Chapters 27-28 Summary

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Chapter 27

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.

Chapter 28

Within three days, the coffeehouse is filled with customers. Eliza is "cooking up a storm" in the kitchen, and the room is clean and bright, with Nathaniel's paintings adorning the walls. Mattie rushes around serving the clientele and keeping the whole operation running smoothly.

During a rare break in the action, she surveys her domain and reflects that although her future has never looked brighter, there is still an aching in her heart left by the ghosts of Grandfather and other people lost during the terrible past weeks and in particular by the absence of Mother.

Nathaniel jolts Mattie out of her reverie by rushing in excitedly with the news that General Washington has come back to the city. Everyone rushes out to see and is rewarded when the president rides by on a beautiful white horse, waving to the crowds that line High Street. While not necessarily handsome, the man has the unmistakable demeanor of a leader. To Mattie and countless others, the president's return signifies that the fever is truly over and that the citizens of Philadelphia are safe once again.

As the president passes by, Mattie impulsively throws her arms around Nathaniel and kisses him on the cheek. Immediately abashed by her audacity, she blushes and looking down at her feet, says softly, "I'm just happy."

As the crowd thins, Nathaniel notices that a "scraggly parade of wagons and carriages" is following in the president's wake. A man standing nearby explains that these are "the folks" who had retreated to the country to escape the fever and have been waiting for "General George" to come back to signal that it is safe to return.

One of the carriages turns off High Street and stops directly in front of the coffeehouse. Aided by the driver and an unfamiliar woman "dressed in country clothes," a frail figure alights and looks in Mattie's direction. Her face is "tired, familiar, beautiful"it is Mother, who has come home at last.

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Chapters 25-26 Summary


Chapter 29 and Epilogue Summary