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.