Chapter 38 Summary

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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.

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