She didn’t know where the days went. She was kept so busy with the details of living that she seldom had time to consider what her life was all about. Now that had changed. For the past two weeks she’d had the place all to herself. Mr. Langdon had gone visiting and taken the whole brood with him. They were staying with relatives in Pittsburg while he investigated business ventures with the railroad. He had written her a letter which mentioned that he was thinking of getting married again. If so, he would no longer need her services. Papa’s circumstances had improved during the time she had been away from home and he had told her to keep all of what she earned. Mr. Langdon had let her expand the garden and sell whatever the family didn’t need. She had managed to accumulate nearly two hundred dollars. Now she faced choices she had never had before.
She was fifteen and a woman now. Even the physical changes had arrived. She felt grateful to her mother for preparing her for that transition to womanhood. Now that she thought of it, it occurred to her that during the last couple of years before her death, Mama had been preparing all the girls for her own absence. She knew she was dying and did her best to make her death as easy as possible for the others.
Liza began to run over in her mind the many conversations between her and Mama. Mama had talked of how she had met Papa, what it was like being in love and courting, even what it was like to sleep with a man and bear his children. Liza had not yet experienced that, but expected she would be able to put up with it as well as any other woman. It was curious, that part of the man and woman thing. On the one hand, she knew all about the mechanics of sex. One couldn’t grow up in the country and be entirely ignorant of such things. She knew it was something all men were supposed to want and women to tolerate. But in her limited experience, it seemed that many of the young men were completely bewildered and only went through the motions of pursuing the girls. Rather like a dog chasing a train…what would they do if they caught it? For herself, while she had never flt any Grand Passion for any man, there seemed to be some vague yearning deep inside, so cloudy that she couldn’t even identify the target of the desire. Perhaps that would come, in time.
But not around here. She realized that there was really nothing to hold her in Ohio. It was settled and civilized and full of nice folks and a few fools, but it lacked something she wanted, something she needed. Perhaps that was why her folks had left Pennsylvania so long ago and settled in Ohio. Perhaps they too needed the challenge of a new country, the opportunity for independence and having the course of their lives in their own hands. She was sure that was what Papa had wanted. For herself, she wanted to build her own life, not just settle into a role prepared for her by someone else, no matter how well-meaning.
She thought of Ryle Tate, the minister’s nephew, and wondered how he was getting along with the ranch he had planned to build. He might make a good husband if he could learn to let a woman stand beside him instead of behind him, if he could accept a wife as a partner instead of some fragile thing he had to coddle. Men seemed to be like that, she thought. She didn’t know why. But not her man, she told herself. “I won’t settle for being an ornament to some man’s life.”