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...
(The entire section is 736 words.)