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.