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...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
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.
(The entire section is 429 words.)
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, Master Elihu Lockton and his wife, Anne Lockton. Mr. Robert explains that he is selling the girls for a low price because he needs to get rid of them quickly.
After the meal, Missus Lockton speaks to Isabel, who explains that she and her sister are good at cleaning, gardening, and caring for animals. Anxious to avoid being separated, Isabel takes pains to say that Ruth is an especially hard worker. Missus Lockton tells Isabel not to speak so much, and she demands to be addressed as...
(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 peacocks wandering in the chicken pen.”
Onshore, Isabel and Ruth watch silently as a man named Bellingham, an official who works for the Patriot leaders of New York, demands to search the Locktons' cargo. Bellingham accuses the Locktons of being Tories—supporters of the King of England—who want to spy on the rebel army.
Isabel has previously heard the Locktons declare their support for the King, but now Master Lockton changes his tune and claims to support the rebel cause. Madam says that she does not care if Bellingham wants to search her husband's cargo, but she refuses to let him search her own luggage, a beautiful walnut trunk.
When Bellingham says that all of the trunk must be searched, Madam throws a fit. She says that nothing, not even a fight for freedom, justifies a gentleman to rifle through a lady's underwear. She speaks so loudly that everyone on the dock stops working to watch. Bellingham is obviously embarrassed, and the workers smirk at his discomfort.
Isabel thinks this scene is hilarious, but she is smart enough to keep quiet. Ruth, however, laughs aloud. Madam Lockton turns around and asks who made the noise. Isabel claims responsibility, and Madam hits her hard across the face. Isabel staggers under the blow, comforting herself with the thought: “Better me than Ruth, better me than Ruth.”
Bellingham has a slave, a young boy in a red hat, who looks like he feels sorry for Isabel. Nobody else pays her any attention. The crowd watches Bellingham, waiting to find out what he will decide about the trunk. With a sigh, he tells his men to let Madam take it home. Meanwhile, he busies himself searching the rest of Master Lockton’s...
(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 Rhode Island, and she ends up eating both rolls herself.
When Isabel finishes eating, Curzon asks why she lied about laughing at Madam down at the docks. Isabel explains that she and Ruth are sisters. After a moment’s hesitation, Isabel adds, “She needs watching over.”
Next Curzon asks Isabel if she feels loyal to Master Lockton. She does not know what he means, so he explains:
He’s going to feed you and your sister, give you a place to sleep. He can order you sold, beat, or hung, if the mood takes him. That could make a person feel a kind of loyalty.
Isabel thinks this over, and eventually she admits that yes, she feels loyal to the Locktons—at least until she finds the lawyer who can confirm her story that she and Ruth are free. She hates the idea of having loyalty to people who own her, but she feels that she will be safest if she does what they order her to do.
Curzon disagrees. He explains that the Patriots—the American rebels—currently hold power in New York and that Master Lockton wants to change that. The rebels will help anyone who gives them information about the loyalists’ plans. A slave girl in Isabel’s position is in an ideal position to hear such information:
You are a slave, not a person. They’ll say things in front of you…‘Cause you don’t count to them. It happens all the time to me.
Isabel recoils at the idea of becoming a spy. She explains to Curzon that she does not care about politics. She only cares about taking care of her sister. Besides, Madam has already hit Isabel once. Isabel is scared.
(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 home ever to be caught idle.
For the moment, Isabel does not particularly care about her duties. All she wants to do is check on her sister. Ruth is out back, but Becky refuses to let Isabel go out there. Madam will not like it if she catches the girls chatting instead of working. Isabel looks out the window and sees Ruth sitting down on a bench outside to peel potatoes. The little girl is clearly fine, so Isabel relaxes and begins doing her own work.
Becky takes Isabel upstairs, where they clean and air out the parlor so that Madam can drink her tea and receive a visit from Master Lockton’s aunt, Lady Seymour. Becky barks many brusque orders at Isabel, but she shows no inclination to be cruel. She chatters quite a bit, and she warns that Madam can be “a harsh mistress to slaves.”
As Isabel cleans the parlor windows, she spots some soldiers passing. Becky murmurs that she wishes the soldiers would leave the city. This makes Isabel curious, and she asks if Becky dislikes the rebels. Becky shushes her, saying:
You listen good. Them that feeds us…they’re Loyalists. Tories. That means we’re Tories too, understand?
Isabel says yes, but after all she has seen today, she is a little confused. She points out that Master Lockton claimed to be a rebel down at the docks. Becky shrugs this off, saying wryly that people change their political convictions whenever it is convenient to do so, but that Madam’s predilection for lemon cakes never changes. The message is clear: for Becky and Isabel, it is far more important to please Madam than to concern themselves with politics.
(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. Isabel asks Becky what is going on, but Becky does not know—nor does she care as long as it does not create extra work. Throughout the morning, Isabel makes a series of nervous mistakes as she worries about what could be happening to Ruth.
Eventually Becky carries the afternoon tea into the parlor. When she returns to the kitchen, Isabel demands to know what is happening with Ruth. Becky explains that Madam has decided to use the little girl as a “personal maid.” From now on, pretty little Ruth will dress up in fine clothes and perform small tasks like fanning Madam when she is hot. According to Becky, this will make Madam feel superior to her lady friends, none of whom own slaves for such a purpose.
It infuriates Isabel that Madam is using Ruth as “a curiosity” and “a toy.” Becky seems to sympathize, but she warns Isabel not to complain. Madam can be very rough with her slaves. Once, not long ago, she owned a slave girl who tended to talk back. Madam beat that girl so badly that she never healed properly. No longer useful, the girl ended up getting sold.
Becky says that Isabel needs to accept what she cannot change, or she will suffer. After all, it is not going to harm Ruth to stand in a warm room and wear nice dresses. As for Becky, she is happy with her job, and she will not let Isabel mess it up by complaining and making trouble.
For the next several days, Isabel continues her back-breaking labor, and Ruth spends her days in Madam’s parlor. The sisters do not see each other except at night, when they share the same bed. Isabel is constantly exhausted, but she begins to have trouble sleeping. She often lies awake thinking about Curzon and his strange...
(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.”
After this encounter, Becky puts Isabel to work waiting on Master Lockton and some of his friends in the library. Isabel brings them a tray loaded with bread, mustard, and cold meat. She stands in the corner, occasionally refilling wine glasses or plates. Her own stomach is empty, and she tries to take her mind off her discomfort by surreptitiously reading the titles of the books on Master Lockton’s shelves. Around her, the men share their opinions about how long it will take the British Army’s ships to reach New York.
After a while, Master Lockton sends Isabel to fetch bread and jam. She runs down to the kitchen and loads a tray. When she returns to the library, she notices through the half-open door that the men are all gathered around the beautiful wooden chest which Madam Lockton protected from inspection on the docks. The men take out her undergarments and toss them haphazardly on the floor. When they see how much cash Master Lockton is hiding inside, they cheer. Lockton explains that the money is meant for bribing people into supporting the King. All those who agree to assist the British will be paid in both cash and land.
Tentatively, Isabel knocks on the open door and asks if she should enter. Master Lockton calls her in and tells her to put the bread and jam on a table. The other men pay no attention to her. Just as Curzon said, she is invisible to them, and they readily discuss their plans in front of her. As she silently returns to her place, the men continue their political discussion. In her corner, Isabel thinks about Curzon’s offer and considers what to do next.
(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 garden gate, she stops. It is illegal for slaves to leave home after dark without a written pass from their masters, and she knows she may be thrown in jail, flogged, or even killed if she is caught outside at night. These risks terrify her—but she also knows that she has to get Ruth out of Madam’s house. If Momma were alive, she would never allow anyone to hurt her girls. Now it is Isabel’s job to keep Ruth safe. The only way to accomplish that is to get away from the Locktons.
Speaking a silent prayer to her momma’s spirit, Isabel opens the gate and steps out to the street. She knows that Curzon sleeps in a shack behind Bellingham’s place, and she thinks that it should be easy to get there. Unfortunately, many streets are filled with rebel soldiers. Isabel is forced to follow a winding path through shadowy streets around the busy areas, and she gets lost halfway to her destination.
When Isabel eventually reaches the docks, she rushes to Bellingham’s house. She finds Curzon’s shack and knocks. Then she waits in terror, thinking of everything that might go wrong with her plan. There is a long pause, and she is about to flee when Curzon steps out of a tavern not far away. In a rush, she tells him everything she saw in the Locktons’ library.
Curzon seems impressed with Isabel’s story, and she asks if it is enough to get her and Ruth sent home. She says she can be ready to leave in the morning, but Curzon explains that nothing will happen so soon. He tells her to go back to the Locktons’ place and wait. He makes her promise not to reveal herself as a spy, even if rebel soldiers visit the house. As she leaves, he congratulates her for a job well done.
(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. Then she and Ruth will be put on a boat back home. This time, surely, they will not have to ride with the cargo. This time they will ride in a cabin like fine ladies.
Becky calls Isabel to help clean up the drawing room. Isabel expects this to be a room used for artwork, but it is just a giant parlor. As they uncover the furniture and begin cleaning, Becky grumbles that it is ridiculous to clean the place up now, when the pantry is practically empty and the city is “getting ready to explode.”
This diatribe is interrupted by rebel soldiers pounding on the door. When Becky lets them in, they immediately begin dismantling windows and curtains. Bellingham is with them, barking orders. The Locktons enter and protest that the soldiers are stealing, but Bellingham explains that the rebel army needs lead for bullets. Evidently enjoying himself, he says sarcastically:
I thought a Patriot such as yourself would welcome the chance to contribute to the army.
When the soldiers find Madam’s linen chest, she sits down on it and shouts about “assaults on the dignity of women.” Master Lockton, however, smiles mildly and tells her that all is well. Immediately she gives in and allows the men to search the chest. Inside they find a pile of dirty undergarments—and nothing else. Master Lockton grins and invites Bellignham to search all of the clothing in the house. Clearly Lockton has found a new hiding place for his bribe money.
In spite of the lack of physical evidence, Bellingham places Master Lockton under arrest. Madam protests, but Bellingham seems quite confident. On his way out, he takes one surreptitious glance at Isabel, who cowers...
(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. She explains that she has been hearing similar stories all day. Apparently the rebels have been arresting Tories all over the city. Calling Isabel by her real name instead of Sal, Lady Seymour invites her inside to tell the story from start to finish.
In the kitchen, Isabel is surprised when Lady Seymour serves her a glass of milk and sets out a plate of cookies. Never before has “a proper lady” waited on Isabel like this. Lady Seymour notices Isabel’s surprise. By way of explanation, she says, “You look like you need some building up.”
At Lady Seymour’s prompting, Isabel tells the story of Master Lockton’s arrest. Naturally, she leaves out the part about her own role as a spy, but she is careful to include all the rest of the details. After hearing everything, Lady Seymour asks if Master Lockton gave up any information or names. Isabel says that he did not, and the lady looks relieved.
Next, Lady Seymour asks after Madam Lockton, and Isabel explains that Madam is talking about leaving town and going to Charleston. According to Lady Seymour, this is a bad idea because the rebels will immediately confiscate any possessions the Locktons abandon in New York. She says that it is fair for Madam to be upset, but that it is important for everyone to behave intelligently. After musing on the problem a bit, Lady Seymour says that she will write a note for Isabel to deliver to a lawyer.
Hearing this, Isabel takes a big bite of her cookie, sure that she will be sent away immediately. However, the lady surprises Isabel by commanding her to finish the cookies and drink more milk. “You can’t run errands for me unless properly nourished,” Lady Seymour says.
(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 not to interfere with Master Lockton at times like this. Any intervention just makes him angrier.
When the fight is over, Becky serves Master Lockton some food. Isabel takes some ale and a cold cloth to Madam. Madam claims that she slipped and hurt herself because Isabel spilled candle wax on the floor. Isabel knows that Madam was hurt by Master Lockton and not by anyone's carelessness. Nevertheless, Isabel bows her head and apologizes.
Whenever Master Lockton’s friends come to the house, he makes Isabel wait on them. Isabel’s previous tip to Curzon did not work out, but she has not given up hope on the idea of feeding information to the rebels and thus earning freedom for herself. She listens carefully for some helpful bit of information, but the men do not say anything incriminating. They only gossip and complain. Her only piece of good luck is that Master Lockton and his friends do not suspect her of spying on them. They blame a former friend who mysteriously left town around the time Master Lockton was arrested.
Every day, Isabel goes to the pump to get water. This is her favorite job because it gives her a chance to walk in the fresh air. Sometimes she sees Curzon there, and they walk toward home together. Curzon explains that the rebels need hard evidence before they can lock up Master Lockton. Otherwise Lady Seymour, who knows many powerful people, can get him released. Curzon urges Isabel to search for physical evidence such as letters or maps.
In the next few weeks, Isabel grabs a bit of time to make Ruth a corn cob doll. Isabel also finds a bit of entertainment for herself. One night when the Locktons are asleep, she sneaks into the library and grabs a book,...
(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 tray into the room and sets it down before the men. Then she takes her place against the wall to listen to a conversation between Master Lockton, the mayor, and another man.
The men have a map of the coastline laid out on the table, and they are all grumbling about the rebels and the war. In her corner, Isabel privately wishes that she could pull down Robinson Crusoe and read. She has frequently listened to Master Lockton and his friends complain about Congress and the rebels for hours on end, and she is sick of it.
But today’s conversation is different. The mayor tells Master Lockton that people are refusing to be bribed into supporting the King. The rebellion has grown too strong. Now the Tories must take action to weaken the rebellion. Listening in, Isabel immediately realizes that the mayor may say something incriminating. She holds perfectly still, willing the men not to notice that she is still there.
The mayor explains that a plan is in place to assassinate the rebel leader, General George Washington. Master Lockton balks at this, saying that killing is too strong an action. The mayor dismisses this objection. After all, the English Parliament will certainly issue an assassination order in hindsight if they learn that the traitor Washington is dead. The loyalists have a trusted spy among the rebels, in position to kill the general if he receives the order. In the meantime, money is all that is needed to make the plan a reality.
After some deliberation, Master Lockton agrees to provide this money. However, he demands that the mayor write down the names of everyone who knows about the plan. Lockton explains that a list of names could provide insurance in...
(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 Madam is about to break a chair over Isabel and Ruth. He shouts at his wife to stop, and he takes the chair away. The seizure ends, and Isabel strokes Ruth’s face, comforting her. The little girl is all right except for a bump on the head and a bit of confusion. Isabel breathes a sigh of relief.
Master Lockton understands that “the falling sickness”—or epilepsy—is a disease rather than the work of evil spirits. Madam, however, adheres to her superstitious belief that it is a curse. She demands that Ruth be sold immediately. Isabel protests, saying that her sister is too little to be alone. Master Lockton seems sympathetic, and he asks Isabel to tell him truthfully how often these fits happen. She admits that they happen regularly.
By the end of this conversation, Ruth has recovered. She was shelling peas when her seizure hit, and she upset the bowl when she fell. Now she gets up and, without being told, begins picking up the peas. Becky points this out and says that Ruth is always helpful in the kitchen. This seems to decide Master Lockton, who declares that the child will continue working in the house. Madam seems poised to object, but he tells her not to bother him anymore with this “womanly prattle.”
When her husband is gone, Madam says that she will soon convince him to get rid of Ruth. Madam stalks out, leaving Becky, Isabel, and Ruth to finish their work. Isabel asks what will happen, and Becky says she does not know. However, she points out that it is hard to hire help in New York these days because everyone is fleeing to the countryside. She says that Isabel and Ruth will probably be okay if they do not call further attention to themselves.
(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 unlocks Master Lockton’s drawer and finds the paper that lists the names of the loyalists involved in the assassination plan. When she has it, she sneaks out into the dark streets and makes her way toward the Loyalist camp.
At the camp, Isabel asks a sentry to let her speak with Colonel Regan, an officer Bellingham once mentioned. The sentry seems doubtful, but he takes her to Regan’s secretary, who waves off her story and refuses to take her to his boss. When the sentry tries to lead Isabel away, she refuses to go. “They want to kill the general!” she says. “I have proof.”
As it happens, Colonel Regan is nearby, and he has heard about this plan from another spy already today. He calls her over to speak to him, and she informs him that she is offering her information in a trade. She asks him to find a way to return her and her sister to Rhode Island in exchange for her information. He does not exactly promise to do this, but he does say that he will review her claims about her freedom if her information proves useful.
Colonel Regan calls a few trusted men to hear Isabel’s story and read the list of names that she has brought. When she finishes explaining what she heard, the men's opinions are divided. Half of the men think the threat is real, and the other half think that the loyalists are trying to trick them. Regan believes in the threat. He asks Isabel to return the paper to the place where she found it so that her master will not know that he is under suspicion.
Isabel promises to do this, and to return to the rebel camp if she hears any more information. Then she asks if Colonel Regan will help her and Ruth get home. Colonel Regan glances at his men and then...
(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 arrives to say that the plot to kill General Washington has been discovered. Lockton immediately begins making plans to run away. He orders Madam to stay behind and burn his papers. She demands that he take her along, but he refuses, saying that the rebels will steal all of their possessions if the house is left empty. Madam points out that the rebels may arrest her, and she pleads with him not to leave her to face dangers he is too cowardly to confront himself. At this, he hits her so hard that she goes flying into a bookshelf.
Soon a man comes and shuts Master Lockton into a box labeled “CHEESE.” More men come and carry him away. Madam, left behind, locks up the house and refuses to let anyone in or out. Isabel has no opportunity to inform the rebels of her master’s escape, so she can only wait and watch while Madam burns the master’s papers.
The following morning, soldiers arrive to arrest Master Lockton. They are angry when they find him gone. As Isabel watches them tear through the library, she reflects that her master is free by now. When the men leave, Becky goes out shopping and leaves the mess from the search for Isabel to clean up.
When Becky returns from the market, Madam asks what she has heard. Becky explains that one of the men involved in the plot to kill General Washington confessed. Nearly all of the conspirators have been arrested, including the mayor. Everyone seems to know that Master Lockton was involved, but he has not been caught. Attempting to reassure Madam, Becky comments that the master is safe. Madam massages her bruises and points out that she is still in danger.
(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 and sees that the soldiers are all lined up according to rank. She realizes that she will have no chance to speak to Colonel Regan, so she whiles away her free time playing with Ruth. They stop their game only when they hear drummers announcing the arrival of the traitor.
As the girls follow the crowd toward the gallows, Curzon approaches them. Isabel pounces on him, begging him for information about when she and Ruth will be able to leave New York. He shushes her, afraid that spies will overhear them. He tells her that the world is totally chaotic right now, but he says that Isabel will eventually get what she wants.
Ruth’s legs are tired, but Isabel says that the little girl is too big to carry. Curzon thinks otherwise. He gives Isabel his hat, and then he lifts the little girl up on his shoulders. Ruth squeals and giggles. Isabel glances at the hat and sees the name James sewn inside. She reads this out loud, wondering who James could be, but Curzon does not hear.
Rebel soldiers march the traitor to the gallows. The crowd boos and throws rotten fruits and vegetables. One person even throws a dead cat. The captain of Washington’s guard chops the epaulettes and buttons off of Hickey’s Continental Army uniform. A preacher speaks privately with Hickey, who is then marched up to the gallows.
Drummers pound on their instruments as Hickey climbs the stairs. The hangman makes Hickey stand on a barrel with the noose around his neck. The captain reads out the sentence, announcing to the crowd that Hickey has been convicted of treason against his own country. Finally the hangman kicks the barrel out from under Hickey’s feet. At this point, Isabel covers Ruth’s eyes and...
(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, Isabel prays fervently for Colonel Regan to keep his promise and rescue her and her sister.
In the middle of the service, a boy runs in and announces that the British have arrived. The churchgoers, nearly all of them Tories, scatter in excitement as cannons and muskets fire. Isabel looks around wildly, wondering what she should do. She wants to grab Ruth, run to the rebel camp, and demand to be sent home. But she knows, deep down, that nobody will care a bit about two little slave girls in the middle of a battle.
Madam Lockton and Lady Seymour gather their things to go home, and they tell Isabel and Ruth to come along. Isabel moves to obey, but the excitement and gunfire have sent Ruth into a small epileptic fit. The little girl does not collapse and screech, but she does stand still, quivering. Isabel begs Ruth to snap out of it and walk, but it does not work. When the fit ends, Isabel picks Ruth up and carries her. Madam looks suspicious, but Isabel says that her sister is just scared.
British ships keep arriving all night, lining up in the harbor. Isabel is required to polish the fine silver so that Madam can entertain the King's army when they take over the city. The following morning, Isabel tries to deliver a basket of linens to a washerwoman, but the washerwoman is gone. Isabel takes the linens home and begins washing them herself. She sets Ruth to work with a small bucket and a pair of stockings. Ruth washes rocks instead. Isabel does not mind this until Ruth dumps the muddy rocks into the big wash bucket with the tablecloths. A door slams, and Isabel looks up. Madam has just seen what Ruth has done.
(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 becomes Isabel’s responsibility to make trips to the market. On one of her outings, she stops to watch a group of men throwing ropes over a giant gold statue of King George III on a horse. The statue is far larger than a real man and horse, but the crowd pulls it down and attacks it with axes. Isabel creeps closer, wondering how axes are able to chop though the material, and she sees that the statue is not gold at all. It is just lead covered by gold leaf. As the men chop it up, they make plans to melt down the lead and turn it into bullets. “We’ll fire Majesty at the redcoats!” one of them says.
When Isabel arrives home, she sees lights on in the parlor. Becky cheerfully explains that Madam visited the preacher’s wife and received a lecture about being a better caregiver for her slaves and servants. Upon her arrival home, Madam promptly baked gingerbread and made a pitcher of sweet milk so that Isabel and Ruth could eat and drink something nice. Now Madam is up in the parlor with Ruth and two visitors. Becky has instructions to go home early and give Isabel the evening off.
Isabel finds it difficult to believe that Madam's behavior could change so suddenly. Becky advises Isabel to accept the kindness while it lasts. In the morning, Madam will surely be back to her usual behavior. Isabel sees the wisdom in this, so she sits down and eats the gingerbread and milk. The idea of a night off is so strange to her that she has little idea what to do with it. She decides to slip Robinson Crusoe from the library and read a few pages quietly to herself. However, she feels extraordinarily tired. She creeps downstairs to the cellar, climbs into bed, and falls asleep.
(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.
At first, Isabel refuses to believe that Ruth is gone. She thinks:
I would have known. I would have woken up, fought them off, killed whoever tried to take her from me. I took care of Ruth. I promised Momma I always would.
But Isabel has been outsmarted, drugged so that she could not fight back. Now Ruth is gone. Isabel shouts at Becky, protesting that this is wrong.
Hearing the noise, Madam comes out of her parlor with some papers in her hands. She says that she does not like being interrupted while she is writing letters. She looks down the stairs at Isabel, who suddenly realizes that she is stronger than Madam. Isabel begins climbing up the stairs, looking and feeling mutinous.
Clearly terrified that she is about to be attacked, Madam orders Isabel to get back to work. When Isabel refuses, Madam panics. She grabs a painting off the wall and slams it down on Isabel’s head. Isabel staggers under the blow and then turns around and runs outside. As she flees, it occurs to her that this is the first time she has used the Locktons’ front door.
A chase soon begins, but Isabel makes it to the rebel camp. She has a password that gets her admitted to Colonel Regan’s office, but the colonel is not inclined to help her. He listens dispassionately to her pleas for help and then tells his men to send her elsewhere. She refuses to go. “Please, sir, you must help me…as I once helped you,” she says. The men in the room all stare at her, shocked that a little slave girl would dare make demands from an officer and a gentleman.
At that moment, Madam rushes in and demands her property back. The colonel looks unsure of himself, but...
(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 asleep. On the second day, she hears cannons and muskets firing. The prisoners in the other cells scream and fight, but Isabel stays still and quiet.
On the third day, Isabel is dragged upstairs to a courtroom. A judge calls the trial to order, and Isabel tries to make sense of what he says. By now, she remembers bits and pieces. She knows that her head is injured, and she knows her sister has been taken away from her. She wants to ask questions, but even in her confusion she can see that her hands are tied and that nobody has any concern for her well-being. Her eyes hurt, but she keeps them wide open anyway. The pain brings a bit more clarity to her mind.
At the trial, everyone calls Isabel by the name Sal Lockton. She watches as a woman—Madam Lockton—climbs onto the witness stand and lies to the judge. The judge asks if there were any other witnesses to the crimes Madam describes. Madam claims that her housekeeper, Becky, is too ill to testify. A neighbor describes Isabel fleeing the scene. Afterward, everyone wonders who else might be able to testify, but they cannot think of anyone. It does not appear to occur to them to ask Isabel to tell her side of the story.
Madam explains that her husband is out of town and that she cannot discipline her slave severely enough on her own. The judge asks Madam what punishment she has in mind, and Madam suggests branding. At first the judge suggests that this is overly severe, but when Madam insists, he sentences Isabel to be branded with the letter "I" for "insolence" on her right cheek. He smacks the bench with his gavel. With that, Isabel’s trial is over.
(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 cage where two beaten-up men are locked up. One of them is missing an ear. The other does not move, and she wonders if he is dead.
Two men perform Isabel’s sentence. One of them blows air on the brazier with a bellows to make the coals very hot. The other wields the brand. Isabel feels dizzy and sweaty. Time seems to slow down, and she notices small details all around her: drying puddles, dandelions in the mud, clouds drifting overhead. Wind blows the smoke from the coals into her face.
A small crowd of passersby stop to watch the branding. The crowd has a joking, carnival feel, much like the crowd at the hanging. Men spit and use language Momma would have found disgusting. Isabel starts to cry. At one point, she thinks she sees Curzon’s red hat in the crowd, but it soon disappears, and she is not sure if it was real.
As the “I” brand moves toward Isabel’s face, she is so dazed and dizzy that she keeps thinking about bees and dandelions. She thinks about the farm where she grew up, telling herself how big the lambs would be, and how high the corn must have grown by now. She struggles, trying to pull herself free—but she is locked in too tightly.
When the hot metal meets Isabel’s cheek, she can hear her skin bubbling. She can smell the smoke from her face. The pain flares up and does not abate when the man pulls the brand away. The crowd roars, and a few sad-looking people slip quietly away. Isabel thinks she sees her momma and poppa coming to comfort her. Their tears cool her face, and she passes out.
(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 there.
Isabel wakes up in a small but cheerful room. She is in a bed more comfortable than she has ever imagined. She tries to stand up, but she is too weak and dizzy. The door opens and Lady Seymour’s maid, Angelika, enters the room. When she sees Isabel awake, Angelika gasps and runs out.
In a few minutes, Lady Seymour enters the room and explains that Isabel has been lying in a fever for six days, ever since the branding. With a dark expression, the lady explains that she did not know what was happening between Isabel and Madam until after the judge’s sentence was complete. At that point, all Lady Seymour could do was ensure that Isabel was nursed back to health.
From Lady Seymour’s words and actions, it is clear that she is upset not only by the harsh punishment Isabel received for running away, but also by the abrupt sale of little Ruth. “I find the buying and selling of children most repugnant,” Lady Seymour says. This is little comfort to Isabel, whose grief is renewed at the reminder that Ruth is gone.
Isabel hopes that she will get to stay with Lady Seymour from now on. Unfortunately, Madam wants her slave back, and nobody else has the power to interfere with Madam's property. Isabel is allowed to take a hot bath and eat a large meal, but as soon as she finishes eating, Lady Seymour appears and says that it is time to leave. Together, the two of them walk to the Locktons’ house. When they arrive, Lady Seymour knocks on the front door, and Isabel runs around back.
(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 up with soldiers, Isabel’s depression turns to anger. She hopes silently that Colonel Regan is among the victims of disease. She hates him violently for refusing to help her. She begins acting out her aggression on Madam in small ways. She leaves the milk out to sour on purpose, and she feels glad when Madam complains.
When it appears that the battle is finally about to start, Becky grows afraid to run errands. She asks Madam to send Isabel instead. Madam agrees, saying that the brand scar will keep "the girl" out of trouble. Isabel goes obediently to the marketplace, where she buys supplies as quickly as she can. Everyone stares in horror at her scar.
Curzon tries to speak to Isabel in the market, but she walks away from him. He often visits the house as well. One day Becky tells Isabel to get rid of him. Madam is about to call the police. If Isabel does not convince him to go away, he will be dragged to City Hall and publicly beaten.
Isabel goes out to the gate, and Curzon says again that he is sorry for all that has happened. He tells her that he really thought Colonel Regan would help her. In an effort to make it up to her, he has asked around about Ruth. He believes that she was sent to Halifax. Isabel tells him that this is not true. The little girl is far away in Nevis, out of reach.
Curzon obviously does not know what to say to this, so he turns the conversation to the Locktons. He asks if Master Lockton has written to Madam. Isabel stares at him, shocked that he would ask for information about her masters after all that has happened. She says:
You are blind. [The Patriots] don’t want us free. They just want liberty for themselves....
(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 slave who goes to the British camp in Virginia. Another man pipes up and says that Dunmore only said this so the Virginia slaves would run away without bringing in the harvest. The British do not care about freedom for the slaves; they just want the rebels to starve. Although this argument sounds compelling, most of the people at the pump believe their salvation lies with the British. Dunmore’s promises certainly sound good to Isabel, whose head clears more than ever at the idea of a new path to freedom.
In this midst of this conversation, someone asks Curzon for his opinion. Isabel is surprised to see her former friend step forward out of the shadows. He looks different somehow, and she realizes that he is dressed in the muddy clothing of a soldier. He says that he has enlisted in the Continental Army in place of his master, Bellingham. In return, Bellingham has promised to free Curzon after the war.
Most of the slaves in the crowd disbelieve Curzon’s story. They have all had experiences with betrayal, and they know that the Patriots do not keep their promises. But do the British keep theirs? A woman says:
The British promise freedom to slaves but won’t give it to the white rebels…The rebels want to take freedom, but they won’t share it with us…Both sides say one thing and do the other.
Grandfather, the man who runs the pump, tells everyone that they are wrong to seek freedom from men. In his opinion, all slaves should focus on finding a righteous path through life to the River Jordan. People must achieve freedom for themselves. The crowd listens, but most of the younger slaves ultimately dismiss the old man’s comments.
(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 wonders if they will help her find Ruth. While she thinks, she tries to build up the fire—but the wood is so wet it smokes and refuses to burn.
The next morning, a fog rolls in. General Washington uses its cover to move most of his troops out of New York and to occupy a better position against the British advance. The Patriots are still unlikely to win, but they have not yet lost. Isabel hears the news and thinks that Washington is “a conjure man.”
One day Becky goes to the market and returns with stories of all the dead and wounded soldiers she has seen. Clearly more excited than disgusted, Becky describes a corpse with a missing head and a living boy who has had his hand cut off. She informs Isabel, who is trying to eat a bowl of porridge with dried apples, that the soldiers’ wounds will be full of maggots by morning. This disgusts Isabel, who cannot help but imagine the dried apples squirming like little worms. She gives up on her food, and Becky finishes it herself.
Next, the conversation turns to local speculation about God’s opinion of the war. Most people on the street think that God is a Patriot. However, Becky believes that the rebels must have angered God when they melted down all the church bells to make cannons. Privately, Isabel thinks that if God cared, He would probably just create a few sea monsters to devour the wrong side’s soldiers.
Isabel’s thoughts are closer to home. For the next eight days, she runs her errands as slowly as she can. Finally she spots Curzon, alive and whole. “It was good to see him not dead nor chopped up,” she thinks.
(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 Isabel to take the list down the street and pick up some nice food. The British are surely about to win the war, and Master Lockton will want a good dinner when he returns.
Isabel is shocked that she is being sent out into the middle of the battle. However, she remembers what she heard from the other slaves about the British and freedom. If Isabel approaches the British as soon as they arrive, will they help her? Her mind races, imagining that she will be free by tonight. She will get a job, save up her money, and rescue Ruth as soon as possible.
Madam shouts at Isabel, whose eyes have glazed over. Isabel says carefully that it may take a while to complete Madam’s errand, given the present state of chaos in the streets. Madam sends her out anyway. Isabel gathers a few things and runs outside.
Isabel soon finds herself in a stampede of men and boys. Around her, muskets fire and frightened pigs squeal. Isabel wants to move against the tide of people and animals, but she cannot make much headway in the chaos. She slips into a sacked candle shop to wait it out. While she sits there, she hopes with all her might that the rebels will flee quickly, and that the British will arrive soon after. She does not want anyone to get hurt, but she may not have much time to seek her freedom.
Eventually the streets go quiet. A few final soldiers and militiamen run by. After they pass, they are followed by a group of slaves carrying pickaxes and shovels. When the last of these men disappears, Isabel climbs outside and heads for the waterfront.
(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, telling him how useful she is. He tells her to go away.
Soon a soldier reports to the officer, Captain Campbell, that the rebel tents appear empty. The food and blankets are still there, but the men are gone. The captain orders the soldier to search every tent to ensure that it is not a trap. Moments later, another solider arrives to say that the battery is empty of men but still supplied with food and weapons. The British soldiers have even found a bubbling teakettle on the stove.
The soldiers all wonder aloud where General Washington’s New York headquarters are located. Captain Campbell tells someone to ask a tavern keeper, but Isabel jumps in with the answer instead. She explains that Washington worked in the Kennedy Mansion. She describes how to get there, and the soldiers leave.
After this, Captain Campbell tells Isabel that she is indeed as useful as she says. He asks about the mark on her face, and she explains that she tried to run away from her masters after her five-year-old sister was sold away from her. The captain seems sympathetic. He asks about her owners, and she says, without thinking, that they are Loyalists. At this, he tells her to go back home:
I do not hold with slavery, but I cannot help you. We do not interfere with loyalist property.
As Isabel tries to absorb this, the British soldiers determine that it is safe to bring a boatload of fine gentleman to shore. Captain Campbell orders his men to take the gentlemen to a tavern and let them eat and drink. He instructs the soldiers not to let the tavern keeper charge the gentlemen for their meal. Tonight, as a reward for their loyalty to King George III, these men...
(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 about anything. She does not pray when she goes to bed, and for the first time since Ruth disappeared, Isabel fails to kiss Ruth’s little doll before falling asleep.
The next day, Madam makes Isabel work “like a donkey.” When everyone else goes to sleep, Madam orders Isabel to stay awake and bake rolls. The bakers in New York were all rebels who fled with the army, so there is no bread to be bought. Isabel attempts to follow orders but, in her exhaustion, finds that she cannot make proper dough. She dumps her dough in the outhouse and mixes up cornbread instead. While it bakes, she falls asleep. It burns, but she does not care.
The next day, Master Lockton informs his wife that they are going to loan Sal to Lady Seymour for a few weeks. His aunt's only servant is gone, and she is boarding a dozen Hessian soldiers. Madam protests, saying, “I will not perform housework like a common wench.” Master Lockton tells her that she will need to work hard for a week or so until poor Loyalist women come from the countryside to look for work. He adds that the situation would not be so bad if Madam had not sent Ruth away.
Isabel goes reluctantly to Lady Seymour’s house. She has heard that Hessian soldiers are “fire-breathing monsters,” but they are just huge, horribly uncouth soldiers who track mud all over the house and use their thumbs instead of knives for spreading butter. They speak strangely, but Lady Seymour knows their language. She explains to Isabel that they mean no threat when they say danke. This is just their way of saying thank you.
Isabel still goes to the pump for water every day, but she does not know anyone there. Grandfather is gone, and so is...
(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 Ruth’s doll on top. Lady Seymour grabs some bags out of the trunk and then lets Isabel lead the way out of the room.
Halfway down the stairs, Isabel hears a crash, and Lady Seymour calls out for help. Isabel drops her armload of treasures—including Ruth’s doll—and drags the lady outside. Every house on the block is on fire. Isabel helps Lady Seymour up the street, passing locals trying to save their homes as well as British soldiers attempting to steal valuables from abandoned houses. At one point, they pass a wagon holding a large tank of water. Some men are trying to pull it to the fire, but one of the wheels is broken, and the men are not strong enough to drag it. Eventually Isabel decides it is safe. She and Lady Seymour collapse on the edge of a graveyard.
Isabel lies still, exhausted and half-conscious, for quite some time. When she comes back to herself, Lady Seymour is still beside her in the dirt. The lady’s speech is garbled, and she is muttering about bells. It takes Isabel a moment to realize that none of the church bells are ringing a fire alarm. This is because there are no church bells; the rebels melted them down to make cannons.
Lady Seymour begins to cry, and she is in no shape to make any decisions. Isabel takes charge. She props the lady up and helps her through the streets. They pass charred bodies and a few straggling survivors, some of whom are half-naked because they did not have time to get dressed before fleeing their burning homes. Lady Seymour’s legs keep giving out, but Isabel is not strong enough to carry the woman entirely. Isabel pinches the lady several times to wake her up and make her try to walk. Eventually they reach the Locktons’...
(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 named Nathan Hale. Hale admits that he is a spy, but he claims that he had nothing to do with the fire. When the British sentence Hale to death, he impresses the rebels and amuses the Loyalists by saying that he would gladly give his life for his country more than once.
Isabel’s lungs are slightly damaged in the fire, and she develops a bad cough that lasts for several days. Her eyes are sore as well, but she is lucky enough to avoid any lasting physical damage. Nevertheless, the loss of the doll renews Isabel’s grief. The fuzzy feeling comes into her head again, as it did after her head injury and branding. She wonders vaguely if the fire somehow damaged her mind.
A doctor comes to see Lady Seymour and says that she has suffered an apoplexy—a stroke. Master Lockton insists on giving up his own bedroom to make her comfortable. Madam is annoyed at this, but she does not fight about it. She and her husband move into the downstairs parlor. When Lady Seymour recovers a bit, she calls for Isabel and tries to say thank you, but she can barely speak. Isabel gives the lady the picture and letters that made it out of the fire in her pockets. When the lady sees them, she cries from happiness.
Many British soldiers are left homeless by the fire, so the army assigns them to the homes that remain standing. The Locktons end up with eleven single men in their extra bedrooms, an officer in the library, and five married couples in the cellar. Isabel dislikes the smells and noises this crowd brings into her sleeping space. One night she is startled awake when a man plucks her blanket right off her body. At first she thinks he is going to attack her—but then she realizes that he is just stealing her...
(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 finds impossible. Nevertheless, she wonders how Curzon is doing and hopes that he is safe with the other soldiers in Fort Washington, a well-built stronghold which people expect to stay safe from attack until spring.
The wives of the soldiers do most of the work at the Locktons’ house now, but the hardest and dirtiest tasks fall to Isabel. She spends her time hauling water, chopping wood, and cleaning chamber pots. She also runs errands for Colonel Hawkins, the officer who is living in the Locktons’ library.
Food grows enormously expensive. This poses no problem for the Locktons, particularly since Master Lockton’s business interests are thriving in the war. However, Isabel knows that ordinary people are starving. Those who lost their homes in the fire are now living in a tent camp in the burned-out district. Many are reduced to begging for the food they need to stay alive.
Lady Seymour’s health improves dramatically. This fact annoys Madam, who wishes the old woman would just die and bequeath her fortune to Master Lockton. The lady continues to have trouble speaking and moving the left side of her body, but she is able to write letters and order new clothes to replace what the fire destroyed. When a team of seamstresses arrive to sew Lady Seymour a new wardrobe, she adds in an order for a warm winter skirt and cloak for Isabel. When Isabel protests that she has no money, Lady Seymour just points to the picture that Isabel rescued from the fire.
More British soldiers move into the Locktons’ house, and Isabel grows exhausted with the work it takes to serve them. Soon she begins falling asleep almost every time she sits down, and her brain gets too fuzzy to notice...
(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 pieces of mouse hair on top to make them look fashionably bushy. Isabel thinks this looks ridiculous.
Shortly before the party, Isabel helps Lady Seymour to her place at the table. The lady comments that when she was growing up, her family held fine meals like this all the time. Isabel cannot believe this. The table is covered with linen and crystal. There is salt and pepper within reach of every place at the table, and there are dozens of bottles of wine standing ready. It seems impossible that anyone would constantly live in so much luxury.
All night, Isabel runs up and down the stairs carrying heavy trays of food. First she delivers the turtle soup. Next, she brings tongue and mushrooms. After that, she carries stuffed pheasants, stewed oysters, and several vegetable dishes. Each time she enters the drawing room, she takes a peek at the party. There are many officers and gentlemen, all dressed in fine clothes. Lady Seymour and Madam Lockton are the only women. A young soldier rushes around keeping wine glasses full as the dinner guests chat and enjoy themselves.
Dessert is rice pudding, cookies, tarts, and cake. As Isabel brings the heavy dessert tray into the room and helps the serving women pass the dishes around, she overhears a conversation about the prisoners from Fort Washington. The British officers complain that it will be impossible to keep thousands of prisoners fed through the winter. They loudly wish for a disease to kill the men off. Master Lockton suggests forcing the local Patriots to feed the men, but everyone knows that the Patriots have no food to spare. One guest suggests shooting the prisoners, but Colonel Hawkins says that this would waste ammunition and anger...
(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 return for the food, he allows her to visit Curzon, whom she claims is her brother.
Isabel finds Curzon huddled in a corner of a crowded cell. He has no bed or blanket—not even a pile of straw. His leg wound is wrapped in a bloody bandage, and he is clearly starving. However, he is physically strong enough to sit up and greet her.
Curzon tells Isabel the story of the battle at Fort Washington. During the battle, he saw a friend decapitated by a cannonball, and he got shot in the leg himself. He explains that after the surrender, the British separated the Patriot officers from the lower-ranked men. Officers are considered gentlemen, so they are being housed in local inns, where they get to eat plenty of food and take daily walks. Meanwhile, privates like Curzon are left to freeze and starve.
At this point, the fat guard comes in with the scrap bucket, which is now half empty. When Isabel tries to give the remaining food to Curzon, a big soldier grabs the handle. The man says that no black slave may eat while white soldiers go hungry. Isabel holds on tight to the bucket and demands that the man let go.
At this point, a small sergeant steps up and tells the big soldier to back off. The sergeant apologizes to Isabel, explaining that none of the men in the cell has had anything to eat for three days. He asks her to let the whole group share the food. Isabel knows that nobody will get enough, but she agrees. After all, Curzon will be better off with a tiny share than with nothing.
The sergeant takes the scrap bucket from Isabel and picks out a small piece of pie crust. He passes it to Curzon, who takes a bit of parsnip peel. The bucket goes around the room in this...
(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 prison. Conditions have improved a bit since her first visit. The British have provided a small number of blankets and a few food rations. However, the prison guards do not allow fires, so the prisoners are forced to eat their meat raw.
When Isabel visits Curzon, the guards always steal some of her food. She learns to mix fat in with the scraps to make them more filling for the prisoners and less tempting to the guards. Meanwhile, to keep the guards happy, she places a few choice bits of food on top of the bucket for them to steal.
Once, on her way into the prison, Isabel has to walk past piles of dead, frozen bodies in the halls. The corpses are mostly naked, their clothes stolen by the living. Inside Curzon’s cell, she finds him sickly and either unwilling or unable to speak to her. This bothers her, but she reassures herself that at least she knows he is alive.
Isabel’s scar makes her quite distinctive, and people soon notice that she has been visiting the prison. One day, Lady Seymour says that she knows what Isabel has been doing. The lady says that it is a Christian act to feed people in need, but that Isabel should not let Madam find out.
That same day, Isabel goes out on an errand to a bookseller, who also comments on the fact that she has been visiting the prison. He, too, approves of this choice. He gives Isabel a copy of a pamphlet called Common Sense and tells her that every rebel sympathizer should read it. Isabel reluctantly accepts the gift, even though she knows it is a bad idea to keep inflammatory political literature in Madam's house.
(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 longer allowed to go into the cells. He tells her that she may deliver food directly to the prisoners through the outer windows.
At the window of Curzon’s cell, Isabel speaks to the big soldier who almost stole her food the first day. He says that the sergeant is dead. Curzon is very sick, and Isabel suspects that the other prisoners have been taking his share of the rations. She demands that they give him a blanket and make sure that he eats. When they agree, she hands over some food, warning, “If he dies, you’ll not see me again.”
The big soldier tells Isabel to go to a nearby boarding house and tell his superior officer, Captain Morse, that the men in the prison are sick. The captain has the power to send a doctor to the prison if he hears what is going on. For Curzon’s sake, Isabel delivers this message immediately.
Captain Morse seems grateful for Isabel's message. Pressing her advantage, she begs him to help Curzon however he can. He promises to do so, saying that Curzon is “a true soldier” who fought bravely at Fort Washington. Before Isabel leaves, Captain Morse asks her name. She tells him to call her Sal. She cannot stand the idea of naming herself after the Locktons, so she claims that she has no surname at all.
All day after that, Isabel worries. If she goes to the prison every day, she will be in danger of being found out by the Locktons. If she does not, Curzon will be in danger because the other men will take his food and blankets for themselves. Her mental turmoil causes her to vomit, but in the days that follow, she keeps visiting the prison anyway.
One night not long after that, Isabel finds herself so cold that she cannot sleep....
(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 out for her walk, Madam says that she knows Isabel has been feeding rebel prisoners. Lady Seymour claims that the whole affair was her idea, so Madam is not as angry as she could be. However, she scolds Isabel and forbids any further trips to the prison. Helping the hungry may be the Lord’s work, but in this case it will make people suspect that the Locktons secretly support the rebels.
Before sending Isabel away, Madam says that Master Lockton will soon sail away to England for a while. Lady Seymour will either die or be sent to Charleston. Eventually, Madam will be able to do whatever she wishes with Isabel. “That is the day you should fear, girl,” Madam says.
With this threat ringing in her ears, Isabel sets out to walk the streets of New York. “She can do anything. I can do nothing,” Isabel thinks to herself. Indeed, Madam could beat Isabel or even kill her, and nobody would object. Isabel spends hours dwelling on these dark thoughts, but eventually a brighter one slips through: “She cannot chain my soul.” This idea makes Isabel feel freer than she has in a long time.
When Isabel returns home, she sees a loaf of bread on the table. She cuts it into slices and bakes a bread pudding. She loads it into a basket and takes it to Canvastown, the tent city that has grown up on top of the ashes of the fire. She gives the pudding away to a family with small children. As they thank her, she walks away, humming to herself and feeling that she has made Christmas right.
(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 boarding house in the afternoon.
On the way home, Sarah says that Madam does not want Isabel to go to the water pump anymore. Isabel says that she likes going, and Sarah admits that she is glad not to have to send any of the white women. They agree that Isabel will continue doing the chore and that they will simply hide this fact from Madam. This should be easy since Madam does not get up in the mornings until long after Isabel comes home with the water.
Isabel still needs to fulfill her promise to visit Captain Morse. In the afternoon, she purposely spills the water bucket all over the floor, and then she offers to go out and get more. Sarah grants permission, but she seems suspicious of Isabel’s motives. After all, it is highly dangerous for Isabel to go to the pump when Madam forbids it. In the middle of the day like this, it is highly likely that Isabel will get caught.
Captain Morse gives Isabel a loaf of bread and begs her to take it to the prisoners. When she asks why, he quickly explains that a note is baked inside the loaf. It contains a happy message that will bring comfort to the suffering prisoners. Captain Morse cannot go near the prison himself, so he needs her to do it for him.
As quickly as she can, Isabel takes the loaf to Curzon’s cell. She whispers that there is a note inside and runs away. Shortly afterward, she hears a huge cheer rising from the prison. The note contains a message which, to the rebel prisoners, seems almost too good to believe:
The rebels had attacked instead of running. The rebels had advanced instead of resisting. The rebels had won a battle.
(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 she brings him some cake once in a while.
In passing, the fat guard mentions that the prison is hiring slaves to clean vomit and feces out of the cells. Payment for this awful task goes to the slaves’ masters. Isabel promises to tell the Locktons about the opportunity, but privately she thinks that it would not work out. Madam likes to keep Isabel close.
Sarah soon gives birth to a baby boy, whom she names George. People think that she is naming him for the English king, but she points out that the name also belongs to the general of the Patriot troops. Sarah came to New York to support her husband in fighting against the Patriots, but the rebels are doing better than anyone ever imagined. Perhaps when the war is over, her family will stay where they are. “A name like George is a good one on either side of the ocean,” she says.
One day, Lady Seymour quietly apologizes for failing to protect Isabel from the Locktons' mistreatment. The lady confesses that she once tried to buy Isabel, but that Madam refused to hear of it. Isabel is unable to muster the thankfulness that Lady Seymour seems to expect for this. Privately, Isabel thinks:
A body does not like being bought and sold like a basket of eggs, even if the person who cracks the shells is kind.
Meanwhile, the British officers worry about the Patriots’ progress in the war. Colonel Hawkins grows mean and surly, and he frequently storms out of the house to spend time at his army’s headquarters. On these occasions, Isabel sometimes gets a few moments to herself. Then she sits down in front of the fire and reads more of Common Sense.
(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 medicinal teas. One day, Isabel overhears Madam asking the doctor when the old woman will die. Naturally, the doctor is unable to say for certain. However, Isabel gets the sense that Madam would not mind hurrying the end along.
A few days after Lady Seymour’s second stroke, Madam takes back the best bedroom for herself. Lady Seymour is moved to a spare room, and Isabel spends a whole day scrubbing and washing to make the master bedroom perfect for Madam again. That night, Madam calls Isabel four times with frivolous demands. Isabel grows increasingly annoyed, but all she can do is obey.
The next morning, Isabel wakes up and finds the world covered in ice and snow. The laundry is frozen on the lines, and it is beautiful. Looking at it, Isabel gets a strong mental image of her home in Rhode Island. She imagines Ruth, free and happy, playing outside in fresh snow. The image saddens Isabel, and she wishes she could push it to the back of her mind. Ruth is gone, and the two sisters will never share a morning like this again. It does Isabel no good to think about it—but her mind refuses to let it go.
Isabel's attempts to seek freedom never work out, but she cannot stop wanting it anyway. She thinks about Lady Seymour and wonders if the old woman ever thought of freeing Isabel rather than buying her. It is too late to ask the question now.
Isabel loads the frozen sheets into a basket so that she can take them into the kitchen to dry. As she does so, she reflects on the stories she knows about slaves who were set free or who earned money and bought themselves away from their own masters. Such happy endings seem out of reach to Isabel.
(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 following question: “If an entire nation [can] seek its freedom, why not a girl?” She is willing to take the risk of running away, but she cannot figure out how to escape the island of New York. If she goes by road, she will be caught. If she goes through the woods, she will surely be killed by wild animals. If she simply sneaks to the city’s waterfront, she may not be able to get away at all. After all, she does not know how to swim or sail.
Over the last few months, Isabel has been taking far more risks than she ever thought possible. By now she is used to danger. She still stops by the prison every morning, and she walks past Captain Morse’s tavern as well. One day he asks her to help him pay a debt. He bet a friend, Captain Farrar, that the British would not hold a ball when so many people were starving. He was wrong, and how he owes Farrar a penny. However, he is confined to the house for the day while the celebration is underway.
Isabel agrees to take the captain’s penny to his friend. She finds her chance in the afternoon, when Madam is out with a friend. Farrar gives Isabel a note to carry back to Captain Morse. She accepts it, but she is annoyed at the way soldiers are always demanding her help in their schemes. All she wants is for Curzon’s cellmates to let him have his share of the food and blankets. Everyone always assumes that this makes her a rebel spy.
Isabel does not have time to take the note to Captain Morse right away, so it is still in her pocket when she arrives home with the water. She steps through the door and puts down the buckets. Seconds later, Madam appears with a riding crop in her hand. “How dare you?” Madam says, and she hits Isabel across...
(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 for the little girl. Ruth has been living at the Locktons’ estate in Charleston for months. Now Madam will punish Isabel by seeking out “the most cruel, the most heartless master” for the little girl.
Madam leaves to get ready for the ball, leaving Isabel locked in the potato bin. The bin is half-full, and Isabel does not have room to sit up. Isabel wants to scream, but she holds herself back. Her mind dissolves into a fuzzy panic for a while, but it does not stay that way for long. Ruth is alive. Ruth is within reach in Charleston—a place Isabel can walk to, if she dares.
After she hears Madam leave for the ball, Isabel kicks at the wall of the potato bin. It does not break. She thinks hard and remembers that a corner of the cellar always leaks. In that corner, she finds a couple of loose, rotted boards. She kicks them and feels a bit of give. She kicks many more times, and eventually the bin breaks open. She tumbles onto the floor with a pile of potatoes.
Without wasting any time, Isabel runs upstairs to the library. She searches through Colonel Hawkins’s papers and finds a map. She sees that Charleston is much farther away than Rhode Island, but she does not let herself dwell on that problem.
She rifles through drawers and finds a blank pass document. She begins filling it out, but she pauses at the space for her name. Isabel is easy, but what should she write for a surname? Lockton is out of the question. Finch does not sit right either. Isabel thinks back to her favorite activity from her old life, gardening, and gives herself a new last name. When she is finished, the pass reads:
This is to Certify, to whomsoever it may...
(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 put the coins back in the purse. Through gestures, Lady Seymour communicates that she wants Isabel to take the money. She manages to speak one clear word: “Run."
Isabel tries to do just that. Her plan is to sneak to the harbor, steal a rowboat, and get across the river to New Jersey. From there, she will set out walking to Charleston. But her conscience tugs at her, and she finds it impossible to abandon Curzon.
Cursing herself for her stupidity, Isabel hurries to the prison and finds the fat guard at the gate. She lies to him, saying that she has been sent to clean the cells in preparation for an upcoming prison inspection. He helps himself to some bread from her basket and then lets her inside. He gives her a wheelbarrow and some keys, and then he tells her not to ask him for any help. She cleans out one cell, gagging over the brimming chamber pots. She wheels a load of muck past the guard dumps it in a pit she finds behind the prison.
Next, Isabel rushes to Curzon’s cell. She finds him in a corner, barely alive, burning with fever. Most of his original cellmates are dead, replaced by men who are strangers to her. She leans over Curzon and whispers to him to stay quiet and still. She tells the other prisoners that he is dead, and she lifts him into the wheelbarrow.
As she wheels past the guard again, Isabel comments that she has “a nasty load here.” She tells him it might be a while before she returns. The she pushes the wheelbarrow out into the night.
(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 gets blisters all over her hands. They burst and bleed. More blisters form, and they pop again—but she keeps rowing. Curzon, near-dead from his fever, sleeps in the bottom of the boat at her feet. Isabel’s mind wanders. In her pain and exhaustion, she begins to hallucinate. She thinks she sees ghosts of her family in the fog, and she reaches out for them. This makes her drop an oar, and she has to stick her hand into the ice-cold water to retrieve it. Afterward she rows on, her hands too numb from the cold to feel any further pain.
Eventually exhaustion overtakes Isabel, and she falls asleep. When she wakes up, she thinks she has died and gone to heaven. She sees a pink-gold sky and smells wood smoke. This last detail surprises her. As far as she knows, the Bible never says anything about wood smoke in heaven.
Isabel sits up and finds her rowboat stuck in some frost-covered bushes along the edge of the river. Her clothes are covered in ice, which cracks when she moves. She studies the empty shoreline. She checks the direction of the rising sun and the flowing water and tries to figure out where she is. After a while, she realizes that she has made it. She and Curzon are across the river in Jersey.
Curzon is a bundle of rags at the bottom of the boat. Isabel kicks him gently and asks if he is alive. He groans and sticks his head up from beneath the blankets. He asks where they are, and Isabel grins at him. “I think we just crossed the River Jordan,” she says. As Chains ends, she offers him a hand and asks if he is strong enough to walk.
(The entire section is 423 words.)