Chapters 25-26 Summary

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Chapter 25

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.

Chapter 26

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 October, the frost has finally arrived, and with it, the end of the fever.

Excitedly, Mattie calls to Eliza, who stumbles out onto the porch, wondering what is the matter. When she sees the pale crystals blanketing everything outdoors, the woman reaches down to touch them in wonder, whispering reverently, "Lord have mercy . . . we made it!"

The sky, finally devoid of insects and oppressive humidity, is fresh and clear; Eliza and Mattie embrace and dance for a moment with joy, then hurry to carry the children outside so that they may benefit from the cool, healing air. 

At midday, a messenger from Joseph arrives, bringing much needed food along with a kind warning to stay away from the center of the city for at least another week until the last vestiges of the epidemic are gone.

Over the next few days, the children, whose fevers have broken, eat, sleep, and regain their strength. When Joseph himself arrives with the welcome information that the market has reopened, Mattie goes over to get more supplies and to see if there is any word about her mother.

The farmers at the marketplace are cheerful and generous, but sadly, no one has heard anything about Mrs. Cook. Mattie's spirits are lifted, however, when she runs into Nathaniel Benson, who has miraculously escaped illness and is as charming and facetious as ever.

Nathaniel walks Mattie home, and the two young people swap stories of their experiences over the fateful weeks just past. Nathaniel tells Mattie that her mother will be home soon and will undoubtedly resume trying to keep him away from her daughter, but despite his playful assurances, Mattie cannot help but wonder what will happen if Mother never comes home at all.

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Chapters 27-28 Summary