In chapter 37, it’s Christmastime and Madam has just gone to bed. Isabel opens a “little book” by Thomas Paine. The name of the book is Common Sense. The first sentences are not easy for Isabel to understand. After rereading them four times, Isabel grasps their meaning. She realizes that Paine is trying to convey that there’s a gap between the life that people lead and the world that rules over them. At this point, to keep Curzon alive in jail, Isabel must negotiate the tricky terrain between her personal life, her masters, and the war between America and England.
In chapter 40, Isabel returns to Common Sense. At this point, the rebels have defeated British troops in Princeton, New Jersey. Lockton plans to travel to England to inform Parliament about the setbacks. With Lockton gone and Madam off playing cards, Isabel reads Common Sense. She has to “jump around,” but she understands that Paine believes that Americans are justified in trying to gain independence from England.
In chapter 42, Paine comes back for the third time. At this point, Lady Seymour’s health is failing, Loyalists are planning a ball in honor of Queen Charlotte’s birthday, and Curzon remains in jail. Amid these developments, Isabel manages to finish reading Paine’s book. The book causes Isabel to realize the power of words and the trouble—good trouble, some might say—they can stir up. Paine’s thoughts on equality appear to have a particular impact on Isabel. She commits one of his sentences on equality to memory:
For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever.
Isabel understands this sentence as saying that all people should be treated the same. No one should be handed a crown or made to feel as if they’re superior to other people. Soon, Isabel will put these beliefs about equality into practice.