Chapters 9-10 Summary

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Chapter 9

Unbelievably, Mother is alive, and Grandfather and Mattie struggle to carry her inside. With Eliza's help they put her to bed, where she sleeps fitfully, hot but shivering, for the rest of the afternoon.

Grandfather, who insists that Mother has just been overcome by the heat, consults with Mr. Rowley, who is "not a proper physician, but . . . sees sick folk and prescribes medicines." Eliza, who has just returned from a meeting at the Free African Society about the fever, says that all the "real doctors" are down on Water Street, where things are so bad that "bodies are piling up like firewood."

Mr. Rowley examines Mother and proclaims that she does not have yellow fever, even though Eliza says that according to prominent physician Benjamin Rush, the pestilence is rampant in the city. Mattie also has her doubts about Mr. Rowley, whose hands are "uncommonly dirty," smells of rum, and after magnanimously issuing his diagnosis, demands his fee.

When he departs, Eliza and Mattie follow his recommendations, bathing Mother every four hours, keeping her linens clean, and trying to get her to drink bitter dittany tea. For some reason, Grandfather stays at Mr. Carris' house that night. When darkness falls, Eliza must return home to her own family, leaving Mattie to look after her mother alone.

Mother becomes violently ill during the night, vomiting blood all over the bed and floor. Mattie screams for Eliza. Realizing that she is alone, she goes over to her mother and tenderly sponges her face clean. With tears spilling from her eyes, the stricken woman begs her daughter to leave her, croaking, "Don't want you sick. Go away!"

Chapter 10

Mother's condition does not improve over the next few days. Eliza and Grandfather finally manage to find help, bringing Dr. Kerr, an educated man from Scotland, to examine her.

The doctor declares definitively that Mother has yellow fever and calls Mr. Rowley an imposter and a fool. Following the recommendations of the respected Dr. Rush, Dr. Kerr bleeds the sick woman, insisting that it is the only way "to save a patient this close to the grave."

Miraculously, Mother survives the bleeding and purging administered with the procedure and in her semi-delirious state, makes it clear that she is fearful for Mattie's welfare and wishes her gone. Dr. Kerr agrees that the young girl needs to get away from this place of illness. It is decided that Eliza will stay to take care of Mother and Mattie will travel with Grandfather to stay with the Ludingtons, who are family friends living in the country.

Despite Mattie's protestations, arrangements are made for the journey; the girl and Grandfather will depart first thing the next morning.

Before she leaves, Mattie receives a parcel from Nathaniel Benson; it is a painting of a vase filled with beautiful flowers, with a note attached telling her that his employer, Master Peale, is closing up the house with his family and assistants inside to protect them from the fever. Nathaniel tells Mattie to "take care," and promises that when the crisis has passed, they will go together to see the launching of Blanchard's hot-air balloons again.

The rickety wagon that Grandfather has commissioned to transport himself and Mattie to the country is a questionable affair, drawn by a decrepit horse and driven by a disagreeable farmer accompanied by his wife and a baby "with dried snot across its face."

Eliza packed a basket of food for the two travelers; she assures Mattie that her mother will be fine and mutters a "quiet blessing" as she hugs her tightly one last time. Grandfather, with typical aplomb, emerges from the house dressed smartly in his old regimental jacket, with a sword buckled onto his belt and his pet parrot, King George, perched on his shoulder. Mattie will be escorted to her destination "in a manner quite unpredicted." 

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