Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, is a young adult novel. The main character is Isabel, a thirteen-year-old slave who works for the Locktons, a Loyalist family in Manhattan with her sister, Ruth. Isabel suffers under the cruelty of Mrs. Lockton. She is a mean and miserable woman who herself is abused by her husband. The relationship between she and her husband is both physically and verbally abusive.
The fate of Isabel and her sister have always been entwined with slavery and the opportunity for freedom. Miss Mary Finch, their previous owner in Rhode Island, had promised their freedom before she died. She also had taught her slaves to read and write. When Miss Mary Finch died, there was no written proof of her promise of freedom. As a result, her nephew inherited her estate and promptly sold Isabel and Ruth to the Locktons. When they are waiting to be sold, Isabel considers running way. Jenny, an Irish servant, warns Isabel not to flee. Isabel often rethinks that decision.
The novel takes place in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. England is taking over New York City. Isabel is confused about whether to aid the Loyalists or the Rebels (Colonists). Slaves are used by both sides. Isabel soon discovers that the Loyalist and Tories both support slavery. She and a group of women hear the rumblings of the American Revolution. Master Lockton and the Tories are planning to end the rebel uprisings.
The Rebels approach Isabel and offer to help her find her sister (who was sent away) and promise her freedom. Curzon, a slave, persuades her to spy on her owners who have information about a British invasion.
Each chapter begins with an advertisement, handbill, newspaper article, or letter from the period. Quotes from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and excerpts from letters from Washington, Franklin, and Adams appear throughout the novel. These elements provide a sense of the time and place for the reader and help posit Isabel’s position in these critical historical events.
Reviewers enjoy Anderson’s fast-paced novel and presentation. The work is well researched and offers a look at slavery just as the United States was developing.
Chapter 1 Summary
As Chains begins, a slave girl named Isabel is on her way to the funeral of her owner, Miss Mary Finch. Isabel’s little sister, Ruth, is mentally disabled, so she gets to ride in the wagon with the coffin and the pastor. Isabel herself is big and strong enough to walk. As she nears the cemetery, she asks permission to run up ahead.
Mr. Robert Finch, Miss Mary’s nephew, seems annoyed by Isabel’s request. As he considers it, she reflects that she never met him until a few weeks ago, when he suddenly appeared for a visit. He immediately noticed his aunt’s sickliness and decided to stay for a while. Isabel is sure that his motives for doing so were not sentimental but financial. She reflects that Miss Mary “wasn’t even cold on her deathbed” when Mr. Robert began taking her coins and possessions. Now Mr. Robert is rushing his aunt’s funeral, not even giving the neighbors time to pay their respects as they normally would. He says that he does not want to stay long in Rhode Island. It is not Isabel’s place to criticize him for any of this, so she says nothing about his actions. However, she does ask again if she can go ahead to the cemetery. Mr. Robert reluctantly agrees.
Isabel rushes past the part of the cemetery where the white people are buried. She enters the small, fenced-off area that is set aside for black graves. She goes straight to the back of the yard, where her mother is buried. On her way there, Isabel reflects that it has already been a whole year since Momma died of smallpox. Isabel and Ruth both bear smallpox scars, but both of them survived their illness.
All her life, Isabel has believed that ghosts may appear and speak to their relatives at dawn. Kneeling, she asks her mother to “cross back over” to the living world and give her some advice. A long-awaited day has arrived, and Isabel does not know where to go or what to do. Momma does not appear. Isabel pleads with her. She even leaves an offering of oat cakes and honey—but no ghosts come. All Isabel sees are birds and butterflies. Could Momma’s ghost be angry because Isabel did not know how to hold a proper funeral? What will Isabel and Ruth do now, without Miss Finch and without Momma?
Isabel is startled out of her thoughts by Mr. Robert, who grabs her hard by the arm and shouts at her for failing to hear him the first time he called. Cringing from the pain of his grip, she says she is sorry. He releases her and tells her to go to the white part of the cemetery. “Go pray for her that owned you, girl,” he says.
Chapter 2 Summary
When the funeral is over, Isabel has trouble working up the courage to do what she has to do. But with Momma gone, it is her responsibility. She approaches Pastor Weeks, holding herself in the proper way—“chin up, eyes down”—and asks where she and Ruth should go. She explains that she knows she can find work but that she does not know where they should sleep.
Pastor Weeks seems surprised by Isabel’s question. He says that she has no need to find a new home because Mr. Robert owns them now. Isabel corrects him:
Ruth and me are free, Pastor. Miss Finch freed us in her will. Momma, too, if she had lived. It was done up legal, on paper with wax seals.
To Isabel’s dismay, Mr. Robert says that she is lying. He says that his aunt did not need a will because there was no reason for anyone to disagree about how to distribute her property. After all, he was her only relative.
Isabel explains that she saw the will and read it aloud to Miss Finch, whose eyes were bad at the end of her life. Mr. Robert calls her a liar; slaves cannot read. Isabel suggests that he ask Miss Mary's lawyer, Mr. Cornell. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Cornell is far away in Boston.
Pastor Weeks seems uneasy about this disagreement. He admits that Miss Finch had “some odd notions” that led her to teach Isabel to read—but otherwise he supports Mr. Robert. Pastor says that if no will can be found, then the ownership of the girls must naturally pass to Miss Finch’s nephew. With that, he considers the matter closed. He refuses to contact Mr. Cornell in Boston, and he tells Isabel to forget about freedom.
Mr. Robert immediately begins making plans to sell the two girls. Isabel protests, but the pastor shushes her. He tells Mr. Robert to make sure to bring along the girls' shoes and blankets. “They’ll fetch a better price that way,” he explains. He even agrees to lend his wagon so that Mr. Robert can set out immediately.
Isabel stands still, feeling cold with panic. She wonders if she and Ruth will be separated. The last time her family was sold, when Ruth was just a baby, their poppa was taken away. He roared and "fought like a lion” against the separation, and it took five armed men to subdue him. Isabel has not seen him since. Now she needs to roar like a lion, but she cannot make a sound.
Chapter 3 Summary
Mr. Robert takes the girls home to get their shoes and blankets. He does not let them take anything else, not even Ruth’s doll or the wooden bowl that is all they have left from Poppa. Isabel feels that she needs some souvenir from her family, so she steals a few flower seeds that used to belong to Momma. Someday, maybe, Isabel will be able to plant these seeds and watch them grow.
A few hours later, Mr. Robert and the girls arrive in Newport. Mr. Robert leads the way to a loud, busy tavern. Inside, Isabel comforts Ruth, who sometimes has epileptic fits in busy places. The two girls stand out of the way in a corner while Mr. Robert confers with the tavern owner and his wife.
The owner and his wife, Bill and Jenny, refuse to let Mr. Robert hold a slave auction on their front steps. “Auctions of people ain’t seemly,” Bill says. Mr. Robert argues, saying that the couple will receive a share of the profits. Rhode Island has not allowed the import of slaves for about two years. Because of this, slaves are in short supply, and they bring high prices. Bill refuses to be part of the deal anyway. He encourages Mr. Robert to conduct his business by advertising in the paper or speaking quietly to likely buyers.
Leaving the men to talk, Jenny takes the girls to the kitchen and gives them a meal of bread, ham, cider, and pie. As it turns out, Jenny knew Isabel’s momma. Jenny came to the United States as an indentured servant, and she worked on the plantation where Isabel was born. There the white servants had to work just as hard as the black slaves—but only the whites got to earn their freedom. When she hears Isabel’s story about Miss Finch and the missing will, Jenny is dismayed. However, she does not have the power to help the girls.
Moments later, Bill calls the girls into the area where the tavern's customers eat. Mr. Robert makes them stand against a wall as he sits down to a meal with a wealthy couple,...
(The entire section is 649 words.)
Chapters 4-5 Summary
In the boat to New York, Isabel and Ruth ride with the cargo: “six sheep, a pen of hogs, three families from Scotland, and fifty casks of dried cod.” Throughout the trip, Isabel feels devastated to be leaving Rhode Island. Ghosts cannot travel over water, so Momma's ghost cannot follow Isabel and Ruth to the Locktons' house in New York. From now on, the girls are on their own.
When the ship docks, Isabel and Ruth stare in wonder at the busy waterfront. They see people of every color, including more black people than they have before seen in one place. Rebel soldiers patrol the area, armed with muskets. Poor workers scurry around, dressed like country people. A few wealthy people walk among the crowds “like...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
The boy, Curzon, tells Isabel to follow him, but he moves so quickly she cannot keep up. Eventually she calls out, begging him to stop, and he accuses her of being slow and stupid. She tells him that he is being rude. However, when she catches her breath, she realizes that she is being foolish. Without his help, she will never get back to the Locktons’ house and to Ruth. Isabel hates apologizing, but she does so anyway.
Curzon stops at a shop and comes out with some rolls and butter. He takes Isabel to a little courtyard and invites her to sit down. When he offers her a roll, she says that she has no money to pay for it. He explains that he got the food for free, so she accepts it. She has not eaten much since leaving...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Isabel has to walk about a mile from the water pump back to the Locktons’ house. The water bucket is heavy, and her arms are killing her by the time she arrives. When Curzon points out her new home, she forgets about the pain. The Locktons’ place is an enormous, four-floor stone mansion. Curzon tells her to go to the back entrance. As a slave, she is not allowed to use the front.
In back, Isabel meets Becky Berry, the Locktons’ white servant. Becky immediately begins describing Isabel’s duties in her new home. Isabel will fetch water, carry wood, scrub floors, and help with the cooking. Although inclined to bark orders, Becky seems relatively kind. She warns Isabel that it is unsafe for a slave girl in Madam's...
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
From the moment she enters the Locktons’ home, Isabel spends every waking moment working. In the mornings, she gets up before anyone else to light the fire in the kitchen. All day, she does the heavy housework while Becky cooks the meals. Madam criticizes nearly everything Isabel does, but Isabel does not dare defend herself. She has not forgotten the way Madam hit her down at the docks.
One night, the Locktons argue loudly, and Mr. Lockton storms out of the house. Madam goes to bed early, so Isabel and Ruth do too. Isabel lies awake feeling lost. She knows where she is physically, but she has found her way into the wrong life and she cannot get back out.
The next morning, Madam calls Ruth into the parlor....
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
One afternoon, Isabel is called to the parlor, where Madam presents her to Master Lockton’s wealthy aunt, Lady Seymour. When Isabel enters, her eyes immediately find Ruth, who is dressed up like a doll and looks as if she has been crying. Isabel is desperate to know why her sister is unhappy, but it is not safe to ask questions now.
Isabel curtsies and introduces herself. Madam promptly declares Isabel Finch a ridiculous name for a slave and says that Isabel will be called Sal Lockton from now on. This makes Isabel furious, but she knows that it is no use fighting. She allows Becky to call her Sal, but she continues thinking of herself as Isabel. The Locktons generally call her “girl.”
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
When all the visitors leave, Isabel cleans up after them. She and Ruth eat the leftovers from the men’s plates, but Ruth barely touches her share. After dinner, they go downstairs to the cellar, where they sleep on a corn husk mattress by the potato bin. Isabel asks why Ruth was crying earlier. Ruth starts to cry, but she just repeats Madam’s orders: “No foolin’” and “Shhh.” Isabel thinks Madam must have hit Ruth for playing or talking out of turn. It infuriates Isabel that she can do nothing to protect her sister.
When Ruth falls asleep, Isabel gets out of bed and tiptoes upstairs. As she creeps through the dark kitchen, she pretends to herself that she is only headed to the outhouse. When she reaches the...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
In the morning, Isabel oversleeps. She gets behind on her work, and she cannot catch up. When she starts to sweep, Madam tells her to air the bedding. Isabel gathers all the bedding and hangs it in the backyard. By the time she returns to the house, Madam yells at her to clean the floors and polish the balconies. When that task is finished, Madam shouts again—this time because Isabel has been so stupid as to hang the bedding out to air on a day when it looks like rain.
Isabel goes outside to bring in the sheets. As she folds them, she keeps an eye on the gate, waiting for the rebel soldiers to arrive. She imagines that they will whisk her and Ruth away as soon as they find evidence of Master Lockton’s treachery....
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Madam faints after Master Lockton is taken away. Becky is concerned, and she sends Isabel to fetch Lady Seymour. After memorizing Becky's instructions, Isabel wends her way through the streets of New York and soon finds the right house. Following the usual protocol, she knocks on the back door instead of the front. A pale-skinned white girl answers. She speaks in Dutch and does not appear to understand what Isabel says. This mystifies Isabel, who has never before encountered a foreign language. The girl goes away, and Isabel hovers on the doorstep, wondering whether or not to leave.
Eventually Lady Seymour herself appears at the door. Isabel curtsies and explains what has happened. Lady Seymour does not look surprised....
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
The following morning, Master Lockton is released from prison. Isabel is just carrying Madam’s chamber pot downstairs when he bursts into the house. He looks dirty and exhausted, but he does not seem suspicious of Isabel. He orders her to tell Becky to get him some food, and then he asks about his wife. When Isabel explains that Madam is packing, Master Lockton runs upstairs.
After Isabel empties and cleans the chamber pot, she goes back inside and hears the Locktons fighting loudly. Ruth and Becky are standing at the foot of the stairs listening, so Isabel does the same. They hear several crashing sounds, and Madam shouts in pain. In a whisper, Isabel suggests asking Lady Seymour for help. Becky says that it is best...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Isabel comes home from an errand one afternoon to find Becky and Ruth at work in the kitchen. Madam enters, looking sweaty and disheveled, and tells Isabel to serve her husband in his library. Tentatively, Becky points out that Master Lockton asked not to be disturbed. Madam brushes off this objection, saying that her husband dare not entertain the mayor without offering the man food or wine.
Madam loads a silver tea tray and makes Isabel carry it up to the library. Shouting through the door, Madam says that the mayor should have some refreshment. Master Lockton hesitates but eventually unlocks the door and asks Isabel to bring the food inside. Madam tries to enter, too, but Master Lockton stops her. Isabel carries the...
(The entire section is 524 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Isabel has been fearing this moment. She drops the wine bottle and runs downstairs, where she finds Ruth on the floor, writhing in a seizure. Madam is terrified. “It’s the Devil!” she screams. “She has the Devil in her!”
Isabel tries to explain that the Devil is not involved, and that Ruth merely has an illness, but Madam refuses to listen. Madam grabs a broom and begins hitting Ruth with it, attempting to beat out the evil spirit that has taken hold of the child’s body. Ruth, caught up in her seizure, is unaware of what is happening. Isabel throws herself on top of her sister and takes the beating for her. Madam hits so hard that the broom handle cracks.
Master Lockton enters the room just as...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Isabel lies awake that night, thinking. She feels sure that Madam will manage to sell Ruth eventually. Now more than ever, Isabel must find her way out of Madam’s control. That means getting out of New York.
If Isabel gives the rebels information about the plot to kill General Washington, then they will surely feel grateful enough to save her and Ruth from the Locktons. But Isabel’s last attempt to spy for Curzon’s master, Bellingham, ended badly. She worries that Bellingham may not trust her again. This time, she must take her evidence directly to an officer in the Continental Army.
When she is sure that the Locktons are asleep, Isabel sneaks up from the cellar and enters the library. She quietly...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
For Isabel, days seem long and dreary as she waits for the soldiers who will surely storm into the house and arrest Master Lockton. She works as hard as ever, constantly fearful that Madam will sell Ruth. Everyone else in the city seems fearful too, but for a different reason: the rebels will soon fight the British for control of New York.
Since Ruth’s seizure, Madam remains afraid of the little girl. Because of this, Madam spends most of her time locked in her bedroom, allowing only Becky inside. Isabel does not mind this arrangement. As a precaution, Isabel makes Ruth hide in the cellar whenever Madam leaves her room.
On the second day after Isabel’s trip to the rebel camp, a friend of Master Lockton...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
A few days after Master Lockton escapes, New York City fills with excitement. The rebel army is going to hang Thomas Hickey, the spy in their ranks who was planning to kill General Washington. Madam is in her room sleeping off a drunken binge. She does not seem likely to awake soon, so Becky tells Isabel to go to the hanging and have a good time.
Isabel does not like the idea of watching a man die. However, she imagines that the event may present her with an opportunity to speak to Colonel Regan. She takes Ruth along, reasoning that the colonel may be able to put both girls on the next boat out of the city.
The crowd at the hanging is cheerful, much like the crowd at a fair. Isabel looks around for uniforms...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
On Sunday morning, Isabel dozes through the Anglican church service that Madam insists upon attending. At home, Isabel always attended a Congregational church. She does not like the Anglicans’ odd way of worshipping God. The preacher uses funny language, and the incense smells terrible. The services are long and dreary. Isabel longs for her old church in Rhode Island, with its breezy feel and its plain speech.
The slaves and servants are forced to sit in the balcony during services, a fact which annoys many of them. Isabel does not mind. As she sees it, this means her prayers reach God before Madam’s. Besides, it means Ruth is free to play quietly on the floor without anyone objecting. Keeping one eye on Ruth,...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
All week, Isabel watches rebel militiamen arrive from the country surrounding New York. Isabel notices that the soldiers rarely bathe themselves; she does not know whether this is because they dislike washing, or whether they are just too busy preparing for war. Either way, they stink.
Madam’s moods swing wildly as the battle approaches. One moment she is excited about the wonderful life she will have after the British take over, and the next moment she is angry that the King's army has not made its move yet. Her attitude toward Isabel and Ruth is strange, too. She keeps sneaking up on them, clearly hoping to catch them doing something wrong.
Becky contracts a flu-like illness called the ague, so it...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
In the morning, Isabel wakes up late and realizes that Ruth is not in bed. Assuming that the little girl is in the outhouse, Isabel runs upstairs to check. The outhouse is empty, as is the yard. Isabel begins to grow frightened. She runs to find Becky, who is doing her morning work with tears in her eyes.
Isabel demands to know where Ruth is. Becky dumps flour in a bowl and says that she should have stayed and made the bread last night instead of taking the evening off. She says that she would not have gone home if she had known what Madam was planning. Haltingly, Becky tells Isabel that Madam has sold Ruth to a place called Nevis in the Caribbean. Ruth is going to be a housemaid in a doctor's home.
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Isabel awakes to find herself being dragged. A woman is screaming. She cannot make much sense of what is going on, but she dimly realizes that she has been hit over the head. Her eyes are swollen, and she is missing a few teeth. She feels herself being tied to the back of a wagon, which moves and drags her forward. People laugh and point as she stumbles along.
The wagon drags Isabel all the way to City Hall, where she is taken underground and locked into a dungeon. Her only cell mates are rats and a crazy woman who laughs and pulls out her own hair. Every now and then, guards pass by and toss bits of rotting food through the bars. At night, the rats are so bold that Isabel is afraid she will be bitten if she falls...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Immediately after the trial, a guard takes Isabel out to the City Hall courtyard. He pulls her along by the rope that is still tied to her hands. She has been stuck in a dungeon for two days, and now her eyes hurt badly in the bright sunlight. A man locks her head and hands into the stocks and sets a container of hot coals in front of her face. Seeing it, Isabel goes weak with fear.
It is difficult to remain standing in the stocks. However, the prisoner in the stocks next to Isabel gruffly informs her that she will choke to death if she fails to stay on her feet. She forces her legs to stay strong. Her hands go numb, and her neck soon feels prickly all over. The wood is rough against her skin, and all she can see is a...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Isabel's cheek burns. This sensation fills up her whole body, even her eyes and hair. She sees her poppa, but he turns into another man, a stranger who looks worried. She sees her momma, who then transforms into a gray-haired woman Isabel has never seen before. This woman stays a while, singing songs and feeding Isabel a horrible tea. Isabel tries to ask about Ruth. She tries to say she is sorry for letting Madam sell Ruth away, but the words jumble in her mouth.
At one point, Curzon appears and orders Isabel to stop being so lazy. His face floats over her, but it does not change into the face of any long-dead relative. For some reason, Isabel feels reassured by this. But the next thing she knows, he is no longer...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Isabel falls into a depression. Her body is scarred and broken, and her sister is gone. Madam refuses to speak to her directly. “Tell the girl the hearth needs sweeping,” Madam tells Becky. “Tell the girl to fetch my fan.” Becky obediently relays these orders, and Isabel does what she is asked.
When Madam is out of earshot, Becky says that she is sorry for what happened to Isabel. Isabel does not respond. Curzon comes and tries to apologize too, but Isabel will not speak to him either. She follows every order she is given, and she tries to forget everything else. Whenever she can, she avoids the kitchen because that room holds the most memories of Ruth.
As smallpox breaks out, and the hospitals fill...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
A storm comes to the city, and the Locktons’ parlor floods. Isabel spends the morning cleaning. When Madam asks for tea, Isabel goes out to fetch water from the pump. She has a cut on her hand, and the bucket handle hurts her badly. This, combined with the fresh air, helps to clear her head, which has been fuzzy since her head injury and branding.
Isabel finds the pump crowded with slaves. When she arrives, everyone stops talking and stares at the brand on her face, looking sympathetic. Eventually a woman asks if it hurts much, and Isabel claims it is not too bad. At this, everyone goes back to their conversations.
A big man tells the crowd that a British leader, Lord Dunmore, has promised to free any...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
A battle occurs near the city, and the British kill about a thousand Patriot soldiers. Suddenly New York is in British hands again. This thrills Madam, who spends her time pacing the house and keeping her ear open for news that the Patriots have finally surrendered.
In a practical sense, the changes of the war make little difference to Isabel's life. The rain continues to fall, so the flooding continues throughout the house. Isabel spends much of her time racing around, attempting to clean up all the water.
Isabel’s head is clear now. Too clear. She cannot stop thinking about the conversation she overheard at the pump. She wonders if the British will really set her free now that they are in power. She...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
On one hot Sunday in September, the war arrives at the Locktons’ doorstep. The cannon fire is so loud that Isabel wonders if God himself is destroying the island. Madam Lockton runs outside and asks a rebel officer what is going on. He advises her to go into her house and lock the door against the advancing British. In the background, all of his men are hurriedly packing. Madam asks if the army is running away and leaving the civilians unprotected. The officer says no—but it appears that he is not being entirely truthful.
Isabel expects Madam to have a fit. Instead, Madam calmly returns to the house and asks for lunch. While she eats, she writes on a scrap of paper. As soon as she finishes her meal, she orders...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
Isabel is alone on the streets of New York City. As she runs toward the waterfront, she wonders if she should have run away with the rebel soldiers. But it is too late to turn back now. Besides, she is still upset by Colonel Regan’s betrayal. She reassures herself that her choice is the right one, and she prays that she will get to safety before Madam sends someone out on a search.
When Isabel reaches the waterfront, she sees men in red coats coming to shore from the boats that have been anchored in the harbor for weeks. An officer sends groups of men scurrying forward to search the rebels’ camps. When his troops are gone, Isabel approaches him. She is not sure how to ask for freedom, so she begs him for work,...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
The British Army needs shelter, and they find it in the homes of New Yorkers. Two officers move into the Locktons’ house. Becky has not been seen since the day the rebels fled, so Isabel is forced to do all the work for the whole household by herself. This work multiplies quickly, not only because the house now has extra occupants, but also because Madam demands perfection for the two guests. On the first day of this, Isabel spends so much time running around polishing silver and cleaning rooms that she ends up burning the chicken dinner to a crisp.
Madam is furious with Isabel for this mishap, but Isabel does not care. She is so disappointed that she has once again failed to achieve freedom, she cannot seem to care...
(The entire section is 524 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Isabel wakes up coughing. Outside the window, she sees bright light, but it is not yet morning. The neighbor’s house is on fire, as is the roof of Lady Seymour’s house. Isabel puts on her shoes, grabs Ruth’s doll, and begins making her way through the thick smoke.
As Isabel passes Lady Seymour’s room, the door opens. Lady Seymour asks Isabel to help carry out some valuables. These treasures are locked in a heavy trunk that is too heavy to lift. Isabel begs Lady Seymour to leave it behind and get out, but the lady opens the chest and begins pulling out her most important possessions. Isabel grabs a picture and some letters and shoves them into her pocket. She also carries a couple of small boxes, balancing...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
As the next few days pass, Isabel learns that about five hundred homes have been destroyed, as well as scores of public buildings. Many of the city’s residents find themselves out on the streets without clothes, blankets, or supplies. A smell of charred bodies pervades the city. The people who take charge of finding and burying the dead are horrified at the sight of the dead.
Even before the flames die down, people begin looking for scapegoats. The Patriots in town say that God sent the fire to punish the British for taking over New York. The British and the Loyalists blame the rebels for arson. Several arson suspects are executed or lynched by brutal mobs. After the fire goes out, the British hang a schoolteacher...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
For the next two months, gray ash settles on the city. Isabel’s mind goes gray as well. She feels emotionally dreary. She looks dreary, too, because her skin gets dry and flaky in the winter air. Back home, her mother used to make a bear fat lotion to prevent her skin from going scaly like this—but here nobody cares. Dimly, Isabel wonders how Ruth’s skin is doing.
Sometimes Isabel’s depressed mind wonders whether she and everyone around her really died in the fire. Perhaps they are all ghosts doomed to walk the earth in an eternity of gray horror. This makes her think of Curzon, who would tell her to have hope. She pushes him out of her mind because his brand of hope involves trusting the rebels—an idea she...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Madam Lockton decides to throw a party to celebrate the British victory. She buys turtles for turtle soup and hires a chef to cook. She picks out the prettiest of the soldiers’ wives to wait on the guests, and she assigns the rest of the women to help the chef in the kitchen. Isabel’s job is to clean, run errands, and bring food up and down the stairs to the drawing room, where the party will be held.
As Isabel cleans the house, she watches Madam primping to prepare for the fine occasion. A hairdresser arranges Madam’s hair into a tall sort of wave, which Isabel expects to fall down at any moment. When the hair is finished, Madam whitens her face with make-up. Then she applies glue to her eyebrows and affixes two...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
A few days later, Madam Lockton and Lady Seymour go out on a social call. Seeing her chance, Isabel grabs the frozen scrap bucket from its hiding place in the yard and walks to Bridwell Prison. For a long moment, she stands across the street, wondering if she is making the right choice. She will surely be beaten if anyone finds out that she is helping the prisoners. But she cannot live with herself if she does not help Curzon.
Taking her bucket, Isabel knocks on the door of the prison. A fat guard greets her and peeks inside the scrap bucket. When he sees the rice pudding from Madam’s party, he immediately steals it for himself. Isabel realizes that it would be unwise to object to this, so she makes no comment. In...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
Lady Seymour falls ill with a fever, and the doctor bleeds her in hopes of healing her. Isabel overhears Madam suggesting that it might be best to send Lady Seymour to the Locktons’ estate in Charleston, where the warmer weather will do her good. The doctor points out that the roads are far too bad and that the lady would surely die during the journey. Privately, Isabel thinks that this is what Madam wants.
It becomes Isabel’s job to wait on Lady Seymour, keeping a hot fire burning in the room. Isabel enjoys the lazy hours in this room, where she gets chances to take surreptitious glances at newspaper headlines about the progress of the war.
Twice during this period, Isabel sneaks table scraps to the...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 37 Summary
By the time Lady Seymour is healthy again, it is almost Christmas. Isabel returns to the kitchen, where she has to keep the stove hot so that the soldiers’ wives can bake the enormous number of holiday cakes and pastries which Madam demands.
One day, two of the soldiers’ wives get into an argument over whose turn it is to make the cold walk to the pump for water. The walk to the pump leads right past the prison, so Isabel offers to make the daily trip herself. The women clearly think it odd that an overworked slave would offer to take on extra work, but they grant their permission anyway.
The following morning, Isabel runs quickly to the prison. There an unfamiliar guard informs her that guests are no...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Chapter 38 Summary
On Christmas Eve, Isabel makes a quick food delivery to the prison. There she learns that Captain Morse has kept his promise and sent a doctor to help the sick soldiers. Curzon was treated in the same way as the white soldiers. He is now sleeping a great deal, but he seems likely to survive.
By tradition, slaves get the day off on Christmas, so Isabel thinks carefully about what she wants to do. When she was little, she and Ruth used to make bread pudding with their momma. The three of them always spent the day together eating and reading the Bible. Now Isabel has no hope of spending the day as happily as she did back then. She decides to spend the day walking the city streets alone.
Just before Isabel goes...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 39 Summary
Two days after Christmas, Isabel goes to the fish market with Sarah. As she walks, Isabel thinks about the suffering prisoners, especially Curzon. She has not delivered any food to the prisoners since Christmas Eve, and she wonders how this will affect her friend. Surely the other prisoners will steal his blanket soon, if they have not done so already.
Lost in thought, Isabel gets separated from Sarah. Just then, Captain Morse—Curzon’s superior officer—grabs her arm. He begs Isabel to carry a message for him. Isabel begs him to go away because she knows she will be in terrible trouble if Sarah sees her talking with a rebel officer. He hangs onto her arm and refuses to leave until she promises to stop by his...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 40 Summary
The rebels soon win another battle. This greatly annoys Colonel Hawkins, the British officer who is living in the Locktons’ library. Now that the Patriots have prisoners of their own, the British begin treating the rebel prisoners better. However, fires are still prohibited in the prison cells. This means that Curzon and his fellow prisoners still have to eat their meat raw.
Isabel keeps running food to Curzon and his cellmates when she can. On the morning of Master Lockton’s departure for London, she gets up extra early and drops a few bits of burnt bread and meat on Curzon’s windowsill. As she runs away, the fat guard calls out to her, asking what she brought today. He tells her that he will look after Curzon if...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 41 Summary
Soon after Master Lockton leaves for London, Isabel learns that the British are planning to throw a ball in honor of Queen Charlotte’s birthday. This confuses Isabel because she cannot imagine someone sailing across an ocean just for a party. The soldiers’ wives explain that the Queen is not planning to attend the ball. The officers are just using her birthday as an excuse to go to a party themselves.
Lady Seymour suffers another stroke. Afterward, she is unable to move or speak properly. She needs help with everything: drinking tea, wiping her face, and even using the chamber pot. Fulfilling these needs once again becomes Isabel's job.
The doctor comes frequently to bleed Lady Seymour and feed her...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 42 Summary
The doctor comes twice per day to tend to Lady Seymour, who remains unable to speak, chew solid food, or move on her own. In spite of this, Isabel can see that Lady Seymour’s mind still works well. Madam generally ignores the old woman, opting to spend her time preparing for the royal ball instead. Madam’s dressmaker visits the house almost as often as the doctor.
Isabel finds time to finish reading Common Sense. She does not understand all of it, but she likes Thomas Paine’s claim that nobody should naturally be considered better than anyone else from the time of birth. As a slave, Isabel understands very well that this idea is dangerous.
Unable to sleep that night, Isabel asks herself the...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 43 Summary
Madam hits Isabel again and again, drawing blood and shouting that the whole household has been shamed. As it turns out, a friend of Madam’s saw Isabel talking with Captain Farrar in the street. Now all of New York will find out that a servant in the Locktons’ house has been consorting with rebels.
Madam demands to see the note Isabel received from Captain Farrar. Isabel takes it out of her pocket and throws it into the kitchen fire. Furious, Madam hits Isabel again and promises to sell her in the morning. She also threatens to sell Ruth. Hearing this, Isabel freezes. As far as she knows, Ruth was sold months ago. Seeing the confusion on Isabel’s face, Madam laughs cruelly and says that she could not find a buyer...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Chapter 44 Summary
Isabel goes downstairs and puts on all of the clothes she owns. She packs up a basket of food from the kitchen. Just before she leaves, she remembers Lady Seymour. It is Isabel’s job to make sure the old woman stays warm, and it is unlikely that anyone else will think to stoke the fire tonight. Isabel’s feelings for Lady Seymour are complicated, but she does not want to let the old lady freeze.
Isabel stokes Lady Seymour’s fire quickly. Tempted by the lady’s purse, Isabel reaches inside and pulls out a bag of coins. Then she notices that the old lady is awake and watching. Isabel explains that she is going to be sold if she does not run away. She gives the old lady a drink of water and, feeling guilty, offers to...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 45 Summary
Isabel pushes the wheelbarrow, with Curzon inside, for several blocks. When she nears the wharf, she finds sentries keeping watch. The wheelbarrow is loud on the cobblestones, so she is afraid that she will be caught if she tries to roll Curzon past. She makes him stand up, but he collapses and takes her down with him. She orders him to do better than that. He mumbles an apology and, with her help, staggers two blocks to the water’s edge.
Overhead, fireworks explode to celebrate the birthday of Queen Charlotte. This keeps Isabel and Curzon safe. Every eye in the city is focused on the sky. Isabel finds a rowboat and helps Curzon climb inside. She gets in after him.
All night long, Isabel rows. She soon...
(The entire section is 423 words.)