Chapters 17-18 Summary

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Chapter 17

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. 

Chapter 18

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 and cold water, she settles in comfortably and scrubs her skin until it burns. She then puts on her shift and, reluctant to don her soiled outer clothing once again, goes upstairs to Mother's trunk and is surprised to find that the items in it fit her better now than she would have imagined.

Mattie wakes Grandfather then and instructs him to bathe while she makes a thin soup out of a handful of beans, a turnip, and some spices. As they eat, Mattie says that they need to find some one who will sell them bread and meat, but Grandfather is reluctant to have her leave the house.

Mattie spends the afternoon carrying bucket after bucket of water from the well in an attempt to revive the parched garden. Grandfather tries to help but his left arm is bothering him, and when he ventures into the sun, his face turns a deep red and he has trouble breathing. 

The garden does indeed seem to come back to life after it receives the gift of water. Mattie digs her fingers into the soil and is elated to find six fist-sized potatoes. Supper is "a royal...

(This entire section contains 719 words.)

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feast" of boiled potatoes seasoned with a few withered vegetables, and a pot of coffee cooked up by Grandfather with a bag of roasted beans the thieves somehow overlooked.

After the meal, Grandfather goes straight upstairs to bed while Mattie cleans up the kitchen. The old man is snoring thunderously when the girl is finally ready to retire herself, and knowing that she will be unable to sleep with such a racket, she takes her bedclothes downstairs and makes herself a pallet on the floor.

Leaving the shutters open for a bit of fresh air, she settles down for the night with Grandfather's Bible. After reading a passage from Psalms, she snuggles on her pillow and falls fast asleep.


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