Chapter 29 and Epilogue Summary

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Chapter 29

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 girl rises before everyone else in the morning to start the fire and prepare coffee for herself, Eliza, and Mother. The twins and Nell are still asleep; when they awaken, the little girl will assume her place close by Mattie's side, but the boys will be anxious to go and fetch the day's newspaper.

Mattie looks forward to the day when the establishment will be able to afford a pony and cart so that Mother can accompany the twins on their errands as the frail woman always fusses that they are too young to be out on their own.

While she is waiting for Eliza to come downstairs, Mattie sets out the breakfast dishes, then takes a moment to admire Nathaniel's paintings, which are displayed on the walls. Mr. Peale is pleased with the young man's artistic skills and predicts that within three or four years, he will be able to support himself. Contentedly, Mattie muses that it will not be long to wait.

Carrying her coffee mug, Mattie opens the front door and sits on the step facing High Street. As she peruses the peaceful scene before her, it is hard for her to imagine that just a couple of months ago, terror reigned in the beautiful city.

Although empty places and invalids who had recently been strong and hardy serve as reminders of the suffering endured, Philadelphia has moved on. Mattie smiles as the sun rises, and the day stretches before her "filled with prayers and hopes and promise."

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Chapters 27-28 Summary