Chapters 1–11

In 1776, Isabel is enslaved by British loyalists. When she begins to work as a spy for American revolutionaries, she discovers that neither side is interested in her freedom—and decides to do something about it.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. taut
    pulled or drawn tight
    Mr. Robert’s mouth tightened like a rope pulled taut.
  2. mournful
    filled with or evoking sadness
    No ghosts yet, just ash trees and maples lined up in a mournful row.
  3. pasture
    a field covered with grass and suitable for grazing
    I could hear cows mooing in a far pasture and bees buzzing in a nearby clover patch.
  4. wince
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    “Apologies, sir,” I said, wincing with pain.
  5. calico
    coarse cloth with a bright print
    We couldn’t take Momma’s shells, nor Ruth’s baby doll made of flannel bits and calico, nor the wooden bowl Poppa made for me.
    Calico was a material imported by the East India Company (a large British business with interests in India, which was under British domination). The fact that there was calico in the American Colonies shows how powerful and influential the British Empire was; despite this, the colonies were about to start a war.
  6. proprietor
    someone who owns a business
    The proprietor called her over to join us.
    Compare to "propriety" in the list for Chapters 12-22: both come from the Latin "proprietas" which means "ownership" but "proprietor" refers to the physical ownership of property while "propriety" refers to the self-possession that comes with knowing and following the rules of polite society.
  7. indenture
    bind by a contract for work, as an apprentice or servant
    Indentured servants complain all the time and steal us blind at the first opportunity."
    "Indentured servants" were people that sold their services to someone who had the money to ship them to the Americas. In return, they had to work without payment for a certain number of years (stated in the contract) until they had more than repaid the cost of their passage and were then freed to work for themselves.
  8. snuff
    snuff colored; of a greyish to yellowish brown
    He wore a red silk waistcoat under a snuff-colored coat with silver buttons, a starched linen shirt, and black breeches.
    The word "snuff" could be a pun here, because "up to snuff" means "up to standard" and the descriptions of the clothes sound like they belong to someone who's trying hard to impress.
  9. sovereign
    a nation's ruler usually by hereditary right
    “I pledge myself to our rightful sovereign, the King, sir,” Mr. Robert said.
  10. girth
    the distance around something, especially a person's body
    The husband was a head taller and twice the girth of most men.
  11. procure
    get by special effort
    “Why not wait, Anne, and procure another indentured girl in New York?”
  12. brook
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    “I do not brook foolishness,” she said.
  13. insolence
    the trait of being rude and impertinent
    Insolence will not be tolerated, not one bit.
    Compare with "impudence" in this list--focus on the second half of the identical definitions and the mood created by the attitudes towards the people seen to be insolent or impudent.
  14. providence
    a manifestation of God's foresightful care for his creatures
    “It is Providence that put them in our path.”
  15. impudence
    the trait of being rude and impertinent
    “Such impudence is disturbing,” Lockton said.
    Compare with "insolence" in this list--although the two modern definitions are identical, the obsolete definition of "impudent" as "immodest" (in addition to its Latin root of "pudere" which means "to be ashamed") suggests that "impudence" can be seen as a rudeness that is not as disturbingly direct as "insolence" and thus can be more patiently tolerated.
  16. transaction
    conducting business within or between groups
    “I thank you, sir, for the meal and the transaction."
  17. brackish
    distasteful and unpleasant
    I spent most of the voyage bent double over a puke bucket, bringing up every scrap of food and swallow of brackish water I choked down.
  18. gentry
    the most powerful members of a society
    The working people were dressed muchly as we did out in the country, but there were a few gentry who stuck out of the crowd like peacocks wandering in the chicken pen.
  19. contraption
    a device or control that is very useful for a particular job
    Behind him walked a slave boy about my height, whose arms were weighted down with a wooden contraption and a small case with a rope handle.
  20. incline
    bend or turn towards a speaker in order to listen well
    Bellingham inclined his head toward Madam.
  21. strive
    exert much effort or energy
    You’ve come home to fight us who strive for freedom and liberty.
  22. etiquette
    rules governing socially acceptable behavior
    “Do I gather, sir, from your hesitation, that you are unsure of the etiquette involved?"
  23. battalion
    an army unit consisting of a headquarters and companies
    A woman defending her underclothes from a battalion of soldiers was comical.
  24. bewildered
    perplexed by many conflicting situations or statements
    I curtsied, bewildered at the speed of it all.
  25. vexing
    extremely annoying or displeasing
    “Country girls are slow-moving, vexing creatures,” he said.
  26. natter
    talk socially without exchanging too much information
    He started walking again, nattering on and on about plots and conspiracies and battle plans and secrets, but truth be told, my mind drifted.
  27. tarnish
    discoloration of metal surface caused by oxidation
    Becky came out carrying a tarnished silver teapot and a stack of china cups and plates.
  28. vigor
    forceful exertion
    Madam called for tea in her bedchamber the next morning and sent for Ruth, who was pumping the butter churn with vigor.
  29. surly
    unfriendly and inclined toward anger or irritation
    Madam called her surly and took to beating her regular-like.
  30. regiment
    army unit smaller than a division
    Becky was somewhere in the crowd watching General Washington parade down Broadway with five regiments of soldiers.
  31. spectacle
    something or someone seen, especially a notable sight
    She nattered on about the spectacle whilst assembling the tea things for Madam and Lady Seymour, who had come again to call.
  32. enormous
    extraordinarily large in size or extent or degree
    The front windows were open, bringing in fresh air and noise from the street; carts rolling over the cobblestones and church bells in the distance mingled with the voices of the four men who sat around the enormous desk.
  33. inimitable
    Why the people are magnificent; in their carriages, which are numerous, in their house furniture, which is fine, in their pride and conceit, which are inimitable, in their profaneness, which is intolerable, in the want of principle, which is prevalent, and in their Toryism, which is insufferable.
    The description starts off sounding like sincere praise with the adjectives "magnificent" and "fine" but it turns sarcastic when it matches the positive adjective "inimitable" to the negative traits of "pride and conceit." The second half of the sentence insultingly accuses the people of intolerable profaneness ("unholiness"), prevalent ("most frequent or common") lack of principle, and an insufferable ("extremely annoying") political loyalty.
  34. mantel
    a shelf that projects from the wall above fireplace
    A low settee stood in front of the fireplace, and a mirror framed in mahogany hung above the mantel, flanked by oil lamps fastened to the walls.
  35. compensate
    make payment to
    "The Provincial Congress will compensate you, of course."
Created on November 14, 2013 (updated April 4, 2019)

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