Chapters 5-6 Summary
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683
By a week later, sixty-four people have succumbed to the mysterious illness in Philadelphia. Rumors abound that the fever originated near the docks and as a consequence, consumers begin avoiding that area and flock instead to the upper end of High Street, where the Cook Coffeehouse is located.
Mattie works from dawn to dusk every day as Mother, Eliza, and she struggle to accommodate the additional customers. The young girl gets no respite from her grueling routine until Grandfather finally convinces Mother to let her go to the market to run errands one day.
The market stalls cover three blocks in the center of the city. Mattie buys eggs, cabbages wilted from the drought, fresh lemons, and some moldy cheese from various vendors.
As she passes the butcher's stall, she is grabbed from behind and spun through the air. Mattie is pleased to recognize her "attacker" as Nathaniel Benson, who looks "much more a man and less a boy than he had a few months earlier" when she had seen him last.
Mother is not happy about Mattie's interest in handsome Nathaniel because he works as a painter's assistant and as such has "no future." Ironically, Mother's own family had essentially disowned her when she had insisted on marrying Mattie's father, a lowly carpenter.
Mattie and Nathaniel engage in innocent banter for a while until the bell at Christ Church begins to toll. The marketplace falls silent as the denizens count twenty-one peals; every time someone in the city dies, the bell rings once for each year the unfortunate person had lived.
The sobering sound of the bell brings Nathaniel to wonder if the deceased had been another fever victim, and Mattie, thinking of Polly, begins to cry. Nathaniel comforts her by putting a hand on her shoulder, and in the awkwardness that follows, Mattie takes her leave.
A week later, Mattie is wrestling wet tablecloths through the mangle, a contraption which squeezes the water from material after a wash. Grandfather, who is watching his granddaughter, comments that Mother has heard that Nathaniel Benson had been "behaving improperly toward [her] at the market."
Mattie protests that the young man had just been "expressing his condolences on the death of Polly Logan" and grouses that the market "is full of busybodies."
After she manages, with Grandfather's help, to hang the laundry on the clotheshorse to dry, the cat Silas spots a squirrel and chases it around the yard and up to the roof, knocking over the line and sending the clean tablecloths onto the red soil. Silas yowls as his prey escapes, and Grandfather laughs while Mattie disconsolately goes over to begin her work again.
At the midday meal, Grandfather and Mother discuss how the extra earnings from the increased business at the coffee shop should be used. Grandfather wants to open a store, whereas Mother would prefer to save the money for a rainy day.
Mattie thinks that they should invest in the property that is up for sale next door to provide enough space to expand their operation to include complete meal offerings, a meeting room, and an area to sell items from France. Mother puts a stop to the talk of growing the business, insisting that the present increase in customers is only a temporary anomaly caused by fever hysteria.
A messenger arrives with an invitation to tea from Pernilla Oglivie, a prominent citizen who has a son, Edward, whom Mother believes would be "a fine match for Mattie." Mattie is horrified at the idea of having to attend the unpleasurable event. Mother is insistent, and the girl eventually succumbs to her wishes.
As Mother dithers about, trying to scrounge up suitable attire for the occasion to be be held that very afternoon, Mattie, feeling like a "chicken, ready for market," announces that although she will "sit nicely at the table," she will not be forced "to talk to their young Edward."
A short time later, with her hair brushed savagely and her body "tightened, pinned, and locked . . . into her clothes," Mattie leaves with Mother, grumbling all the way.