The rebels enjoy another victory just after New Year’s Day, so the British promise to feed prisoners boiled peas and butter. It’s still bitterly cold, though, and the prisoners can’t have fires. Lockton’s trip is moved up so he can tell Parliament the bad news. Isabel continues to visit the prison early in the morning, terrified Madam will find her out. Her fears seem to be coming true when on the morning Lockton will leave, a British soldier shouts for Isabel and hurries toward her. It’s the guard who first let Isabel visit Curzon. He asks if she’d bring him some food sometime and then asks if Isabel’s master ever hires her out. Isabel lies that he does—working away from Madam would be a treat. The guard introduces himself as Fisher and promises to keep an eye on Curzon in exchange for cake.
Now that the British might face consequences for the cruel way they’ve treated their prisoners, they improve conditions in the prison. For Isabel, though, the improved conditions don’t excuse her from visiting daily to make sure Curzon is still doing okay. She’s concerned for her friend, so she feels compelled to check on him and not just trust that the British (and Curzon’s cellmates) will be honest. Isabel also discovers that food can help her make friends in unexpected places. Fisher might be able to help keep Curzon safe—and perhaps even get Isabel away from Madam for periods of time.
As soon as Lockton leaves, Madam goes to play cards with a friend. In her absence, Sarah gives birth to a baby boy in the cellar. Isabel desperately wants to watch, but she doesn’t dare. Instead, she slips down after to see the baby, whom Sarah named George. Sarah says she and her husband might stay in the colonies—and George will be a good name “on either side of the ocean.” The other wives are aghast. The next day, Sarah and George move to a house for mothers and babies associated with the army. Isabel tells Lady Seymour about the new baby and offers to see if Sarah will bring George to visit, but Lady Seymour shakes her head. She’s too ill.
Sarah saying that George is a good name in England and in the colonies comes from the fact that both General Washington and the King are named George—so feasibly, depending on who wins, Sarah can say that baby George was named after either the King or Washington. She, like everyone else in the novel, is going to do what’s best for her and what’s going to keep her family safe and happy. Saying this at all also shows that some of the British soldiers might be doubting their cause—being in the army doesn’t guarantee their loyalty.
As Isabel goes to put a log on the fire, Lady Seymour asks Isabel to sit so they can talk. This is very improper, but Isabel sits. Lady Seymour says she’s going to die soon, and she seeks forgiveness. She wanted to buy Isabel right after they first met, but Madam wouldn’t sell Isabel. Lady Seymour says she should’ve demanded to take Isabel once Lockton returned from exile. Isabel would’ve “suited [her] household.” Isabel knows Lady Seymour expects a thank-you, but Isabel isn’t grateful—she doesn’t want to be bought and sold, even if her buyer is kind. It’s like Lady Seymour speaks an entirely different language.
Lady Seymour wants to make it clear to Isabel that she cares about her and wanted Isabel to have a better life than she has. But as Isabel notes here, Lady Seymour’s methods aren’t perfect—she doesn’t realize she’s actually being insulting by wanting to keep Isabel enslaved, rather than wanting to free her. Lady Seymour, in other words, wants Isabel to be cared for and happy—but she’s not willing to see Isabel as an equal. The inequality is also why Isabel can’t tell Lady Seymour that hearing this isn’t helpful or kind.
Isabel runs downstairs when she hears Colonel Hawkins shouting. He curses Isabel and says the room is cold. Isabel chooses the dampest logs she can and an hour later, to escape the smoke, Colonel Hawkins leaves for headquarters. Then, since Madam is guaranteed to be playing cards for some time and Lady Seymour is asleep, Isabel reads Common Sense by the fire. She understands that Paine is arguing that the Americans should overthrow the British, that wealthy people aren’t born to rule, and that fighting injustice is the right thing to do.
Isabel is able to sneakily gain power over those who are cruel to her—as by building the worst fire she possibly can for Hawkins to punish him for cursing at her. Reading Common Sense is transformative for Isabel. Though she might not totally support the Patriots (since they won’t support her), the pamphlet still gives her the political theory and the language to articulate why she should keep fighting for her freedom.