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 concern, That the Bearer hereof…Isabel Gardener, being a Free Negro, has the Commandant’s Permission to pass from this Garrison to whatever place she may think proper.
When Isabel finishes writing, she feels reborn—free and able to prove it.