Chapter 8 Summary

From the moment she enters the Locktons’ home, Isabel spends every waking moment working. In the mornings, she gets up before anyone else to light the fire in the kitchen. All day, she does the heavy housework while Becky cooks the meals. Madam criticizes nearly everything Isabel does, but Isabel does not dare defend herself. She has not forgotten the way Madam hit her down at the docks.

One night, the Locktons argue loudly, and Mr. Lockton storms out of the house. Madam goes to bed early, so Isabel and Ruth do too. Isabel lies awake feeling lost. She knows where she is physically, but she has found her way into the wrong life and she cannot get back out.

The next morning, Madam calls Ruth into the parlor. Isabel asks Becky what is going on, but Becky does not know—nor does she care as long as it does not create extra work. Throughout the morning, Isabel makes a series of nervous mistakes as she worries about what could be happening to Ruth.

Eventually Becky carries the afternoon tea into the parlor. When she returns to the kitchen, Isabel demands to know what is happening with Ruth. Becky explains that Madam has decided to use the little girl as a “personal maid.” From now on, pretty little Ruth will dress up in fine clothes and perform small tasks like fanning Madam when she is hot. According to Becky, this will make Madam feel superior to her lady friends, none of whom own slaves for such a purpose.

It infuriates Isabel that Madam is using Ruth as “a curiosity” and “a toy.” Becky seems to sympathize, but she warns Isabel not to complain. Madam can be very rough with her slaves. Once, not long ago, she owned a slave girl who tended to talk back. Madam beat that girl so badly that she never healed properly. No longer useful, the girl ended up getting sold.

Becky says that Isabel needs to accept what she cannot change, or she will suffer. After all, it is not going to harm Ruth to stand in a warm room and wear nice dresses. As for Becky, she is happy with her job, and she will not let Isabel mess it up by complaining and making trouble.

For the next several days, Isabel continues her back-breaking labor, and Ruth spends her days in Madam’s parlor. The sisters do not see each other except at night, when they share the same bed. Isabel is constantly exhausted, but she begins to have trouble sleeping. She often lies awake thinking about Curzon and his strange offer.