Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers published Anderson's novel Fever 1793 in 2000, an historical novel set in Philadelphia during the post-Revolutionary War. Readers encounter the harrowing experience of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. Anderson gives insight into this deadly disease that killed nearly five thousand people, ten percent of the Philadelphia population, and halted its prosperity. The story uses real-life recollections to develop the bitterness and fear of neighbor toward neighbor as people physically cast aside the infected and buried thousands.
The novel begins by showing the normal, everyday conflicts teenagers face in dealing with strict parents, changing body images, and the death of friends. It then weaves a realistic tale of the losses that occurred as it conveys to young adults a message of hope. Readers realize that, through perseverance and self-reliance, any horror can be faced.
(The entire section is 137 words.)
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Chapters 1-2 Summary
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook is roused abruptly by her mother on the morning of August 16, 1793. The weather is stifling and a mosquito buzzes annoyingly around her head as she sluggishly responds to her parent's nagging. Polly, the serving girl who helps at the coffeehouse downstairs, is late and there is work to be done. As Mattie dresses, Silas, the family cat, pounces on a mouse and the girl, shooing the angry feline away, retrieves the rodent, now deceased. As she leans out the window which overlooks the teeming Philadelphia street below to dispose of the dead rodent, Mattie hears the sound of the blacksmith's hammer on his anvil and conjectures that Polly is probably late because she has stopped to visit with Matthew, the blacksmith's son.
Mattie herself does not like the blacksmith's shop, with its "roaring furnace [and] sparks crackling in the air." She prefers the waterfront which lies to the east; on a clear day, she can see the masts of the ships tied up at the wharves on the Delaware River from her window. A few blocks south of that lies the Walnut Street Prison; it was there where the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard had recently launched the first hot-air balloon flown in the United States. Mattie yearns to one day break free of the ties that bind her to her tawdry life, just like that "remarkable balloon" that had risen from the prison courtyard, escaping the confines of earth.
The Cook Coffeehouse had been built by Mattie's father soon after the American War for Independence ended in 1783. The bustling establishment is located in the center of the city, near the corner of Seventh and High Streets, two blocks from the home of President Washington. Mattie's father, a carpenter by trade, had fallen from a ladder and died only two months after the coffehouse had opened. Mattie's paternal grandfather had subsequently moved in, and the three of them—Mother, Grandfather, and Mattie—had continued running the business, whose clientele is made up for the most part by "gentlemen, merchants, and politicians enjoying a cup of coffee, a bite to eat, and the news of the day."
In addition to Polly, the coffeehouse employs Eliza, the cook. Eliza had been born a slave in Virginia, but her husband had saved up his money and bought her freedom soon after they had been married. In turn, Eliza had been saving the wages...
(The entire section is 736 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Mattie cannot believe her mother's words. She and Polly had been friends from the cradle and had grown up playing dolls together.
Mother explains that the girl had been taken with a fever only briefly, and three quarters of an hour later had cried out and then died in her own bed. Everyone is mystified as to the nature of the deadly and mysterious malady that had stricken Polly as she had been in robust health and had never been known as sickly.
Mattie closes her eyes, picturing her friend "happy, joking, maybe stealing a kiss with Matthew." Startled, Mother lays a hand on her forehead, asking if she is feeling all right.
Eliza suggests that Mattie should go over to the Logans' house to take some food for the family and pay her respects, but Mother does not want her daughter near there, "not with a sickness in the air." Mother says that Mattie has not played with Polly "for years" and callously adds that "the girl was our servant, not a friend."
Desperately Mattie argues to the contrary and begs to at least attend Polly's funeral, but her mother will not allow even that. Infuriated, the girl shouts, "Why are you so horrid?" causing Mother to demand an apology at once. Mattie complies with words that are dutiful but without feeling.
Although they are forced to work together serving the guests at the coffeehouse that afternoon, things are still strained between Mattie and Mother and each avoids making eye contact with the other.
Mattie goes over to serve Grandfather, who sits at a table in the corner of the crowded room with "two government officials, a lawyer, and Mr. Carris," who is the owner of an export business.
Grandfather, known to his contemporaries as Captain William Farnsworth Cook of the Pennsylvania Fifth Regiment, had been an army officer under General Washington and is "the heart of all gossip and tall tales in the coffeehouse."
Today the main topic of conversation is the strange illness that cut down Polly and others in the area. Mr. Carris asserts that it is being caused by "the heap of rotting coffee beans on Ball's Wharf" while one of the government clerks suggests that it has been brought to the city by the Santo Domingan refugees who live down by the river.
A doctor at an adjoining table overhears the conversation and interjects that it...
(The entire section is 626 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
By a week later, sixty-four people have succumbed to the mysterious illness in Philadelphia. Rumors abound that the fever originated near the docks and as a consequence, consumers begin avoiding that area and flock instead to the upper end of High Street, where the Cook Coffeehouse is located.
Mattie works from dawn to dusk every day as Mother, Eliza, and she struggle to accommodate the additional customers. The young girl gets no respite from her grueling routine until Grandfather finally convinces Mother to let her go to the market to run errands one day.
The market stalls cover three blocks in the center of the city. Mattie buys eggs, cabbages wilted from the drought, fresh lemons, and some moldy cheese from various vendors.
As she passes the butcher's stall, she is grabbed from behind and spun through the air. Mattie is pleased to recognize her "attacker" as Nathaniel Benson, who looks "much more a man and less a boy than he had a few months earlier" when she had seen him last.
Mother is not happy about Mattie's interest in handsome Nathaniel because he works as a painter's assistant and as such has "no future." Ironically, Mother's own family had essentially disowned her when she had insisted on marrying Mattie's father, a lowly carpenter.
Mattie and Nathaniel engage in innocent banter for a while until the bell at Christ Church begins to toll. The marketplace falls silent as the denizens count twenty-one peals; every time someone in the city dies, the bell rings once for each year the unfortunate person had lived.
The sobering sound of the bell brings Nathaniel to wonder if the deceased had been another fever victim, and Mattie, thinking of Polly, begins to cry. Nathaniel comforts her by putting a hand on her shoulder, and in the awkwardness that follows, Mattie takes her leave.
A week later, Mattie is wrestling wet tablecloths through the mangle, a contraption which squeezes the water from material after a wash. Grandfather, who is watching his granddaughter, comments that Mother has heard that Nathaniel Benson had been "behaving improperly toward [her] at the market."
Mattie protests that the young man had just been "expressing his condolences on the death of Polly Logan" and grouses that the market "is full of busybodies."
After she manages,...
(The entire section is 683 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
At the Oglivie mansion, Mattie and her mother are escorted to "a drawing room as large as the entire first floor of the coffee shop" by a maid. After a short time Penilla Oglivie "sails" in, complaining that the summer has been the "worst of [her] life" and declaring that she is counting on her visitors to "lighten [her] mood."
Mrs. Oglivie's outfit glimmers with richness in contrast to the old clothes Mother has pieced together for herself and Mattie. The house itself exudes opulence; the fixtures and furnishings are lavish and expensive.
Colette and Jeannine, the two Oglivie daughters, join the gathering. Colette, the older of the two, is pale and has dark rings under her eyes; Jeannine's cheeks "[shine] pink and chubby as a baby pig's."
The younger sister takes an instant dislike to Mattie and surreptitiously makes sure that the delicate desserts served remain out of the reach of her visitor. When Mattie's mother, determined to find a future marriage partner for her daughter in the well-heeled household, indelicately persists in trying to turn the conversation to the subject of the Oglivie sons, Jeannine perceives her intent.
When it is clear that Penilla Oglivie, who is prattling on about the "gross injustice" that her plans for summer partying are being ruined "because the lower class [is falling] ill," does not share her daughter's insight, Jeannine rudely exclaims, "Mama, must you be so thick-headed? Mrs. Cook is asking if you might consider Miss Cook as a wife for one of our brothers."
At that point Colette, who is obviously ill, crumples to the floor in a faint. While Mrs. Oglivie shrieks, Mother goes over and lays her hand against the stricken girl's forehead. Colette is burning with fever.
The church bells toll incessantly from that day as scores of Philadelphia's denizens succumb to the mysterious illness. To add to the misery, the sweltering weather conditions will not let up, and there are tormenting insects everywhere. Many of the wealthier families are fleeing the city, and business at the coffeehouse slows to a trickle.
Eliza attends a meeting of the Free African Society about the fever, but Grandfather stubbornly refuses to believe that the situation is serious. Mattie accompanies the old man to Andrew Brown's printshop one day, where they find the newspaperman...
(The entire section is 664 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
Unbelievably, Mother is alive, and Grandfather and Mattie struggle to carry her inside. With Eliza's help they put her to bed, where she sleeps fitfully, hot but shivering, for the rest of the afternoon.
Grandfather, who insists that Mother has just been overcome by the heat, consults with Mr. Rowley, who is "not a proper physician, but . . . sees sick folk and prescribes medicines." Eliza, who has just returned from a meeting at the Free African Society about the fever, says that all the "real doctors" are down on Water Street, where things are so bad that "bodies are piling up like firewood."
Mr. Rowley examines Mother and proclaims that she does not have yellow fever, even though Eliza says that according to prominent physician Benjamin Rush, the pestilence is rampant in the city. Mattie also has her doubts about Mr. Rowley, whose hands are "uncommonly dirty," smells of rum, and after magnanimously issuing his diagnosis, demands his fee.
When he departs, Eliza and Mattie follow his recommendations, bathing Mother every four hours, keeping her linens clean, and trying to get her to drink bitter dittany tea. For some reason, Grandfather stays at Mr. Carris' house that night. When darkness falls, Eliza must return home to her own family, leaving Mattie to look after her mother alone.
Mother becomes violently ill during the night, vomiting blood all over the bed and floor. Mattie screams for Eliza. Realizing that she is alone, she goes over to her mother and tenderly sponges her face clean. With tears spilling from her eyes, the stricken woman begs her daughter to leave her, croaking, "Don't want you sick. Go away!"
Mother's condition does not improve over the next few days. Eliza and Grandfather finally manage to find help, bringing Dr. Kerr, an educated man from Scotland, to examine her.
The doctor declares definitively that Mother has yellow fever and calls Mr. Rowley an imposter and a fool. Following the recommendations of the respected Dr. Rush, Dr. Kerr bleeds the sick woman, insisting that it is the only way "to save a patient this close to the grave."
Miraculously, Mother survives the bleeding and purging administered with the procedure and in her semi-delirious state, makes it clear that she is fearful for Mattie's welfare and wishes her gone. Dr. Kerr agrees that the...
(The entire section is 645 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
The passengers are tormented by hoards of mosquitoes as the half-starved horse pulls the wagon laboriously out of the city. Mattie makes a wry joke, and Grandfather's laughter brings on a coughing spell of such severity that his face reddens alarmingly.
The old man quickly recovers, however, and begins to drill his granddaughter on "soldiering lessons" to help pass the time. After Mattie dutifully and accurately answers his question about "three things [a soldier] needs to fight," he settles back for a nap and Mattie rests against her beloved grandfather's chest, lulled by the rhythmic beating of his heart.
A short time later, four horsemen armed with muskets stop the travelers. The wagon is approaching the city of Pembroke, and the men, one of whom is a doctor, have been commissioned to make sure that anyone who is sick is denied entry into the town.
Grandfather, who is still sleeping, breaks into another uncontrollable coughing fit upon being awakened. The doctor declares that the old man is "infected with disease" and orders him to return to Philadelphia, but the farmer who is driving the vehicle protests heatedly. He unceremoniously throws the offending gentleman and Mattie out of his wagon, abandoning them on the side of the road so that he and his family might be allowed to continue on their way.
Grandfather and Mattie have no other option but to head back to Philadelphia on foot. It is not long before Grandfather becomes ill again and is forced to stop for a while in the shade of a nearby chestnut tree.
While the old man rests, Mattie, fighting off panic, forces herself to evaluate their situation. They are at least ten miles from the city and have no food, water, or extra clothing. Mattie can only hope that Grandfather's malaise stems only from a simple summer grippe. After making sure that he is sleeping comfortably, she sets out to address their immediate needs.
Using an "old soldier's trick" taught to her from the cradle by Grandfather, Mattie walks to the highest point of land in the vicinity and scans the horizon. She spots a line of willow trees, which she recognizes as evidence that water is near; sure enough, when she goes over to investigate, she discovers a stream that is sweet and clear.
After washing her face and drinking until she is satisfied, Mattie spots a row...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Two days later, Grandfather and Mattie are still stranded in the vicinity of the stream, subsisting on a meager diet of berries and water. Mattie knows that her grandfather needs a doctor, but she has no idea how to get him to one.
As the minutes pass, she grows increasingly frightened and discouraged. After bathing in the stream that day, Mattie fashions a makeshift net out of her petticoat and tries to catch some fish, but her attempt is futile.
Grandfather exhibits symptoms of a bad cold, and although the weather is stifling, he shivers and complains that he is cold. Mattie is afraid to leave him alone, but he convinces her to go off in search of help.
After walking for awhile under the blazing sun, Mattie comes upon a man hoeing in a field of potatoes. Fearing that she is infected with the fever, he runs from her and locks himself in his house. As she continues on, the young girl becomes weak and lightheaded; she contributes her condition to the fact that she has had nothing but a few raspberries to eat for two days.
Proceeding aimlessly along a narrow road, Mattie comes upon a pear tree, and after devouring one of the juicy fruits to take the edge off her own hunger, she gathers as many as she can carry and hurries back to Grandfather.
As she stumbles along, she finds that she is suddenly disoriented; her teeth begin to chatter, and she wonders vaguely what is wrong with her. The chestnut tree is within sight, and she tries to call out to the figure she sees standing under it, but she is overcome by a roaring sound in her head followed by blackness.
Mattie lies in a feverish delirium for the better part of a week. In the brief moments of clarity she experiences among a never-ending series of grotesque dreams, she hears moans coming from both sides of her and the distant sound of hammers and saws.
When her fever breaks and she finally comes to her senses, she finds that she is lying in a bed beneath bedclothes soaked with sweat, blood, and "the foul-smelling black substance that mark[s] a victim of yellow fever." In the bed next to her is a slight figure covered completely with a sheet. Two orderlies speaking quietly in French come over and carry the corpse away as Mattie slips back into exhausted sleep.
When she awakens again, Mattie is able to survey her surroundings...
(The entire section is 813 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Mattie has survived the most critical part of her illness, but she still has a long road ahead of her to wellness. As she lies in the hospital regaining her strength, she hears endless stories of the chaos that reigns in Philadelphia. Small children have been found huddled by the corpses of their parents, and many victims have been abandoned by their loved ones, left to die alone in empty houses. Thieves rove unchecked in the city, stealing valuables off the bodies of the dead and dying.
On the tenth morning of her stay at Bush Hill, Mattie is visited by the famed Dr. Deveze himself. The good physician declares that after one more night, she will be strong enough to be moved to the barn, where those who are at a more advanced stage of recovery are being housed.
Mattie is overwhelmed with terror at the thought of the unknown future that lies ahead, but Mrs. Flagg wisely urges her to focus only on getting better for the next few days; she can work toward solving "tomorrow's problems" as they come.
Surprisingly, the barn is a well kept, almost cheery place, and Grandfather, who is helping with the organizational aspects of the healing establishment, looks in on Mattie several times a day as she progresses in her recuperation.
Despite Mrs. Flagg's advice not to fret about what is to come, Mattie cannot help but wonder about Mother, from whom there has been no word, and about Eliza, who lives close to the river, where the disease is believed to have originated. She thinks too about Nathaniel and hopes he is well and remembering her.
After six more days, Mattie is visited by a clerk who informs her that now that she is well enough to get about on her own, she will be released and sent to the orphan house. Fortunately, Grandfather steps in and indignantly demands that his granddaughter be remanded to his care. The clerk indifferently assents, and says that the two of them may ride along on a wagon going into the central part of the city tomorrow.
After the official leaves, Grandfather is seized with a coughing fit, but when it has passed, he brushes aside the concerns of Mattie and Mrs. Flagg and proclaims himself more than ready to take on his responsibilities.
Grandfather and Mattie find themselves riding into the city with five fever orphans who are being sent to the orphan house. The...
(The entire section is 787 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
The wagon finally delivers Grandfather and Mattie to the coffee shop. The two are dismayed to find that the place has been looted and that the first floor is in a shambles. The second floor apparently has been untouched, but while the stench of illness lingers, Mother is not there.
The air in the dwelling is stifling, and although Mattie opens all the windows and doors, there is no fresh breeze to be had. Grandfather, whose face has taken on an alarmingly red hue, manages to find a place to sit among the wreckage. He conjectures that Mother must have somehow gone to the Ludingtons' farm with Eliza.
Mattie thinks that he may be right about Mother, but she knows that Eliza has family here in Philadelphia and that she had been actively helping fever victims with the Free African Society. Eliza would not have gone with Mother; she "would never run from trouble."
Mattie surveys the ravaged coffeehouse, and notes that the vandals have taken "every scrap of food in the kitchen" and anything else of value. Fortunately, they did not find the strongbox with the painstakingly saved "pence and shillings" the family had hidden in a hollow stair.
Mattie gathers her wits about her and, after helping Grandfather replace his sword over the mantle and sending him upstairs to take a nap, she resolutely sets about taking care of business, knowing that if she does not do it, no one else will.
Outside under the relentless sun, Mattie first draws water from the well and then scavenges "two handfuls of green beans, [and] four stunted crookneck squash" from the wilted garden, along with a handful of sour cherries. Bringing them into the kitchen, she divides them into two portions, one for her and one for Grandfather.
Famished, she is about to dig into her meager fare, but stops herself; she has forgotten something. Bowing her head, she prays in thanksgiving, and for protection for the loved ones in her life: Mother, Grandfather, Eliza, and Nathaniel.
When she awakens the next morning to the reassuring sound of Grandfather snoring across the room, Mattie is grateful that they have survived their first day and night back in the city. Although she hates to start a fire on such another hot day, she "look[s] a fright and smell[s] worse" and knows she needs a bath.
After filling the bathing tub with hot...
(The entire section is 719 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Mattie is jolted awake by heavy footsteps at the window, as two men, one tall and the other short, climb in through the open shutters. As the intruders rummage through the house, searching for valuables, Mattie, undetected in the shadows, holds down her rising panic, trying to decide what to do. If she screams, she will wake Grandfather, and the thieves might kill them both. She can try to escape through the open window and run for help, but the neighborhood is virtually deserted, and besides, it is unlikely that anyone will bother with "a trifling robbery when there [is] death at every door." Mattie decides that her best chance is to try to slip through the window and cause a commotion outside to scare the intruders away.
Before she can execute her plan, however, the tall man takes Grandfather's sword from the mantle. Playfully, he brandishes it wildly, nearly striking Mattie, who screams as she ducks out of the way. In the confusion that follows, the girl runs to the door and manages to undo the lock. She races outside, but the tall man catches her and carries her, writhing, back to the house. He slaps her, demanding that she reveal where the establishment's strongbox is hidden, but Grandfather appears at the door in his nightshirt, with a rifle aimed at the miscreant's heart.
Grandfather shouts, "Get away from my granddaughter!" The tall thief, noticing the old man's frailty, makes light of his threat and again demands to know the whereabouts of the strongbox. Breathing heavily, Grandfather counts to three, then fires, just as the tall man leaps out of the way. Grandfather falls to the floor, and the thief leaps upon him, but Mattie picks up the old man's sword and swings, opening a bloody wound on the attacker's shoulder. The man and his accomplice escape out the window, and Mattie chases them for a block, before she realizes that they will not return.
When she gets back to the house, Grandfather is sitting up, and he smiles at her with loving pride. Mattie turns to fetch a pillow to make him comfortable, but he pulls her toward him and asks her to stay. As the old man's eyes dim, he tenderly apologizes for leaving her alone; tears stream down Mattie's face as she bends to kiss his forehead, and she hears his last words, "My sweet Mattie. Love you."
Realizing that her beloved grandfather is gone, Mattie shrieks to the heavens. Overcome with rage, she again...
(The entire section is 881 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
The little girl, whose name is Nell, shows Mattie the body of her mother, who has clearly died of yellow fever, then she speaks no more. Mattie does not know what to do; she knows she cannot provide for Nell, and the mother needs burying.
She appeals to the neighbors for help, but none who answers the door knows the family, and all have more than enough trouble of their own. Someone refers her to "Reverend Allen's group," the Free African Society. They are known for ministering to the sick, and two of their members have just been seen in the area.
Mattie hoists Nell on her hip and heads over to Fifth Street, where the group holds their meetings. Her destination is a good distance away and to reach it, she must pass by the dockside taverns, where drunken sailors abound.
As she enters the most dangerous of neighborhoods, Mattie spots two black women carrying baskets on the street ahead of her, walking swiftly as they ignore the bawdy taunts of a rowdy group outside a bar. One of the women looks familiar to Mattie, and as the two turn into an alleyway and disappear from sight, she runs after them, screaming "Eliza!"
A filthy, drunken man tries to grab Mattie as she races by, but Nell, who is being carried in her arms, bites his hand. When Mattie reaches the alley, the two women are nowhere in sight; she frantically searches the area, stopping at the house of a family of fever victims at the direction of a kind woman hanging laundry.
Mattie learns that two women from the Free African Society have just left this home after delivering some bread. They had indicated that they had several other homes left to visit and are likely still in the vicinity.
Mattie runs back out to the street and in desperation sets Nell down and calls "Eliza!" with her hands cupped around her mouth. Her voice echoes and fades as she cries out again and again until finally she hears a faint response, "Who calls there?"
Mattie screams, "Eliza? It's me, Mattie!" and scans the windows anxiously. She hears the sound of a slamming door, then finds herself enveloped in the welcoming arms of her helper and friend.
The awfulness of the past days hits Mattie all at once, and she cries and cries in Eliza's steady embrace. Eliza asks why she is not at the Ludingtons' with her mother, and when Mattie explains that she...
(The entire section is 894 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
When she awakens the next day, Mattie finds that Eliza already has gone out to minister to the sick and that Mother Smith has come to care for Joseph and the children. Mattie diligently does the housework—cooking, scrubbing, and cleaning—although her efforts largely fail to meet the old woman's exacting standards.
When evening falls, Mother Smith tells the little children a story and then sends them off to bed. The twins retire to their mattress without protest, but Nell climbs into Mattie's lap and falls asleep, sucking her thumb.
As she prepares to leave, Mother Smith warns Mattie not to fall in love with the little girl; she points out that Mattie cannot keep her and that she is only making it harder for Nell by holding her close when in the end, she will inevitably have to give her up to the orphan house. Mother Smith's words weigh heavily upon Mattie throughout the night, and she resolves to take Nell to the orphanage in the morning.
Although she does not seem to agree with the wisdom of the young girl's choice, Eliza accompanies her to the orphan house the next day without comment. During the walk across town, Mattie sternly tells herself that she is doing the right thing, but at the orphanage, she, Eliza, and Nell are greeted by a woman carrying a screaming infant with two crying toddlers clinging to her legs. It is clear that the orphanage has become a "house of last resort," and Mattie is relieved to admit that although the circumstances are far from ideal, Nell is better off with her.
On the walk back to Joseph's house, Mattie notices that they are passing the Oglivies' estate. Eliza tells her that Colette Oglivie, who had been engaged to a young man of high social status, had contracted a severe case of the fever but had recovered. In her delirium, however, she had caused quite a scandal by revealing that she had secretly eloped with her French tutor.
The situation had been made even worse when her sister Jeannine, who had been sweet on the teacher too, had thrown a fit upon learning that Colette was married to him. Mattie knows that it is wrong to laugh at others' misfortunes, but she cannot help but be amused when she pictures the scene in her mind.
The residence of Mr. Peale, the painter, is located a little further along the way, and as they pass the house, Mattie is surprised by a shower of...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
Using a mule cart secured by Mother Smith, Eliza and Mattie transport the children in the dead of night from Joseph's home to the coffeehouse. The city is darker than Mattie has ever seen as the lamplighters have all either fled Philadelphia or died.
After they settle the children in the downstairs room as comfortably as possible on a mattress, Eliza sits beside them with her head bowed in prayer.
Mattie finds that caring for the children is much more difficult than ministering to the patients they had visited; just as one tot would fall asleep, having had his or her needs met, another would abruptly awaken, vomiting and crying.
Eliza gently treats the little ones with mercury and calomel, trying to purge their bodies of the sickness' poisons, and both she and Mattie use every means at their disposal to bring their fevers down, but to no avail. As days pass and supplies dwindle, the children's conditions grow increasingly critical.
In desperation, Eliza decides that they need to find a doctor so that the small patients can be bled. Bleeding is a controversial practice recommended by the revered American physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush. The French doctors who practice at Bush Hill believe that the procedure actually kills people, however, and Mattie, who herself has recovered from the fever under their care, argues passionately that if she and Eliza allow the children to be bled, they will be "deliver[ing] them to the grave." Swayed by Mattie's certainty, Eliza puts aside her own doubts and concedes, "All right. No bleeding."
During the next few hours, the children's illnesses seem to hit their peaks. Mattie and Eliza work frantically, washing soiled linens and trying to cool fevered bodies, doing everything they can to vanquish the infection.
Finally, the children settle into deep sleep. Eliza lays her head down next to them and rests, while Mattie makes one more trip to the well, her mind clouded with exhaustion. As she imagines being "trapped in a night without end," she is suddenly chilled by a "whisper of wind" from the north, and she collapses on the ground between the rows of the wilted garden.
Mattie awakens in the morning to find herself covered with a fine, white powder, and she realizes that for the first time in a very long time, she is truly cold. On the twenty-third of...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
As word of the first frost spreads, hundreds of people who had fled Philadelphia during the epidemic come back to the city. In contrast to those who had stayed, these returnees are healthy and well fed; their seeming obliviousness to the suffering their old neighbors have endured makes it difficult for Mattie not to look upon them with a touch of bitterness.
Nathaniel Benson is a frequent visitor at the coffeehouse during these days of transition, and he and Mattie walk outside together as often as they can, watching as Philadelphia begins to regain an appearance more in keeping with its stature as the capital of the United States. The young man thinks that he would like to paint the progression of the city's rebirth, and Mattie believes he would do "a grand job."
Eliza decides to prepare a small celebratory feast for Mattie, Nell, Joseph, and the twins. Nathaniel and Mother Smith, who are as dear as family, are invited too. Mother Smith says the blessing, which is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a remembrance of loved ones recently departed.
During the meal, conversation turns to the topic of Mattie's future, as her mother still has not turned up, and there is a very real likelihood that she is dead. Everyone has an opinion as to what should be done, but although their intentions are good, Mattie has her own ideas about the course she wants to pursue. Boldly she declares that she is not going to sell the coffeehouse as has been suggested; to the contrary, she plans to reopen it for business if Eliza will consent to be her partner.
Eliza at first demurs, pointing out that she does not have the money to buy into the business, but Mattie argues that she is offering the partnership as a mutually beneficial arrangement, with no payment requested. The discussion is definitively ended when Mother Smith decides that Eliza will accept the proposition, calling it "an opportunity, one [she] deserve[s] . . . offered from the heart."
Wisely, Joseph insists that a lawyer should be consulted to draw up the arrangements to protect Eliza from those who "don't like to see black people move up." As if to seal the deal, there is a knock at the door; it is a messenger from a merchant who wishes to do business with "the proprietor of Cook's." Mattie steps forward to engage him and conducts herself admirably.
(The entire section is 737 words.)
Chapter 29 and Epilogue Summary
Mattie dashes across the street to embrace her mother, who feels like "a frail bird" in her arms. The woman introduces her good friend Mrs. Ludington and then, smiling weakly, says that she needs to sit down.
Nathaniel steps forward and greets Mrs. Cook, who remembers him by name. Mattie waits for her to make a "sharp-tongued remark" about the young man's presence, but to her surprise, Mother says nothing.
As Mrs. Cook, aided by Mattie and Mrs. Ludington, steps into the coffeehouse, the room falls silent. Initially shocked by the woman's wasted appearance, the customers soon remember their manners and rise as one to show their respect.
Eliza rushes forward to envelop her friend in a hug, her tears flowing freely. Mattie guides her mother to the kitchen table, and Eliza commands them all to sit and "catch up" while she handles the serving duties in the main room with Nathaniel.
Mrs. Ludington speaks for Mother, explaining that when Mrs. Cook had recovered somewhat from her initial bout with the fever, she had set off for the farm a few days after Grandfather and Mattie's departure for the same destination. When she discovered that her father-in-law and daughter had never arrived, Mother had "[gone] wild" and gone to look for them on horseback in the middle of the night by herself.
The distraught woman had been found two days later by the side of the road, near death. The relapse brought about by her frantic and precipitous search for her loved ones had damaged her heart and permanently compromised her health; she will no longer be able to run the coffee shop, and must "live a life of leisure" or risk an early death.
When Mrs. Ludington leaves to return home, Mother looks about her at the thriving business and asks her daughter if its success is due to her endeavors. Mattie says that it was indeed her idea to keep the coffee shop open, then tells her mother about Grandfather and all that has happened since she left with him for the country so many weeks ago.
Mother listens passively, her hands "withered and limp" in her lap. She is truly a only a shadow of the woman she used to be and Mattie, with a melancholy sense "of what [is] to come," rises to help her up the stairs to her room to rest.
December finds the coffeehouse thriving, with Mattie exercising capable control. The...
(The entire section is 661 words.)