Chapters 5-6 Summary

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 6


(The entire section is 683 words.)