Chapters 7-8 Summary

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Chapter 7

At the Oglivie mansion, Mattie and her mother are escorted to "a drawing room as large as the entire first floor of the coffee shop" by a maid. After a short time Penilla Oglivie "sails" in, complaining that the summer has been the "worst of [her] life" and declaring that she is counting on her visitors to "lighten [her] mood."

Mrs. Oglivie's outfit glimmers with richness in contrast to the old clothes Mother has pieced together for herself and Mattie. The house itself exudes opulence; the fixtures and furnishings are lavish and expensive.

Colette and Jeannine, the two Oglivie daughters, join the gathering. Colette, the older of the two, is pale and has dark rings under her eyes; Jeannine's cheeks "[shine] pink and chubby as a baby pig's."

The younger sister takes an instant dislike to Mattie and surreptitiously makes sure that the delicate desserts served remain out of the reach of her visitor. When Mattie's mother, determined to find a future marriage partner for her daughter in the well-heeled household, indelicately persists in trying to turn the conversation to the subject of the Oglivie sons, Jeannine perceives her intent. 

When it is clear that Penilla Oglivie, who is prattling on about the "gross injustice" that her plans for summer partying are being ruined "because the lower class [is falling] ill," does not share her daughter's insight, Jeannine rudely exclaims, "Mama, must you be so thick-headed? Mrs. Cook is asking if you might consider Miss Cook as a wife for one of our brothers."

At that point Colette, who is obviously ill, crumples to the floor in a faint. While Mrs. Oglivie shrieks, Mother goes over and lays her hand against the stricken girl's forehead. Colette is burning with fever.

Chapter 8

The church bells toll incessantly from that day as scores of Philadelphia's denizens succumb to the mysterious illness. To add to the misery, the sweltering weather conditions will not let up, and there are tormenting insects everywhere. Many of the wealthier families are fleeing the city, and business at the coffeehouse slows to a trickle.

Eliza attends a meeting of the Free African Society about the fever, but Grandfather stubbornly refuses to believe that the situation is serious. Mattie accompanies the old man to Andrew Brown's printshop one day, where they find the newspaperman deep in conversation with Mr. Carris. Mr. Brown says that Rickett's Circus building has been taken over to house poor fever victims, but that the stricken just lie there on the floor "with little water and no care." Bodies are removed from the facility once a day.

Mr. Carris has heard that several hundred in Philadelphia have died of the malady already and that before the siege is over, the number of decedents is projected to number over a thousand. The mayor has issued a decree written by the College of Physicians advising among other things that citizens should avoid those who are infected and that houses of the sick should be marked.

Mr. Brown reiterates that many who can afford to leave are fleeing to the country, where "the air . . . is pure and the people safer." Mr. Carris notes that Mr. Jefferson still comes to town regularly to work, but that President Washington has retired to Virginia, where he goes "for a respite every September."

Mr. Carris believes that even if Congress were to be called back to deal with the crisis, "few would dare return." The fever likely will die out after the first frost, but sadly, at least a month remains until the weather will change in October.

Grandfather is silent as he and Mattie make their way back home. As they walk, they approach a man dressed in rags who is pushing a cart along the cobblestones. The man stops in front of the coffeehouse and despite Grandfather's shouted protests dumps an insensible body from his wheelbarrow. Mattie, filled with an unnamed fear, runs ahead and recognizes the limp figure on the sidewalk: "Mother!"

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