezekial the money from the sale of the calf, knowing that he needs it more than she does. Ezekial accepts it but insists that it is a loan. As the two part ways, Ezekial hopes that Lyddie, too, will find her freedom.
When Lyddie arrives back at the tavern, Mistress Cutler dismisses her because of her unauthorized absence. Triphena advises her to just stay out of the way for a day, because the mistress will forget, but Lyddie sees her opportunity and decides to take it. She will go to Lowell, Massachusetts, and become a factory girl.
To fully understand chapters 4–6 of Lyddie, it helps to know some historical context. First, Ezekial and many fugitive slaves like him traveled north on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses owned by people opposed to slavery. Further, Quakers like the Stevens family were strong promoters of the Underground Railroad, and they were clever in hiding their guests. Indeed, Luke may have been thinking all along that the family could use the Worthen cabin to hide fugitives, perhaps explaining why he is quick to volunteer to tend to it. Slave catchers often identified and then closely monitored potential stops on the Underground Railroad, and the Stevens family’s house is under surveillance. The cabin, with its barrier of wood, provides the ideal shelter for Ezekial.
Ezekial tells Lyddie that he learned to read using the Bible and that “a little reading is an exceedingly dangerous thing.” In the pre–Civil War South, teaching a slave to read was illegal. Ezekial learns on his own but is still in danger of being discovered and punished for it. Further, reading has given him “notions,” and this, too, is “dangerous,” for these notions are clearly about the possibility and desirability of freedom. The Bible, Ezekial implies, has taught him critical lessons about the meaning of life and the dignity of the human person. Thus motivated, he has set out for freedom, taking an immense risk and leaving his family behind with only a promise that he will return for them.
Part of Ezekial’s risk involves men like those Lyddie overhears at the tavern. They do not consider runaway slaves to be human beings. Rather, they selfishly focus on the reward money, justifying their ideas by comparing the slave to a horse and noting that no one will pay them for keeping quiet about a runaway. In their callousness, they wonder if the reward applies even if the runaway has frozen to death in the frigid Vermont winter. These are the men whom Ezekial and other fugitives must evade on their way to freedom and safety in Canada.
Indeed, after meeting Ezekial and getting to know him, Lyddie has a new outlook on runaway slaves. She no longer views them as an opportunity for monetary gain but as human beings with families, dreams, and struggles. In fact, Lyddie learns that they are, in many ways, just like her and her own family.